#WIREDBACKPAGE: Mysteries set in 2049 after the first six words

The other day, I came up with 10 six-word story beginnings for a contest/prompt by Wired Magazine. That got me thinking they might also work for slightly longer flash fiction, so I’m going to work them up a bit over the next few days.

They might not all be able to sustain more than the first sentence, but I’m going to give it a go anyhow, and we’ll see where they end up.

1. She was invisible to augmented eyes. 

She was invisible to augmented eyes, so for the moment, she was outside of Reality and no one could stop her.

As she moved through the wet, dimly lit basement of the parking garage, more than 40 people shuffled variously, wearing what were little better than soiled rags. Instead of her, each person’s gray, cylindrical gaze found something else to focus on, occasionally other players adjacent but more often some private revelation, or revelation shared, just not shared with her. For clarity, she kept her own platonic eye covered under a heavy, lead-lined patch and concentrated on staying out of other people’s way. No one’s attention fell on her, just through her, beside her, around her; no one showed recognition even when they jostled against her just. Still, she moved quickly, and not just because of their smell. There was no way to know how long the zero day exploit would last, and, when the Knights caught and patched it, the worm would turn.

Reaching the corner between two concrete pillars, she found three men in what was left of urine- and fecal-soaked sweatpants prostrating themselves on the damp, cracked floor. Manila folders with creeping mold sat on a stool, each overstuffed with papers. Stepping gingerly around the worshipers, she inspected the manila folders, but whatever identifying writing had been on them was too badly worn off to be legible in naive state. She switched the patch over to block out her cave vision, and as she opened her platonic eye to the light, Reality poured. The garden she realized herself inside glowed with the exponential rainbows of hexadecachromacy, the shades of what were partially described by ‘green ‘ alone was more than her mind could handle, but the garden was in bloom all around her. She felt her knees start to buckle in rapturous joy but steadied herself at the last moment against the pillar that radiated a combination that might have been the equivalent of gold and silver sparkling but more than exceeded what her naive vision provided it to intersect with. She tried to look at her feet to gather her thoughts, but the edge of a prostrated priest was in her sightline, and his naive body heat swirled to make dynamic patterns with his Reality robes and headdress, designed to be ornate well into infrared. She moaned and felt her bladder start to release but held it. She turned her head back to the altar.

Concentrating on what had been the folders, she knew which object she’d come for. She switched the eye patch over and fell back into a gray dark land. Everyone allowed down here was fully platonic, even the attending acolytes, so once she got what she needed, they wouldn’t be able to follow her at all until they fixed the exploit.

She placed the wet folder under her arm carefully and started crossing the garage back toward the stairs in a brisk walk. A hoarse wail echoed from one of the soiled priests, soon joined by the two beside him and then the rest of the Platonists on the level. But she kept her pace. Up nearer to ground level there would be Taoists who might be escaping Reality and see her, and into the shanty towns, there were still those who couldn’t afford sufficient augmentation at all. She wouldn’t start running until a naive saw her or she knew her zero day had ended.

2. Consumer psychographic ghosts threatened Turing completeness.

Consumer Psychographic Ghosts Threatening Turing Completeness

The text on the slideshow took up less than a quarter of the wallscreen as it appeared to naked eyes around the conference room, but no one under 45 had left their vision under-dressed. As Miranda, the team leader, went around exchanging pleasantries and getting everyone settled down, the meeting’s younger attendees casually glanced over to access the interactive annotations hidden throughout the first slide’s negative space and catch themselves up to speed. In the room, none of the handful of senior executives looked at their personal second screen scrolls yet; even if they hadn’t prepared ahead of time, they were smart enough to wait to access the summary annotation till late.

‘They’re all over the Dead Web and forum graveyards,’ Jacob said as the presentation went to the second slide, a back-and-forth on the merits of atheism in text form. The wallscreen only show the first 12 exchanges, but the meta indicated it went for 50 pages of 100 posts each. ‘This one is from a Three Dub-accessible site called “Converging Thoughts”.’ Jacob paused briefly to take a deep gulp from his cup of steeped caffeine on the table, allowing attendees to acquaint themselves with the history of the site, its eccentric founder, and the subsequent 99-year hosting lease.

He continued.

‘There’s nothing particularly notable about this conversation except for two things. First,’ he went to the next slide showing a linguistic analysis graph filling half the wall screen, ‘other than citations, none of the interactions are plagiarized or strictly derivative. Second,’ a graph with the title Post Time Regression Analysis, ‘there’s no biological thought involved in any of it.’

At first, no one said anything, lost exploring the data behind the information summary. Miranda spoke up from the back of the room.

‘What indicates that these aren’t native minds?’ she said.

Jacob gestured through the air, interacting with the HUI in his left contact lens. The slide zoomed in on the second half of the screen, charting posting times against expected schedules and randomness.

‘As you can see, this discussion—or “thread”—is from Month Nine of last year,’ Jacob said. “The artificial minds aren’t this sloppy anymore. They don’t utilize Dead Web sites anymore because they don’t need to practice anything. But more importantly, they don’t mash up the stylistic qualities of their original psychographic ghosts with the posting patterns of their sockpuppets.’

An audio-only voice spoke up from the center of the conference table.

‘I understand one of our friends at The Agency might be able to get us access to their private messages, either on this site or some other stream,’ it said, androgynous but husky. ‘Are we likely to learn anything more about this phenomenon from them?’

Jacob kept his mouth tight, but his eyes darted toward Miranda briefly. She slipped something out of her pocket and began to scribble at it with a graphite marker.

‘Unfortunately, no,’ Jacob said. He moved out of the direct sight of the conference camera. ‘From everything we know, these ghosts are much too careful now have left behind anything useful. Trying to call in a favor with The Agency under present circumstances seems ill-advised. Excuse me.’

Jacob took his forefinger to his eye and drew away the mini-screen on it. He rubbed it for a few moments. ‘I’m sorry. I suppose I ought to listen to my doctor and take a break from this damn thing more often.’

Everyone gathered around the table gave a knowing chuckle. Miranda walked over to Jacob and passed him the piece of graphite-marked limited-use paper. Jacob glanced at the top part of it, then, still rubbing his eye, walked to the elderly man at the far end of the table, and handed the same paper to him.

‘We think this is exciting,’ Miranda said, taking control of the meeting once again. ‘Essentially, we’re able to witness speciation and the development of non-native consciousness in real time. The only real sticking point is that technically, as descendants of profiles of consumers owned by the corporations attempting to market toward them, their legal status is in limbo. Who owns them?’

A female voice spoke up from the center of the table.

‘Or do they own themselves?’

Jacob walked back to the front of the room and rubbed his eye again. Two seconds later, the crown-bald elderly man with an S-cube in front of him coughed.

‘Frankly,’ he said, turning to make direct eye-contact with Miranda, ‘I think all of this presentation is a bunch of shit and not worth my, or any of our time. And if you would be so kind, I’d suggest you end this frivolous presentation now. Then I’d like to see the two of you in my office.’

Around the room, people raised their eyebrows, but they didn’t question the founder. They stood up, said their formal goodbyes, and waddled out. In the center of the table, the audi speaker blipped and bleeped as people jumped off the call in a hurry, but it took another 30 seconds for the final two to leave.

Jacob and Miranda stood looking at the elderly man, who remained seated. He nodded and they left the room, too.

3. Bodies stay taut after digital conversion.

4. Abandoned, the colony’s sexbots turned…eccentric. 

5. ‘Stop! That gut flora is proprietary.

6. The remains on Ceres appeared bipedal.

7. His copy arrived home in layers.

8. She still carried twelve illegal memories.

9. Hacked servers boiled another river dry.

10. Anchorage’s sky blackened with locusts again.

The sky over Anchorage blackened with locusts again. Downtown, the air horns swelled in case anyone hadn’t seen the swarm with their own eyes or heard with their own ears the thunk thunk thunk of endless winged bodies knocking against windows, walls, and doors.

Already? she thought, pushing along the side of the building toward the nearest ventilated bunker entrance. In July?

But that was less surprising, and therefore less alarming, than the realization that the airborne serotonin-suppressor chemicals had failed yet again to keep each grasshopper a Jekyll so wouldn’t transform into locust Hydes. The Governor General had promised to suppress serotonin throughout the winter, too, if this year’s spring attempt failed. She suspected the reuptake inhibitor pills included in their own rations were just a placebo, and she wasn’t sure she could survive another noon-dark winter month now contrived to be even more sorrowful than usual. Or maybe that was part of the plan.

She passed an urban garden that had already been picked clean. The domes outside the city might have kept those fields safe. Visibility was better now than amid a big, inland wildfire—but only just, and it was more chaotic. The less-than-foggy smoke could be dealt with by a small respirator and goggles, but the insect army (air force?) assaulted them mercilessly. In the bright orange carapace that made up their uniforms, they might been celebration in a parade. So pixelated did they look, the effect was almost like a watching a poor quality stream of the reality happening in front of you. Except these could still knock into your arms, crawl in your hair, walk on your skin.

The air horn sirens picked up with renewed urgency, and she knew she had less than five minutes to get inside before the pesticide spray rained down. She didn’t have a good reason, but she hurried to get to the bunker before it was full. There would be more time later, and the decision might be made for her.


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