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.
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
“I cannot sing the old songs, the songs I sang so long ago…”
Guin kicked her heels, muttering the misremembered words to herself. She hadn’t changed. She still looked as young as ever: her dark skin was as flawless as it had ever been. For the first time in her life, though, she felt old. Ara and Lance had gone. Zen and Jason were dead. But she couldn’t bring herself to abandon the City quite yet. None of the ways out seemed to work for her.
She’d been a gardener for a time. She had found the physical aspects work relaxing. But the constant flux of plants growing, dying back and growing again grated against her nerves. She eventually grew to hate the garden. She felt like the plants were mocking her, screaming out to the world that she was the only thing that didn’t follow the pattern. That she wasn’t natural.
It was perfectly true, of course. Guin was artificial. One of the fifth generation of artificial humans that had been constructed in the test laboratories of Integration Project. She was number five-oh-four; that was the number on the Integration Project ID card that had been issued to her. That was the number that was etched into each and every one of the deceptively simple mechanical components that moved silently beneath her skin. Well, almost every component. She’d replaced a number of them herself as they began to fail, using a three-dimensional printer left behind by Lance.
With a little caution, she could probably live forever.
Ara, number five-oh-oh, left the City almost as soon as she could. She was always the cautious one. She compulsively collected data, and was the one who broke skillchips out of the Integration Project without being seen. Presumably, she was still safe, and hopefully so was Lance. Jason, though, was dead, disassembled amongst the labs of the Project. He had attempted to break in to steal documentation and equipment, and sow a little destruction. He hadn’t made it past the first sub-level. Zen had quietly committed suicide.
Guin looked up at the sound of footfalls. A girl, no older than Guin’s apparent age, was walking towards her. Keeping step with the girl was what appeared to be a wolf. Guin stood up, and faced them.
“You’re five-oh-four.” The girl spoke with absolute assurance. “Where are the others?”
“Outside laboratory circumstances, just like me.” The euphemism came easily to Guin. “More to the point, who are you?”
“Senka. Sixth Generation. This is Schuyler,” she ran her hand over the wolflike head, “a prototype. They told us about your series. That you were flawed, and violent. Why haven’t you attacked us?”
“I’m tired, Senka. You’re young. You’ve yet to realise that ‘Integration’ is a joke. Not sure about you, Schuyler, but Senka, I have some advice for you. You can talk to people all you want, but you’ll never be able to identify with them. The scientists understand you in a physical sense, but they can’t grasp how you think. Normal people don’t – and can’t – relate to you.” Guin saw Schuyler tense, ready to spring.
“I’ve been asked to bring you home. They’ve been watching your progress with interest. It was the remains of five-oh-three and your progress out in the world that inspired them to create me.”
“They never knew how to make us into convincing liars. You’ve been sent to offline me, Senka. You might just be the way out I’ve been waiting for.”
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
Jack sighed, and tabbed through the moment’s top links. They hadn’t changed much since earlier that morning: still the usual desultory mix of politics, tech articles, and irreverent ‘humour’. Lolcats had been ceased to be funny almost as soon as the merchandising hit.
He peeled the interface wafer from his neck. The flexible plastic bilayer pulled away from his skin cleanly. Almost as soon as he did so, it emitted a ‘message received’ chirp. With a due sense of foreboding, he smoothed it back across the accustomed spot under his collar.
His customised newsfeeds immediately began to scroll across his vision. With a blink, they were obscured by the new message. It was from Dog, a gamer he’d met months ago.
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
Traffic analysis is great fun. I wrote a tool to track effective votes on all political matters. Whilst it seems that around sixty percent of those eligible do actually participate in our fine democracy/anarchy/infocracy – (did anyone ever decide on what to call it? Surely the germans have a decent compound noun for this. Anyway..) – but those votes are controlled by maybe ten percent of the eligibles. People seem to have, by and large, unconsciously given proxy power to an elite few.
This is what I’ve been waiting for. Hard data that shows I’m right. This isn’t a free state. Nothing like it.
I think I’ve found a way to concentrate popular opinion against these ‘power-users’.
I’m going full broadcast with the attached files soon. Have a look.
—–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (ThinWafer)
—–END PGP SIGNATURE—–
That was Dog. Paranoid to the core. But he had attached signed data from the politics section. After all, you were only paranoid if you couldn’t prove it: and Dog’s scanner had bought up some passably interesting facts. The names changed, and drifted over time, but there was a core of identities that voted on every political motion that was bought up. And it was always to bury any outside submitted, or to vote up motions of their own.
—–BEGIN UNSIGNED MESSAGE—–
Unlike you, I’m not paranoid. Although for once you’ve managed to assemble something somewhat convincing. I don’t see how we can use it. There’s nothing we can do, frankly. And who cares? I’m going to shoot you some lol* — have a laugh, lighten up. I’m going to go outside.
—–BEGIN UNSIGNED SIGNATURE—–
—–END UNSIGNED SIGNATURE—–
Jack felt a twinge of guilt at his slightly caustic reply. Some people never learnt, though, so he dismissed it. Dog would just feel more self-righteous. Jack connected to the CCTV spider he’d loosed into the net. He asked it to track down Dog. The mapped path showed a slow spiral inwards, avoiding high-density cam and mic coverage, headed straight for the forum: the base-in-reality for political debate. The forum was large enough to accommodate a few thousand; it was rarely packed to capacity. There was no real advantage to going there in the flesh, anyway. An alert flashed up: Dog was offline. Dog was never offline.
Jack was running hard, already halfway to the forum by the time he figured it out.
Every channel was suddenly full of Dog’s data, and locked from editing. Then a fireball blossomed from the top of the forum, both real and virtual. The political channels timed out, died, only to return as static error pages. A ripple of explosions toppled the building.
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
In the far distance Sahar could see the barest hint of a glimmer: sunlight on water. The ocean. In the other direction, the city stood rose up from the scrubland, as if challenging the world. It looked for all the world like a cluster of termite mounds, writ large in red and silver. Aside from the intermittent vegetation, there was nothing but a straight road between the two: just a gentle decline from the city to the sea.
Sahar had set up her impromptu camp roughly halfway along the road, under a suspiciously large acacia. Suspicious simply because it was growing within ten metres of the road, and was the single largest plant for miles around. Arrats had checked out the tree and the immediate area, and declared both free from serious threats. Sahar had yet to find out where the boundary between ‘serious’ and ‘not serious’ lay: the machine’s lexicon was sparse when he was disconnected.
Arrats was a ‘distributed machine intelligence’. From what Sahar had gathered from her own research, that description was completely inaccurate, but gave something of the right idea. Arrats certainly got much more verbose when he had a high-bandwidth link. Sahar, upon learning that she was going to be partnered with a machine intelligence was determined to think of it as an ‘it’, no matter what. By the end of the first day, ‘it’ had slipped to ‘he’ — and she hadn’t even noticed.
Sahar stretched out in the folding chair that she’d set up in the shade of the tree. For all the oppressive climate and the anticipation of the job she’d soon have to do, she felt calm and composed. Beside her, Arrats was reclining against the crate of gear that had been dropped with them.
“You’re going to claim that you’re relaxing, aren’t you?” Sahar narrowed her eyes, and smirked.
“Balance takes concentration. If I ‘relax’ I can spend those cycles on other processes. Unlike some humans I could mention, I’m keeping busy. Those microsats we launched barely have a processor to rub between them.”
Arrats was occupying an ancient-looking robotic shell. There was a core of modern electronics, but apart from that, it was all rust. Newer shells had telltales to help communicate mood and attitude. Without them, Sahar found it hard to judge how to respond to her partner’s often dry humour. A pity, then that it had to be the refurbished shell or nothing. Even it would probably spook the natives.
“So, are they on their way?” Sahar asked, after a moment’s pause.
“Surprisingly enough, yes.”
“How long have we got?”
“Maybe twenty minutes. Set the charges. I’ll put the screen together.”
Twenty-two minutes later, the lead vehicle rolled over the activator for the ring of explosives. None of the vehicles in the convoy had been EM-hardened, and none of them had been armoured in any meaningful way: the thick sheet metal merely amplified the concussion wave and made escaping that much more difficult.
The screen shielded Sahar from the worst of it, but she still felt the EM burst as a sawblade in her frontal lobe. Once the explosions had stuttered to a halt, she stepped out from behind the screen. One of the drivers was crawling away from the burning wreckage, leaving a red-black streak on the dry earth. Sahar flipped him over and examined his wounds.
“You really thought you could get away that easily?”
Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
Peter sat on the harbour wall, coat high around his neck in an effort to keep out the spray of water in the air. The freezing mist had a way of insinuating itself between layers of clothing. The sea roared defiance to sky, and at the horizon air and water intermingled, melting together into a gray mess.
Savannah drew her gloved finger through the patch of grey, brought it to her nose, and sniffed. Still unsure as to what was causing the mystery liquid to bubble out from underneath a drive plate. She stood up, and retrieved a nanowelder from her kit. Before she could set to disassembling the plate, the entire ship rocked, and proximity alarms started droning like a swarm of very, very angry bees.
Able carefully reassembled the hive, his confident motions fruit of long practice. Tending his father’s beehives was one of his favourite hobbies, and had been ever since he’d got over his fear of stings. He felt a slight rumble through his feet. An armoured column was in the area. The sheer mass of unwillingly moving metal always bought an earthquake with it.
Bernard kicked the seismograph: the needle abruptly ceased its shiver, and registered one slight peak. Seismic surveys of outworlds were about as dull as ditchwater: Bernard was reminded of enthralling times that he’d had watching alcohol evaporate.
Moll groaned, wishing that she could transpire alcohol. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but then it always did. She blinked, trying to clear her vision. Her head was pounding, a rhythmic thump-thump, thump-thump. The wreckage of the party was still ankle-deep. Neb was slumped over the table, and Zal was picking his way towards the door, to answer the incessant knocking.
Tac pressed a hand to his armoured helmet, a useless attempt to ease the pain of the drumming piped through his implant. The drums, the call to war. They focused you, and drove away your fears and nightmares. The drumming never stopped, it modulated — your orders were embedded in the beat. The rest of Tac’s squad took up firing positions around him. Railguns cracked the air, forming gusts which threatened to knock him over.
Nathalie felt the displaced air, and flinched. The brick shattered on a policeman’s riot shield. She had gone to the demonstration because the politics had finally touched her life, restricted her freedom. Like thousands of others, she’d turned out to voice her rejection of the government. But it had got messy. The demonstration had turned into a full-blown riot and Nathalie was just desperate to get out. She spun round, looking for a way through the press of bodies. Someone caught her arms, wrenched them up behind her back: two policemen were pinning her, a tonne of bricks keeping her stuck to the ground.
Graph gasped as the rubble settled. It sounded like his ribs were splintering. One of his legs was definitely broken, and both of his arms were at least dislocated. This was, he assured himself, the last time he followed a radio signal into an ‘abandoned’ warehouse. He coughed, and grimaced at the pain. The explosive had left a residue in the air that was playing havoc with his lungs: his mouth was full of the taste of sulphur and metal.
Indar stared out at the blackness. The effect was electrifying. His hair was standing on end, and he could taste the metal tang of a forcefield.
“This is it,” the girl said, “you’ve reached the top, just moments before the earth will stop…”