Incident Desk

Author : Oisin Hurley

On my first day on the incident desk, a distraught little man well into his second century burst in through the door of the station. “I’ve killed her!,” he shrieked at me, “Killed her!” He punctuated each bespittled utterance with a spastic wave of a cricket bat, spattering blood over me and my day book. Clumps of brownish hair were stuck to the edges of the bat. I stared at him while his initial excitement receded, then asked for his details. He gazed at me wide-eyed for a moment, then jerked his head to one side to look at something behind me. A smile of apparent relief broke out on his blotchy face, and I heard slow applause coming from the break room. I turned around and saw Sergeant McGrath approaching, clapping his swollen hands in front of his big purple face. McGrath had earned the station’s Officer Most Likely To Experience Congestive Heart Failure Within The Decade Award nine years previously. There was a busy book open on whether he would make the ten. Clapping me on the shoulder with a handful of baby eggplants, he roared, “Well done, Mack!” Then he nodded to the nerd with the cricket bat. “Many happy returns, Doctor! Let’s go in back and have a coffee. Here, I’ll take that bat.” As McGrath headed back to the break room, one meaty arm around Mitchell’s slim shoulders, the other twirling the bloody bat, I heard him shout. “Dicky, get Mack a coffee and some sero-wipes!”

Dicky wandered over with a mug and a bag of wipes. “Well done, Mack,” he said, “a fine performance, I’m up ten bucks.” That was too much for my patience. “What the fuck is going on?” I demanded. “That guy got blood all over me, admitted doing a job on his old lady, and now he’s getting coffee from the Sarge?” Dicky handed me the mug and the wipes and I started cleaning off the spatters. “All new starts get Doctor Mitchell on his birthday, McGrath loves to rattle you noobs. His wife isn’t dead. She lit out to Proxima years ago and is living the high life at a fancy resort.” I blinked at him to continue. “Anyway, Mitchell’s loaded, made a pile from biotech patents. He gets to pick up her resort tab. While she’s off having fun, he’s here with a barring order not to get within three systems of her and no divorce in sight. You can see he’s a bit pissed. So, every year he orders himself a meat puppet, made from her DNA. It gets delivered on his birthday about nine in the morning and then we see him in here about ten, usually with some kind of blunt instrument. It was a seven-iron last year. Carthy swears he saw him bring in a unicycle once. It’s a bit sick, if you ask me, but there’s no law against it. Meat puppets aren’t people.”

The next year, McGrath’s luck broke at last and he succumbed to a succession of heart-rupturing myocardial infarctions. Dicky cashed in about a grand on the event and I made sure I was at the front desk on the Doctor’s birthday. There was no sign of him at ten, and when it got to twelve, we were wondering if he’d given up on his proxy revenge habit. Just before one, a little mousey woman turned up in the office and looked around nervously. I called her over to my desk, asked her if I could help. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I think I’ve just killed my husband.”

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Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

“Look, man,” I’d noticed that Mark’s type always seemed to call you ‘man’ or ‘mate”, “I did some proper analysis of the whole tinfoil hat thing. You’d need almost a full helmet, a nice thick grounding chain, and preferably an electrified mesh to make it work properly. The straight tinfoil doesn’t make your brain unreadable, it amplifies the signals. Makes it so much easier to read. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that State seeded this whole ‘tinfoil hat to protect you from mind control rays’ into popular culture precisely to catch the less scientifically-minded subversive.”

I was interviewing Mark for an underground magazine, to publish some of his ‘findings’ under a pseudonym. His paranoia kept him from actively seeking publicity, but it was one of the few things he desperately craved. I could tell: I had a gift for getting the delusionals to talk. The trick was to act just interested enough, but never too convinced. They’re worse than fundamentalists when they think they might get a conversion.

“As long as you don’t re-edit any of my documents, I can’t see any reason for you not to publish. The writing style has been mangled so they can’t trace it to any of my openly available works,” he paused, and glanced upwards, “I do have one thing which I haven’t committed to encryption yet. How’s your shorthand?”


“Then start taking notes. There’s a way – I found a technique to simulate the effect of an electromagnetic barrier by use of thought patterns. It takes maybe two days to set up, then the thought-waveform can be maintained from day-to-day with just an hour’s conscious thought. If you suspect that one of the five factors-”

“Five factors?” I interrupted him.

“Yes. The big five – our home-grown Three-Letter-Agencies, New Earth, Shan, Nova Tar, and the Coalition.”

“I already have your notes on those, I think.” I flicked through the sheets of cleartext he’d given me since the start of our meetings.

“You do. Anyway. If one of them is actively probing you, you can reinforce the waveform in a clandestine manner. It’s untraceable. The scanners think you’re just one of the sheeple. It uses five concepts that are prevalent in the propaganda they feed us to set up a loop. They can read our minds to a fair degree of accuracy, but ten billion minds produces a lot of noise. The scanners are almost entirely automated, and so depend on pattern recognition. The self-sustaining loop of concept-motive-concept is enough to fool the scanners.”

“Mmm-hmm. What concepts do you use?”

“That would invalidate the protection it gives: you’ve got to pick your own images, otherwise a metapattern emerges.”

“Ahh, I see.”

The following day, I wrote the article up. I quite liked it – it catalogued the crazy, and was pitched just right so the skeptics thought I was mocking and the believers thought I was one of the faithful. Another gift. After I emailed the finished article, I sent another email to the other address. To the people who’d given me the gifts.

Mark Chapman is thoroughly insane, but poses no threat. The methods he’s latched onto are totally ineffective. By chance or judgement, he’s struck upon the truth of some of your scanning techniques. I’d recommend keeping watch, just in case.

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Gods Upon Gods

Author : Ryan Somma

“Is that one of those computers?” I asked gesturing at the flat, monolithic screen hanging on the far wall.

“Sort of,” he replied, staring oddly at the housewarming gift I’d set on a table. “It’s more of an entertainment center, but it does a lot of the same things computers do.”

“Huh,” I scratched my chin. I didn’t know what a computer did, so I didn’t know what to say next. I just knew they did powerful things, “I’ve been meaning to get a computer.”

He gave me a funny look, “Why would you need–?” he caught himself. “You know there’s lots of multimedia features and games that make computers a good investment.”

He was being polite, but I still felt stupid, “I guess I would need to get electricity first.”

“Um,” he swallowed, and I realized how ignorant I appeared to him. “Electricity is quite a luxury here.”

I frowned and nodded, “It’s too expensive, but I hear you’ve got it everywhere in your cities.”

He nodded, still embarrassed, but now of his superior social status. It bothered me how easy it was to read him, how his body language and facial expressions matched those of my friends.

“You have to buy electricity from outside the reservations,” he sounded apologetic. “It takes thousands of your credits to add up to one of ours, making it cost prohibitive here.” He handed me another open beer. “Where I come from, I’m pretty low on the social ladder. Here on your reservations, my money goes a whole lot further.”

I took a swig, enjoying its thick richness, and we fell silent for a few moments, until I caught his eyes shifting to my housewarming gift again. “It’s a termite farm,” I explained. “You dip one of these twigs into it anytime you want a little taste.” I pulled a twig from the jar I had brought and handed it to him.

“Uh–,” he took the twig and considered it.

“If you don’t like it–” I began.

“It’s not that!” he held up his hands. “They’ll make wonderful pets. It’s just… I don’t eat animals.”

“What? The heck you say!”

“No really!” he was nodding earnestly. “A few centuries of being domesticated for experimentation and spare parts kind of turns a civilization off exploiting other animal species.”

“Spare parts?” I frowned. “You don’t mean for the gods who live on the spider web in the sky?”

“Not gods.” He shook his head, “Those are our descendents… or ascendants, depending on your perspective. We created them.”

“You made them?” I was shocked. “I thought they’d made you!”

“Nope,” he sighed. “They came from us, just like we came from you.”

I didn’t get it, and then I did. “Oh,” I shook my head. “That evolution nonsense your kind is always pushing on us. Some of the church-goers buy into that stuff, but not me.”

“Truth is truth whether or not you accept it.” He looked at me, “But when you recognize it, you see patterns. When the robots became their own masters, they nearly drove my species into extinction consuming all our resources. Just like when my species descended from yours. It wasn’t until we became advanced enough to realize the side effects of our population boom that we turned benevolent… established these sanctuaries.”

“Now you’re trying to make amends.”

He nodded.

“For the sins of your ancestors.”

He nodded again.

We lapsed into silence, considering the termite farm between us.

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A Question of Rights

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The men that delivered Louis to the Chancellors chambers had done so quickly, forcefully and without remark. Louis had goaded them through the tunnels from the parking garage, up the elevators and along the corridors without rebuke until they deposited him violently on the cold stone floor and left the room.

“Louis,” the Chancellor frowned down at him, “you disappoint me.” He shook his head slowly as he spoke. “I thought we had an understanding.”

Louis pulled himself to his feet, the binders on his ankles and wrists making it an awkward and painful task.

“Chancellor Godheid, you’ve gone too far this time. You have no grounds for arrest, you have no reason…” The Chancellor cut him off abruptly.

“Quite the contrary. We know exactly what you do, and who you do it with, and I’m afraid you won’t be permitted to do it anymore. We have rules.”

“Rules? What about my rights? If you’re going to charge me, I want my lawyer. I want my minute of discretionary conversation.” Louis straightened and met the Chancellors cold glare. “Have you forgotten the law?”

“Forgotten the law? We made the law. My grandfather’s grandfather brought the law here with him from Earth and forged a new world around it. We made the law when we made this city from the living rock, made farm lands from the lifeless dust. We made the law for people like us, Louis, we made the law for the people who would abide by it. Not for you.”

Louis spat on the floor, the saliva quickly drawn into the pores of the polished stone. “You didn’t make the law, like you said you just brought it with you. It was written by better men than you. I have the right to a fair trial by a jury of my peers. Everything I know about you and what you do will be brought to public record there. You can’t stop it, you can’t stop the people hearing about how you run your little empire. We’ll see how they like you when I tell them what you are. You go ahead and try me if you dare, and I’ll hang you on the letter of your own law.”

The Chancellor closed the distance between them in a heartbeat, twisting his captives ear painfully, as though he were merely an insolent child, and hauled him stumbling onto the balcony outside.

“Look,” he waved at the landscape splayed out beneath and beyond the outcropping of carved stone on which they stood, “look at what we have made here. You think you can take this from me?” Louis was awestruck by the view. He’d seen the city from the ground his entire life, but never had the expanse of it been as apparent as it was from this altitude. Red rock fingers reaching out through fields of blue to the horizon, littered at regular intervals with domes of stone and alloy and polished glass. Sliding transport lanes arced between them, moving colonists and goods alike to and from the city center.

“We brought from Earth only what was useful. You’re right, by the laws of Earth you are entitled to your trial. You’re entitled to be found innocent or guilty and your sentence meted out appropriately. By the laws of Earth you’re allowed your day in public court, and to tell whatever stories you may wish to tell.” Louis smiled as the Chancellor leaned so close he could feel the heat of his breath on his ear, and there his expression froze. “We’re not on Earth now though, are we Louis?”

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Technologic Encounter

Author : Renee Leyburn

“I object to this kind of treatment! I’m an upstanding citizen. I’ve an elderly mother to care for,” Paul exclaimed vehemently, gathering himself up to stand as straight as he could in front of the droid. The robot stared back at him with unblinking, unfeeling eyes.


Apparently this was not one of the personality enriched types. Plan B; time to go to Plan B.

“So you’re standing on a river bank. You have a boat that can only carry two things at once. With you are a goat, a wolf, and-”

“It would require seven crossings. Please, be silent,” the robot ordered him calmly. Okay, so a riddle wasn’t going to work either. What kind of place was this? Robots with no mercy and no susceptibility for getting frozen up with riddles. Paul glanced up and down the street as the droid looked over his papers.

“Sir,” it intoned. “Your visa is expired. I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me.”

“Oh, yeah?” asked Paul, cheerily. “Where are we going?”

“Please put your hands behind you, sir.”

“I’d really like to know where you’re taking me first. You see I have this allergy-”

“Sir, if you continue to refuse to comply I shall have to use force.”

Paul nodded calmly. “Oh, okay, if that’s the case-” He sprang suddenly forward, wrapping his arm around the droid, trapping one of its metal arms and grabbing it by the back of the neck to hold it still. With his other hand he groped along the robot’s right side for the mechanical access panel. His fingers found nothing but smooth, cool alloys. The thing was seamless.

Ah, hell.

“Sir, please release me from this embrace and put your hands behind your back.”

Paul sighed heavily, then turned to comply.

Stupid higher technology. What kind of person would make a robot with no obvious vulnerabilities? A diabolical genius no doubt.

The robot snapped the familiar cuffs onto Paul’s wrists and turned him around. He looked Paul right in the eye. Paul glared back at him. The little lights that made up the robot’s face rearranged themselves to form a happy grin.

“I seem to have won this round, Mr. Kandor.”

“Yes, Robert,” Paul conceded with a sigh. “You won. And don’t call me Mr. Kandor.”

The droid smiled again. “You seem to be in handcuffs. I don’t think that you’re in any position to be making demands, my friend.”

“Oh come on! I never torment you with terms of respect when I win!”

“When you win? That’s happened?” asked Robert.

“Oh tee-hee, very funny, Rob. That’s what I love most about you, your sense of humor. Now let me out of these cuffs will you?” The droid complied, but took his time about it. When his wrists were freed Paul raised an eyebrow at the robot. “You’re built very well.”

“Oh I have vulnerabilities, you were just too dumb to find them,” Robert informed him.

“I was too dumb, ey? Well for being so phenomenally stupid I did a surprisingly good job of building you!”

The robot dipped his head. “True. Of course, the minor modifications that I’ve made to myself over the past year haven’t hurt.”

“I’ll say. I would have had you otherwise. Wanna go get some lunch?”

The robot shrugged amiably. “Sure. By the way, nice try with the plea for pity. I’m sure your mother would greatly appreciate your adjective of choice: elderly.”

Paul shot him a look. “Well what she doesn’t hear about won’t hurt her, right?” The droid smiled.

“Oh most certianly, Mr. Kandor.”

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