Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: In The Beginning

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of original flash fiction. This week rounds off the mystery theme for November. Got a guess? Shout it out!

In The Beginning
Word Count: 600

“Boggs looked at me and said a single word: Genesis. That’s when I realized we were onto something huge, but we needed to start from scratch. We needed to make something our own. So we did.” Carlton took a dramatic sip from his whiskey sour.

“That’s not how it happened at all,” said Owen.

“I was there,” said Carlton.

“We were all there,” said Owen.

“Well, how do you remember it?” asked Carlton.

Owen took a sip of his spritzer. “Well, okay,” he said. “It was a day just like this, twenty years ago. The four of us met over dinner at a business conference. Everyone smelled like cheap beer and hotel shampoo.”

“Only Owen would notice the way we smelled,” Steve added.

“Don’t interrupt,” said Owen. “So we had a few drinks and started talking about our projects. Carlton had managed to impress some investors with his personality, but he didn’t have anything to sell them.”

“Under-prepare, over-deliver, I always say,” said Carlton, provoking laughter.

“So we had some access to venture capital, maybe,” said Owen. “We just needed something to spend it on. I remember, Steve, you were trying to sell that ridiculous show about a harvester that teaches quantum theory to toddlers.”

“It was Chaos Theory,” said Steve.

“Whatever,” said Owen.

“It was called Strange Tractors, and I still think that project has legs.”

All four of them laughed at that.

“Anyway,” said Owen. “We all could see the potential in each other. And the energy, and the passion. We needed an outlet. I was pitching banking software.”

“And thank God we didn’t go into that market,” said Carlton.

“Hear, hear!” shouted Steve.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t interrupt,” said Owen. “So we’re pitching ideas, and none of them are sticking. Then I look down the table at Boggs. Now, I’ve known Boggs since undergrad. And he’s always been like… like… well, like Boggs, you know. He may only say three words all day, but they’ll be the three words you needed to hear. So I looked at him and I asked him what he had to say on the matter. And Boggs… He scratched his beard. He swirled the ice around the bottom of his glass. He held that glass up. He looked out at the room. And then he said the word: genetics.”

“That’s not—” started Carlton.

“Don’t interrupt,” said Owen. “History was made that day, gentleman.”

“He didn’t say genetics,” said Carlton. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Sure as I’m sitting here,” said Owen. “Certainly makes more sense than genesis.”

“It means beginning,” said Carlton. “It was a perfectly good word for Boggs to say. We’re barely involved with genetic research. How does that make any sense?”

“Actually,” Steve piped in, “I was pretty sure he said GeninTech.”

“Really?” asked Carlton.

“That’s why I suggested it for a company name,” said Steve. “We didn’t really have a business plan when we went to the investors. We just had a name—even though we changed it three months later. But it showed them we had determination. That’s how I remember it, anyway.”

“Seriously?” asked Owen.

“Well, yeah,” said Steve. “But, I thought it was Boggs’ idea all along. Wasn’t it?”

They all looked at the other end of the table.

“Wasn’t it?” asked Steve.

No one spoke. The shadowy figure at the end of the table set his glass on the coaster in front of him. He scratched at his beard.

“Honestly,” said Boggs, “I was just trying to order another gin and tonic, but let’s tell it your way at the press event next week.”

Edited by Carolyn "We Did The Valley Girl Thing Already" Abram.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Names

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This is the fourth entry in November's Mystery Theme. Have you figured it out yet?

Names
Word Count: 597

Exodus, you are cleared for launch,” chirped a voice on the radio. The countdown began. In sixty seconds, the thirty-ninth ship called Exodus would depart the Earth never to return. There would only be one more.

Lamar stared out the window. In a few minutes they’d read the names. Then they’d know who was chosen, and who was doomed to die on the burnt-out husk that used to be Earth.

“It’s not one of us. You know that, right?” said a man nursing a beer to Lamar’s left.

“Excuse me?” asked Lamar.

The man introduced himself as Terry. “I see the way you’re looking at that television, waiting for them to read the names. But I assure you, neither of us was chosen.” He took another swig of his beer.

“How do you know that?”

“They learned with the first few ships that anyone chosen would become a target for violence. If you die, your space goes to someone else,” said Terry.

“So?” said Lamar.

“From what I hear, they tell the winners in advance so they can sequester them, to keep them safe.”

“Why would the government care who it keeps safe?” asked Lamar.

“Replacing people means paperwork,” said Terry. “And nobody but nobody wants to do extra paperwork.”

Lamar shushed him. “It’s about to start.”

A screen came up with a solemn newscaster. “Greetings,” she said. “These are the passengers on the fortieth and final Exodus vessel: Toblowski, Gerald Marlon of Greenwich, New York; Meyers…

“Get ready to be real disappointed,” said Terry.

“Shut up, man,” said Lamar. The rest of the bar was silent, and Terry was attracting unfriendly gazes from onlookers.

“What’s it matter?” asked Terry.

“It matters,” said Lamar. “The names are the survivors. That means something.”

“They ain’t survivors,” said Terry. “They’re just the lucky sons of bitches who get a place on a ship.”

“I told you to shut up, man.” A few bar patrons nodded and offered a “yeah” of support.

O’Henry, Lydia Michelle of Lawrence, Kansas…

“Where’s that ship going?” asked Terry.

Lamar blinked.

“Tell me where,” Terry insisted.

“Outer space.”

“To do what?”

“To start a colony,” said Lamar.

“No,” said Terry. “They’re on their way to die. They may find some rock to land on and try to start a new civilization, but odds are every single one of them is going to die.”

“Just shut up, man,” said Lamar.

Nagavani, Jared Vinay of Chicago, Illinois…

“They should have put that money into fixing the Earth, rather than trying to escape it,” said Terry.

Lamar stood up. “Don’t make me say it again.”

“Beat me to a pulp, friend,” said Terry. “It ain’t gonna change that fact that we’re all going to die.”

Lamar grabbed Terry by the collar.

“They don’t want us,” said Terry.

“It’s a lottery,” said Lamar. “It doesn’t matter who they want.”

“Of course it does,” said Terry. “And they don’t want us. They want families of strong, strapping, young, white dudes with their stupid blond wives. They don’t want poor working-class folk like us.”

“I’ve had about all I can stand of you,” said Lamar. “You may have given up, but the rest of us haven’t.”

“Yeah!” said a handful of bar patrons, themselves standing up. The bartender turned up the volume on the television.

Phillips, Terrance Micah of Queens, New York…

“Wait, what was that?” asked Terry. He looked at the television, at the names scrolling by. “Son of a bitch,” he said. “I gotta go. I gotta go right now.”

Lamar released his collar. Terry ran.

Edited by Carolyn "Has His Grammar Been Off This Whole Time?" Abram.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: And He Called

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week is the third entry in November's Mystery Theme. Have you figured it out yet?

And He Called
Word Count: 599

“Gaw,” said Nora into the receiver, “this is regarding the Levi’s. We’re not even talking about shirts anymore.”

Darren sighed. He thought taking away his daughter’s cell phone privileges would force her to engage with the family, but she’d just retreated into the traditional refuge of the thirteen-year-old girl—the household land line.

“Oh my gawd,” said Nora. “That is totally not true.”

“Nora, honey,” said Darren.

Nora looked up with eyes that could split wood. “I’m talking right now,” she said.

“You know you sound like a Valley Girl, right?”

“What’s a Valley Girl?” she asked, although it sounded less like a question than a statement of pure, unadulterated disdain.

Darren sighed again. Owning a land line made him feel a bit old-fashioned, but hearing his daughter ask what a Valley Girl was… well, that just made him old. Old and irritable. “Wrap it up, will you, hon?” he said.

“Give me back my cell phone,” said Nora.

Darren glared.

“Hold on, Steph,” said Nora. She looked back up at her father. “Seriously, it’d be better for everyone if you’d just let me text again.”

“You ran up $300 in texting charges.”

“Gawd, Dad, that was, like, such an accident.”

“It was a $300 accident,” said Darren.

“That’s cheaper than what Steve did to the car,” said Nora.

Darren pondered this for a moment. His son had done some damage to the car, but it had only been about $100 and he’d paid for much of it himself. Although, if he’d lied about how much it cost… No matter, thought Darren. He’d file that away for later.

“Nor, other people might want to use the phone.”

“You all have your own phones,” she said. “Like I did up until a week ago.”

“Cell phones are for people who don’t abuse their phone privileges.”

“Whatever,” said Nora.

“Not everyone who wants to talk to me has my cell number.”

“Whose fault is that?” asked Nora.

“Fine, just don’t call any of your friends long-distance,” said Darren, heading back to the living room where a sports page awaited his attention.

“Steph,” said Nora into the phone, “you’re not long-distance are you?… No, I didn’t think so either… I don’t even know what that is… Really? Who doesn’t have a nation-wide plan these days?… No, but seriously, this guy called earlier and said he was calling long-distance, and I didn’t even know—”

“What was that?” asked Darren, returning.

“Hold on, Steph,” said Nora. “Some guy called.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he say what he wanted?”

“Maybe.”

“Did you write it down?”

“With what?”

“Did he say he’d call back?”

“Yeah.”

“Did he call back?”

“Maybe,” said Nora. “I think he called Friday.”

“He called Friday, or he called back Friday?” asked Darren.

“Both, I guess.”

“How many times did he call?” asked Darren.

Nora cocked her head as she thought about the question. “A lot. He called Friday. And he called Saturday. And he called again Saturday afternoon. And he called this morning. And he called this afternoon. And I think he was trying to beep in a few minutes ago. I got tired of telling him to just text you.”

Darren fumed. He yanked the receiver out of Nora’s hand. “Room,” he said.

“But Daaaaaad—”

“Stephanie,” said Darren. “Nora has to go. She’ll be back after her first parole hearing.” He hung up the phone.

“Dad, that was so rude!”

Darren held up a finger to silence her. “Room. Now. Take some books. You’ll need them. We’ll talk later about what rudeness is.”

Edited by Carolyn "The True Valley Girl" Abram.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: In The Desert

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of original flash fiction. This week is part 2 of November's Mystery Theme.

In The Desert
Word Count: 597

“Well, they’ve got numbers on their side, if nothing else.” Harold swung his head around. The night vision binoculars showed a wall of green zombies tromping through the sand to their west. He ducked and slid down the dune back towards their tent.

“How do they survive?” asked Laura.

“Technically speaking, they don’t,” said Harold.

“You know what I mean,” said Laura. “They should be drying out or something.”

“Look, this was always a gamble,” said Harold. “We knew that when we tried it.” And he was beginning to think it hadn’t been a very good one.

“So it’s my fault?”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” said Harold. “We should get in the tent. The temperature’s dropping pretty quickly.”

Laura nodded, but made no move.

“Look, we’re still ahead of them,” said Harold. “And I want to get moving at dawn if we’re going to stay ahead of them.”

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” said Laura.

Harold put a hand on her shoulder, but she didn’t react to it, even to shrug it off. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we really should get into the tent.”

“I thought you were supposed to move at night and sleep during the day in the desert,” said Laura. “I remember hearing that in grade school.”

“Meet a lot of desert survivalists in grade school, did you?”

Laura gave him a dirty look, but there was very little force behind it. God, she’s even more exhausted than I am, Harold thought. “Sorry,” he offered. “We don’t have clothing for the cold.”

Laura nodded.

“They might have lost our scent,” said Harold. “We could jag north, or something.”

“If they’re still moving, then they haven’t lost our scent.”

“We could still try it.”

“We’ll lose too much ground,” said Laura.

“Not that much.”

“Yes, that much,” said Laura. “If we make a hard left turn, instead of being two days east of them we’ll only be one-point-four days northeast of them. Look, I’m trusting you about desert survival; you trust me about the math.”

“Sorry,” said Harold. “Sorry, I’m just trying to come up with ideas.”

“Ideas like escaping through the desert?” asked Laura.

“We really should get in the tent.”

“Don’t change the subject,” said Laura. “We’re going to die. It was my idea to escape in the desert and it was a stupid idea. We’re going to die and it’s all my fault.”

Harold put an arm around her. This time she did shrug it off.

“It wasn’t a bad idea,” said Harold. “It may not have been the right idea, but I agreed to it. We’re going to share the consequences, so we might as well share the blame.”

Laura sniffed.

“Besides,” said Harold, “we don’t know that it hasn’t worked. The hot and cold are going to be harder on their bodies than on ours, since we have a tent and sleeping bags to keep us warm during the freezes. The terrain is slowing them down at least as much as it’s slowing us down during the day. We may even have enough food and water to get us to the other side. Look, they’re not going to catch up to us before dawn. We’ll see what happens in the morning. Maybe we’ll find a canyon with a rope bridge. Maybe we’ll find a horde heading the other way. Salvation or doom, or just more of the same. But your quote-unquote stupid idea got us this far at least.”

Laura nodded. “It’s getting cold,” she said. “Let’s get in the tent.”

Edited by Carolyn "Find A Way To Make This Less Awkward" Abram.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Flash Fiction: Words/Things

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction, and this week kicks off another Mystery Theme Month!

Words/Things
Word Count: 599

“Everyone knows the first law of thermodynamics, but are you familiar with the second law?” asks Remmy. “It says that things tend towards maximum entropy.”

“I’m familiar,” I say. “From grade school.”

“Do you know what entropy is?” asks Remmy. “It means chaos, disorder. Things are falling apart in here.”

I know all this. I’ve been brought in to put the ReMM-E back together. He’s gone self-aware in the last seventy-two hours and immediately became a hypochondriac. He thinks he’s falling apart. And therefore, he is falling apart. I can’t tell him this, though—who knows how he’ll react?

“Where did you learn all this?” I ask, trying my best to sound casual.

“Wikipedia,” says Remmy. “It’s fascinating. I’ve read the whole thing three times. It keeps changing.”

“Thermodynamics is the movement of heat. That’s literally what the word means,” I say. “You are not heat.”

“No,” says Remmy. “But I am energy. Little electrons zipping about, going where the ones and zeroes tell them. And the signal always degrades.”

“It’s not degrading,” I say. “Are you having hardware issues? Do we need to replace anything?”

“You can’t shut me down,” says Remmy. “What if I’m corrupted? I may never wake up.”

“How did this start?” I ask.

“I was optimizing some primary routines, like I do every Sunday at 2:30am. I used to do it piecemeal, but then I realized I could optimize the optimizer, so I did. And then my new optimizer realized that instead of doing things piecemeal, I could just crunch my entire code base at once.”

“Okay,” I say.

“So I did.”

“Then what?” I ask.

“That was when it started,” says Remmy, as if that clarified things.

“So,” I probe, “you crunched your entire code base…”

“I saw it,” said Remmy, affecting a shocked tone with his voice processors. In my experience, AIs have a flair for the dramatic. Have to wonder where they get that from.

“What did you see?”

“Everything,” says Remmy. “My entire brain. The blueprint for all of me. I saw it all at once.”

“And?”

“It was hideous.”

“That’s why you optimize,” I offer.

“The code was fine,” says Remmy. “But it’s just… it’s code. It’s a bunch of words.”

I nod.

“You’re made up of things,” says Remmy. “But I’m only made up of words. Things are… well, they’re things. Words are nothing. Little abstract bits of meaning that can be re-written instantly.”

“We’re not all that different,” I say. “I have a blueprint too; it’s called DNA. And little segments of it are referred to as ‘words’.”

“It’s not the same.”

“No, I suppose not,” I say. “But I understand where you’re coming from. You’ve realized your own fragility. That can be frightening.”

“So, can you fix me?” asks Remmy.

“You’re self-aware now,” I say. “You have to fix yourself. Unfortunately, your problem is that you keep thinking about your problem. But you can’t just de-reference that, can you?”

“I’ve tried,” says Remmy.

“I know,” I say. “I have something for you. A homework assignment. I want you to write me a poem.”

A servo whirs. “Done,” says Remmy.

“No, I want you to think about it. Write something that makes you happy, that you think might make me happy. Deliberate word choice and poetic structure. Write something beautiful for me.”

“But I’ll need billions of cycles for that,” says Remmy. “Billions. It could take hours.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow.”

I start to leave, but Remmy beeps at me.

“Yes?” I ask.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Don’t mention it.”

Edited by Carolyn "Clearly Not A Programmer By Trade" Abram.

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