The Runner

She couldn’t fight.

She couldn’t hide.

She could run.

So she did.

Her legs pumped.

Her feet ached.

Her heart raced.

She didn’t stop.

She is heavy.

She’s a burden.

She’s too slow.

But she’s family.

So she runs.

She doesn’t stop.

She’s her sister.

Can’t stop running.

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Precise

“You said you’d be back by nine-fifteen!” He sobbed, pacing back and forth in the hallway. “I was worried.”

“I said I’d be back at about that time, dear, and it’s only nine-seventeen now.” She explained calmly, reaching out to her agitated partner. Halting his frantic movements, she ran her thumbs along his shoulders.

“I got worried when you were a minute late, and when you were two minutes late…” He was dialling the emergency services just as she got in, his previous attempt to call her cellphone stymied by the lack of battery charge.

“I know… listen, why don’t you make a cup of tea for us? I’ll make sure it never happens again, okay?” She smiled gently, leaning in to kiss his cheek. With a mute little nod, he ambled towards the kitchen leaving her free to log into her computer.

It took only a short amount of time to pull his configuration file up. The latest firmware update had reset her partner’s notification of owner absence alert setting. No wonder he was so upset, she thought as she toggled the slider to something more appropriate. With a hit of the confirm button, the instructions were uploaded to the household network and beamed wirelessly into his logic cores.

He was quick in setting the cup of tea besides her. “I had one made already.”

“I know, and it’s not your fault. I tinkered with your settings, it was making you too precise in waiting for me to get in.” She looked up into the deep, handsome eyes of the android companion she had purchased a few months ago. “But after we’ve had our cup of tea… I’ll apologise for making you worry?” Her eyes flicked to the door to the bedroom.

With an eager smile, he raised his cup of tea in toast. “You know I could never say no to that.”

The Surge

It washed over her like a cool tide, sensitizing the skin.

No, it flowed from her core like a pulse, pushing goosebumps out to prickle against her clothing.

Wait, it was a thrum of unearthly potential, vibrating through her form at a perfect resonance.

Or… no, putting it into words just didn’t do it justice.

So instead, she clamped the headphones to her ears and let the surge of the music overwhelm her. Soaring guitars, pounding drums, rousing vocals, evocative synth and rapid-pulse bass all worked together in a heady cocktail that made anything possible, that made her feel superhuman. At least until the track ended.

But there was always another track. And after that?

There was always the option to repeat ad infinitum.

www.riseofadigitalnation.com

Author’s Note: Rough few days, potential to get rougher. Got to go with the things you enjoy though. So reading, music, games and good television.

Ceefax Serenade

She always wondered why her elderly parents went to bed as early as they rose the following mornings until she had to stop there, due to work being done on her house. It was five AM in the morning, and noise downstairs had woken her up. As she wrapped a flannel dressing gown around herself to pad down the staircase, she wondered if her children had woke early.

She paused at the lounge when she saw the light of the television on. If her boys had snuck down to watch cartoons… the look of imminent scolding fell from her face though as she poked her head around the door-frame.

In the middle of the lounge, in front of the bulky CRT television that her parents wouldn’t part with on the fact it ‘still worked just fine’, her mother and father were dancing to the soft, easy-listening music that accompanied Pages from Ceefax, the quaint little information display on BBC2 filling time between programs.

– Click me for background music via YouTube! –

They didn’t pay any heed to the words on the screen, flickering every so often from news story to sports and other topics. There were no lights on other than the early sun slipping parts of itself through the thick curtains and the glow of the screen itself. They were just lost in the music and too busy reading the wrinkles on each other’s faces and the twinkle in their eyes.

She stopped herself from calling out to them, unwilling to spoil the moment. Instead, she wandered back up the staircase, the soaring saxophones and the accompanying acoustic guitars lingering in her mind as she began to realise just why they got up so early.

It was much later in the day, while her father was at his allotment, that she asked her mother just what was happening.

“Why, when your father worked, he’d have to get up early.” Her mother said, rolling out some pastry. “So I’d make us our breakfast, pack him his lunch, and we’d have the BBC2 on for news, and something we could dance to without interruptions.”

“That’s… really sweet, and romantic, mum.” She smiled, before looking worried. “But what are you going to do next month, when…” She left it hanging ominously.

“When they stop playing it on the digital?” Her mother filled in, before smiling. “Well, there’s always the iPod.”

 

Author’s Note: Next month, the Digital Switchover is complete in the UK, and as such, Pages from Ceefax will no longer broadcast on any Digital channel, as the service ends. When I was little and would wake early before primary school, I could always count on it being on, and then the Open University programs about things I would never study at my little school. Like neural regeneration in goldfish.

Fourteen Years of Data

Fourteen years ago, I used the internet on my own computer, rather than at a friend’s house or at school. That same cable that ran from my PC’s internal 56kpbs modem to the phone outlet all those years ago now lies at my feet, running from the phone jack on my router to the upstairs phone outlet.

It’s seen two different Ethernet Routers, one USB modem and two internal dial-up modems.

If the copper wires within the plastic sheathe could talk, how many tales could it tell? Of content downloaded, games played, conversations typed, creativity uploaded.

Would the history of it clog the sorority of wires hidden underneath their plastic coating, if data could crystalize and lost packets swell into information stalagmites after a steady drip over the milliseconds of connectivity?

How many more years can it last, acting as my pathway to the nerves of the world? Is there a chance of it becoming obsolete before it finally fails at some weak point whittled away in its duty, running across floors to that pallid white block on the wall?

What songs could it sing? From crackly .wav files and chippy MIDI sequence files to .mp3 and .ogg. Somewhere in that mass of cable is there those radio sections from a Japanese radio station that I have ferreted away on an old hard drive somewhere in the mass of media dotted around my room, at least in some small fragment trapped within?

For all the joy my computers have provided and modems sought, I never gave much thought to the cable that allowed it all. Except when something went wrong and I suspected the wire of coming unplugged.

So here’s to you, length of wire. What’s the point of an ISP or an internet browser if you weren’t there to bridge the gap between my rural byway and the information super-highway?

Something Sunday: I Call Her Sexy

“I call her Sexy,” The scientist said proudly as she gazed at her creation. A smooth metallic body, long legs, curves in all the right places and big blue eyes to peer at the world with. “She’s not only a work of art, but more than capable of all the functions you specified.”

“So you have said, but I would be more satisfied with a field test.” The man in military uniform replied, licking his lips in anticipation.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of letting you buy her without her demonstrating just what she can do.” The scientist replied, flicking some switches on the remote control.

With a breathy sigh, Sexy lifted herself up, uncrossing her legs to stand with poise and grace as she showed off. With a slight gasp, she braced herself, focusing on the item brought to her attention with those bright eyes.

Her body shuddered as her main cannon fired, driving a large calibre round through the APC’s armour plating. Her four legs flexed and stretched as she moved towards the target with a swish to her gait, machine gun emplacements rising out of her body to deliver round after round of machine gun fire and bursts of explosive pellets at the target. At close range, it clenched its foot up into a tight spike shape and drove it through the bay door. Easily tearing it from its hinges, it discarded it and posed for its creator and prospective buyer.

“That was a thing of beauty.” The military officer said, appreciation of the quadpedal weapon clear in his voice.

“Now you see why I call her Sexy.” The scientist replied, looking fondly at her most recent creation. “How many can I put you down for?”

Something Saturday: Sad Song

It’s been a tough day.

Not the kind of tough day where your boss chews you out, or a customer goes off on one at you. The kind of day where you see Death claim someone before their natural time.

The kind of day where you see three such events and it’s all you can do to persevere. Losing three fights doesn’t mean you’ve lost the war. It’s a battle that has raged on for as long as life has been here, and will continue until there universe dies.

So you box up the grief, shut away the sorrow and lock back the tears just to carry on with your duty.

You can’t lock it away forever though. Out of sight in the darkness of the mind it festers and grows, seeping out of the boxes and bleeding into conscious thought. The ichor of death slowly taints you.

In some, it destroys them when left unchecked.

The only way I can deal with it is like bomb demolition. A controlled explosion to render it inert.

That’s when I get the CD out.

Locked away inside a small box of varnished pine sits the clear plastic case of a CD-RW, ‘Sad Songs’ scrawled on it in black permanent marker. The recordable media is packed with a collection of songs that get to me.

I have the routine down to a T now. I hit shuffle on the CD player, and start on a pot of snack noodles, chicken flavour, while I let the music do its work.

The juddering of my bottom lip. Sharp little inhalations of air as I let the sensations brought on by song build to a crescendo. My eyes ache as they start to well with tears, eyelids blinking back the swelling tide before it surges forth.

Tears course down my face, my eyes and cheeks going red as the crying progresses. In Hollywood, on the TV, it’s always so neat and perfect looking. I wind up blotchy faced and snivelling nosed, voice thick to the point of being unintelligible with emotion.

And through the tears I eat the noodles, taking comfort in the hot, salty, savoury flavour of the snack. By the time I get to the dregs of flavouring and tiny snippets of noodle at the bottom, I’ve shut the CD off. The lyrical scarificator had done its work, letting the pent up emotions bleed away. The heavy, weary feeling that had clung to my chest on the way home had abated.

I lock the CD back up, dispose of the tissues and the plastic cup my snackfood had come in and take a walk around the apartment, feeling better for my little ritual. My method.

I pull the mask off my face, slip the cape over my head and start on removing my costume as I head for the shower. A hot shower, my comfortable pyjamas and some 80’s music videos will finish off my vice of release. Even with the deluxe hot chocolate I’ll wind up making myself, it’s still a healthier habit than some of the other heroes in the city.

Something Sunday: Advertising Space

Astrid van Bergen stretched out in her recliner, yawning away as the credits rolled on the film she had just caught on netcast. It was an old one, back in the days before colour film. ‘It Happened One Night’, all the way from 1934. 178 years ago. A chuckle escaped her as she recalled countless discussions with her fellows all throughout her life. In school, when she was able to attend, they would talk about the newest shows and the hottest celebrities of the time. But herself? Her love affair with old cinematography started from her earliest years when in and out of hospital.

“Thank you for watching Classics of Hollywood, the premier netcast provider of 20th century entertainment.” The announcer AI spoke, the screen in her apartment displaying just the company logo now. “Would you care to watch some selected, personalized advertising for credit redemption and exciting product offers?”

Checking her coffee cup, she still had a bit to finish off before bed. With a sigh, she nodded. “All right, show advertising.”

In a seamless segue the logo shifted into the first advertisement. At the bottom of her vision’s HUD, a small UI bar had appeared to indicate the credit received and any applicable bonus offers from each advertisement. She took a slow sip from her now lukewarm drink as she took in the barrage of commercials.

“You work a tough, dangerous job, Detective van Bergen.” A virtualized man in a good suit said to her, pointing in her direction in confronting manner. “And it’s for people like you that the United Insurance and Executor Company provides its best service and deals. You’ve got some time before your department’s annual policy re-evaluation period, so why not consider us?” The man said in an offhand fashion. “Ask for our information pack to be mailed to you, and get a quarter credit redemption for the film you just watched, a free prize draw for a fabulous holiday to the Armstrong Plaza Hotel’s luxurious Ambassador Suite, the finest hotel in space, and other great offers.”

“Send me the information pack.” Astrid spoke aloud, her HUD flashing up with the newly arrived mail from the company, notification of the quarter credit granted towards the cost of her film, and an update from her Competition-Collater program.

“Thank you for your interest, we look forwards to hearing from you.” The man grinned, before disappearing.

“You are a valued customer, Astrid!” A cheery blonde woman exclaimed from behind a counter. “And we wanted you to know we at Sunny Side Coffee Co value your loyalty.” She blinked. “Whoa, hold the calls, you are just four visits away from eight hundred visits to your preferred establishment!” Giving the detective a thumbs up, she swept the counter to one side to display a collection of mugs, products and promotional items. “Pre-purchase your favourite drink now for pick-up tomorrow, and we’ll give you half the credit of your film, and bonus loyalty points too! How does that sound?” She grinned, proudly smoothing the front of her yellow and dark-orange uniform down.

“I’ll pre-purchase.” Astrid said, raising her loyalty mug up to the screen.

“We’ll have it ready for you in time for your morning drop in! A good cup of coffee is the best way to start the day, and you should know! After all, as we say: The beans are fresh, and the deals fresher!”

Chuckling, she drained the rest of her cup in one gulp, in time for the last two adverts.

“I’m Martina Simone, this is Armstrong Broadcasting Studios, and coming up tomorrow at 2000 hours Lunar Standard Time is your favourite show: The Home Hydroponics Hour with the master of the spray, the chief of the root enclosures, Kang Thompson! Tune in to our live netcast or catch the show on stream before the next one, and we’ll enter you into our latest prize draw, for a chance to win tickets to Hydroponicon, the premier convention for the hydroponics fans showing all the latest developments.”

Martina was the current face of ABS, the first and most popular of the space-based content providers. Her hazel eyes, soft brown skin and raven-black hair adorned numerous virtual billboards around Tranquillity City. Astrid remembered meeting her, and her surprise that the face of ABS was actually a very polite, kind-hearted woman.

No one could say the same for her predecessor. ‘Diva’ Diana Loncar, currently serving five years in prison for assault on the wife of the man she was having an affair with.

“CARDONIX.” A woman’s voice said serenely. “Advanced Technology for Everday Living. Schedule an appointment today, to see how our latest product lines could improve your life.”

As the small musical chime of the company played against a sky-blue background playing host to fluffy white clouds, the detective concentrated on the steady beat of the artificial heart under her ribcage. She hoped that her next visit would give her heart a clean bill of health. She had wasted enough time to replacements in her childhood years.

She had wasted enough time to adverts, too. With a frown of concentration, she switched the primary display in her home off and made for the kitchen, ready to wash her mug up before rest, still thinking about each rigorously controlled beat her cardiac system produced.

Something Saturday: Monologue #1 (Ameer Anwar)

“Hardest thing about being a soldier, if you ask me? Not being one any more. I joined the British Armed Forces when I was 16. Trained up till I was 18, then deployed for the tail-end of World War 3, and all of the Annexation Wars.

You have to understand, my parents? They didn’t want me to join up. Said I was forbidden. I left home and joined anyway. All of my old life left behind. One of the reasons why it’s hard being anything but a solider. That’s all Ameer Anwar’s ever been.

I was trained in signals, communications and electronic warfare. That’s why the 1st Adders wanted me for the Annexation Wars. We all had our roles, our skills that we brought into the team. They trained us together and they trained us until we bled and sweat and cried on each other, and that gave us a strong bond.

With advanced exo-suits from UNAF’s finest R&D departments we were what those DARPA boys from the States had dreamed of for years. We’d drop high, open our parachutes low and execute our mission in a matter of minutes. That’s what we did in Kigali, and everything went as well as expected.

Well, apart from my arm. I hate going into the story in detail, and it’s been written up plenty, so here are the basics: I took a bomb blast at close range. Lost my arm and various other bits.

By then, the UNAF were well into their Rapid Rehabilitation Program. Those who were injured were cyberized, given new parts to replace damaged flesh, patched up and had the command routines for their metal bits fed into their brain. Then they sent us off to fight again.

Some say they did the job that the King’s Horses and Men couldn’t do with Humpty Dumpty, but hell if some of us weren’t broken, or walking ghosts. I got off lightly. Others? You treat a man like a tool and one day he’ll break. And they did break. And when you have men and women bristling with military-grade gear and something off in the head? You get tragedies happening.

Post-Conflict Psychosis with a side of Rapid Rehabilitation Stress Syndrome. It’s no surprise really. You drill people till they’re automatons, you send them into scenes of horror, you put the sick and the injured on a production line to get them ‘ready for the worthy fight’ and you know what happens?

They get put back in the civilian world and all that programming is still there, and it will find away to go off. And now I’m out. Done my time, fought my fights. My parts would cost too much to replace and now they’ve scaled down the army, I’m old tech.

They’ve promised me some research position on the Moon. Using my signals skills at the Daedalus Radiotelescope, latest bastion in the exploration of space. At least until some wise-ass puts one on Mars. Then I guess I’ll be old tech again. Maybe you can come by and interview me again. See if I’ve snapped and punched some teen coffee jockey in the face because the sound of my espresso being made hearkens back to the good ol’ days of witnessing atrocities.

Are we done here now? I have a shuttle to catch.”

– Ameer Anwar, speaking to UNBC’s ”Five Years On” Project, 2093. At the request of the UNAF Press & Public Relations Department, it was not included for broadcast.

Something Sundays: Killer

The man was laying on the bed provided for him, arms folded and hands crossed behind his head. It was lights out in the prison, and as always his mind wandered back to those he had killed. He was twenty years older now, but the memories were as fresh as the blood he released from their arteries. The iron-tang of haemoglobin filled his nostrils. The slick crimson coating on his hands yet to turn sticky and copper-brown.

He remember their faces. All nine of them. And he remembered their last words.

“Please… die.”

He blinked, his eyes opening. That wasn’t what-

“Just die now.”

“You waste of oxygen, hurry up and die.”

Panicking, he tried to move, to get up from the bed. His hands were locked to the back of his head, a fire surging through his skull.

“You don’t deserve to live.”

“Come on and die already, there’s nothing for you here.”

“No one loves you, no one cares, you’re worthless. Die, it’s all you’re good for now.”

There was the taste of blood on his tongue, a slow trickle sleeping down from one nostril to his upper lip and into his mouth. He tried to call out, his jaw refused to move no matter how much effort he put into it. None of his limbs worked. His heart pounded faster in his chest, skin now drenched in the cold perspiration of terror.

“They all hated you, and they were right. Look at you, you’re pathetic. Please, go and die now.”

“Everyone can die, it’s easy. Or are you too stupid to know how to do that?”

“Die now. Just die. Die now. You need to die. You’re going to die. You’re dying right now. Are you dead yet? No? How about now? Or now? Wait…”

He started to convulse, thrashing about on the simple single bed with his limbs twisting and muscles bunching in frenetic spasms. His back arched up as his mouth drew in one gulping breath, face pulled into a ridiculous gurn of agony and fear before locking in that expression as he fell back down to the bed.

“Now.”

‘Newbury Nine’ Serial Killer Found Dead In Cell

Author’s Note: The idea for this story came from a headline in a tabloid newspaper, about a serial killer who may have faked needing to go to hospital. I don’t remember much about it, because it was the subheading that got me. It said: “Please Die” says victims of serial killer.

Of course, by victims it meant the family of the actual murder victim, but the seeds were planted for a story.