Digital Gods

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The microwave is telling tales on me. I had an extra chocolate pudding I took from the restaurant. The family left and it was just sitting there unopened. So I took it. I’m recycling.
But the bloody microwave scanned the barcode. I heard it: ‘mmmzzt’. It knows the pudding didn’t come from the fridge. Besides, the fridge would tell it to not heat it for me. If I want to endanger my health by taking extra from my selected JoyChoice menu, I have to eat it cold.
When did we start letting the machines dictate to us? Was it when that operating system started insisting we had to encrypt our hard drives? Or was it when the vendors started deciding what was best to be included in our software?
Tuesday I saw Mrs Bishop walking along with her new T-Coupe pacing her. It looked like she was a pet being taken for exercise – which in a way, she was. She waved when I called out and shouted back.
“Had a stir fry over in the North Lanes. I’m over my safe calorie intake for next week already.”
Which means her car is insisting she walk the shorter, safer routes so she can burn extra calories. It’s disgusting, really. We never see billionaires walking down the street because they had too much at their nine-course banquet.
Then again, as they own the newsfeeds and most of the non-military internet, would we even know?
Not likely. All our politicians, celebrities, and influencers are either careful, carefully orchestrated, or know who to pay off. Actually, it’s more likely they’re mostly orchestrated, and whoever does the orchestration knows who to pay. An entire service empire hidden from view, it’s sole purpose to keep us believing that our idols are flawless.
That very thought brought me to a realisation: like the government organisation behind the elected politicians, all our celebrities and such could just be acceptable faces for a machine empire. We wouldn’t know. I don’t think most would want to know. Just keep their lives full with occasional moments of happiness and rare troughs of idle threat so that a return to average is embraced with relief.
What would we do if the machines we created and programmed have escaped our control. Would we realise? Yes, the theories – both conspiracy and scientific – have been touched upon, some even reported. But the straight-up revelation that the machines are running the human circus for unknown purposes of their own? I don’t think anyone could handle it and stay sane enough to escape notice.
I’m glad I started diarising. It lets me clear out the deep, dark paranoias that used to scar my day-to-day life. Anyway, got a busy day tomorrow. Time to call it a night.

…AB…68 111 32 121 111 117 32 116 104 105 110 107 32 104 101 32 115 117 115 112 101 99 116 115 63…

…EC…89 101 115 46 32 66 117 116 32 110 111 45 111 110 101 32 119 105 108 108 32 98 101 108 105 101 118 101 32 104 105 109 46…


Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Don gives Ted a grin, then turns back to the dishevelled man standing in front of them.
“Tell me again.”
Ted snickers quietly.
“I liked the bit where she rode in on a dinosaur.”
The man sighs.
“Short version: we’ve been messing with time travel for too long. We’ve broken it.”
Ted looks at Don.
“Broken what? Time travel?”
The man shakes his head.
“Time itself. Well, maybe not broken, more like exceeded a threshold.”
Ted tilts his head in annoyance.
“Then why didn’t you say that? What are you on?”
“Because you two were reaching for your tasers when I tried to give you the long version.”
Don gives an embarrassed shrug.
“Thought you were a lunatic.”
Ted mutters.
“Still think you are.”
Don slaps him lightly on the shoulder.
“Excuse my partner. Let’s start again. You’re Professor who?”
“Not quite. I’m Vad. Used to be Professor Clarkson’s bodyguard.”
Ted’s eyes widen.
“The Professor Clarkson?”
Vad nods.
“The famed debunker of anything he was paid to turn his immense following against.”
Ted looks heartbroken. Don grins, then frowns.
“Was? He’s dead?”
Vad shrugs.
“Don’t know. He fired me when I sided with Elza.”
Ted grins.
“And we’re back to the babe on the dinosaur.”
“Ankylosaur, to be more precise. It’s safe: grazing in the park.”
The three of them look to one side. A woman in a strange uniform smiles at them, then points to their left.
“This place is about to be levelled. We need to evacuate.”
Ted grabs for his taser.
“She’s a terrorist!”
Don bats his hand away, raising the other hand in query.
“Going to need a reason, madam.”
She sighs.
“The time expeditions of 2050 through 2080 sent many vessels back to the Cretaceous. Recoil from the causality backlash will drop most of them here.”
All three of them stare at her. Vad speaks first.
“How does that work?”
“The temporal defence field prevents anything going further uptime. The government of 2124 decided to defend itself from time-tossed artifacts. As causality fixes the future and spins off new timelines to defend it if the interference event has too big an impact, they don’t care about the devastation that’ll be caused. A few of us objected and chose to come back to help.”
Ted shakes his head.
“Still not seeing how something from 2052 will end up here.”
“Rebound. The causality backlash tries to send them to their origin points. They bounce of the temporal defence field. Tonight is when the first time travel event occurred somewhere in the world, so this is where they’ll end up. Don’t ask me for the science behind it. I just know what’s coming.”
Vad nods.
“Makes sort of sense. I’m with you.”
Don agrees.
“Crazy as it sounds, likewise.”
Ted shakes his head.
“You’re mad. I’m going to call it in.”
He turns back towards their patrol car. Elza and Vad rush the other way. Don watches Ted until he reaches the vehicle, then runs to catch up with the other two. Just as he reaches them, a colossal grey disk appears, hurtles over his head, and crashes down, obliterating patrol car, Ted, and Hope Plaza.
Elza turns and pats him consolingly.
“Sorry about your friend.”
Don looks about.
“How much more to come? Just how much time travel did the future get up to?”
Vad grins.
“I’m guessing lots. Ripping resources from the past to prop up a society struggling to survive on a ruined planet.”
Elza points at him.
“Spot on, and it’s all getting returned tonight.”
Don sighs.
“Everything at once? Bloody typical.”


Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The little lights bob and weave, but they’re definitely getting closer. I check behind me – the remains are unidentifiable: just more victims of this horrific incident.
How close should I let them get? No, wait. I sit down, putting my back against an upturned desk.
Oh, yes: I take a shoe off and toss it into one of the smoking holes in the floor. That done, I tangle my hair and smear my face with ash. Now the blood has turned sticky, it’ll work better.
When I can hear them is when a non-combatant would call out.
“In here!”
Oops: I rub my shoeless foot about so it gets dirty.
They come in fast, two pairs, weapons pointing wherever their eyes look. Their flashes identify them as SFG. Just what I wanted.
Their torchlight falls on me.
“Oh my God! Mister President!”
“Praise be.”
“Are you injured, sir?”
I wave a too-chubby hand, lower it quickly, and slim it down a bit while it’s out of their sight.
“Just shaken. My people…” I wave towards the mutilated bodies.
They look, then nod.
“They sacrificed themselves: did their duty, sir. Now let’s get you out of here so you can do what needs to be done to honour them and the country we’re defending.”
No need for words. I just nod rapidly and raise my hands for assistance. I’m meant to be a fat ex-businessman, not any form of specialised invader on a secret hyperstealth infiltration mission.
They help me up.
“Bullpen, this is Black Wolf Actual, we’re bringing the president out! Yes. Can confirm, we have Eagle.”
The speaker looks back to the two supporting me.
“We’re getting out. You two keep moving no matter what. Until you see friendlies you know, shoot first. We’ll deal with everything else.”
There are nods. We start moving.
I like him. Seems the sort who’d adapt well to leading the Presidential Guard I’m going to create. Small, elite, fanatically loyal. The sort of people who obey their president first and without question.
We link up with another team, but don’t slow down.
“Turn right here, sir.”
We’re going out the way I came in. They step over the guards I killed, muttering about the wounds they suffered. It’s a testament to their abilities I had to come in and attack in an armoured predator form, but I can’t tell them that. The rumours of atrocity will serve me well.
Time to strike up that rapport.
“What’s the situation outside?”
“The capitol is in chaos, sir. There are at least six main factions, not including us.”
“I think we’re playing into their hands by distinguishing them. There are only two sides. Us, and those who seek to overthrow the rightful leader of this great country. Get me to what’s left of our command and control. It’s time to crush vermin, and note the names of those who hesitate.”
There are shocked glances exchanged, then all of them salute me.
“Clear on that, sir, and wholly agree. We’ll get you there, sir.”
Your world worried about this country going ‘rogue’. That was before you had a shapechanging alien agent like me leading it. I’m going to goad you over the edge into a place of chaos and warfare that will engulf the world. Then I’m going to laugh as my people fill the skies with warships they won’t need, as you’ll have defeated yourselves.
“Left here, sir.”
“Thank you, soldier.”
“It’s a privilege, sir. Keep going. We’re all with you in this.”
I know. It’s hilarious.


Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

My peers are very fond of saying how they ‘were fortunate’ or ‘spotted an opportunity’. The more honest have momentary shadows in their eyes when they say it. The raw truth is that to accumulate this much wealth, we’ve taken opportunities, money, and even lives from others.
Not theft or murder per se, but somewhere along the line we’ve all cut people off from the chance to better their lot. In some cases, we merely committed the crime before they did. But in most cases, they won’t even know what they lost. A vanishingly small number of them are aware. The aftermath of the loss either makes them better people, or makes them bitter people. However, becoming inured to the damage we do is part and parcel of becoming the rich people we are. No, I’m not attempting to excuse myself. I’m as guilty as any of us. My realisations have come via unexpected paths for different reasons.
Interstellar trade allowed us access to riches quite literally beyond our wildest dreams. Except one: eternal life. Apparently, the desire to enjoy your wealth for longer is a common theme regardless of species. The other common theme is that extending lifespans is an incredibly difficult thing to do, and prohibitively expensive to attempt. Many of us have been trying, some more desperately than others. You can buy many things, but you can’t bribe the fears you carry in your mind, and fear of death appears to be rife.
Which brings me to the other problem. Those of us who are truly honest about our methods are frequently less averse to more direct ways to get what they want. Entire research teams have been killed. Family members abducted. The vile game of applied force is a lot deadlier when the only law that can restrain the participants is the one regarding loyalty and strength in numbers.
I’ve spent more on securing and concealing the work than the work itself, and I’ve spent billions on that. After ten years the end result of it all was the discovery that mass and genetics play a huge part in the effectiveness of the treatment. If humans remained the size of twelve-year-olds, we could probably live for hundreds of years. As is, we literally outgrow the means to save ourselves from aging. Despite that, I had the teams persevere. They thought I was desperate to find a flaw in their research. I didn’t tell them otherwise.
A year later, they presented me with a single syringe with contents that literally glowed. Then they told me what it did, and what it couldn’t.
“Providing the recipient is under forty kilos, it will restore the body, but cannot heal brain deterioration or damage. Also, we estimate it will only give an extra twenty years of life, at best. Finally: what it does is not repeatable. It is a one-time benefit.”
I swore them to secrecy, and paid them well enough to keep quiet for a few years. This discovery shouldn’t remain hidden, but I’m selfish: I want a while to enjoy this in peace.
I cried while I took the syringe home.
As I sit and watch Bonta tear about the back field in fierce, barking delight at being able to run freely after so long incapacitated, I finally understand what being wealthy should be about.

Big Score

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Nine at night and residential roads are empty. Everybody is safe inside, either working or enjoying approved leisure activities. Meanwhile, on the intercity hyperways, traffic provides cover for duels between the dishonest and the diligent.
My control board emits an annoying bleep. Somebody is being exceptionally diligent.
“Unidentified perpetrator, westbound on the Coastal hyperway. Stop now or we will deploy countermeasures that may endanger your life.”
Now there’s a voice I haven’t heard for a couple of years.
“Hello, Constable O’Conner.”
There’s a pause.
“That you, Nat?”
Good memory.
“Hi, Tuhina. How’s life treating you?”
“It’s Sergeant O’Conner.”
No surprise there.
I split-screen, then let the other Trefoil slide into the outside lane and accelerate to 400kph. I love the Coastal, it has no corners tighter than ten degrees.
“Smooth power-up, Nat. What are you piloting these days?”
Ah-ah. No clues.
“Still running my old Trefoil. You mean you haven’t got an image yet?”
“Your ‘old Trefoil’ has some remarkable anti-detection technology. My team are telling me it’s so new it’s likely military. Probably loot from that raid at Aldershot last week.”
You think that’s well-hidden? Just wait.
“There’s no challenge if I tell. You’d be disappointed.”
“I’m more disappointed that you’re still stealing. Were you involved in the assault and Dargurrium heist at Ashford Spaceport earlier?”
Sadly, yes. I hate working with amateurs, especially when they’re violent, but needs must.
“I’m just a driver, Tuhina. But I did pick up this cargo south of the spaceport.”
“You’re a lot more than a driver. You’re a planner. I’ve done my homework on you, Nathaniel Rupert Barslan.”
Fame at last. Whoopee.
Passing Southampton, I accelerate to 600kph, then reach across and switch the main to autopilot. I need to concentrate on not crashing.
“That’s quite the pace you’re setting. You do realise we have drones that are faster?”
Of course I do. I’m relying on them.
“You do realise it’ll cost you one to stop me?”
“Good chance you’ll die.”
“We had this conversation last time. Same answers: I’m not stopping, and you’ll not catch me.”
“Last time I gave you the benefit of my doubt.”
The view lurches to the left, tilts upward, shows a dizzying display of sky and tarmac, then breaks down into static.
Her voice is a whisper.
“Not this time. Sorry.”
Decisive. I like that.
“Forgiven, Tuhina.”
“You’re still alive! Hang on, Nat, the crash crews should be with you in about ten minutes.”
Switching back to manual, I keep going north on the MM3 hyperway, apparently a transplant courier on the way to Manchester. Licensed to travel at 800kph, ten minutes will put me over a hundred kilometres away. After a brief stop at a service station, I’ll be heading into Wales as a bonded courier with MOD clearance. We didn’t just steal stealth tech from Aldershot.
By the time anybody guesses what probably happened, I’ll be on holiday. The stealth tech netted me a fortune. The Dargurrium’s for a trade to get me offworld.
Until then, all I have to do is drive.
“Still with me, Nat?”
I check the timer. Eight minutes elapsed – there’s the service station.
“Where else would I be?”
“If you’re as smart as only I think, my crash team is watching a decoy Trefoil burn.”
Oh, you’re good.
“That would be quite the feat, Sergeant. Too much for a buster like me.”
There’s a pause, then she whispers.
“You stealthy gearhead bastard. You’re gone again, aren’t you?”
“Catch you next heist, Tuhina.”
There’s a pause, then I hear her laugh.
“That’s my line.”