Friday, September 14, 2012

Story: The Cause

I wrote another story this week for one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenges.  This one was similar to last week's in that you randomly picked from three buckets of story elements to create your story.  I would have been happy to write in almost any of the genres, and I got cyberpunk.  I love William Gibson, so this pleased me immensely.  For setting, I got Wal-Mart.  Meh, I would have liked any of the other settings, but this would work.  For the element to include, I got a robot.  That would work beautifully with cyberpunk.

My first draft of the story was over 1300 words, which is way over the 1000 word limit.  It was hard to pare down to 1000 words, but I'm coming in at 992 words now.  I had to remove a part of the story that I really liked, but I think that the story is still as good without it.

I hope you enjoy my attempt at cyberpunk, Wal-Mart and robots.


Gibson sat down at a public terminal in the library section of Wal-Mart.  He glanced around to make sure that no security robots were around before plugging his neural adapter into the connector and transferred his consciousness into the terminal.

Inside, he took a moment to get his bearings.  As with most public terminals, viruses and other malware were prevalent.  He ignored those as they couldn't harm him.  He was on the lookout for either an AI or another user connected to this terminal.

Satisfied that he was alone, he began unpacking the tools that he would use for The Cause.  First, he constructed a worker factory.  Workers would free him up for more important tasks.  Then, he built a firewall factory.  The firewall factory would build pieces of firewall code that Gibson had customized to defend this terminal from outside influence while allowing the traffic that he wanted to flow.

Workers started emerging from the factory and he sent them to clean the terminal.  With the firewall factory finished, he began assembling his firewall as his workers began to tear down the terminal's firewall.

Suddenly, several workers were vaporized and Gibson realized he'd forgotten to disable the terminal's antivirus program.  He cursed himself as he couldn't afford any delays.  Antivirus programs were a joke nowadays, but they were still better than leaving a system free to any virus from the 21st century still lurking around.  Also, they could still identify and kill processes trying to overtly seize a machine.  That's what the worker processes would look like to the program.

Gibson left the firewall and went back to his tools.  He pulled out what looked like an tablet computer and punched some keys and told the terminal's OS to disable the antivirus program.  The tablet made the terminal think that he was an administrator, it complied.

He chided himself for forgetting such an easy step and went back to the firewall.  He knew that he had to hurry because the network security AIs would soon detect his firewall and try to retake control of the terminal.  A human couldn't control an AI and they could easily eject him from the machine if he didn't have his defenses up.  An AI wasn't as clever and adaptive as a human, but they made up for that by being faster.

The firewall work was finished before long, which was good, because a moment later a network security AI hit his firewall, trying to access the terminal.  He shored up the port it was trying to access and sent workers to the firewall to maintain it as the AI would start trying to break it down soon.

Gibson took the tablet computer out and opened an unsecured connection to the security terminal of the Wal-Mart.  The security terminal controlled the security robots.  The plan was to destroy every Wal-Mart, worldwide, from the inside in order to try to break the megacorporation's oppressive control of the world's culture and economy.  The security robots would be Wal-Mart's downfall.  If The Cause could break Wal-Mart, it could free the people of the Earth.

He found the security terminal and ordered his workers to start building a secure tunnel to it.  They opened a port in the firewall and began constructing the tunnel as Gibson pinged the security robots.

Panic set in as Gibson realized that one of the security robots was heading his way.  The network security AI must have sent it to physically check out the terminal.  The defenses would have to hold in his absence.

He removed the neural adapter and shoved it into his backpack.  He moved to another terminal as he gripped the EMP gun he had stashed in his backpack.  He pretended to work on the terminal as he waited for the robot.

He didn't have to wait long.  The robot rounded the corner and said, "Greetings, Wal-Mart shopper.  Is there anyone using this terminal?"  The robot was pointing at where Gibson had been sitting before.

"You just missed him," Gibson said, his grip on the EMP tightening.  He used his other hand to point, and said, "He went off towards the bathroom."

The robot looked down at Gibson.  "The security cameras tell me a different story, citizen.  They..."

The robot stopped speaking when Gibson pulled his gun out.  It tried to raise its own weapon, but Gibson had the advantage of being ready.  He fired and the robot crumpled to the ground.  He didn't have much time now, so he quickly plugged back in.

His found that defenses were holding, but there were now three AIs trying to break down the firewall.  He quickly sent all of his workers there and went to complete the tunnel himself.

Once the tunnel was finished, he entered the security terminal.  Luckily, there wasn't an AI there.  They were probably all at his firewall by now.  Soon, it wouldn't matter.  He pulled a small cage out of his tools.  It housed a virus that The Cause wrote just for this occasion.  The virus would take control of the security terminal and order the security robots to destroy the store.

As he released the virus he felt a breach open in his firewall.  He left the virus to its business and hurried back to the tunnel, only to find he was too late.  Two AIs were in the tunnel heading his way.  Trapped, he knew that he was dead.  He couldn't be harmed by an AI if his consciousness was still in the terminal he was physically connected too, but if the tunnel collapsed, his consciousness wouldn't make it back to his brain.

He glanced back to the security terminal and saw that the virus had taken control and had disconnected the terminal from the rest of the network.  The Cause had won in this store.  As the tunnel collapsed around him, Gibson smiled.  He'd done his part to save humanity.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Story: Geology Addiction

Today's story is another one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenges.  I started writing this on Friday, but got stuck on the ending.  I finished it up this morning and it ended up being 998 words, just shy of the 1000 word limit.

The trick of this challenge was to randomly select a word from three sets of words that he provided.  I first got Dystopian, which I liked a lot.  Then I got Geology.  That one stumped me quite a bit, at first.  Finally, I got Addiction.  That I was all right with.  I hope you like the results.


Carl could still hear the sounds of voices and motorcycles outside of the dumpster he was hiding in.  Two of the members of the Federal Protection Force had already opened the lid and hadn't spotted him, so he was sure they wouldn't find him today.  Of course, they have been searching for him for over an hour, so they were being admirably persistent.  If you could admire anyone in that organization.

He reflected on how he'd gotten into this situation.  Everyone knew that practicing any sort of earth science was against the law, but Carl couldn't help himself.  He was addicted to geology.  He found it fascinating how the Earth worked and how different minerals were formed.  Living in the Hawaiian Federation would have been a geologist's dream, if you could have been one in the modern world.  He'd gotten careless and went out to Mauna Kea three times this week and had finally been spotted by a patrol.  They'd chased him, but he'd made it to his motorcycle and gotten to Hilo before they could catch him. It was too close of a call, he'd have to be more careful next time.

It struck him, not for the first time, that the government's ban against the earth sciences was an unfair and old fashioned idea.  History wasn't his strong suit, but it had been over one hundred years since the ecological disasters of the early twenty-first century.  People who studied the earth wouldn't make the same mistakes as their counterparts from the century before, would they?

How anyone studying the earth sciences had even caused the disasters in the first place still confused him.  Of course, he was only an amateur scientist, so perhaps he didn't have the insight that his predecessors had.  Before, he'd always assumed that the government had everyone's best interests at heart about this since the laws were enacted during the height of the crises, but now he was doubting that more every day.

Things weren't all bad, though.  News agencies were starting to report that the environment was improving around the world and that people would likely be able to return to the large continents within his lifetime.  It made him wonder what it was like to live on a large landmass.  To have the freedom to roam.  To be somewhere where you knew that there wasn't another human being within kilometers of you.  People were so crowded in Hawaii that you couldn't be alone unless you went up to the volcanoes.  That was part of the appeal of geology to Carl.

Carl realized that the sounds of the patrols had gone away.  Cautiously, he uncovered himself from the trash around him and slowly lifted the lid of the dumpster.  He breathed a sigh of relief, not to mention fresh air, when he saw that the coast was clear.  He crawled out of the dumpster and headed home.

He managed to get home without encountering another patrol, which was good since he was out past curfew.  When he entered his house, he found his wife waiting for him.  She looked angry.  "You were out at the volcano again, weren't you?"  She sniffed him and said, "You almost got caught this time too, didn't you?"

Carl sheepishly replied, "Yes to both questions.  I got away though and hid my bike on the west side of town.  It should be fine until we can go get it in the morning."

Marsha's expression didn't change.  "Did you at least remove the plates?  Or should I be expecting them to break through the door at any moment?"

"No to worry, my dear, we're safe in that regard," he replied.  "If you don't mind, I'd like to remove these smelly clothes and have a shower."

Carl started to step around his wife when he heard the sounds of engines outside.  He froze in a panic as the front door flew in with four Federals right behind it, guns first.  Two of them grabbed Carl, the third pushed Marsha back with his gun at her head and the fourth put a cowl over Carl's head as the first two bound his hands behind his back.

He was pushed outside and into a vehicle before he could say anything.  "What's going on?  Where are you taking me?"

A gruff voice said, "Shut up.  You've violated Federal Laws and will be punished.  Speak again at your own peril."

Carl didn't know what that meant, but everyone heard stories about people who went into Federal custody.  They typically didn't come back.  He was forced to bide his time and see what would happen, since there wasn't much he could do anyway.

After what seemed like hours, the vehicle stopped.  Carl was pulled out of the vehicle and pushed around for a while until he was pushed into a chair.  The cowl was pulled off of his head and he blinked against the bright light that was shining in his face.  A few moments later, his eyes adjusted somewhat.  He sensed, rather than saw, two figures on the other side of the light.  "What's this all about?" he asked.

"Mr. Walters, you've been caught practicing forbidden sciences.  We've found your motorcycle laden with ill-gotten volcanic rock and our search team has found the geology lab you've been hiding in your home," one of the voices said.

The other voice said, "You know that practicing geology is a crime in the Hawaiian Federation.  You are guilty of this crime.  Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"I haven't done anything wrong.  Science helps us understand the Earth better.  Maybe if people had understood the Earth better, we wouldn't have had the..."

Carl suddenly felt an intense pain in his chest and looked down to see the end of a blade sticking out of it.  A man walked around from behind him.  As Carl died, he heard, "You were too smart for your own good, Carl.  Can't have those ideas floating around."