Closed System

‘Think of it as seed money; use it to set up your software development business.’

‘Right, so let me get this straight, you’re one of the big companies as far as security software goes and you’re paying me to create rogue programs that may outsmart your programs?’

‘Yep. It keeps big business ticking over if there is some kind of threat that it is working to deal with. If we can appear to be saving your personal liberty by selling you a program then we’re heroes and you don’t mind giving us your hard-earned money.’

‘Strange business plan. Or at least it seems so to me.’

‘Ah, but it’s a very effective one. We call it The Foundation and we are built on a very solid foundation of viral programmers. The idea comes from Asimov and the head of the country used it more than once. You know Al Quaeda means the base, or the foundation? That’s where it derives from: CIA seed money. Al Quaeda has franchises all over – it’s very successful doing what it was supposed to – which is creating a situation where we have to produce weapons and police the world with our soldiers. War is profitable.’

‘You want me to become a terrorist?’

‘There are no terrorists – there are people that work for us in the open and there are people that work for us undercover. You would be what we think of as a closed system: a circuit if you will.’

‘Interesting.’

‘It’s ok, you can have some time to think about it if you need to.’

‘What if I were to take what I know to someone who could do something with the information?’

‘Son, you think we don’t have people out there at this very moment telling people who we are and what we’re doing? If people think that there is a threat of our nature they spend in countless ways, they believe that they must vote for someone else – that they must vote for one of the other parties that we fund. Someone who can stamp this kind of shit out. Or they get disbelieved – generally they get disbelieved and that makes it easier for us to exist. It’s a win win situation for us. We want people scared. You do what you think is best – you’re just us useful to us if you are on our side as you are if you’re against us – for your part though you’re gonna be doing a lot less well for yourself if you go against us. No salary and certain avenues of approach to certain kinds of success are shut down. You think you understand?’

‘Yeah. I think so. I’ll be in touch – let you know what I decide.’

‘Good.’

‘Mr Spay?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Don’t you ever feel bad about what you’re doing?’

‘Sometimes, but the wage is a pretty good buffer zone to keep morals away from me. See you later, Chuck.’

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Out Through 1: Click

Click click click, you’re just a click through. She stared him down, her eyes blank as radio whitenoise.

‘What are you doing, Spira?’

‘Spinning you.’

‘What?’

‘Tuning you to another frequency – as far as I can tell your aura is indicating that you aren’t resonating at the right spatio-temporal frequency for optimum experiential throughput.’

‘In English, please.’

‘I am giving you a better future’

Telechronetics had been thought of as a myth for a long time. Then they had been hunted down and a lot of them had been killed and the murders had been very public – the authorities had made performance pieces out of every single execution. They were sending a message: to the other telechronetics out there and to your average Joe – no quarter would be given. A few of them had kept ahead of the pack for long enough that they could learn to use their abilities and then they slipped out through the moments that they opened for themselves in the timeline.

Spira arrived like a tornado of sequential glitches – de ja vu ticking through the clocks until they burnt out, amnesia, strokes, epileptic, narcoleptic and all other manner of fits. The universe and all the biological entities therein reacting to the presence of something illogical and seemingly antithetical to the normal state of things in the only way it could – by shutting down, trying to rid itself of the infection. But Spira’s willpower was a powerful anchor and she bent the quantum field around herself into a new shape as if she were trying on new clothes, and in a way she was.

It was only a matter of time before someone came for her – there was no way that a surge of tachyon activity of that level could go unnoticed by people whose only job was to do just that. What would she do when that happened? Well, she had been practicing. She had re-tuned several people in the area so that good things kept happening to them – she described it as magnetising their optimal temporal drives, some fifth dimensional sense organ that most humans were unable to control. Why were they unable to control it? Because most of them were unaware of its existence. Why was that? Because looking at someone on a three-dimensional imaging scanner wasn’t going to make it appear – this was a step beyond the idea of a tesseract. A lot of people had thought she was blowing smoke up their asses but then things had started happening in the way that she had told them they were going to happen and it was hard to refute empirical evidence.

When things started happening that surprised her we knew that they were on to her and that they were coming. The only question was, what were we going to do about it?

Drags 1: Black Hole Son

This alternative they don’t call them drugs – they call them drags. Not in the same way you refer to having a drag on a cigarette either. Chemicals here are seen as anchors – they create existential drag that holds you back from full acceleration. They talk of some great singularity planted at the end of time like a full stop that is pulling the whole world towards it. The singularity explains why the past appears to run slower than the present – it is all to do with the physics of approaching an event horizon.

People regularly purge – they purge everything; anything inessential to survival can be cut from the body like a cancerous lump and thrown away. Emotions are usually the first thing to go. Drags are experiential rewrites; experience is a problematic – experience is also thought of as a drag in some circles. Experience makes you old – getting old is an anchor that prevents you from approaching the singularity.

The people in the past, the ones seen as evolving or reaching a state of bliss? They freed themselves of the body anchor and their mind was pulled forward through time to the point of The Great Fusion. The Great Fusion? Well, hey, most geeks know that a black hole crushes time, light; anything that gets near it. People here seem to believe that the crushing represents a fusing of separate consciousnesses into a single entity – godhead if you will. To them, death in the heart of a black hole is the attainment of godhead. It is a doorway a wormhole through which they are extruded into a new universe where the physics are different – where the mind is greater than the body and thought drives everything.

It’s a nice idea. Why am I here? Well, we believe that this black hole in their universe is sitting on a faultline in reality: it is like a bomb set to go off above a stress fracture that threatens to engulf countless universes in tsunami of lethal radiation. We think it may once have been a white dwarf and that it is now in the next stage of it’s evolution. It collapsed down to a point, pushed through the heart of itself in a slow aeon long implosion and kept pushing until it spread out to become the huge black hole it presently is, sucking in all that energy for a purpose – to fuel an evolution into something that threatens everything. The problem is that people had been looking at it for all this time as a physical problem and something that could be dealt with using the science of physics, when what it truly is is a battle that must be fought with a supraconsciousness. I am going to have to fight with an aspirant god, a god that is a thousand commingled minds; enlightened minds. It is not going to be easy.

Dogleg Hinterland One

Madrigal had travelled the inner spirals of Cerebellum for longer than she could remember, dodging the bird shadows with their crow-skull heads and the hungry wolf spirits so that she could hawk her dream-spice to the Quiet Sleepers. She had seen more Inn Spires than most and she never tired of the mirror-spun magic and dew-laden threads that hung the small heads of the shrunken from their chameleon-shimmer walls. Her father had left three moons ago, evaporated like a lunar reflection stolen from a shattered pond by a cruel stone. Mother was one of the Whispergate Sentinels now ushering the Inbetweeners into ether-state. It was an interesting life held frozen at points in the daguerrotypes and blueprints of half-formed dreams that the awake called possibility.

She sat down, opened her pack, and removed the jerky she’d lifted from the one-eyed street vendor who looked at her like he wanted to eat her. She was a rare piece of girl candy that she wasn’t eaten by the Souled and the Buyers who shrugged themselves up out of concrete dust to bloom as cobweb-hued flowers that trapped the eyes.

She was hungry: she’d been travelling for three days now and not made a single sale, without a few more thefts she was going to starve and there were dancing skeletons spinning bad luck tales out of rumours stitching the edge of her vision like an horizon. She knew she had to reach the vanishing point and divest herself of these ghouls or that was going to be it. Vultures peeled the sky with their cries and told her she was carrion. She knew it was a lie, but how could she refute what they said when her ribs sang of her hunger?

The jerky tasted good, all her taste buds chattering to her of old times. She stowed the rest, put her pack back on, and started on her way. The sun was hot in the sky, a chromatic shift from lemon to copper made life cheap here. In the distance, where shadows dreamt fingers into their tides, the sound of the birds that had plagued her journey began to sing their cheesewire lament cutting through distance in a hot knife through butter instant. Time to move.

The Inn Spire she was due to arrive at tomorrow morning was owned by Bartolph Regrew, one of the lizardkind out of Midmire, he should be able to hook her straight into the Mara-Mirror trade that her father had been big in. That should be some serious action — feed her for ages. She had the Free-Key tongue-lock to allow her to speak the right language and the mirror-tricks were a cinch to pull off. No one would know that she was the daughter and not the mother. She’d pulled the trick off a thousand times and this would be no different. Still, she had to make it through the night and that was never an easy feat.

The ground was friable under foot, tinder-dry stealthgrass in sparse clumps easing her way slightly. She’d passed here before. A few more hours of travel and she could rest. There was a forest ahead — shelter and firewood. The birds might perch but the firelight and heat-dreams would deter them from attacking. Madrigal would be safe. She felt energetic and decided to run for a bit; at least that’s what she told herself … she most definitely wasn’t scared. Was she? The bird shadows screeched a resonant echo into her palpitating heart. She ran faster …

Grit: Grass 1

The worst thing you could ever be was a grass. Grit had known more than one person who had been turned by the promise of immunity or money – it never paid enough and they were never safe enough. The police hated grasses as much as the criminals did.

Grit kept his operation streamlined but no one could work in a vacuum. Grit spoke to the people in the know and sometimes that meant speaking to people you would rather ignore. The one thing Grit was grateful for was that his job never required him to bring someone else in to handle anything. Money was simple. Recon was simple if you had half a brain, and if you couldn’t recon then what use were you going to be as an assassin? If you couldn’t map out how to get in and out of place then you weren’t going to be any kind of decent criminal at all.

Women were a danger. You didn’t tell them anything. Grit did not form attachments – he didn’t need them. He needed sex once in a while and that was it, and if he couldn’t get that then it was a swift one at the wrist.

His life was lean. It had no fat on it at all. A life that got soft in the middle needed exercise. He was having a hard time identifying with this guy sitting here telling him all his woes.

‘So you want me to kill this man because he compromised your security?’

‘Yeah, damned motherfucker. Little pipsqueaking shitbird. All the things I did for him …’

‘Okay, Mr Schopenhauer, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Look, I don’t need know anything other than the facts. You want him dead and you have transferred the money into my account, correct?’

‘Correct.’

‘Then with all due respect our business is done. The next time you hear from me it will be me telling you that he is no longer a problem.’

‘But …’

‘Thank you.’

And Grit walked out of the door.

Grit 9

For the next few days Grit asked one question and one question only: if I let you go and tell the rest of your associates to leave me alone will we be done? Thus far the answer had been in the negative. At least the ones he asked didn’t waste his time by lying. He didn’t think they understood that it was the last question they were going to be asked. That was none of his concern. He needed to get shot of this problem – needed to be rid of Slight and all his friends who thought they owed him a bullet in the head. It was simultaneously refreshing to see this much loyalty and sickening to see so much stupidity in the face of death. If Grit ever got to the point where it was a choice between having his nuts taken off with an arc welding torch or spilling the beans on someone he would save his nuts every time and not feel guilty about doing it. Grit didn’t get in situations like that.

He kind of hated himself for doing it, but he had been in that kind of mood where once you have used and dirtied a tool you don’t want to use it again. He had left behind a lot of really nice hardware. Of course none of it was traceable. The people who picked up these messes after he had done his work would know who had done it because that was what the whole thing was about. The police and forensics would be as noticeable a presence here as they were at a race riot. Leave the fuckers to it was the prevalent attitude of the day; it was a bought state of mind.

Grit had chopped off so many branches from the Slight tree that he was hoping that he would soon be down to the roots. Shit, he had even tortured and killed the grandparents in an effort to scare the rest of the clan off. He left the kids and the babies out of it. Let the spouses go. Was he getting soft? No, he just had principles. If they came after him of course he would kill them. Why waste bullets otherwise?

He hadn’t been keeping count on how many he had killed since this fiasco started but when you considered the impetus for all that death it all seemed so stupid. He might rest for a bit after this one was done with – after all the loose ends were tied up.

The Slight crew was vastly diminished and he finally believed that he had the last of them on their knees in front of him. Five of them – all related by blood, all cursing into their gags, all wild-eyed and shit-scared behind their blindfolds. The biggest of them – Gerald: he was even more terrified. Why? Because he had been digging graves for about three hours while Grit cooked himself a meal on a little gas burner.

He judged that the graves were finally ready and re-bound Gerald and gagged and blind-folded him once more. Then he paused to eat his beans and frankfurters. It took him ten minutes to finish eating and in that time all five of the men had considered ways of getting out of this – he knew they had. People overthought things though. He would have just acted – there were five of them and not a single one had the balls to try something, even knowing that they were going to die.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Miss. Gerald had stood up. Gerald was running around like a headless chicken. Bang. Grit rolled each of them into their respective holes in the ground and began to shovel the dirt in on top of them. He would be long dead before any of the offspring of these bastards ever thought about revenge. Shit, did he need a drink or what?

Grit 8

Like a lot of men that have surrounded themselves with a network of people to do their thinking for them, to do their grunt work for them – they lose touch; become somewhat lazy. Granted, Grimoire was not as lazy as some that he had seen but it was all a matter of degrees. If you had everything done for you pretty soon you got blunt n some vital aspect of the day to day.

People looked to Grit and saw that he was still working hard and they assumed that he had to work to survive – that he had managed his money badly or something along those lines. People never did learn that lesson about the worthlessness of assumptions. Assumptions in Grit’s game didn’t just make an ass of you they got you killed. Grit had assumed that he was dealing with a professional and that the work he had been given by this man was work worthy of someone with his reputation. It wasn’t.

In a place where everyone is comfortable with their status as the top dog audacity becomes a weapon – attack, in and of itself, becomes a surprise. With a headshot you don’t need to worry about the silencer slowing the bullet down. When you can’t get a clear shot at the head shoot them in the foot – when they jackknife in half bring your knee up and drive their nose up into their brains. As if a bunch of firecrackers were whispering Grit emptied bullet after bullet into Grimoire’s army. When he would tell people about taking this many people on and walking out alive people would think him a liar – pack animals are slow, he would say.

Peeling through layer after layer of the organisation Grit did something that the police force hadn’t been able to do in fifteen years of trying – he shut Grimoire down. It was a slaughterhouse full of lots of dead dumb animals.

Grit took the keycard he had taken from the first goon he had executed and slid it through the lock. It opened and he stepped inside the room where Grimoire ran all this from. He had two bodyguards stood next to him and they stood there and told Grit to put down his weapon. Was he going to do that? Fuck no. Number one dumb fuck covered Grimoire and his brother in arms with blood and brain matter. Number two dumb fuck was stood there shooting – he was trying to do his job, but he was shooting where Grit had been not where he was. Grit kneecapped him and, as he fell, delivered the coup de grace and blew the top of his skull off.

He walked up to Grimoire and began to check him for weapons. Not even armed – now that truly was arrogance. Is this what power did to you?

‘You know there’s no one coming, don’t you?’

‘Yeah. Before you kill me I’d like to know why.’

‘Because I am a professional and you did me a discourtesy by handing me a fucking domestic. I never left a living breathing example to tell people what I wanted them to hear. I don’t play Chinese whispers. Corpses are so much more eloquent.’

‘O—’

And Grit left.