Brevity is the width of soul.

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.