Category Archives: Thirteen Word Story

Flash Fiction: Meet The Thunder

This is, uh, a thing. A thing I wrote. A thing that’s not really a story, thought there’s plenty of story suggested before it and around it and after it. And something, after all, happens in it. So it’s story-ish.

It felt pretty good to write it. It’s got a hefty dose of autobiography in it. S.A. Ophelia Barton, the Mad Scene (Sorry, Shakespeare. I don’t mean to imply I’m as interesting as one of The Immortal Bard’s characters. That’d be something like hubris).
It was originally posted on my Patreon page on August 10th, where it was exclusive to patrons until now.
 
Meet The Thunder
S.A. Barton
Copyright 2017
 
I came to the beach looking for Death. Not to confront it. Not to make demands. No, I hoped to be surpised. I wanted to schmooze up to Death like a fan buzzing around a minor celebrity at a party. I wanted to annoy death with my proximity until it snapped and swatted me.
In my last second on Earth, I wanted to protest that it was totally unfair that I was dying soooo unexpectedly and it wasn’t, really, my fault at all. I wanted it to be just one more indignity life had heaped upon me. Maybe I’d pass into the mysterious beyond and demand to speak to a manager. If I could screw my courage up to the sticking point as a ghost – a problematic proposition, as I had enough trouble doing that sort of thing with the benefit of a fleshly body.
It was the peak of summer on a long beach closed to tourists by main force of lack of parking and an irregular defensive picket composed of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sun-bleached towing company signs.
It was scorching hot, the shadows driven to their cowering minimums and only just beginning to creep longer into afternoon. In the distance to the west there was a different sort of shadow on the horizon: a black and blue bruise of thunderstorms rolled down the flat waters of the Chesapeake Bay, roiling them in its wake. Flicking white snake tongues of lightning shot out one after another from the boiling edge. Some of it was over water already, but the end nearest me was still over land to the west, land separated from the sand I lived on by a strip of bay. Soon it would cross.
Hearing the approaching thunder over the laboring of my overwhelmed window air conditioner unit (the fan had developed a metallic whine after a hurricane the previous year, but it still ran), I peered out the front window of my lonely efficiency apartment to catch a glimpse of that black horizon between the three story condos across the street – giants of the spit; there was virtually nothing taller anywhere near that beach.
Already a few herald raindrops spattered the window, squeezed out of the isolated puffy white clouds the storm drove ahead of it like frightened sprinting sheep.
The clouds were speeding; the front itself would arrive in minutes; the steady drumbeat of distant thunder and the gray smudge it dragged along under it like a density of jellyfish tentacles promised a wild downpour.
Suddenly an urgency came upon me and pushed my normal morbid lassitude out. I would meet the storm and see what it brought with it, like I said above. But I wouldn’t meet it at the convenient, tiny sheltered beach out back of the aging brick block I lived it, buildings that had perhaps once given young officers on their way to Korea a place to rest their heads while they waited for their ships and planes. No. I’d head across the spit, not a long walk, across its long doubled road that looped at the end where the sand finally gave way to sea and the bridge-tunnel that reached across from the end to the land to the west, walk though the spit’s lines of little houses and cabins and weather-bleached apartment buildings.
And then I’d walk down a block to the elevated steps of the beach access that arced over the long stiff grasses and wandering vines of the single line of dune that separated beach and street. On to the beach that faced the rushing storm, into the mouth of the oncoming winds, to the place where the main force of the black steamroller in the sky would  break on this single finger of sand thrust into the bay.
I did not dress for my meeting. I undressed. Off shirt and shorts and underwear. On tiny swim trunks and flipflops. And out the door into the freshening wind.
Outside the heat still lingered, but it was leavened with less-hot, not yet cool, heavy shoves of great invisible hands of wind. The few little trees scattered about the spit, already sculpted with heavy leans away from the beaches by years of weather, danced in spurts as the invisible hands slicked them back again and again.
I walked fast. I had a rendezvous to keep. I looked up every dozen steps or so, not pausing, just glancing to see the enormous black-robes I hurried to meet, spreading its cloak wider, wider, the gray rain spilling out of its hem behind the rows of houses and surely into the bay water now, drumming the waves and pressing the fish down deep with healthy fear.
The thunder rumbled louder now; I was beginning to feel it as well as merely hear it. The lightning had grown close enough to throw faint stroboscopic shadows. Ozone gusted thick like brash cologne in a young nightclub.
I didn’t run. It didn’t seem fitting or dignified. This meeting demanded a certain gravitas, one that apparently, somehow, was not offended by showing up wearing bathing trunks too short to hang all the way down to mid-thigh.
I crossed the road, two lanes each way, clover on the median making tiny respectful bows away from the storm. There were big empty spaces between the cars; most people had sense enough to be somewhere already when a big storm met land. At least, they did when it wasn’t rush hour, and it wasn’t. The few cars that passed seemed to hunch down low over their wheels, feeling the pressure in the air.
And then up the steep stairs and along the boardwalk of the arcing beach access. The bushes and grasses beat the wooden handrails as the gusts came faster and harder, and the wind still blew strong where there had been lulls only a few minutes before. The spike tips of a yucca whistled faintly in a hard gust that pushed me sideways despite the aerodynamic nature a small body and near-total lack of clothing gave me.
Halfway across. The storm hove in close, filling the left half of the sky as I speedwalked, flipflops ThwackThwackThwacking over the boards. Ahead, shrinking shafts of sun mottled a scrum of whitecaps the front pushed ahead of it, showing them down the bay toward open ocean.
plat
An enormously obese drop of rain made a big dark star on the wooden railing worn silvery-gray by years of sun and salt.
plat platplat plat platplatplat platplat
Constellations began to draw themselves all over the wood, the parched boards drinking in cool water after their long bake in the searing sun. A faint steam struggled to rise from them, curling back down upon itself as the meteoric raindrops penetrated it.
The cool splashed on my chest, my shoulders, my bald-shaved head, runneling down through my eyebrows and beard and the waistband of my shorts.
Waking me.
Thunder growled close, and now I could feel it deep in my chest, shaking my ribs from the inside.
Lighting pealed and now the bolts were glaring bright, leaving dark lines and blots in my vision, taking my photo again and again, flash flash flash, driving thought and fear and sense and guile from my head.
I wasn’t here to meet Death after all.
I was there to be. There to see. There for what happened. Whatever that was.
Down the steps fast, slowing into the sand, I walked halfway to the water that rolled and crashed harder than bay water crashed any day except a full-on hurricane before the quiet eye rolled over.
I spread my arms to the storm that filled the sky horizon to horizon now. Behind me the very last of the white cloud and sunlight shafts fled into the distance, but I did not turn to see them. I left it behind.
And the front of the storm rolled over me with a fusillade of thunder booms like I’d been caught in God’s wild bass drum. Great ribbons of electricity stabbed the water of the bay, some so close my scalp tingled and the thunder boxed my ears like a thug. Lightning struck the beach itself and I flinched. But my feet stayed put, and I did not turn away. I stood, arms still spread, the warm water scouring my face like the battering tongue of a lion so large it might plant its feet on either side of the spit with its trees and cars and not disturb the three-story condos that rose under its belly.
Rain poured into my eyes. The world blurred, a watercolor scrubbed with a sponge. The lightning blazed all around until the watercolor was more black afterimage than gray rain and tan beach and white water.
The lightning burned jagged skeins all around. I self the hairs on my arms and legs rise despite them being slicked down with gushing rainwater. The thunder was all the sound; the broken seconds of no-thunder were deafening.
And then, suddenly, it was past. The black rolled on by behind me, still growling and booming and hissing its wrath.
And in front of me was sand. All sand, and around it curling white-topped waves. The trees still leaned and the grass and yucca and vines were thick.
There was not a house or a road or a beach access bridge over the dune. No bridge spanned the water. No cars murmured.
Tears cut through the rain on my face and I did not know if I was weeping because I was dead, or because I was alive.

God Won’t Let The Climate Change: 13 Word Story

 

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So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch  for three or four months.

But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.

But anyhow.

This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.

And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.

Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.

Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.

Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.

Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”

That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.

So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…

 

[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]

13 Word Story: Internet Of Fangs

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(This first appeared on my Patreon page a full week ago. Become a patron and see posts early!)

The internet of things and 3-D printing may soon combine to create a powerhouse of personal convenience. Kitchens that order groceries and cook them for their owners, printers that can print out many simple and some complex foods. It’s beginning now — pilot devices and services like instant-order buttons for staple items that work great until a kid gets hold of them or there’s a glitch and a pallet of laundry detergent or flour sitting in front of your door next time you come home.

3-D printers are already printing simple candies and pasta and breakfast cereal in complex shapes and colors.

Add in a household robot and you have a kitchen that orders starch cartridges and a robot that prints pasta when you run low and cooks it for you. Very convenient — or it may be in a few years.

There are, as I suggested above, some bugs in the process to work out.

Malware is a big one.

There has already been an internet of things ransomware incident, for example. Ransomware demands a cash payment or it will set your thermostat at 99 degrees F in 24 hours.

No reason it couldn’t do the same to your 3-D printer or kitchen or household robot.

But not all malware is ransomware. Some of it is malicious for ‘fun’. And occasionally it’s really vicious.

There is malware that wrecks your computer — which can set someone back some serious money, and cause less well-off households a serious crisis. If something like that hit our household PCs… well, I have no damn idea how my wife and I would do our online coursework from mobile phones, we couldn’t afford to replace the PCs for a good long while, I’d have a hell of a time publishing anything here or anywhere else much less submitting short stories anywhere. And perhaps we could accomplish some of those things at a local library. I’d love to plug passwords that control my Patreon and WordPress and Smashwords and Amazon and Google accounts into a public computer… you see my point.

Or more to the point of actually deadly danger, imagine malware disabling the brakes on your car mid-trip. (Here’s a second article with a slightly different angle on it)

Or, as the internet of things becomes more pervasive, malware may affect your home in different ways, as in this thirteen word story.

With great convenience comes great peril, Peter Parker might say. Or something like that.

13 Word Story: LGMs

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This one probably falls into the realm of science fantasy — but then, people have said that before about a number of things and turned out to be wrong.

There have always been fanciful ideas about how to solve the perennial human problem of famine and plain old food insecurity. They started, I assume, with the first person to say “hey, let’s stay in one place instead of wandering and we can plant these seeds in the ground near our place so we always know where to find food.”

Unless the first person to say that  was persecuted as a blasphemer against the nomad gods. Then, maybe it was the second person to say it, or the tenth.  Which is a scenario that has occurred to me before — it’s the premise of my short story, The Always-House People. (which happens to be free, by the way)

But back to the subject at hand.

There was Swift’s A Modest Proposal with its satirical suggestion of roast children dinner; more seriously, churches and monarchs and charitable organizations and nation-state governments have taken hands at feeding the famine-stricken throughout recorded history. Even more time and energy has been devoted to increasing crop yields through all sorts of means — different growing methods, developing better fertilizers, breeding plants and livestock for improved yields, and lately (and controversially in many cases) directly manipulating the DNA of plants and livestock. And so on.

Closer to this somewhat fanciful idea of green humans sunbathing for part of their sustenance is the proposal to shrink the future human race to an average height of 50 centimeters (about 20 inches). Less biomass, less food and fewer resources to maintain, and therefore less famine — plus less pollution, less scarcity of other resources, and so on.

It would be easy enough to do both, I suppose. Imagine being a tiny green human sunbathing for breakfast and then lunching on a slice cut from a rabbit ham so large in comparison to you it’ll last your family a week.

Any suggestion to fiddle with the genes of just about anything, though, wakes the memory of thousands upon thousands of science fiction tales of technology gone wild. Or, mostly ancestral to those, tales of magic and wishes gone wrong — think of the old tales of the Golem and Pandora’s Box and the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel. All stories in which the quest for knowledge is somehow destructive.

Those tales are pretty irresistible as a reader or a writer. Things do go wrong. Actions have unintended consequences constantly. Human history and storytelling revolve around such stories because they’re stories of life and trying. Tryers fail.

So I hope this story gave you a little chuckle, and maybe inspired a thoughtful moment. As for how possible it is… I’m not a biologist of any description. But it would amuse me to no end if we turned out to be the LGMs, the little green ‘men’ aliens, accidentally pollinating one another.

13 Word Story: Misanthrope’s Paw (now with image)

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I posted this story about a year ago, before I started putting the stories on images.

I like the story being on the image much better. It looks better. Somehow it makes the story feel better. And you can easily save and share this image anywhere you want if you like. You couldn’t do that before.

If you do decide to save and share the image, I’d recommend clicking on it to expand it first. Hopefully WordPress will be nice and give you the full size which is somewhere around 2000 pixels wide.

As for the 13 word story itself, I leave you to ponder the potential of robots, androids, AI-what-have-yous as force multipliers for small numbers of humans, even a single human.

Or, if you’re into visions of Terminatoresque futures, for themselves.

Of course, there are a host of reasons why a scenario like this is highly improbable. The safeguards we devise will expand and improve along with the technology to create autonomous war machines. However, determined humans have a way of finding a way to bring their dreams to life.

Even if those dreams are nightmares.

Sleep tight.

Wild Surveillance

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It’s spring, and when the all-too-frequent rain lets up, the birds are out doing spring bird things, which are the same things much of the animal kingdom are up to, including people — improving their nests or other lairs, wooing and being wooed, laying eggs whether internally or externally. So, naturally my mind rolled the spring birds in with the bits I’ve been reading about cybernetic eyes and Google patenting cameras contained in a contact lens and the seemingly inevitable tide of the surveillance, or at least very, very low privacy culture.

Also, I recalled an old may-be-rumor-may-be-real tale about the CIA wiring up a cat to spy on the Soviet embassy sometime back in the days of the Cold War, complete with spiraling a hair-thin wire antenna all the way up the poor thing’s tail.

Isn’t it just a matter of time before someone somewhere concludes that spy drones are far too obvious and fallible? The next logical step, if you want to peek at what everyone is up to in parks and backyards (where people go to talk in movies when they think they’re being spied on), is to wire up the wildlife.

If a camera can be built into a contact lens, why not into a squirrel’s retina? Or a sparrow’s?

Yes, it sounds a bit cruel and potentially detrimental to the health of the wildlife — especially if word gets around that the wildlife are spying on people — but when has that ever stopped the powers that be? Or about half of the general citizenry, if you think I’m being cynical? We’re still breaking up dogfighting rings — what’s to stop someone from injecting something into the eye of the ex’s dog to keep an eye on him or her?

You can ease your worries a bit — the technology probably isnt’ quite there. So you don’t have to worry about faithful Fluffy curled up by your side.

Yet.

 

[This post appeared on my Patreon page on the 25th, 3 days before appearing here — patronage has its privileges.]

13 Word Story: “Fallen On Hard Times”

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[As usual, please share the story image above anywhere you wish, if you so wish]

I like my 13 word stories the best when there are multiple interpretations and implications — so this is one I like quite a bit. I’d figure this one has to be set a bare minimum of two centuries in the future — but for Earth to have a single planetary government or even a functioning worldwide confederation of sovereign nations in that time, and for an off-Earth settlement to have grown to the point where its prowess in space exceeds what Earth is capable of, suggests a longer timeframe unless something absolutely revolutionary happens. Which is always possible; you can’t predict an unexpected breakthrough.

 

So I’m thinking five hundred-ish years ahead, something like that. Titan has more on the ball than Earth in the asteroid-deflecting department. That suggests places closer to Earth like Mars or major asteroids like Ceres likely have at least equal capabilities. There are lots of people who don’t live on Earth and weren’t born there, either. Humanity on Earth probably isn’t outnumbered or anything — it’s still a hell of a big biosphere compared to ones that have to be built by hand. Any technology advanced enough to make that factor not matter implies something like Star-Trek-ian replicators that can coalesce matter out of energy and vice-versa — and that would make deflecting a mere dinosaur-killer asteroid child’s play. So that doesn’t exist.

 

Earth has probably suffered some sort of stagnation or regression. I’ve often thought that one possibility of an Earthly nation or corporation or whatever successfully beginning a large-scale self-sufficient colony off of Earth could be a pulling back, a sense among the Earthbound that they had done their part and sent the pioneers off, the eggs were no longer all in one basket, and the next step is to concentrate on Earthly concerns. At best, on feeding and housing and educating everyone at something approximating a first-world standard. At worst, settling old scores with the ultimate stakes of nuclear or biological warfare lowered — a war that ended the human race on Earth wouldn’t end all of the human race.

 

And poor Earth, whatever her status in this story, it’s not quite clear, but she’s not quite the self that sent humans off to make Titan a great power anymore. It’s implied Earth knew a massive asteroid was on the way to flatten them, but directly said that Earth couldn’t do anything about it. So good old Titan steps in to save Earth’s bacon.

 

But not for free. Resources still matter. It’s hard to imagine them not mattering — short of technology indistinguishable from magic. So Titan lays claim to — what, exactly?

 

That could be read as the asteroid. Ouch, that would hurt Earth. To watch untold trillions of dollars worth of resources zip past, almost close enough to touch, with a greater power shepherding it off to their own benefit.

 

But that’s not the only reading. Maybe Titan is claiming Earth. Hey, you’d all be dead down there if we hadn’t saved you. That means you belong to us now.

 

Sometimes in history, the tables eventually turn. The balance of power shifts. What happens in that future often depends on the past the new power remembers.

 

I hope the future salvaged Earth was humane to their Titan colonists, now that the Titan masters have arrived.

 

[This story appeared first on my Patreon page — patrons see my regular posts three days or more ahead of everyone else. When I publish an ebook, they get a copy THIRTY days early, and for FREE! Plus my patrons get extra, heartfelt thankyous for helping me keep my household afloat — since my hip stopped working right and my former gig in retail management became impossible, it has been my goal to make writing into a home-supporting concern. Being a patron is being part of that effort. I’d love to see you over there!)

13 Word Story: Locked In

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First, two things: this post appeared on my Patreon page on the 21st, and if you’re counting words the-hyphenated-ones-count-as-one. You’ll have to decide if you think I cheated or not. I say not. If you’d like to comment, I’ll politely discuss it with you.  🙂

Now, about the story:

“Uploading,” the idea of rendering the human mind faithfully into a computer “brain” in order to cheat death and transfer one’s consciousness into an undying android body, has been a thing in science fiction for quite a while now. It also has various analogs, by the way, in fantasy: the lich, the golem, the vampire, the less-desirable and conscious ghouls and zombies, and so forth.

Fantasy and science fiction have a lot in common, but that’s a post for another day — though perhaps it’s a bit obvious to spend too much time on. Those genres are commonly lumped together in advertisement, bookstores, and conventions because many people understand the basic commonality.

Back to the Upload. It is often the immortality of science fiction, become even more common than the prolonging of biological lifespan a la Larry Niven’s “Boosterspice” or Frank Herbert’s “Melange,” or any number of other examples. Biological life may be stubborn and persistent, but in comparison to a machine the human body is more fragile and harder to repair. There may be exceptions to the case (an electronic brain meeting with a Carrington Event, for example), but that is our general perception.

The Upload is usually a positive in science fiction. The mind is preserved, the Reaper is cheated, and even if the Uploaded Being bittersweetly remembers the foibles of biological life the centuries of life and experience gained outweigh the negatives.

Of course, just as we say a dark cloud often has a silver lining, Cloud Nine may carry within it a negative.

We rarely think of Uploading early in life. While civilizations purely of artificial intelligences are sometimes imagined, I can’t recall seeing a science fictional vision of a society that uploads while young as a matter of course. We imagine futures in which a person lives a long biological life, and then, when the body begins to fail from sheer age or obstructed arteries or cancer or so forth, transfers to the hale mechanical shell much like a phoenix, leaving the wrinkled ash behind.

Now imagine a person who has arranged to upload at age seventy-five. There are many reasons to have such an arrangement. Should a capitalism substantially like our present arrangements persist, a whole life might be needed to save the money to make a down payment on a durable mechanical body and computer brain. A person might want to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh for as long as possible. A contractual arrangement might keep a person flesh until an agreed-upon age.

But a decade before the arranged upload, Alzheimers disease strikes. The arrangement is kept, but is there much of the mind to transfer? Do the losses of memory transfer, is what is lost still lost? Maybe. Probably, I’d guess. And if a seventy-four year old Alzheimers patient is a hazard to have running about unsupervised, and they certainly can be a danger to themselves or even others, a strong android body would even more certainly be.

Many other things could happen. A destructive stroke, a brain injury, a descent into murderous or otherwise dangerous criminality, the onset of severe mental illness, a corruption of data during transfer, a flaw of construction in the new computer brain or in its basic operating system. A virus designed to corrupt Uploads.

And then what do you do? If you know that the mind you’re uploading will be dangerous in its new body, or if you discover it is dangerous after the fact, the laws of the future still might compel the upload to be done or the uploaded being to be preserved.

If you can’t legally wipe the mind clean and pronounce the being dead and gone, the only viable option would seem to be to disable the body. Turn the body off, or even remove the brain and put it on the shelf, free to run its program but unable to interact with the world, perhaps even blind and deaf and unfeeling.

What would it be like, to be an uploaded consciousness locked in a silent, still body or a disembodied brain, warped by disease or illness or injury or mischief?

Would it be hell?

It might be hell, or nightmare, or centuries of the paralyzed moment when the consciousness is suspended between the terror of nightmare and waking, when the mind knows that the nightmare is not real but has not yet been able to open its human eyes and escape. It might even be centuries of hoping that the future will find a cure, without even the blessing of unconsciousness enjoyed by the disembodied heads of the cryonics movement.

As attractive as the idea of immortality as an Upload might be, like all great changes, the risks are awfully frightening and likely to be all too real to at least an unlucky few.

13 Word Story: In The Kingdom Of The Sterile, The Genehacker Is King

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(PLEASE SHARE THIS STORY IMAGE ANYWHERE YOU WANT BECAUSE IT WILL HELP ME REACH MORE READERS — AND THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!)

I’m going to guess most of you have heard of good ol’ Monsanto. To many people and according to many opinion pieces, “good ol'” translates to “sonsofbitches” or worse. Among their many unpopular moves is the infamous crop seed that grows just fine, but the seed that crop yields is infertile, good for making food (how good or not-so-good is the subject of much debate) but not for growing more crops.

That way, the ages-old practice of saving seed can no longer “steal” Monsanto’s profits. Every time a farmer wants to grow a crop, they must buy new seeds. No more freeloading on the bounty of nature the way the last ten or twenty thousand years’ worth of humans have for you, 21st century farmers! And there are other entanglements Monsanto and their bretheren in agribusiness offer, but this is the one I’m concerned with here.

The imagination doesn’t have to stretch terribly far to imagine this principle of planned obsolescence (or rather, planned sterility) applied to things other than corn and wheat. If it could be pulled off with chickens and pigs and cows, the potential profits soar.

It seems villainous, but if it could be pulled off with humans, involuntarily, carried and spread perhaps by a common hearty virus or bacterium or similarly unicellular and ubiquitous — something common, like a cold or herpes or e coli or yeast — people would flock to whoever held the “baby-key,” cash in hand.

Unless they didn’t have enough cash.

There are enough people around now who despise the “leeches,” the “forty-seven percent who won’t take responsibility for their own lives,” the “useless eaters,” the “[massively racist or other -ist assumption about demographic X all being poor and shiftless],” or the class I belong to, “people who viciously choose to be born to parents who don’t have a hell of a lot of money.”

Can you think of someone who, given the chance, would happily release this hypothetical reproduction-ransoming virus and take joy in the idea of restricting reproduction to couples who can scrape together $100,000 cash, for example?

Some execrable Martin Shkreli of a human being, perhaps?

The only hope the poor would have would be the services of some gallant Robin Hoodesque genehacker, stealing the intellectual baby-unlocking property of the rich and giving pregnancy to the poor. There’s something very cyberpunky about the whole idea, isn’t there?

Let’s hope this scenario stays in my imagination.

(This story appeared on my Patreon page on the 19th – become a patron, because you see posts early, get FREE ebooks 30 days ahead of release, and also because I am straining mightily to make writing and dreaming into a family-supporting business. I need your help to do it, whether it’s by pledging or by reading and sharing my posts and stories!)

13-Word Story: Sick Call, Late 21st Century

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[This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 3/30. Become a patron, see posts early, get free stories! Also, PLEASE DO share the image! It’s very helpful!]

So, about the actual post: someone tampering with a self-driving car’s software/firmware is already a much-discussed concern. Most of the articles I’ve seen have explored the possibility of using the WiFi access point of the vehicle itself to access and “hack” the vehicle, and my understanding is that this has already been done in at least one controlled experiment. A hacker could lock or disable the brakes, affect the steering, cause the vehicle to see “ghost” vehicles or become blind to actual vehicles or pedestrians, ignore speed limits, ignore traffic signals (which, once self-driving vehicles become ubiquitous, will likely be ‘visible’ only to the vehicles themselves in areas closed to manually driven vehicles), or… well, you get the point. The possibilities are extensive.

And, of course, there are other possibilities that come to mind. They’ll have to be dealt with as well as possible, just like the hacking problem, as self-driving vehicles become more common.

Drivers might alter vehicles’ software themselves. This will likely be illegal, and will range from harmless to extremely dangerous. Cars that drive themselves will likely have no human-accessible controls like a steering wheel or brake/accelerator pedals; a likely illegal mod would be to provide controls via touchscreen or a videogame-like controller. Mods might allow vehicles to exceed speed limits, open doors while driving, alter pollution controls (looking at you, naughty Volkswagen), flash rude messages to other drivers on a variable-opacity touchscreen windshield, and who knows what. Once the actual vehicles are here, we’ll discover all sorts of things we haven’t thought of yet, just like just about every other piece of tech we’ve come up with.

We’ll want advertising blockers for our cars by and by, too. I can’t imagine advertisers won’t be happy to pay to have messages projected and voiced right inside your car as you drive. Imagine how quickly you’ll get tired of hearing “would you like to stop at McDonalds?” and “Come shop at Macy’s, 20% off all housewares today!” If the advertising deals with automakers get aggressive enough — and when have advertisers not gotten too aggressive for their own good given the chance — you may find yourself having to respond to a constant stream of default-yes prompts. “Stop at Taco Bell? Touch CANCEL to decline.”

Yes, we’ll need CarAdBlock.

And of course, there’s the hazard of malware as the story suggests. Imagine your family vehicle being ransomwared right before a crucial work meeting. Or before your holiday dinner gathering, and you’re bringing the main dish.

Very likely efforts to thwart malware and illegal mods to vehicle software will be more aggressive than those directed at the same with computers and smartphones. Penalties will be more draconian — and if they’re not, they soon will be after the first few malware, mod, or hacking vehicular injuries or deaths.

But that won’t stop some people from creating malware for cars and so forth. There’s always someone who wants to ruin the fun.

Some think these and other hazards will prevent the self-driving vehicle from becoming popular. I don’t think that’s going to be the case at all. We are already willing to accept a MILLION WORLDWIDE DEATHS PER YEAR for our current vehicles. If malware “only” costs a hundred thousand lives yearly, there will be a public outcry. It will slow adoption by the public. But business and government will continue to pursue the option of lesser cost in both cash and lives — and that will be the self-driving vehicle.