The “Everywhere” Chip

everywhere

Kinda’s medical report flashed on her retinal display, “Candidate Non-Sigma Compatible”. There would be no Everywhere Chip for her. You either had the right brain waves or you didn’t, and Kinda’s dreams of multi-tasking, of being “Everywhere”, were dashed. It meant she could only work in real time.

On the metro home, a stranger plonked onto the seat next to her though the carriage was empty. She shifted uncomfortably. He mumbled something and she pretended to ignore him. He mumbled again. “Excuse me?” she asked.

“Not Sigma compatible?” he asked.

“Why’s that any of your business” she snapped.

“Actually, it is my business” he zapped her his e-card. It simply said, “Omega Wave Inc.”

“What’s this?”

“My company handles a new, experimental technology. We don’t believe people should be shut out of the “Everywhere”, so our product focuses on Omega, and not just Sigma, brain waves.”

“Not interested in turning into a vegetable. Thanks” she said. The metro reached her stop and she got off.

That night, her sculpting session was another failure. Frustrated, she triggered an Orb search, “Omega brainwaves”. She was surprised. Ten years earlier the technology had been in its infancy, but there were startups across the world reporting positive results. She checked the testimonials of a dozen Orb users, and they all said it had changed their lives. Maybe she had been unfair, Kinda thought. She replied to the e-card, asking for an appointment.

Later the next day, Kinda was excited as she walked out of the clinic. The new chip was under her skin. It would be sore for a few days, but her long auburn hair covered up the bruise. That evening, the chip interfaced with her neural networks and virtuality headset effortlessly, isolating the distractions and anxieties that had affected her creativity. She felt the split as her “Selves” scattered into the Orb to handle hundreds of tasks.

The actual “Self” splitting process was the most controversial part of the “Everywhere Chip”. It was like watching different channels play in Kinda’s mind at once. She sculpted tirelessly in her lab for the first time in ages. Her concentration was only interrupted when she felt the sharp pang of hunger. She’d been in Orb for over a day! With the sculpture finished, Kinda sent a 3D image grab to Cynthia, her agent. Then, exhausted, she fell asleep after eating something her flatmate, Daryl, had left in the fridge.

It was Cynthia’s message that woke her:

01:35 – Darling! I took the liberty of forwarding the image to the gallery. I can’t keep them away. They want it! Oh, Kinda I’m so excited. Love it. XOXO

Kinda smiled and got up to make coffee, then the doorbell rang. At her door was a young man in a bad suit with a stern face.

“Miss Hibrawi?”

“Yes?”

“Detective Yossi Ormand, LAPD. May I come in?”

“What’s this about?” she asked.

“It’s your housemate, Daryl” he said, “She’s been murdered. Where were you last night, Miss Hibrawi?”

Be Careful What You Wish For…

220px-Seal_of_Solomon_(Simple_Version).svgIf only Shadok didn’t have to toil in the Artuleries all day. In the morning, he hauled crystals for the Mardook. In the evening, he sat memorizing the passages of the Sharpath – that sacred magical book that every Moogrid was supposed to master before the solstice of their 6th Nocturne.

He put down the weathered copy of the family tome and stretched his arms above his head. The candle’s flame flickered madly. Shadok stared as it danced its crazy dance to some silent tune known only to it. His shoulder ached. He must have slept in an awkward position the night before.

Kloda, his betrothed, had rubbed her fingers into the side of his neck during the short breaks the Mardook allowed and that had helped. Sweet Kloda! he thought. Oh, if only this was his 6th Nocturne already! He hated how slowly the solstices came and went. Shadok got up to stretch his legs. There came a knock on the door. His father matrixed his head in through the wood and gave him a stern look.

“I was just having a break, sir” he said.

His father’s look softened, and he smiled, “It will come, my son. Don’t try and force it. The Sharpath is a complex magick, and will only recoil the harder you try.”

“Yes, father” said Shadok. He always did that and hated himself for it. Saying yes, when really he meant no.

“Good. Now get some rest” said his father. He gave Shadok a wink – the one which meant, don’t worry, I’ve got you and it’ll work out – and vanished. But things didn’t look like they were going to work out. The truth was Shadok had been slipping. He felt the Sharpath, a devious book, resisting him, pushing against his attempts to memorize its pages. Labyrinths of thought turned in on themselves. What if he couldn’t finish it by his 6th Nocturne? Would Kloda wait for him? It was then that the first inkling of a thought grew in his mind. What if he was to jump straight to the advanced Babs? Why waste time with the ridiculous introductory Babs like some infant Moogling? Yes, he thought, that was it!

The candle light flickered again, and crazy shadows painted themselves on the bare walls of his den. He raised his hand to the Sharpath, hesitated for a second, and then opened the heavy tome near its end. The text whirled into his mind, and he started exploring the brightly painted pathways unfurling before him. There was a violent, frightening energy in them, like a rainbow-coloured waterfall. Shadok steeled his nerves and pushed on. The Sharpath yielded obediently. This was more like it! he thought, feeling pleased with himself. It wasn’t so hard after all. It was at that moment that the Voice from Behind the Light spoke to him, and its words were colder than an ice bath.

“Sigul, Nigurl!” it boomed. The tome slammed shut and Shadok realized that he was no longer alone.

Alfie’s Last Stunt

Junction_15_M4_by_night,_Swindon_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1702475

When the flames had engulfed the Golf GTi, Sam just knew that her name was the last thing on Alfie’s lips. There had been a promise, whispered just before he’d gone on set for the day, that he’d borrow the studio’s Golf GTi and they’d go for dinner and a dance.

The hard times were over. He had finally started getting paid to do stunts. People would call and ask for him by name, and that had made Sam proud.

Maurie was filming it all, and they were going to post it on their Youtube channel, “Good for the portfolio”, Maurie had said. He took it all very seriously, just like Alfie. Like they were going to be big stars in the business. It was a good car to be filmed with.

Sam hadn’t liked the idea even though Alfie promised it was all going to be fine and that he knew what he was doing, “I’ll blink the car lights so you know it’s me as I come down the motorway.”

A delivery driver, tired, sleepless, hadn’t noticed Alfie’s Golf until it was too late. He swerved the truck in a panic, and the Golf cartwheeled madly before it exploded. Maurie deleted the video out of respect for his friend, and partly out of a fear that Sam might ask to see it one day. She never did.

The next day, she asked when Alfie would come home. They stared at her in shocked silence, and, as the days turned into weeks, Sam’s friends grew more concerned.

“You bastard” said Ulrike, slapping Maurie hard on the face. “You turn it off. You stop it now. Whatever you need to do.”

“OK, OK” he said, rubbing his cheek, “I just wanted to help. I thought it would help, that’s all. Alfie was my friend too”

“You take over his Facebook, told her you’re his ghost? You mother – “

“Hey! He was my friend too. OK? I messed up” he said. “Here, it’s deactivated. Happy?”

When Sam’s mood had started changing for the better, Ulrike thought she had finally started to accept that Alfie was gone for good. That was until she’d seen the messages, and realised who was behind them.

Sam had thought that the messages were odd; that Alfie was joking with her, telling her to forget him, but she couldn’t. She took to walking around town, visiting their usual haunts: the bar where they’d first met; to that spot under the oak tree in Brunswick Common where they’d first kissed.

As she stood atop the footbridge in the growing dusk, staring at the speeding traffic below, she thought she could make out a Golf GTI in the distance. It flashed its lights once. Sam’s eyes widened. “I knew you’d come back” she whispered. She lifted herself above the railing, standing with arms outstretched. She could see them on their night out, the happy people at the club smiling as they got up to dance. “Alfie” she whispered, stepping forward.

Pa’ousey

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Salwa’s friend dropped her off in front of the building. She noted with relief that the caretaker wasn’t there. He seemed nice enough, but bad, the way a tied-up dog is before it bites you. She pressed the timer light on the stairwell and started climbed the steps. As she reached the first floor, the light went off. She felt her way along the wall to the timer light switch and pressed it. Nothing happened. Must have burnt out, she thought. That meant speaking to the caretaker tomorrow. She shook her head, hoping one of the neighbours would do it. Not seeing a thing, she took out her lighter. It’s flame flickered weakly and didn’t help much. From the darkness, above or below, she wasn’t quite sure, she heard children’s giggles.

“Some people,” she mumbled. How could they leave their children out this late?

She thought how good it was that neither she nor Farid had wanted children. The giggling stopped, and she heard a girl’s voice whisper out loud, “Pa’ousey!”

Since time immemorial, children in the Levant had cried this nonsense word at the start of every game of hide and seek ever played.

“You kids be careful, it’s dark. Anyway you should be in bed right now!” she called. The stairwell went quiet. Giving up on the lighter, she moved on, taking extra care. The last thing she needed was a child barging into her on the steps. They just didn’t think properly, and a child running quickly could get them both hurt. She was almost at her floor. Then the whispers started.

They grew louder and more urgent. She thought she could make out what they were saying. It was one word, over and over. Salwa put out her lighter as she fumbled through her purse. She felt the cold metal of the keys somewhere in the jumble within. Then she lost them. The whispering continued. Salwa cursed under her breath and shoved her hand through her purse, willing her fingers to find the keys.

“You can stop that now” she said to the dark. Again the giggles. She dropped the keys, and the whispering grew louder.

“Pa’ousey – Pa’ousey – Pa’ousey”

“That’s not funny. I’m going to speak to your parents tomorrow. I know who they are” she lied. Come to think of it she’d never seen children in the building before. Never seen her neighbours or heard them go in and out of their apartments.

“Pa’ousey – Pa’ousey – Pa’ousey.”

The voices didn’t sound like children anymore. They were more like an adult play-acting. Breathy and rasping. Demented. Salwa felt her heart rate quicken, the blood pounding her temples. She found the keys and reached to the lock then scraped it. Cursing the dark, she tried again.

“Pa’ousey – Pa’ousey…”

The key turned and she rushed inside, pressing the light switch. Salwa looked out at the stairwell. No one was there. The whispering stopped. She closed the door, the click of its lock sounding through the dark.

The Tall Man

4438729687_8a43f09382_o

It was mid-afternoon. Shushu knew her routine. Litter box, some food, then wander the apartment. She liked to sit by the window and stare at the people and cars below. The way they moved about their lives. She wished sometimes that she could roam freely out there, but her mistress kept the doors and windows shut. Shushu padded through the living room, following invisible paths that only she could see, to the dining room. She sat on one of the dining room chairs, hidden away by the damask table cover. This was her spot, here she could lurk. Mistress always left her food to munch on when she was away, and Shushu liked that. She felt like Mistress was part of her domain, like a kitten that needed protection.
That was because Mistress didn’t see the bad things that lurked. Shushu always chased them away, but she wasn’t able to do anything about the dark cloud over her Mistress’s head, that was something she must deal with alone. Shushu took care of the other bad things, the ones with horrible eyes that stared and gnawed at people. Sometimes they would try and come in through the window, and Shushu would startle Mistress as she sprang off the sofa or out of one of her hiding places to give chase. Other times she would stare the thing away after trapping it in a corner. Mistress would scold her, asking what she was doing, but Mistress couldn’t see, so Mistress didn’t know. Shushu would stare down the bad eyes, the gnawing things, until they were atomised out of existence. Her kind had always done that sort of thing.

Shushu’s ears pricked. She felt the presence again, the Tall Man. He was different from the gnawing things. His presence was strong and stank to Shushu’s nostrils. She dropped to the dining room floor and crept cautiously to the door. He was close, sniffing away behind the door. Then he went quiet. Shushu hissed and the hair on her back stood. This was her territory, her Mistress. She’d never seen the Tall Man, but she recognised his essence. A bird had died on the balcony once and after two days it smelled like this. The Tall Man was Death. Shushu remembered that scent on her Mistress’s former mate when the illness took him. He hadn’t lived in the apartment for long, but his scent, the good one, had lingered in some places, like where Mistress still kept his clothes.

The Tall Man faded away. Shushu sat by the door for a bit longer, making sure he didn’t return, then sniffed her nose and went back to her usual hiding place. He’d be back, she was sure of that. He’d been making more and more visits. Shushu wished she could give chase one day, just to teach him a lesson. She yawned and stretched out on the dining room chair, back under the damask table cover.

 

The Coming of Winter

Julius sat on the bench, staring at the old gnarled tree in front of him. He had time to kill, and it had stopped raining. He felt a chill wind, but he was snug in his wool coat. The tree, what type was it? he wondered. He was jealous of the kind of people who walked around their neighbourhoods and could tell you what type of bird it was that was chirping, or could tell what other people had planted in the plant pots on their window sills, and when it was time to plant this or that. It was a tree in front of him. Just a tree, and that’ll have to do. The leaves were falling down in ones and twos. Soon, the tree would be bare, and this seemed sad to Julius. It was like people, the people he knew dropping out of his life, one by one. At first there were so many around when the sun shone and the sky was blue, and people were laughing and wearing light, cotton clothes. But the winter changes things, just like life. At first you don’t notice that the leaves are falling. It’s only one here, another there. But soon you start to notice a thinning away. In any other context, you’d probably start panicking, but we don’t think of it that way. It’s not till much later that you own up to the inevitable and realise that every leaf will go soon. Does the tree even think about these things?
He imagined what it would be like if the leaves had personalities like people. That, eventually, a select few, maybe a dozen or so, would remain. What would the leaves say to each other? Would they remember the lives of leaves past? A gust of wind blows yet another leaf, a good leaf, away. She was a friend, perhaps, to the others. The leaves that are left whisper to each other, and promise each other one thing. That they’ll try to stick around long enough to keep the memory alive. So they hang on as much as they can. Eventually, they tire and fall. Soon there is only one leaf left. Not the most popular, or the strongest, not even the funniest, just a leaf. Mr Leaf. He hangs on through the winter, somehow, in the cold and when all is dark and cold. At some point tiny buds start to sprout as the clouds go away and the sun comes back. But Mr Leaf is long gone. He hung on so tightly that no wind, no rain, no crow, could have dislodged him. It was only a fresh leaf, sprouting where he once held on to a twig, that could prise open his grip. Mr Leaf falls to the earth, dried out and brittle, and is swept away just as the tree starts to blossom again. Julius sees the bus arrive. He gets up and takes from his pocket the coins for a ticket.

Big Trouble

stairs-819372_960_720
Sarah knew she was late. She wiped her grimy hands against her jeans and leaned the bicycle against the garage wall, then slowly creaked the door open and walked into the house. She knew she was late for dinner. But she had gone out with Zain and Maria and they had been playing in the old willow tree that stood at the centre of the dump in the middle of the street. That was their hideout, and she had been the captain of a mission that was supposed to establish a basehead on Centauri Alpha Prime. There was an attack, and it simply wasn’t acceptable that the commander of the mission would simply quit half way while they were under attack and her men (and women) were fighting for their lives. What would Mission Control say if they found out? Zain and Maria were fine cadets, and they would have bravely covered for her, but she wasn’t going to put them through that on her account. No, dinner would have to wait, and her Mum was going to have to accept the responsibility that her daughter had been placed with. She took off her muddy trainers before getting into the house, those would have to be cleaned later, when her Mum wasn’t around. She looked into the living room, and to her surprise, Mum was sitting on the sofa, staring blankly at the television.

 

“Oh, hello, Mum” she said. Her arms were behind her back and her sock covered foot tiptoed uncertainly. Sarah braced herself for the coming storm, but nothing happened. Mum didn’t move from the sofa and didn’t look at her. “I’m sorry I’m late. It won’t…it won’t happen again” she said. Again, there was no answer. She stood there awkwardly for a moment. This had never happened before. Was her mother upset at her and using some new form of punishment? Was this only the calm before the storm? After what seemed an age, she turned and walked away, then slowly climbed the steps to her room. Sarah kept looking back to see if her mother would come charging after her, slipper in hand, but it didn’t happen. The sound of television commercials floated up to her as she walked to her room. When she got to the door she found it was locked. Probably Yousef, her kid-brother, being an ass again. She tapped quietly at the door – no need to push her luck with Mum downstairs, she thought. There was no answer. She tried the handle again, whispering, “Open up, Yousef. I’m already in big trouble.”

 

“Sarah?” whispered a voice through the keyhole.

 

“Yes, open up!” she whispered again.

 

The door opened cautiously. It was dark as she stepped inside. The door was shut quickly and she heard the lock click. Yousef grabbed her arm and put his little hand to her mouth. “Don’t say a word!” he whispered.

 

“What is it?” she mumbled.

 

“That’s not Mum downstairs” he said.

 

Outside, the wooden steps started creaking under someone’s footsteps.