Month: April 2014

Flash Fiction Online submission

As part of my ongoing quest for increased visibility, I submitted my flash horror story, “First Corinthians,” to Flash Fiction Online. In an earlier post I described the story thusly:

“First Corinthians” is about a little girl speaking to the exorcist trying to throw a demon out of her sister. It actually takes place apart from the exorcism itself, while the exorcist is taking a break. This isn’t blood and guts horror. I’m trying for something more cerebral – maybe even philosophical. The story is about faith and God and how one copes in the apparent absence of those things. What if God didn’t exist but the Devil did? Pretty horrifying stuff, methinks, albeit in a much subtler way.

As usual, updates to follow.

The Bazaar: Chapter 5

Fulton in The Zone

Fulton found himself in a different hotel.

This one was every bit as drab as the room he’d left, only here the atmosphere reeked less of sleaze than faded glory. He sat in a lobby. No casino here. Just an empty front desk and faded, paisley wallpaper. It was a roach motel out of a B-grade noir flick.

Certainly looked like a Reese production.

What struck Fulton most about the space was the quiet. Electricity pulsed steadily within the walls. Otherwise there were no obvious signs of life: no voices, no footsteps, no sex noises.

The visuals jived with Reese’s rendering style. The environment and objects in it had been sketched out in 3D wire mesh. Photo realistic skins had then been stretched over the wire frames. To pull this off properly you needed extremely high resolution images. Millions of pixels, if not billions. If you skimped on resolution everything came out blurry. There was a time and a place for that sort design aesthetic, but generally it left you with a wicked migraine.

Here the skinner had skimped in places. The wood grain on the front desk looked like a toddler’s finger painting. A drab service bell sat on the counter — battleship gray with no gradient. The shade could have come off any consumer-grade paint program’s palette.

Fulton tapped the cartoon bell with his middle finger.

Ping.

The sound echoed through the empty lobby. Crisp audio – another Reese-like touch.

“Hello?”

Stupid question.

Fulton tapped the bell again. Another crisp ping echoed across the lobby.

Whoever he was, the designer knew his stuff.

Spacial encryption had gotten more and more popular. Brute-force assaults became exponentially more effective each year, at about the pace you would expect given Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years). This was hardware available at the retail level. Forget government agencies. Forget specialist contractors like Emily and AEGIS. Given enough capital you could hire all the computer power and hacking talent you needed on a freelance basis.

So governments and corporations got creative.

Spacial encryption required an incredibly detailed environment. Otherwise all you’d see would be items of significance. An effective encryption environment did one of two things: it either provided a highly-detailed, realistic environment filled with insignificant details, or it was a theater of the bizarre. Ideally both. Fulton knew this because he’d spent a not-insignificant amount of time studying the evolution of spacial encryption in augmented systems. The earliest examples had simply hidden information around a space (i.e. pick up a vase and engraved on the bottom would be the plans for your terrorist attack, the schematics for the latest wonder widget or a series of hacked credit account numbers). The next logical step had been to chop the data up and spread it across multiple places. In a hotel environment like this you might find a swatch of data printed under the bell, a bit more on a certain letter in a mail cubby, still more on the back of a particular room’s number plate.

The first documented example of data being abstracted into the actual environment came from Datadyne, the market leader in augmented chipsets. Its R&D department coded a set of blueprints as a maze. When you mapped out the maze in three dimensions and zoomed out far enough to see the proverbial forest for the trees you had the specs. Spacial strategies would eventually become so complex you would have to disassemble the entire environment and reassemble all its components in a different configuration to get at the underlying data.

Fulton sincerely hoped Reese had not made that leap with this particular project.

If he had anything to do with it in first place.

On the one hand, the slapdash attention to detail was pure Reese. He was a Big Idea man. A novelist, not a copy editor. Setting, too, was in line with Reese’s style. Faded glory appealed to him. Same with the noir undertones. But so far nothing had distinguished this app as a David Reese original. In fact Fulton found it rather boring.

Then, from down the corridor came a clicking sound, like knife-points on tile.

The figure that emerged was not human. Not entirely, at least. Up top was the familiar shape of a human female — a blonde woman wearing a bellhop’s jacket. She wore a red cap cocked to the right. Below the waist she had the body of a mechanical spider, polished chrome legs and abdomen. The legs themselves were narrow, spindly and pointed at the tips, vaguely reminiscent of javelins. Hydraulic pumps joined them to her body.

The bellhop jacket covered the place where flesh met chrome. Fulton suspected if he removed her jacket he would find a hyper-realistic surgical scar where flesh and bone had been grafted onto steel.

Forget the desk bell. The machinery practically glistened in the light. Of course the skinner could have used this same dynamic lighting on the service bell. Leaving it dull was an artistic choice. God forbid it detract from the spider’s entrance.

That was where Reese invested his creative energy. Here was his signature. His Big Idea.

“Good evening, sir,” the spider said. “How may I help you?”

The Bazaar: Chapter 4

Zoning Out

Emily watched him take the cartridge. As far as she knew the thing worked by magic.

Magic and a needle.

Emily didn’t mind needles, same as she didn’t mind these hotels with all-night karaoke and lousy sound-proofing. Hotels where all you had for company in the wee, lonely hours of the morning were junkies wailing “Endless Love” and the sound of your neighbors fucking. Once upon a time she’d spent long, sleepless nights in hotels like this, watching roaches scuttle across the ceiling, adrift on a rolling sea of feel-good.

Fulton stuck the cartridge between his teeth as he rolled up his sleeves.

Why bother with the sleeves? Unless he had a port on the inside of his elbow. Tech wasn’t Emily’s department but she knew it was all the rage to get the port on the inside of your arm. Made it look like you were shooting dope every time you popped in a disc.

“I sweat when I plug in,” Fulton said, to no one in particular, as if he’d read her mind.

Appearance-wise he could have been any nerd off the street. He wore a simple white button-down and dark slacks. Pretty much anyone could pull it off. Even this was impressive compared to the techs Emily worked with. Collars were their kryptonite. That and shaving. She guessed Fulton’s wife had invested serious time and effort in cleaning him up. Unfortunately the change hadn’t entirely taken.

His shirt was wrinkled.

That set tiny hairs on the back of Emily’s neck tingling. It would have earned her a beating in basic (Is that a fucking smudge on that button, Number Eleven?).

Fulton worked tiny buttons along the body of the cartridge. A green LED light winked on. He reached round the base of his neck with his free hand and began probing with two fingers.

No scar. He couldn’t pop discs too often.

The deft, probing motions took Emily back to Syria, to the twelve-year old who worked as a minesweeper. The kid lay flat on his stomach working the ground in front of him with a nasty-looking combat knife. Whenever he found mines he dug them up and dismantled them himself, using the knife tip like a screwdriver. He was Sunni. An Alawite death squad had massacred his family. Not only mother, father, brothers and sisters but uncles, aunts and cousins, too. They’d wiped out his entire village. As far as anyone knew the kid was the only one left out of his entire family tree. Nothing scared him. Not capture. Not torture. Not death. Certainly not little metal boxes with the capacity to horribly maim.

Because when you’ve watched everyone you’ve ever loved get machine-gunned to pieces, what was left to fear?

Emily knew something about that herself.

Finally Fulton found the port in his neck. He held a finger there to mark the spot while he stuck the cartridge up against it. He pressed a button. The cartridge clicked. Fulton winced then pocketed the device. “Dial in straight away?” he asked.

“We’ve got all the time in the world,” Emily replied. Not the first time she’d said that to a man with a needle in his neck. She might have said it a thousand times before. That phase of her life remained shrouded in a thick mental fog, a soupy blend of memory and hallucination.

If the disc held a hot dose Fulton would start convulsing immediately. Vomit would bubble from the corners of his mouth and dribble down his chin as his brain fried. Emily had seen this happen exactly once. A field tech dove into some intel without any kind of once-over. Turned out it was booby-trapped. A hot dose cooked him instantly. Emily remembered him blinking over and over, spitting up blood as he jerked around on the ground like a landed fish.

She was naïve then. She thought he might come out of it. No more. If Fulton caught a hot dose she’d put a bullet in his head. She’d make it easy for him.

Emily touched her palm to the gun holstered beneath her coat.

Across the room the broker tensed visibly. His eyes locked onto her hand and stayed there.

Instead of vomiting his guts out Fulton leaned back onto the bed. His eyes rolled up. His attention went beyond Emily, beyond the room, far from the muffled sounds of bad sex and antique slot machines.

He was in The Zone.

Quick indie publishing update

I wanted to post a quick update on the short I self-published, “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell.” In my original goal post I wrote that I wanted five reviews by April 10 and to sell 216 units by June 30.

To date I have my five reviews. Sales, on the other hand, remain negligible.

What I need now is increased visibility. To that end I am in constant search of blogs and other sites that would be interested in posting on the story. I plan on posting an updated sales figure at the end of each month through June. As I noted in my original post, the 216 unit sales goal is based on recovering the cost of my cover art.

The Bazaar: Chapter 3

Fulton’s Folly

Someone knocked.

Emily nodded to Luis.

The translator welcomed the new arrival in the local dialect. The man he invited into the room was physically unremarkable. He wore a checkered flannel shirt and blue jeans. A ridiculous outfit, considering the heat and humidity. Maybe he was hiding something. Bulletproof vest? Bomb? Fulton couldn’t help but wonder. Historically Latins hadn’t been predisposed to self-martyrdom. Too much residual Catholic guilt.

Flannel Shirt was clearly nervous. He wrung his hands. His eyes darted around the room, never quite settling. He lingered near the door.

Emily took a stack of local currency from her coat. She tossed it onto the bed. Then another, and another. Fulton had never seen so much cash. Maybe she’d worn a corset of small bills beneath her coat.

Luis asked a question in rapid-fire Spanish. Precisely the kind of muddy, slang-ridden speech that gave Espanol Made Easy fits.

Flannel Shirt nodded. He reached into his pocket and produced a black cartridge the size of an index finger.

“The app’s on a standard DNA storage platelet,” Emily said. “It’s a three dimensional puzzle.”

“Spacial encryption,” Fulton offered. “Reese abandoned alpha numerics a long time ago.”

“You’re the expert.”

“What if it’s a hot dose?”

Emily’s eyes narrowed. “If that thing kills you he’ll be in a world of hurt.” She jerked her head in Flannel Shirt’s general direction.

“Tell him that, Luis.”

Luis told him.

If the threat unsettled Flannel Shirt he didn’t show it.

“Supposedly it’s disgusting,” Emily said. “Like somebody’s nightmare.” She sounded genuinely unnerved. Fulton marked that as odd. The woman had probably killed scores of people in her lifetime. Yet here was Reese getting under her skin.

“He had strange sense of humor. Some find it off-putting.” Fulton didn’t believe a genuine David Reese app was down here circulating on the black market. It would have come a long way, passed through a lot of hands.

Reese’s apps appealed to the kind of techno-fetishists who liked to fantasize with the safety off. His signatures were hyper-realistic imagery with sensory feedback. Your average retail consumer found this unsettling. He wanted an escape (to relax in a jacuzzi with a gaggle of models all sporting the same wasp-like waists and basketball-sized breasts) not spend his evenings immersed in Reese’s drug-addled fantasies. Never in a million years would Fulton have guessed Reese’s novelty pieces could command this kind of cash.

This was not the vacation and light consulting they’d pitched him in New York. This was Dr. Mitchell Fulton chasing rumors through a war zone.

Granted no one forced him to stay. He could have quit after passing that severed arm in the street. He could have gotten right on a plane. If not after the bomb then certainly after his first conversation with Emily, when she got done explaining how critical intelligence had been encrypted on a heretofore unknown David Reese app. How Fulton was their best shot at cracking it. All it would take was a meeting with a shady tech broker and a half hour in The Zone.

Simple enough.

Emily made it sound so simple in her pitch on that hotel patio. But it didn’t add up. Fulton’s gut told him that from the start. Reese didn’t build things that were useful to governments and contractors and terrorists and drug lords.

And still Fulton hadn’t taken a plane home.

Partly he was in no hurry to get back to Robyn and her biological clock. There was also the doubt niggling at the base of his brain. Emily might be right. Reese’s magnum opus might have made it way down south of the border. There was a chance, however slim, that this heretofore unknown app might explain why he put a pistol to his head and blew his brains out.

So despite every indication that going along with Emily’s scheme posed a serious threat to his health and longevity, Fulton sighed heavily. “Let’s have a look,” he said.

The Bazaar: Chapter 2

Mercenary Barbie

Fulton met Emily for the first time on the patio at the Intercontinental.

He was late. He had a good excuse, though. A bomb went off at a police barracks along the way. The blast launched a severed arm into the street, mobile phone in hand. The thumb remained poised over the keypad, frozen mid-SMS. It took Fulton a few minutes vomiting into a gutter to regain his composure. His stomach was still doing backflips when he sat down at the patio cafe.

Emily seemed small for someone of her reputation. Slim and petite, with straight hair swept back behind her head in a neat bun. Her skirt was long, professional and conservative; her blouse a plain white piece that could have come off any department store rack in the world. She also wore glasses. Thick, black frames that belonged in a fashion show somewhere.

Fulton assumed her conservative style choices were a way of blending  into the male-dominated social landscape (he had no inkling of her endless, Barbie-like wardrobe at that first meeting). He knew they disliked strong women here. Something to do with machismo. The sight of a female mercenary running around in camo fatigues and combat boots would certainly set hairs on end. It might even start a riot. That happened in some countries where these contractors operated. Often firms didn’t provide proper sensitivity training.

Fulton held nothing but contempt for machismo.

A reputation for virility was hardly worth anything if justifying it got you killed. He recalled that oft-overlooked quirk of evolutionary fitness whereby only on average were individuals fit for survival — some being much more fit and others much less. In the short run it was entirely possible for individuals to exhibits traits wholly unsuited to evolutionary success. In fact, in the short run nature could select for traits that were detrimental to a species’ longevity. This was similar to the insurance industry’s problem of adverse selection, wherein the least healthy people (e.g. obese, chain smoking alcoholics) were generally most eager to purchase life insurance policies.

Could the same process apply culturally? Fulton rather thought it might.

He and Emily sat on the hotel patio sipping gourmet coffee as she explained the job.

“The problem with drugs is they bring too much money, too fast. Take a farmer and offer him a ten thousand percent return on a tiny slice of land. You own him. He’ll believe whatever you tell him to believe. Because really, who’s going to fuck with ten thousand percent? And unfortunately some of these guys believe very strange things. Worse than Arabs, some of them.”

The speech struck Fulton as stilted. Rehearsed. He suspected Emily didn’t like talking. Probably didn’t care much for people, period.

She was a killer, after all. Her favorite people were the dead kind.