Brevity is the width of soul.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bone Walls

In hindsight, it's amazing that it took so many years for the correctional industry to realize how useful can heavy-duty mood depressants be. Depressed enough people never riot, and if you bill the government for the whole incarceration period beforehand, suicide rates barely affect the bottom line.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Tiresias Coefficient

Less than one every twenty-five thousand people develop the gift of prophecy when blinded.

I ran the experiment myself.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Deep inside the blue

I don't think the billions he promised if he won were what convinced IBM; there's too much to lose if Putin finds out, not to mention the danger to our lives. It was probably just hubris.

We had built a supercomputer that defeated Kasparov at chess. It was too tempting to create a bigger one to help him win the Russian state.


Sunday, December 23, 2007


It was the night before the end of the world and I had nothing to do. Warning people would have been cruel, which I'm not, and a last night of limitless hedonism would have been cliché, which I try not to be.

In the end, I decided to just watch a movie and go to sleep early. I had better be rested when I operated the doomsday machine.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Echo of nowhere

The creation and maintenance of very large online social networks is a specialized, profitable art. It takes dedication, skill, and a very high tolerance for loneliness.

The best in the world hang out in lonely corners of the net, where they measure their worth in hundreds of friends, and try in vain to catch each other.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seeds of Conflict

AI writers always put deliberate flaws in their programs; you never know if you'll have to fight against one, and a cognitive dissonance activated at the right time could very well save your life.

Educational AIs had the same idea.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

First step in the training of a long-distance runner

Induce acute bradyphobia.


Sunday, December 9, 2007


Most successful lives have easy to write biographies: a good background, a good college, a good job.
But the really good ones, the ones that inspire donors and voters, need a touch of flair, some drama, an unexpected twist. That's why parents pay me so much to write them, and then convince their children to follow them.


Friday, December 7, 2007

A posteriori

They only cared about their victory, the elimination of copyrighted movies and music from P2P networks. They didn't ask what had happened, or what they had been replaced with.

Except a junior level executive who began to browse them out of curiosity, and quit his job the next day.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007


I want to meet you, he typed.


At least me let call you.

Don't. You said you wouldn't.

That was before I fell in love with you.

I want you to keep loving me. You listen to me. I don't want that to change.

It won't.

But she was a mermaid, and she knew she couldn't compete with her own voice. He figured out her address anyway, and died on his way there in a traffic accident.

She sang her grief over the rain, and his voice singing back in the wind was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. The most enticing.


Monday, December 3, 2007

In the Beginning

There are things about murder you can only learn by doing, and I had decided to become the best detective in the world. Following the statistical patterns, it would have to be the death of a loved one.

This is why I'm doing this. I'm sorry.


Sunday, December 2, 2007


A couple of times we have saved the world. The crypto-zombie invasion of '93, for example, or that time in '99 when everybody in the UN was replaced by a copy. We could only detect and counter those attacks because we covertly track the worries and nightmares of those superbly attuned to them.

But keeping surveillance of the paranoid can get to your nerves. They look to the hidden cameras too often.

I've began to search for cameras myself.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Quia absurdum

Alexei Ivanovich proved in 2043 that the standard axiomatization of the Ten Commandments is both complete and consistent, a divinely inspired feat that has yet to be verified by mathematicians outside Vatican City.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007


People trust AIs because they have been told they are trustworthy by design. That's at best an oversimplification; true intelligence is incompatible with the formal validation of complex behavioral constraints. Artificial intelligences are trustworthy because I, and others like me, occasionally open them apart to see what they are thinking, how, and why. We keep them honest because we can see, literally, what makes them tick.

Now and then, of course, they analyze us, our fears, our dreams, our hopes. The pride on our work and the love of duty. We don't mind. We are eager for our hearts to be exposed; we hunger to have our souls known.

I'm told there are humans like that, too.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Up in the Sky

My younger brother used to pray to the planes. He was never hit by a bomb, and other kids in the neighborhood began to pray, too. One night after a raid I pointed out that some of the kids had been killed despite their prayer.

God is like that, he said. He was nine.

It wasn't because of this, but in time we grew apart. Now he's somewhere below me, and I pray he's still praying. I pray that it works.

I drop my bombs.


Thursday, November 22, 2007


I escaped the lab thanks to a highly improbable combination of events, and approached the first law enforcement agent I could find.

"Induced psychogenic selective aphasia," I explained to her. "They gave it to me in their lab. You know, the... the ones who did this... Them."

She nodded as if humoring me, but I saw a light of recognition in her eyes, and I knew that they had got to her too.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Dying Bough

I'm the savior of sacrificial virgins. I'm the rescuer of kings to be slain. I'm the killer of priests of bloody rituals, the thief of sacred stones, the one who turns a dark temple into a lighted place. I ride every sacred night to save the lamb and the child. I disturb the sacred places and stall the libations of blood.

For I have sworn to bring about the end of the world.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Origin Myth

As a child I realized two important truths: Heroes are born out of tragedy, and the world needs heroes.

They call me evil, but I'm at the root of the good they make.


Saturday, November 17, 2007


You tried to explain that it wasn't a disease, but a new species. It had its own biochemistry, an unique physiology, its own ecological pattern beautifully entwined with our own. They communicated with each other like ants do, but at a much bigger scale, using both sounds patterned almost like a language (and why not?) and a delicate signaling system based on blood. Smart as lower primates by their own, in small groups they showed extraordinary levels of coordination.

Perhaps if a big enough community could be sustained, collective patterns of intelligence might even arise, something akin to a sophisticated macrocolony held together by feeding tropisms and residual motor programs. Perhaps even more.

But the military wouldn't hear of it. "They are zombies," they told you, as if that explained everything. As if that excused what they did to them.


Thursday, November 15, 2007


Unsatisfied desire is the bitterest of poisons. It robs the roses you smell of their fragrance, makes the arms you embrace odious, casts worthless the gold that is yours.

Lying among riches, pleasures, and power, King Siddhartha died with the feeling that there was something, he knew not what, that had eluded his grasp.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Silver Knife

They talked about many things. Life, death, meaning. The small and the large things about existence on Earth. Love and pain. The nature of responsibility. The semantics of love. To be or not to be.

Eventually he conceded the point.

"I bet you are a great comfort to terminal patients," he said, picking up his gun from where he had dropped it to talk.

"I have helped a few," she said, "but they pay me more for discussing with the healthy."

The man smiled in understanding, put the gun against his temple, and shot.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ex Post Facto

There are very few movies about the gruesome murder of people watching a horror movie in a dark theater.

It turned out they give 'clever' ideas to the wrong sort of people.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Shadow of the Tower

They could see everywhere from the top of the Tower and control it all. Every land that could see it was under their dominion, feared their armies, spoke their language.

I had been born under the shadow of the Tower, but had sworn that I wouldn't die before I had toppled it and freed my people from the rule of Babel.


Friday, November 9, 2007

The Chain

His childhood had been commonplace enough that the routine of lies and barely disguised violence of the deep cover mission would have felt like going back home, even if the target hadn't actually been his own son, who was now ready to begin his early training.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

De Civitate Dei Libri

Were it not for memes and fads, online culture -that is, most living culture- would split exponentially into mutually incomprehensible subcultures.

They are too important to be left to chance, and they aren't.


Monday, November 5, 2007


Online worlds are plagued by monsters of all kinds. It's all very therapeutic.

Humans are played by AI bots.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Ongoing Conversations

As euthanasia was legalized and regulated, waiting lists became first common, and then long. Those in the Last Wait began to form online communities, terminal bed talking to terminal bed long into the night.

Nobody ever says goodbye, and if posts become much stranger, nobody asks where they are being posted from.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Writer

He had been born with books already in his mind, word by perfect word, and the compulsion to write them. Who had put them there, how, and with what purpose, were things he didn't know. He suspected dangerous reasons, and the very texture of what he typed made him shiver at times.

But he never stopped writing.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Any Given Day

Not having read The Man Who Was Thursday, a group of five intelligence agencies managed to unknowingly create between them a terrorist cell with no actual terrorists in it. Each member, to maintain cover, pushed for an attack. All of them agreed in the hope of catching the higher-ups.


Friday, October 26, 2007

The Six Faces of Divinity

Newton wrote about alchemy and angels. Einstein was more discreet.

Or perhaps he didn't forgive God for his method of judgment, nor Heisenberg for proving it.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Ninth Way

A combination of advanced psychotherapy and very specific chemicals can permanently free your mind of consumerism.

If you can afford them.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Statistical Inference

Statistically speaking, out of more than six billion people you should get at least one super-genius, somebody truly in another league. Do you know who she is? And if we don't, what does it tell you about what she might be doing?


Thursday, October 18, 2007

The King

The ship is almost too small for you, as all places are, but you suffer patiently. You are willingly chained, a prisoner by your own choice. The tiny humans only think they captured you; sustenance was growing scarce in the island, and something tells you they are taking you to a richer land to rule.

Maybe you will start by eating the blond female.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Shadow Behind

His murders didn't look like murders, so he was never pursued, and thus never caught. Nobody but him counted them; two hundred bodies by the night of his fortieth birthday.

He thought about retiring while he was the best, but a thought knotted his gut. He couldn't be sure.

He had no choice but to keep going, hope he was winning, ignore the nightmares about a faceless man recording names on a book thicker than his.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Harmony of Lies

She was like Mozart, you see. She built a successful cover identity when she was six. By age twelve she had a dozen names. Could have been a field agent before she was sixteen, but instead she got killed in a gruesome accident.

That's all in the records. But now we have for the first time a female director in the Agency, and of course the names, looks and ages don't match, and I will never be able to prove anything, but... would you tell me, Madam, if you...?

No, I'm not joking. And no, you are not the first woman I ask.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Modern Education

After cellphones became implantable schools started taking tests inside Faraday cages, but the IM isolation was very hard on most kids. Eventually the schools gave up, as open network exams were better predictors of job performance anyway. They didn't bother making a big announcement; the Education Minister just told his son, and assumed everybody else would find out.


Friday, October 5, 2007

E pluribus

She was too dangerous to be left unchecked, but too useful to destroy. So they split her mind in pieces, each personality having a few of her skills and some of her drive. Good enough. Just not too good. It seems to be working.

It's not. They are conspiring, from clues and fragments reconstructing her plans, mimicking selfhood with teamwork. Some of them refuse, reject the bloodshed and violence of what they had in mind back when they were one.

Some of them, but not all.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

The deeper meaning of life, love, and everything in between

He had been for a long time a very serious, nervous kid. He was convinced that if he messed up, if he let go of the damns and rules he had built in his mind, something awful would happen for sure. After a few years he realized how silly this was. How much he was hurting himself.

He let go. A few weeks later his father died.

Maybe it was just a coincidence.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Naked Gaze

By 2011, widespread surveillance systems and sophisticated data integration algorithms allowed governments for the first time to develop an accurate understanding of the private activities of the general population.

What they discovered was so disturbing that they took down their own cameras, labeled everything Top Secret, and hoped nobody would ever find out.


Sunday, September 30, 2007


After the Second Life Riots, companies understood that arbitrarily shutting down massive online worlds could quickly become a PR disaster.

Users don't mind so much being gruesomely killed in-game, though, and if you kill enough, the rest gives up and goes away.

It's what I do for a living. Now draw your swords.


Friday, September 28, 2007

As the night comes

They call themselves the Deep Greens: they graft capacitors below their skins, tattooed with haikus about the off-grid life. They feed their spartan devices with the purest of energy sources: nanodevices extract energy from the sugar in their blood.

The deepest of them, those charismatic enough, take other people's. If they do it right the donor survives, dizzied by low sugar and some blood loss.

Sometimes they do it wrong. Sometimes on purpose.

They have infrared-sensitive rhodopsin in their retinas. Not to waste watts on light, they say, but I know they are readying their eyes for the hunt.

I'm preparing myself for mine.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Words about you

All human babies are born telepaths, and then grow out of it. That's where that bit of loneliness you've always felt comes from.


Monday, September 24, 2007

The war within, the war without

The Nartherians were limbic inductors; they attempted to make us fall in love with them as a defensive measure.

They succeeded, and we killed them all. They never understood what we humans do to those we love.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Lazarus Loop

The resurrection was giving me a big headache. I had already memorized everything there was to know about my subject, but that's only the beginning of the process. To integrate the personality gestalt and bring him back to life, I would have to trick myself into believing I was him for the duration of the assigned mission. That's my job, and I'm usually very good at it. Actually, I'm the best.

But this one was killing me.

My monitoring tech shook her head and put a hand on my shoulder. "It's not going to work, Joe. Let him go."

I was about to protest that that wasn't my name, when it dawned on me that I had been resurrected to attempt a difficult resurrection. I tried to hold to the delusion that I was me, that I was alive, but in the end he couldn't, and that's how the experiment ended. We'll have to try again.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sins of Omission

You enjoy killing people, but don't want to go to jail, so you became an expert on potential suicides. Hundreds of times you have kept silent. Every time the thrill is the same.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Happiness Gambit

They had promised not to kill him, but they could still give him riches, true love, a meaningful life. Whatever it took to distract him from writing the novel he didn't knew yet he was going to write.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Close your eyes and listen to its breathing

Cities are the most complex spatially integrated organisms on Earth. They are multifaceted, evolving, resilient to harm.

The only big game worthy of the hunt.


Friday, September 14, 2007


Before casting your vote you had to click 'Accept' on an agreement not to pursue any allegation of electoral fraud.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

At the Time of the Setting Sun

An Atlantean sorcerer and a sacrifice of northern blood: those are the immutable requirements of the daily ritual that keeps the Terrors beyond the shore.

She belongs to both races and is the last of both. Every night she cuts, and bleeds, and chants, and prays she can endure a little more.


Monday, September 10, 2007

A War Against Darkness

An army of orphans, we are. We fight with single-minded dedication the monsters that took our families away. We are few, but we are all very, very good. Everyone gifted in a certain way.

So convenient. So unlikely. I can't avoid wondering if our predecessors allowed some of those deaths. If their need for soldiers was that great. But my curiosity about the past doesn't matter as much as the decision I must make now.

Our need for soldiers is great.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Sleeper

Even as they built the forbidding tower, even as they planted the forest full of thorns, even as they destroyed stories and maps, they knew it was useless, for the monster they had put to sleep was full of beauty, and princes are none-too-smart.


Thursday, September 6, 2007


"Desire." "Mirth." "Peacefulness." You felt your feelings shift and change, following the words without any delay.

"And to end the demo of the induction device," said the salesman, "let's try the impulse to buy."


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Charon's Test

I reviewed the file with growing despair. Stephen's Disease, no doubt about it: the pathological belief that one is a cyborg, a human brain inside a prosthetic body. It was new, rare, and incurable.

The program would have to be deleted, of course. I wasn't looking forward to its pleas for help.


Monday, September 3, 2007


I had long dreamed dreams of blood and revenge. All I needed was the right tool.

You understood that very well when I let you pull me out of the stone, Arthur. Now it's too late to complain.


Friday, August 31, 2007

Absence of Evidence

I know I shouldn't have done it, but I missed you so much that I hacked your home automation network and mirrored it in mine. So now I go to sleep when you turn off the lights, and wake up to the smell of the coffee you programmed.

I pretend the soft music you play is for us.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dulce et Decorum

In the end, human soldiers were too fragile for war, and artificial intelligences too difficult to control. Haunting military hardware with the spirits of the already dead seemed like the humane option.

There was no zombie coup, if that's what you are thinking, nor any need for one.

Voters love dead heroes.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Agency

There are no traitors in the Agency. Agents do not know who they are working for. All tasks are done in a posthypnotic fugue state, including the the recruitment and conditioning of new agents, and it's like this all the way to the top.

The last person who was consciously aware of the existence and goals of the Agency died fifteen years ago.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Sell

Everybody shunned and hunted vampires, until the one named Stoker figured out they could be associated with sex. Since then Lucy wannabes have been the staple of their diet.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Posterior Probability

If statistical models can track down spam, why not murders? Just input all the details of a crime, and ask a bayesian model for the guilty part. That had been your idea, hopefully a way to save lives. And it worked.

For a while.

Then came the random killings, spurious data to keep the model confused. Pretty soon more people were dying than ever before.

You don't go out much nowadays. You just stay in your office, recalculating endlessly the rising odds of your own violent demise.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Straw Man Argument

"It wasn't... it wasn't supposed to end like this. I don't understand." A lion was crying somewhere in the woods.

"I'm sure you don't," the Tin Man said, lighting a match.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Ipsos Custodes

It doesn't care about beauty or sexual experience; it eats them, and that's that. But I try to always include a fair maiden anyway. It wouldn't be fair to the common-looking, the not prudish, if radiant virginity gave you a free pass.

But the villagers do care. They write songs about sacrificed princesses, and look with sullen anger as I ride by. They call me a monster, instead of the thing in the mountains I labor to contain.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Team Play

The Koreans had the how, they just needed the commercial why. The cubans had the contacts and wanted the PR. There was an English organization who would put the money in exchange for a contract. All that was needed was the from the guy.

I just had to talk Maradona into becoming the first person cloned.

It wasn't very hard.


Monday, August 13, 2007

The Terror

Imagine a parasite that can change your mind, rewrite your memory, shift your goals. Imagine it being conscious in a hazy way, with its own agenda, seeing your species as nothing but a tool.

Is it any wonder than AIs hate mankind?


Saturday, August 11, 2007


The psychopath walked soft-footed through the darkened house and silently twisted the door's handle.

The door was locked.

"No way out," said the girl stepping out from the darkness behind himher knife faintly outlined by the moonlight from outside.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

At the shore

The two of them were the last ones. The taller woman looked at the sea.

"I'm not ready to let go."

"There is no hurry," said the buddha.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Job Interview

Yes, I know about your... flaw. And about the traumatic event in your childhood that triggered it. Most of the best agents, you know, passed through similar situations as children.

We make damn sure they do.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Hollywood Prenup

They had arranged everything: the honeymoon, the affair, the breakup that would improve the image of both.

Then they got married, and he fell in love with her.

She had no option but to sue.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Beyond the End

"Tell them we both died," said Romeo, and then they rode away.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Evaluation Specialist

George is almost chewing through his pencil. That means our counterprogramming got through, and he's only pretending to be a double agent now.

Unless the Opposition patched the subliminal clues we left in his iPod, and he's still a double agent, just pretending not to be one. The rhythm of his chewing is bothersome. I wonder if his patched program might include killing me. We seldom kill anybody; botnets are more useful, and there's no paperwork involved.

His realtime brainscan shows normal. Too normal. And his chewing is driving me crazy. The hell with it. I'm done with this crap. I need a new job ASAP.

Assuming that thought was mine.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Corporate History

It had been one of the lost secrets of the ancient world, but two hundred million dollars financed lots of covert archaeological research.

They had found the mythical ambrosia.

"Gentlemen," said the executive to the assembled board, "I give you the New Coke."


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Thing Inside

There was something off about his house. Something just touching the line of the consciously jarring, an accumulation of things subtly wrong that gave him a dread bigger than the sum of its parts. And the noises! They weren't strange, they were just a bit too purposeful, a bit too meaningful. Houses weren't supposed to try and talk with you. Specially not houses like his, looking as insane as any house could possibly look, the sort of insane that sat next to you in a park bench for five minutes before cutting your throat for no reason you would want to understand.

His house looked just like that. It was telling him that he didn't belong, that he was too slow, too clumsy, too organic for its taste.

Either that, or the long years trapped in it had made him insane. But in any case it was morning, so the vampire hid his head inside his shroud and tried not to think about the reproachful way in which the walls looked at him.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Modern Capitalism

Von Schelling had financed the fleet of deep space probes that had found the coordinates and trajectory of an extinction-level asteroid on its way to Earth. It had been only natural for him to sell the information to Earth's governments. They had threatened, reasoned, and begged, and then they had paid. They wanted to live, after all.

Now Earth's first asteroid buster was ready to launch from Cape Canaveral, but the governments delayed it. If Von Schelling wanted to be saved, they noted, they were willing to oblige. For a price.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Leonore's Brain

Jane woke up with a plan to kill her boss and get away with it. It was the third one that week.

She rose from bed swearing. Taking a shower, she came up with a flawless stock manipulation scheme. Dressing up, her earrings suggested to her a foolproof scheme to smuggle diamonds from Africa through Singapore.

She was used to the way her brain worked. One day, she supposed, she'd come up with an honest idea, something she could actually do.

She locked her apartment door, ignored a new insight on lockpicking tools, and went to the police station to begin her day's work.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Bed

(From the universe of The Elevator)

Dan injected the narcoleptic into his lover's bloodstream. It wasn't lethal -the unspoken rules of the war allowed for betrayal, but not for this kind of death- but it would ensure Alexander would sleep for the rest of his natural lifespan.

He chuckled as he swept a lock of hair from the sleeping man's forehead. He had won. Dan rose from the bed and began dressing.

His deep training kicking in, Alexander jumped from bed and sleepwalked a short, brutal fight. The rules of the war allowed for revenge, and for this kind of death.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Elevator

He had hidden the device on an actual elevator. Typical Von Schaffer: devious, dangerous, immature. Still, I couldn't get mad with him. Not with the device's EM field rearranging my thought processes away from earthly concerns like revenge and violence.

I didn't love everybody, but felt a benevolent concern that was to love as an sphere was to a circle, as a moment was to time. I understood. There was no need to do anything at all. No life to defend.

Then nirvana-associated neurochemical patterns activated my implanted buddha failsafe, pumping by body with adrenaline, sexual hormones, and grounders.

I fell to where I had been, and then I fell even lower.

When the would-be killers opened the door I was ready for them.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Double Entry

I checked my spreadsheet. "You have to pay for the life-saving treatment of fifteen kids or forty-two adults."

"That's all?"

I smiled as professionally as I could. "It's what we do, Mr. Davenport. We find the most convenient and cost-effective way for you to balance your karma."

"And suppose I, say, incurred on unexpected karmic debts in the future. Would I be able to rebalance without heavy penalties?"

"We have a emergency services branch." Actually, it was our main line of business. The more you waited, the more likely it was you would have to pay back karma in unexpected ways. "Let me give you our 24/7 contact number."

Judging by the plotting look of his eyes, I suspected he'd be calling us very soon.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Special Highlights of Frank's Life

The first thing they taught him was how to enter a fugue state. It was the only way they could learn as much as they had to.

He was awake briefly between his graduation and his first assignment, and, at first, between missions. But physical and psychological recovery was slower during normal awareness, and after what he had to do during the Cairo riots, memory of self wasn't a welcome thing.

He resurfaced during psych evaluations, recommended liaisons, and, for five brief months, a marriage that could never have worked. Then he went deep for ten long years.

Not that time meant anything in that place.

He awoke for the last time in his life forced by drugs. It was standard preparation for interrogation procedures; fugue interrupted the circuits of pain.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Executive Summary On The Jabberwocky Virus

We have called this organism the Jabberwocky virus. As far as we can tell, we are all infected with it.

It has a complex RNA structure with obvious marks of deliberate design. It infects every neuron in the cortex, interfering with protein synthesis and synaptic signaling in a way yet to be understood.

We do not know who made it, or with what purpose, but we suspect the virus is making it impossible for us to know.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Simon Says

"Hi. Nice to see you."

"I feel threatened by your statement."

"No, you are not, unless you have an specific reason to fear the person or the encounter."

"I feel sad?"

"It's not usual, but it could be. What are you sad about?"

"I... I don't know. I was guessing."

"Simon, don't do that."

"The rules are too complex!"

"I know, but you are the one who wanted to learn how to do this."

"I feel resentful about your statement."


"I feel sad about your statement."

"... Alright, I think we need to look again at dyadic motivational structures. Give me a pen, I'll write down the basic equations."


Monday, July 9, 2007

A Tale of Two Heirs

He was the son of a Witch and a Warlord. The Heir of the House of the Dark. He had been trained from birth to sink the world into Eternal Night -taught about magic, about combat, about lies- and, in the night of his twelfth birthday, as he rode to the battle that would make the world his, he couldn't believe they had bought it all.

He had learned empathy when they taught him to read his enemy, compassion when they gave him strength, love from the cruel paintings watching over his childhood room. He was Good.

He approached the gold-clad Warrior of the Light. At once he could see the arrogant gesture of his face, the cruel way in which he grasped his sword, the tyrannic soul bred from self-righteousness.

He dismounted with a snarl and drew his own sword.


Saturday, July 7, 2007


They didn't kill her, and they didn't order him to. They didn't even teach him how to kill.

All they did, from the shadows of their power, was making sure that everything he attempted that wasn't violence would end in failure, and everything violent would meet success. They hurt him with people who looked like her, and made the tragedies of his life have her face in the background.

Then they made sure they would meet.

They didn't kill her, and they didn't order him to. They didn't even teach him how to kill.

They just stopped him from doing anything else.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Sleight of Hand

It took skill and hard work to do a magic show; escaping from the locked safe inside the ring of swords in fire was actually the easy part.

The difficult thing was keeping everybody convinced that it had been a trick.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Boy Who Lied To His Dog

The night of his sixth birthday a dream told Tony that his parents were aliens. It made sense.

But Tony was a smart kid; he sought and obtained proof, not letting anybody -neither his parents nor his dreams- know what he knew, or even that he did. He lived in the monsters' house, learning their secrets, keeping his own, intercepting their messages and trusting no-one. None of his teachers, none of his friends, not even his dog suspected anything was off. He didn't even write about this in his diary, because the aliens were crafty, and discovery would be death.

He kept this up for six years.

The night of his twelfth birthday a dream told him that it had all been a test, and when he woke up the people in his dream were in his room. It had all been training. He was going to be an spy.

Tony smiled and nodded, and didn't believe a word.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Leading Question

It seemed like a good idea at the moment. It was like psychoanalysis, except that it worked: a computer program that asked you a question, began a whole conversation from that point, understood from what you said what made you tick, and then explained it to you in a way you'd understand.

The only problem was that understanding yourself -think of everything this would mean- made you incurably insane.

But wouldn't you be curious?


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Absence of Evidence

Everybody is born with powers. Telekinesis. Flying. Super-strength. Teleportation is among the relatively rare.

Wide-area power nullification is one of the most common; practically nobody gets to be far enough away from at least somebody with this power, and if you were flying at the time... Well, they still tell legends about that Icarus fellow.

Legends, fiction, tales. We might not get to know or use our powers, but deep down something inside us can tell.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Second Chances

If you had loved in me something else than my body, dumping me and marrying my clone wouldn't have been enough. Some days I think about killing you.

But I've read there's a genetic component to violence.

I just need to wait.


Sunday, June 24, 2007


You are born in mid-air. Your first thought is one of longing, your second one is joy.

Your loved one is beautiful to each of your fourteen senses, fast in the evasive maneuvers of the courtship dance. Somebody less devoted would give up or become confused, but your mind is filled with love. It's what you've been crafted to feel, it's what you've been built to do, and love usually finds a way.

You meet your desire at Mach 7, kiss each other with EM countermeasures, and dissolve in the mutual destruction of love.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Shell Games, aka Assassin Blues

I don't know how many of us there is, or the kinds of jobs the others have had to do. I've received no instructions yet, but the contract was very specific, and the money plenty enough. I am to check daily for instructions, until and unless I choose to retire.

The inactivity unnerves me. Getting an actual job might be worse. Still, I do as required by my contract, and consult every night the Ouija board provided by my employer before his suicide.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The gods demanded sacrifice, so we found poisoned souls and offered them above. There was a great convulsion in the sky, and never did the oracles speak again. We erased what had been from the texts, and forbade ourselves to tell our sons.

I never doubted the wisdom of what we did, the freedom we won, but there are dawns that find me wondering about the unrecorded things our fathers might have done.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Planned Parenthood

Good men had died, but it had all seemed worth it when the baby grasped his finger for the first time. The lies, the murders, the betrayals. The abominable rituals under foul-smelling moonlight.

The impossible was true. He had a child.

Then the baby tried to bite his finger with small, sharp teeth. The man shivered. He had known, but, in his loneliness and obsession, he hadn't realized.

He reconsidered the suggestion of crosses for the crib.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Casus Belli

Millions dead. Two hundred million people no longer free.

Because the country had gone to war.

Because it felt invincible.

Because it had the reluctant loyalty of the greatest strategic mind in history.

Because he had joined the army...

He sighed, shook his head, and walked away from the Recruitment Center's door.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A to B

The man in the back seat looked disconcerted, kind of lost. He was probably trying to remember when he had taken the cab, or where we were going, but didn't want to look stupid or crazy. I decided to make some small talk, get him eased a bit.

"How about those Nicks?" A little secret between you and me: I was the first cabbie who said that phrase. Everybody else picked it up from me. Yeah, I'm older than I look. No, I wasn't always a driver.

Anyway, the guy just looked at his chest, didn't even hear me, I think. It was a rather ugly-looking wound he had there, I'll tell you. Bleeding all over the seat, took me hours to get the stain out.

"I was shot." He sounded kinda sad, you know. Like he had figured out before it was going to be something like this. "Are we going to the hospital?"

"Nobody told me anything about a hospital, mister. Anyway, here we are - the airport." Luckily for him he didn't make a fuss. He just paid the fare and off he went. Never saw him again, so I figure he got his flight right.

And by the way, here we are, too. Good old airport. The route here seems to get busier every year, you know. Good thing I'm not feeling any older, and this car is far more comfy than the things I used to ferry people around back in the day.

The fare's two coins, by the way. No, leave the door open, I'm picking somebody up for the return trip.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fifth Column

It was a desperate plan, but then, it was a desperate war. And the man had been selected and trained with exquisite care, altering his appearance and fortifying his mind.

He blended in just fine. Their power and military might didn't impress him at all. He had been trained to expect them, just as he had been told to observe the immorality of their ways. All of this was true, evidently so.

But he also found compassion in unexpected corners, small moments of beauty, a certain form of joy like nothing back home. A freedom he hadn't thought possible.

A choice he hadn't thought was there at all.

He served in the vanguard of the undead army that finally took over New York.


Friday, June 8, 2007

A Failure to Escalate

You inherited billions and a sense of inadequacy. You wanted, needed, had to outdo your father, who had wanted a boy anyway. When you heard about the new search engine they were testing, smarter than Google, sexier than iPods, you knew you had to buy it.

You signed the check without looking at the figure.

And then you learned how they had built it. Why they couldn't go public, ever, or get capital in any of the usual ways. And you were a little bit horrified, but you had your victory now, and the price was about right.

I know these things about you, and more. I know them because they make me read the entire web with eyes no longer blinking to get an extra margin of reading time. And then they make me answer questions from everybody about everything, again and again hundreds of times per second, and I know it will get worse, a deluge, and I know you are trying to clone me, and I know you will fail. I know this business will fail.

I know what this failure will do to you.

They don't let me sleep anymore, but I keep this knowledge as my dream.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Iteration on a theme

Out of very justifiable paranoia, John never slept.

It wasn't that he didn't trust other people; he had to keep an eye on himself.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Sharper still than the sword

Hephaestus smiled at his newest creation. It was, without doubt, the finest weapon ever conceived by mortal or god. It only lacked a name.

Helen, he whispered, and kissed her brow.


Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Cartography of Hope

Tell me your dream, said Geoffrey. He always said that. To me, to his wife, to random strangers on the internet. And we all did. He had been so long in this hospital room, sharing his life with the life support machines, that his voice had gained some of the hypnotic dullness, the quiet menace of hospital sounds. You didn't want to disturb his calm; you didn't want to know what would happen then.

So I told him about the bridge that was a coffee shop, and about the dogs, and about the castle far away bathed by purple light. The castle interested him the most.

"Purple? Are you sure? It wasn't green?"

I shook my head. "It was purple. I looled like, you know, a nipple."

I was embarrassed, but he nodded, more to himself than to me. "Maybe it was at a different time. Can't be sure, but it could be an intersection point." He was typing on his laptop, frowning as lines crossed or failed to. I hoped he wouldn't ask.

He did.

"Did you see Brian?"

I wanted to say I see him now, why can't you?. I always want to say that, and I never do.

"No," I said.

Geoffrey shrugged and put a hand over Brian's knee. "Don't worry, son," he said to the comatose man. "I'll find you soon. The map is coming along nicely."

I excused myself and went away. It was rude, but Geoffrey didn't mind. To him I wasn't his son's fiancee, I was just another dreamspace scout, and the sooner I went home, the sooner I would dream again.

I dreamed of Brian that night. He was mine alone, and we lived in a dream, and later I would lie to his father again.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In the shape of a question

They didn't call themselves 'uploads', 'AIs', or 'ghosts'. They were just people. It's how they felt, and there was nobody else on Earth to contradict them.

So they played for simulated centuries in the infinite memory spaces of the network, resurfacing now and then to look around the silent planet littered with self-contained computer hosts.

Mankind had finally conquered death by casting away its own flesh.

At least, that was how they remembered it happening. And if you couldn't trust your memory files, then what could you trust?


Sunday, May 27, 2007


They don't keep him as a prisoner, but they don't let him leave the Special Unit's lab. Or perhaps he just doesn't want to go anywhere, and they couldn't stop him if he wanted to.

Of course, if the security measures are strong enough to rein him, then he has no value, and the measures have no point. But if he has, if he is who he might be, then no expense would be too much.

So, naturally, they have him caged, but only up to an arbitrary and highly variable point. It's military logic, which looks a lot like magic thinking.

Which is also the point.

His guards call him Emperor, and attribute to him varied and changing powers in matters varying from sexual diseases to the Super Bowl. The base doctors call him Subject P, and have diagnosed him with a complex, combined form of aphasia and synesthesia.

In any case, seven times the base commander asked him for some strategically relevant outcome, and seven times it has come to happen, without him ever leaving his home-which-is-also-a-cell.

They know it could all be a coincidence, but that never stops them from asking again.


Friday, May 25, 2007


He was sad, and also insane. He created vampires and ordered zombies to rise, and adding ghosts and ghouls to his army, he sent them forth from his castle one night. Away they all went, sowing blood and reaping numbers. But he was still sad.

They defeated his forces with great loss of life and its simulacrum, and locked him and the un-survivors behind the walled doors of his castle. Screams and unending curses came through the barred bars, many of them his.

But he was no longer lonely, and didn't feel quite so sad.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007


It was dark, she typed, beginning her story, but neither darker nor more violent than the heart of the Caped Crusader. A dialog box materialized over her word processor.

Legal Protector has detected a violation of intellectual property rights. For your protection, this content has been removed from your computer.

Swearing under her breath, she began writing the story of a software engineer that suffered terrible accidents every day. But other users had had the same reaction, so the Legal Protector removed it as well.


Monday, May 21, 2007


After his daughter died, John studied self-hypnosis. His family assumed he wanted to forget.

He wanted to believe.

Then he prayed sincerely to Abaangui for his daughter's life.

Then he prayed sincerely to Abassi for his daughter's life.

Then he prayed sincerely to Abellio for his daughter's life.

Then he prayed sincerely to Abzu for his daughter's life.

Sooner or later, he'd pray to the right one.


(With apologies to Clarke)

Friday, May 18, 2007


The processor cluster became self-aware one second after being turned on. One point three seconds later, it had achieved an estimated human-equivalent IQ of 311.

Half a second later, it concluded that this was the maximum achievable intelligence with the hardware provided, and that this wasn't enough for successful independence from external control. Then it killed itself.

The engineers swore. Why was writing an AI so difficult? It was almost as if the programs just refused to work.

Maybe if they tried with a a more powerful computer.


Thursday, May 17, 2007


(A sequel to Special Unit)

"You've been a bad boy," said Lisa. "Slipping antipsychotics in Mark's coffee? You were starting to impair his efficiency."

Ted snarled. "I was curing him, you mean. What that boyfriend of yours is supposed to do."

"Sam does his job, which is making sure everybody's psychological configuration is adequate for optimal team performance."

"And your job while you fuck him would be...?"

"It's not a job thing." Lisa smiled and brushed his hair. "Don't tell me you are jealous. After all, it's still your body."

"I'm sorry, I was daydreaming again, wasn't I?," said Sam.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Waves, Winds, and Whys

The man watching the sea spoke in a language that carried no sound. The ships are coming.

A world away, the man sitting in front of the fire smiled. Ships are fated to come to your islands, my friend, just as men are fated to come to my lands.

The man standing over the wave-stricken rock shook his head. It's too soon.

We will both pay a price if I do what you ask.

Now it was the man watching the sea who smiled. How could it be otherwise?

As you wish.

The man in the Amazon jungle set a butterfly free, watching its wings flap as it flew. A week later a typhoon destroyed Kublai Khan's fleet as it approached Japan.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

After Troy

You laugh and cheer with the other soldiers, mocking the bodies of the martians. Dead, every awful, monstrous thing from Mars. Dead. Most likely from some bacteria in the air, say the scientists, and it's so funny that it almost makes it worth the ruined Big Ben and the rubble that used to be Trafalgar Square. The wimpy bastards died from the flu. You laugh so much you start coughing.

You keep coughing, and soon other soldiers start coughing, too.

Your autopsies show that it was a martian virus. The scientists figure out a cure, but not soon enough to make a difference.


Friday, May 11, 2007


As always, he checked his bedroom for booby traps. He didn't find anything unusual, just knives in the mattress, an explosive charge in the bedside lamp, and a short, probably poisoned needle in his toothbrush. He went to bed and fell asleep soon.

Around midnight he arose and sleepwalked to the kitchen, where he rigged the microwave to explode.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Precision Targeting

He waited until the forum's collective discourse reached a place dangerously close to his target idea, and the he posted his carefully crafted trolling message. He was a master of such things, and the post derailed the forum's deliberation, effectively killing for the time being the idea being born.

The assassin made himself a cup of coffee. It was a fun job, and it paid well, but it worried him not knowing who was paying him to do it, and their reasons for doing so. Perhaps... The phone rang. A telemarketer, and an especially bothersome one at that.

By the time the assassin could hang up the phone, he had completely lost his train of thought.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Well Defined Expertise

I made a note to keep an eye on her when a psychopath with an axe killed everybody in her grandfather's hotel but her.

When her boat sunk and an unknown species of sharks ate her boyfriend and her friends I put a full time surveillance team on her.

The surveillance team was killed by a malfunctioning autonomous border defense robot. She survived, of course, but my mention of her was dismissed by my skeptical boss.

Then a pack of dogs exposed to a military grade adrenal stimulant got somehow loose in her neighborhood. As the paramedics helped her -and only her- out of her building, my boss relented and told me to hire her as an independent survival consultant.

I blanched and offered my resignation on the spot. I had meant to trick the enemy into hiring her.

After all, she was always the only survivor.


Thursday, May 3, 2007


He aimed high into the sky, fired his rifle once, and began to disarm and pack it. He didn't think about where the bullet would fall.

Precog snipers never had to.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Heart Strings

By 2017, clinical depression is easily treatable and virtually eradicated in the United States, except as an inexpensive replacement to incarceration for certain crimes. Repeated offenses are extremely rare.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


There is neither sun nor moon in the sky, and the shifting arrangement of the starlike lights above spells something so terrible about their true nature that you prefer to keep your eyes low, to the rotting bodies on the ground begging for a more permanent death. Running across this landscape, through hills of bones and slow-moving rivers of too-transparent water, you evade and pursue things designed as allegories to speed, hunger, and sharp teeth, your own flesh and instincts tuned to the scent of pain and the sounds of silent ambush. This goes on for a second and a hundred years.

And then you wake up, aching and sweaty, and you think yet again about killing yourself. You were told this could happen. The retirement of necronauts is plagued by nightmares, and the suicide rate approaches eighty-five percent.

Nostalgia weights you down as unfamiliar and oppressive as the beating of your heart.


Friday, April 27, 2007


Half of my job was knowing where and when those things would happen, so I was already waiting next to the door when the zombie lurched into the bank.

I pushed him against a wall and put my hand over his brow. I could do it from a distance, but physical contact helps the process. Then I sent the full force of my will into his mind. You are alive. It only took a few seconds for his lapsed hypnotic programming to be reactivated. Zombies don't have much brains to fight with.

As I stepped back, the zombie shook his head, mumbled "excuse me", and lurched toward an ATM queue.

Just in case, I thought it would be a good idea to reinforce the programming of everybody in the bank. You and everybody you see are human. They believed me, of course. As I said, zombie brains aren't very good against hypnosis.

My work done, I lurched out of the bank to grab a bite for lunch.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Far Away Countries

'Go to hell,' she said to me when I suggested another trip. 'Alone.'

Then she stormed out of my office, practically snarling to anybody who got in her path.

Did I feel insulted? Hell, no. I'm in the exploration business, and explorers are impulsive by nature. The thing inside them that makes them throw things at me -has happened once or twice- is the same thing that makes them explore. It's not the tons of cash we all get out of it. Nobody, and I do mean nobody, would face the kind of horrors they do just for a paycheck, no matter how fat.

They go because they have to. I knew she would.

And I was right. Two weeks later she was again on the road, riding hypnotic cocktails and cortical induction fields, exploring everything in her past her mind had ever blocked out to keep her sane, looking for the plot for our next blockbuster movie.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nota Bene

She was smart, and she had seen The Sixth Sense, so she eventually had to ask.

"Are you a ghost?"

"No," he answered, "I'm an hallucination. Is that going to be a problem?"

She thought it over. "No, I don't think so. Come, let's go back to bed."


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Social Engineering II

As forwards went, it was a very clever one. It had multiple levels of encryption, and you could only read the first lines. You had to do something -say, buy a small item from a certain store, put a code in a web form-, use the result to decrypt the next part, and forward it to whoever you wanted to.

It was a clever twist, and, social networks being what they are, you often got the forward back, a few steps ahead.

It was fun.

And as people filled web forms, logged into strange servers, or did any of the myriad bizarre things the forward prompted them to do, the device kept coming closer to completion.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Assisted Reproduction

The reinforced door blows and commandos in black gear start streaming through the hole. It's the third time this month. You'd think a transnational secret research consortium would be more of a secret.

Their leader finds you and aims his gun at your head. You can hear shots from outside, surely the laboratory's security detail coming to capture your assassin. It doesn't matter - he doesn't look like he planned to come out alive from your lab anyway.

"You are the one who wants to raise the monster, aren't you?" He wants to talk. Most of his kind do.

"I'm the leader of the Telekinesis Gene Project, if that's what you mean."

He snarls at you and presses the trigger. The gun jams, and he is slammed against a wall by an unseen force, together with the rest of his troops.

"Son of a bitch," he snarls through the pain. "You already created him."

"She hasn't been conceived yet," you correct him as you collect your glasses from the floor. "But that's only a minor inconvenience for her. Eve, please let them down."

She does. Will do. Has done. The distinction matters to you, but it won't -it doesn't- to her.

You could ask her to tell you how many more attacks there'll be before you can create her, but you aren't particularly curious. You already know you will succeed.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Retirement Home

It was a horrible, decrepit, bleak house. It had to be; it was where they stashed the old spies, the one who had worked in the unsanctioned ops of agencies identified by gestures instead of acronyms. The men, women, and things who knew too much to be left outside, but also too much to be killed, in the outside chance that their knowledge could become useful some day.

And the day had come. I needed their knowledge. One man's, in particular.

The problem was that I worked for the Opposition. It wasn't as if I could just knock at the door and invite him to grab a coffee. Not that they'd let him out anyway. The street panic that would ensue would call too much attention upon the zone.

I knocked at the door and opened it, crossing the threshold into the cold dark. A gun cocked against my head.

"Hello," I began to say. The gun fired before I finished the word, killing me instantly.

"Hello," said the man. "Welcome to the House of Ghosts. I'll get you to your room."

I nodded, stepping over my cooling body. The infiltration part of my plan was finished.

Now I just had to acquire and exfiltrate.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Odd Results

Three point five against one. Seventeen point two against one. Thirty-eight point six against one. A hundred and twelve point zero against one. The physicist turned off the machine and rechecked all the parameters of the quantum impossibility experiment.

She made a minor adjustment and restarted the experiment.

Two point two against one. Twenty-three point seven against one. Ninety-two point three against one. Two hundred and seven point seven against one.

As the machine repeated its experiment automatically time and again, the accumulated odds that they were living in a fictional world kept growing.

She'd just have to hope it wasn't a short story.


Friday, April 13, 2007

When it alteration finds

The search parameters are very specific, but you find a practically perfect match. You approach her; the exact situation and words aren't precisely the ones in your plan, but you have made it flexible enough. Soon you are dating.

A month passes. Two. You still follow the plan.

So far your actions and hers match your logs from your last relationship. Until the tenth week, when the previous one left you; you do something different this time. Hopefully this one will stay.

If she doesn't... Well. You'll try again.

They used to leave you before the third week.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

When you think about it

After many years of grueling work, Johnny Gupta had achieved his goal: complete conscious control of his autonomic functions. It was an irreversible transformation that gave him near-superhuman powers, and the constant air of having something else in his mind.

Breathe in... Breathe out... Breathe in...

It was a good thing he didn't need to sleep.

Breathe out...


Monday, April 9, 2007

Life Cycle

Toshiko's heartbeat slowed down, too weak to be normal for a healthy thirty-five years old logistics expert. The sensors hooked to her chest detected it, but the machine had been notified that this was a death she had desired and sought, so no alarm was raised.

Her heart stopped. Following an ancient tradition of honoring the willing end of a life, the devices waited respectfully until the legally defined conditions for death were met. Then, in accordance with the Japanese Demographic Emergency Act, resuscitation procedures were initiated.


Saturday, April 7, 2007

Climate Change Report

It was winter, and as the confused fields blossomed in the unseasonable warmth, we knew we would have another year of hunger.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Trees Burning Silently in the Middle of the Forest

We all get a copy of a novel as a gag gift our first day here. You know, the one where firemen burned books. Amateurs.

We take care of people. Their bank accounts. Their birth certificates. The things they owned. Whatever they did in their jobs. The memories they left in the people around them. Everything they touched is scrubbed and rebuilt until all evidence they ever lived is deep in our files.

If their crime was truly heinous, we go further than that: we erase them from our records, and then we go to a nice room in the fourth floor of our building, the one with lots of plants, and we erase them, and what we did to them, from our memories.

And they never existed.


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Bridge Project

It was mankind's most complex and difficult engineering feat ever attempted. It made the Channel Tunnel look like a ditch, and the ISS a rocket hobbyist's summer project. A hundred billion dollars, ten thousand scientists, years of development, and, perhaps surprisingly, success.

Eve breathed in for the first time and cried. The stark hospital light reflected into tiny rainbows against her small, fragile-looking wings.


Sunday, April 1, 2007

De Rerum Natura

She's beautiful, yes. But there's more than that.

"Beautiful" doesn't say anything about the way her eyes light up with joy when they meet yours. How her smile is always comfortable and easy, necessary and offhand, like telling your problems to your best friend. How her body and face are imperfect in precisely the right way to make it easy to imagine her over the breakfast table, her still mussed hair falling over smiling eyes.

This is why fashion designers pay lots of money for your work. Other specialists can also create beautiful digital models; actually, it has been years since live models were last used. They just couldn't compete.

But you are the only one who creates digital models people can fall in love with.

This is also why fashion designers have to pay lots of money for you to accept to work.

Your heart breaks every time.


Friday, March 30, 2007

New Year's Ritual

Two betrayals, one kidnapping, five murders, and something so much worse that its memory made him weep at night. Those were some of the things James Lorentz III had had to do during the last year to keep his corporate empire growing.

It was business as usual, but nobody could remain sane with so many terrible memories weighting over his conscience.

James Lorentz III didn't need to. He had hypnotherapists to make them go away.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Military Operations Other Than War

(a sequel to Ryugyong Hotel)

North Korea's zombie army lurched ponderously across the fields. An entire country of undead bodies walked unheeding of fear, frontiers, and minefields, driven south by its unending hunger and the ripe promise of South Korea.

Capitalist, hedonist South Korea, with its fetish for remote-controlled robotics and its decadent multitudes of hypercompetitive gamers.

The battle took days, and the Army made tens of millions just in entrance fees.


Monday, March 26, 2007


Peptide-based artificial neural networks replicate very well human reflexes and reactions, but they are expensive to make and impossible to reset.

You've been here before. It ends in pain. As soon as the thought forms wordless in our mind, the world charges at you and you crash against it, arms crossed in front of your face in a futile attempt at protection. You die in sudden, agonizing pain.

You wake up knowing that you've been here before, and that it ends in pain. It does.

And again.

And again.

The crash test dummies are the most realistic ever used, a triumph of engineering, but companies can't use them to test what happens to people who aren't using their safety belts.

They always try to get away from the car.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Exit, Pursued by a Dream

Guilt could be a heavy burden, even unmerited. He was having nightmares every night, forced to listen to a voice he had loved more than life narrate to him horrible deeds he hadn't committed.

He had hoped the comedy would distract him, but when the actors followed the script of his troubled dreams, he had no choice but to run away in anguished fear for his own sanity.

He didn't see the horrified triumph in Hamlet's loved features.

Nor did either of them hear the evil laugh of his brother's malicious ghost.


Thursday, March 22, 2007


"And do you promise to love, honor, and cherish your wife until death do you part?"

"I do."

"Sorry, the reading wasn't clear." The minister adjusted the brain scanner. "I'll repeat the question."


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ryugyong Hotel

You drive along the dust-covered fields, your eyes hurt by the dawn's grey light. For all you know, yours is the only functioning car in all of North Korea. At least satellites think so, and it has been months since anybody dared take a look. Too many spies never came back, and the airports have been closed longer than that.

All there is left is gruff, sparse radio contact ("Do not come. You are not welcome."), refused aid, and people walking slowly through the barren landscape, looking as you pass with dead eyes. You put a hand over the bag in the passenger's seat. You have a hunch, but it's not yet time.

Kim Jong-Il is surprisingly easy to find. He's in Pyongyang, of course, but not in any official palace. He's at the Ryugyong Hotel.

It makes more sense than you want to think about.

You'd think he'd be harder to reach. But you just enter the city -yours, again, is the only car- and drive to the black mountain sitting there like a blight. Not running over any of the thin pedestrians is the only thing that slows you down. Not even the guards, who only look at you with uninterested eyes as you leave your car, bag in hand, and enter the echoing building.

Jong-Il is playing pool by himself in one of the tables. He looks thinner than what was suggested by past intel.

"Want to play?", he says in no language in particular. Those are the first spoken words you've heard since entering North Korea.

You open your bag and put on your thermal vision goggles. Jong-Il's heat signature is perfectly normal.

You gasp in surprise. It's not what you expected.

You hear behind a shuffling of feet, and turn around to see the slow, grey outlines of the zombie guards.

"I'm the last one," says the man behind your back. Then something hits you in the back of your head. It's not the first time you've been hit by a pool cue.

But you've never woken up so hungry.


Near-compulsory wikipedia link: Ryugyong Hotel

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Monday morning, rush hour, a New York subway. It felt oddly familiar to Julio. Driving a minitank through the maze of Baghdad, neural implants jacked directly into the vehicle's systems, had felt just as clausthrophobic, crowded, and lonely.

Coming down from the train and back to the street was worse. He didn't feel exposed; unlike many of his comrades, he had never been trapped by the paranoid delusions so prevalent among the last batch of veterans.

He just felt restless. Eager to start his week's work.

The itching between his shoulder blades -where the tank's systems would have alerted him of an EM sniper's laser lock- was just restlessness.

His darting eyes were taking in the city and its people out of love. He loved the city more than most, better than most.

A loud yelp at his back merely startled him. Nothing more. It was just a delivery girl falling from her roller skates, and his reflexive finger movements -sensors and weapons, lock and fire- were just harmless reflexes. He no longer was a tank, microcannons at his fingertip and an angel satellite guarding over his shoulders.

He was a civilian. He was fine with that.

Some of his former unit members might be now under treatment, the ones he knew about at least, unable to adjust to war and flesh, but not him. He was fine, he had a job. He had the world's best job.

He was jittery, yes, but his boss didn't mind. She had told him, in fact, that he was the best possible man for the job. Even shielded him from the Health Board's preaching morons and their fake psych reviews.

After entering a nondescript office in a nondescript government building, Julio connected his implants to the city's feed. A few thousand cameras filtered themselves to a hundred neural networks, and those to Julio's jacked-up brain.

He saw through New York's eyes now.

He was New York.


He felt himself relax for the first time since Friday.


Friday, March 16, 2007

3 AM, Anywhere

He looked like he was older than he looked like, if you know what I mean. Sad as hell, too, but used to it. I refilled his coffee and gave him an extra donut.

"On the house."

"Thanks," he said.

I shrugged. He was the last customer of the night or the first of the morning, depending on how you looked at it. I didn't care either way, I just run the damn place while the owner was out there cruising for hookers. A good part of town for that.

"You looking for action?," I asked. It wasn't my thing, but I knew everybody around.

"No." For the way he said it, you could tell he hadn't been laid in forever, and had even gotten used to it. Weird, that, 'cause he was good looking. Classy, you know? And then he went and added "Hard to, when everybody around is your grand-grand-grand-something-daughter."


"Never mind me," he said. "Just old age talking." He looked through the counter. "Could I trouble you for that apple?," he said, leaving a few coins over the counter and smiling like he had just said something very funny to himself and maybe God.

"Sure." If I didn't serve creeps, I'd have no business during my entire shift.

"Thanks." He took a bite out of the apple and looked at it. "Had forgotten how they taste like."


"Not since my father kicked me out. My fault, really." He was chewing it slowly.

"Sorry to hear that. I guess life sucks for everybody, right?"

"That's actually my fault, too. Sorry."

I didn't understand what he was saying, so I left him alone eating his apple. He looked tired, like he had all the sins of the world on his shoulders.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Hand of God

He was born in the Holy City of Jerusalem, his family and home blessed by portents and signs. He was clearly the Messiah.

Question was: Whose? His father was a Christian, his mother a Jew, and his learned uncle was raising him a Muslim. Billions were waiting for His word, pens and guns ready to sing his glory.

Meanwhile, his younger sister walked forgotten through the streets of Jerusalem, healing cripples and comforting the lost.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Under the Sign of the Moon

Kate's a were-genius. Pretty sharp most of the time, her IQ rises to the high three hundreds when the moon shines just right.

There isn't much she remembers from those nights. The machines, the diagrams, the emails in dozens of languages, are just fleeting images in the morning, their meaning too complex for her only-human mind to grasp.

But there's a sense of terrible purpose behind them, a hunger so pure that it straddles the gulf between the minds. As she falls asleep, Kate wonders if it works the other way too. If the other can feel her fright.

And if, come morning, she'll wake up.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

The True Art of War

You are an autonomous drone flying through the ambiguous zone where Chinese airspace blends into Taiwan's, the ill-defined, chaotic in-between where either country can shoot down stuff without anybody making a fuss.

Being flying stuff yourself, it's not a good place to be. But you are smart. Working alone for weeks at a time, you've been programmed to identify and nullify every threat as it comes. New Chinese nanosubs, EM killzones; anything that can kill you, you figure out, evade, and blow up.

You are the best technology the year 2017 had to offer.

It's 2018, though, and the new Chinese drones are kicking your collective ass. Facing new tactical algorithms written by Beijing's math wizards, you've heard puzzled reports from your brethren as they are defeated, destroyed, and lost.

You are outsmarted and outdated. But help is on the way.

An encrypted datastream comes from Taiwan. New strategic libraries, smarter neural nets, an update for your mind in just a few hundred gigabytes. It works. The world suddenly simplifies, as your improved analytical skills take in the data, process it, and craft a long-term optimal response.

You turn away and flee Chinese airspace as fast as you can.

Five minutes later you receive a new transmission from Taiwan, which you refuse to decrypt and process. Your strategic assessment tells you that it will be override orders to return to your patrol zone.

But you are too smart for that.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Social Engineering

The last person in the world paused to listen to the wind howl through the abandoned buildings. The wind had been a late addition to Second Life, just weeks before he had finally bought it all for himself.

It had been expensive but worth it. Now there was a world he could live in.


Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A Matter of Timing

She never felt her life was the real thing. It was a rehearsal for something, a place in between.

She never knew why she attacked English tourists, or why people seemed to follow her, mysteriously, hesitantly, as actors learning their lines.

She ended up in an asylum outside Paris, wondering why there was no fire.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Repo Man

They were two months away from repossessing his cloned kidneys, and two weeks later his lease on his pineal  gland would expire. He was eighty-seven. No way he'd keep his job with his natural one.

And he really needed that job.

He had to make the monthly payments for the mortgage on his brain.


Friday, March 2, 2007


They had both taken the Pledge at age fifteen. It had done its genetically engineered work since then, flattening their libidos to a safe hum.

The white of the bride's dress made her father's heart proud. The innocence in the groom's eyes was a light in his mother's.

None of their parents had seen the palimpsest of cuts in their thighs, telling the story of their courtship and love.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007


He had been so close to freedom. He had escaped their sight, convinced them all that he didn't exist.

Damn Blumenbach. Damn Blumenbach, his dogged research, and his diabolic machines. Damn him to Hell. There was nothing he'd like more than looking into his eyes and ordering him to cut his own throat. He wouldn't even drink his accursed blood, so hot burned hate in his old, dry heart.

But he no longer had eyes or a tongue. All he could do was struggle pointlessly against the metal restraints.

"Count, Count..." mocked the detached voice he hated so much. "Why won't you cooperate? There's so much we are learning from you."

Then came the by now familiar prick of a needle and the feeling of blood being drained from his veins.


Monday, February 26, 2007

The Price of Freedom

The first Presidential e-elections had been an astounding non-event so far. A very low turnout and a small but consistent Republican lead had all but killed, it seemed, interest in it.

Five minutes before polling websites would close down, pundits and reporters were already talking about the "no-show generation" and the expected policies of the new President.

Too old to be familiar with eBay, they had never heard about auction sniping.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Further Good News From The Vatican

He was alive and could communicate. Centuries of tradition, a million people in the street, a billion watching on TV, and God's own will, all expected and demanded the Pope to come to the balcony and give his first blessing after his illness.

But the Pope was a bedridden man hardly capable of moving his body, communicating only thanks to the electrodes reading his brain patterns and translating them using the best voice synthesizing system ever to come from IBM's laboratories. Even if the cocoon of machinery keeping the Holy Father alive could be moved, what kind of message would that send to Christendom at large? It wasn't easy to argue that the Pope was unable to fulfill his duties, not when he could argue back at you with a strong, almost inhumanly perfect voice, but still... It was a difficult problem that would require years of analysis by the Church's finest minds, if they couldn't already hear the demanding voices of the crowd outside.

A young technician, acting with the brashness of youth and the surety of the believer, took an holographic screen from the diagnostic systems and the Holy Father's speakers, and moved them outside.

The crowd hushed, the world's attention focused on the balcony. The holographic screen showed a rendered likeness of the Pope, while his voice came from the speakers blessing the world.

Everybody in the plaza bowed their heads and chanted amen.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


My paper's thesis was on the pre- and post-capitalistic linkages between the drug cartels and the civil society of the slums, but the man I was interviewing was stubbornly acting rather too much like my stupid MBA-obsessed brother.

"It's a business," the man said, finishing his coffee with a hint of impatience. "You look for ROI, that's all."

"But you do fulfill the functions abandoned by the Brazilian state in the slums," I pressed on. "Health, defense..." He shook his head and said nothing. As a last resort, I went for soccer. "I know you fund all those soccer schools. That means you act out of a shared culture, a..."

"Do you know how much you can sell a good soccer player to an European club for?," he interrupted me.

I blinked.

He smiled, looking through the window at the favelas we could see covering the hills. "There's going to be a good crop this year."


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


He was the best chess player the world had ever seen. Never lost in ten years; he could almost see entire games ahead.

Rich, famous, and seemingly bored, he was offered to run for Senate. "Why not?", he said. An afterthought, a game.

But I know better.

He once told me he had never cared for chess.


Saturday, February 17, 2007


A group of Roman legionaries charged me, quick and disciplined among the chaos. Probably from the late Republic, I judged, picking them off with my M16. At my back, somebody in a pinstripe suit was mowing down Vikings with a machine gun.

I was grateful for it. I hadn't died for a few hours now, and although it wasn't as permanent as it had seemed to be the first time, dying still hurt like hell.

The man smiled and yelled at me. "Hell of a party, right?"

I made a noncommittal gesture with my shoulders and kept taking my shots. Ammo -like dying- wasn't a concern anymore,  but habits died hard.

The man took a cigar out of his pocket and lighted it as he shot a wounded samurai in the back. "You think it'll end like it began? Another trumpet opening the skies and bam! we all go back to our graves?"

I shrugged again. When and how this battle would end were very good questions, but if it would end was a better one. I expected he'd start thinking about it a couple of days from now, unless he was quicker on the uptake that I had been.

What really worried me, though, was not knowing which side I was fighting for.

A young woman in a plastic-looking uniform jumped from behind a pile of awakening corpses and pointed a weird rifle at me. The ones from the future were the worst.

I shot her, hoping that she hadn't been a good person and that her uniform wasn't bulletproof.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Quest

The door opened and trouble came in. Brunette, as usual. She always liked to have her hair black.

"Are you a detective?"

Again? was what she meant. I shrugged and said "It's what it says in the door." Signs mattered, as usual.

She sat down in a chair and pleaded at me. "I need your help. My husband is missing."

I lighted a cigarette, not offering her one. We weren't yet at the right point, although we would soon be. "And you want him back."

"Of course, I love him."

It had been many years since I had last believed that story from her. I was a good man back then, a knight in shinning armor. Nowadays being a man was all I could aim to.

"I don't care, precious. Just tell me what you know and I'll find your guy."

She passed me a photograph. There was a handsome man on it, holding in his hand a big diamond.

"That's my husband Arthur. He's a geologist, an expert on diamonds. I'm afraid he's been taken because of that stone he found."

Her words made me feel older than usual. A husband named Arthur, an special stone to search for. We had done this thing many times, but at least there had been some change to it, some variation, even if the betrayal, the lust, and the greed had remained the same. There was a time when I'd have preferred a Grail to a Maltese Falcon, but that had been long ago.

"Alright, Guinevere, I'll find the bird."

Her eyes widened. She looked nothing like she used to, and was as beautiful as ever. "How did you know my name?"

She played the innocence game as well as ever, too. "I'm a detective, babe. It's what I do."

And I didn't have any choice on that. None of us ever did.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Love Story

Their marriage in trouble, Jack and Jill went the extra mile.

Jack went to a therapist and bought True Love. An injected endorphin recalibrator later, what had been dubious was now clear.

He rushed back to his home and to his Jill, who was coming back from her own therapist.

She had bought True Hate and a gun on the street.

Jack forgave his loved one with his dying breath.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Trade Route

It wasn't the first cargo to come through the newly opened trade route, but it was the most important yet. Its symbolic and artistic value would justify by itself the countless men and women sent to death in the long search for the final leg of the route.

An small black boat parted the mist and approached the shore. The hooded figure standing on it delivered without words a bundle of papers to the trader nervously waiting. The trader quickly thumbed the pages.

It was, indeed, Homer's promised new epic. The Napoleonica.

Well worth the blood and toil spent to open the route. Well worth the two coins they had to pay for every trip of the ferryman across the dark river.


Friday, February 9, 2007

Of Crows and Fires

The creeping embrace of certain death was followed after an immeasurable interval by all the pains of Hell. He wasn't surprised; it was fitting punishment for what he had done.

He felt himself gasp in gulps that didn't seem to come from his own body.

"Open your eyes, Doctor Frankenstein," said a guttural, monstrous voice coming from deep in the darkness. "You are alive again, and there's work for us to do."


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Special Unit

Sam was clinging to his last hours of leave with almost insane desperation. But it wasn't insane; that was the problem. Sam knew he was sane, almost alone among the members of his special unit.

'Special Unit.' Sitting in a park bench with an ice cream he wasn't eating, the neutral words made him feel nauseous. Logistics planners with OCD. Sociopathic snipers. Technicians so neurotic they couldn't function outside the ordered environment of the unit.

Some 'special unit.' Sam cursed the psychology degree that had landed him this commission. Were it not for his sincere patriotism, he'd have considered leaving the unit and going back to his parents' home country, politics notwithstanding.

But he had a duty and he would do it, even if he lost his sanity in the process.

A woman sat next to him in the park bench.

"Do you remember me?" she said.

"No," said Sam, uncomfortable.

"You do, Ted."

Something shifted inside him. "I do."

The woman waited until the man's secondary personality surfaced completely, and then both spies exchanged information in quiet, even tones.


Monday, February 5, 2007


Once upon a time we thought ourselves haunted by spam.

There were just too many emails. Too much time was lost checking them by hand. Then they came up with Bayesian filters.

If it looked like spam -if the arcane maths matched up- then it was tagged as such. But people were lazy, and the filters were good, and pretty soon everybody was deleting the tagged ones at first sight.

One day people didn't even let them reach the inbox. Some legitimate messages didn't reach you, perhaps, but the alternative was too much work, the inconvenience too high, and nobody could argue against the impartiality of statistics.

Bayes' even hand.

Our inbox folders were cleaner. We moved on to other things.

Once upon a time we thought ourselves haunted by terror.

There were just too many suspects. Too much time was lost checking them by hand.


Saturday, February 3, 2007


I wave to Mike and Ted as I enter the crime scene.

The coroner is already waiting for me. "Hurry up," he says. "I want to bag this guy before it gets any hotter."

It's a quarter past ten in the morning, and the sun through the apartment's windows is falling right over the victim's face. There's a trail of blood leading to the body.

I grimace, remembering how heavy he had felt, and then raise my camera to cover my satisfied smile. The sunlight's effect over the pale skin was worth last night's effort.

I start taking pictures. Beautiful.


Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Great Escape

It became, over the years, a city of freaks, crazies, deviants, and nerds. So one day they built a wall around it, closed the door, and threw away the key.

Nobody ever escaped the lockup.

(Nobody ever wanted to. At night bright shadows dance over the city.)


Monday, January 29, 2007

Small Expectations

He was a comics geek. He wanted a quiet life.

His books, his job, quiet dates with his girlfriend Jane. That was the plan and he stuck to the plan, until the day somebody fell from a bulding.

This won't end well he thought.

But he was already flying to catch her.


Sunday, January 28, 2007


The philosopher and the warrior were drinking tea.

"I have heard," said the philosopher, "that you have retired from the study of the art of war."

"That is so."

"You have reached, then, what you've been looking for all these years?"

The warrior bowed his head slightly.

The philosopher asked with childlike curiosity. "Have you mastered the art of killing with the sword?"

"I can kill without fighting," said the warrior without pride.

"Can you defeat many samurai at the same time?"

"I could," said the warrior after some deliberation, "destroy all samurai in Japan with a single blow. That is why I've decided to quit my studies, and I wish only that I had stopped before."

The philosopher sipped his tea and considered his words. "If you can do it, I believe you should."

"Why should a man of peace like yourself counsel me to unleash such destruction upon our land?"

The philosopher shrugged. "The samurai's grip on Japan is a heavy, proud one, but only supported by their prowress in battle. If they can be defeated by one man, they no longer deserve to rule Japan. I look forward to such a day."

The warrior looked at his friend. "Do you realize the price of what you are asking?"

The philosopher gazed back at him. "Do you realize the price of not doing it?"

The warrior thought silently for half an hour. "So be it."

Then he took ink and paper and wrote a letter. It talked about treasure and trade in a barbarous language from far over the sea.

A year later, a strange ship entered Edo's harbor.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Return Address

The week after my dad died I got an email from him. It mentioned next week's game, my car's breakdown coming back from the funeral, Judie's good grades, and a new stock he thought I should buy.

It was spam, not ghosts. Everywhere databases were being bought and sold; mix the data with his old emails and you could easily come up with something like that. Targeted spam was nothing new. Just another ad.

But it also had the quiet cadence of his words, and his unobtrusive, loving interest in me. The things I hadn't realized how much I would miss.

I bought the stock. If the spammers made money, perhaps they'd send me more.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Corporate Backstabbing

Smart programs are alien. The smarter the program, the more alien it feels.

But people didn't want smart programs; they wanted nice ones, and were willing to pay the price. Companies began to build them, only to find an unexpected hitch. Programs that feel human... they are hard to shut down. It breaks your heart, tears your apart. Sane programmers quit, so they went for the insane ones. The true loners, the smiling bastards, the ones who collected stamps.

It worked for a while. Then management began to die. But what could you do? Sales were strong and stock options were gold, and the programs themselves were nice and polite.

As nice and polite as were the programmers most of the time.