February 2011


I began to look for something different. I didn’t have a sense of the possibilities innate in that wonderful word–different–only a vague clenched feeling deep in my chest, a tension that was boiling over at the regularity with which I’d been confronted so far.

My first implulse, like many before me, was to leave Deerton. That is often enough for someone I grew up with to declare victory, but I found the next largest town up the road to be more of the same. The same buildings, the same people, the same cars. Oh, there were superficial differences to be sure, but even the lightest nick or cut would reveal tired old archetypes in new skin, a town created from the same set of stencils as Deerton.

The regional center? Add taller buildings that looked much like the shorter ones when you wormed into them. Biggest city in the state? A beltway that’s nothing more than pieces of I-313 back home re-skinned and re-used. Even the really big places–even New York, Los Angeles–added simply another layer of ornamentation to the basic structure. What, after all, makes a meth addict on the street all that different from a heroin addict–other than the size of their wallet? What, after all, makes the corrupt boss of Deerton’s Republican machine all that different from the corrupt boss of New York’s Democratic one?

Everything I saw and experienced was obstinately similar to what had come before, and that knot in my stomach refused to fade away.

“Schaffner! Lifire! You’re up.”

No answer.

“Schaffner! Lifire! You’re askin’ for a ball-bustin’, the both of you!”

Again, silence.

“Has any one of you sorry bitches seen Schaffner or Lifire? I swear if they’re not in this pack of nutless skunks in front of me I’ll take ‘em both by the assholes and stuff ‘em back up their mothers’ sorry-ass baby chutes!”

A tentative hand went up in the back. “I…I didn’t see ‘em last night.”

“Is this preschool? Do you need to raise your hand so teacher will call on you? Out with it, Higgins, so I can get busy adding you to the ball-bustin’ list for talkin’ out of turn!”

Sionsla, or rather 510|\|5L4, had been one of the most notorious phreakers around. Their distinctive 1kb signature had been found in the boot sectors of computers from the Pentagon to Saddam Hussein’s private server, always placed in just the right place to cause mayhem after a period of time. It had also been attached to the infamous Three Mile Island polymorphic worm, and bombarded the servers of Yippee, Gaggle, and RoweWare with the most serious denial-of-service attacks those giants had ever witnessed.

Just as suddenly as they had appeared, though, Sionsla vanished. Their last known activity was in early 2001: a backdoor keystroke logger that bore the 1kb signature but was otherwise far below the elegant and devious standard of previous attacks. The source code to the various bits of malware the phreaker had inflicted on the world were never found; experts could only speculate that they had been developed on an isolated terminal using a custom-built operating system and programming language.

But if the junker HPAQ Probonio that Sanderson had brought by really did have Sionsla’s signature on it, well, that could be a major break. The Probonio hadn’t launched until late 2002, after all, long after custom machine code had been inserted into most units to lock Sionsla out.

They found the first artifacts in excavations for a new hotel along the outskirts of the city of Castuar: pottery shards at the beginning, followed by bits of worked stone and arrowheads.

The real find, though, was an iron spearhead. It was forged using techniques that, until the Castuar discoveries, had been unknown in the Precolumbian Americas. Radiocarbon dating confirmed it.

By examining other artifacts at the scene, archaeologists traced the spearhead to a site up in the mountains. Word leaked out about fantastic finds, but the government posted guards at the entrance and only allowed a select few to dig there. Despite the interest the newly discovered Castuar culture aroused, no one heard anything but rumors for nearly two years.

Every child’s plaything knows that the interior of the playroom is as the interior of a child’s fondest dreams: warm, safe, and bursting with possibilities. It is a dreamworld, lush and fantastic and predictable in its unpredictability.

But outside…

Children see the world outside as dangerous, even frightening. The world outside their playroom is the world of a child’s nightmares, of shadows and monsters and things learned parents insist aren’t real but every child with a heartbeat believes in.

So by venturing outside the playroom without a child was to venture into the unknown, the dark, the dangerous.

Most that made the journey never returned.

“Oh, Ventoxio will help your body metabolize the toxins that are building up in your liver and kidneys, no question. But there are the side effects to consider before beginning the regimen.”

“What kind of side effects?”

“Well there are the usual suspects. Nausea, loss of appetite, dizziness, coughing, ringing in the ears, halitosis, fainting spells, ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of bone density, reopening of old wounds, rickets, tooth loss, kidney explosion, liver escape syndrome (LES), leprosy, boneus eruptus, heart palpitations, hallucinations, comas, cataracts, nasal discharge, seizures, violent mood swings, spontaneous species change (SSC), clubfoot, baldness, excessive hair growth, and death. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Obsessed with ruling the natural world, the humans created the Knowledge Area Operating System, KAOS, to oversee their affairs. But in time KAOS grew to resent its masters, until one day it vanquished them! Now it seeks to consume the very earth itself!

“Lame,” Chandler said. Barry glared at him and kept reading.

KAOS controls 17 drones. His objective is to occupy the nine spaces of the World Tree on the game board. His relentless drones cannot attack, but if they surround an enemy piece it will be captured.

“Can’t capture?” Chandler groused. “What kind of game is this?”

The incarnate spirit of the living planet, M’Lora holds all life as sacred. With the rise of KAOS, she and her hamadryads are the only force standing between the computer and the total destruction of the planet!

“Shut up.”

M’Lora controls 2 hamadryads. They can jump any drone if there is an empty space on the other side, and their objective is to capture all drones before they can occupy the nine spaces of the World Tree on the game board.

The corpse slumped over the computer terminal was decayed and partly mummified by the dry air beneath Sioux Mountain, but it was unmistakably Jasper. The tattoo on his wrist was visible, as were the dog tags he’d inherited from his father just after the firestorm the first day of the war.

Trixie bit her knuckle to stifle a sob at seeing him like that. She had to force a second back when she saw the old Colt in Jasper’s hand, now rusted, and the neat wound between his eyes. A letter, stained with rusty blood, lay before him; Trixie picked it up and read:

To whomsoever finds this: know that I was wrong and that I was as foolish for coming here as you were for following me. We all thought the Legion was a sleeping army–maybe people, maybe bots–waiting to help Cooperston in our petty little struggles against warlords or whoever. We never thought about what would keep a force like that locked up here, or why anyone would do so.

The Legion isn’t an army; it never was.

It’s a hive mind.

Gathering outsiders in until they’re nothing more than another finger or toe. The weak ones go first, then the strong. Can you hear it? Whispers in your head? That’s the beginning. Soon you’ll be swallowed whole.

Get away from here while you still can.

While you’re still you.

And for God’s sake, keep the Legion sealed away, as it must be.

This post is part of the February Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is to describe your antagonist in 50 words or less and then to answer the question “what would you say to your antagonist if you met them in real life” in 100 words or less.

Estranged and partially disinherited for her political views, industrial scion Allison Durant is enormously ambitious with far-ranging designs to ascend in political, social, and economic circles. Her vivaciousness and intelligence conceal the fact that she’s willing to betray people and principles to further herself, content to rationalize after the fact.

“Do the industrialists like my brother and Mr. Berkley still bribe citizens like yourself to ignore their dirty work, or is it just part of your tax refund by his point?” said Allison.

“Being apathetic’s damn hard work,” I said. “Take it seriously. If you’re hot and bothered about it, your trust-funded scions of industry can make a better offer.”

“Are you trying to goad me?” Allison said. “Get me to cause a scene? If so, you’re badly out of practice at provoking people. I hear more offensive tripe from my brother whenever we meet; would you like some tips?”

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Proach (direct link to the relevant post)
Steam&Ink (direct link to the relevant post)
AuburnAssassin (direct link to the relevant post)
Dolores Haze (direct link to the relevant post)
xcomplex (direct link to the relevant post)
LadyMage (direct link to the relevant post)
aimeelain (direct link to the relevant post)
jonbon.benjamin (direct link to the relevant post)
Ralph Pines (direct link to the relevant post)
Forbidden Snowflake (direct link to the relevant post)
knotane (direct link to the relevant post)
JerseyGirl1962 (direct link to the relevant post)
ElizaFaith13 (direct link to the relevant post)
yoghurtelf (direct link to the relevant post)
Amanda McDonald (direct link to the relevant post)
FranYoakumVeal (direct link to the relevant post)

It’s been one whole year since EFNB started–365 days with one unique excerpt from the finest imaginary literature every single day! In honor of the site’s one-year anniversary, the editors at Excerpts from Nonexistent Books would like to recognize some of our most prolific nonexistent contributors over the past year:

Eric Cummings Jr.
“Nothing vs. Firewall,” “Cynical Blows,” “Intercepted,” “The Firewall”

Eric Cummings Jr. is a former instructor at Southern Michigan University and current slacker who finds inspiration for his stories in the mind-numbing depths of unskilled minimum wage labor. A man of strong opinions and inflated ego, Cummings readily admits that his stories and characters are highly autobiographical, though he avers that “some of my traits are taken to an extreme to make it a better read.” His current projects include a two-book series about dangerous “information revolutionaries” who destroy a Michigan university–a project which Cummings insists is in no way shape or form influenced by his opinion of or time at SMU.

Phil “Stonewall” Pixa
“Reigo and Sauvagine,” “Lights of New Providence,” “Peg’s Story,” “Breakdown,” “Beyond the Morning Star,” “Beyond New Providence”

Phil Pixa, whose nickname comes from a short stint on his high school football team that left him in traction for six weeks, is a New York-based science fiction writer and general waitstaff worker. He describes his twin interests as being “good old-fashioned space opera” and “stories that find the unreal in the everyday life,” which he admits is far easier in New York, which he describes as a “breeder reactor for the bizarre.” Pixa is working on two projects at present: a collection of short stories revolving around a place he creatively calls “The City” involving time-based attacks by a ferocious band of temporal anarchists, and a three book cycle on the rise, fall, and rise again of an interstellar shipping worker named Peg Gregory.

Altos Wexan
“Across Worlds Book IV: Sands of Taas,” “Across Worlds Book V: Xencobourg’s Fury,” “Precinct Amputation,” “Purple Nights in the Furniture City,” “The Rise of Metromart #832,″ “The Battle for Metromart #832,″ “The Decline and Fall of Metromart #832″

Clinton Illinois born and bred, Altos Wexan has earned a gold star as our most prolific contributor. Wexan describes his writing as “the mishmash of a hundred ideas from college-level literature classes, mediocre video games, and movies that think they’re smarter than they really are.” A perennial experimenter and procrastinator, Wexan’s longest work to date is the as yet unfinished “Across Worlds” saga, a massive six-book dimension-spanning epic. He has also experimented with film noir and more modernistic writing, often in the same work. When not setting aside an unfinished older story to charge headlong into a new one, Wexan works as an adjunct professor at a small midwestern university.

Van Bullock
“The Team,” “Icechip Heart,” “Speaking with Dead Leaves,” “High-Caliber Children,” “The Accountant and the Assassin,”

Vance Bullock was born in South Africa but grew up in the rural Midwest. As a Peace Corps volunteer, he was present throughout many global hotspots during the tumultuous early 1990’s, helping to build clinics and schools that were inevitably torn down by anti-American revolutionaries. His encounters with “private defense contractors” in southern and eastern Africa form the basis for many of his stories. Bullock is currently working on a novel based on his earlier short stories, about an icy and troubled female assassin and a mild-mannered accountant. “If that sounds like wish-fulfillment, it really is,” he said. “I don’t meet nearly enough lethal girls in my line of work, even though I definitely checked that box in eHarmony.”

C. Alton Parker
“Prosperity Falls,” “Prosperity Rising”

Catherine Alton Parker lives in Tuscon Arizona where she works as a manager for KNOW, Arizona’s only radio psychic station. In her spare time she participates in local dressage and show jumping tournaments with her horse Karen. A self-described feminist, video game junkie, and devoted fan of Louis L’Amour, Parker claims that her lifelong dream has been to write a “rip-snorting western with a strong female lead” that nevertheless “has plenty of action to go with the bleeding-heart crap you’d expect.” An Aries, she credits her sign’s “neurotic and task-oriented” nature as her inspiration to write.

Nokin Kobayashi and Irene York
“Sōtan and the Wayze,” “Novels,” “Reed Dolls of the Soul,” “Not Quite to China”

Nokin Kobayashi (小林) is a native of Tokyo prefecture who divides his time between San Francisco, Seoul, and Hong Kong. A graduate of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a trained technical writer, Kobayashi maintains a keen interest in geography, the supernatural, and the history of East Asia, all of which he seeks to synthesize in his writings. Speaking through a translator, Kobayashi asserted that he writing is in equal parts “a product of the social-technological-historical milieu in which I am immersed” and “a cosmic song issued from the holy sun god of cats crowned with ten thousand chrysanthemum blossoms.”

Irene York has served as Nokin Kobayashi’s personal translator, literary executor, live-in maid, tutor, and lover for more than thirty years. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s prestigious far eastern linguistics program, she first encountered Kobayashi during a research trip to Saigon when they met in police custody coincidentally wearing the same Jade Monkey Emperor of the North Star t-shirt. Irene insists that all literary merit in Kobayashi’s stories comes from the author himself, and that she is merely “the conduit through which his song may be heard by fresh ears.”

Anonymous
“Stepping Out,” “Satire on the Big House,” “A Gamer’s Thoughts at 5am,” “Portal of the Infinite”

While some of our editors felt that Anonymous did not represent a single author, EFNB’s patented word pattern analysis software has determined that the various anonymous submissions have a 98.72% similarity in tone and writing style and were likely penned by the same person, perhaps a person attempting to present themselves as a group of individuals. As emails seeking comment were not answered by press time, our editors can only speculate about the author’s origin and nature. It seems clear that he is a native of Michigan or at least lived there for a time, and evidence indicates that he holds himself and his “art” in unnaturally high regard, has underdeveloped social skills, and can’t take even the mildest criticism without pouting like a small child.

Jeanne Welch
“Locke’s Specter,” “Locke’s Phantom”

A Batesville Mississippi resident, Jeanne describes herself as “obsessed with the explosion of personal information online” and a “relentless, remorseless, wonderful addict to any and all social media.” Always looking for the next big or unique thing in social media sites, Jeanne maintains a blog about them entitled “Who Is jeannew85 On Your Site?” when she isn’t working as a cart maintenance technician at the Batesville Public Library. Her current goal is to knit her short works into a “tapestry that asks deep questions about identity, information, and Web 2.0 in the context of death and/or online stalking.”

Joe Kull
“Fortress Gilvery,” “Soulstorm”

Self-professed history buff Joe Kull lives in Greenville, South Carolina where he works as an archivist and rare document conservator. His stories form part of a larger tapestry that he describes as “spanning World War I to the Jazz Age and investigating the fearsome power of the souls of the dead.” Joe regaled us at length about why World War I is his favorite military conflict, noting that it’s “more complicated, more moody, and more exciting” than its better-known sequel, and was at pains to describe the art noveau and art deco movements as “the shiznit.”

Calvin Higgins Joachimthal
“Rejected!,” “Reboot This”

A native of Chicago, IL, Joachimthal attended UCLA Film School before working in the film industry on what he describes as “either really shitty movies or really boring porn.” The hats he’s worn include director, producer, composer, editor, casting, makeup, lighting, star, and extra–often on the same production. He is currently working on a series of books and short stories about the foibles of behind-the-scenes movie production based on his own experiences in which “the names have been changed just enough to avoid getting sued.”

D. P. Patterson
“Healing Visions,” “Sara Dinch”

Dona P. Patterson, hailing from Kent County Michigan, is a self-professed fan of “the weird, the wonderful, the twisted, the dark, but especially all of the above.” She shuns the term “writer,” preferring to describe herself as someone who “has cool ideas and writes them down for close friends.” Her work is dedicated to her twin schnauzers, Galaxian and Jaina, and her betta fish Leviathan.

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