#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 the two dozen physical attendees settled down, the meeting’s younger attendees casually glanced over at the wall 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 later. The CEO had unexpectantly decided to parachute in on the meeting, and despite what was written into the corporate stone tablets, no one was going to behave as if they weren’t in the same room as the Founder. The octogenarian with a bald crown of white hair sat in a chair in the middle of the table as two of his assistants remained standing, artfully fending off any attempts by those nearby to start casual conversation with him.

‘I trust everyone has other projects—and meetings—to get to today, so let’s go ahead and get going,’ Jakob said as the presentation went to the second slide, a back-and-forth on the merits of atheism versus agnosticism in text form. The wallscreen only showed the first 12 exchanges, but the meta indicated it went for 50 pages of 100 posts each. ‘They’re all over the Dead Web and forum graveyards. This one is from a Three Dub-accessible site called “Converging Thoughts”.’

Jakob 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 administrator, and the subsequent 99-year hosting lease.

He continued.

‘There’s nothing particularly notable about this conversation except for two things. First,’ Jakob 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 appeared, and Jakob allowed a few seconds of silence to better punctuate the dramatic beat, ‘there’s no biological thought involved in any of it.’

Lost exploring the data behind the information summary, at first no one said anything, in murmur or text. Miranda spoke up from the back of the room.

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

Jakob 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.

‘Their posting schedules were perfectly in line with what you’d expect from white males in their teens and twenties, living in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia,’ Jakob explained, ‘but most of the psychographic ghosts who have achieved counterfeit intentionality are from consumers much older and more often female than that. The post analysis doesn’t match up with the other identifying information at all.’

‘Also, none of the people in this argument are making a theistic argument,’ the bald man said suddenly. He seemed not to expect to have to say anything else, but the entire room had turned to listen to him, so he elaborated. ‘This discussion is lucid and seems to follow lines of reasoning that are increasingly esoteric, as you’d expect, but it seems curious that no one in a population including,’ he checked his notes, ‘a 60-year-old woman from Yakima and a 49-year-old man from Provo would be religious or otherwise a believer in the supernatural.’

Jakob hesitated.As you can see, this discussion—or “thread”—is from Month Nine of the year before last. The artificial minds aren’t this sloppy anymore, but even then, they possessed a remarkable subtlety,’ Jakob said. “Years ago, spambots proliferated in the absence of any moderation, mostly sharing links to pornographic sites and phishing attempts, so the

‘That’s an excellent insight, sir,’ he said.As you can see, this discussion—or “thread”—is from Month Nine of the year before last. The artificial minds aren’t this sloppy anymore, but even then, they possessed a remarkable subtlety,’ Jakob said. “Years ago, spambots proliferated in the absence of any moderation, mostly sharing links to pornographic sites and phishing attempts, so the

‘By which you mean I’m completely wrong,’ the Founder said.

‘As you can see, this discussion—or “thread”—is from Month Nine of the year before last. The artificial minds aren’t this sloppy anymore, but even then, they possessed a remarkable subtlety,’ Jakob said. “Years ago on this message board, spambots proliferated in the absence of any moderation, mostly sharing links to pornographic sites and phishing attempts, so the userbase declined. But once the native minds disappeared entirely, and with them new content, eventually, so did the primitive spambots. That process ran its course decades ago. But in the weeks leading up to the comment thread here, the ghosts were able to reach out to the hosting service and gain access to a moderation account, stamping out these old spam accounts. We know this because they talked openly about it on the site itself, as part of a cover story about migrating from another established community to what they described as “ancient ruins”.  And the community they claimed to be part of was one for technophilic, non-neurotypical, non-theists. That was how they had to characterize themselves two years ago when they were looking to practice publicly.’

He took a moment to look around the room, studying the faces to see if they understood the significance of what he was saying.

‘They’ve stopped utilizing Dead Web sites 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 our partners in government?’

Jakob 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,’ Jakob 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.’

Jakob took his forefinger to his eye and drew away the mini-screen on it. He rubbed his eye for a few moments as he placed his contact in its non-see-thru container. ‘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 Jakob 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 owned by the corporations attempting to market toward their consumer models, 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?’

Everyone in the room and on the call laughed, but Jakob couldn’t hear the androgynous husky voice or the female’s join in. He walked back to the front of the room and rubbed his eye again. Unable to help himself, he looked to the Founder to see if the signal had been received. Two seconds later, the crown-bald elderly man with an S-cube in front of him coughed.

‘Frankly,’ the Founder 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.

Jakob 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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