October 2011

And the creatures…Shan had called them zombies, and they’d certainly been close enough during the harrowing flight from the open mineshaft. But even then, Bock had noticed features that made their relentless pursuers something other than human: extra limbs, vicious claws, gaping maws in the chest and arms.

Now, with the searchlight on, he could see them in good light for the first time since sunset.

They weren’t the same creatures that had attacked earlier with bare hands or whatever weapons they could flail about. Now only certain tangential features were recognizably human–a hand here, and eye there, a few vestigial tufts of hair visible on the glistening hides of the monstrosities.

Shan’s “zombies” had been evolving, and fast.

And they were swarming about the searchlight beam like moths to a flame.


The movie wound up being well-regarded by aficionados of cult sci-fi, and saw plenty of airplay on late-night TV, cable stations, and film festivals. Especially considering how inexpensive it had been to make, the money was such that Gerald was eventually able to pay back all his creditors even if that gesture had no bearing on his virtual blacklisting within the industry. He made his living as an accountant–balancing the moviemaking ledgers time and again had required that particular skillset–and got the occasional windfall from an in-person appearance or interview.

Gerald was never too proud to accept the money and appear, but it did irk him that the same question came up time and again–it seemed no one ever bothered to do their homework, and they always dwelled on the movie’s so-called technical flaws.

“Why didn’t the actors not wear spacesuits in the outer space scenes?” was a perennial favorite. the interviewers usually assumed that, as a 1950’s moviemaker, Gerald had some kind of naivete about the effects of hard vacuum–this despite the pile of Scientific American magazines he’d had bedside during the screenwriting process.

Gerald always gave the same answer: “I did design spacesuits, and the propmaker and I spent a lot of time building them. But the cast members found them really uncomfortable, and eventually refused to wear them, so it was shoot without them or get a new cast.”

No one ever listened.

“A word of advice,” the secretary said, drawing Elly aside. “The auditor you’ll be seeing is Mr. Leonard Purgis.”


“Mr. Purgis is 77 years old, his wife is dead, and he’s not on speaking terms with his kids,” the secretary continued. “In other words, he’s an old man who’s stayed on long past retirement age and this is the only thing he does.”

Elly shrugged. “Well, good for him.”

“I’m trying to warn you,” the secretary sputtered, frustrated, “if there’s so much as a cent out of place in your records, he’ll find it and then you’ll never hear the end of it. Get another auditor if you can.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

Video-Audio Intercept 16:08:54 -0700
Subject: [redacted]
From: [redacted]
To: [redacted]
Date: [redacted]
Delivered-To: [redacted]

Partial transcript:

Dr. Leszek NIYSTSKI: I think our problem is a bit more…universal than that.

Robert DUBOIS: I’m not sure I follow. Universal?

Dr. Leszek NIYSTSKI: In your report, you say that Col. Angelo was attempting to modify the hyperspace communications relay to accept input from an unknown power source aboard the stolen vessel.

Robert DUBOIS: That’s correct. I could see that they were trying to make the modifications, but my training is primarily in signals intelligence, not power or propulsion.

Dr. Leszek NIYSTSKI: Did you have the opportunity to examine the stolen vessel?

Robert DUBOIS: Not particularly. I was busy on the array, though my superior brought me into combat to man a support weapon after Jenkins was killed. I could give you a tactical description of the interior, maybe. Nothing more.

Dr. Leszek NIYSTSKI: Would it surprise you to learn that the ship was the testbed for a radical new propulsion source–an artificial singularity?

Robert DUBOIS: A black hole?

Dr. Leszek NIYSTSKI: Of a sort, I suppose. Suffice it to say that connecting such a source to a hyperspace communications array would increase its power by an order of magnitude. Whoever Col. Angelo wished to contact, they must have been very far away indeed.

“Whenever he closed his eyes he could see the image of a bloody handprint, like it was burned into his eyelids. The doctors said there was nothing wrong, that it was all in his head. He tried to ignore it, but it was always there, like the spots you see when you stare at a light for too long.”

Ralph made a show of yawning and stretching.

“Then, one day, he came home to find his house empty and his family missing. The door were locked and nothing had been disturbed…aside from one bloody handprint near the basement door–his wife’s.”

“That’s it?” Ralph said. “That’s the best you can do? Give me the flashlight.”

Arnie, who thought that his tale had been a masterpiece of horror, grudgingly surrendered the torch to his competitor and slunk off toward the latrine with only his measly pocket light in hand.

When he got there, Arnie played the light over the whitewashed metal, looking for the handle. Instead, it alighted on something that hadn’t been there in the daylight.

A bloody child-sized handprint.

During Stephen’s Anarchy, the power of the Earl grew tremendously. It happened that the Second Earl, who had ruled under King Henry, died shortly after Stephen’s accession.

The Third Earl was the first who was “born to the purple,” as it were, as his great-grandfather the First Earl had been elevated by William the Conqueror and his grandfather the Second Earl had known early years of hardship in Normandy before the Conquest.

The Third Earl, though, had long been the favored and only scion of the line, and doted upon by relatives after the early and consumptive death of his father, who would have been the Third Earl had he lived. When he acceded in 1137, his personal popularity among his vassals and serfs was high.

That soon changes as the Third Earl revealed himself to be of a vainglorious temperament, obsessed with the idea of his divine right to rule and the absolute autocracy such right provided him over vassals. Ordinarily such a noble would have had their power swiftly checked by the Crown, but Stephen was a weak ruler and distracted by war and intrigue.

By 1153, the situation was such that the earldom had begun to resemble a personal cult in the Eastern mold, with everything that was “of the Earl” celebrated in word and song and anything deemed “not of the Earl” scorned and attacked.

“I’d recommend against it,” Harp said between mouthfuls of potato salad. “That’s Annette Eliason.”

“Who?” said Harry.

“Annette Eliason.” Harp looked across the table. “Not ringing a bell?”

“Not really, no.”

“Needy Annie? Annette Eliastalker? The Clingy Queen of Bowling Green?”

Harry remained stonefaced.

Harp set aside his plate. “For crap’s sake, Harry. Annette’s only a sophomore and she already has a reputation for being the creepiest, clingiest, co-dependingest girl in a very competitive weight class!”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

In the Grand Old Days, when every creature spoke the same tongue and sin had not yet entered the world, the Creator approached every sort of creature with a simple treaty. In exchange for their love and their loyalty, the Creator would keep them from harm. Each group signed a treaty in turn.

Over time, the creatures began to drift apart and squabble over meaningless things. New sorts of creatures arose through intermingling, and many spurned the offer of treaties from the Creator or inclusion in an existing treaty, holding themselves to be wholly self-created. The new creatures eventually became focal points in the squabbles since, unbound by treaty, they could be enlisted to bring harm to those on the wrong side of disagreements.

At the first such action, a dog killing a sheep over who owned a grassy field, the assembled creatures split into two opposing groups–those who supported the dog and those who favored the sheep. Blinded to the petty nature of their squabble, the creatures prepared for war.

It was then that the Creator reappeared, brandishing the treaties. To harm another, the Creator cautioned, would be to break the treaty commitment of love and loyalty. The creatures, perhaps goaded by the “self-created” new ones, spurned the Creator’s offer and renounced the treaties. The Creator, saddened, withdrew from the field and allowed battle to be joined.

On that bloodstained field, the unity of the world was forever broken.

The Maia Nebula station didn’t have any living inhabitants, of course. It was all automated, from fueling to repairs to upgrading and even illegal modifications. Drones entered one of hundreds of bays while their operators were connected to the station’s servers, allowing for much faster and higher-quality communication than the relays outside. Unmanned freighters constantly jumped in and out nearby, bringing fresh materials and consumables from Earth. No human could have survived the trip.

Remote-piloted drone operators had a saying: the suits own the stations, but they’re a trillion miles away. The RPD’s interfaced closely enough with the station systems that enterprising hackers had long ago compromised their systems. There were back channels for everything–people selling leads on claims, errands that needed running, and the occasional headhunting mission. The RPD’s hadn’t been designed with weapons, but a few lines of code here, a few repurposed thrusters and mining lasers there, and Cam was able to defend his drone from armed claimjumpers and griefers who had nothing better to do than maliciously destroy other peoples’ investments.

Federal Electric Distribution had no ties to the government; its founder C. Earl Chapterhouse simply felt the name bespoke a certain strength and reliability. It’s no coincidence that as public trust in government bottomed out during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the company was renamed Fededis after the acronym that appeared on its service trucks.

In time, it became a virtual monopoly in the eastern half of the state, gathering up the rural districts and smaller towns that Detroit Edison evinced little interest in. By the time of Fededis’ spectacular collapse and acquisition by DTE in 1981, it had electrified nearly two thirds of the state’s land area–or at least taken over management of the grids there. Its collapse, coming on the heels of summer brownouts and a general malaise on Wall Street, didn’t attract much notice.

It should have. Fededis has come within a whisker’s breadth of complete control over the national power infrastructure, a complete nationwide blackout, or–most chillingly–both.

Next Page »