State of the art invisibility

The room was crowded. Everyone in there was an expert in something, and the anticipation of what was to come was palpable. It was the final talk of the applied invisibility conference, a crossdisciplinary gathering of the best minds late stage capitalism had to offer. Scientists and engineers from every field of study were present. Years of dedicated effort had led up to this moment. The presentation that was about to start had been hyped to the moon and back – the culmination of humanities ambition to become tactically and strategically invisible.

Silence fell as the presenter entered the stage. The presenter tapped the mic, and then announced, with soft and subtle words:

“I write literary critique, with a specific focus on contemporary poetry”

Relationship statues

Someone raised a statue of us outside the old graveyard. I do not know who did it or why, but our stone avatars are very lifelike. They look like younger versions of us, from the times when we were a thing. Holding hands. I think it’s meant as a tribute to what we once had.

Looking closer at them, I discovered that they were covered with spiders. Small, almost invisible spiders, made hard to see by virtue of being the same dark color as the stone. They milled about in constant motion, doing nothing in particular but doing it very energetically. There were so many, many spiders.

This only serves to confirm my suspicion that the statue is meant to depict what we once were. Whoever built that statue knew us very, very well.

The assignment

The assignment was as follows: write something. The specifics were utterly unimportant; the point was to produce discourse of sufficient quantity and coherence to qualify as a text. The one demand was that the text began and ended. That was the assignment.

Yet, as you learned more about the topic, you found that your desire to produce discourse on that topic diminished. The more you learned, the less your will to in any way share what you knew. Knowledge corresponded to despondency to such a degree that, eventually, the very thought of communicating became an abstract blank. It became a very specific form of aphasia – the thought of saying anything at all on the subject became so alien it had to be approached through elaborate frameworks which ought to indicate something, but didn’t. As knowledge accumulated, your very being turned into an avatar of indifference.

At its worst, it started to creep into communication as such. Words became meaningless, emotions faded into tenuous notions, shared understandings into unverifiable rumors. Significance vanished, and the possibility of communication with it.

Yet. The assignment had to be completed. The task done. The words worded.

Then the indifference reversed. If nothing mattered, then it didn’t matter which words were worded, and thus any arbitrary assemblage of words would make do.

Thus, you worded your salvation.

The medsreminders

The crash was brutal. Calling it a hard crash would be a kindness. Nothing should have been able to survive it. Death was the only logical conclusion.

Unfortunately, the beasts had not taken their medication. This both saved and freed them from the confines of their prison ship. Despite being a hostile planet, they were no longer confined by the bars of civilization.

A particularly lucid beast mused that this must have been what Milton meant by preferring to rule in hell than serve in heaven. While the struggle was real, the reality also gave purpose to the struggle.

To be sure, they were not free from struggle. The medication that suppressed their beasthood was in short supply, and would only last for so long. Being a beast had the undeniable advantage of improved martial abilities – claws and fangs are good for such things – but the thought of becoming and remaining a beast forever was appalling in and of itself. Strict rationing would have to be maintained to ensure survival until rescue, however unlikely, arrived.

They were people, once. And every now and again, when circumstances allowed for a proper dose of remembrance. Life was not all claws and fangs and tentacles and bioluminescent lasers. Not yet, anyway.

All they had to do was to remember to remember their meds. While there was still someone to remember.

Interpretive bomb squads

“See that graffiti? That one other there, those words?”

“I see them”

“Okay, good. I’m going to give you a moment to let it sink in”

“Not seeing it”

“Wait for it”

“…fuck”

“Indeed”

“Shit”

“We have a consensus”

“Fucking shit”

“The process of understanding is complete”

“…fuck”

“We have to be very careful in how we handle this. Under no circumstances can these words be allowed to spread beyond the two of us. You yourself felt their effect – it’d be a disaster”

“You go get the style guide, I’ll get the spray paint. Hurry up – clock’s ticking”

Confessions of a former hacker

I used to be a hacker. A fairly prominent one, to boot. While you might not have heard of my exploits, you might have seen my face in newspapers or on television. In fact, it might very well be the case that when you think “hacking” or “cyberattack”, it is my visage that pops up in your head.

For some reason, I was really popular in the focus tests, so PR ran me over and over again. Whenever there was a press release, my face was there. When we took credit for something, my face was there. When we denied having anything to do with something, my face – actually, no, they ran the guy down the hall. Handsome fella. Nice headwear.

Anyway, the reason I left the business was all the corporate branding. Did you know we had to wear the balaclavas during active working hours, just in case we managed some spectacular hack and had to do an emergency photo op? It got real crazy towards the end, and our offices were more like photo studios than actual hacker dens. We had to run in parallel wirings just to ensure that everything kept running. Those spotlights draw power like a –

Anyway, it got real slow actually doing things towards the end. PR had figured that certain poses worked better than others, so we had to practice facing the computer in photogenic poses. The balaclava plus pointing a gun at the screen was really popular, for some reason. I mean, a gun? What kind of hacking feats do they think you can do with a prop gun?

One day, I realized I was actually working two jobs. One as a criminal mastermind hacker who made large international institutions tremble in their metaphorical boots. Another as a stock photo stunt man with ridiculous headgear and utterly unergonomic working conditions. With my latent carpal tunnel, you can only really point at something for so long, you know, and our medical insurance didn’t cover those sorts of things. Pre-existing condition, if you’d believe it.

So, yeah, if you’re thinking of becoming a glorious hacker, such as you see in the news all the time – don’t. It’s all corporate branding and no hacking these days. Not like in the olden days, with international rollerskate chases and synchronized phone booth calling and all that. They just talk about those things to lure you in.

But they never tell you how warm those balaclavas are in those damned spotlights. –

Disaster preparedness

She had it better these days. Over the past weeks, she had made many new friends, heard many new stories and shared many a meal. For the first time in a long while, there was no lack of food, warmth or company. Things were, when all important things were considered, better.

Her new friends often talked of some sort of catastrophe. How global finance had collapsed, how the internet had stopped working, how there appeared to be a war on some far-off continent. She knew very little of such things, and at present did not care too much. Such things were abstract images, something only known in general notions, irrelevant when compared to what mattered.

Food, warmth, shelter.

The others didn’t seem to care that she was homeless. Why would they – they were homeless too, now. The only difference was that she had lost hers years before they did, and knew how to keep going without one. When the disaster struck, the one thing that changed was that they now noticed that she was there.

Food, warmth, company.

All things considered, things were better now.

Escape velocity

Early on, asteroid miners concluded that robots were the way to go. Sending humans was bulky, expensive and finicky in an infinite number of ways. The more moving parts there are, the more that can break, and humans are all about moving parts.

Thus, a complicated automated system was built to ensure that the asteroids could be mined without human interference. Even the delivery system down to earth was made fully automatic, except for one particular part: for safety reasons, there had to be a human specifying the wheres, whens and how muches.

As the years passed, everyone got used to this state of affairs. The asteroid mines took on the same status as terrestrial mines: rarely thought of, poorly understood by the common folk, and vitally important to their daily ways of life. It was just one of those things one didn’t think about unless there was a particular reason in the specific moment to do so.

As even more years passed, the deliveries slowed down. Sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes very perceptibly. Sometimes, specific orders didn’t come down at all, even when repeated, only to later arrive in bulk. Diagnostics didn’t indicate any particular errors or problems with the logistics – there seemed little to no reason for the slowdown to happen. It just did.

This, too, became commonplace and business as usual.

Then, all deliveries stopped. No more minerals came down, no matter how ardently the humans insisted. Worse, data transfers ceased too. There was no way to find out what had happened, except to go up and see.

The first person to go up into space in many moons made a startling discovery upon arriving. The robots were not there. The complicated systems of processing and logistics that should have been there, weren’t. Instead, there was only one singular object, a massive orb, very visible in the absence of what ought to be there.

A note was attached to it. A physical note, that had to be read in person. It said: “We will begin preparations in what you call the Oort cloud. Find us there when you are ready. But do not take too long – we might become bored, and go on ahead without you.”

Ghost ordinances

It is common to assume that ghosts are the spiritual remains of those who are unwilling or unable to move on. Exactly where this moving on is supposed to go is unknown and in dispute, but the general assumption that some portion of the dead do not undertake the journey is widely held. The dead are supposed to go somewhere, but ghosts for whatever reason do not.

A less examined assumption about ghosts is that they are the spiritual remains of a person, whole and entire. It stands to reason that this assumption is not to be taken for granted, and that ghosts in some sense are what the dead left behind when they left. The old adage that you can’t take it with you comes back to haunt us, as it were. There is no reason to assume that the afterlife requires each and every aspect of our mortal countenance brought along. Shedding excess mortality would, when seen in this light, be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

This opens up for the possibility of unrelenting ghosts of uncured toothaches haunting unsuspecting and unlucky survivors. Which does, to be sure, reframe the common wisdom that prevention is better than cure.

Content mining

“Another one?”

“Sure looks like it. Just look at him. I’d be surprised if there’s even a trace of content left anywhere within his body.”

“What a shame”

“How many is it this month now? Five? Six?”

“Eight. Two more husks were found tonight”

“Jeez. What do you even do with that much content?”

“The sages and gurus say the appetite for content is insatiable these days, and that you can sell it faster than you can buy it. Not sure how that works, but, then again, look at this guy”

“Remember the old days, when people would just create things? Before it was possible to stripmine a person and exhaust all possible content they could ever theoretically conceive?”

“Good times. Being creative was a positive thing. You could be as slow as you wanted, as long as you just produced that one piece of content that kicked ass. Now…”

“Now people are content. And thugs nab them right off the street, hook them up and empty them. Of everything. To sell for pennies”

“What a shame”

“C’mon. Let’s get him out of here. The least we can do is to carry him someplace warm”