January 2018

Danton Wells, named after the French revolutionary Georges Danton, was the son of a high school history teacher and a homemaker in Youngstown, Ohio. Despite coming from an educated background and being extensively taught at home, Wells was a mediocre student at best and quickly amassed a reputation as a feckless, unreliable daydreamer. After graduation, the only work he was able to find was as a janitor and part-time mechanic at a Chevrolet dealership. It was there that he noticed, over the course of a few years, the startling increase in sophistication of the cars on the lot, from the initial postwar models in 1946 (Wells had been too young to be drafted into the war). He began to wonder when cars would be sophisticated enough to talk, and this became the basis for the Acolytes of the Future cult, better known as the Futuros.

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Asiya was lounging in shorts, while her sister Mariam wore jeans, a shapeless sweatshirt, and a hijab. They talked back and forth in clipped tones, too fast for Ellison to understand, before turning to their computers.

“…well?” he said after a moment.

“Well,” said Asiya, without looking up as her fingers flew. “Do you wanna guess why we’ve got the reputation we do?”

Ellison shrugged. “Your father wanted boys, I guess,” he smirked.

“Wrong,” said Mariam, her voice and keyboard tapping all but indistinguishable from her twin. “He always said he hoped for daughters because women are smarter than men, and he was a mathematics chair at Princebridge so he knew his 0s from his 1s.”

“Well, you see, I was just jok-”

“So we’ve had a lot of experience in a nurturing environment, okay?” Asiya continued. “And you know that they say about two heads being better than one; sissy and I are on the same wavelength.”

“Even though I don’t like how you wear your hair,” Mariam said.

“And how I don’t like how you wear your scarf,” Asiya replied.

“And how your girlfriends are all bimbos,” Mariam shot back.

“Let’s not forget your ex-husband the janitor,” said Asiya.

“You don’t believe in anything you can’t see.”

“And you’re convinced gods and fairies are moving the ones for you instead of inconvenienced electrons.”

Ellison was just about to intervene in the squabble when both ladies slapped their keyboards and looked up. “Done!” they said in unison.

“And? Well?” Ellison said eagerly.

“Rijndael cipher with a 256-bit key,” Mariam said.

“Unbreakable without brute force attacks.” her twin added.

“Well, brute-force it then,” said Ellison. “I’ll wait.

“Do you have six weeks to a year to get into this?” said Asiya.

“I have about two days.”

“Then we’ve got good news and bad news,” Mariam said. “The bad news is that a 256-bit AES password can’t be brute-forced in that time unless we get really, really lucky. The good news is that doesn’t matter.”

“Yeah,” Asiya said. “Whoever bought this encryption did an awful job of implementing it. It’s like putting a thumbprint lock on a wooden door. The password is just a gate to access plaintext on a hidden partition of the drive.”

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“I found her in Kagoshima, during the first part of the occupation,” said Ayles. “It was really remarkable. Her family had been killed in the bombings during the war, and she’d been making a living by talking herself into wherever there was food. Impersonating dead children, stealing, whatever it took.”

“And you were impressed by this?”

“She was six years old,” Ayles said, “and she was working the area better than an OSS agent.”

“That still doesn’t explain-”

“I saw a kindred spirit, and so did the woman who would become my wife,” Ayles said.

“And so you trained her-”

“She begged for it. Like a fish to water. And you didn’t need to be a CIA station manager to see how useful someone with her talents could be.”

“And now she’s disappeared, leaving three dead agents in her wake.”

“Maybe she’s realized she can do better. Maybe she’s outgrown us.”

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01. What is the one piece of advice that will forever jump into your mind because you didn’t take it when your were first given it?

Write the backstory first and then take it out.

02. What is your favorite thing to binge on?

Video games. One mammoth session in a classic can devour hours of my life.

03. What is a physical gesture you tend to use a lot and why? (e.g. talking with your hands, winking at someone while you speak, shaking your leg).

I tend to jab at the heavens with an outstretched pointer finger.

04. Pick a card, any card… a tarot card. 🙂

Hmm…”Rules for Tarot Cards in Divination and Palmistry.”

05. What are your top two pet peeves with our digital age lifestyle?

Things being designed to look good on an iPad at the expense of actual functionality, and how easy it is for Russian trolls to mess with peoples’ perceptions.

06. What is your all-time favorite blogging beverage?

A 24-oz cup of High Point Coffee’s coldbrew iced mocha.

07. Name a book/movie that you can watch/read again and again.

Book: A Wizard of Earthsea. Film: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

08. What is an activity you enjoy watching other people do but don’t want to do yourself?

Singing and dancing.

09. How do you explain why water turns into ice to a four year old?

“It gets so cold it stops moving!”

10. What is a habit you have that you got from someone else?

Iced coffee, from other people with sensitive mouths who find the hot stuff altogether too scalding.

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“Well, Charles, it was a life well-lived, wasn’t it?” said Death. “An Oscar, a Tony, a Nobel Peace Prize, and five marriages to supermodels.”

“Yeah,” Charles said. “I think it’s been pretty good. But I’m ready for heaven now.”

“Heaven?” said Death. “Oh, no, Charles. You need to play life in hard mode to see the true ending. You were living on easy mode.”

“So…I have to live again, only harder?”

“Twice, I’m afraid,” said Death. “Hard mode doesn’t even unlock until you’ve beaten normal mode.”

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“What’s this?” said Dr. Karen.

“I can’t see,” said Splendificus the Prestidigitator from behind a mound of junk. “Describe it?”

“It’s, uh, a statue of a demon, I guess?” Dr. Karen said. “Maybe a succubus? Looks like black onyx or maybe obsidian, highly reflective. I hear the distant sound of children screaming when I’m near it, and when I touch it my hands come away sticky with foul and nameless ichor.”

“Oh, that’s the Totem of the Soul Eviscerator,” said Splendificus. “I used to use it to exterminate rats.”

“When’s the last time that you needed to exterminate rats?” For a warren of a century’s worth of hoarded wizard junk, Splendificus’s hovel seemed rather vermin-free.

“Not since I drew a circle of extreme vermicious unction,” said Splendificus, appearing from the other side of his junk mound and stroking his floor-length white beard sagaciously.

“Maybe it’s time to get rid of it, then?”

“NO!” the wizard shouted. “I need it! I had to murder a civilization to get it!”

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“Be careful in there,” came the final warning. “The death count is very high.”

Behind the ivory doors was a throne made of bloodstone, in a pool of light dripping from cold moonstone shards weeping from above. On the throne was perched Lord Mortus, the death count. He had one leg looped over the arm of his throne, and was slouched forward looking intensely at his pale bony hands.

“Duuude,” he said. “Dude.”

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