On the Ghosts of Former Lovers

Software neither desires nor hates. But it doesn't stop either. Months after your ex-husband died his smart contract is still running its clockwork bidding among the dark chains looking with dumb constancy for the person who will kill you.

The endless echo of his petty malice haunts the world, awful and hollow, and you’re the only one left to feel. Regret for ever loving him. Terror for your life. Fierce pride that he died with bitter first-hand knowledge of which one of you was the better coder.

Primus Inter Pares

It's an unspoken blood feud fought on an Olympic track.

There are no shared last names or nationalities between the eight of you. What you have in common is deeper than the four runners that were sperm or egg donors for your conception. Deeper still than their infamy as the first and last athletes banned from the Olympics due to retroviral genetic augmentation.

You're equally notorious, partly because you have committed no crime. A nebulous team of legal and PR people and AIs — only slightly smaller than the crowd protesting outside the stadium in the warm Toronto night — made the point forcefully enough for the IOC to let you run. You don't care about the near-certain rumor that afterwards they will take all medals away.

Everybody in the world that could win the race is next to you on the track and ready to settle the question you all have in common.

A hundred meters in front of you awaits the answer.

The starter pistol fires.

Less than seven seconds later, you know.

The Strangers

There were no aliens. How, then, to prepare for an alien invasion?

Not having any, the military decided to build some. Asking humans to "think like aliens'' didn't work. However, enthusiastic experimentation established that drugs, psychological conditioning, and some judicious brain surgery could not only convince those that survived that they were aliens but also twist their thought processes in quite unprecedented ways.

The war games were a disaster - the aliens always won. They knew intimately how humans thought, yet no human had ever encountered minds like theirs. Stashed away to be used as strategic consultants, lest they might lose their edge, nobody tells them they are humans. An unnecessary precaution: they are fully aware of their physiology and life histories, which doesn't clash, in their minds, with their certainty of being aliens as well. Both things are true for them, both things useful in their slowly unfolding, inhumanly strange plans of conquest.

The Camelot Daily

He had thought himself a Merlin, the media-owning fucker.

Bought access to the government DNA database and a few private ones. Found a "descendant of Arthur," whatever the hell that meant, with good scores on social media predictive algorithms. A quick negotiation with the handler of a fourth-in-line Royal princess. Staging the romance and wedding, and leveraging the collective nationalist fervor into a proxy Prime Minister - routine by now, practically a tradition.

He believed  he had locked-in Brexit England for a generation. Billionaires seldom read Arthurian lore, nor even, it seemed, watched the bad movies.

He was honestly surprised when we burned Buckingham Palace.

It never occurred to him to wonder if this was what Merlin dimly remembered so many years ago.

Inside the Blazing Forest

You knew the disembodied voices came from machines and not thin air. So what? Why couldn't God speak through the Cloud in the quiet hours of solitude when only microphones heard you weep?

Yet what the voices ordered was an atrocity, and you were grieving and angry but still a good man. You found people who could trace such things and paid them what was left of your savings. This was only enough for half a suspicion, interesting enough that they did the rest of the work for free.

They found no other miracle than the infinite creativity of human duplicity. You were relieved: better God's silence than an awful command.

At night, though, a dark question slithered through your mind. Why couldn't God speak through the CIA?

The voice sounded like yours, but you couldn't tell where it came from.

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