Short Story: The Bovine Folk

Nobody ever asks about the Cows, the Bovine folk. Chickens, turkeys, sure; deer, yes. Bears and Tigers and Lions– well, the last ones speak for themselves. Literally.

Point is, nobody ever asks. Prob’ly, because those that know them know the truth already. Those that don’t, aren’t prepared for The Bovine Reality. All the same, where are they? What happened to them? Why? What the bloody hell could occur to an entire species that it was seemingly, however shoddily, scrubbed from reality?

Firstly, it’s not so much no-one knows as no-one wants to talk about it. The situation is yet another delicate, fractal-relic of the post human-dominance era. People– human people, don’t really know what to say. They’re just as perplexed by the whole thing as the rest of people– Evolved or not

Problem is, the only people that really might’ve ever understood some decisions are long dead and dust. Prob’ly less, now.

Digressions aside, Bovines had every reason, right, and allowance to leave, hate us, or war with us. For what little we know, they did, will. All of them. At least, if any stayed, they’ve kept hidden; prob’ly just to enjoy the peace, graze at-will.

But who were they, what did they look like? Like cows crossed with humanoid genetics. Like all Evolved.

They had more or less human features, save for the cases of all hoofed creatures– with mallets on the ends of their arms rather than dexterous digits. All of them adapted. Not a single Solsian creature living would begrudge another an opened door these days. Even less so for Bovines.

Not a single Bovine would ask.

Why should they? They were an entire species existing for no purpose but to serve another, superior one’s appetite. Once, anyway. Not so much anymore. People didn’t eat meat anymore. Meat was a luxury. Eating was utilitarian. Long gone were the days of meat and mead.

But that was okay. Because Sol, its peoples, had more than enough otherwise. If food was ever requested or desired, it was available. As for meats and their origins, in all but the seediest places it was the luxury it had become; expensive, complexly vat-grown, engineered for taste and satisfaction. It wasn’t meat. It was meat.

It was the connoisseur mindset for an aficionado niche. It was no more or less complicated than necessary. Food need only be guaranteed, not enjoyable– though preferably enough to hold off revolt. Anything more in the turbulent unrest after Contact was asking too much. Nobody denied that.

Contact and everything during, after– even a little before, was chaos incarnate. Its immediate echoes would continue resonating for generations, forever-after altering countless species and their futures.

Species aside, people needed some guarantees now; water and shelter were guaranteed by the simple immensity of the cos mos. Food wasn’t. Thus food was it. It was easiest conceit for all involved. Free food for all. Caches. Dumps. Drop-ins. Stamps. Every world, outpost, and settlement, no matter how big or small, played host to at least a few choices as to how and where to eat.

It was an imperative now, socially, that no-one starve. Food; guaranteed enough not to die between meals, was the conceit that united Sol.

Humans could never have done it on their own. They were too set in their ways. They needed a massive external lever, something to turn them away from being wholly-evil assholes their entire existence.

Contact threw a tens of billions of levers at-once.

While Contact did more good than the bad it could ever do, ultimately what mattered was, the good was in the universe was here to stay. At least for now. Sol, its one dwindling puddle of life, had surged, exploding like a geyser onto its surroundings. Earth-life took a foothold it wasn’t going to give up without one helluva fight.

Free food ensured it.

Then, the war ended. People were displaced. Society was upheaved. Food was guaranteed. Food! But food wasn’t all that should be guaranteed. Work. Want. Those were next. They came side-by-side with Earth-life’s expansion and transition into Sol-life.

Sol wasn’t like Earth. It was bigger. It stood for something. The flag of a Republic. Eight planets. A few dozen moons. Countless hunks of floating debris between to be mined– and well, mined– for resources and defense. When things came into order again, it seemed as close as people could get to utopia.

That was one thing even narrower-minded Evolved knew, if refused to admit: everyone owed Humanity for trail-blazing as the first, sentient, Sol-life. So far as it was known… or could be called such.

Chalking their failures up to an attribute of sentience than an Earth or Sol thing was likely for the best. If reality didn’t reconcile, so what?

People did go otherwise, though. Mostly, in the form of Anti-Humanists. Ironically though, so far as it’s known, not a single B’ohs risen in anger with these dregs. Arguably, they have the greatest motive, but absolutely zero capacity for contempt.

People– evolved and non-alike, believed them stupid; at that, they were likely of less-average intellect overall, but what people aren’t? It is always the outliers that dictate true capacity. As an old shuttle surpassing life expectancy by decades without a scratch or malfunction shows no signs of slowing.

B’ohs, like all Sentients, had their thinkers and their morons. Difference being, unlike most species, each had every right to be blood-rage furious. For no particular reason at all, if they felt it–

Yet none were.

Their species existed for the sake of Human sustenance. Thus, when no longer needed, they had no place in the worlds they’d suddenly been thrust into. Even if idolized and hoisted upward– that was worst of all for a species wishing for the peace of grazing verdant fields all day.

B’oh evolution had been so guided they’d no choice but to live as slaves or die on some butcher’s rack. Not exactly inspiring of poetical thought for a species newly granted it. So, what it came down to was need. A need to make their own way in the universe; their own story and path.

Sol would never have been capable of denying them that. It wasn’t Earth. It was bigger. Newer. Different. And undeniably better.

So, in herds, droves, pairs, and singles, the B’ohs set off for the unknown to settle and create their own future. No-one could begrudge them their one desire; to graze upon the universe’s endless verdant hills for eternity. After all, who wouldn’t want to?

Short Story: Fractured Nets

I don’t know what more can be said on the Paris Incident, but I know the Eur-Asiatic invasion was never avoidable. Sooner or later, all the Corps knew, the Great Wall would break and spill itself into the rest of the world.

Europe would always bear the brunt of it. Sooner or later, it was inevitable. There was nothing to do but steady on and hope. When the wave hit, we were either prepared enough to weather it, or prosperous enough to rebuild.

The Web 2.0 crash changed that.

What didn’t it do, really? It gave Corps more power; gave people something new to get high on; gave the builders exactly what they wanted. Most of all, people got a new reason to keep slogging through the daily grind of human existence. If only for a while.

The net-fracture was the unexpected treat helping to further cement our complacency. It kept us that much further from, as a whole, exploding into all out anarchy. The after-image showed what was really possible; what was really going on.

We couldn’t have known the extent of things then. The rebellion wasn’t public yet. There was no resistance to speak of. To us, its leaders were still pissants from a new generation of tech-heads and nerds stretching back before Lord Gates and his Microsoft billions. It was there progress had originated, had rooted through and mined all the veins it could.

Why re-tread ground in some other, only-vaguely dissimilar way, hoping for more greatness?

We, the public, were thinking of rocks when we should’ve been thinking about diamonds– the next overabundant, meaningless resource we could place arbitrary value on.

That concept was simply beyond most people though. The rest didn’t care to think on it. The true Human weakness, as a species, is its inability to recognize irony. Irony which dictates our immense capability for emotion yet forces us to live so stubbornly in one state. Humanity, that is. That same irony forces us to identify so wholly with those emotions, we refuse even the possibility of upsetting them.

Sad.

And pathetic.

If we’d paid attention even half-a-second longer than normal, we’d have seen reality crashing down on us. It didn’t require clairvoyance or precognition. Just attention. It was the same thing that had been happening. It was another merger, another monopoly, but of a context we didn’t recognize for little more than a merger then.

Web 2.0 buckled beneath the weight of its own propaganda. It was no longer a people’s gathering ground. It was a bloated creature of pus and bile cleverly disguised with warm themes and cunning language. It had many jobs, but all of them cutting; it was a masochist’s playground.

What took its place was a former dark-net, the former dark-net. The Darknet itself was merely a moniker, a name for the conglomerate of hackers and wannabes running tech gear with masking programs and no data-loggers. What no-one realized was how much more power they got when the nets fractured.

People wanting to, and working against the system, found a way to do just that. The corporations had inadvertently dug their own graves. Everyone knew it eventually, saw it for what it was, but it took time to figure out. Even longer to force the dying corps into the ground.

In simplest terms, the internet fractured from one, interconnected and ubiquitous system, to several whose interconnection was often one-way. That is to say, the light-net was accessible via the Dark-net, but not the other way ’round. The purpose was two-fold: The nature of the Darknet’s inherent security required safe-guards that barred all but the most complicated external access; while the corps wanted to ensure no-one from the light-net– or inside, got out.

The corps attempted to create digital moats around fortress-cities, more or less succeeding until Darknet users fired back through cracks in the system. The sparse revelations of the light-net’s flaws eventually led the Resistance to take hold, using such attacks only when it was most beneficial. They were sparse until the light-net responded with quietly-tightened security. By then, only the most die-hard loyalists and their confused kin, bothered using it.

The Corps’ biggest mistake will forever be stagnating, never evolving. That seems obvious in retrospect, but it wasn’t then. People didn’t see the true force of creation Corps inevitably were. Of that, they most certainly were a creation of Humanity, by any empirical standards, and represented a new entity for the cosmic field-guide.

They weren’t quite alive, but they existed. They were particularly cunning, if only by way of hive intelligence. They could defend themselves through guard-dog lawyers and corp-sec ops. Most of all, they needed sustenance to survive. For a corp, that was money.

Corps could not survive without money. They lived and consumed,able to starve to death, one lay off after another,if not careful.The corps never did learn that.

At least, not until it was far too late.

No CEO or Board of Directors saw the truth for what it was; in the eyes of the machine, no-one was meant to be immune. Execs may not have been as susceptible to predation as most of the machine’s prey, but their money could feed the beast too. The way it was meant to be– between the beast or their money, was that the beast was allowed to win or it was game-over for everyone.

That is what the Corps never learned.

So, they fell to ruin in the shambles of their own stubbornness. Board-room warriors without any, real battle-prowess had been inbred for generations. Their ilk were now men whom grew fat off luxury even when besieged. Etiquette and protocol were ignorantly bred into those unsuited for their inherited stations. Dimwits became indistinguishable from honorable workhorses, until everyone ended up covered in shit from the fan.

And all the while, smiting their underlings; tightening fists to squeeze unneeded pennies from stone, lest it fatten a competitor’s bottom-line instead. It wasn’t done so brazenly of course, but what is?It was done “for efficiency,” “freedom.”

Corporate cards became conveyors of private, digital bit-currency run by the issuing corp, and useless elsewhere. Everything was handled by their software, and on their servers. A corp no longer gave a paycheck, it totaled your life’s exchanges digitally, deciding if you were in the red or black based on various work and purchase statistics.

Then the crash came, and the nets fractured.

As prepared as we could be, the first bits of wall and water rained down almost imperceptibly. Then, the Great Wall broke. The markets and nets flooded with people clamoring for pieces. New corps, new private-companies, subsidiaries, and assets.

In time of course, the Corps simply bought everything up, called it diversifying, and settled back into the groove with the board more cluttered with their assets than before..

Until then however, the fracture was doing something much more subtle and profound; it was funneling value into a universal currency. One only growing by the moment. That, by virtue of the technology backing it, was completely untraceable. It didn’t need to be. The currency was good anywhere and could be traded for anything. The issuer and purchase system were completely moot.

What mattered was money coming and going, somehow. That it came and went, and something was exchanged for it. That currency infected the world like a computer virus downloaded and opened a billion times a day, and spreading its influence with each iteration.

The Web 2.0 crash, in its roundabout way, was the closest thing to a miracle in the modern, digital day that could exist. It was completely prompted, expected, even programmed for. Yet the forces of mutation existing through-out the universe brought upon an anomaly that more or less solved– thus-far– an eternal problem; money. Mostly, backing its value.

How? Data.

What better than data? Data was the byproduct of all things. From the smallest subatomic particle to the universe itself, everything either is data or generates it by existing because it is record-able as data. The universe is composed of such preposterous amounts of information it can never be fully obtained. It can neither lose nor accrue value, because it simply is. Data is a constant. It is a single, fertile, and ever-replenishing thing by virtue of its nature.

Its size, so immense, can never be fully envisioned. It is the horizon of our observable universe and still more. Infinitely more. Information is everything. Our linking to that information, in form, matters not; only that we link. So why not make the information’s divisions, its pieces or bits, the backing of currency?

The idea mattered more than anyone could’ve anticipated.

Bit-currency was more than just a new dollar. It was something bigger. Something universal. Stable. It could be poked and prodded– mined– whenever needed. Something that let us do our thing, shut out the bullshit long enough to make sense of what was really happening, still come away with the bills paid. We didn’t need governments or Corps fighting over whether or not they’d take our hard-earned money because one person’s dollar meant less than another’s.

And just like that, creds were out and bits were in.

The Web 2.0 Crash left us entirely outside expectations. It was the anomaly in the system. The new-age Big-Bang. The final bit of pressure that cracked a nut. It opened our eyes to our ability to collectively will a problem’s solution into place. Let’s not worry about money anymore. Let’s just know it’s there when we need it, and can earn it if we’re willing.

Bit currency did just that whether you were a thief, an architect, a corp-exec, or a wage-slave. Bits simplified everything.

And all that time, the masses were figuring that out; counter-cultured, shadow-dwelling, Resistance leaders were lining their pockets with it. For years, they’d hoarded stockpiles of information. Even when no-one else was looking, and were still thinking about e-creds and dollars and yen, they’d been hoarding and squirreling it away.

The world willed it, but they made it happen; the black-markets, the shadow people, the hackers and wannabes and forward thinkers. And they all made off with that money-trailing after them, cackling like mad as we gawked, utterly destitute and morally bankrupt from the turbulence in the former money-system.

One that, like that version of us, no longer existed.

More than anything, the power of the net’s fracture told more than we realized; that it had always been there, the fault-line. We were always warned and told to be aware of our actions, and the workings beneath us. Yet we weren’t. The fracture was the result. It’s a shame it took so much bad to develop such good, but at the very least, it’ll never happen again….

Probably.

Hard Lessons: Pt 8

8.

All Work and No Play

Angela joined the madness of upper-class mallers’ sport and luxury sedans. A pair hid Angela’s black, Ferrari California GT behind their imitations of wealth and power. She preferred the juxtaposition; the Human inability to grasp irony meant none would be any the wiser either.

She preferred it that way. For a thief, hiding in plain-sight meant you were good– and safe.

Usually.

Presently, she awaited her mark’s armored SUV. Curie’s contact had finalized the details; his afternoon and evening this side of the week was a usual affair. Every Friday night he had her, Deangelo Harman took his young daughter shopping. It was partly to fulfill the custody arrangement with his ex-wife; partly just to avoid his daughter’s vapid ego.

Harman’s dossier reeked of money. The kind from an intellect that didn’t extend to human pursuits. No doubt he’d been the desperate loner that headed A/V and chess clubs, ran them like mafia families and Arthurian round-tables.

Angela couldn’t really blame the guy. Intellectual money usually made one stupid all elsewhere. Mostly, because it was impossible to escape the isolation of intelligence. That strange dichotomy of life– the cosmic balance that needs-must-always be maintained, decided it before Deangelo Harman every entered the equation.

In essence, he was smart, wealthy, and a complete fool. Especially with women. It was forgivable. Especially since it would make Angela’s job infinitely easier.

She checked herself a final time; reviewing the play.

Harman’s firm had contracted with Arc Systems, the largest software manufacture on Earth The writ demanded NDA-tight upgrades for network-controlled drones. Classified beyond even governments. It was private and profitable.

Though hardly true AI, Harman’s firm was to use its learning principles, applied to swarm theory, to design and code networks of drones for patrol and delivery flights across Jackstaff. Having already made his name design security software as a teen, Harman was contracted as talent. His firm’s inclusion was more incidental than anything.

Nonetheless, if successful, the project would launch its next phase, expanding to other cities and areas near Arc’s various HQs and areas of control. Evidently, Harman’s software would make that happen sooner or later. Someone would prefer it didn’t.

In theory, a simple job; lift an SD card from the mark.

But Harman rarely left home; had a closed, barely existent social life; nd other than these occasional trips with Sadiee, was unopen to the bump and grab necessary to pick-pocket him once, let alone twice as needed by the job’s secrecy.

A home job was equally unlikely. She’d seen the prints. His house was a fortress; physical and digital security mining and moating it with various levels of layers and pit-falls. Enough to put to shame even some of the more paranoid-thieves Angela knew.

In fact, she’d knocked off state-of-the-art systems with less tech.

To say nothing of the security escorts one expected of the wealthy and lonesome.

Raiding Harman’s fortress was a contingency, but for now, she’d lean on her feminine wiles. Hopefully passing for straight enough to get the job done. It’d been a while since she’d run the approach, but knew it was solid. Given the payout, it was also more than worth the attempt. If she managed it, the effort would pay off.

If not, improvise as always.

The armored SUV swung wide a few spaces from the Ferrari. To any passersby, they were just two more of the multitudes feeding consumerism. Modern super-malls were the sort of place Titans and kids went to melt plastic. Usually, enough to feed starving third-world nations.

Angela had done it herself enough times to know it well.

Security left first. Plain-clothes and blending well enough that Angela was impressed. She’d never have expected them to pull off such convincing cover. She saw right through it, but few others could. Her HUD auto-tracked them with opaque pips.

Harman slipped from the SUV. Sadiee took his hand and climbed down.

No more than thirteen, Sadiee already walked with the refined stiff-neck one unwilling to deign look at the withered masses she trod upon. Something primal in Angela flared. The girl was a brat. Spoiled rotten. She’d never work a day in her life. Never known the value of sweat on her brow.

She was new-age, prime meat; the next generation of ignorance that ensured thieving would continue to be lucrative well through the coming millennia.

More than that, Harman seemed proud of it; a moron in love with his own daughter’s domineering personality. Angela sensed she walked all over him. Probably, just as his ex-wife did.

And knew then exactly how to play it then.

Harman’s cronies were already inside as he escorted his miniature princess forward. Her walk said one thing, “I am here to spend money; his.

It never ceased to amaze Angela how many young women and men wore that pose. Adults donning it were even more bewildering. Mommy and Daddy-money kids were an epidemic in Jackstaff and other such cities. Then again, they had been for generations, that’s what made her work so lucrative.

People with money to burn required only the illusion of security; alarm systems, door locks, pass-codes and the like. Things to keep so-called refuse out. That was all that necessary to let them sleep at night, no matter how easy they were to bypass for someone skilled and trying to.

But People like Harman, whom needed security and built themselves fortresses and surrounded themselves with armed posse, knew true security. Not just disincentives and deterrents. Rather, the protection of valuables whilst letting moving about freely otherwise.

Thing was, the posse and fortress lulled Harman-types into the same complacency as all others.

In effect, it wasn’t just illusion that let them rest soundly, but it equally blinded them to true vulnerabilities. The kind Angela could exploit without lifting a finger.

She checked herself in the rear-view, straightened her brunette wig. She double-checked her tattoos, made sure none them shone through the bimbo-librarian-turned-huntress fashion appearance so common to wealthy prowlers.

She slipped from the car, black-leather heels like a dominatrix, if shorter. The door came in confident, measured steps. The kind a woman in such heels would use; disciplined, frightening, inviting. Above them, her slit dress wavered, revealing just enough of her shapely legs to confirm she was stunning.

Angela hated it. As cats hate hunting in floodlight. Part of her was panicking, searching for darkness to slink away into. The rest was calm, professional.

The .380 PPK/S strapped to her inner thigh helped. She’d half considered leaving it, but decided it would keep her from allowing anyone close enough. She’d breach Harman’s home-fortress before stooping that low.

She sauntered into the mall, settling into her role like an undercover agent for some acronym agency, but infinitely more experienced and nuanced. She owned every moment. Every step. Prepared to buy and sell it, eschewing market values as convenience charges.

She was the wealthy mogul looking for someone to make her as much money as eye-candy.

It wasn’t difficult to find him. She made a point of shopping first; indulging the cover, blending to absorb the mentality of the endless, excessive consumerism she’d decided a rich woman needed. Nothing she bought was useful. None of it her style. Rather, the Mogul’s.

Expensive perfumes. Jewels. High-fashion shoes. All of it demanded by the ego assertive woman she was playing. She’d keep it all too, in case it was needed for a future job or something otherwise. It wasn’t hard to make her move once she tracked him down again.

In the meandering way of a shopper, she passed from place to place before entering the department store she knew she’d find him in. Her eye flitted to capture the place as the security pips reappeared, scattering themselves across her HUD once more.

Clustered about the “young women’s” were Harman’s escorts. Hidden in plain-clothes and all appropriate, but distinctly male, and standout. Especially to the Mogul, the perceptive predator. Between she and her Mark, a whole store and a daughter with plastic to burn.

Angela took her time. Too obvious to go straight there. Besides, that required a different mindset. One open to failure. She wasn’t doing this again.

She perused high-end jewelry. Shoes. Slowly but surely weaving over. That cat was at the mouth of a meadowed plateau, Harman the prey at its edge.

She planned her move, Harman’s men pipped for reference. She needed to avoid them. Expertly. Not so much it was obvious. Not so little to get lose the edge. She had to think of them as the Mogul would; curious men hanging around, not threats to be avoided. Only once Harman revealed himself could she think of them as anything resembling security.

If her approach was off, the wind would shift without her.

Angela prepared, taking time to evaluate the air. The place was off. Not professionally, but socially. It put Harman and his ilk slightly out of place. Her moreso.

But nothing else existed save she, her mark, and their environment.

The last of the three stirred her gut. A department store like any other, but designer prices on brand-name labels. Old money didn’t work that way. Their every item was tailored. Locally or richly-imported through other old money, their family.

This was exactly the kind of place a Noveau Riche type like Harman would shop, because it was built for him. So the Old money could distinguish the New from rest but without being forced to share their traditions and ways.

In the end, they were two different animals. Harman the latter.

Like every new money tech-geek, Harman knew money like a fangirl knew their favorite pop-star. He could emulate it, romanticize it, lust ravenously for it, but ultimately it wasn’t him or his world. Not at his present social-level, anyhow.

Worse, he’d grown up middle class, left it behind in his late teens to found Harman Technologies. He knew the worth of sweat. After contracting with Arc-Systems, it was rumored HT was considering a merger with Med-Tek giant Cameron Mobility. The idea was to become part of its new software-wing; a role once filled by Arc alone but now demanding further utilization.

Initially, Harman Technologies had created network security software for local banks and other, high-profit establishments. After contracting through connections in banking and finance, Harman found himself in right place after right time, and increasingly filthy rich.

Now, he and his company mostly wrote upgrade software, patching vulnerabilities in the code of billion dollar bionic-prosthetics. AKA Augs. He sat beside literal Titans at the economic dining table. Not least of which, the Womack brothers; peers and personal friends of Harman whom were swiftly overtaking even Jobs’ wildest wet-dreams.

However much the black-markets modded– and thus finished them– it was these groups that had initially created the HUD implants being adopted by shadow-dwellers like Angela. The black market latched onto the idea, and before corporations or governments could wade through their own bloated bureaucracy, they were was already supplying it to the masses– for a nominal fee.

Fact was, all it took to make an implant was the right software in the right interface. Both of which had long since existed but required sophisticated implementation. After that was stream-lined there would be no stopping it.

In the case of Jonas, their former fence, it was a type of modified optimetrical device for needled eye treatments. Curious device, dangerous to the unskilled, but nothing prohibited. It simply wasn’t available to the general public due to cost.

But a legit-fence like Jonas could afford it on credit. More than that, any opportunist could make bank offering under-the-table services with it for cash cheaper than any “official” fee for a general waiver of consent– unspokenly agreed to before any meeting occured.

All they’d ever needed to get there was the chances to experiment; figure out it was possible.

They did, too. While the Womacks and Harmans of the world were making themselves new-age royalty with stock-profits from the aforementioned prototypes, people like Jonas, Titus, Crystal and Angela, were making the tech viable.

Yet another reason Jonas’ death was a loss, even if half the time she’d threatened it herself.

The thought refocused her. She understood Harman better now, their environment. Her cover shifted imperceptibly. She remained the old money bombshell, but it was now also a facade. Beneath it was the “real” girl; a confused new-money kid hiding in what she thought she was meant to emulate.

The predatory wanting to be prey but unable to admit it.

With that minor adjustment came with another. Then again. Minute revisions in muscular tension. Until her posture and walk were right. The flitting, most minor hint of vulnerability to the eye. A predator posturing, that really survived on luck, desperation, even pity.

Exactly like Harman.

Angela made her move, careful not to be caught watching him pocket his phone. She let her eyes be pulled toward his tones, used the Mogul-Pretender’s quick appraisal of form to see him pocket his phone. Left-pocket. Conversing with Sadiee. Eyes up. Linger. Away.

Smooth. Natural. No-one watching would’ve ever been the wiser. Even if she’d been caught.

Angela shifted, interested now. She let herself be pulled about by the personality’s quirks. They’d seen each other now, it was obvious. They liked what they’d seen, too. These two creatures, now stealing glances, needed closer looks.

Angela agreed.

She meandered toward the young women’s changing room, the restrooms near it. The pips disappeared temporarily. She looked herself over in the mirror, spent a moment appearing to freshen herself.

She was doing three things simultaneously; building cover, reinforcing it, and otherwise working a HUD-hack on the store’s wifi.

She was here, now, for a niece’s gift. Common ground. Her persona would need it to make her move. The makeup reinforced it. The more aged a young person looked, the more they felt it. For a woman on the hunt, that meant covering it up.

The final track was actually easiest, almost seamless nowadays. Her eyes flitted back and forth to command her HUD with muscle memory, peripheral locked on the broad strokes of a makeup brush. Her bypass didn’t even need to crack the unsecured network. Her HUD auto-located the security nodes, masked its identity as authorized, and accessed the linked Surv-cams nearest her. One-by-one they appeared as thumbnails, opaque when not in focus.

She minimized the least useful, reacquired Harman. His pip returned in her periphery, tracked him through the walls.

She waited, timing her moves. Harman was getting bored, anxious. He’d watched her go in, wanted his closer look. That was good. The male mind couldn’t comprehend the female one in such situations. That was a fundamental difference between the sexes.

She watched, awaiting the intended effect. All Harman needed was the excuse of time. He’d been bored with his daughter’s plastic-melting at the outset. This was a change of pace, if nothing else. It was exactly what she wanted.

Problem was, she had precisely one chance to get the phone out of his pocket, and one more put to put it back. She’d have to maneuver it, but so long as she got through the first, she could get through the second.

Harman bobbed with boredom on the feeds. He said something she couldn’t make out, face too far to read his lips. She knew it all the same; this was it. She exited the stall, slipped to the edge of the hall, still eyeing the cams.

Angela had never had so willing a mark.

She tasted Harman’s desperation, almost pitied him. He clearly had even less pull with women than she’d anticipated. It happened sometimes; like intelligence, money could insulate or isolate. More one than the other if those effected people had few social skills to begin with.

Harman’s social-stuntedness was obvious from the start.

Angela slipped out, catching his eye at the precise moment she needed. She could only imagine it from his perspective. Slow-motion. Eyes meeting, locking on. Brushing to feel the animal spark, caught in lust. Completely obliviousness to the moment.

All telltale signs of the hopeless romantic. The fool. The creature oblivious to the control his own glans were exerting. The animal lust was obvious in the air as she brushed and felt him stiffen; the utter, ingrained restraint that kept him from pouncing as nature dictated.

She smiled, drawing his eye to hide her sleight of hand and making for the young-women’s section. She could’ve signaled she liked what she saw, but she needed him thinking too quick for rationality. She wanted the glans to work against him, keep him from checking his pockets.

He bit it; hook, line, and sinker, disappearing into the men’s room with it.

Angela kept her cool, busied by clothing and half-heartedly fussing to stall. Meanwhile, the other hand pried it apart, removed the card, and reassembled it. She bided her time thereafter, taking in the posse, the girl. Letting them swarm Sadiee while utterly ignoring her.

More and more, they appeared there just for the girl. Made sense, in its way. Nobody would look twice at Harman alone. He was just another hipster living beyond his means. No-one knew him as the billionaire in plain-sight. The girl was different. She added a new element to the equation. It required compensation.

Angela played her part, phone palmed and waiting. Harman re-emerged. Rushed attempts at looking suave, that such men found compulsory, confirmed her brush had the intended effect. He was Jack Rabbit on date-night.

His best, nonchalant attempt at a return pass did her work for her. He took the long way ‘round back to Sadiee and her guardsmen, faintly brushing her back as he passed. Between the adrenaline and his hard-on, he could never have noticed the two fingers casually dropping the phone back into his pocket.

He returned to his daughter’s side, no doubt hoping to discern the performance’s next steps. He was turned but moments, speaking to Sadiee. When he rounded again, she was gone. No-one else had even noticed her. It might never have happened.

But it did.

Angela was already slipping into the Ferrari. She yanked her wig and glasses off, slipped the card out again, and slotted it in her own phone. Encrypted files displayed on the screen with the request of a password. She didn’t need to know anymore than the file-extension; the “.nppx” told her everything. She had what she needed.

She started the car, made for home, the night’s darkness rising with her. The Ferrari’s hands-free calling system pinged her HUD with an image of Arthur. She answered with a thought.

“Headed home. What d’you need?”

“There’s a problem.”

“With?”

“Your brother.”

Short Story: Earth and Food

A new golden age had begun. One of chrome and carbon fiber; bits and bytes; 1s and 0s. It was to be the manifestation of every digital fantasy. Each one, somehow in someway, realized. The first age of living as fully integrated, digital children. Deeper than that, it felt a promise to a species of their greatness to come.

At least, that’s how it started.

What future historians would find, looking back, was its part in the catalyst of global revolution. Good or ill only came into the collective consciousness after that. Even then, its emergence was doomed to be by force– even after Humanity collectively realized the depravity of allowing it to get that far.

Until then though, those most most effected would remain a silent majority.

Enter Mikami Manufacturing, lead designers and manufacturers of agricultural equipment. The company, a multi-billion dollar profit-generator, had been stockpiling money since its inception 40 years earlier by Hideo Mikami; former Nagasaki resident who’d been away on business during the fateful bombings.

Mikami, having lost his wife and two children in the destruction, wandered in solitude until landing in the US.

Alone, and forced to embrace the beast that formed him, he looked to his homeland. There he saw a revolution invisible from within Japan’s own culture and borders. One borne of the sweat, blood, and redemption of a suicidally honor-bound society now denied their Seppuku.

Because it had become the easy way out.

Mikami quickly built a small fortune off the back’s of industry demigods and his own, unbroken homeland connections, by building capital doing hard things. Mining. Building. Cropping. He collected capital, forming Mikami Manufacturing under the ideal “that to feed a world, one must ensure the ability to do so first.”

Mikami the man, saw this as his own penance to his family, his people; his own redemption impossible without it. Like his countrymen, he’d allowed not only his own people’s, but his own family’s death and disgrace through his inaction and self-absorption.

In a world of Shinto and Eastern philosophy, such as that which bred Hideo Mikami, there was no room for such disgrace. It was untenable. Were he allowed his Seppuku, his culture would have cared for his memory afterward.

But the war had shown dying for one’s cause was equally corruptible; as all else, and thus because of its power and cost, required the utmost meditation before use. The bloodbath of World War II had taken enough husbands and sons, especially through such senselessness.

The Japanese honor, stained as it was by its own missteps, needed to pay its own penance. It was the last remaining culture of a world that refused to evolve. It’s last ally, Nazi Germany, had utterly collapsed. The US was still too new, too powerful a wild-card to determine much else. Russia had long been in its cyclical loop of revolt, collapse, rebuild, repeat. Even China, sleeping giant it was, was largely irrelevant.

Though time put Japan as the proving ground for social evolution; eventually, they all came ’round. China too. The Great Wall flood was the result. Mikami the beacon for the loyalists that remained, saved enough to avoid total collapse– however temporarily. China was simply too massive. Their culture too isolated (even beyond the individual ones that formed the collective) to sustain such change yet.

Thus, it fell to Japan.

And Japan, really, was men like Hideo Mikami.

The late 20th century GMO cropping that looked to eradicate world hunger– and generate billions in profit– was the vision of a few, appropriately placed and motivated men. One of whom, by virtue of his familial association with Mikami, began funneling various, excess-profits to fund new, advanced research and development divisions.

One of which spiraled into a catch-22 of public extortion on a scale never before seen.

Mikami’s engineers began small, and though with the best of intentions, made fools of the lot of themselves by not safe-guarding their own creations. Cross-bred genetics of common corn-crops– spliced with chromosomes from other, more exotic flora– allowed for faster, heartier growth and greater parasitic resistance.

Despite media and clergy alike rebelling, Mikami’s crops were being designed, bred, and sold. Globally. And they were not alone. Other corporations, both big and small, had begun devoting themselves to similar research.

Competition had begun.

Most notably in the form of Locust Group. Although a world a way, they were already dividing the Western Hemisphere between itself and their local competitors. Meanwhile, and alhough it didn’t wasn’t apparent for decades, Mikami was slowly securing the Eastern one even then.

Just as Cameron Mobility and Arc Systems later used technology to their advantage, beginning a global phenomenon with Augs, their software; so too did Mikami and L-G begin revolutionizing agriculture. This time, through specialized seeds, parasite resistant crops, and ultra-powerful fertilizers.

Following in Mikami’s footsteps, Locust Group began designing and manufacturing farm equipment. The difference, theirs was especially made for deployment and maintenance of proprietary products. Specifically, seeds. Their seeds.

Reduce a problem to its simplest components; find what links them. This is the clutch. The system cannot function without it. Except this system was society. The clutch, food.

Innocuous in infancy, but criminal by learned definitions. And Learning took time. Problem was, once the potential damage was revealed, it had already been done. Locust and Mikami’s G-M crops were taking root in soils world-wide. The latter with contracts that more or less secured the same strangle-hold as the former, however temporarily offset by lack of infrastructure.

That infrastructure would be built in time. With it, would come signs of the system already gearing up to exploit it. The question was how. The answer proved to be Agriculture itself. And not just that, but anything related to it.

Food.

It was obvious to any child that walked into a supermarket; so much food, all for no-one, but there solely to service corporate greed masked as economics. At the same time, that child not being allowed to waste or want for what others had none of. It was irreconcilable.

But having invested so much into their development, it was difficult for even the neutral to deny some rights to claim over ownership of their patents. All that was required, and indeed came to pass, in short order, was that only modified crops existed or were sold. All of which were patented.

Furthermore, most of those patents were held by Mikami or Locust Group; one of their few, distant competitors. Arguments aside, courts repeatedly ruled in favor of the money. Why wouldn’t they? They’d received theirs by the truck-full…

From rather generous donors….

Whether through lobbies, contracts, or outright bribery, corporate claim of nature became legally endorsed. Brows rose. In-the-know citizens scoffed at so-called Corporate Innovation Acts; various legal measures and means of governments and industry ceding power to corps.

Both light and dark-net dwellers attempted to rebel, however peacefully. They fought to expose the strangling rhetoric within the C-I Acts. The first to be ratified, to no-one’s surprise, took place in the United States. It was only months before similar laws were ratified by Global trade and governmental unions.

The take-over was brutal, swift, but not entirely thorough. It didn’t need to be, of course. Money drew money. What little they hadn’t hoovered-up would come back in trade down the line. For now the corps were sitting pretty, everything in their hands.

But the skies had darkened.

The rumors had long rumbled; farmers, pestered and extorted over their own land, now saw it stolen beneath their feet for refusing to willingly hand it over. Those that did not, were forced to grow only certain crops, face outrageous taxation. The fees, obvious roadblocks to civil-disobedience, made them slaves in their own homes, to their own lands.

The protests that erupted then were different. They were not digital. Not peaceful. They were violent. Lashing outs. Cries for help. Spread between both urban and rural areas and peoples alike. Once the rumors turned darker, the proverbial storm had already begun to hit.

The months following the C-I Acts as if through viral-greed, mutated into the birth of the Corporate Rights Act. This act, submitted globally through corporations’ various lobbied constituents, called to guarantee certain privileges to certain parties– corporate ones to be self-defined by said corporations.

Among those championing these rapes of justice and order? Mikami and Locust Group.

Rhetoric aside, the laws allowed Corporate control of all matters related to their own creations. Unethical or outright illegal, it didn’t matter; Corporations could now act with impunity under certain conditions.

Mikami and L-G, in silent agreement, began a series of dauntingly public lawsuits against farmers who’d refused to purchase their crops. The result sent one message; Sofu Mikami was dead and dust. And so were his ways.

Existing contracts, AG-Corps argued, held farmers in obligation to use their products. The courts, long bought and paid for, retaliated for the farmers’ attempts to rebel. The companies managed to bankrupt them, seizing their land, assets, and lives in the process.

Locust Group and Mikami were guilty of this, but they were not alone. Worse, it only began then. It continued for decades– until the last of the rebels were dead and gone. The public decried the acts of course, but ultimately, the laws were clear; farmers had violated contracts.

Despite the legalese, it was clear therein such responses were within the scope of presented and accepted possibility. It made perfect sense in all the wrong ways.

The storm settled into its fury as farmers saw the signs of things to come. The first groups prosecuted were soon recognized for the examples they were. The ones meant for any who might think to defy corporate authority. Mikami and L-G were merely the most egregious examples in retrospect, hardly the only.

The power taken from the people as a whole had soon became obvious while further clashes cemented reality and history. Before, violation was based solely on refusal, disuse; now writ stipulated corps held power as judge, jury, executioner, and landlord.

Agriculture had become mercenary work for corporate bidders; contractors renting out their own land, sweat, and blood to the whims of Mikami and L-G’s greed. Or dying for their refusal.

History later showed the greed did not end but began there. By then, the whims were iron-fists. The rules were chains. Their locks and keys life-and-death. Farmers– normal people tilling land for the good of all, had been robbed, enslaved, forced to bleed and murder their land and selves without so much as a personal garden to show for it.

Obligation further forced the use of unproven, sometimes dangerous chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These chems, created with catalysts to deactivate GM-Crops’ growth inhibitors, were at times the cause of utter ruin. Not only Earth, but life as well: Corp-products for Corp-crops that wouldn’t grow otherwise were killing people from corporations’ own knowing ignorance.

What little choice remained finally vanished. It had long been clear those caring for Earth and Food were seen as undeserving of the sweat of their brow. No longer shackled to the land, those pioneer-descendants uprooted and returned to the aether, searching for their next and imminent, Great Unknown.

Such was the nature of the Corporate-takeover.

No matter how insidious, subtle, or egregious, it was unstoppable. No matter where or how, Mikami and their ilk conquered. Through money or law; they bought what they wanted and mugged for the rest whether through their execs, their endless legal teams, or the system itself.

As larger scales later proved, in one fell swoop, Mikami and L-G had monopolized Agriculture. Food. With it went animal husbandry. Vegetable and fruit plants. Trees. Gardening itself even became a crime under proper circumstances.

However ludicrous these notions, human acts persisting since the dawn of their species were no longer allowed. People could no longer cultivate; merely stagnate. Their world withering in lock-step rhythm with it, its corporate masters ever tightening the leash to ensure it through Earth and Food.