This is an unfinished book I worked on back in early 2005. I actually found it very promising, but as I got into it I wondered who would want to read such a relentlessly grim book, especially when I wasn’t planning on any kind of happy ending. In fact, the very process of writing it and planning it was depressing me, and I considered it an altogether unhealthy experience. I have thought about going back to it from time to time, but then I look at my notes and what I had written down, and it makes me sick to my stomach. It came from a very dark place that I don’t know if I want to tap again. If I do approach this material in the future, I’ll need a better plan that provides some kind of relief, so the entire work isn’t just a tortuous journey through human misery.
You can read the first four chapters below the fold.
2031 — After decades of enmity and months of mounting tensions, India and Pakistan are enveloped in nuclear holocaust. The Indo-Pak War surges forward as militants on both sides engage in landgrabs and mass murder. Due to China’s refusal to help, Nepali patriots side with Pakistan.
1.1 The Incarcerate
Bainbridge Federal Penitentiary
550 N. Davis Rd.
Kokomo, IN 46904
February 8, 2076
The Honorable Judge Paul Marrick
United States Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit
219 S. Dearborn St.
Chicago, IL 60604
I have attempted numerous appeals through the Seventh Circuit, with no success. I need your help.
My name is Russel Snyder. I am twenty-nine years old. I am presently residing at the Bainbridge Federal Penitentiary, a minimum-security facility in Kokomo, Indiana. I have been imprisoned for four hundred and seventy-eight days. I joined the Army Reserve at 18 to put myself through college. There, I met my wife. We had two children, three years apart. After college, I became a financial consultant and ended up working for a top-five banking firm. Shortly after my second child was born, I was activated for duty in Estonia. Three weeks into my tour of duty, I was taken hostage by Russian militants near Tartu. In my absence, my wife filed for divorce and was granted full custody of our children, since my whereabouts were unknown at the time. Child support payments, which were based on my income as a financial consultant, accumulated in my absence. For five months, I was beaten and tortured by my captors, while the United States government seized all property that was in my name, purportedly to pay down child support debts I had no way to know about. When I was finally freed, I was ordered to return to US soil. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was arrested and shipped here.
I have been through the appeals process several times. Every time, I am simply told to work off my debts. However, a condition of my release is the complete payment of all arrearages. This is clearly impossible given my incarcerated status and the continuing accumulation of further debt. I only ask that I be released so that I may return to the financial field and support my children appropriately. I plead that any possible forgiveness of forbearance be granted as soon as possible. I believe you are my last hope for a timely release.
Thank you for your time.
Hon. Judge Marrick
United States Court of Appeals
219 South Dearborn Street
Chicago, Illinois 60604
February 24, 2076
Mr. Russel Snyder
Inmate No. 372834-923
Bainbridge Federal Penitentiary
Kokomo, Indiana 46904
I am sympathetic to your plight but there is unfortunately little I can do to aid you. Per 42 USC § 666(9)(A), child support payments are:
not subject to retroactive modification by such State or by any other State; except that such procedures may permit modification with respect to any period during which there is pending a petition for modification, but only from the date that notice of such petition has been given, either directly or through the appropriate agent, to the obligee or (where the obligee is the petitioner) to the obligor.
In other words, support orders may only be modified retroactively from the date of filing a modification petition. I have checked your records, and found petitions to modify dating back to November 15, 2074. The initial support order was granted May 20 of the same year. Your arrearages as of November 15 were $192,302.83. Since your initial modification, the total amount owed has grown to $205,982.25. My recommendation would be to continue paying in whatever capacity you can, primarily through prison work programs. Once your support is no longer in arrears, your release can be arranged. The Seventh Circuit can offer you no further assistance in this matter until you have satisfied your past obligations.
Best of luck to you.
Hon. Judge Paul Marrick
Maximilian Robertson III sat up sluggishly to the sound of someone pounding on his door. The display on the wall indicated it was 9:03AM. Who would come bothering me at this hour?
Max shouted from his bedroom, “I’ll be right there!” as he struggled into a torn-up pair of jeans and a t-shirt that most likely did not pass the smell test. He stumbled awkwardly from his bedroom to the living room, and opened the door expecting to see the police, one of his doped-up friends–anything but the suited gentleman standing in front of him. “Uh… can I help you?”
“Are you Maximilian Robertson the Third?” Max noticed the thick briefcase the gentleman was holding.
“Uh… I think so.”
The man frowned grimly. “I am afraid I have terrible news about your father.”
“Oh, hell. How did it happen?”
Max blinked. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No. He has already been cremated. It took some time to find you.” Without any prompting, the man pushed past Max and into the apartment.
Max turned, seeing only the stranger’s back. “Who are you?”
“I am Imel Goldstein, your father’s personal attorney and executor of his estate.”
“Ah, I should’ve guessed. What, did he leave me his compost pile or something?”
Goldstein pivoted to face Max again. “He left a video will. I am required to view portions of it with you. Do you have a capable display?”
Max waved his hand around the room. “Pick a wall.”
Goldstein waded through food wrappers of unknown age and ran his finger over the nearest empty wall, gathering a list of documents from one of his remote systems. When he found the right one, he tapped it. The wall spoke. “Handprint identification, please.” He rested his palm on the wall and felt the warmth of the scan. A green beam leapt from the wall and traced a circle around the iris of his eye. “Identity verified,” the wall confirmed. A haggard man popped onto the display, dressed nicely, but looking a bit rough around the edges.
“Hello, son. Imel. I’ve kept an updated video will for several years, now. I think it’s easier to discern my intentions if you can see my face and hear my voice while I describe them. Don’t you agree? Don’t bother responding, by the way. This one’s not interactive. I find they take too long to make.”
Max had a seat on the couch across from the wall. Goldstein did the same. The video continued. “To you, Max, my only son, I leave my empire. All assets in my name will now be yours. I have many advisors, as well, and they will be obliged to offer their opinions. I have notes in my office detailing how to handle each of them. I apologize to you, Imel, if all this bores you. The next section of this will is for my son alone, so please pause the playback and leave the room.” Goldstein stood up and tapped the wall, pausing the video.
“Call me back in when it is finished,” he said dryly.
Max nodded and went to the wall, finger hovering over the icon that would resume the will. When the apartment door shut behind the lawyer, Max tapped the wall once more. “There we go. Now, Max, there are details to which you have not been privy. I regret our estrangement, and I admit I feel mostly responsible for it. However, that is all the past. It is the future that concerns me, now, as it should you. When you reach my office, search through my books and find my copy of Henry V. Turn to Act 3, Scene 3, and draw your finger over this text: ‘What is it then to me, if impious war, / Array’d in flames like to the prince of fiends, / Do, with his smirch’d complexion, all fell feats / Enlink’d to waste and desolation?’ If you weren’t paying attention in school, it begins at the fifteenth line of Henry’s monologue. After you do this, you will receive further instructions. Give my regards to Imel. And good luck, son.” The video winked out, and Max was left feeling a little underwhelmed. Granted, he’d just been left his father’s entire business empire, but he felt hollow for it. He wasn’t sure what would have been better, but at that moment, he felt lonelier than usual. When he finally came to his senses, he let the lawyer back in.
“Yeah, um, there was nothing else for you, except he wanted me to give you his regards. Whatever that means.”
Goldstein nodded. “Very well. I have taken the liberty of saving a copy of the will on your local system, so you may review it at your leisure. When you are prepared to go to your new home, inform me at once.”
“So, I’m supposed to move into the mansion now?”
“It is yours. You may do with it as you please.”
Max shrugged. “I guess I have nothing better to do.”
As the two of them left together, Max once again looked at the briefcase. He didn’t need it to access the will, so I really have to wonder–what the hell is in there?
2.0 Performance Measures
2048 — The latest batch of products made of “Plasticrops” is pulled from the market as some consumers suffer a mysterious ailment termed Plastic Transfer Syndrome. The primary victims are children under the age of eight.
2.1 Dissidence for Hire
He gazed at the woman on the other side of the room, desperation in his eyes. “Tell me you’ve got something good.”
She held up a small vial and jiggled it, swirling the fine red powder inside. “I always do.”
“Thank God.” He immediately fell onto the couch and shut his eyes, trying to shrug off the noise he’d just spent the past two hours both producing and absorbing.
Machines to make us feel
machines to make us real
machines to stab us in the back
machines to pick up the slack
“Fuck,” he breathed, wiping the crimson residue from beneath his nostrils. “The fuck did you get this?”
She leaned forward, clasping her hands. “You don’t want to know. It’s all I could find.”
“Thought you said it was good.”
And it doesn’t matter what we are
only that we’ve come this far
to die at behest of the Czar
with the wealth of all in a jar
He looked at the rest of it, scattered across the floor, red stains clashing with the blue shag. “I need something else.”
She stood and folded her arms. “What? I was out all evening to get you this!”
He turned with cruelty on his face, stopping himself just in time. “Fuck.”
They sat back down. She sighed. “Every night, Darren.”
“I know. I can’t keep doing this.”
“But you have to.”
Darren recognized the voice, jumped straight up. A man in a dark, silk suit stood in the doorway leading from the bedroom. “The fuck are you doing here?”
“Monitoring my investment. Where were you?”
“What do you mean, ‘Where was I?’ I had a fucking concert.”
“Which was over two hours ago.”
“I walked home. Thumbed some ‘faces.”
“I thought I’d made it clear all memorabilia would be distributed through the label.”
“Guess I forgot.”
“You forget a lot of things, Mr. Ahearst. Our patience is not limitless.”
“Neither is my time,” Darren snarled. “Did you want something, or did you just come here for a quick fix?”
The man glared at the blonde girl on the couch, and her eyes moved to the carpet. “No, I’ve seen all I needed to, for the moment.” The man didn’t bother with parting remarks–just out the door, into the night.
I’ve given you everything
you’ve given me nothing
I still know
I have it all
and you’ve got shit
Darren collapsed to the floor, arms enclosing his head. “It’s the worst thing in the world to be somebody, Jenny. You know that?”
Jenny didn’t let off a word.
2.2 Riverman’s Ransom
His name was Jack Karrde, and that was the most anyone cared to know about him. Maybe it was his torn clothes. Or possibly, his standoffish personality. A third cause–the most likely, as far as he cared–was the fact that he had a wild frog boiling in a pot, over a small fire, next to an insignificant river, in the middle of an even more insignificant little town. Its name escaped him, which was just as well, considering he himself would escape before long.
Life as a vagrant wasn’t the best, but it was preferable to the alternatives. For a man who had problems with authority and a greater sense of paranoia than most, living on the road seemed the most viable option. But it was a life of caution. And that fact, he could never forget.
The river bank went up a good twenty feet from where he stood. The bridge just ahead covered the river and provided him with some shelter. And it was from that bridge he heard loud, metallic footsteps. Must be a MOP. His heart rate quickened at the thought. He couldn’t see the Mech-on-Patrol, but the sound alone sent a spark of terror through him. He quietly moved toward the bridge until he stood beneath it, where the MOP’s infrared sensors would have no way to detect him, no matter where the robot looked. Realizing his boiling pot and obvious fire, he raced to his makeshift campsite and dumped the contents of the pot onto the flames, stomping out whatever stragglers remained. From that, he returned to his hiding place under the bridge. The MOP never noticed a thing.
It was then that Jack heard gunfire. Not the rhythmic tap-tap-tap of the assault weapons mounted on the MOP, but the sporadic cracks of small arms. Moments later, the MOP kicked in with its own percussive violence. The exchange continued, moving eastward, and away from Jack. He exhaled with a great sense of release, and thought to attempt a rescue of his dinner. The frog appeared to be mostly done, at least, and Jack ripped the legs off with satisfaction, savoring his brief meal. His left wrist throbbed momentarily, and he was reminded of the scar there. He rubbed it for some seconds before packing up to head north. The sparse sustenance, ducking-and-covering from MOPs, and the almost comforting sounds of gunfire would greet him again and again, no matter how far he traveled.
3.0 Complex Boredom
2017 — A modernized Chinese navy surrounds Taiwan, effecting a blockade of the separatist island. The United States issues stern warnings against further aggression, but lacks the military resources to force a confrontation.
3.1 Up the Wall
Matthew James–Matt, as he preferred–lay stretched out across his bed, hands behind his head, eyes on the ceiling. The screen above displayed his friend, Jeremy Roundtree, in a similar position.
It was a lazy Saturday morning, as most were for the fifteen-year-olds. One did not venture out into the city lightly, especially at their age. Parents’ rules, of course.
“Been doin’?” Matt wondered idly.
“Romper.” A wicked smile curled Jeremy’s lip.
“Gag! Who?” Matt’s eyes grew wider.
Jeremy pursed his lips. “Marie. Rene mango.”
Matt made an unpleasant face. “Ugh. That mugir nido? Pinche pendejo, jigga. Couldn’t sitch a dime, huh?”
“Chingalo! Why I tell you deuce? Like yo’ hoodrat’s so fly.”
Matt didn’t look terribly pleased with Jeremy’s last remark. Snagging a rubber ball from the nightstand, he chucked it at the glowing red circle on the ceiling. Jeremy blinked out, leaving a blank display. “Need to sitch my crew, nayway,” he muttered.
A knock came at his door. “Matthew?”
“Yes, mom?” He sighed with irritation.
“Have you done your homework?”
“It’s the weekend, mom. I don’t do it until Sunday.”
“If you wait ’til the last minute, it won’t get done at all, and you know it.”
“Fine, I’ll do it now!” Under his breath: “Skint bitch.”
“What was that?” Through the door, again.
The ceiling flicked back on. It was Jeremy. “Quit vergallin’ n’ talk t’ me!”
“Kill the XD. What now?” Jeremy sprawled out on the bed, ball in hand, brandishing it to get Jeremy’s attention.
“Just pulled a lina.”
“A whole one? Don’t suck me, you for real?” Matt never his friend’s drug use all that amusing–more unsettling, really, than anything else.
“Yeah! That’s not why I sitch you.”
“Oh yeah! Ahearst rollin’ on DC. Julie 4th. He’s trabajin’ a golpestím.”
“No mames! N’ our crew’s gonna bust out!”
Their cheering in unison elicited another bang on Matt’s door. “Keep it down!”
“Yes, mom.” He waited until she was out of earshot, and: “Muy dope!”
“Boy, don’t perc the lingo!” Jeremy scolded.
“So I’m not very good at it. Fuck me.” Matt sighed.
“You gotta sitch it cool. Gotta respect it.”
“I know. I just haven’t been here long enough. Shit’s all new to me.”
“I feel. Just need time.”
“Yeah, I guess. How’re we going to get into the concert?”
“Just slip from the sucio, and chivatotura!”
Matt didn’t quite understand the last word, but he played along. “Think it’ll be that easy?”
“It be straight. Don’ freak.”
“Yeah, I’ll try. Don’t think I can wait that long.”
Matt ended the conversation with his ball like he had before, and bounced it off the ceiling to browse through his collection of songs by Darren Ahearst and his band, Disparu. He picked one at random–“Piracy (is Nobody’s Fault)”–and shut his eyes. The sound filled the room, and calmed him as much as it ever did.
The girl stepped forward in her loose-fitting gown, her feet pattering against the cold floor. She turned to her right to see an older woman with a permanent scowl and a just-as-enduring bunned hairstyle, glaring at the computer display on her desk. Without looking at the girl, the woman rattled: “Name.”
“Gabrielle Jeffers. G-A-”
“I know how to spell ‘Gabrielle,’ little girl.”
“Not this way, you don’t.”
“How pretentious of your parents. Birth date.”
“10 May, 2063.”
“Twelve years old. Allergies.”
“What godforsaken pit were you in before?”
“Ah, that explains it. Haldol. For God’s sake.” The woman shook her head dismissively, then continued. “How long have you been a ward of this state?”
“Do you have any immediate medical needs of which we need to be aware?”
The woman motioned to her right. “Through that door. You’ll be in the mid-female wing. Once we receive your records from your previous facility, we will examine avenues of treatment.”
The girl nodded and stepped through, where she was guided by a young, bald security guard to her wing. Heavy double-doors greeted them at the entrance to the wing. She noted the door’s markings: “FMW 7-12”. The guard pressed his hand against the left door, and both swung forward. The man gave her a gentle push through the doorway, and the doors shut behind her. She turned to watch him stroll away.
“New patient?” Gavixeau spun around to see a young nurse holding a transparent board. “Do you have a name?”
“Get it from intake. I don’t want to explain it again.”
The nurse frowned. She tilted her head back slightly and yelled. “Roger, we’ve got another difficult one out here.”
A large man in a white t-shirt and pants came out from one of the other rooms, looked at Gavixeau, and grinned viciously.
4.0 Research and Development
2015 — Nanotechnology becomes practical for medical applications. Invasive procedures are gradually eliminated in favor of nanite injection.
4.1 Set of Tools
Lilian Brown kept her eyes on the screen as she thumbed the small control stick to the right. A metallic protrusion moved accordingly on the screen, slowly toward the greatly magnified microbe.
“It’s not goin’ to work,” her skeptical supervisor bet.
“Aye, it will.” She moved the aperture deftly toward the germ, and with a quick jerk of her wrist, drove it through the cell membrane, popped the button on top of the stick, and watched as several small particles were injected into the cytoplasm. “See?”
“Yer not done yet. Still not yer ‘Swiss Army Bacterium.'”
“Give it a minute,” she smiled, watching. The gray particles moved around within the cell, each with its own task. Several moved toward the plasma membrane, poking barely through, extending tiny appendages. Many more swarmed the ribosomes, while the rest latched onto DNA segments. Lilian smiled broadly. “I told ya it would work.”
Several warnings suddenly appeared at the bottom of the screen: “PLASMA MEMBRANE DETERIORATING; METABOLISM UNSTABLE”. The bacterium quivered, then fell apart, scattering the nanites across the screen. “‘N I told ya it willnae,” he snapped.
“Oh, bloody hell. This is what happens when ya distract me.” She sighed and ran her fingers along the display on the desk. A quick red beam swept across the screen, and the display was cleared again–no dead cell, no nanites. “Now, I have to start over.”
“Face up, Lil, it willnae work. Nannies are only good at killin’ cells. They cannae abide ’em any other way.”
“Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it cannae. Just think, Carlyle: nannies livin’ in yer cells, fixin’ ’em when they go wrong. This is better‘n a cure for cancer. It’ll preven’ it completely.”
“That’s nice’n all, Lil, but we already got a cure. Cannae ya leave well enough alone?” He folded his arms, sitting on the desk, watching as another bacterium was placed in the viewing area.
“I’m talkin’ about more’n that. Clinical immortality. Cells that don’ age. Gettin’ rebuilt by nannies all the time. Y’could live forever.”
Carlyle laughed. “‘course ya could, but who’d want to? We got enough problems without people who never die.” Yet, he watched as she tried it again, this time programming the nanites to surround the cell and enter it from outside, rather than through the needle. Despite his words, he did feel pangs of disappointment when the cell disintegrated. And another, and another, until he told her to go home.
“Ya’ve had enough, lass. Come back in th’ mornin’. Ya can think about it overnight. I ken ya’ll figure it out.”
“Aye, yer right.” She let out a sigh and shut down the system. “We must have somethin’ t’show soon. We dinnae have the funds t’continue forever.”
“Ya leave that up t’me. ’tis my lab.”
Lilian smiled and stepped out of the room. From her locker, she retrieved a brown, fringed jacket, and slipped it on. She noticed the rain outside, and quietly cursed forgetting an umbrella–again. But one was suddenly thrust into her hand. “Aren’ ya canny,” she grinned, looking up at Carlyle.
“Ya’ve no need t’be gettin’ drookit, hen.”
“Dinnae call me that, daftie.” She glared at him, then her face softened. “I’m sorry. But ya know I’m wed.”
“I mean nothin’ by it,” he frowned.
“’tis been a long haul, Carlyle. We’ll talk in the mornin’.” She turned her back to him and walked out the front door. Carlyle noticed too late that she had managed to slip the umbrella back into his own coat pocket. And he felt quite the fool for his trouble.
4.2 Invasion by the Micron
As a Department of Defense attaché to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control, Bobbi Jo Bell often found herself required to take part in experiments she found personally offensive. The justification was always the same: “If we don’t develop these weapons, and formulate a corresponding response, someone else will.” Such was the case today, as she examined a batch of nanites fresh from a Seattle research facility. These were built with a single purpose–to invade cells and use cellular components to replicate themselves. Each nanite worked quickly enough to kill a cell in a few seconds–absorbing energy from it, and using the remains to construct more nanites. They worked with great precision. In less than a minute, one nanite could become three to five new nanites, depending on their point of entry. With that rate of replication, every cell in a human body could be destroyed in under twenty minutes. Naturally, it was not necessary to destroy every cell–annihilating a good portion of the brain would suffice, or the brain stem. A concentration in the lungs could starve the body of oxygen. A glut of nanites in one’s aorta would suffice in creating a cardiac arrest. It was up to Bobbi Jo to determine which vector would be most effective, how long each nanite should be active, and how many generations of nanites should be allowed from a single, seed nanite. If any of these factors were not considered fully, the nanites would be just as much a danger to allies as they were to enemies.
In her own way, Bobbi Jo marveled at their perfection. They were tiny, simple–yet deadly. Their built-in directions only covered how to duplicate themselves–what materials were required, and in what arrangement. The destruction of cells was a mere by-product of those instructions. The simplicity of their mechanisms was impressive for all their effectiveness. As the nanites grew smaller and smaller with each successive generation, and as organic chemistry progressed, the nanites became less and less like human-built machines, and more like naturally-occurring viruses. Rumors persisted that the next generation of nanites would be truly viroid: impenetrable polymer shells containing nucleic acids to reprogram cells at will. Another set of nucleic acids would detail the nanovirus’ instructions for itself. Bobbi Jo found the idea both intriguing and frightening. Most diseases had already fallen to nanotechnology. Science had begun turning away from purely therapeutic uses for nanites, and into more controversial realms–weaponization, modification, and even transhumanism. She, at least, knew she fell into one of those camps.
If successful, this batch would go to Estonia. Dropped on an enemy-occupied city, any desirable radius or number of humans could be accurately neutralized. Her only misgiving was that the nanites had no way to distinguish between friend or foe. Or civilian. But those concerns, she was told, were well in hand. The United States government did not approve of civilian casualties. Or so I’m told. She watched the nanites work on their cell–a simple, human liver cell, happily producing phosphatidic acid at the expense of glycerol and adeonosine triphosphate. A single nanite latched onto the cell membrane, pushing the walls apart, shoving itself through. Once inside, it began tugging at parts of the cell. She watched as it drew water, ATP, and enzyme molecules toward itself, absorbing the resulting energy and casting off the residual chemicals. Then, it moved around the cytoplasm, gathering what minerals and chemicals were required to replicate itself. When it needed more energy, it prodded the nearest mitochondrion and catalyzed another ATP-to-ADP reaction. It did this with disturbing speed, and in less than a minute Bobbi Jo saw four duplicates of the original nanite. By then, the cell had been used up–its membrane ruptured, unable to support the reactions occurring inside. The nanites fled in search of another cell to devour, but their chemical timers would run out before then.
Bobbi Jo half-smiled at the whole thing. Hers was a strange, small world. Who would suspect that such a simple process could kill a human in a matter of minutes? And, just like a virus, no outward signs of the cause would be found. Different symptoms would manifest based on the route of infection. Possibilities flashed through her mind, viler than vile uses for this technology. The same chemical codes that allowed the targeting of cancer cells, viruses, and bacteria could also be used to target mucous membranes, to facilitate airborne infection; or sperm cells, for sexual transmission. These things were only as far from reality as moral restraint allowed. And Bobbi Jo knew those restraints were slipping.
“Thinking hard?” her colleague, Anna, asked with a smile.
“Not about anything important.”
Anna nodded toward the screen. “Any progress?”
Bobbi Jo leaned back in her chair. “They’ll work just fine. They kill cells and replicate as advertised. Yesterday’s results show that we can expect to incapacitate a city the size of Atlanta in about a day. After that, it’ll take another day for the nanites to self-destruct. Then, troops can move in.”
“Like clockwork, eh?”
“Even a clock isn’t this precise.”
Anna nodded. “Going to send your report to the Pentagon?”
“In the morning,” she shrugged. “I’m tired.”
“What about your work?”
Bobbi Jo noticed a gleam in Anna’s eye, along with a characteristic smirk. “You know, my clearance is higher than yours. I can’t tell you.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No. Let’s just say it’s a lot more interesting than raising armies of tiny, killer robots.”