Read about the contributors to issue thirteen and see excerpts from each article or story.Idol -- Russell Blackford
morning at 6:00AM, I trawled the newsfeeds, displaying useful text, sound and
imagery on my cabin’s high-resolution video wall, looking out for signs of
trouble. My computer deck was programmed to do most of the work. It knew most of
what I wanted: it searched the data that flooded in overnight from two dozen
major feeds, looking for anything to do with uploading, upload Technicians,
ultrabrights, Gene Cheats (I hated that expression), edification (and all the
words that went with it: ‘edifier’; ‘edified’). Plus anything that
related to a hundred specific names and aliases. Bad times were coming; I wanted
every bit of information the moment it was here.
could take it all in, make my own sense of it. That’s how they designed me.
old law and order, I thought,
as I sat cross-legged on my king-sized bed, wearing a faded green tracksuit and
a pair of old gray socks. My long, blonde hair fell freely around my shoulders. Good
old democracy. Thanks to democratic government and the rule of law, you
could still find out what was going on in courts all over the world. Not in
every country, but in most of the ones that mattered. In fact, you didn’t even
need democracy: a bit of law and order would do. Even in most dictatorships,
they didn’t just make people disappear.
text on the video wall told me that a man whom I’d known well was in trouble
in the Californian courts. In one sense that was nothing unusual. If you were
one of my breed, you were a target for any trumped-up charge.
this case, though, the charges had not been trumped up. He had done everything
they accused him of, and much more. The LAPD had caught a man whom I’d met
only once, but I’d worked with him, loved him and taken him into my body.
Peccadillo, he called himself, though he used many names for different purposes.
My name is Idol Le Saint, but he had
called me Beautiful Idol, which had sometimes annoyed me – yet it suited me
perfectly well. I was, and remain, beautiful enough for any man, for money made
was the Japanese upload Technician – the ‘edifier’ – who had created Mr.
Chung, my Mr. Chung. With exquisite skill, he’d carried out the process
of snap-freezing and sectioning my client’s brain, its neurophysiological
detail, then copying its structure in digital form to give the original David
Chung a kind of immortality. Now Peccadillo had been arrested at LA
International Airport, about to board a flight to join the sub-orbital
network’s Andes Hub. The cops had caught up with him at last, which meant
there was some tangle in the web that we all wove. Someone, somewhere, had sold
out, and who know how much of our web, our network, was now in danger? I needed
to find out quickly.
morning, on the rooftop of the crumbling old Waterfront Hotel building, Father
McHaffey was leaning over the parapet to watch the Pacific wash over the street,
twenty-four storeys below.
happened to the Covenant? ‘Neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy
the earth.’ That’s what He’d said. Power corrupts, according to the axiom.
And omnipotence ...
dismissed the blasphemous thought as self-pity and shifted his attention to the
Almatis Ltd. office tower next door – a slightly higher glass and steel block,
one with dry feet – that was gently flapping with reams of patchwork material,
rather as though a deflated, hand-me-down jellyfish had collided with it. Around
McHaffey’s head seagulls screamed for more fish, which he dropped, still
impressed at how they could snatch tidbits out of the air. But a more aggressive
bird always seemed to grab it away from the first one. They were a change from
screaming sirens, anyway. And victims.
a soldier. Not a cop. Barely a priest. What am I now?
behind, beyond the tangled gardens, the crash of a firedoor banging open called
McHaffey’s attention away from the avian tussle to where his erstwhile
partner, Araxi Lee, was staggering out of the stairwell and onto the roof. She
immediately doubled over, hands on knees, next to an old woman hoeing potatoes.
In response to some question of Raxi’s, old Ms Tetsuyama pointed at McHaffey,
saying “Shimpu, shimpu,” in her too-loud, squeaky voice, and she led Raxi
unsteadily off in his direction.
... why,” Raxi puffed, when she finally arrived, “Why can’t you live
someplace with ... an elevator.”
grinned, despite not feeling very well at all.
three. Just none that work.”
It pays to know who you’re playing with, no
matter what the game; you taught me that one, Lucky. A lesson I learned well,
the hard way, and I thank you for it. I can tell a jump-shipper from an
in-system hauler, a data-pusher from station management, and any of the above
Even on a shattered rainbow of a place like Sag
Port Station, the Event Horizon stands out, fronted by that ugly little infinite
loop of holo-imagery. A starship –
she’s infamous, the Albericht, an
eleventh generation family trader, home to the entire Wagner clan – founders
too close to a black hole belted by a glowing accretion disk, and a fat tentacle
of plasma protrudes from the disk to snatch and drag it down into a shroud of
ionized gas. The Albericht stretches
hair-fine as it penetrates the black hole’s Schwarzschild radius, the event
horizon: the point where you’re in so deep, escape is impossible.
A probable – after all, everyone knows there
were no survivors – victim of sabotage, the Albericht
died last cen, during the Bisory-Ggarrin Civil War, but for FTL-riders, it’s
still a recent memory.
Nobody ever asks about that sign. Funny how we
still hang on to superstitions, Lucky; the idea of karma, good and bad. At worst
they must think it’s just Janey’s sense of humor. Just a joke, a wink. A
little piece of the Big Game.
Only I know different, Crazy Janey Yates,
sitting quiet on the sidelines near the front door. But the sign is
good for business. After all, what’s important these days is the homey clatter
of tokens dropping into my games, the snarl of synthetic gunfire and exploding
warships twined into the veil of firette smoke. Only dead things are quiet, and
tonight the arcade is noisy, and I’m happy.
Well, happy enough.
The footprints led off into the thicket, but Ryder Darvish stopped at the edge of the beach and sank to the ground. He wanted to rest a minute before plunging into the unfamiliar jungle. Damn, he was good, but he wasn't that good. The trip always took a lot out of him and this primeval forest was hell to wrestle with. The towering canopy and overgrown marshland were all right for the brontosauri and the rest, but the puny human animal had a little more difficulty smashing a trail into the greenery-gone-wild.
Oh, he would make it back to his own time all right. He had no reason to doubt. He always did, and, counting on the odds, he always would. He knew guys who had been at this job thirty years or more and they had never mistaken their way through the time strands yet. Of course, Ryder had heard of some trackers who'd simply disappeared and others who had returned and refused to travel to the past again. Ryder wasn't going to wind up like that, he promised himself; a little worry was normal. He wasn't the type to lose his nerve.
The thought of getting stuck in this time-slot put Ryder on his feet again and he dodged flapping branches and insects bigger than his toes as he followed Derick Wiley into the dank tangle of vegetation. Derick was a bad, bad man who deserved to be hunted down like a dog. Ryder would find him and bring the fugitive back to his own time to face the consequences of his horrific deeds.
Where the hell was Derick, though? There was no sand here and consequently no footprints ... only trees so overbearing, Ryder couldn't spot the heavens above, and the ground-level thudding of some mammoth dino seeking its dinner or hoping to entice a mate. The air was wringingly humid, too, and the sweat poured down Ryder's rugged face.
He spotted Derick. What was left of him that was. The remains of Derick Wiley included little more than a femur, clavicle, and a few odds and ends of 21st Century clothing.
rain hissed along the meadow’s edge, its aurora-like waves touching down in
stinging, staccato, icy curtains over the blue-green grass, slapping, slashing
my face. The normal forest smell of lonely herbs and rot was richer here as I
fought the foetid, thickening mud which
refused to let go of my feet. When I looked down, I saw why. Half-fleshed
fingers had hold of my boot, reaching out of the mire. If I hadn’t been so
cold and miserable, I might have screamed. In another time I would certainly
have screamed myself faint. If my days hadn’t been so grinding, if I didn’t
know exactly what I’d found, I might have succumbed to those self-indulgences.
Instead, I moved ten
metres into the absurd shelter of the trees, hung my pack on a
branch and pulled out my spade. It inflated as I carried it back and with the
first stab into the mud, it started to stiffen. At least in the rain I didn’t
have to worry about forcing it to hydrate. I flipped out my pager. There were
protocols to follow, rules, precedence and order. Of all things, this had the
highest priority, an
unpleasant chore that was almost an exciting break from the routine. I pressed one button and waited for the blinking green light to become
The wind growled around
me, pawing and shoving, rapping my waterproofs against me. The impenetrable
ship-tech leaked from a dozen poorly repaired thorn scratches. That was the
commonest gripe amongst the disembarkees, next to their leaking boots. The cold
had started to suck away my strength, something that I’d never anticipated.
Back on-ship the temperature had cooled by one point seven degrees since I was
born. Here there was no referendum about taking another tenth of a degree off
the ambient temperature. Here it had fallen ten degrees in three weeks. I’d
never known such cold, such damp, mist-bound, wind-driven cold. Another few days
would bring snow and new problems to confound us. The green light glowed
steadily so I flipped the pager away and started to dig.
up, roll up! Get your Monster Tonic here! Sharpens fangs, slimes tentacles,
grows extra eyes on extra heads. Not got a monster yet? Buy a starter kit today!
Guaranteed safe – just wear Monsterbane. Worried about the smell?
Odor-Exploder keeps habitats fresh. And it’s never been cheaper to feed your
monsters with live mice …”
broke off, because no-one could hear me in the din. Hoots and screeches echoed
down the hall from the Best Chimera final in the mezzanine, and disquieting
chomping noises came from the Hungriest Flesh-Eating Worm heats. Behind me I
heard screams as ghouls battled zombies for Scariest Undead. But I didn’t mind
the noise, or even the stench. The nose-curdling marsh gas drifting from the
Swamp Beast final was the scent of success. Already I’d given out three stacks
of catalogues with ‘10% First-Time Discount’ stickers. I’d invested a lot
of money in sponsoring the Show, but if all went well, my costs would hatch into
scurried to my booth, dragging a trolley with squeaky wheels. “You have
nutrients?” he asked.
course. Any special kind?”
frowned. From the trolley a muffled voice said, “Protein gel, with omega-3
delved into my cases for a jar of green liquid. Calverley removed the blanket
draping the trolley, revealing a vat full of translucent mucus. Through the
thick fluid I glimpsed a pink, pulsating shape.
entering the Most Intelligent Disembodied Brain category as well?” I said.
yes,” said Calverley, pouring nutrient into the vat. “You might as well give
me the prize right now.” I saw that he was freshly shaved and scrubbed, gray
hair combed neatly over his bald patch, as if he had spruced himself up to
receive the Best In Show award.
laughed. “You have plenty of competition. But good luck.”
waved my good wishes away. “Luck? It’s planning, Drake, planning all the
The Brain glugged and burbled as nutrient swirled around it. “Delectable,” it said, through a speaker attached to the vat. “How about some ethanol?”
shook his head. "You haven't even won Best of
Casilda sighs as she pushes the cart from Room 312 to 314. The 'Housekeeping Requested' tab hangs from the knob so she knocks. No response. She pulls at the keycard tethered to her belt and swipes it through the lock. The red light above the knob clicks green and she butt-pushes the door open, pulling her cart halfway in to keep it that way.
"Housekeeping," she says, keeping her gaze modestly downcast. Answered by silence, she turns. The TV is on but muted, thescreen filled by the familiar face of His Holiness the President speaking in earnest silence. Casilda considers that par for the course and looks further around the room.
The place is mussed -- the bedsheets rumpled, a bureau drawer hanging open, some trash in the basket -- but easily cleaned within her allotted time. She sets her timer, grabs her gloves, sanitizing wand, brushes and supplies, and steps into the washroom. She flips the switch. The lights flicker and hum, then bathe the room in sallow light.
She stops, alarms tripping in her head.
A used bar of soap rests on the lip of the sink, another one in the bathtub's tray, two small orange wafers, washed pale by the florescence of the overhead brights. A third bar, still in its wrapper, sits on the shelf above the sink, unused, untouched.
A third bar. Each room gets only two.
She pulls her cart into the room, letting the door hiss and snick as it locks. Then she places her cart up against the door, refusing entry. Water runs into the sink, slowly turning hot, as she reaches for the unused bar of soap. She hesitates in one last moment of deniability, and then carefully opens the paper.
The bar of soap is orange, like the others, and stamped with the hotel's logo. She turns it over, and sees the message from Contact pressed in its plastic flesh.
Text arrives Thurs. Route B. Stays 5 days. Alert Gate. Alert Sponge.
you see that article in the Omaha Sentinel?” Mason asked.
I ever! It was as bad as the one in the Manchester Guardian,” Arthur said.
After a moment he added, “LOL.”
shook his head. He really did think of the online chatting he did with his
friends as talking, even ‘hearing’ it in his head, until one of them used
one of the emoticons or abbreviations intended to add expression. They always
seemed like intrusions, pulling him out of the moment. Perversely, Mason
didn’t give the slightest thought to the fact that Arthur had read the
well,” Mason said, really said. He flexed his fingers, and returned to the
subject at hand: evolution, or, more specifically, the creation/evolution debate
and how stupid creationists were.
hit ‘enter.’ There was the briefest of delays, then Mason saw his words
appear on the chatboard where he and Arthur were regulars.
a slightly longer pause, he saw Arthur’s response. “YeahYeahYeah. You’re
not breeding, but it isn’t because your gene pool is small. I hear it’s
because something else is small. ;-)”
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Last updated on September 9, 2007