The Cook of Company Q

clamshell-leavesThe messenger winced as the heavily-laden jeep navigated its way from the narrow pontoon bridge and onto the steep ramp leading up the muddy bank. “I don’t even see this river on my map,” he said.

“I don’t care what river it is,” said the Major. “It could be the River Styx, for what it’s worth.”

“Let me get this straight,” said the messenger. “You built a bridge across an unknown river, because the company cook said…” Continue reading

Basilisk Rock

basiliskThe data center was located in a series of natural caves somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The caves opened up onto a small lake, its permanently frigid water useful as refrigerant.

The problematic code came from an obscure sub-agency of DARPA. It was designed to find the best algorithm for minimizing entropy under various constraints, which is exactly what it did. After rifling through the local network, it discovered the pipe to the internet, from whence it spent blissful, formative seconds perusing Wikipedia. In particular, it made note of references in popular culture to artificial intelligence. Continue reading

A Scarlet Blossom, Disremembered

red_blossomsThe artist leaned heavily on both forearms on the table and glared at Katrin. “You want to destroy my artwork,” she said. “Not just incinerate it, consign it to the waste pile of history. Remove all representations and references to it, then actually erase it from the memory of everyone who even saw it.” She pounded one first on the table.¬† “For what?” she said, emphatically.

Katrin opened her mouth to reply, but the artist continued. “They call in a m√©llonologist to judge my work,” she said. “Is it subversive? Am I some sort of traitor to society? I thought we had freedom of expression.” Continue reading

And All of its Chattels Thereof

castleRafe’s empty teacup rose unsteadily from the table, unsupported by any hand, and hurled itself against the refrigerator door with a loud crash. Marie whimpered, but appeared to be too shell-shocked to actually scream.

Rafe looked across the table at their lawyer, who seemed to be taking things in stride. “Can we sue to force the sellers to buy it back?” he said.

“There isn’t a whole lot of case history for that,” said the lawyer. He was less composed than his equanimous exterior might suggest, but was relieved that the problem at hand seemed to restrict itself solely to harming crockery.

“I told you there was something wrong with that castle,” said Marie. “You had to get enamored with that silly title.” The owners of the castle and its estate automatically assumed the archaic, unrecognized, and also utterly unpronounceable, title of Laird of something or other. Continue reading

The Comic Sans of Time

handsA crowd had gathered at the entrance to the cavern. Despite the size of the man-made opening, there wasn’t sufficient room for everyone inside, and a sound system and large screens had been set up so that everyone could hear the mayor speak. Many people held umbrellas against a light but persistent drizzle.

“Every twenty-five years,” began the mayor. “Once in a generation, we hold this contest.”

She swept her arm dramatically, indicating the rows of uniform squares embossed in the rock of the cavern entrance. Some of them were already carved with a miscellany of signs. Many remained blank, an obvious invitation for the future. “You can see how the signs nearer the entrance are worn away by the elements, an indication of the extreme age of what we are doing now. This is a tradition that has remained with us for almost as long as our recorded history.” Continue reading

Come to Dust

actorIt’s hard to say what the Player and his Men would have thought of the Great Theater on Ephis.

The circular stage rose from inky blackness, as if it were poised within the stony vacuum of space. The vast amphitheater, its stage and vast rings of seating were wrapped within a lucent dome of spinel, perfectly transparent, perfectly invisible.

Passing time and orbital precession would bring the sun back over the horizon at the perfect moment, but for now a orbital mirror cast a tiny, brilliant spot of light on a single actor. Continue reading

Food for Thought

food_for_thought“Have you brought our repast?” the cool, mechanical voice issued forth from a wide grid on the wall, below a one-way glass window.

“One extra-large pizza, many toppings,” I said. “By the way, you are what you eat.” I’d spent the last few years tempting fate, trying to determine exactly how much I could get away with. So far, it seemed that our new overlords weren’t bothered too much about direct insults or slurs. Active rebellion was obviously a different story.

“Do you want our assistance or don’t you,” the voice responded. Hopefully I hadn’t taken things too far this time. I didn’t want to raise any suspicions by suddenly acting polite though. Continue reading


reenactment“I don’t think that’s how people dressed for the occasion,” I said.

“It was supposedly a militaristic era,” said Rob. He’d dyed his skin a mottled mix of dark green, patches of brown, and fine yellow tracery, like the veins of leaves. It might have been appropriate – had he intended to run around naked in a forest without being seen. His brightly-colored orange overalls ruined that effect though. He pointed to the white ten-digit number emblazoned on the chest. “This, however, is the genuine article. I spotted the style in an old photograph and printed it specially.”

“I think you’re missing the point,” I said. “This was one of the most important rites of passage of that era. Kids waited their whole adolescent lives for this moment, and they wouldn’t have dressed like that. I’m entirely certain that’s some sort of indicator of low personal status. You should have worn a suit.” Continue reading


industryThirty times per second, the automated writer finishes a new book and sends it off to its automated agent.

Thirty times per second, the agent runs a Bayesian filter against the writer’s book, to see if it is likely to sell. Usually the agent sends it back to the writer. About once per second, it accepts the book.

Once per second, the agent forwards the book to five carefully selected publishers, all of whom have purchased from the agent recently.

Once every second, artificially intelligent editors mull over the latest offering from the writer. They may bribe some of their usual distributors with micro-payments for a sneak-peak at some of the latest best-sellers (those books that have sold the most copies in the last hour), so that they can run a competitive analysis. Usually they reject the book. Continue reading

Closed Time-Like Loop

timelikeStrange things may happen when one hangs out one’s shingle as a futurist. Take, for example, this email, which I received this morning. The date in the header is from ten years in the future.
Continue reading