Brevity is the width of soul.

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.


Subject: Please Help

Subject: Please Help

In the name of GOD, the MERCIFUL. My name is Ayasa Mogaji. My father WILLIAM MOGAJI was former manager of Bank of Nigeria, killed by political opinions in May 2006. He left USD 1,000,000 in account for my mother and myself, but cannot take it out of the country on account of the government's vigilance. Need your kind assistance to move funds out of the country. Please reply with details of bank account. We need your help to get money and ourselves out of Nigeria.

* * *

Why doesn't anybody help us?

I don't know, mother.



Dave obeys the voices in his iPod. Go there. Fetch that. Mail that thing somewhere. Sometimes the voices need a visual aid, and then there is a clip in YouTube that makes sense to nobody else.

He'd rather not do the things the iPod tells him to do, but it knows about that guy Dave killed once, the one that was screwing with his girl behind his back. Even cops have iPods, had said the voice.

He could be imagining things, but he prefers to think that he isn't. Better blackmailed than crazy, he says to himself, chainsmoking in his apartment with shaky hands. Better blackmailed than crazy.

He could be imagining things, but he isn't.

Except when he thinks ATMs flow lewd poetry through the screen when nobody else can see. That is an hallucination at least half of the time.


In the dominion of death

I pricked my finger and bled on the knob, letting the door know that I was alive. DNA and karma matched the key and I stepped in. The man who lived in the room was sitting in an armchair facing the door, a gun in his hand and half a dozen small bags of cocaine discarded, unopened, by his side.

The man shot over my shoulder. I didn't bother to pretend to flinch, but if he was trying to kill me he was losing his aim, and if he was trying to kill something at my back he was losing his grip on reality.

The things roaming outside couldn't be killed - not unless that was an unauthorized Sacred Weapon in his hand. It looked like an old Colt, but you never knew with him. He could always, would always come with the idea that was obvious, no, necessary, but that nobody else could have thought of.

"Mr. King," I said as the door closed between me and whatever nameless thing he had shot at. "We need you to keep writing stories."

The man spat at me, reaching perhaps half the distance between us. Impressive, for somebody who had been through what he had.

"Stories? You are making me write nightmares."

"Yes," I said.

"Nightmares." It wasn't like him to repeat a word. I wondered what he had been dreaming about. I made a note to watch the tapes. "And then you make them real and give them to innocent children." His voice broke before the end of the phrase.

Denying the facts wouldn't have worked with him and wasn't my style anyway. Arguing goals was another matter entirely. "I train them."

"You break them!"

"Yes, I make soldiers out of them."

He pointed the gun straight at my face. If he had indeed acquired or made a Sacred Weapon (unnamed gods, could he do that?) then there was a chance a shot could kill me.

"They are children."

I shrugged as carefully as possible. "Children are the only ones who can fight monsters. And you know " -I nodded to his cane and his broken body- "what happens when nobody fights."

He shook his head, but lowered the gun. "I already got my revenge on the bastard. I have no right to use..."

"This isn't about revenge," I lied. "It's about survival."

He wasn't crying, but his clean eyes were perhaps worse. "And kids having to face monsters."

"It's about their survival, too, Stephen. Write more. We need heroes, and we need them soon."

Outside the walls, the wards and the spells, inhuman things walked the night.

But I had my weapon, and I was forging more.


Kismet and the Boy

She walked with a Colt in her purse, for she was hunting a monster. Because she didn't know why she hunted it she called herself Kismet. She dreamed often of cornering and hurting the monster, of blood and blows and bruised skin. In her dreams the monster was a kid and had her face.

He avoided knives when he was nervous. He was always nervous. It began as sadness and grew up to anxiety. By the time it was fear he was trembling both inside and out. The trembling outside he could control, the trembling inside he had to bring to his skin.

Knives helped. The boy called himself Boy, and never took off his shirt where somebody could see his scars.

Kismet found her monster in a coffee shop, which was stupid, because she had looked for it in the bars her father used to go to. It didn't have her face, nor her father's face like she had in her dreams, but she could smell the blood around it.

It was trembling inside with hunger, and there were claws under its shirt where nobody could see.

She approached it with a bait-smile, keeping her hand away from her purse, ignoring the begging of her father's gun. Another one, it pleaded.

Not yet.

Boy would have run away from the smiling girl, had he been able to. She was nice, relaxed, normal, and at first it made him feel edgier than ever. Ugly inside, and always two seconds away from saying the most stupid and hurtful thing words could say.

She kept smiling, though, and talking with him. The flow of her words felt as true and familiar, as real and anchoring, as the flow of a blade through his skin, and it calmed him just as well.

Boy walked the girl to her apartment.

Kismet invited the monster in.

He took his shirt off, she took her gun out, and he found his peace and she found her blood, and it was Love.



Monday, January 22, 2007


Samir hid his AK-47 in a barrel, turned the corner and joined the queue.

It was a long queue flanked by rails and and barbed wire. Dogs and small robots walked it up and down, barking and beeping seemingly at random. Nobody came from the base; there had never been an attack to the queue.

It took Samir three hours to reach to head of the queue. His father was manning one of the counters, and the person before him was kind enough to let Samir pass so he would be attended by him.

Samir's father mumbled a blessing as he stamped his citizenship papers and gave him his Army's commission. "You are a soldier now," he said, passing him his papers and his M16. It was the standard phrase, but it was also a joy and a warning. Samir smiled and walked away.

The queue continued unfazed as it had for the last ten years.


Sunday, January 21, 2007


I hope one day you'll tell us what happened. Who made it possible? Why? If a miracle was necessary, why this miracle in particular?

All we know is that for a single second flesh was made ductile to the desires of the soul. A hundred thousand new NBA players were born that second. A million beautiful people. Half that number of soccer stars. Illness cured, big and small, in those who were ranting against their bodies at just the right time.

But only those. Is that justice? Do tell me, daughter, because I don't know.

And you are the one who was looking at the stars, wishing you could be an angel.


Ignorantia legis non excusat

You weren't there when it happened, although you were, in a sense, there afterward. It was blind chance. Your mother's genes and your father's genes, and the delicate engineering process of nature: throw everything together, and if it survives, great.

It's pretty much how you handle your own life, so don't complain. You've got a wife, you've got a kid, and you don't know your cells produce protein P145-beta-3.

It won't give you cancer. It won't give you superpowers, for that matter. All it can do, when combined with other stuff and a three billion dollars manufacturing plant, is create a really good plastic. That's all.

Ah, and the DNA sequence for it? Patented three years ago.

Which is why there are cops kicking down your door right now. Nothing personal.

Copyright infringement.

Tell your kid to be quiet. They are taking him too.