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”

The elder gods

There are gods. In general, they don’t do very much, and most of them only do one particular thing. The process of who gets to do what is rather intricate and heavy on the backstory, but it usually ends up with someone being the god of this, someone else being the god of that, and so on until you end up with the god of all other miscellaneous things that are not the domain of the other gods.

It is strongly discouraged to question why this is. For one, the aforementioned backstory will be related to you, in detail. Second, the celestial bureaucracy has had more time to sort out the finer details than you can imagine. If you have things to do and places to be, just accept the things related as given and move along.

It is assumed that the elder gods are more powerful than their newer counterparts. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is gathered by being around and doing things, which is the general activity of gods, regardless of age. Thus, having been around longer equals roughly to being more powerful, on general principle.

You already know this, of course. Hearing that the gods are angry is enough to make you quake in your boots with fear right and proper. Hearing that the Elder Gods are angry is enough to make you forget that quaking is an option, fearing that they will find out where you are by listening for your boot noises.

Hearing that the Elder Gods are angry at you in particular is bad news bears all around. Especially the Elder Gods of Bears.

However, there is a limit the power of elder gods. It is not that they themselves age and lose potency over the years – as you have seen, it’s quite the reverse. The gods are, however, made in the image of those who created them. And if we go far enough back into our ancestral history, we find gods created by ancestors who had almost, but not quite, developed a sense object permanence.

Knowledge is power, which means that your best bet is avoiding the really really old gods. If they can’t see you, they don’t know you’re there, which means they can’t be angry at you.

Even if they are old bear gods.

Improve your life through falconry

Thank you all for coming. Today, I will introduce you to the promised upcoming course on falconry.

First off, I would like to mention that the promotional material for this course got a few things wrong. Specifically, the claim that you would learn how to solve everyday problems through means of falconry.

This is false. You will not be able to solve everyday problems with falcons.

[A few students leave the room]

As it should be, as it should be. It is important to approach falconry with the right frame of mind. If you came for the problem solving aspect, or discover that this for whatever reason is not for you, please feel free to leave at any point.

[A few more leave]

In fact, falconry might very well introduce you to a whole host of new everyday problems.

[Ambient preparatory leaving noises]

These problems will be of a nature that is hard to convey, seeing that falconry and its associated vocabulary has a limited reach among the general population.

[More people leaving]

It will also be time-consuming, and you will have to devote a non-trivial part of your life to falcons. There are no half-hearted falconers – you’re either in it for the long haul, or you’re not at all.

[Someone asks just how non-trivial the non-trivial aspect is]

For three months, we will spend most of our waking hours at the mew, in close proximity to the birds, so as to monitor their every move. We need to strike a perfect balance of many things at all times, meaning there will be little downtime or time to – as the saying goes – attend the party college aspects of higher education.

[All but two prospective students leave]

Since there are only two of you left, I might as well add that the promotional material was wrong about the educational credits, too. You don’t actually get any for attending this course.

[One student leaves]

You’re still here, even after all these warnings and caveats? And you say you’re eager to start, despite the harsh, uncaring and more often than not unrewarding aspects of falconry?

I say you’re the perfect candidate, then. Welcome aboard!

The right to keep and bear arms

“The parasite looks quite like an onion, once removed from the bodies of those inflicted. Somewhat roundish, with small white tendrils on one side.”

“I know what a benevolent symbiote looks like.”

“These white tendrils are quite vital to their extraction. There is an enzyme that paralyzes the parasite and renders the tendrils hard as spidersilk steel. With just the correct dosage, it is possible to pull it out by the hairs, as it were.”

“Heresy.”

“Naturally, you do not want to do this by hand. The parasite is slightly telepathic and very -cidal.”

“-cidal? Seems you’re missing some letters there.”

“Oh no, just underlining the very generic nature of the lethality. To say it’s directed at anything in particular would miss all manner of points.”

“Heretics deserve to die.”

“Fortunately, we built an extraction device. No touching required. It even cauterizes the severed pieces of biology that fed the parasite.”

“Sounds painful. And heretic.”

“Quite. But not if administered while the subject is unconscious. The shock of it all keeps them from waking up. Very handy, if you pardon the pun.”

“I do not want to hear any more of this.”

“As it turns out, the extraction process leaves quite a hole once completed. Thanks to stem cells, however, the missing pieces can be rebuilt, albeit slowly.”

“Not listening.”

“Unfortunately, the process we use to speed up recovery is quite a feat of biology. As such, most people can’t stomach the sight of it, much less the thought of it happening inside of their own bodies. We’ve had to build metal armbands to keep frightened eyes and hands away until the healing is complete.”

“Such as the one on my arm?”

“I think you are starting to come to terms to your post-parasite life.”

“Would trying to rip it off accomplish anything?”

“The parasite is gone, and the armband is there to protect you from yourself, in more ways than one. In the early days, we had a patient who burned his arm to ash, and died of emotion after peeling off the charred remains that used to contain the parasite and finding it now contained a literal nothing, a void, a lacunae. Please do not do that.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because the parasites can only be removed from one person at a time. Telepathy, you see. And lethality.”

“No, but, more generally?”

“Very much the telepathy and lethality. But now, I will leave you alone. I suspect you will need to readjust yourself to having your own thoughts again.”

Workplace specialization

It’s not that he’s maladjusted, you see. Rather, he is too adjusted to a very specific set of social circumstances that require a very specialized mindset to navigate. Within the parameters of these circumstances, he’s a powerhouse to be reckoned with, an unstoppable and efficient machine who keeps things moving. Outside these parameters, he has no reference points, and thus no idea about what to do.

If we were to reconstruct these social circumstances and place him within them, he’d fit right in and know just what to do. For him, it would be as if the world suddenly made sense again, and that he could finally act with the certainty he once knew. It would, quite literally, mean the world to him.

However, after the recent economic downturn, global communications went down, and it’s hard to reconnect the old communities again. Especially those who prided themselves of being vaguely anonymous and hard to reach. Given our limited retained knowledge about these matters, it is hard to know where to begin looking for the remaining members, who could aid us in this matter. The prospect is not impossible, just improbable.

It is our hope that one day, he will be able to continue his editorialship of esoteric and distinctly countercultural fan fiction zines. Until then, however, we recommend keeping him well stocked on books and writing materials.