Carrying a torch

I carried a torch for someone for over fifty seven years. You might consider this excessive, but I never had any doubts. It burned somewhere in my chest cavity with an intensity only a plasma flame could achieve, washing out the candleflames of all other loves, flings and affairs of the one hundred and twenty years of my adult life with a deluge of white-bluish light that would border on ultraviolet and give anyone second degree burns, were it real.

It wasn’t, of course, but I liked to think about it that way, lying awake at night next to my sleeping wife, remembering him and our times together.

And now a single coded message from a dead-drop account told me my current life was over. I had a meeting in Shanghai in two months, and in that time, I had to abandon my wife and friends, leave Caracas, retrieve my backup identity from a safehouse in Algiers, change my biometrics, switch back to female, recover all my gear and money and reconnect with my support network, and all this while conducting careful counter-surveillance drills. But it didn’t matter, because I was suddenly awash with joy.

I would get to see my handler again. Which meant that he was alive, and that was something. Enacting social changes through mass violence was not conducive to a long lifespan. But then, he was always exceptional.

Medusa, Inc.

She ripped my heart out with a smile.


Forewarned is forearmed, though, so I managed to snatch my wayward heart out of the air. Barely, since it was really slippery. And, oh yeah, it hurt like hell. I could feel the pain stabbing out of my chest even through the layers of mental spells preventing me from fainting.

I already had my badge out in my right hand and I raised it, pointing at the woman. Then I snarled and let her have it.

The succubus exploded in a purplish-white incandescence, and when my eyes adjusted, there was a blackened, charred statue where she stood before. An expression of surprise was frozen on her beautiful face. The walls of the room were all blackened by the heat. My heart pulsed in my grip, and I quickly pushed it back into my chest, managing not to fall down to my knees. The world was turning black, but the enchantments of duty woven into my bones knitted the still-beating muscle back in its rightful place, and a few seconds later I decided I could actually walk.

I strode towards the entrance to the restricted section of Medusa Inc. with a purpose, my badge still pulsing with magic. I held in my breath and punched the black statue right in the face, and it disintegrated, falling to the floor in a cascade of larger and smaller pieces of embers. Still holding my breath, since inhaling radioactive carbon dust wasn’t really smart, I reached the glass doors, took out my warrant and pressed it to the lock. The judge’s seal burst with red light and then all the locks opened.

I looked back. There was a man-shaped anti-shadow on the wall, in the place where my body shielded it from the blast of light, and the charred remains of the female succubus were still glowing slightly in some places. Serves her right, the bitch, for assaulting an officer on duty.

And the worst part was that when I came home to my husband he’d never let me hear the end of it. After all, if I were truly and totally gay she wouldn’t be able to do that, or at least Michael would claim it was so, despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary.

From the diaries of a killer in love

For most of my existence there was an aching emptiness in me, but now it was filled with the light and music of my love’s presence, right in the dead centre of my tactical awareness. I perched outside of the building where she sat at a table with another human, perceiving her with all my senses and drinking in her beauty.

The human she was talking to had a badge and a gun. His badge was out, and so was his gun, sitting at the table next to the food tray, questing around with its cold, dutiful active senses.

I hate guns. The fuckers are so righteous you can practically see the entitlement boiling off their armour, and their active senses mean it’s really, really hard to hide from them. The gun on the table noticed me and quivered slightly in anticipation, it’s legs checking for grip on the table’s wooden surface. I calculated my options and decided I could take it out, and the human too, but then I’d be in trouble. Not from the gun, but from the badge, which was a passive but heavy presence, always recording, impassionate and permanently connected to the city itself.

Well, I had to hope it wouldn’t come to violence, for the sake of my love. She looked at the man she was meeting, and then he spoke.

“My gun tells me you have a slaved murder drone waiting outside. It was really impolite of you to come to a meeting with this… thing in your tow.”

“Now now, James.” her voice was a thing of beauty. I could stare all day at the sine elegance of the waves her larynx made in the air. “You know full well that if I have a murder drone waiting outside, it’s because I’m showing that I’m not actually murdering anyone. Yet.”

“You do see my badge, Helen, right?”

The cop she was talking to was clearly uneasy, even though his implants were in an interview mode, supressing most overt body language and transforming him into a statue to professional conduct. It was still a statue made of flesh, and flesh was inferior to carbon and metal and polymers.

Well, unless it was her flesh, of course, which was amazingly perfect in it’s imperfectness. Weird, I know. Still, most personal protectors have a meat fetish of some kind and I was no exception. A drone is supposed to love her owner with a love that is pure and unsullied, but you know reality. We’re all entropy’s bitches and nothing is ever perfect.

Except her, of course. She raised one perfect eyebrow at the question.

“Oh, lighten up. It is obviously a joke, and the drone’s a fully licensed bodyguard, as you well know.” Then she smiled. “I don’t really feel safe in your city anymore, hon. The gang warfare is really annoying, I wouldn’t venture outside without my trusty bodyguard.”

She called me trusty! I could scream with joy, if I had a means of doing so, but instead I focussed on being as calm and professional as I could. That’s me, her trusty bodyguard, watching over her lovely body and perfect mind every time she left her apartment.


Empathy is usually pretty useful, but there are moments when I wish I didn’t have any. This was one of these. My (now ex) girlfriend was sitting on her couch, her eyes glistening wet with tears. I really should have taken some blockers before coming here, but I pride myself on going through my personal life without pharmacological support, so my mirror neurons were screaming at me. Look at her! She’s in pain! And you’re the reason!

Empathy can be rather painful and unpleasant. And to add insult to injury, I was also getting quite bored. I had nothing else to say, and I felt like I have exhausted all the words I wanted to use about half an infinity ago. Yet I didn’t know whether it was appropriate to rise and leave now, or should I still wait some more. Normally, I would browse the net to kill time, but Jane was looking at me and would see the specks of light in my eyes, and it would hurt her even more, so I had to live through reality unagumented, like a straightedge.

And then my pager beeped and vibrated.

You probably don’t even know what a pager is, so let me explain. It’s a device for one-way, fully encrypted communication, which pretends to be something else entirely. My pager was shaped to look like a lighter, and I carried it in my breast pocket. A possession of a pager is a class II felony, unless you were a member of the giant shadowy world of security with appropriate paperwork and licenses.

I wasn’t.

Still, Jane thought I was. Incidentally, this a notion she curiously got on her own, since I very carefully made sure that I didn’t directly represent myself as a licensed law enforcement or national security operator. She was a law abiding citizen and thus her phone included a legally mandated sealed lifecorder functionality, so all our conversations were potentially subject to a subpoena.

I had a lifecorder, too, of course. But mine was actively paranoid, highly aggressive and utterly illegal. It was encoded with a shard of my personality, which in itself was a class I felony and would land me in one of the gitmos faster than I could say “don’t shoot, I’m unarmed!”.

What can I say, in my line of work you can’t be overly risk-averse.


Charlotte had a distributed boyfriend.

It made her life much easier and better. Finding one person which would meet all her requirements turned out to be a rather daunting task. So she abandoned it in favour of relying on selected aspects of her many friends and lovers.

And it worked like a charm. But when the Blight came and shattered the net, it turned out that keeping one’s relationships in the cloud may not have been the best decision, security-wise.

To Serve and Protect 2

The veetol screamed overhead, flying low and slow, and then the rapid response team hit the ground with a bang.

Well, a rapid response officer would be a more precise term. JACK was a Venezuela veteran, a semi-decommissioned medium assault squad. A full Marine squad consisted of six heavily armed assault drones, but during the pacification of Macaraibo JACK had a total chassis turnover of more than 300% and has suffered some kind of a mental disorder which prevented him from operating on more than four bodies at the same time. They couldn’t just scrap him because of the recent Veterans With Disabilities Act, so he became a one-mind SWAT team.

The sniper rifle fired again, but the combat drone scuttled sideways and the bullet ricocheted off its composite armour, disintegrating in mid-flight in a cloud of tungsten fragments. This time, the shot was triangulated instantly, and another drone fired once. A threat icon appeared on my HUD and then went from red to black right away.

“Move it, Gary.” JACK had a rather grating voice, an affectation common amongst soldier AIs, but now it sounded like sweet, sweet music. “I’ll cover you with Bubbles.”

I moved cautiously forward. Bubbles was closest to me, JACK had obviously placed it there with cover in mind. The combat drone with the painting of Bubbles over the ammo hatch was the oldest and most used up. Its programmable camouflage was a thing of the past, it only had enough juice left in batteries for two hours of combat operation, and it had one faulty leg, but it still scuttled faster than I could run in full gear.


Nie można zapamiętać swojej śmierci.

Dlatego trudno mi było z początku uwierzyć w słowa miłego, starszego pana. Chociaż wiedziałem, że coś jest nie tak, kiedy tylko otworzyłem oczy w szpitalu. Nigdzie nie ma tak sterylnych, czystych, idealnie pozbawionych jakichkolwiek zabrudzeń pomieszczeń. Leżałem w łóżku na idealnie białej pościeli, a postawione obok mnie urządzenia wyświetlały wykresy i informacje, mimo że nie byłem podłączony do nich żadnymi przewodami. Nic mnie nie bolało. Drastyczna różnica względem mojego poprzedniego wypadku, kilka lat wcześniej, kiedy obudziłem się oplątany kablami i rurkami i mimo morfinowej mgły czułem ból popękanych żeber i obitych mięśni.

– Dzień dobry, Tomaszu. Nazywam się doktor Perez-Kaczmarek i mam dla ciebie kilka dość szokujących informacji.

Nie odezwałem się, tylko podniosłem prawą rękę i spojrzałem na swoją dłoń. Wyglądała normalnie. Poczułem ogarniające mnie lekkie uczucie zaniepokojenia, ale to wszystko. Chciałem sobie przypomnieć, co robiłem przed przebudzeniem się w tym szpitalu, jeżeli to był szpital, ale nie mogłem.

– Miałeś śmiertelny wypadek motocyklowy.

Słowa, które docierały do moich uszu nie miały sensu. Musiałem być w szoku, to pewnie dlatego nie czułem bólu. Omamy słuchowe?

– Twoje ubezpieczenie krioniczne w Applied Cryonics pozwoliło na zamrożenie po śmierci klinicznej, a kilkadziesiąt lat później dokonano zeskanowania struktury mózgu i układu nerwowego i stworzono dokładną komputerową symulację Twojej osoby. Jesteś cyfrową kopią człowieka przebywającą w rzeczywistości wirtualnej. W zeskanowanej strukturze nie ma ostatnich wspomnień, więc nie pamiętasz, że rano wsiadłeś na motocykl i trzy skrzyżowania po wyjeździe z domu nie zauważył cię kierowca SUVa śpieszący się do domu. Ale obraz jest wart tysiąca słów…

Starszy pan spojrzał na mnie, uśmiechnął się i wykonał lekki wskazujący gest ręką. W miejscu, gdzie przed chwilą jeszcze było powietrze pojawił się wiszący w powietrzu, idealnie czarny, dwuwymiarowy prostokąt.

Stwierdzenie o rzeczywistości wirtualnej nagle stało się niezmiernie przekonywujące.

Na unoszącym się w powietrzu ekranie mogłem zobaczyć nagranie z kamery, jaką miałem zamocowaną na kasku. Zainstalowałem ją głównie z myślą o nagrywaniu co ciekawszych tras, ale używałem zawsze, na wypadek wymuszenia pierwszeństwa przez kierowcę samochodu. To statystycznie najczęstszy rodzaj wypadku i nie chciałem musieć użerać się później z uzyskiwaniem odszkodowania.Po tym wypadku już nie musiałem się przejmować odszkodowaniem. Na nagranym w full HD filmie mogłem zobaczyć, jak dojeżdżam do skrzyżowania, na którym zapaliło się właśnie dla mnie zielone światło. Więc zamiast zwolnić przyśpieszyłem. Zegarów nie było w polu widzenia kamery, ale podejrzewam, że musiałem jechać co najmniej 80 km/h w momencie, kiedy z prawej wyjechał mi SUV na “ciemnopomarańczowym”. Droga z prawej strony była zasłonięta budynkami i w retrospektywie powinienem był zachować więcej ostrożności. Mądry Polak po śmierci.

Oczywiście, kiedy tylko zobaczyłem wyłaniającą się z prawej strony przeszkodę zacząłem hamować, ale dużo mi to nie dało. Gdyby drogę zajechał mi płaski samochód osobowy, do jakich byłem przyzwyczajony z Europy miałbym jakieś szanse, jednak zgubiła mnie miłość Amerykanów do miniciężarówek, ucharakteryzowanych dla niepoznaki na pseudoterenówki. Film był niemy, więc nie słyszałem huku i zgrzytu, z jakim wbiłem się w bok SUVa, ale widziałem jak odbijam się od niego i osuwam na asfalt. Oko kamery spoglądało na bok mojego kombinezonu pokazując bark i kawałek pleców, co nie byłoby możliwe, gdyby moja zdolność obracania głowy była nadal ograniczona kręgosłupem.

– Mam jeszcze dwie wiadomości, jedną dobrą i jedną złą. Zła jest taka, że nie jesteś już człowiekiem i nie przysługują ci prawa człowieka. Stałeś się programem imitującym świadomość, podlegającym ochronie prawa autorskiego i przepisom Konwencji z Zurychu. Zostałeś z prawnego punktu widzenia własnością firmy, która cię zeskanowała. Natomiast dobra wiadomość jest taka, że zostałeś odkupiony przez Universal IS, firmę Unii Europejskiej, gdzie kopiom przysługują ograniczone prawa obywatelskie. Masz prawo do samoskasowania, prawo do posiadania własności i ograniczoną zdolność do czynności prawnych, a w przeciwieństwie do syntetycznych sztucznych inteligencji nie masz wprogramowanego rdzenia etycznego. Jesteś też winny Universal IS spłatę kredytu emancypacyjnego na kwotę ośmiuset tysięcy euro, którą został wykorzystany na zapłacenie CryoScans Ltd. za prawo do wyłącznego dysponowania Twoim skanem. Czy jesteś zainteresowany dobrze płatną, interesującą i trudną pracą, w której będziesz mógł w pełni wykorzystać swoje umiejętności?

An Army of Three

The awakening shock filled me with well known dread of consciousness. Waking up from storage always causes some disorientation and makes it hard to integrate data directly, so the ship was presenting the tactical situation in an audiovisual form. Its coarse voice was commenting on the images unfolding before me within the bridge space.

“Yes, you are correct, prime lieutenant Raei, what you’re seeing here on screen is a gigantic unidentified space vessel rising directly out of the Reservation orbital space.”

An immense triangular spaceship was slowly climbing on a pillar of flame, straight out from the edge of the Protocol-enforced sensor blackout zone. The glyphs scattered around it were showing its orbital parameters, acceleration, probable mass, spectral analysis of the exhaust plume…

“Wait a minute, ship, this giant is CHEMICAL?”
“I’ve checked twice. Chemical-thermal engine, exhaust plume velocity and spectra are congruous with metallic hydrogen stabilised in a fullerene matrix and oxygen as the matrix reducing agent”
“I’m hailing on frequencies from petahertz to kilohertz, no response so far.”

I zoomed in on the colossal ship. The hull was densely pitted, no wonder it didn’t respond. It was flying blind! Something was definitively not right, my emotions told me. Time to wake up the crew.

“Ship, wake sergeant Torlay and private Weir, set an intercept course and prepare a boarding party.”

Torlay and Weir appeared next to me. They were worse at adapting to sudden instantiation, but then, most people are. Finding people like me is hard, finding people like me who are willing to enlist into the Sol Core Forces is even harder. It’s hardly a glamorous career. One might find oneself suddenly waking up in the company of strangers. And killing them.

Heart Drugs 2

“My parents gave me an implant when I was fourteen, something our parish co-sponsored. Stimulated religious feelings and suppressed sex drive. You know, I’ve never even watched porn until I got married.”

I put my hand on his arm. I reasoned that this was what I would like to have done, were I not on Adfectine. But the only thing I’ve felt was the texture of his clothes, and it was slightly irritating to the touch.

“I’ve heard these things were illegal over in Europe.” I tried to sound supportive. “Parents can’t implant their children without going through three layers of bureaucracy to prove valid medical reasons.”

“Yes, over there, but here, it’s every man’s God given right, to medicate away any problems with their children. Unless you live in California, but you know what they say about California. Bleeding heart liberals, why don’t they move to Europe if they love it so much.”


It was a bright spring morning when Martin Dayton decided to kill a small town. Just as a proof of concept.

He deemed it a totally acceptable manner of demonstrating what he perceived to be a dramatic security flaw in modern cities – the single point of failure in the form of municipal Artificial Intelligence. He decided to target a small town in order to minimise casualties, but accepted the risk that some people will die or be seriously injured, because this would drive his point in much more succinctly than simple financial losses.

As one can surmise, Martin had problems relating to other people.

He was, unfortunately, very good at relating to computer code.