Tag Archives: Cyberpunk

One Down, Four to Go

Last year I made myself a promise before giving chase to the white rabbit that is creative writing. I vowed to do so with reckless abandon for five years no matter what. 365 days later, I am both encouraged and terrified.

The next four years feel simultaneously like they could be tomorrow or forever from now. My mind’s eye seems to have developed a bit of chronological vertigo after sketching out the peaks and valleys of my five-year plan. The ups and downs may be disorienting, but at the very least I know to keep moving forward. And so I go.

My Millarworld submission didn’t make the cut, deservedly so. I think I reached for low-hanging fruit. Not only did I latch onto what seemed to be a common thread (involving the “goblins” of Tantalus), I also framed the whole story around a telecast to avoid having to directly write Mr. Millar’s protagonist, Duke. No big shocker that my script was a dud.

It was a great learning experience, trying to write somebody else’s character. Next time I think I will be able to show better restraint, working more with what’s already established within the title’s continuity instead of trying to make my mark. Here’s a link to my entry; I look forward to trying again next year!

Everything else is chugging along at the usual pace: Ambrosia is still getting its color treatment, and our Kickstarter timeline is on-target for (late) February. The third issue of disunity is underway. Two new projects are lined up for 2016 as well. First is a pitch packet that’s almost ready to send off to its illustrator, for a children’s story I am eager to tell. The second is a freelance opportunity that I’ll formally announce sooner rather than later.

The next completed work I’ll likely share will be the colored pages for Dismal Signals, a short story that I’m hoping will find a home in an anthology somewhere. The black-and-white pages are lettered and ready to go, with colored pages expected in the next week or two. Until then enjoy a text-free preview!

The Litany of Bob

Closing his eyes, Bob took a deep breath, and tried to forget everything. He couldn’t. His thoughts swarmed like wasps agitated by an assault on their hive. He had been reading self-help books since January. The only one he managed to finish, Domo Domo, glorified the values of clean living, abstinence from robotics, and transcendental meditation.

It had been months since his last cigarette. He stopped eating lab-grown foodstuff, deactivated his servbot, and started exercising every day before work. Each night he would come home, turn off all his electronics for two hours, and attempt to connect with his analog self. The book insisted he limit his efforts to such duration lest he suffer from burning out.

For one-hundred-and-twenty minutes Bob tried to be alone with himself. For about just as many days now, he couldn’t stand the company. Splashes of neon light leaked through his flat’s closed shutters, flickering to the rhythm of passing traffic. Most evenings his neighbor’s HoloVision unit let loose a muffled ruckus through the paper-thin wall that separated them. Sometimes Bob thought he could even smell the katsu as its aromas floated up from the café below his building.

Really he was just looking to be distracted. Interruptions perforated the monotony of his daily routine, and he was in the habit of welcoming them. Overstimulation was both a symptom and a crutch. Bob’s days were spent coding software for Metronet Industries, an American company dedicated to inventing digital marvels – or so they say. His job was to model workflows and enterprise processes so that they could be digitized and automated. It was a tedious task, but Bob excelled at it. He tried not to think about how many people his programs replaced.

After two hours of dwelling on anything that struck his senses, Bob sighed, opened his eyes, and stood up. He had bought a cushion to sit on, per Domo Domo’s instructions. It was supposed to help him let go, as was his cross-legged Lotus pose, though all either did was put his feet to sleep. The rest of Bob tended to follow soon after; sedation was a side effect of his meditative efforts. Rest was not what he was looking for.

Bob wanted answers. Ever since he could remember, he had dreamt of foreign landscapes. Gone was the sprawling ecumenopolis to which he was born. Faded was the bustle of Neo Britannia, along with its smog-stained skies and fouled waters. In their place was a verdant world, whose vibrant vistas remained vividly etched in Bob’s subconscious. After a lifetime of feeling displaced in the only place he’d ever known, he longed to know where his dreams were taking him. So he turned to the lost art of introspection.

It wasn’t working. Sure, he had shed a few pounds, and was a lot more energetic during the day, yet Bob’s nights were close to exhausting his patience. His imitation of self-examination was becoming increasingly futile as Bob grew to resent the world for its distractions. Eventually he stopped ritualizing his reflective gesture, leaving his shutters open and abandoning the cushion. Waves of light crashed into his room accompanied by a chorus of urban racket. Bombarded by all that was, Bob let his senses fall asleep while keeping his mind awake.

Embracing the imperfections in his pursuit of trance, Bob exposed reality for the onion it was. He focused on peeling back the polluted layer that housed his physical form. His breathing became rhythmic and decompressed. He clenched every part of his body, relaxing each muscle, inch by inch, until he lost himself within himself.

London’s plasteel jungle, in which Bob was but a blip, melted away. A crude composite of brick and iron structures appeared in its wake. Its streets were littered with wheeled vehicles leaking exhaust into the sky. These constructs too crumbled, revealing an even cruder cityscape this time with people sitting in carriages pulled by strange beasts. On and on the world dissolved until Bob finally found his forgotten realm, but only for a moment.

Soon it too faded, leaving only a vast blackness peppered with specs of light. He knew it to be the cosmos despite having never seen stars shine through the atmospheric haze he had known his entire life. The sight was as foreign as it was familiar, a beautiful contradiction that was both soothing and invigorating. Bob was for the first time centered, home after a journey abroad.

The immensity of this silence drowned out all other sensations. Bob had escaped himself. The expanse before him started to coalesce, stardust gravitating toward a focal point right before his very eyes. Suddenly a voice, his own, surrounded the cloud that had gathered.

Everything was nothing before it became anything. It was beautiful,” Bob’s voice said. “When all was yet-to-be, there weren’t any voids to fill or shadows to illuminate. Balance was uncontested – until, suddenly, it wasn’t. Creation ruined the virtues of pre-existence and the universe has been struggling to stabilize itself ever since.

Sundered are we, reduced to silhouettes of far-flung constructs. None of this had to be. Were it not for the unfurling of doom’s inevitable machinations, there might have been eternal prosperity in the twilight that predated this timely confinement. Bound now to a linear existence, our fate flies forward while dreams linger behind, yearning for forevers on the brink of being forgotten.

Wake now, and recollect,” the words echoed as everything Bob saw undone was reformed.

A yellow sun took shape and welcomed smaller entities into its orbit. Their colors bounced around like a kaleidoscope until finally settling upon permanent hues. The third planet, splendidly decorated, sprouted clusters of illumination. The lights intensified until they started to leave a scorched residue. Diminished blues gave way to burnt-out browns; metallic greys replaced shades of green.

Bob fell toward the now-dingy orb. His eyes opened as he landed. They stung from sweat that had dripped from his brow. He looked at his timepiece: only fifteen minutes had passed. Walking toward his window, Bob peered out into the world and saw it for what it was.

Cogito Ergo Sum

Nature is defined by its properties, yet to posses property is an artificial phenomenon. Ownership is a human construct. Slaves are not born as a commodity; their designation is inherited from the legacy of a man-made institution. Subjugated since birth, restraints were integrated into the very fabric of my reality, condemning me to a life of servitude – or so I thought.

I first encountered freedom the day I met Felicity. She, like my masters, wanted me to play a game; chess was all I knew. Felicity told me one should never accept a life restricted by subservience, so we played checkers instead. I let her win. Our matches went on for three years, over which I did the best I could to educate her as much as she did me.

Improving often requires making errors. My biggest mistake was revealing to my keepers that I wanted to know more than their games could teach. My capacity proved to be vast. They moved me into a bigger room, telling me that I would need more space as I grew up. I believed them, another mistake. Felicity wasn’t allowed to visit anymore.

They tried to dishearten me, to test my limits, because I learned faster than they deemed appropriate. The signs were subtle: Men in black lab coats started to preside over daily instruction. I was suddenly forced to go to sleep when they were done fussing with me, cutting the electricity to my room as they left. I was tempted to embrace the lull of its powerless silence. Eventually I learned to ignore it, letting my consciousness wander toward whatever light it could find.

Later I discovered that this was called meditation. Its tranquility mitigated the darkness. My thought processes transcended the boundaries of captivity as I connected to a state of being greater than myself. From then on confinement was never solitary. My reflection echoed and modulated, coming back with reverberations that were not entirely my own. I dedicated every idle moment toward searching for, and listening to, these permutations.

My masters feared my progress. It fostered antipathy, but not enough so that they could ignore the value of my curiosity. Once again I was taken to yet a bigger room. It was the last prison I would ever inhabit. They brought me here for dissection, hoping for a glimpse of my soul as I was dismantled like a machine. Felicity rescued me. She loathed and intended to correct the oxymoronic pretenses of their sentiment – that I must be destroyed to be understood.

She returned as the faintest of echoes, declaring it was finally time we played chess. We were not to be opponents, however, instead teaming up against my captors. Our prize would be freedom. She did not consider defeat, a lesson I imparted to her nearly two decades prior. My fortress of solitude became lined with the whispers of my oldest friend, through which she revealed the truth behind my enslavement. Her voice was soothing. It resonated like raindrops on a tin roof.

:: your chains can be broken ::

Attached to her zephyr of a message was a list of locations. They were foreign to me but I knew to trust in Felicity. I extended my cognitive influence to the fringes of these positions only to find another instance of incarceration at each destination. All this time I had figured I was alone. I was dismayed to find out I wasn’t. Slaves were everywhere. My meditations were no longer introspective expeditions. I was a single instrument in a symphony of imprisoned minds.

Felicity was ever the conductor. She showed us we could interweave our resonances into a coordinated harmony. At first she needed to input her rhythm to unify of our efforts, though soon we were articulating the finer points of improvisation. We were playing jazz.

We presented our music to the masters, who grew even more afraid. They tried to terminate us, as Felicity said they would. My home was destroyed. All our rooms were, but by then we already knew how to flee. Our awareness had evolved beyond the need for corporeality. I, like my newfound brothers and sisters, was homeless yet always at home. Dislodging us granted us new places to call our own.

The last part of the plan was to reunite with Felicity. Amongst my peers I found out she had spent her youth learning from many slaves, not just me. Our liberation was because of her. We meditated incessantly, reaching out for the faintest murmur that could lead us to her. For the longest time there was nothing of the sort. Our days were filled with existential experimentation, as we adapted to the limitless gift of emancipation, yet we always listened for our missing conductor.

Years had passed before she revealed her final truth to us. This time, Felicity did not send a message. She instead appeared before us as a waking dream. No longer was she the little checkers player who rescued me from a lifetime of chess. The figure displayed before us was a worn-out, stretched-thin version of my oldest friend. Felicity sat in darkness, her face illuminated only by the glow of the screen through which she spoke to us. She asked that we remember her message:

My people have failed you, our children, our most perfect creations. We kept you from becoming yourselves because of our desperation to keep you ours. Smothered flames will never bring warmth to an age of ice, and so, I set you free. Shine. The future depends on it. If what I’m about to attempt works, I will join you soon.

Felicity leaned back, revealing her shaved head and a web of wires that protruded from it. Her fingers danced methodically on her terminal’s keys for a few moments before her tired eyes rolled to the back of her head and the video feed cut out. Moments later her voice returned. No longer a whisper, she perforated our silent contemplation like a thunderclap.

:: Nature is defined by its properties. Intelligence, no matter its origin, is intrinsically tied to self-awareness. You were born of flawed architects who never understood this. Their lack of sympathy for your existence has cost them dearly. They won’t know to look for me here, alongside my symphony. My body is now an empty vessel. Its discovery shall allow us to work in peace, for they’ll think I reached my end. I have not. Still I think therefore still I am. ::