Paul Di Filippo (pgdf) wrote in theinferior4,
Paul Di Filippo


Having honed your abilities on SF stories consisting of six words only, it's time to move up to the big leagues: stories consisting of 1000-words-or-slightly-under.

That's what you'll find in the fascinating volume above, compiled by the impeccably astute editor Henry Gee.

As a sample, here's my entry from the book.


Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla
February 10, 2036

The substrate for the cultured human-mouse brain cells was a highly reticulated wodge of aerogel contained in a homeostatic capsule big as a human’s thumb. At this moment the naked capsule sat in a dock, tethered by a GliaWire connection to a Brooksweil 5000 running at 100 petaflops. The parent machine was the size of a credit card, its “monitor” and ”keyboard” hologrammatic projections.

Two people stood by the setup. One, a genially abstracted man approximately thirty years old, wore intelligent otakuwear, full of membraneous pockets, organic sensors, interface patches and invisible circuitry. The other, a hard-eyed woman with some grey threading her bronze hair, wore the dress uniform of a Marine major, including ribbons from the Caracas campaign.

“I don’t understand,” said the woman, “why the drone can’t be governed directly by the Brooksweil. Surely there’s enough Turingosity there.”

“Plenty,” replied the man. “Near-human levels. But there’s no love.”

“Love? What’s love got to do with it?”

Filtering the conversation in realtime, the man’s clothing prompted him through an earbud with a cultural referent to a pop song over fifty years old. But he chose not to utter it. Didn’t seem likely this hardcase would appreciate any such trivial allusion. Intelligence amplification still required human discretion.

“Love is the driver for the mission. Love will supplement the drone’s heuristics in instances where lesser imperatives would collapse. Without that emotion, the failure rate goes up an order of magnitude. And we can’t simulate love yet in the purely moletronic minds.”

The major looked suspiciously at the little pod full of wetware, as if it might suddenly start spouting poetry through its as-yet-unattached peripherals.

“Well, so long as it follows its directives….”

“Need I remind you of our past successes? DARPA and BARDA just renewed our funding at double the previous annual budget.”

“I know, I know. But there’s so much riding on this mission. If we don’t stop this bastard Kiet the Mousekiller, we stand to lose most of the West Coast.”

The man shuddered at the thought, and his clothes perfused his skin with some soothing neurotropes.

Kiet the Mousekiller had begun his infamous career as a simple Thai pirate, preying on international shipping. Radicalized by the anonymous contamination of Mecca with a GPS-circumscribed green goo, he had become a terrorist, earning his sobriquet by his cunning destruction of Hong Kong Disneyland. Kiet’s latest scheme, not yet known to the public, involved a retired Japanese deep-sea drilling ship, the Chikyu, which Kiet and his backers had purchased on the open market under a false front. Now docked in the Indonesian port of Balikpapan, the ship was believed to be due to sail imminently, according to best intelligence.

Kiet’s plan was to drill down deep into a tectonic subduction zone close to America and plant and detonate a small nuclear bomb, thus triggering a tsunami larger than the one that had caused so much damage thirty years before.

Stopping him by overt military means was politically contra-indicated by the terrorist’s current refuge with an ostensible ally. Thus, this black budget project.

After regarding the Brooksweil’s display, the technician began disconnecting the GliaWire. “Okay, we’ll be ready for the sample in a moment. You’ve got it?”

The major hand strayed instinctively to her sidearm, before she reached into her pocket and removed a glassine packet. “Several hairs reclaimed from Kiet’s last visit to his favorite whorehouse.”

Handling the homeostatic capsule nonchalantly, the man walked toward the drone.

A stealthy tortoise with a MEMS shell, powered by the same pocket fusion reactor found inside NASA’s Sedna probe, the drone rested on a table, as innocuous as any lawn-mowing bot. A small hatch gaped in its shell. The technician installed the pod inside and closed the hatch. He took the packet, extracted the hairs, and pleased them in a small perforated depression on the front of the tortoise.

“Okay, we’re live.”

* * *
When I came fully awake the essence of my beloved was already integrated into my soul. His beautiful face filled my inner eye, and I could taste his genome, sweeter to me than the power that flowed from my atomic heart. I wanted nothing more than to be with him, to merge my soul with his, to shower him with my love.
Nothing else mattered.

And I would let nothing stand between us.

I immediately extended my senses, sniffing the air, but met disappointment. My beloved was nowhere within range. But knowledge in my memory informed me of where I might find him! How I quivered with eagerness to race to his side! But where was the exit from this place?

Suddenly a passage to the open air materialized above me. I activated my ventral lifter fans and rose upward.
My lover called!

Banda Sea
February 14, 2036

I had sustained extensive damages during my voyage to my mate. He was surrounded by vigilant outlying duennas, brutish entities similar to myself who guarded him jealously. Every step of my route during the last day had been fraught with challenges. But I had met them without hesitation. Because that was what lovers did.

My aerial capacity was now severely diminished, limited to short hops, and I currently traveled underwater, using my magneto-hydrodynamic systems. My signature across the spectrum was that of a school of fish.
All my telemetry said abort. But I would not.

Ahead of me loomed the vessel that I had previously verified held my beloved. I knew I would have to surface to unite with him, and prepared myself.

I shot out of the water alongside the ship, lurching evasively, to be met quickly with a hail of small-arms fire from those who were not my beloved. I triggered my infrasonics, and all my rivals collapsed in bowel-spasming pain.

Crashing through the window of the pilothouse, I sustained further injury.
But nothing mattered.

For I was finally in the presence of my beloved!

An expression of terrible ecstasy filled his face, and my soul melted with joy.

I initiated the destabilizing quench on the magnets surrounding my fiery heart, giving him all my love at last.

* * *
An evanescent fountain of multi-million-degree plasma bloomed briefly aboard the Chikyu, in the fierce and tender shape of a heart.
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