07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was na´ve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.

"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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  08:22:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1950 words  
Categories: Announcements, Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Nine: 29%

Nine, 29%

It was getting dark when I drove away from Michelle's garage. I wasn't a paranoid man, but that seemed like a bad omen. I wasn't happy to have paid again to replace my receiver, but since I had, I figured I'd get the most out of my money. I looked over my usual stations, and realized my usual music was likely to negatively impact my audience, so I chose a pop music station and left it on low in the background.
The music cut out abruptly as I entered the dead zone. A second later I lost GPS, then phone coverage. I wondered if the audience could still see me, or no, until I saw in the chat that several people were arguing over whether or not they were having connection issues, since they'd lost part of the feed.
From inside the dead zone, the places where the connection was weakest were easier to see. It was essentially a relief map of where the tower repeaters were.
Then, at another light, I was approached by a tall, dark man holding a shotgun to my passenger window. I'd heard rumors that the most recent couple of Sontem windshields were essentially bullet proof. I wasn't about to test it.
His face didn't look human, and for a moment I thought he was wearing a mask, but it changed, almost sparkling as he moved. He was pixelated.
I turned off the car and stepped out, with my hands up. ?You go the rest of the way on foot,? the man with the shotgun said, pointing with the gun. I started to walk off in that direction. I wondered if I'd come back to find that my new receiver was gone, and maybe my wheels. Possibly the entire car.
A block up, another shotgun-wielding guard stopped me. ?Weapons? Anything to declare?? I shook my head, and he looked me over. His interface was clearly scanning me. Then he stepped to the side. ?You're clear.?
I walked past him, through a pleated red curtain, into an improvised structure welded together from sheets of metal. Inside was a young woman, perhaps no older than me. She had dark hair with blonde highlights, and I wasn't sure what it was naturally, under the hood of her gray sweatshirt. I couldn't tell if it was long or short, other than the few longer strands that extended past a pixelated circle obscuring her face; my lenses were preventing me from seeing her clearly.
?Why are you here?? she asked.
?Advocacy,? I said.
?Then let me advocate sanity, for you. You aren't going to find what you're looking for, here. Go back to your life. Forget about this place.?
?Would that I could,? I said. ?Does everybody get that reception? Or were you were expecting me??
?Ever since the cops started querying the cameras surrounding us. Everybody gets the visual pat-down, but not everybody sees me. Do you know who I am??
I glanced at the picture of her identification that showed on my interface, along with the descriptive text beneath it. ?Santa Claws?? I asked, because that was what the title said. The picture was blurred out, just like her face. I figured I'd call her Sandy, just to preserve my own sanity.
?To you, I'm more of a Krampus,? she said. ?And I'm pretty sure you've been naughty.?
?I just want to find the person who killed my brother,? I said, ?then get back to my normal life.?
?Normal?? she asked. ?Have you ever been free??
?As in not in jail??
?Society is a jail, your crappy little apartment your cell. You could even say that your terrible tutoring job is community service, trying to turn idiots into productive members of society- by which I mean getting them smart enough to be another wage slave.? Something told me when she mentioned my crappy apartment she wasn't throwing random elbows, she knew where I lived; she was elbow-deep in my personal information. ?You've got a phone call, incidentally.?
?No I don't. It's a dead zone.?
?Do you know why it's a dead zone?? she asked with wry amusement ?It's not because tech won't work here, but because their tech won't acknowledge us- our networks. Sure, we mask our IPs, and funnel our traffic through legit sources, things like that, but people find the pornography we host- and a mountain of other shit to boot. It's the technological equivalent to putting their fingers in their ears and saying, 'I'm not listening.' They don't talk to our networks because they want free connectivity without borders to go away- they just can't actually make it happen. I'll connect you.?
My interface came alive, and a call patched through. It was Will, one of my adult education students. ?Don't we have a session?? he asked.
?I had to cancel,? I told him.
?How am I going to get my GED if you're skipping sessions??
?By studying,? I said. ?You have my lesson plan, and all of my notes. Read the textbook I gave you, and you'll be fine.?
?But none of this makes any sense. The earth's only a few thousand years old- not billions.?
?I know that's what you were taught,? I said, and sighed, ?but that's why you need to get a GED on top of your diploma. Just, trust the book, okay? If you've got any questions, you can message me.?
?Mistake,? she said.
?Bye,? I said, and hung up.
She smiled, pleased with herself. ?When information becomes a ward of the state, they bad touch it. Texas doesn't even teach evolution anymore,? I winced. That meant she had all of Will's information, too, just like that, as natural as breathing. ?They stopped 'teaching the controversy.' That only lasted a couple of years before they changed their textbooks again. Their governor said, and I'm reading the quote, here, 'The controversy's over. God won.' That's why Will's diploma from a Texas high school- from Skyline High School- is worth less than toilet paper, because when it comes to science and history, he's worse than a little kid, because at least a little kid can learn.?
I was about to argue, when I noticed a new person join the chat, and knew immediately the mistake he'd made. I pulled up a private message, and furiously typed out a message. But he was faster, and posted to the general chat. ?GodsWill316: There were only twenty generations, from Adam to Jesus. I don't understand how there could have been time for millions of year of dinosaurs, even taking into account the longer life spans in those days.?
Will was a pain, and clung stubbornly to his upbringing. ?Can you boot him from the chat?? I asked Sandy.
Her eyebrows raised, and then she smiled, and he was gone, just as a torrent of abuse landed in his wake. I sent the private message. It was curt, but about a million times kinder than what he nearly called down on his head. ?Thank you,? I said to her once it was sent.
?Happy to help,? she said, though from her tone I could tell she wasn't. She was studying me. She did it because she was curious why I would ask in the first place. ?Why shelter him? Your job is to teach. I think there are few things more instructive than finding out you're very far out of the intellectual norm.?
?He's an ass,? I said, ?in the biblical sense- stubborn. But humiliating him wouldn't help. In fact, in my experience, you humiliate someone like Will, and they double-down, dig in their heels and fight harder for the ideas you're mocking.?
?So it's pragmatism, not humanity, that made you ask that I spare the rod and spoil the ass??
?I don't see why it can't be both.?
?True. You can call me Jenel. It's a name.?
?Not yours?? So much for calling her Sandy.
?I'll answer to it, for the moment.?
?Well, Jenel, will you help me? A man who fled my brother's murder came here. But without you, I know I won't find him.?
?No,? she said, and smiled, ?you won't. But here's a question I'd like you to answer. Why would I help you??
?Because murder is bad for any tribe, even yours. And it's hard to stay in charge when nobody feels safe.?
?Nobody is safe; some people are just better at lying to themselves about that. But I'm not in charge. We don't have a leader.?
?That doesn't mean you don't have followers,? I said. She shrugged.
?People want to be influenced. But I'm not a politician. I don't care what people do, or about stopping them from masturbating. My philosophy is largely that whatever keeps me from doing what I want is wrong; you might even say I'm an apolitician.?
?I thought they just called those libertarians.?
?I think libertarianism is willful ignorance. In the absence of any government, corporations become government- one that doesn't even pay lip service to accountability. Libertarianism means putting up with the worst excesses of capitalism, company stores and the like. If you had to put a label on it, I'm closer to an anarchist, though in true anarchic fashion, the moment you try to pin that label on me, I'll rebel against that, too.?
?It's the right thing to do,? I said.
?According the old biblical eye for an eye? Because I'm pretty sure you could interpret that to mean somebody coming for my peepers as an accessory to your justice- that and I'm pretty sure my mom would disown me for converting. Kidding, obviously. My mom disowned me a decade ago.?
?Over what??
?The last time? I was running a pirate network out of the trunk of her car. And forgot to mention it to her. Until the cops found it. I mean, I hacked their evidence database, to make sure the case got thrown out. But I was a kid.?
?My brother, scum though he was, didn't deserve to bleed out with a hole in his back.?
?Honor amongst rogues?? she asked. ?Yeah, I can get behind that. One condition. If he's your guy, you don't arrest him here. I don't like cops, but I've got no beef I'd want to go head to head with them over- and I'm pretty sure the moment they set foot they'd be obligated to crack skulls. And nobody wants that- not even them.?
?That's fair.?
?I know John; smugglers inevitably come through here. I didn't like him.?
?That confirms you knew him,? I said. He was my brother, but that didn't mean we got along, and honestly I never understood how anyone did. My rating dipped, because I dared talk ill of a dead man the audience didn't know; I didn't care. ?But he knew you,? I said. ?That's perhaps more interesting.?
?Your brother wasn't a revolutionary. He was just a drug-hocking prick who knocked up a whore.? She paused, and pondered; if I had to guess, she was weighing whether or not it was problematic that she was denigrating a traditionally female-dominated profession. ?In a way we're all whores, only most of us don't literally bend over and spread.?
?Even you?? I asked, because I didn't imagine revolutionary paid well.
?This isn't a hippy commune. My tech didn't grow on trees. My food didn't cook itself. This is still capitalism, it's just smaller scale; if one of my partners tries to fuck me, I know where he keeps his balls to kick. It's not like out there, where there's a wall of innocent customer service jerks between you and the people slowly squeezing the last few drops of blood out of you.?


  11:46:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 979 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Eight: 27%

Eight, 37%

His shoulders relaxed, and he buckled himself in, then started driving in the direction I'd been walking. ?Override only lasts a few minutes, so I'm going to have to talk fast, which is fine, because that's the way I prefer anyway. Call me Chase.?
?Detective Chase??
?I can't tell you how many times I was told to fetch when a perp ran. But no talking. We don't have time to Abbot and Costello this thing. Sorry about the nose. But I'm a cop. If they think we're getting along buddy buddy, they'll tank your ratings and you'll skip go and end up in the pokey. They don't much care for advocates in the prison, and uh, all the statutes that keep jailed cops out of gen-pop, they don't apply to advocates. You get housed with the hoi polloi.
?Your perp is in a dead zone. Now, we don't technically know where these dead zones are, because they aren't on the grid. But pirate networks operate in those dead zones. They're unfiltered, and usually unregulated, and probably best of all there aren't any toll booths, so anybody who can in those areas uses the pirate network instead. It's a hell of a lot like the old, neutral internet. Anyway, we don't know where they are- but we know where the grid isn't.?
He shared a network usage data map with my interface. Usage was in blue, the more opaque the more usage. But there were several empty bubbles spread over the city.
?Two reasons I'm here are that, one, this information hasn't made it into a Tool Tip,? he caught himself, but the damage was already done.
?Named for the tools you're tipping off?? I asked.
He smiled. ?Proving you might be one of the sharpest hammers in the drawer; I'm still not sure why you'd want a pointy hammer- but at least you're not dull.?
?The other reason??
?The places tend to accrue the worst of the worst. I mean, sure, even your vanilla pornography comes off the pirate networks, since none of the legit carriers will touch the stuff- at least when they aren't touching their own stuff. But it means the kiddie fiddlers hide away their smut there, too, that the dealers go to ground there and the underground fighters make their home there. Cops like me like it, because by ceding a few lousy neighborhoods, the crime coagulates, and mostly they leave decent folk alone. That's half my battle, already.
?But it also means, as an advocate, you're the enemy. They aren't going to like you, they aren't going to trust you. And they may well try to murder you. But, those camera spores you're sporting are next-gen. Old-gen, they only used the 'nice' networks, so any advocate who had to cross into a dead zone dropped off the world. They were almost never found after that. These ones will latch onto the pirate network, and continue transmitting location and video- even if you're incapacitated. Means the pirates have had to learn to live and let live- or die.
?And not only did I think you deserved an in the flesh warning, but I knew even with the cameras you wouldn't survive hole-hopping. So I had the machines widen your search- really, following the camera trail to figure out where he went after he left your brother's.?
He shared another map with me. It was like the camera map I had, only not zooming in and out nauseatingly. The yellow, pulsing dots led towards one of the dead zones.
?And besides, I figured you could use the ride, so you didn't catch your death of cold.?
A message flashed at the bottom of my screen, ?Audience listening in 3... 2... 1.?
Chase had gone cold, and glared menacingly at me. ?So get the fuck out of my car, cumstain, and fetch me that arrest. Or you'll spend the rest of your investigation with my size twelve foot in your ass.?
It was only then that I realized we were at Michelle's garage. I opened the door and stepped out. The chill hit me again, so I hurried inside.
Michelle was waiting behind the counter. She handed me a moistened paper towel, and then touched her nose. I looked at my reflection in the window behind her, and realized I was bleeding. Damned Chase. ?Sorry to hear about your brother,? she said, as I wiped my face clean.
?You heard??
?Murder's still pretty big news,? she said. She was lying. Local deaths barely made the feeds anymore, unless the details were salacious. Which meant she'd done a search for me, and found out about it. I looked down at the bloodied paper towel in my hands and realized it meant she'd been watching the feed when Chase clocked me. ?I went ahead and invoiced you,? she said. ?The bill will still need to be paid in full, but it'll give you a month to pay it. You're a repeat customer. I know you're good for it.?
?Thanks,? I said.
?But the new receiver's installed. And I've got a buddy who owns a scrapyard. I've got him keep an eye out for a car with a compatible, and unexpired OS. Nothing so far, but it's a popular enough model, he might be able to get you something with 4 to 6 months left on it. Not life-changing, but it's time you wouldn't have to worry about just anybody being able to break into your car.?
?Cool,? I said. ?Let me know if you hear anything.?
The chat was already embroiled in an argument over whether Michelle was too old or fat for me. I rolled me eyes. She was certainly sweet to me, but I didn't assume that meant she was sweet on me.
?I hope it'll be sooner, rather than later.?
?Me, too,? I said, and turned towards my car outside.


  06:08:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 568 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Runt

Bill was so hungry, he was tempted to join Skot in eating David's entrails. The thought sickened him, and yet, he couldn't stop thinking it. So he walked into the kitchen, following the smell of Melissa's chili to the stove. Ang followed him, and so did Melissa, although he was aware it was more like she was stalking him. When Bill reached for the pot of chili on the stove she cleared her throat. He turned towards her, puzzled. ?None for him,? she said. ?I'm not wasting food.? ?That seems...? Bill started. ?Extraordinarily cuntly,? Skot shouted from the cafeteria through a mouthful of intestine. ?Ugh,? he said, ?I'm going to have shit breath after that bite.? Ang furrowed his brow, and stepped between Bill and Melissa. He grabbed the ladle and poured himself a bowl of chili. He held it up to his nose and sniffed it. It made his mouth water. He wondered how long it had been since he'd eaten. But he looked at Melissa. She seemed completely fine letting him near the food. He moved the bowl slowly towards Bill. Her lip curled back, and she started to growl. Ang pulled the bowl back to himself. He grabbed a spoon, and pushed a bite into his mouth. ?So this is okay?? he asked her. He filled another spoonful, and moved it towards Bill. Once it was within a foot of his mouth, Melissa swallowed. ?Don't,? she said. ?Why not?? Ang asked. ?He's not going to make it.? ?How do you know that?? Ang asked. ?I just... do. Same way I know that Skot's going to make himself sick, gorging himself on intestines.? ?But you know that's crazy, right?? ?Is it? Isn't that what bullying usually is? Instincts telling us that someone isn't evolutionarily fit to share in the group's resources?? Ang's brow furrowed more. ?You're not seriously defending bullying right now.? ?It has legitimate evolutionary reasons behind it. Humans are just kind of bad at picking up the signs and understanding why they bully. There's also all kinds of subtle, human, classist bullshit layered on top of it- I'm not saying all or even most bullying has a point- just that the behavior has parallels in less deluded species.? ?But it's also a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don't let Bill eat, he will die. And that isn't nature, or evolution, that's us killing him. In an unnecessarily slow and cruel manner. I'd be happier if you just tore out his belly now- at least then he wouldn't suffer as long.? ?I don't think I'd be happier with that,? Bill said. Melissa looked down and away. She frowned. She was having trouble reconciling her emotions with her aggression. Ang took that as a sign, and gave the bowl to Bill. Here eyes opened. ?It's not about food, though,? she protested. ?He isn't well. And unlike the rest of us, he isn't getting better. He's getting worse. That's why we left him at the train station. I don?t know what he?s got, but we weren't sure he wasn't going to infect us all.? ?Well if he's sick, I know a good doctor back at the Station. We'll take the chili to go. You should come with us. Both of you. I think everybody's like us, now. Which means we won't be attacking each other. But I think it's past time we figure out what to do next.?
  11:40:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 939 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Seven: 41%

Seven, 41%

I was just about to stop walking the neighborhood when I finally got the message that the footage was ready. It offered a chronological playthrough, which seemed like a good way to get an idea of the perp's route.
It played the first clip, the car pulling up outside of John's place. Then it animated a zoom away, starting with a map tight in on his place, then pulling out, too fast, and zooming back in again a block up, to a traffic camera view of the car speeding by. Then it zoomed out again, and into the security cam above a parcel service. Again, and again, zooming, too fast, in and out of a perspective; it seemed to be speeding up, but that was possibly just my head spinning.
Amidst the dizzying assault of imagery, I noticed my rating dip down to 37%. ?I'm right there with you,? I said. ?Slow down the playback. Insert a pause of five seconds on the map, between clips.?
The clips resumed, but this time they played at what felt like a reasonable to follow speed. I watched two more, and realized we were approaching the edge of the big red bubble- the radius I'd requested. I winced. I was going to look like an asshole if this had all been one long circle chasing my tail. I didn't think it was going to hurt my rating to the point I'd get fined, but I still didn't want to look like an idiot in front of that many people.
?Overlay the map,? I said, ?and the radius we've got footage for.? It did, and counted down the distance as the car approached the edge of the circle. At 3 meters it started to slow as it approached a light. I held my breath, and at 6 inches the final camera pulled up, and I watched as the car came to a stop at an intersection. The headlights from the oncoming traffic slashed across the vehicle, illuminating its QR code. The code was supposed to be lit, and if it had been, it would have been visible half a dozen times before now, but some older models were exempt.
?Stop the film,? I said. ?Enhance that.? The image zoomed once, twice, three times, pixelating further with each. ?Can you clean that up?? The image filtered, smoothing out the hard, squared edges of the code. My interface translated the code into an alphanumeric.
I exhaled through a smile. ?Registration details?? I asked. Several files flashed before my screen, first the VIN and registration, then a report of maintenance on the vehicle and the shops that serviced it, followed by information on the owner, James Archer. My screen flashed blue, as my rating increased quickly into the mid-fifties.
?Current location?? I asked.
My interface was overlaid with a map of the city. It placed a red dot where I was, and tiny text to that effect. After a moment, the word ?Unknown,? scrolled over the bottom of my screen.
?Investigator Tip: When an advocate finds a person of interest, whether or not they are themselves suspected as the perpetrator, they can request a citizen's alert, which will place the person's identifying information on public boards, in rotation with other municipal notifications.?
?Put out a citizen's alert for him,? I said.
Then I started to get nervous. I knew that the chat emptied out during lulls in the investigation. About the only people who didn't clear out were the people like ShartGargler, who were clearly here to egg me on in the most self-destructive trajectory possible.
I started back towards the direction of the mechanic shop. I checked my unread messages, and sure enough, there was one from Michelle, telling me the car was done.
A chilly wind blew. I pulled up the weather. It wasn't supposed to rain or snow; but then again, there wasn't supposed to be any cold wind, either. I shivered, but as I did I recognized a car turning around behind me, after driving past.
I tried to speed up, but I was tired, from canvassing, and the cold made my arms tighten, clutching my fingers together in front of my chest. The car stopped, and the window rolled down. ?Need a lift??
Some all-caps profanity from the chat caught my eye from, ?Randals10InPen15: FUCK OFF, pervert.? I started to smile.
He held up his empty hand, and his interface showed me a badge. My interface immediately printed, ?Credentials Verified, Police Detective Crandal Chase.?
?The four-play over?? he asked. ?Good. Because I'm all out of candy, kid, but I need you to get in my car.?
Every horror story from the bad days of policing flashed before my eyes. The race-riots, the corrupt civil forfeiture and the militaristic terror. The few police that survived the purges were tough as tank armor, or crafty as a trickster God. Whatever he wanted with me, I wanted nothing to do with it.
I let myself in the passenger side. ?Buckle in,? he said. I noticed he wasn't buckled, but that would hardly make him the first hypocrite cop.
As soon as I was belted in, he backhanded me across the nose.
?What the fuck?? I bellowed as it started to bleed.
?Police override: go to commercial,? he said, and suddenly my chat was empty.
The message ?Audience disconnected? showed at the bottom of my screen.
My shoulders tensed. Who had I pissed off? What was going on? As much as I'd come to dislike having an audience, I realized now they were a safety blanket, and without them I was naked to the elements. And predators.


  11:27:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1585 words  
Categories: Announcements

Next of Kin, Chapter Six: 49%

Six, 49%

I finished my hot dog on my way back out of the park. This time I walked past the bike, and up to the neighbor's front door. My interface autodialed inside. The call rang through, but without retrieving a name or a picture, and nobody picked up.
The door slid open, like my grandmother's used to when she left the chain attached. A big hand, with ?BIKE? written under the knuckles, pushed through the door. It had long, red manicured fingernails. I saw a woman's face through the crack. ?May I help you??
?I'm an advocate, investigating. I'd like to ask you a few questions, about your neighbor.?
?Oh, sure.? The door opened the rest of the way. ?Come on in.?
She was bigger than me, and wearing lots of black leather, and she had short blond hair. Now that she was in full view, my interface made a positive ID, and told me her name was Lisa.
She noticed me staring, and looked down at her clothes. ?You'll have to excuse the leather. I was about to go out for a ride- not getting off work at a sex dungeon.?
Despite the denial, I couldn't not imagine her working at a sex dungeon, and from her wicked smile she knew it, too; I wondered if it was intentional.
?Did you know my brother, your neighbor, next door?? I pointed in the direction of his house with my thumb.
?Met him just the once. His dog, big fucker, pit bull, I want to say, rammed his fat head through one of the slats in my fence. I mean, dogs are big, stupid animals, so I wasn't too upset over that. But I had a dog at the time, dainty, fluffy little thing, and she was in the back yard. Trapped with him.
?I go to let her inside after I get home, and she squalls at me from underneath this big dog. She bites him in the leg, and gets away, and he pounces on her again, and I realize he's trying to rape her.
?I grab his collar and try to pull him off, and that's when I see he's named Adolf. So I yell his name, tell him to stop while I'm trying to pull him off. Wouldn't listen- at all. Finally, I just kick him in his throat, high and hard enough he flew back.
?I've been around dogs enough to know that after that he's going to be worse, so I grab him by the throat while he's still down, and hold him. He snaps at me, and kicks. I squeeze his throat, to where he can hardly breathe, and put my other hand in his stomach, you know, telling him I could pull out his guts and his throat, and I'm his alpha bitch. But he doesn't stop, and he's as strong as he is stupid, so he's seconds from breaking loose, and either attacking me or raping my dog.
?That's when I see his big, floppy dog balls bouncing around on his stomach, and I think, yeah, if a dog were a bike, those would be his brakes. Thankfully I'd just got done for a ride, so I had on my heavy-duty shitkickers,? she stomped the ground and lifted the boots she was wearing, to illustrate. ?And I stomp him a couple of times. Finally, that puts the fear of God back into him, and he curls up fetal. He was submissive enough after that I led him by the collar back next door.
?Your brother answered the door in underpants and an undershirt. My blood was pretty well up, so I told him if that dog ever got in my yard again, he was only getting the head back, Godfather-style. That was the first and only time I ever saw him. He was high enough I don't know if he'd remember it; hell, he was high enough I thought about kicking his ass, because I was pretty sure he wouldn't have remembered even that- though he sure as hell deserved it.
?And what kind of asshole names his dog Adolf? And no, I do not care if it also means wolf, and dogs are descended from wolves. Having a pit bull that you essentially let be an asshole means you were naming him after Hitler. It's about as clever as having a baby so you can shit your pants in public without people being able to blame the smell on you.?
?John was an asshole,? I said. My screen flashed red, as my approval dropped to 43%; but I didn't care. He was an asshole, and even dead, he didn't deserve to have that forgotten. The only complaints in the chat seemed to be based around the curse; the only other activity seemed to be a discussion on the relative merits of tattoos, and a perpendicular discussion of Lisa's sexuality.
?Was?? she asked.
?I'm investigating his death.?
?Damnit. And here I am, going on about how big a tool he was.?
?Very tooly,? I said, ?can't argue there. The worst part about the dog is I don't think the dog was a jerk; it just learned to be a jerk from him.?
?Can I get you a beer?? she asked.
A message arrived on my interface. ?Investigator Tip: Drinking while performing the duties of an advocate can lead to lapses in judgment. It has also been linked to much harsher audience rating.?
Before I could even acknowledge the first message, a second appeared. ?Investigator Tip: Refusing hospitality can lead witnesses to become less cooperative, or even hostile.?
I wanted to sigh, but I knew she'd think it was for her. ?Tempting,? I said, ?but I've got more doors to go to. I got to think some folks will be less likely to let in a man who's boozy.?
?Mind if I?? she asked.
?Weren't you going for a ride?? I asked.
?Not for a while. We'll talk, then I'll wallow for a few minutes thinking about mortality. Then I'll eventually decide to ride, anyway, to feel alive while I can. But I'll be stone sober by then.? Her fridge spat out a beer, and she used a mounted lever to crank the top off. She upended the beer and drained a third of it, and when she lowered the beer I could finally read the word ?CHIC? on her other hand.
?Were you around last night? About 11:25??
?I work nights. I tend bar, at the Snake Pit.?
?I assume you can corroborate that.?
?My boss keeps me GPSed to make sure I stay on the premises- inside, even. One of his old waitresses was hooking out of the bar; she'd take customers out to their cars. Not that I blame her, the wages he pays, but the cops tried to say he knew about it, and seize the bar.?
?Seize the bar??
?Yeah. By claiming that he was using the bar as a brothel. They couldn't prove he was pimping the girl. But the burden of evidence was lower with the brothel accusation, because they were technically prosecuting his bar, and his bar doesn't have any Constitutional protections- the cops were allowed to presume guilt. Between the time he was shut down, and the cost of proving that his bar wasn't a brothel, he lost over ten grand. So he watches our whereabouts on the job. But if you want something more old-fashioned, there's about a dozen drunks and perverts who could vouch for me.?
I got a notification, that the footage was complete. ?Just got a message. You mind if I take a second?? I asked.
?Knock yourself out.? I started with the camera outside John's place. I played through it at 64 times normal speed. A car parked in front of the house, or, rather, in front of both John's and Lisa's. I looked at the angles from the camera on Lisa's doorstep, and Agness'. Neither got a look at more than the edge of the car, or could get me a look at the driver. I pulled up a camera from across the street.
When he got out of the car, I got a good look at him, though it was dark enough that his features were partially shrouded in shadow. I tried to pull an ID off the image, but it came back unknown. ?Investigator Tip: Some undesirables may use illegal interface modification to hide their ID from public databases.?
I shared the image of the car and the man with Lisa. ?Recognize either of these??
?That's your brother's friend, I assume? The car I know, because he was always parking outside my place, leaving me nowhere to put my bike.?
?You never met him??
?Nope,? she said.
Damn. ?Okay.? I shared my contact information. ?If you think of anything else, get in touch.?
?And if I don't think of anything else?? She smiled at me. Mercifully, the door shut before I had to figure out how to respond.
?Now how the hell am I going to track this bastard down?? I asked. My rating fluttered down.
But a message popped up. ?Investigator Tip: Vehicle and individual matches can be pulled from surrounding cameras automatically, reducing the manual labor involved.?
?Okay,? I said. ?Do that.?
A follow-up message informed me it would take several more hours to process. I spent those hours talking to neighbors circling around the home. The further I got out, the less anyone seemed to know, about John or the gunshot.


  11:23:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1881 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Five: 36%

Five, 36%

I hadn't noticed it, but my rating had been steadily ticking upwards as I investigated the scene. I didn't know whether that was sympathy- that I was facing what the audience probably considered my loss- or if it was based around any actual investigatory acumen of mine. I resolved next time I was alone in the bathroom to ask what kind of repeat viewership DCAs got, if there was just a certain class of people who liked to watch and rate. My mom had always loved watching true crime shows. It wasn't much far removed from that.
?What am I doing here?? I asked, half-rhetorically. It was at that moment that I remembered that I wasn't exactly alone, and my eyes shot to the scrolling chat window.
?FartGobbler: Jerking off over your brother's corpse??
A flurry of responses came immediately to my defense, and seconds later, FartGobbler's comment was gone, replaced by a message from, ?Petunia2039-mod: FartGobbler laid low by the ban hammer.?
?Investigator Tip: The first step an advocate should take following examination of the crime scene is to canvas for witnesses, starting with the immediate neighbors and spiraling outward from there.?
I groaned. I hated dealing with new people, let alone going door to door. The last time I'd done that was when John and I were kids, trying to sell marked-up candy bars for our scout troop. I'd forgotten John was a scout, back then- that he'd ever been anything, really, other than a low-life.
He had two immediate neighbors, one on either side. To the right was a house with an overgrown yard, and a big motorcycle parked out front. There was a sign in the window, like the ones that usually said, ?Beware of Dog? or ?No Trespassing,? that said only ?Fuck Off.?
To the left there was another house, in further disrepair. It had a collection of dwarves from the Disney version of Snow White in its garden. The were covered in green moss, their paint chipped and faded; loved and worn. There was a mat one step off the sidewalk that read, ?Welcome.?
I thought, for my first interview, I'd pluck the low-hanging fruit at the house on the left. I stepped over the mat, and continued up the walkway. Text flashed over the door in red that said, ?No solicitors,? but changed as I approached to blue that said, ?Official business.? I heard a tone as the door autodialed the resident, and routed the call through my interface.
?Hello?? I heard an elderly woman say. A static picture loaded while video connected, along with her name, Agness.
?Ma'am, good,? I looked in the top right corner of my interface, and saw that it wasn't morning anymore, ?afternoon. I'm a designated citizen advocate, investigating a crime.?
?What happened?? she asked, as video came through. Her eyes were empathetic.
?My brother was murdered next door.?
?Heavens,? she said. ?And this is such a nice neighborhood, too.?
?Yes, ma'am. I can ask questions over the phone, if you want, but I'm at your front door, if that would be less cumbersome.?
?Oh, yes, of course. How rude of me.? The door unlatched, and she appeared through the crack of the door. She let her own lenses scan my face, and check my credentials. ?Sorry about that. But at my age, you can't be too careful.?
The door slid the rest of the way open. ?Can I interest you in some tea? I have orange zest and chamomile.?
?I don't think that will be necessary.?
?Nonsense,? she said, and stepped inside a small kitchen. ?You have a seat,? she said, and gestured to some stools wrapped around an island separating the kitchen from her living room. ?You'll have some orange zest.?
?That sounds lovely,? I said, and sat down.
She hit a few buttons on her drink dispenser and it started gurgling. ?Did you know my brother?? I asked.
?The boy next door? Let me think... I saw him once, when I was getting my mail. We didn't talk, but he acknowledged me,? she said. ?That's about it.?
?Were you here, last night??
?All night.?
?He was shot.?
?Poor man,? she said, and looked gravely at me.
?Did you hear a gunshot last night? Or notice anything suspicious??
Her dispenser chimed, and a light came on. She held a cup beneath its spout and it poured out tea. ?How do you take yours?? she asked.
?Sweetener,? I said.
She hit a button, and filled a second cup, which she handed to me. ?There you are,? she said, and sat at a stool across the corner from my own. ?Last night,? she said. ?Your brother had a lot of visitors, lot of them late at night,? she said, and frowned. ?Not usually my business, you'd understand, but at night, the car lights cut right through my windows, and shine bright into my bedroom, very disruptive.? She shook her head. ?There was someone here, last night.?
?Did you see them, see a car, anything identifying??
?No,? she said sadly. ?I didn't think it was any of my business; I didn't want to be a busybody...? The question upset her, because now she felt she should have noticed someone coming.
?It's okay,? I told her. ?You're already doing better than me; I couldn't tell you if anybody visited my neighbor yesterday, and we share a wall.?
She nodded. ?But I did hear something. Right around the end of my game shows. They went to commercial, and I thought the noise came from my surround sound, except it was a catfood commercial, so that didn't make any sense. Let me have a moment.? She looked off, concentrating on something on her lenses. She was looking through her archived timeline from her lenses. She smiled, and turned back to me. ?The commercial was on at 11:25, and over by 11:26.?
?That will be very helpful,? I told her. I finished my tea. ?It was delicious,? I told her, and handed her the cup. ?My name is Conrad Reynolds,? I said. It was old-fashioned to introduce yourself like that, since everybody had gotten used to interfaces making the introductions for us- and more reliably, to boot. ?I'm sharing my contact information with you. Let me know if you think of anything else.?
She nodded. ?I'm sorry,? she said, as I started towards her door, ?about your brother.?
?Thanks,? I told her. I let myself out, and heard the door lock behind me.
I eyeballed the bike next door. I had a cousin who rode with a bike 'club.' It gave him the wrong kinds of outlets; he probably needed therapy, but instead he took out his anger on people who screwed with his club. Right before they were essentially run out of town. Everyone associated with the club became a persona non grata; their social capital dropped to a point where no one would employ them, or rent a room to them.
From there, they got worse. I stopped talking to my cousin when he bragged about nearly almost killing somebody. I just couldn't let him feel like I condoned it.
But I needed to talk to whoever lived on the other side of John's.
I turned towards the house, and my stomach gargled. Before I could even think about it, another message popped up. ?Investigator Tip: A growling stomach has the potential to unnerve and alienate witnesses. It is appropriate for advocates to take time to eat meals; audience members particularly appreciate meals that can double as a portion of the investigation.?
I glanced back at the bike. I told myself I wasn't just stalling. I looked across the street. I was pretty sure I'd seen a hot dog cart operating in it on the walk up.
I found it, near the playground. The operator was a man in his late middle ages, with a beard and thinning, curly black hair. From his skin color he probably had Latin or possibly Italian ancestry.
?I'll take a hot dog,? I said. ?With a drink.? He tapped a few buttons on the side of the cart.
?To drink??
?Tea, with a little lemon.? He hit a few more keys. ?How late do you usually stay here??
?Uh...? I realized that sounded like the kind of question somebody who wanted to rob, rape or murder him would ask.
?I'm a citizen advocate, investigating a murder,? I clarified. ?You probably weren't around by 11:30 last night??
?I'm gone before the sun goes down,? he said.
?You live around here?? He shook his head. ?Anything you might be able to tell me about the neighborhood, that could maybe help??
?I got mugged in this park, last year. Had a really good evening, a line of people that kept me serving until way past dark. And this last guy orders like five dogs, just enough that I'm only finishing his order when I realize everybody else has gone, so it's just the two of us. And he pulls a knife. He attached a mod onto my cart- my cart's linked to my interface, and with that he could hack in. And he had me empty the cart's funds for the day, and my account, and transfer it into a blank account.
?I called the cops, and gave them the blank account number; it was a dummy, used to deposit the funds but immediately emptied and erased. As far as the bank was concerned it had never even existed. None of my customers remembered him; he was good, apparently, at keeping himself inconspicuous. But then one of the cops told me to check the local cameras. Pulling footage from people's doors and whatnot. Since I knew exactly when he robbed me, it was pretty easy to get footage of him entering the park, and exiting, and even a few grainy shots of him in line or threatening me.
?System pulled an ID off the footage in about an hour, and the cops picked him up. I was out of commission less than a day. Having security cameras on every doorstep makes this more like a police state, but now that you, me and everybody else are the cops, that doesn't seem so bad.?
The hot dog finished cooking, and he slid it into a bun, then a wrapper, and handed it to me. ?Condiments are on your side of the cart,? he said. Then he poured my tea into a recyclable cup, and handed it to me.
?Thanks,? I said, and transferred the cost of the meal along with a tip to him.
?Thank you. And be careful. Much as people hated the cops by the end- with fucking reason- they don't much care for deputized advocates, either. Especially if you get up to anything like what got the cops run out- corruption, racist bullcrap, excessive force- mine was a comparatively tame case of patching together some footage. But good luck.?
I started to walk away, idly selecting camera controls from the DCA menu. I knew a short window of when the gunshot occurred. I requested camera access within a mile radius for an hour before and after. A message told me that processing the request would take several hours.
That was fine. I still had more potential witnesses to interview.


  04:45:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 824 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Four: 22%

Four, 22%

Michelle took the car from me. ?It's not a problem if I leave the car here, is it?? I asked.
?Visiting someone?? she asked.
?Nothing like that, I've got some business in walking distance I'd like to take care of.?
She smiled again. ?No problem at all. I'll shoot you a note, once it's fixed.?
I started on foot. As the city receded in front of me, I realized it was a longer trip on foot than I originally thought. I was about to GPS the distance, to know how much pain I was in for, when I received a message from the Medical Examiner's office. It was her preliminary notes, along with an additional message that the 3D rendering of the crime scene was processing, and would auto-forward to my inbox as soon as it was done 'baking.' There was also a brief condolence, signed with the name Nevaeh.
The notes were all but meaningless away from the scene. The location lock had probably assumed I'd be in a vehicle, so unlocking a mile from the scene made sense. Eventually I got there.
The door was locked, but the moment I looked at it, the text DCA override appeared on my lenses. An instant later the door slid into the wall.
?I could get used to this,? I said.
As I entered the home, a distance meter appeared on the right side of my screen, as well as a strange shape overlaid on the floor, fainter in places where the wall prevented me from seeing, accompanied by the label, ?Crime scene.?
I touched the wall, leaning into the front room. The background of my interface flashed red, as another message popped up. ?Investigator Tip: To avoid becoming a suspect, refrain from leaving your fingerprints or physical evidence at a crime scene.?
My fingers recoiled on their own, like they were a snake striking in reverse, but the damage was done, already. At least I had my own lens recording of me doing it, so it wasn't likely anyone was going to claim I'd been here before.
And I hadn't. It was a nice, well kept up little home. My entire apartment would have fit inside the crime scene. I felt myself getting warmer, getting angry, because John had always been able to prosper, even as a criminal. I reminded myself there was also a strong possibility he was dead- a possibility that loomed ever larger the longer this strange day went on.
Now that I could see the room, the examiner's notes made a lot more sense. I opened up the message again. Before I could use them for a walk-through, I received another message. ?Rendering complete. View??
?Yes,? I said, and realized I didn't know if the DCA tools were voice-activated or not. I stared at my approval rating, but it stayed the same.
My lenses dimmed the light in the room, and flashed a time, specifically a 4-hour window around midnight, which it stated was ?Based on time of death.?
Two men, like the outlines on bathroom doors, stood in the room, one blue, one red. The one in blue raised a gun, and shot the red man in the back. Red fell. For an instant he had a human hand, with fingers splayed, and I noticed the outline of a hand, where he caught his fall, as blood poured out of him, soaked into the carpet. Red started to crawl away, on his chest.
?How are you doing this?? I asked.
?Investigator Tip: Ballistics can identify the rough trajectory of a projectile through flesh, and when combined with blood-spatter analysis, and known crime scene metrics, like the height of the victim, can be used to extrapolate facts not in evidence.?
?Can you specify evidence?? I asked.
3-dimensional circles overlaid on my lenses, drawing attention to evidence. The first piece I noticed was in front of where Red fell, a hole in the carpeting, surrounded by a dot of blood. The word ?bullet? appeared over the hole. ?No known ballistics match,? followed.
?Can you elaborate?? I asked.
?Investigator Tip: The bullet came from a 9 mm handgun. The rifling and striations match machining for the Beretta series of 9 mm handguns produced in Gallatin, Tennessee. However, an exact match could not be found, as the specific markings were not on record. The cartridge was not found, and therefore could not be matched to any particular style of Beretta hammer. It is likely that the perpetrator removed the cartridge upon leaving the scene.?
I stepped forward, towards the next circle hovering above the floor. It was a bloodied print, from the same hand. There was another, leading midway into the next room. I followed, and found the outline of a human body instead of another circle, crumpled, with a bloodied splash cascading out of the chest. ?Body found here.?
The body was John's size. I shuddered. But no, he had to be alive.


  04:40:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 998 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Three: 27%

Three, 27%

I washed out my eyes, and enough of the cameras filtered out that I could see without my eyes watering indefinitely. I hadn't gotten a tip saying so, but I was pretty sure no one was going to trust an advocate crying uncontrollably- sobbing, maybe, if the crime seemed devastating, but not how I was, now.
It wasn't that John's death didn't affect me. But he'd always been a troubled kid, going back to elementary school. He was smoking before middle school, smoking pot before high school, and dealing harder drugs before he dropped out of that.
And it wasn't the first time we thought he died, either. He disappeared a half-dozen times before, completely off the grid, unreachable. My mother was once so convinced he was dead that she started to plan a wake, only for him to show up a week before, asking for money.
And it also wouldn't be the first time the police got an ID wrong, especially on somebody running illegal mods, like every smuggler had to. Could be somebody had ghosted his ID, or that he hocked it when he was low on cash. Could just be that the ME got lazy. But I'd always been pretty sure that despite his dangerous lifestyle, he was going to outlive me, because John always had that kind of luck.
I found a piece of chewing gum in one of my drawers; I remembered hearing gum was good for cleaning the nanites out of your teeth. The gum was old, to the point it was brittle and shattered into several pieces when I bit into it, but it softened as I chewed.
I left my apartment. My car door was ajar. I heaved a heavy sigh. Broken into, again.
My car OS was out of date. When a new OS came on the market, Sontem released the skeleton unlock code to the outdated OS. Supposedly, they did it to make it easier for mechanics to find problems with and update older versions of the OS. But it also forced people to upgrade to the newest version, or be vulnerable.
I glanced over the contents of my car. I had stopped leaving anything inside, since this happened with increasing frequency. But of course the receiver was gone. It interacted with the cell & radio towers, as well as the satellites, and gave the vehicle access to a whole slew of outdated amenities. Even my aging lenses could provide GPS, phone and internet. About the only thing I couldn't replace was the music; cochlear implants were somewhere on the list below a lens upgrade and a vehicle OS upgrade. ?Guess we won't have music today,? I muttered.
I'd replaced the receiver several times, now, but as little as I used the car, it didn't seem worth it. It was difficult to remove without a specialized tool, one that apparently the person who kept breaking into my car had. But especially without my usual pay from tutoring, I was worried about how I was going to feed myself, let alone about being able to rent songs for what little driving I did.
For whatever reason, that idea seemed to annoy the audience, and my rating dropped to 23%. Worse, the chat erupted, demanding that I make time to take the car into a garage to have another receiver installed. FartGobbler suggested that they downvote me further with every second I refused. My rating dropped to 21%.
I called up my account balance. It was practically empty, though I knew from experience I had just enough to cover the new receiver. My rating was 19%, and flickered down to 18 for a second before hitting 19 again. A warning popped up. ?Investigator tip: if your approval remains below 10% for longer than two hours, you will be automatically cited for inadequate investigation, which carries a minimum penalty, and at a maximum can include six months in jail.?
?Okay,? I said out loud. ?I can take the car to the garage. It's within walking distance of where I'm going.?
My rating improved, to 20%, at which point Randal suggested they not positively reinforce me- that it would complicate things less if there was never a treat, only an electric shock when I screwed up. Fuck Randal.
I called the mechanic on my way to his shop. I'd been there enough recently I didn't even need the GPS that popped up on the left side of my interface. The mechanic's picture, along with her name, Michelle, blipped into the upper corner of my lens. ?Conrad? How's that new receiver working out for you?? I knew she didn't remember me that well; business people's interfaces connected customers with their purchase history automatically.
?You'd have to ask the guy who took it.?
She shook her head. ?The OS again?? she asked.
?Yeah,? I said. That probably wasn't in my file. ?Calling to replace the receiver.? I turned a little red. She knew better than me it was a fool's errand putting another receiver into a car that for all intents and purposes didn't lock. But a new OS cost as much as a dozen receivers, and I don't think I'd ever had that much scratch to my name at any one time. It was more cost-effective just to buy a used car with an unexpired OS. I prepared myself for the embarrassment of telling her I'd been bullied into getting the receiver, but couldn't afford the OS.
?I've got some time free this morning. It's a pretty quick install, couple of hours to get the receiver talking to your OS and then interfacing with all the signal vectors. That work for you?? I breathed a sigh of relief, and realized maybe she did recognize me, after all.
?Absolutely,? I said. ?And thanks, Michelle.?
?For a quick patch job on your spark thrower? I just appreciate the repeat business- even if I hope it won't repeat too soon,? she smiled pleasantly at me.
?I know what you mean,? I said.


  04:32:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1032 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin,Chapter Two: 32%

Two, 32%

A notification popped up in the top left of my interface, telling me that all of my scheduled meetings for the day had been cancelled, and that all participants had been auto-notified. I swore very loudly in my head, because I knew that meant I was going to get a call from Cynthia Studer in 3, 2...
The call rang through. ?What in the retard-humping fuck do you think you're doing to my daughter?? she screamed. I winced, as my rating dropped four more points.
Cynthia was a helicopter parent, but not just the kind that hovered, the kind that was built for assault. Some tutors called them 'Apaches' or 'Comanches,' after military attack helicopters, but that always felt a little... problematic to me, not to mention seriously unfair to the Native people being associated with these parents.
I mean, I understood her concern. If your kid didn't get good test scores, they couldn't get into good programs, without being in good programs, they weren't eligible for the good internships, and without those they'd never have access to good jobs. Scrimping on a good tutor meant your kid's future could be over before they could count to their own age.
But putting that kind of pressure on kids only made more of them fail. And having that pressure come both from society at large and the parents, tended to crush more kids than it turned into diamonds.
?I'm sorry, Ms. Studer,? I said. ?But my brother's been killed, and I've been deputized to deal with the crime.?
?Oh,? she said. It was the fastest I'd ever seen her shut down, but I could also see her wheels turning. I needed to defuse the situation, before she figured out a way to turn all of this to her advantage.
?But if you'd like, I can make up the time.? She glared at me through my lenses. ?Maybe even give you time and a half, for the usual fee, for the inconvenience.? A thin smile curled over her lips.
At that moment, the chat window expanded in the bottom right of my interface, with a single message from ?FartGobbler: Pussy.?
?That would be fine,? she said. ?And Conrad, you kill the bastards that did this.?
I nodded. ?Thanks for your understanding. I'll contact you to reschedule once I'm done with the investigation. Goodbye.? I disconnected. I hated that I was going to be doing work for that woman for free, but all told I'd probably gotten off light.
Or maybe I couldn't be as upset about it as I wanted because I was staring at the word 'Pussy' on the right side of my vision. I pulled up an input, and placed my fingers in the home position over virtual keys overlaid in front of me on my lenses. Another message popped up. ?Investigator Tip: While it can be tempting to directly address your critics, research confirms that audience participants do not appreciate confrontation, and even those sympathetic to an advocate may turn on them when lashing out at even the most abusive of audience members.?
I was still weighing the stupidity of defending myself when another thought occurred to me. I opened up the DCA menu again, and brought up the questions prompt, and used my input to type in the question, ?How much of my interface can the audience see??
?Investigator Tip: Only DCA-specific programs on utilities are visible to the audience by default. This protects advocates' privacy and personal information, and protects audience members from accidental exposure to lens-based erotica.?
I got a notification there was a package at my door. Out of habit, I pulled up the camera outside the door. Delivery person must have just left it outside, which I'd gotten used to. On the off-chance somebody had left me a bomb, the police could always pull footage from a few seconds before to get an ID.
I slid my fingers over the door as I crossed the room, and it slid open. It was a standard reusable shipping crate, which meant there was a deposit on it. Sure enough, when I got close, a label popped up on my interface that told me they would debit the amount from my account, a half a day's wages, should I accept delivery, and return the funds upon receipt of the container.
I queried the sender of the package. It was from the police department, care of the DCA's Office. Which meant it was official, and probably something I was going to need. I picked up the package, and a green checkmark appeared beside the note. In red, I got a notification from my bank that the money had been debited.
The door closed automatically behind me. As soon as it was sealed, the crate lit up on one side. I realized it was scanning my fingerprints. ?Recipient confirmed,? flashed on the front panel of the crate, and the top folded outward, like a plastic, cubic flower blooming. Out of the crate shot a cloud of nanites that swarmed over me. It got in my eyes, into my nose, mouth, ears, and into my throat. I knew enough to guess they were tiny cameras.
?Investigator Tip: Most advocates find it best to close their eyes and mouth, and to exhale through their nose, to prevent cameras lodging inside these important facial orifices.?
I coughed, and a piece of phlegm covered in little metal specks hit the side of the crate. Then my eyes started burn, and it was all I could do not to rub them. ?I think I've got cameras in my eyes.?
I couldn't see, other than what displayed on my lenses, which included a message. ?Randals10InPen15: We all do, shartbrain. They're called lenses.?
I'd read enough stories about the dangerous potential of nanotechnology, how they could deconstruct people on the molecular level. It had never happened, of course, but it was possible. More troublesome, was that even incidental exposure to nanotech increased your likelihood of cancers by 17%. Most cancers could be cured, ironically enough through surgery using thousands of nanites, but it also usually meant cutting off large amounts of flesh. And I liked my flesh where it was.


  10:51:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1090 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter One


I woke with the words ?visual data share pending? legible in glowing blue on my eyelids. I made the mistake of trying to rub the tired out of my eyes. My OLED contacts scratched, and I whimpered; they were still first-gen, not like the fancy implants most people got to today. I was trying to save up for my upgrade, but on a tutor?s salary, it was taking time.
I got a message notification, set to alert me as soon as I woke up. I opened the note. ?We regret to inform you of your brother?s death. The cause would appear to be violence. You have our condolences.?
God. That meant I was going to have to call mom. She was going to be a wreck.
I didn?t want to talk to her- but it wasn?t the kind of thing you did over email. And worse, it probably wasn?t enough to do voicechat- I was going to have to include video.
But before I could so much as look for a shirt, I got another message notification, high priority, this one marked as official.
?In accordance with the Law Enforcement Corruption and Citizen Responsibility Act (LECCRA), law enforcement officials?s mandate to investigate law breaking was scaled back to include only crimes in progress, or police corruption. Per the LECCRA, nonprogressive crimes are investigated by a deputized citizen advocate, a.k.a., the victim of the crime. If the victim is incapable, due to death, injury or other handicap, of investigating the crime, their next of kin will be deputized in their stead. Investigation of a reported crime is mandatory. Failure to investigate to the satisfaction of an audience of your peers will result in a charge of obstruction of justice, and potentially render you an accomplice after the fact to the crime under investigation.
?For your convenience, law enforcement professionals have prepared a handbook to familiarize the advocate with investigative best practices and techniques. The handbook will progressively unlock, allowing you to peruse information applicable to your investigation as it becomes necessary.
?We regret the circumstances that have rendered you an advocate, but wish you a pleasant day.?
The message overlaid across my vision changed from ?pending? a visual data share to ?achieved.? A popup anchored to the right side of my vision, labeled ?audience rating.? It was marked ?0.00%? with an asterisk attached to note that data was pending.
A message flashed in blue at the bottom of my vision, ?Investigator Tip: Witnesses are more cooperative with an advocate who presents him or herself cleanly and professionally.? Like a Pavlovian dog, I sniffed myself, without raising my arms.
?Yep,? I said, ?definitely ripe.?
I walked into the bathroom, and dropped my shorts. Since I was going to take a shower, anyway, I didn't need them, so I kicked them into the hall. Then I looked down, to aim while I peed. There was a ding in my ear, vibrating from my jaw, and my rating flickered, and updated. The background flashed from light blue to red, and stopped at 37%.
Another message flashed on the screen. ?Investigator Tip: Audiences hate to see an advocate?s genitals. To prevent audience dissatisfaction, you can temporarily halt the video stream while going to the bathroom, or try the new privacy auto-censoring app (beta).?
?Crap,? I said, and my rating dropped a few more points.
?Investigator Tip: Audiences do not appreciate profanity, up to and including 'soft profanity' like nuts, crap, and heck. They will be more tolerant of third-party profanity, but excessive swearing by individuals in proximity to an advocate has been shown to lower an audience?s overall approval of the advocate by association.?
?That was timely,? I said, annoyed at the information coming after it would have been helpful.
I stepped under the shower, and water poured from the ceiling. Through the water I could also see my genitals, so I focused in the bottom left corner of my vision, to activate my interface options. There was a new interface related to deputized citizen advocacy under the heading DCA. I activated the privacy function, and I started washing myself.
When I started to rinse off, I glanced down. The censoring app pixelated my penis, but to somewhat ruin the effect, overlaid the word ?penis? over it. I looked at the wall, then put my hand in front of my genitals, and dangled my penis in front of it and looked back down. The app pixelated my hand at first, then the printed the words, ?not a penis? over top of it, and the pixelation disappeared. There was a delay when I took my hand away from my genitals, and the program wasn't sure what it was looking at, and displayed ?penis?? before the pixelation returned, and the question mark disappeared. I told myself it was because the app was still in beta- not that I had anything to be concerned about.
I noticed my approval rating dipped to 34% percent.
?Sorry,? I said, ?guess that privacy app isn't ready for the big time.? My rating adjusted up to 42%, though I realized that was probably because people thought I was making a dick joke.
I finished rinsing quickly, and dressed. I combed my hair, and brushed my teeth. I was stalling. I didn't want the day to start, for any of this to be real. But my brother wasn't coming back, and as I inspected my nose hairs in the mirror I could watch as my approval numbers plunged deeper into the toilet.
So I connected a call to my mother, and waited for her to come on the line. ?Mom,? I said softly.
?I just paid my electricity,? she said, ?and I'm already eating nothing but potatoes as it is this month.?
?That's not why I'm calling.?
?I can see you,? she said, and blinked at me. ?You never video call me.?
?It's about John. He died, mom.?
?Naturally?? she asked, as her eyes welled up with tears.
I swallowed. ?I'm investigating his homicide.?
Her eyes got wide. ?So we're on camera. People can see me? Why would you tell me while people can see me?? She hung up abruptly, and my rating dropped again, to 35%.
?Investigator Tip: You can mute the audience for thirty seconds when informing loved-ones of a crime; it gives them a moment to compose themselves, and to decline further observation if they choose. Audience's react positively to this treatment, and have described it in surveys as 'humane.'?
?Always know how to kick me in the stones while I'm down,? I muttered.


  06:05:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 373 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Baby Rabies

?Huh,? Mai said, adjusting the focus of her stained slide under the microscope. ?That's always comforting to hear from your doctor,? Maria said. Mai looked up at her. ?Um... it's like you're at the hormone-ragiest part of puberty while ovulating and pregnant and going through menopause- but all of them turned up to record high levels. I'm pretty sure hormone levels this high would be toxic if it weren't for our condition. But even if it isn't killing your cells, it's wreaking pure havoc with your moods.? ?I could have told you that. It's like the worst PMS ever.? ?Yeah, it's not just estrogen and progesterone that makes a woman. There's testosterone- and you've had enough of an influx that would make a doping body builder cream in his banana hammock. ? ?But that wasn't what I was huhing about. Because I did an amniocentesis.? ?I thought that was a weird bit of foreplay.? ?And your womb is fine. Which is actually really weird, since the rest of you is so not. Your hormone levels are actually perfect- like if there were lab instructions on baking the perfect bun in a test tube oven. It's like... like your body's actually been rerouting all of the extra hormones and whatever to keep it away from the baby. Which has only made you crazier, since it's concentrating those hormones everywhere else.? ?But you think it's the baby?? ?I've only had four of us to study samples from, so it's pretty damn far from scientific. And maybe- maybe- the disease is trying to protect the baby from something else. But, you know, you caught space werewolf herpes- I doubt you've also got a previously undiscovered hormonal disorder.? ?Cancer?? Maria asked. ?It would have to be a weirdly selective cancer, because there's no one location where all of the hormones you have elevated are produced. So I wouldn't bet any farms on it.? ?Okay,? Maria said. ?I'm trying to figure out if that's good news or not.? ?That kind of depends. It's possible that you're acclimating, that the mood swings and extra craziness are becoming your normal, so you'll be able to cope with it better. Or...? ?I continue having rages- homicidal- and creepily aggressive sexual urges. Great.?


  01:26:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 294 words  
Categories: Announcements, Next of Kin

NaNoWriMo 2014: Next of Kin

Okay, everybody. I hope you're ready for some fun literary performance art. If you're new to my work, or don't check the blog regularly, you may not have tagged along with my November tradition before.

Basically, November is that hellish time known to writers, both amateur and professional, as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal is simple: Write a 50,000 word or more novel in a month.

My take on it is a little tougher. Write a 50k word novel in a month, while posting a chapter on my blog and Wattpad daily, as it's written.

The magic of almost any story happens in rewrites, and these drafts are a little rougher than the final kindle-ready project. But it's fun, and gives me great motivation to share new stuff with you. Last year's NaNo project, Twist was a blast to write, and is still up for perusal in the sidebar categories. The year before that was The Singularity, and the year before that was Banksters. As you can see, I have a long and storied history of letting it all hang out to show you my writing as it takes shape.

Starting November 1st, I will be serializing Next of Kin daily.
Next of Kin

Next of Kin
Conrad's brother died by violence. Not that this is a surprise- the man ran with criminals for years. But new laws passed after a spate of police corruption scandals and budget cuts say that as the next of kin, Conrad is responsible for investigating the crime to the satisfaction of overseers peeping through his neural implants. His watchers are almost as fickle as the criminals he tracks, and as he plunges into his brother's life and demise, Conrad finds his own held hostage.

I'll see you November 1st!

  12:46:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 138 words  
Categories: The Necromancer's Gambit, Announcements

Now Available: Heroes Urban Fantasy and Superhero Bundle #2, including Blood Moon, a brand new Gambit novella.

Hi, guys. Part of this month's ugly delays was ADHD commanding me to work overtime on a few brand new stories coming soon in new anthologies and multi-author collections. The first of these I have to share with you is Blood Moon.

Blood Moon is a Gambit novella, set between The Necromancer's Gambit, and Kindred Spirits (Coming soon, though not as soon as I wanted). It follows Knight and Scarlat tracking a murderer. Perfect quick read for keeping you occupied between trick or treaters.

The collection's got a lot of great of great stuff from a lot of unique authors on the front lines of the urban fantasy scene. Blood Moon is also available separately, but since it's the same price for one book as for eleven, why not snag Heroes, and chance finding a new favorite author.
Heroes #2


  06:05:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 526 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Solitary

Levy shifted uncomfortably. He still wasn't happy with the plan to lock Rica and Paul in a storage container. He wanted more than anything to stop Paul from sealing the door. But he was having trouble even staying on his feet. As soon as he heard the door bolt shut, Levy ran for the bathroom. Until he hit the door he thought he was going to vomit; he sat down on the bowl barely in time. After the better part of an hour he slunk to his bed and passed out. He saw Clod rarely the next few days. They were down to two crew members, which meant there was only four hours of overlap where they were both awake and on duty. It also meant both had far more work than they could keep up with. That's how he rationalized staying sick all week, and why it took her the week to figure out something was wrong with him. He was cooking, when she came to him. ?You have antibiotic-associated diarrhea, caused by pseudomembranous colitis.? ?That's a common mispronunciation; it's actually 'vermicelli'- though I'd be the first to admit it looks like a parasitic worm.? ?You'd be better off with a parasitic worm,? she said. ?I, uh, well, I noticed you weren't doing well. So I set the toilet to collect a specimen for me. And you have pseudomembranous colitis, specifically caused by Clostridium Difficile. It's why the diarrhea's been so bad.? Levy stopped chopping vegetables, and went to the sink to rewash his hands. He wanted to deny it. But the last week had been pure hell. ?Can you give me something for it?? ?Antibiotics caused this. And you're not responding to the vancomycin-? ?When did you-? ?You don't pay a lot of attention during your physical exams. But it's gotten worse since I started treatment- possibly because in the lower gravity the bacteria are reproducing at a faster rate. But there's nothing stronger I can give you to fix it.? ?You're not one of those vaccine deniers, right? They don't let anti-science types into space.? ?No. But if you've ever read the Andromeda Strain, then you get the idea. Clostridium Difficile is found naturally in a small percentage of human colons. In most people it's an opportunistic infection; it takes root when their systems are compromised- specifically when their body's natural fauna populations are in flux. Say after a massive dose of antibiotics, like what we gave you after Rica messed up your arm. We were trying to make sure you didn?t get infected, but I?m not sure this is a better outcome.? ?But you're sure it isn't what they've got?? he asked nervously. ?To my knowledge, nobody else was having butt problems. And no. I haven't found any of the antibodies that were in Paul's blood.? ?Then what are our options?? ?Right now? Nothing. We're still hoping for the vancomycin to gain a foothold. But after that, colectomy. I cut out your butt.? ?But I like my butt.? ?Really? Sorry, that mean.? He frowned at her. ?I like the inside parts of it. Without those, the vermicelli would go right through me.?


  06:04:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1292 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Binge/Purge

Bill's chest hurt. He'd had nights like that before, when his cat slept on him- an obese cat with a penchant for colonizing his chest, and standing up every ten minutes to brush up on his point work. Bill tried to sit up, but the muscles in his back complained, and refused to move. He remembered he wasn't on earth, and his overweight cat wasn't on the Station with him. More to the point, he wasn't in his bed. The pain brought the memory of the wolf back, and his entire body tensed. His eyes fluttered open, and he tried to survey the area without telegraphing that he was awake. He didn't see movement- particularly not of a giant wolf. But he also didn't see David. His vision was blurry, but the place where he'd last seen David was red. His eyes adjusted, and he could tell the red was a streak of blood. He could tell from the pattern that David crawled across the floor, crawled beside him, in fact. There the red became fainter- still a drag motion, but the strokes of his bloodied clothes along the floor were longer. He was being dragged. ?Bill?? he heard a voice, and nearly pissed himself. He blinked his eyes rapidly. He wasn't sure he had the strength to stand, let alone run, but if death was coming he at least wanted to see it. Bill saw the new guy standing next to a newly arrived train. He new his name, had a mnemonic for it; he had a pointy chin- angular. Ang. ?You okay?? Ang asked. ?Not really,? he said. Ang helped Bill stand up. In standing he felt pain in his arm, and realized it hung wrong, and that the pain got worse if he didn't support it at the elbow. He wrenched on it just enough that it bent just a little where there was supposed to be solid bone. ?Where are the others?? Ang asked. Bill pointed towards the blood, and started shuffling in the direction it pointed. Bill knew he had to find David, even if that likely meant finding the wolf, too. At the edge of the maglev station, Bill thought he heard movement. He pressed his body against the edge of one of the support columns, and slunk around it. Ang followed his lead. But there was nowhere for a giant wolf to hide. They followed the smear of blood to the cafeteria. Inside, Bill could hear the sounds of flesh ripping, and the wet sounds of uncooked meat slapping against the floor, hurried breaths and the sounds and tongue and teeth. He wanted not to know what was happening in the next room, to either wait for his own death someplace more peaceful or to try and sneak away. But he had to look- he owed David at least that much. He forced his head inside, and saw the blood trail thicken, and collect into a lake, and an island in the center of it was David's body. His chest had been opened up. The stumps of his ribs clawed at the air; they had been broken enough to allow for the massive head of the wolf to get at his pink viscera. He was still there, buried up to his jaw inside David's body cavity. Not as a wolf, but Skot, the crewmate Bill had liked even after finding out he was having an affair with Vince. He heard Bill and sat bolt upright. Smatters of blood and organs covered his face, except for two streams where tears poured constantly from his eyes, and washed the gore away. He tore a strip of meat out in his mouth, and sat up to chew it, when he noticed Bill staring from the door. ?I cou-cou-couldn't,? he said around bite. He swallowed it, half-chewed, ?stop,? he whispered, and wiped at his face. ?Skot,? Bill said, overcome, stepping inside the cafeteria. Skot started to retch, and doubled over beside the corpse. His tears fell into the pooled blood, and caused ripples, and he looked at his reflection in the puddle. ?You ever, ever have one of those days where you just, you see your reflection and you don't know how you got to that point?? he asked. ?I remember... I remember hunting Melissa, chasing her to the maglev station, then following her down the tracks towards Alpha. And the next thing, I wake up cheek-deep in a coworker's intestines. I don't- I don't think I wanted to hurt anyone. But the train... I was so hungry when I woke up. Coming back from the collision with the train... it took so much out of me. I've never been so famished. I was insane. My body told me to eat everything- eat anything- even peel strips from my own flesh, just to staunch the burning in my stomach.? Skot started retching again, only this time he couldn't stop himself. He vomited into the pool of blood, causing a red tidal wave to surge past its original shore, that crested against Bill's boot. Then Skot started licking up the meal he'd just lost. ?I tried to stop him,? Melissa said from the doorway. Bill jumped, and turned to face her. He realized she was the one they heard in the maglev station. ?In fact, he was starting to make me hungry, so I made a big pot of chili. There aren't a lot of supplies at Alpha- just the emergency ration stores, in case the Maglev breaks down with crew over here. But there's still some, in case you've lost some mass and don't want what he's having.? ?Mass?? Bill asked. ?The wolf bit my arm, latched onto it and wrenched it around. You've seen a puppy do it with a stuffed animal before right? And it's cute. But he broke my arm, several times over. And then nearly ripped it off. When it let go of me it was seriously hanging by threads of skin. I had to carry it, or it would have just fallen off.? She showed him the blood-soaked, shredded sleeve of her shirt, then rolled it up. ?And now? Good as new. Better, maybe. My shoulder doesn't hurt anymore- and my shoulder's ached pretty much constantly since I hurt it when this dumb bitch dropped me doing a pyramid.? Bill's eyebrow went up, and she flipped him off. ?I was a cheerleader.? ?That's unsurprising.? She flipped him off again. ?And that's stereotyping, prick.? He sighed. ?I didn't mean anything. Honestly, I was more invested in, well, our dead friend on the floor.? ?It sucks,? Melissa said. ?But he's spilt milk. It's done. We're... we're all different, now. Like... we've been turned from raw flour into cakes. But for him... shit just didn't go right. His cake didn't get a chance to rise.? ?And that's enough?? She sighed. ?I'm not telling you not to grieve, or be sad. I am. But you better as fuck stop looking at me and Skot like we're monsters.? ?Or what? You'll show me how monstrous you can be?? ?I'm pretty sure I can beat you until you shit yourself bloody, and that you'll heal up just fine. I don't know if that's monstrous- but it could be useful in promoting a healthy team dynamic.? ?Don't,? Skot managed to get out, pausing to swallow bile, ?don't view her too harshly. It's a whole lot to take in. It's adrenaline, and heightened anxiety and aggression and... power. It changes everything- and it's terrifying and liberating at the same time. In those circumstances some people act like a cunt.? ?And some people just murder and eat their friends and coworkers,? she hit back. ?So maybe acting like a cunt beats the alternative.?

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