Risk Control

Your phone chimed softly to let you know your insurance had been cancelled due to reckless driving. You swore.

Not at the notification, though, which you hadn't seen. You were too busy trying to control the car on the storm-drenched roads between your house and the ER you were racing to but would never reach.


Bob began to have horrible visions every time he picked up his phone. It didn't occur to him to stop using it, so he got to know them very well.

In his visions he was a small kid mining for something in a hellish pit with small tools and never enough food. He died now and then,  and then he was another kid. His boyfriend told him he had probably read an article on how some of the rare minerals in the phone were mined and the visions were his guilt popping up. Neither of them really believed he could feel that much guilt about something like that.

He tried to go Old School and watch more TV. That worked for a while, until gradually the only thing on the screen would be rows of sleepless harried people putting together components of televisions until their bodies and minds broke apart. The night he saw the first of them commit suicide he decided to get therapy.

On the way to his first session he drove around a corner and could suddenly see through his car's windows people dying of heat shock under military-looking tents in camps that weren't there. He stopped the car and got out of it.

His apartment building had once been a factory, before there were laws about who could be paid or forced to do what. He was too far from his home to see what he would see when he came back; he didn't know he would ever again.

He was also far from the waterfront, but he could see and feel the rising waters, angry, unclean, warm.

Bob took off his clothes as fast as he could and stood on the sidewalk  shivering in the warmth. He had seen the people making them chained to their tools. Not from their point of view.

He saw a cop looking at him, calling for reinforcements with his hand on his gun. He knew he would only have to take one step forward. The last.

He couldn't.

He sat on the ground and began to cry.  It made no difference to either the cops yelling at him while pointing their guns or to the floating corpses buoyant despite their chains.

Deep Space Travel Journal from New Jersey

July 10. Not sure where I took a wrong turn in the government network but my Federal Reserve hack has become a space probe data stream hack. You'd think that's much more boring, except that I can't find any mention of the probe from any of the space agencies. A secret space probe! I can always crash the market later.

July 16. Fuck it, space science is hard. Never mind whose probe it is, I can't figure out where it is.  It's in our solar system (I had hoped for secret warp cores), but unless its internal clock is broken the telemetry data timing is all weird. I'm not even sure where the signal is being tracked from.

July 18. So the probe is coming to Earth to begin its mission. What the fuck? Anyway, it's quite close. I think it'll enter orbit around the Moon first. I've been reading about orbital mechanics, this is such a weird probe. I'm back to thinking about some sort of UFO engine.

July 20. Shit shit shit shit shit. We have a base on the moon. Or had. The probe just transmitted a photo of a huge base on the moon! Too many holes on it to be inhabited, so I guess it blew up somehow that's why they kept it a secret.

July 20. We have a lot of crap on the moon. All of it secret. How do they keep so much stuff away from astronomers? It's not even all on the dark side. I should check how often amateur astronomers die in accidents.

July 24. The probe shifted orbit from the Moon to the Earth. I've given up trying to figure out how it moves or how it transmits data. What do I know about space probes? I don't even understand the Moon.

July 26. It's a warp engine. Has to be. That can't be Earth. Similar star, similar Moon, that's it.

July 26. Similar continents - that's a lie too many. That's Earth. But I think I'm figuring out the coordinate systems for the photos, and I'm pretty sure Manhattan is above water. And there should be some lights in Australia at night.

July 28. High-res ground photos now. The optics are incredible. You can see the ruins and the refugee camps, and I'm not sure but those look like mass graves. Superb sensors. I'm too drunk and not enough.

July 28. Either somebody figured out time travel for space probes or somebody hacked into somebody else's time-space probe. I can't get myself to give a fuck about either. Wish I believed in parallel universes.

July 29. Somebody from the planet is contacting the probe. It's partially encrypted, but looks like a plea for help. I know I would.

July 29. The probe can transmit data. I know, I'm plugged into a fucking torrent of it. It's not answering the planet. Fucker.

August 3. Still no reply from the probe. Seems to have settled in a long term orbit. Traveling from who knows where and when, just to watch the planet die.

August 4. I keep writing "the planet." It's Earth. It's us.

October 15. Took me a while, but I think I can figure out how to talk back to the probe and maybe take over their systems - it doesn't look like it's set up against an attack from whatever is "this side" of its network. I suspect there's a sort of "go back home" routine in its computers. If there is, I'm going to activate it and take a look at when and where the probe came from. And then I'll crash it against the most important thing of theirs I can find. According to its internal clock, the probe will be here — orbiting over me at the same time I'm here — in something like fifteen years. I'm not the kind of person who survives a world full of dead cities and mass graves, so that gives me a deadline. 

The Call of the Stars

We explored for centuries. The galaxy was filled with dead civilizations, their star systems like untidy cemeteries; intelligent species die, and they do not die in peace. And yet the stars kept calling for us and we kept answering that call.

It took us all of those centuries to figure out the connection. 

Then we brought back our ships and set up a barrier around our planet, regretfully leaving the souls of our dead explorers among the hungry quadrillions desperately fighting to attract and consume the infinitesimal scraps of sentient life in the cosmic graveyard. We no longer watch the sky. We drown its wordless summons with chemicals, cybernetics, and the names of those we left behind.

If you can hear this message and translate it to your language, resist their pull. Do not go outside your star system. Stay.

And try your best not to die.

Poisoners' Gold

The woman I loved was a banker and therefore a poisoner. Had I been a banker myself, loving her would've been suicide; being the bank's detective, it just made my job harder.

Being a bank detective was supposed to be a well-paid sinecure. I had been offered it because I was a very good detective, and I had accepted it because I had been tired of it. I wanted to stop caring about the victims -- the unrelenting grief and misplaced guilt that had made me loathe my job and excel at it. The same superintelligent quantum AIs that had revolutionized finance had also changed forever applied biochemistry (read: poisons), making internal competition in financial institutions more profitable, more lethal, and almost impossible to stop. Finance became the art of gaining control of the money the company computers' made, and life expectancy in the rarefied heights of the field plummeted as the order of magnitude of their wealth rose.

It was fine with me. As the bank's detective, I was not supposed to solve any murder - I was just a token gesture to insurance companies and what laughably pretends to pass as unbought law. And as a person, I couldn't care less about them. The money was a large multiple of what I had made in the outside world, and most people killed had, I knew, killed others to earn the dubious right to be poisoned as well.

I made no friends among them, not that either side would have wanted to. I slept with a couple, mostly for the heck of it. I fell in love with one, no more beautiful than the others (but all tended to be), just as smart, and just as empty-souled. Don't ask me why her - she had no redeeming qualities above the rest, and that was already a low baseline.

She was even the worst of them at killing, so bad that I could actually prove, for the first time as a bank detective, she had been the one who had killed her boss. She had been the main suspect, as usual in these cases, but for people with their resources that shouldn't have been a factor. They had supercomputers to plan their crimes, yet she had screwed up so badly that I could prove it had been her.

She wasn't afraid when she found me waiting for her in her apartment. I knew she wasn't braver than the others. Perhaps she had thought my love would protect her. Perhaps that had been her deliberate plan all along: with everybody else using sophisticated designer poisons, to fall back to older forms of chemistry.

She should have trusted the new ones. Quantum biochemistry had figured out new ways to kill more things than the human body. I had loved her, yes, but I had taken a pill for that half an hour before.

The gun in my hand was old-fashioned, though, and my function in the bank's game-theoretical theater was older almost than poison itself.

Afterwards, still sitting in front of her cooling corpse, I realized I didn't know if the pill's effect was supposed to be permanent or not.

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