Novel Ideas

May 20

A Revolution in Money?

Wondering for some years–and more now than ever–if our current model of what money is will become obsolete. The US Govt plans to “borrow 3 trillion dollars” from April through June, eliciting: “how to pay it back?” and “are we clear on borrow from where”?

It has seemed to me that international development of a monetary AI system could offer revamp of how money is “created”. That is, an artificial intelligence would decide its flow as needed. Yes most would still need to be earned though I think a guaranteed minimal base income would be involved…The main idea is that we can redefine money as a flow both to be earned but also distributed by the putative system with an individualized and currently hard-to-imagine exactitude that would not have to bring about inflation–a devaluation of buying power–or lack of motivation. Someone has told me recently that trillions of dollars are being “hoarded” by a relatively few individuals. I said, one odd thing though is that this hoarding is mostly just digits in an efile or in some series of computers, computers that agree. Piles of agreed-on non-gold…That in turn suggests that money, being a consensus agreement, though theoretically stabilized by valuation to objects of value and units of effected labor, is far more flexible and socially manageable than we are admitting to ourselves.

Essentially I’m suggesting is that an optimally designed *global* AI system would issue payments in accordance with work done, purchases made, and so on, with a constant reference to projected possible negative effects. It would, in real-time, instantaneously make adjustments in money flow that mitigate or eliminate what would otherwise be  negative effects–recessions and ruinous inflation and so on–while carrying out all socially functional financial operations. It would be a universal bank, with no allegiance to any one nation or group. under which all legitimate banks would still be operable and incorporated. It would be backed up by another, insulated system in case of, say, solar flare damage of global electronics. This all assumes an enormous leap ahead in computing power, but I have no problem assuming that. It also assumes a global will to make it work. It would probably have to be modeled and tried on smaller scales first…

Dec 19

Extraterrestrials Decide What Should be Done with the Dominant Species of Inhabited Planet 38790

“Isn’t it too early to despair of Inhabited Planet 38790, Inspector 71,844? Most early civilizations are barbaric. They engage in the sort of unfortunate things confused infants do if unattended in a room filled with dangerous objects. Tragedy ensues. Eventually these creatures will either go extinct — most civilizations destroy themselves — or evolve to something saner, and more adult. I see no reason to put them out of their misery yet. They may grow up.”

“Simple barbarism isn’t the problem, Supervisor 9,221! Barbarism — yes, as for example their many wars, but…let me give you some examples. They’re the kind of species which spawns males who brutally sexually assault females and then set them on fire for complaining — as happened in a land called ‘India’ recently. Meanwhile, a female in a land called ‘the United States’ hanged her two small children, aged eight and four, by the neck, thus strangling them to death, whereupon she informed the authorities they had ‘committed suicide’. She does not seem to be psychotically insane — she said she just ‘didn’t care about her children anymore’. Also, in the ‘United States’, it is a matter of policy to separate innocent offspring from their desperate migratorial parents, when the family is simply fleeing intolerable conditions; this policy thereupon subjects small children to caging, sometimes death, just to make a point about the society’s dislike of migrants.”

“That is a high degree of vileness. But how many support the policy in that nation?”

“At last count, about 45%.”

“Inspector–should you really categorize the entire ‘human’ species of Inhabited Planet 38790 as ‘innately vile’? It is a rather extreme category.”
“Look at that which they delight in! For example, their popular entertainment transmissions. Here is ‘The Bachelor’, a sample of something they are pleased to call ‘Reality Television. Observe.”

[An interval of time in which Supervisor 9,221 takes in several episodes of The Bachelor.]

“But — it’s so humiliating to the female participants,” the Supervisor burst out at last. “And it curries the worst in the males!”

“Yes indeed: the worst aspects of everyone involved — the ‘producers’, the ‘contestants’, and the viewers. This ‘Reality Show’ is a celebration of an utter lack of real self-awareness, and an innate liking for passive aggressive cruelty. And that kind of thing is common in their entertainment. Some of their ‘television’ extols the use of torture to stop miscreants — ”

“But this global culture should be too advanced to sustain torture!”

“Oh, but they not only promote it, they carry it out in many, many forms. Another example of innate vileness: a remarkable number of them also show an eagerness to sexually assault children and watch images of them being assaulted — ”


“Oh yes! Many of this world treat the unwary of their own species as prey! They have a surprising number of ‘serial killers’, as they are called, and ‘mass shooters’ — and many humans regard these sport murderers as a form of celebrity! They celebrate them in books and movies and extensive television documentaries; they enable those who enter educational institutions with powerful weapons, so to slaughter children; they then publicize them widely, which seems to generate yet more mass murderers who try to outdo one another.”

“There is a good deal of vileness among them, yes — but it sounds as if these may be problems brought about by inbreeding.”

“We checked. That isn’t it.”

“Well then, it may be brain damage from environmental toxicity.”

“That is a factor in some cases — and they don’t seem to care. They have a very toxic herbicide all over the world, and besides causing dreadful environmental problems, it often brings about severe diseases in users and those exposed, and its neurotoxicity is such that it seems to be damaging the brains of the young at a remarkable rate of speed. But as there is a great deal of what is called ‘financial gain’ involved in the manufacture and sale of it, it goes on unabated. Yes, some of the vileness may arise from various extent artificial toxins but I put it to you that as they’ve saturated the world with neurotoxins it’s too late for them to do anything significant about it. Also, many of these cases of abject vileness are not neurotoxic psychosis; many seem to be cases of innate species vileness. Reflect on what the very populous place called ‘China’ does to animals, especially canines — in a certain ‘Chinese’ city they traditionally torture these canines to death at a feast festival, after which they eat them. They believe the suffering makes the meat taste better! But there is plenty of cruelty to animals in every nation and culture on Inhabited Planet 38790…”

“It’s true that cruelty to animals is an indicator of irremediable vileness in a race…”

“Oh, they’re vile indeed. Consider their tendency to enslave other members of their own race — yes, common among primitive civilizations but this crops up over and over even now, when they are in the Penultimate Stage — they claim to have ended it yet vast numbers of workers are little more than slaves; worse, in many places they permit the forced trafficking of women, even children, for sexual satisfaction.”

“That is quite a repugnant thing to see in a civilization so comparatively technologically advanced, yes. Have they no guiding philosophers?”

“The benevolent ones are overbalanced by those who enable selfish impulses — there is one called ‘Ayn Rand’ who spouted a philosophy of selfishness, the rejection of empathy for the under privileged, the worship of an uncontrolled marketplace, who is widely influential. Many powerful elected officials in ‘the United States’ and ‘the United Kingdom’ are adherents of her vile, soulless philosophy. Suppose they were to spread this ‘philosophy of selfishness’ intra-galactically? It could destroy many of our best civilizations!”

“But — I am simply not certain of this broad-brush categorization of Extreme Vileness you advocate, Inspector…”

“As an example of Extreme Species Vileness on Inhabited Planet 38790: There is a syndrome in which young people try to persuade those with whom they engage romantically and sexually — to kill themselves! And, strangely, they often succeed. This is partly enabled by the tortured psychological contortions arising from a particularly vile and gigantically popular technological cancer which they call ‘social media’. Observe this case in point, entitled ‘Instagram’…”

“Ugh! Please turn that off! I don’t understand…No sentient species can be that shallow and self-obsessed…”

“Shallow? Very much so. Willfully stupid as well. You know, their brains are, on average, quite capable of advanced cognition and well equipped with creativity. Some of their artistic expressions are intricate and profound. But as a whole the species works hard to suppress its intelligence. The species squanders what it has been given — that is humanity’s hallmark. If you doubt it, let me tell you about their Flat Earth movement — an astonishingly vigorous, growing movement of people insisting their planet is a flat disk floating in space, with the sun revolving around it…”

[An interval in which the Supervisor hears the statements of believers in the Flat Earth]

“What an odd sense of humor they have.”

“They are not joking, Supervisor.”

“But…that sort of thing is an obviously primitive belief—it is infantile! How can they have it in an era of space travel and astronomy?”

“They turn their backs on whatever evidences they prefer to ignore. Indeed, they often spurn the workings of their own brains — they are prone to shrugging off the normal operation of these powerful biological thinking engines, in favor of something that our analysis categorizes as ‘selective stupidity’. They select only self-serving data that sparks in them a pleasing neurological stimulus. The creatures cling to a variety of obvious falsehoods despite all evidence; despite rationality. They still cling to ancient creation myths! Billions of people believe the universe is only 6000 years old! Even at this late stage in their development they take myth as fact and superstitious illusion as evidentiary.”

“I am now officially sickened by these creatures. I trust that’s all the testimony against them you have?”

“Far from it! Still widespread among them is the self-aggrandizing xenophobia they call ‘racism’…Look at this account of an event called The Holocaust…”

“Monstrous! Unspeakably cruel!”

“And yet on a smaller scale not uncommon in their history — large numbers of these creatures have cheerfully enabled genocide. I could provide many other examples.”

“But they should have outgrown racial xenophobia many centuries ago! It has no basis in fact!”

“They stubbornly cling to ignorance — it seems to make them feel good in some aberrant fashion. They also rush headlong into addictions, of all kinds. Besides narcotics, they cheerfully become addicted to their communications devices, to ritual games of competitive low-grade violence, to endless images of their reproductive processes — they call it ‘internet pornography’…”

“Wait — how could they become addicted to that? Nature has seen to it that it is enjoyable to engage in the reproductive process in person — but to stare at it for hours on a screen?”

“It seems to be a peculiarity of their neuronal function. Worse is a kind of constant interchange of something they call ‘conspiracy theory’ with which they pick and choose the data they prefer, and twist it to come to bizarre, radically improbably conclusions. Look at this documentation of their ‘anti-vaxxer movement’. To reject the gift of reason…the horror of it…”

“It truly is vile! But still, they may evolve…”

“As to that, Supervisor 9,221, they have reached the penultimate environmental tipping point. They had an exceptionally beautiful, ecologically intricate planet, and they trashed it. In an incredibly short time they have choked their magnificent seas with waste products so that their magnificent leviathans die horribly of the inadvertent ingestion of discarded polymers; variants of the same carbon-based synthetic now saturate the seas, causing destruction to thousands of species. The concatenation of the unintended consequences of greedy acquisition and barely modulated industrialization, and destruction of wildlife habitat has led to hypertrophic climate change. In places called ‘Southeast Asia’ and ‘South America’ they deliberately burn up their forests, destroying the source of much of the world’s breathable air, purely out of monetary greed — this of course is altering their climate so much they’re about to ‘fry in their own juices’ to use one of their grotesque expressions. They’re so sunken in their entertainment media trances they are scarcely aware of all this. There are those who try to raise the alarm, who extol rationality and an appreciation of the beautiful ecological matrix of their once-rich world — but they are a minority. Most of them are simply…”


“Yes. In consequence this species will simply not have time to improve. Environmental catastrophe will destroy their civilization, likely leading to widespread famines, and a struggle for resources, leading in turn to an exchange of nuclear weapons — ”

“Good Cosmos — don’t tell me they still have large numbers of that crude weapon of mass destruction!”

“Oh, but they do! They recently decided to end the limitations on them and everyone is building more. Besides that, their ‘anti-vax’ movement will lead to enormous pandemics…They’re quite doomed. The problem is they are taking the gorgeous interlacing biomes of this particularly environmentally rich planet with them. They’ve driven countless animal species to extinction and now they will eradicate the rest. If we act quickly to remove them, then clean up the seas, remove the hideous ‘box stores’ and the other concrete and asphalt wastelands, replant the forests, we can save much of the natural world…What a lovely intergalactic touristry park it would make if we could just…”

“Say no more. Morally and, especially, aesthetically, I cannot bear these people. I will order the ‘humans’ of Inhabited Planet 38790 exterminated in consequence of Extreme Vileness — of course we’ll do a scan of their young, and save those that are not too damaged, for rehabilitation.”

“You’ve made the right decision. I haven’t even mentioned their embrace of situational empathy, often an abandonment of empathy entirely. Just have a look into their slaughterhouses. And they constantly looking for new ways to prey on one another; millions of elderly are defrauded, ‘scams’ of all kinds spread like wildfire. They make vast industries of selling poisons to one another, and then they conspire to lie about it — just look at their tobacco industries, their marketing of nightmarishly toxic Teflon products, the toxic pesticides they allow in foods —”

“Inspector, I’m becoming concerned that you’ve suffered trauma in the course of your study of these creatures — perhaps you should have a session with the perspectivizer — ”
“The horrific concentration camps of the place called ‘North Korea’; powerful nations ‘Russia’ and ‘Saudi Arabia’, where the rulers are murderers; and in ‘China’ the forced labor prisons— ”

“Enough! I will use System 77, which will be painless and quick. We’ll break down their bodies into harmless components, and use them as compost for the natural world.”’

“System 77? That one is quite — ironically, they would call it, humane. Which is a term they use quite casually. As if most ‘humans’ were capable of being ‘humane’!”

Oct 19

Is harmony chaotic? Is chaos harmonic? A study suggests…

“Perceptions of Musical Octaves Are Learned, Not Wired in the Brain” ~

“Singing experiments with residents of the Bolivian rainforest demonstrate how biology and experience shape the way we hear music.”

So we’re told in the article linked at the bottom of this piece. And I’m sure they’re quite right. But that’s not the whole story.

Of course, we always had suspicions about the relativity of the musical scale and musical values, in a way.  Remember The Addam’s Family? Morticia, at least on the show, played a form of dissonant–to our western ears–Japanese music. It was based on real Japanese music but it was supposed to be another example of the innate bizarrity and “That’s Just Wrongness” of the Addam’s Family. (I love all formats of The Addam’s Family by the way. I have always had a terrible crush on Morticia, especially in her movie form. Female beauty is a matter of perception too).  Musical sounds emitted by youth often repel the aged.  A good many foreign musical styles at first can sound grotesque to the close-minded listener–but we learn to appreciate them, to hear their beauty. American music, at first, sounded quite ugly to many people in Asia. It grew on them and they adopted some of it and combined it with their own forms. This demonstrates not only the relativity of musical values but also the wonderful plasticity of our aesthetics.  So, it’s not terribly surprising to hear that the octave is not wired in to our gray matter.

Still, Pythagoras saw–or rather heard–things from another angle.  He heard mathematics in music. Harmonies and harmonics could be parsed mathematically–and math is our way of perceiving logic and the orderliness of some aspects of nature. Even chaos can be mathematically measured, it seems to me, since any object will break down into chaotic parts according to specific  laws–laws of physics which follow mathematical rules. Standard harmonics does seem to have some cosmic resonance, if not always a neurological one.

The Quanta article tells us, “It appeared that the same notes in different octaves, like high C and middle C, didn’t sound alike to the Tsimané as they did to people in the U.S.” They theorize these rainforest folk actually perceive sounds differently, in ways they were taught to perceive them. This suggests that we also, here in the USA,  in our turn perceive sounds–octaves, harmonics–as we’re taught. It’s a learned perception, sure. I can remember hearing “Do, a deer, a female deer, ray, a pocketful of sun…” in  The Sound of Music as a child. I was taught do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti…and back to do, in elementary school and the corresponding sounds were played for me. I was told this was a basic pattern used in organizing music. I accepted that.  And it is used that way–for some people. On the whole, I perceived it that way. This perception was broken down, or at least much modified, later, when I came to deeply appreciate alternative forms of music, like the stochastics of Xenakis and the tortured and strangely gorgeous sounds of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica; like the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray; like the barely controlled music of Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum; like the wildest free jazz. Some of these forms incorporated walls of raw sound, chaos; others traded in the superimposition onto background rhythms of seeming dissonance which nevertheless had an alien, cutting beauty. So it’s possible to unlearn conventional harmonics, conventional musical values! Or rather, to put the standard harmonics and structure aside, so to try something else; to take in a different sort of nourishment at the feast. What is this yellow thing, a lemon? I have never tasted one before. I bite into it. Holy crap, that’s intense! What joy! And soon after I appreciate oranges more, even as I begin to like Sweet and Sour Chinese foods.

It all reminds me of Wittgenstein’s idea that our way of perceiving the world is filtered through the language we’ve been taught.

So–it appears that our most basic American and European rigid musical structures are not wired into our brains from the start.  However–there is such a thing as recognizing and relating to felicity in all its forms. And we are attuned, in some wise, to felicity. To harmony. It’s the sonic version of things going well at home. Of being loved. Of the right word falling into place. Naturally we respond to it music. The rainforest folk presumably do the same–but they represent it differently.

Dissonance–why does it tend to set our teeth on edge? Notice that danger is associated in nature–not always, but as a sort of trend–with dissonance. Predators generally do not make conventionally harmonious sounds–hawks shriek;  the wolf snarls and makes other blood curling sounds as it prowls; bears on the attack make a glutinous angry roaring; mosquitoes make an unpleasant humming whine. (Some owls, who are predators, hoot pleasantly but there are owls that shriek). The rattlesnake’s warning is not a pretty sound. It can be well used in a composition–I’ve heard it done–but in itself, it’s an unnerving sound. And think of the sound of an erupting volcano. A tree exploding as lightning strikes.  A building will make many alarming sounds when it’s collapsing. Many birds do make conventionally “prettier” sounds. We associate them with the friendly side of nature. Jays make a raucous sound, and will do you little harm–but they are rapscallions.

Now, chaos can be used in thought-out, planned compositions, as well as in improvisation–Zappa’s Uncle Meat, say, or his Weasels Ripped  My Flesh.  Or consider a Jackson Pollack painting. But one of Zappa’s or even John Cage’s more chaotic sounding compositions are planned, not random, and Jackson actually composed as he painted, coming up with uproarious chaotic but still patterned paintings…

[thanks to Jim Baldwin for providing the grist for the mill, here]



Jul 19

The Cruel Irony of Amazon “Fulfillment Centers” CAN End. If…

John Oliver’s entertaining and horrifying report on Amazon’s so-called Fulfillment Centers was scathing, was very much needed, and nearly made me despair of humanity. But–there’s hope for at least some mitigation of the near-slavery conditions at these giant warehouses, if Amazon CEO and owner Bezos is shamed or sued into doing the right thing. Or–if we simply persuade him that the right thing is not really problematic for his bottom line. I have some suggestions for reorganizing the Amazon mega-warehouses they call “Fulfillment Centers”.

The Problem. The ironic label “Fulfillment Centers”–which sounds like an unwitting euphemism for erogenous zones–draws bitter laughter from those who’ve worked at these macroscopic rat mazes. Workers are under constant threat of being fired if they don’t keep up an unnaturally high rate of moving goods in the vast warehouse, where the oh-so-urgently needed items are scattered almost at random all over the enormous building. There is some effort at organization but not enough. Fetching from distant shelves is a process  done on foot, some people traipsing fifteen miles in a day. Some of them are elderly people. There really isn’t time to go to the bathroom, because you’ll fall behind on the required rate of package transportation and you’ll be fired (not a hollow threat). And you only took the job because you really, really needed the 15 dollars an hour. In some centers people have collapsed. The psychological pressure is as taxing as the physical stress. The breathless promise of hyperfast delivery to spoiled consumers means a constant push push push for faster faster faster. It’s worse than that, really–watch Oliver’s acidly funny if nightmarish report.

Common sense solutions occur to me, but they’ll require Bezos investing money in the remedies–and of course that’s an onerous burden on him since he’s merely a billionaire many times over and one of the richest men on the planet. Oh what the hell, I’ll offer them anyway.

Here’s the First idea: Bezos, shut down one center at a time (or sections of a center at a time). While the other centers or sections continue status quo, the designated one is reorganized so that items are more rigorously stored by type. One area is a series of hardware sections, each hardware section specializing as much as possible. Workers are reassigned or hired to take over each such center, one or two per each. They obtain the needed product with relative ease, and give it to a freight tram–little three wheeled things with small truck beds–whose driver trundles it along the wide aisles to the delivery people. No one then has to go on these epic warehouse hikes. Also,  build more localized bathrooms–an expense and a worthwhile tax deductible one…Rinse and repeat with every section, and every Fulfillment Center. Gosh that might use up half of one of Bezos’s many billions. He might have to do without …without, uh…nothing at all.

Second, adjust the speed of delivery requirements. Amazon often delivers with astounding rapidity. It doesn’t need that breathless speed to be an enormously profitable business. It’ll remain,  robustly driving independent bookstores and record stories and hardware stores and clothing shops out of business. Bezos will continue to make billions.

Third, pay a higher wage, hire more people, and offer real benefits. I’m all for unions but Bezos is hardcore anti-union. If he hires more people (to ease the burden on employees) and improve their pay and benefits, he won’t have to engage in union busting–people will be less inclined to try to unionize. It works at CostCo. But if he can’t bring himself to go that far, he could pretty much end the rising public condemnation if he takes steps one and two alone.

You’ll still be crazy rich if you take these steps, Jeff Bezos. You’ll continue to  have Everest-high piles of  cash for your Blue Origin space program–I’m truly all for space programs, yours included–and you’ll still be able to do pretty much anything else you damn please…

Jul 11

THE INCORPORATED – a portion of the forthcoming new edition of A SONG CALLED YOUTH: BOOK ONE, ECLIPSE

by John Shirley on Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 5:13pm

[The following is a portion of A SONG CALLED YOUTH, Eclipse. It was first published in the 1980s by Warner books. Much of this section was also in a short story called The Incorporated that appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. It occurred to me as I prepared it for a new edition that it could have inspired some of the movie ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. A little too close in spots. Whatever. Anyway, I do think that it's one of the most prescient things I wrote. The specific-area memory erasure has recently come true; the little flying spybird device has come true; the banking kiosks have come true. We don't have the cool holograms yet however. But I do think we're on the brink of having Technicki. Other aspects, political aspects, also seem prescient. The particular style of corporatism seems to be coming true...So--this works as a short story. But it's also part of the novel...I haven't had time to perfectly format the paragraphing...]


His name was James Kessler, and he was walking east on Fourteenth Street, looking for something. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He was walking through a misty November rain. The street was almost deserted. He was looking for something, something, the brutally colorless word something hung heavily in his mind like an empty frame.

What he thought he wanted was to get in, out of the weather. Walking in rain made him feel naked, somehow. And acid rain, he thought, could make you naked, if you wore the kind of syn-threads that reacted with the acids.

Up ahead the eternal neon butterfly of a Budweiser sign glowed sultry orange-red and blue; the same design since sometime in the twentieth century. He angled across the sidewalk, pitted concrete the color of dead skin, hurrying toward the sign, toward the haven of a bar. The rain was already beginning to sting. He closed his eyes against it, afraid it would burn his corneas.

He pushed through the smudge-bruised door into the bar. The bartender glanced up, nodded to himself, and reached under the counter for a towel; he passed the towel across to Kessler. The towel was treated with acid-absorbents; it helped immediately.

“Get any in your eyes?” the bartender asked with no real concern.

“No, I don’t think so.” He handed the towel back. “Thanks.” The tired-faced men drinking at the bar hardly glanced at Kessler. He was unremarkable: round-faced, with short black hair streaked blue-white to denote his work in video editing; large friendly brown eyes, soft red mouth pinched now with worry; a standard printout grey-blue suit.

The bartender said something else, but it didn’t register. Kessler was staring at the glowing green lozenge of a credit transferal kiosk in the back of the dim, old-fashioned bar. He crossed to it and stepped in; the door hissed shut behind him. The small TV screen on the front of the phone lit up, and its electronic letters asked him, “Do you want Call or Entry?”

What did he want? Why had he come to the kiosk? He wasn’t sure. But it felt right. A wave of reassurance had come over him…Ask it what your balance is, a soundless voice whispered to him. Again he felt a wave of reassurance. But he thought: Something’s out of place…

He knew his mind as a man knows his cluttered desk; he knows when someone has moved something on his desk–or in his mind. And someone had.

He punched ENTRY and it asked him his account number and entry pin. He punched the digits in, then told it he wanted to see his bank balance. It told him to wait. Numbers appeared on the screen.

$NB 760,000.

He stared at it. He punched for error check and confirmation.

The bank’s computer insisted that he had 760,000 newbux in his bank account.

There should be only 4,000.

Something was missing from his memory; something had been added to his bank account.

They tampered with me, he thought, and then they paid me for it.

He requested the name of the depositor. The screen told him: Unrecorded.

Julie. Talk to Julie. There was just no one else he discussed his projects with till they were patented and on-line. No one. His wife had to know.

Julie. He could taste her name in his mouth. Her name tasted like bile.

Julie had been home only a few minutes, Kessler decided, as he closed the door behind him. Her coat was draped over the back of the couch, off-white on off-white. She liked things off-white or gray or powder blue, and that’s how the place was decorated. Kessler liked rich, earthy colors, but she considered them vulgar, so that was that.

She was bent down to the minifridge behind the breakfast bar. She stood up, a frosted bottle of Stolichnaya in her hand. “Hi, Jimmy.”

She almost never called him Jimmy.

Julie came out with a vodka straight-up and a twist of lime for each of them. He’d learned to like vodka. She padded across the powder-blue rug in bare feet, small feet sexy in sheer hose; she was tall and slender and long-necked. Her hair was the yellow of split pine, cut short as a small boy’s, and parted on the side. She was English and looked it; her eyes were immaculate blue crystals. She wore her silk-lined, coarse-fiber, off-white dress suit. She looked more natural in her suits than in anything else. She had “casuals’ to wear at home, but somehow she never wore them. Maybe because that would be a concession to home life, would almost be a betrayal of the corporation family she belonged to. Like having children. What was it she said about having children? If you don’t mind, I’ll continue to resist the programming of my biological computer. When DNA talks, I don’t listen. I don’t like being pushed into something by a molecule. He took off his coat, hung it up, and sat down beside her on the couch. The vodka, chilled with no ice, waited for him on the glass coffee table. He took a drink and said, “There’s seven hundred and sixty thousand newbux in my bank account.” He looked at her. “What did they take?”

Her eyes went a little glassy. “Seven hundred and sixty thousand? Computer error.”

“You know it’s not.” He took another sip. The Stoly’s was syrupy thick from being kept in the freezer. “What did you tell Worldtalk?”

“Are you accusing me of something?” She said it with her icy Vassar incredulousness then, like, I can’t believe anyone could be so painfully unsophisticated.

“I’m accusing Worldtalk. And…you’re theirs. They do as they like with you, Julie. If Worldtalk says it’s not team-playing to have kids, you don’t have kids. If Worldtalk says listen for anything that might be useful, you listen. Even at home. You know, you wouldn’t have had to quit your job—I can understand you wanting to have a career. We could have had the kid with a surrogate or an artificial womb. Gotten a nanny. They don’t want employees, at Worldtalk, they want to own you…’

It’s childish to go over and over this. Worldtalk has nothing to do with my decision not to have children. I worked eight years—”

“I know it by rote: you worked night years to be assistant Second Vice Prez in the country’s biggest PR and advertising outfit. You tell me having children is demeaning! Eight years  licking Grimwald’s boots—that’s demeaning! Going to Worldtalk’s Family Sessions for hours at a time–”

She stood up, arms rigid at her sides. “Well, why not! Corporation families last.”

A “corporate family’ isn’t a real family. They’re using you. Look what they got you to do! To me!”

You got some seven hundred thousand newbux. That’s more than you would ever have made on any of your harebrained schemes. If you worked for one of the big companies you’d be making decent money in the first place. You insist on being freelance, so you’re left out in the cold, and you should be grateful for what they—” She snipped the sentence in two with a brisk sibilance and turned away.

“So we’ve dropped the pretenses now. You’re saying I should be grateful for the money Worldtalk gave me. Julie—what did they take from my memory?”

I don’t know! You didn’t tell me what you were working on and–anyway I don’t believe they took anything. I—goddamnit.” She went to the bathroom to pointedly take her Restem, making a lot of noise opening the prescription bottle so he’d hear and know it was his fault she had to take a tranquilizer.


Kessler was in a bar with his attorney, Bascomb. Herman Bascomb was drunk, and drugged. The disorder of his mind  seemed splashed onto the room around him: the dancers, the lights, the holograms that made it look, in the smoky dimness, as if someone was there dancing beside you who wasn’t. A touristy couple on the dance floor stopped and stared at another couple: horned, half-human, half-reptile, she with her tongue darting from between rouged lips; he with baroque fillips of fire flicking from his flattened nostrils. The touristy couple laughed off their embarrassment when the DJ turned off the holo and the demon couple vanished.

Bascomb chuckled and sucked some of his cocaine fizz through a straw that lit up with miniature advertisements when it was used, lettering flickering luminous green up and down its length. Bascomb was young, tanned, and preppie; he wore an iridescent Japanese Action Suit.

Sitting beside him, Kessler squirmed on his barstool and ordered another scotch. He was’t comfortable with Bascomb like this. Kessler was used to seeing Bascomb in his office, a neat component of Featherstone, Pestlestein, and Bascomb, Attorneys at Law, friendly but not too friendly, intense but controlled.

My own fault, Kessler told himself; chase the guy down when he’s off work, hassle his wife till she tells me where he hangs out, find out things I don’t want to know. Like the fact that he’s bisexual and flirting with the waiter.

The bar was circular, rotating slowly through the club, leaving the dance floor behind now to arrive at the cruising rooms. As they talked it turned slowly past flesh-pink holographic porn squirmings and edged into the soft music lounge. Each room had its own idiosyncratic darkness, shot through with the abstracted glamour of the candy-apple-red and hot-pink and electric-blue neon running up the corners to zigzag the ceiling like a time-lapse photo of nighttime traffic. The kitschy design was another annoyance for Kessler.

Bascomb turned on his stool to look at the porn and the live copulation; his mouth was open in a lax smile. Kessler looked over his shoulder. Again in the dimness the holos were nearly indistinguishable from the real article; a drunken swinger tried to fondle a woman with four breasts, only to walk through her, discovering her unreal. “Do we have to talk here?” Kessler asked, turning back to the bar.

Bascomb ignored the question and returned to an earlier one. “The bottom line, Jim, is that you are a nobody. Now, if you were, say a Nobel-Prize-winning professor at Stanford, we might be able to get you your day in court, we might get a grand jury to investigate the people at Worldtalk…” Bascomb was talking without looking away from the intermingling porn and people. “But as it is you’re a mildly successful video editor who makes a hobby of working up a lot of rather ingenuous media theories. Every day some crank or someone looking for attention announces a Great Idea has been stolen from their brains, and ninety-nine percent of the time they turn out to be paranoids or liars or both. I’m not saying you’re a paranoid or a liar. I believe you. I’m just saying I’m probably the only one who will.”

“But I have the seven hundred sixty thousand NB…that shouldn’t be there. That out to be proof of something.”

“Did you request the name of the depositor?”


“Then how are you going to prove a connection?”

“I don’t know. But I know an idea was stolen from me. I want it back, Bascomb. And I can’t work it up again on my own from scratch—they took all my notes, files, recent research, everything that could lead me back to it.”

“Sucks.” Bascomb said sympathetically. They had rotated into the lounge; people on couches watched videos and conversed softly. Sometimes they were talking to holos; you knew when you were talking to a holo because they said outrageous things. They were programmed that way to ease the choking boredom of lounge-bar conversation.  “I want it back, Bascomb.” Kessler repeated, his knuckles white on the rim of the bar.

Bascomb shrugged and said, “You haven’t been in this country long; maybe you don’t know how it works. First off, you have to understand that…” He paused to sip from his cocaine fizz; he became more animated almost instantly, chattering on: “You have to understand that you can’t get it back the way it was taken. Whoever it was probably came in while you were asleep. Which adds credence to your theory that Julie was involved. She waits up or pretends to sleep, lets them in, they gas you to keep you out, shoot you up with the receptivity drug. They’ve got microsurgicals in the big box they’ve brought with them, right? They look at the screen they’ve set up that translates your impulses into a code they can understand. They get some dream free-association maybe. But that tells them they’re “on-line’ in your brain. Then they put a request to the brain, fed into it in the form of neurohormonal transmitter molecules they manufacture in their box—”

“How do you know so much about this?” Kessler asked, unable to keep the edge of suspicion out of his voice.

“We get a case like yours once or twice a year. I did a lot of research on it. The ACLU has a small library on the subject. It really gets their goat. We didn’t win those cases, by the way; they’re tough to prove…” He paused to sip his fizz, his eyes sparkling and dilated. Kessler was annoyed by Bascomb’s treating his case like a conversation piece.

“Let’s get back to what happened to me.”

“Okay, uh—so they made a request to the biological computer we call a brain, right? They asked it what it knew about whatever it was they wanted to take from you, and your brain automatically begins to think about it and sends signals to the cortex of the temporal lobes or to the hippocampus; they “ride’ the electrochemical signals back to the place where the information is stored. They use tracer molecules that attach themselves to the chemical signals. When they reach the hippocampus or the temporal lobes, the tracer molecules act as enzymes to command the brain to simply unravel that particular chemical code. They break it down on the molecular level. They extract some things connected to it, and the chain of ideas that led to it, but they don’t take so much they make you an idiot because they probably want your wife to cooperate and to stay with Worldtalk. You might not be close but she’s doesn’t need the guilt. Anyway, the brain chemistry is such that you can ask the brain a question with neurohumoral transmitter molecules, but you can’t imprint on the memory, in an orderly way. You can feed in experiences, things which seem to be happening now—you can even implant them ready-made so they crop up at a given stimulus—but you can’t feed in ready-made memories. Probably that’s “cause memories are holographic, involving complexes of cell groups, Like you can pull a thread to unravel a coat fairly easily but you can’t ravel it back up so easily…Look at that exquisite creature over there, she’s lovely, isn’t she? Like to do some imprinting on her. I wonder if she’s real. Uh, anyway…You can’t put it back in. They take out, selectively, any memory of anything that might make you suspect they tampered with you, but lots of people begin to suspect anyway, because when they free associate over familiar pathways of the brain and then come to a gap—well, it’s jarring. But they can’t prove anything.”

“Okay, so maybe it can’t be put back by direct feed-in to the memory. But it could be relearned through ordinary induction. Reading.”

“Yeah. I guess it would be better than nothing. But you still have to find out who took it. Even if it turns up as someone else’s project—proves nothing. They could have come up with it the same way you did. And you should ask yourself this: Why did they take it? Was it simply for profit or was it for another reason? The bigger corporations have a network of agents. Their sole job is to search out people with development ideas that could be dangerous to the status quo. They try to extract the ideas from the guy’s before they are copyrighted or patented or published in papers or discussed in public. They take the idea from you, maybe plant some mental inhibitors to keep you from working your way back to it again. If you came up with an idea that was really dangerous to the status quo, Jimmy, they might go farther than a simple erasing next time. Because they play hardball. If you keep pushing to get it back, they just might arrange for you to turn up dead. Accidents happen.”


But riding the elevator up to his apartment, trying to come to terms with it, Kessler realized it wasn’t death that scared him. What chilled him was thinking about his wife.

Julie had waited till he’d slept. Had, perhaps, watched the clock on the bedside table. Had gotten out of bed at the appointed hour and padded to the door and ever-so-quietly opened it for the man carrying the black box…

And she had done it  simply because Worldtalk had asked her to. Worldtalk was her husband, her children, her parents. Perhaps most of all her dreadful parents.

And maybe in the long run what had happened to him, Kessler thought–as the elevator reached his floor–was that the Dissolve Depression had done its work on him. For decades the social structures that created nuclear families, that kept families whole and together, had eroded, had finally broken down completely. Broken homes made broken homes made broken homes. The big corporations, meanwhile, consumed the little ones, and, becoming then unmanageably big, looked for ways to stabilize themselves. They chose the proven success of the Japanese system: the corporation as an extension of the family. You inculcate your workers with a fanatic sense of loyalty and belonging. You personalize everything. And they go along with that–or lose their jobs. So maybe it started with the Dissolve Depression. Jobs were more precious than ever. Jobs were life. So you embraced the new corporation as home and family system. The breakdown of the traditional family structures reinforced the process. And you put your employer above your true family. You let its agents in to destroy your husband’s new career…

And here we are, he thought, as he walked into the apartment.

There she is, making us both a drink, so we can once more become cordial strangers sharing a convenient apartment and a convenient sex life.


Aren’t you coming to bed?” she called from the bedroom.

He sat on the couch, holding his glass up beside his ear, shaking it just enough so he could listen to the tinkle of the ice cubes. The sound made him feel good and he wondered why. It made him visualize wind chimes of frosted glass…his mother’s wind chimes. His mother standing on the front porch, smiling absently, watching him play, and now and then she would reach up and tinkle the wind chimes with her finger…He swallowed another tot of vodka to smear over the chalky scratch of loneliness.

“You really ought to get some sleep, Jimmy.” There was just a faint note of strain in her voice.

He was scared to go in there.

This is stupid, he thought. I don’t know for sure it was her. She hadn’t exactly admitted it. “That was just  a hypothetical,” she’d said later.

He forced himself to put the glass down, to stand, to walk to the bedroom, to do it all as if he weren’t forcing himself through the membranes of his mistrust.

He stood in the doorway and looked at her for a moment. She was wearing her silk lingerie. She was lying with her back to him. He could see her face reflected in the window across from her. Her eyes were open wide. In them he saw determination and self-disgust, and then he knew she had contacted them, told them that he knew. And the strangers were going to do it to him again. They would come and take out more this time–his conversation with her about the money, his talk with Bascomb, his misgivings. They would take away the hush money they had paid him since he had shown he was unwilling to accept it without pushing to get back what he had lost…

Go along with it, he told himself.

That would be the intelligent solution. Let them do it. Sweet nepenthe. The pain and the fear and the anger would go with the memories. And he would have his relationship with his wife back. Such as it was.

He thought about it for a moment. She turned to look at him.

“No.” he said finally. “No, we don’t have enough between us to make it worthwhile. No. Tell them I said next they’ll have to try and kill me.”

She stared at him. Then she lay back and looked at the ceiling.

He closed the bedroom door softly behind him and went to the closet for his coat.


They hadn’t taken the money yet. It was still there in his account. He had gone to an all-night credit kiosk, sealed himself in, and now he looked at the figure, $NB 760,000, and felt a kind of glow. He punched for the telephone and called Charlie Chesterton.

The screen asked him, “You want visual?”

“No.” he told it, “not yet.”

“Sap?” came Charlie’s voice. “Huzatun wushant”

Wake Charlie out of a sound sleep, and he’d talk technicki. What’s happenin’? Who’s that and what do you want?

“Talk standard with me, Charlie. It’s—”

“Hey, my neggo! Kessler, what’s happening, man! Hey, how come no visual?”

“I didn’t know what you were doing. I’m ever discreet.” He punched for visual and a small TV image of Charlie appeared below the phone’s keyboard. Charlie wore a triple-Mohawk, each fin a different color, each color significant; red in the middle for Technicki Radical Unionist; blue on the right for his profession, video tech; green on the left of his neighborhood, New Brooklyn–an artificial island. He grinned, showing front teeth imprinted with his initials in gold, another tacky technicki fad. And Charlie wore a picture T-shirt that showed a movie: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, now moving through the flood scene.

“You went to sleep wearing your movie T-shirt, you oughta turn it off, wear out the batteries.”

“Recharges from sunlight.” Charlie said. “You call me to talk about my sleeping habits?”

“Need your help. Right now, I need the contact numbers for the Shanghai bank that takes transferals under anonymity…”

“I told you, man, that’s like, the border of legality, and maybe over it. You understand that first, right?”

Kessler nodded.

“Okay, neggo. Fuck it. Set your screen to record…But for the record this is on you, I ain’t doing any such transferral…”


Bascomb’s office was too warm; Bascomb had a problem with his circulation. The walls were a milky yellow that seemed to quicken the heat somehow. Bascomb sat behind the blond-wood desk, wearing a stenciled-on three-piece suit, smiling a smile of polite bafflement. Kessler sat across from him, feeling he was on some kind of treadmill, because Bascomb just kept saying, “I really am quite sure no such meeting took place between you and me, Kessler.” He chuckled. “I know the club very well, and I’m sure I’d remember if I’d been there that night. Haven’t been there for a month.”

“You weren’t enthusiastic about it, but you told me you’d take the case.” But the words were ashes in Kessler’s mouth. He knew what had happened, because there was not even the faintest trace of duplicity or nervousness on Bascomb’s face. Bascomb really didn’t remember. “So you won’t represent me on this?” Kessler went on.

“We really have no experience with brain tampering—”

“That’s funny, your saying that. Considering you obviously just had first hand experience, pal.”

Naturally, Bascomb gave him that oh-no-don’t-tell-me-you’re-into-that-conspiracy-shit look.

Kessler went on: “And I could get the files that prove you have dealt with the issue in court. But they’d only…” He shook his head. Despair was something he could smell and taste and feel, like acid rain. “They’d tamper with you again. Just to make their point.”

He walked out of the office, hurrying, thinking, They’ll have the place under surveillance. But no one stopped him outside.


Charlie was off on one of his amateur analyses, and there was nothing Kessler could do, he had to listen, because Charlie was covering for him.

“…I mean,” Charlie was saying, “now your average technicki speaks Standard English like an infant, am I right, and can’t read except command codes, and learned it all from vidteaching, and he’s trained to do this and that and to fix this and that, but he’s like, socially inhibited from rising in the ranks because the economic elite speaks standard real good and reads standard alphabet—”

“If they really want to, they can learn what they need to, like you did.” Kessler said irritably. He was standing at the window, looking out at the empty, glossy ceramic streets. The artificial island was a boro-annex of Brooklyn anchored in the harbor. It looked almost deserted at this hour. Everyone had either gone into the city, or home to TV, or to a tavern. The floating boros were notoriously dull. The compact flo-boro housing, squat and rounded off at the corners like a row of molars, stood in silence, a few windows glowing like computer monitors against the night.

But they could be watching me, Kessler thought. A hundred ways they could be watching me and I’d see nothing.

He turned, stepped away from the window. Charlie was pacing, arms clasped behind him, head bent, playing the part of the young, boldly theorizing radical. “I mean, I’ve got some contacts on the space Colony, up on FirStep, and they’re getting into some radical shit there—and what is FirStep, man, it’s a microcosm of society’s class issues…”

The apartment was crowded with irregular shelves of books and boxes of software and cassettes and compact disks; Charlie had hung a forest of silk scarves in the Three Colors, obscuring the details like multicolor smoke. “And in Europe—that shit’s getting serious—

Yeah, wars are serious, Charlie.”

“I don’t mean the fucking war, neggo. I mean the side effect. Chegdou, you know what’s happening in Europe, man? The SA is taking over! And it’s all being manufactured over here. Fascism, a fait accompli.”

Kessler groaned. “Fascism! Don’t give me that leftist catch-all cliché. It’s bullshit.”

“How can you say that after what’s happened to you?”

“What’s happened to me is business as usual. It’s not really political.”

“Business as usual is the very definition of politics in a world where corporate identity is more global every second. And anyway—you didn’t used to be so negative about this shit. Maybe they cut some of your political ideas, neggo. I mean: How do you know? You don’t remember—” He grinned. “Remember?”

Kessler shrugged. He felt like throwing in the towel, giving Worldtalk the fight. Maybe Julie was right.

“If you’d just talk to this guy I want you to talk to, man.”

“I don’t need any lectures from any more knee-jerk leftist theorists who’d probably give their right eye to be the rich and corrupt men they whine about.”

“You’re doing a devil’s-advocate thing now, Jimmy. You trying to talk yourself into giving up?”

Kessler shrugged.

Charlie looked at him, then went back to pacing, talking, pacing. “This guy I want you to meet—he’s not like that. He’s only in town a week. He’s not an armchair theorist. He’s not really a…what…I don’t think he’s a leftist exactly. I mean, he came here to get some financial support for the European resistance, and he had to run the blockade to do it, almost got his ass blown out of the water. His name’s Steinfeld, or that’s what he goes by, he used to be—what’s the matter?”

A warning chill; and Kessler had turned, abruptly looked out the window. Three stories down she was a powder-blue keyhole-shape against the faint petroleum filminess of the street. She paused, looking at the numbers.

She might have guessed where he was, he told himself. She had met Charlie; heard him talk about Charlie. She might have looked Charlie’s address up in the ref disk. She went to the front door. The apartment’s bell chimed and he went to the screen. “It’s your wife.” he said. “You want me to tell her you went overseas? Japan?”

“Let her in.”

“Are you kidding, man? You are, right? She was the one who—”

“Just let her in.” There was a poisoned cocktail of emotions fizzing in him: a relief at seeing her, shaken in with something that buzzed like a smoke alarm, and it wasn’t till she was at the door that he realized the sensation was terror. And then she was standing in the doorway, against the light of the hallway. She looked beautiful. The light behind her abruptly cut—sensing that no one was now in the hall—and suddenly she stood framed in darkness. The buzzing fizzed up and overwhelmed the relief. His mouth was dry.

Looking disgustedly at Kessler, Charlie shut the door.

Kessler stared at her. Her eyes flickered, her mouth opened, and shut, and she shook her head. She looked drained.

And Kessler knew.

“They sent you. They told you where to find me,” he said.

“They—want the money back.” she said. “They want you to come with me.”

He shook his head. “I put the money where they can’t get it—only because it’s part of my proof. Don’t you get sick of being puppeted?”

She looked out the window. Her face was blank. “You don’t understand.”

“Do you know why they do it, why they train you with that Americanized Japanese job-conditioning? To save themselves money. For one thing, it eliminates unions. You don’t insist on much in the way of benefits. Stuff like that.”

“They have their reasons, sure. Mostly efficiency.”

“What’s the slogan? Efficiency is friendship.”

She looked embarrassed. “That’s not—” She shrugged. “A corporate family is just as valid as any other. It’s something you couldn’t understand. I—I’ll lose my job, Jimmy. If you don’t come.” She said lose my job the way Kessler would have said lose my life.

Kessler said, “I’ll think about going with you if you tell me what it was…what it was they took.”

“They—took it from me, too.”

“I don’t believe that. I never believed it. I think they left it intact in you, so you could watch to see if I stumbled on it again. I think you really loved them trusting you. Worldtalk is Mommy and Daddy, and Mommy and Daddy trusted you…”

Her mouth twisted with resentment. “You prick.” She shook her head. “I can’t tell you…”

“Yeah, you can. You have to. Otherwise Charlie and me are going out the back way and we’re going to cause endless trouble for Worldtalk. And I know you, Julie. I’d know if you were making it up. So tell me what it was–what it really was.”

She sighed. “I only know what you told me. You pointed out that PR companies manipulate the media for their clients without the public knowing it most of the time. They use their connections and channels to plant information or disinformation in news-sheet articles, on newsvid, in movies, in political speeches. So…” She paused and took a shaky breath, then went on wearily. “So they’re manipulating people, and the public gets a distorted view of what’s going on because of the special interests. You worked up a computer video-editing system that sensed probable examples of, uh, I think the phrases you used were, like, “implanted information’ or “special-interest distortions.” So they could be weeded out. You called it the Media Alarm System.” She let out a long breath. “I didn’t know they’d go so far—I thought they’d buy out your system. In a way they did. I had to mention it at Worldtalk. If I didn’t I would’ve been…disloyal.” She said disloyal wincing, knowing what he would think.

But it was Charlie who said it: “What about loyalty to Jim Kessler?”

Her hand fluttered a dismissal. “It doesn’t matter at this point whether it was wrong or right. It’s too late. They know…Jimmy, are you coming with me?”

Kessler was thinking about the Media Alarm System. It didn’t sound familiar—but it sounded right. He said, slowly, “No. You can help me. If you testify, we can beat them.”

“Jimmy, if I thought they—No, no. I—” She broke off, staring at his waist. “Don’t be stupid. That’s not—” She took a step back and put her hand in her purse.

Kessler and Charlie looked at each other, traded puzzlement. When Kessler looked back at Julie, she had a gun in her hand. It was a small blue-metal pistol, its barrel tiny as a pencil, and that tiny barrel meant it fired explosive bullets. They had given it to her.

“Do you know what that gun will do, girl?” Charlie was saying. “Those little explosive bullets will splash him all over the wall.” His voice shook. He took a step toward her.

She pressed back against the door and said, “Charlie, if you come any closer to me, I’ll shoot him.” Charlie stopped. The room seemed to keen ultrasonically with imminence. She went on, the words coming out in a rush: “Why don’t you ask him what that thing in his hand would do to me, Charlie. Shall we? Ask him that. Jimmy has the same kind of gun. With the same goddamn bullets.” Her voice was too high; she was breathing fast, her knuckles white on the gun.

Kessler looked down at himself. His arms were hanging at his sides, his hands empty.

“Lower the gun, Julie, and we can talk.” Charlie said gently.

“I’ll lower mine when he lowers his,” she said hoarsely.

“He isn’t holding a gun.” Charlie said, blinking.

She was staring at a space about three feet in front of Kessler’s chest. She was seeing the gun there. He wanted to say, Julie, they tampered with you. He could only croak, “Julie…”

She shouted, “Don’t!” and raised the gun. And then everything was moving: Kessler threw himself down. Charlie jumped at her, and the wall behind Kessler jumped outward toward the street.

Two hot metal hands clapped Kessler’s head between them, and he shouted with pain and thought he was dead. But it was only a noise, the noise of the wall exploding outward. Chips of wall pattered down; smoke sucked out through the four-foot hole in the wall into the winter night.

Kessler got up, shaky, his ears ringing. He looked around and saw Charlie straddling Julie. He had the gun in his hand and she was face-down, sobbing.

Gogido,” Charlie said, lapsing into technicki, his face white.

“Get off her.” Kessler said. Charlie moved off her, stood up beside her. “Julie, look at me.” Kessler said softly. She tilted her head back, an expression of dignified defiance trembling precariously on her face. Then her eyes widened, and she looked at his hips. She was seeing him holding a gun there. “I don’t have a gun, Julie. They put that into you. Now I’m going to get a gun…Give me the gun, Charlie;” Without taking his eyes off her, he put his hand out. Charlie hesitated, then laid the gun in Kessler’s open palm. She blinked, then narrowed her eyes.

“So now you’ve got two guns.” She shrugged.

He shook his head. “Get up.” Mechanically, she stood up. “Now go over there to Charlie’s bed. He’s got black bed sheets. You see them? Take one off. Just pull it off and bring it over here.” She started to say something, anger lines punctuating her mouth, and he said quickly, “Don’t talk yet. Do it!”She went to the bed, pulled the black satin sheet off, jerking it petulantly, and dragged it over to him. Charlie gaped and muttered about cops, but Kessler had a kind of furious calm on him then, and he knew what he was going to do; and if it didn’t work, then he’d let the acid rain bleach his bones white as a warning to other travelers come to this poisoned well

–this woman. He said, “Now tear up the bedsheet—sorry, man, I’ll replace it—and make a blindfold. Good. Right. Now tie it over my eyes. Use the tape on the table to make the blindfold light-proof.”

Moving in slow motion, she blindfolded him. Darkness whispered down around him: She taped it thoroughly in place. “Now am I still pointing two guns at you?”

“Yes.” But there was uncertainty in her voice.

“Now take a step to one side. No, take several steps, very softly, move around a lot.” The soft sounds of her movement. Her gasp. “Is the gun following you around the room?”

“Yes. Yes. One of them.”

“But how is that possible? I can’t see you! And why is only the one gun moving—the one you saw first? And why did I let you blindfold me if I’m ready and willing to shoot you?”

“You look weird like that,” Charlie said. “Ridiculous and scary.”

“Shut up, Charlie, will you? Answer me, Julie! I can’t see you! How can I follow you with two guns?”

“I don’t know!”

“Take the guns from my hands! Shoot me! Do it!” She made a short hissing sound and took the gun from his hand, and he braced to die. But she pulled the blindfold from him and looked at him.

Looked into his eyes.

She let the gun drop to the floor. Kessler said, softly, “You see now? They did it to you. You, one of the ‘family’. The corporate ‘family’ means just exactly nothing to them.”

She looked at his hands. “No gun.” Dreamily. “Gun’s gone. Everything’s different.”

Siren warblings. Coming closer.

She sank to her knees. “Just exactly nothing to them,” she said. “Just exactly nothing.” Her face crumpled. She looked as if she’d fallen into herself; as if some inner scaffolding had been kicked out of place.

Sirens and lights  whirled together outside. A chrome fluttering in the smoky gap where the wall had been blown outward: a police surveillance bird. It looked like a bird, hovering in place with its oversized aluminum hummingbird’s wings; but instead of a head it had a small camera lens. A transmitted voice droned from the grid on its silvery belly: “This is the police. You are now being observed and taped. Do not attempt to leave. The front door has been breached. Police officers will arrive in seconds to take your statements. Repeat—”

Oh, I heard you,” Julie said in a hollow voice. “I’ll make a statement all right. I’ve got a lot to tell you. Oh, yeah.” She laughed sadly. “I’ll make a statement.”

Kessler bent down and touched her arm. “Hey…I…”

She drew back from him. “Don’t touch me. Just don’t! You love to be right! I’m going to tell them what you want me to. Just don’t touch me.”

But he stayed with her. He and Charlie stood looking at the blue smoke drifting out of the ragged hole in the wall, at the mechanical, camera-eyed bird looking back at them.

He stayed with her, as he always would, and they listened for the footsteps outside the door.


Why should we leave when we don’t know who it was who bailed us out?” Julie asked.

She sat hunched over, hollow-eyed. She seemed to be holding on, in some way.

Kessler nodded “It could be Worldtalk’s people, Charlie.”

Charlie shook his head. “I saw the guy in the outer office. He’s one of ours.”

“Yours, Charlie.” Kessler said. “Not mine.”

They were in Detective Bixby’s office, sitting wearily in the plastic chairs across from Bixby’s gray metal desk. The overhead light buzzed, maybe holding a conversation with the console screen on the right of the desk, which hummed faintly to itself. The screen was turned to face away from them. On the walls, shelves were piled high with software, cassettes, sheaves of printouts, photos. The walls were the grimed, dull green such places usually are. Bixby had left them to confer with the detectives in the new Cerebro-kidnapping Department–the department that handled illegal extractions. The door was locked, and they were alone.

“At least here we’re protected.” Julie said, digging her nails into her palms.

Charlie shook his head again. “I called Seventeen, he said Worldtalk could still get at us in here.”

“Who the hell is Seventeen?” Kessler snapped. He was tired and irritable.

“My NR contact—”

He broke off, staring at the desk. The console was rotating on a turntable built into the desk top, its screen turning to face them. Bixby’s round, florid face nearly filled the screen.

“’S’okay.” Bixby said. “CK’s taking your case. Your video statements are filed, and your bail is paid. That’ll be refunded soon as we get the owner of the building to drop the charges on the blown-out wall. Should be no problem. If you want protective custody—maybe not a bad idea—talk to the desk sergeant. Door’s unlocked.” As he said it they heard a click, and the door swung inward a few inches. They were free to go. “Good luck.” Bixby said. His face vanished from the screen.

“Come on.” Charlie said. “Let’s do this fast before the fucking door changes its mind.”

Jan 10

Sample of a fantasy novel I wasnt sure I should continue with…

It was called NORTHMEN…here’s the opening I wrote…




“If you do not prove yourself in this battle, young Wulfgar,” said Saemunder, his face flickering in the campfire light, “then the Chieftain will find another use for you. You will become a hide-scraper or a scullery boy–and there is no shame in those occupations.” After a moment, using both dirty age-mottled hands to stroke the two forks of his long yellow and white beard, the cadaverous old man added, “If, that is, you are not smote crushingly on the head, or otherwise killed, as for example being spitted by a pike.” Saemunder had an unfortunate penchant for gruesome details, in imagining how others might find their ending—he could make many a grizzled combat veteran wince.

“I will not be a hide scraper, nor especially a scullery boy,” declared Wulfgar the Younger, choosing not to take offense. “My father offered to buy me out of this battle,” he went on, dreamily watching the sparks rise from the campfire. It was one of some five hundred Northmen campfires flickering red across the dark plain of Baltis, and marking the bivuouac of Squorri’s army: there were almost as many red campfires as red sparks at this one.  “I could have accepted a postponement for a year or two,” the boy went on. “I am only fourteen summers—and fifteen is the usual calling-time for warriors. But…” And as always when he boasted, he was aware that he was Stepping Wrong, as his fighting mentor, the warrior Bolle put it, but was unable to stop himself. “…I would not have it that way. I have had my manhood wetted, and I would have my sword wetted as well.” In that comparison, he was quoting the popular Boy Skaldlets, who sniggeringly exchanged such glib, fashionable turns of phrase in song, usually something to do with taking women.

“Yes I heard that you took advantage of that addle-pated Hilga with the Red Patch, and I regretted it,” said Saemunder.

“Took advantage! She tackled me in the furze!”

“And how? You were wandering about woolen-headed as usual, thinking on things not at hand. You were not alert, and so did not elude her! You should have waited for a god-sanctioned coupling!”

“My father says no one waits for that.”

Saemunder snorted. “Your father…” He thought better of finishing the remark, and veered its beginning to another course. “… gave you some wine for the battle?”

“Yes but it is four hours to dawn. You may drink it—it is not the wine of  berserking. I tried that once, when I was blooded, and I could not bear the headache. I am quite capable of finding my own spirit rage. If you want to drink it, then by all means do so if it will stop your mouth.” The boy—called Wulf more often than Wulfgar– was accustomed to speaking to the old man with this disrespect, since in fact Saemunder, though a skald, was just a family retainer, a servant—a freed slave—who could scarce see anymore, could hear well only in one ear, and was a carrier of more fleas than good advice.

Wulf tossed the wine gourd to the old man,  and huddled deeper into his wolfskin, one hand on the sword lying across his knees. The old dented steel broadsword  was too heavy for him, really. He was tall for his age, but lean, his wrists were thin; his arms slender. Even grasping the sword hilt with two hands, the only way he could accurately swing it, he became tired in a few minutes of hewing. (Not that he’d hewed at anything but leathern dummies with it.) And battles could go on and on.

Saemunder drank, Wulf watched the sparks, blinked in the smoke, listened to the murmur of voices, mingled with snores, from the other campfires. The fire was dying down and they had no more of the branches Saemunder had carried from the Western Wood, on the edge of the plain, scavenged when they’d first come ashore and foraged. The wood had been near picked clean—and there was no going far to the East. There were the settlements of the Russ and beyond them, the Baltis fortress of the Elnahere, with its pale, wraithlike inhabitants, its sorcerers and diabolical war machines.

Now, musing, wondering if this were really the last night of his life—it was hard to believe!–Wulf tried to see if, as Bolle had told him, each individual campfire spark went to an individual star, overhead, and added its fire to the star’s. He could smell the sea, the Sea of Baltessa, on the breeze that snapped the flames, coming from just a few leagues away. The plains of Baltis ended, to the south, at stony, foot-bruising beaches and the cold gray sea where the longships of Sqorri’s Northmen were anchored.

The Russ knew they were here, knew they were more than a-viking; knew they were an invasion of conquest, and by now the Russ armies were massing to meet them, to the North, at dawn. How many men in that army? The Russ were said to be able to raise at least a thousand, and one of them, perhaps dozing at a fire like this one, somewhere to the southeast, might be the one who would shatter a boy’s head, as in Saemunder’s dolorous foreseeing; might be sharpening the ax he would use even now. Or he might be the one who—perhaps clumsy with drink, for the Russ without exception drank heavily before battle—might find first Wulf’s blade in his throat. Wulf had killed bear and deer, with great excitement, in the course of a chase. Once, too, he had killed a half-animal, one of the beetle-brows, the Hemf: fur-backed men.  of the mountains. The Hemf he had killed with an arrow, almost by chance. That was scarcely killing a man, though the beast had worn an animal skin about his groin, and a liontooth on a thong about his neck.

Could Wulf kill a man? Bolle had said it was surprising how many strong men—brave men too—quailed when it came to killing other men, face to face. Killing from afar with a spear or an arrow, this was more palatable, easier than seeing the light of life in a man’s eyes and knowing you must snuff it out forever. Krincl, who had clashed with Wulf so often, had always seemed eager and ready to kill men and had done so already, having helped in the reaving of a family who resisted being taken slave when Krincl and his father went a-viking.

Bolle had said: “You must first be willing to kill, and then you must know for a certain that you will kill that man, and if you believe it more than he believes it, then even if he is a better fighter, you will likely be the victor.”

Wulf wished Bolle were here now. But the clanleader was likely asleep—he was proud to say he always slept deeply before a battle—at the tents of the men protecting Sqorri.

Saemunder was halfway into the wineskin, the decanting leading to incanting, a recitation of The Villainy of Gorevulfe, and Wulf was nodding, half in and out of sleep…seeing, in the embers of the fire, the red patch of fur between Hilga’s thick thighs, in the furze…Actually, she’d tackled him twice. He’d tried to leave after the first release, overcome by his own sensations and reeling with the reek of her. But she’d dragged him back for one more.

If he couldn’t out wrestle a stocky girl, could he survive battle? Wulf tried to remember the chant of  invulnerability taught him by Broon, the sorcerer—at the cost of a piece of silver and two coppers– although Bolle did not approve. If you are going to use sorcery, Bolle would say, then use true sorcery. Do not put your confidence in the prattling of old wives even if their prattle is heard in the mouths of old men. Find a true sorcerer—a Seer of the Inner Stone

But a Seer of the Inner Stone, if not mythical, was at least not at hand—was not known in the Northlands apart from rumor. The title Seer of the Inner Stone made Wulf shiver to contemplate. Was the man’s heart turned to stone? How cold he must be! Who could trust such a man? A man’s heart must be stony in battle—but to live that way…

Wulf yawned, deciding to let the Fate Spinners decide if he would live through the morrow, and had just stretched out on the ground to sleep when a multitude gave vent to war cries, on the dark plain to the  Northeast–and he knew it was not the war shout of Northmen.

“The Russ!” Saemunder cried, standing, swaying—actually dropping the wineskin in surprise. “There was no thought that they would come in the night! This is not done! This is not permitted! This is not—”

The rest of his commentary was caught up in the pandemonium, the general shouting and clashing of arms, the thumping of boots, the swish and roar of torches as men rushed by, swords in one hand and blazing sticks in the other. Most of them were rushing toward the fight, to their credit–but not all.

Then he was running, sword in his two hands, wolf cloak flapping at his back,           boots hammering the ground, toward the fight, following the lights of converging torches, the shouting, the war cries, the screams of men. He was distantly aware that Saemunder was coming along behind, calling for him to run away from the battle.

I am running to my death, he thought. Does that make me a fool or a hero?

But he noticed a strange thing then, that more Northmen were coming toward him, their mouths open–their eyes hollow places in their skulls, with the flaring shadows, their beards whipping—than were going toward the fight. What shame was this? Were these normally fearless warriors running from battle?

A few strides more and the moon broke through the clouds, shedding more light on the chaotic scene, the desperate men streaming by. He came to a low rise, a ripple in the plain, and he saw the reason for their panic:

A vast army , many on horseback, was  limned in steel and moonlight. He saw the advancing shield wall of the Russ, notable for the bull’s head, a snorting beast painted on each oval shield, black against yellow. Beyond the shield wall was another, and a third, and a great mass of men behind; in advance of the shield wall horsemen in bright armor were skirmishing, pursuing the fragments of the broken, hastily improvised Northmen line.

And he beheld a strange thing: the horsemen were pale figures with long black hair and dark eyes, their lean faces shorn of beards—at first glance like children in the armor of men, to one of Wulf’s tribe, who were always bearded—and they carried long narrow triangular shields of polished steel, with no emblem at all on them. Their horses, too, were armored, and  many of the horsemen carried lances that spat a blood-red lightning, striking men down before the lancepoints found their hearts…