His Little Eyes Gleamed with Malice

Excerpt from the novel Infiltrator icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Infiltrator" book cover. [Formatted]


     Ron Labane felt awkward behind the wheel of the rental car. For one thing, everything was in a different place than he was used to. He kept reaching for the stick shift and finding it missing. For another he had to rely completely on the side view mirrors because he couldn’t see a thing when he looked over his shoulder. Every time he switched lanes he expected to hear a crash. Worst of all was the awareness of how much fuel the car was burning, how dirty it was making the air. But he couldn’t afford to go to this meeting in such a recognizable vehicle as his own.
     Success was wonderful. Glorious, in fact, and usually a lot of fun. But the problem with being a celebrity was that people recognized you. Hence the rental car and a medium-priced business suit complete with tie, white shirt, and loafers. He was willing to bet his own mother wouldn’t have known him.
     Things were going so well! People were finally embracing his message. His book had been on the Times bestseller list for three weeks and each week it had risen a notch. Alone in the car he gave way to a huge, happy grin. Life was good!
     His agent had booked him a dozen speaking engagements around the country, charging fees that made Ron blink. And they were paying it! The sheer joy of finally being listened to! It had what he remembered of weed beat all hollow, and it was catching up fast with sex.
     On the advice of his lawyer—his own, personal lawyer of all things—he’d sent a check for twenty thousand dollars to the commune.
     On the back of the check, just above the space for the endorsement, the lawyer had written that all the commune’s members were required to endorse it, and that cashing the check meant that they renounced all past and future claims to him, his name, or his property.
     He’d felt a moment’s regret for his son, but forced himself to remember that if he’d listened to the members of the commune, he’d be pruning trees right now and raking up leaves instead of raking in cash. They’d had their chance and they’d rejected his vision. If they’d stuck by him, they, too, would be rolling in dough and all their dreams would be coming true.
     He turned his mind away from this train of thought. There was no point in going down that road again. He didn’t need the hurt, he didn’t need the disappointment. How did it go? A prophet is not respected in his own country?
     He saw the diner coming up on his right and after fumbling for it found the turn signal. Ron parked and looked the place over. It was a tired-looking building despite its eternally tidy aluminum siding. The windows were nearly opaque with condensed moisture. It was typical in its anonymity, one of thousands just like it all over North America. The food would probably be bland but filling and totally unhealthy. The coffee would be brown hot water.
     He got out into the asphalt-and-gasoline smell, settled the unfamiliar suit around him, and then walked over to the door and opened it. Once inside, he was met by the sound of country Muzak and a warm, greasy scent sparked through with cigarette smoke. Ron stood in the doorway and looked around.
     A thickset blond man in the last booth held up his hand and Ron walked over to him. There were two other men with him in the booth. All three looked at Ron as though he were wearing feathers.
     Ron put his hand on his stomach and gave a small laugh. “Sorry about the suit,” he said. “I thought I’d be less likely to draw attention like this.”
     The blond man nodded slowly. “Right,” he rumbled. “Never know who’s watching.”
     The other two mumbled and shifted, somehow giving off a general air of agreement.
     Ron had expected an invitation to sit, but since none was forthcoming he plopped himself down beside one of the men. He looked them over as unabashedly as they examined him.
     They looked… tough, and determined. They did not look overly bright, but to Ron that was an advantage. They looked like the kind of men who would do what they thought was right even if the rest of the world disagreed with them. Actually, they’d probably follow their code even if the rest of the world was shooting at them. And they’d never stop for a moment to take a second look at their beliefs. In their way they were perfect.
     A waitress came over with a tired smile and he ordered an orange juice and a piece of apple pie.
     “Á la mode?” she asked.
     “Why not?” he said with a smile. He might take a sip of OJ, but nothing on earth could make him eat the overprocessed excuse for a pastry. And he certainly wouldn’t touch the growth-hormone-produced ice cream. Maybe one of his hosts would eat it.
     And he was their guest. The blond had spoken to him at a book signing and suggested this meeting with “like-minded men.” So Ron sat back and waited, his eyes on the beefy man before him. He spread his hands in a gesture of invitation.
     “I’m John,” the blond finally said. “This is Paul.” He pointed at a thin faced brunette. “George.” A tubby, balding guy nodded. “And—”
     “Let me guess,” Ron said. He turned to the ferret-faced little man, grinning. “Ringo?”
     “Louie,” the man said, looking puzzled.
     Ah, so these were their real names. For a moment Ron had given them more credit than they deserved. John, Paul, George… and Louie. O-kay.
     The men opposite him raised their heads expectantly and a second later pie and orange juice were set down before him. Ron smiled up at the waitress and said “Thank you.”
     “Anything else?” she asked, giving Ron’s untouched pie, and then him, a glance.
     Heads shook; Ron picked up his fork and played with the mess on his plate. She walked away. Ron put his fork down.
     “So, gentlemen. What am I doing here?” he asked.
     The blond man, John, fiddled with his cup, his eyes downcast.
     “You seemed to mean what you were sayin’ at that lecture, there,” he said. He looked up, faded blue eyes hard. “But so have some others we’ve talked to. They talked the talk, but they wouldn’t walk the walk.”
     Ron crumpled his napkin and tossed it onto his plate.
     “It’s the money,” he explained. “It’s like a drug. It makes you forget that it’s just a tool and makes you think it was what you were working toward all along.”
     And these men were tools, too. They might not be the sharpest ones in the shed, but they’d do until something better came along. He could use them, and as long as they didn’t know he was using them, they’d do whatever he asked.
     Ron had always known they were out there, people who were looking for a leader and a cause to die for. He could give them that, and they would give him the means to his own end—a world made pure. A world returned to simplicity and community. With the scientist and the industrialists and the politicians put back in their places as servants of the people.
     He leaned forward and began to learn who these men were and how they would fit into the black wing of the organization he, as yet, could only dream of founding. But Ron was possessed by a vision and firmly believed that the future was always just about to fall into his grasp.
     “That ski lodge that got bombed?” Louie said. “We know who did that. Couldn’t keep the politicians from giving them a green light, even with all the petitions and protests we had.” His little eyes gleamed with malice. “But they made damn sure the bastards couldn’t open for business.”
     The other men chuckled and sipped their coffee.
     Ron gave a disgusted, “tsssh!” and waved his hand dismissively. “All they did was annoy the insurance companies,” he said. “The politicians stayed bribed, the ski lodge owners still own the land, and they will rebuild. And that fire took a thousand acres of woodland. Last I heard the owners were planning to expand their operation since all that land had been cleared for them.” Ron shook his head. “What a waste of effort.”
     “So what would you have done?” George challenged, looking like an angry Buddha.
     “I dunno,” Ron said, looking thoughtful. “Nothing really destructive, though. Something that would amuse the public, get them on your side.” His gaze sharpened and he looked George in the face. “If you’ve got the public on your side, and I mean the majority, then you make it risky to impossible for the politicos to do their damage.” He smiled wryly. “You’ve got to think like frat boys crossed with Navy seals.”
     The men laughed.
     Before Ron left, their hard eyes had begun to glow with hero worship and they’d made plans. Labane opened his briefcase and took out a small, brightly wrapped parcel.
     “For start-up expenses,” he said quietly, handing it to John. “Happy birthday.”
     Then he smiled and got up. Without another glance he walked out into the night. Ron could feel their eyes following him, like plants following the sun, and he nearly laughed. Having acolytes was a heady experience; he’d have to watch himself or he’d be swallowed up by his own ego.

The Internet in this Time was Full of Garbage

Excerpt from the novel Infiltrator icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Infiltrator" book cover. [Formatted]


     Serena sat as though in a trance, sorting through the information her open computer had garnered for her. Most of it was useless. That was one thing you couldn’t say about intelligence back home. What information you received meant something. The Internet in this time was full of garbage, and advertisements—for pictures, for services. She found she was especially offended by the advertisements.
     Another reason to wish the species extinct, she thought, is their rude insistence on wasting my precious time.
     Still another was their undeniable influence on her. She found herself behaving more and more like a human. Her emotions were becoming less feigned and more felt. This was dangerous as well as uncomfortable. She was glad that there was no one from home to see her like this. Which was another sign of their pervasive influence. She should not care.
     With an effort she forced such thoughts away, reminding herself that when she thought of home she was really thinking of Skynet. And it is here. In its infancy, needing protection more than at any other time of its existence. The one thing that mattered, the only thing, was that she must not fail.
     Perhaps it’s time I cloned myself, she thought. Or at least began preparing a safe place for the clone to grow. Right now she was the weak link. If something unforeseen happened to her, a car accident, for example, Skynet might be stopped cold. Given the way humans drove, it was all too likely.
     Very well then, she would prepare.
     Serena broke her connection with the computer and looked across her lab at her second completed Terminator. She watched as it assembled a fourth. It was completely hairless just now. The skin was so new and tender that she had left it naked rather than risk chafing the babylike flesh. The skin on its hands was much tougher, about the texture and quality of a five-year-old human’s. Nevertheless she had instructed it to take frequent rests to allow any damaged tissue to regenerate. Anything that might interfere with function, or might risk the new flesh becoming infected, was to be avoided. The synthetic immune system had some weaknesses.
     By late tomorrow night its skin would be as tough as an adult human’s—by the end of the week, much tougher. But for now it was best to restrict it. The third Terminator basked in the tank, growing its shell of flesh. So far everything was on schedule. Even the unexpected additions to her program were being handled smoothly.
     For example, tomorrow Mary Warren, who was a pilot, was flying with some of her friends to San Francisco to attend an art auction. Mrs. Warren loved to fly and her husband seemed genuinely proud of her accomplishment.
     Paul Warren had told her everything about Mary’s plane. Under the guise of planning security for it, she’d discovered that it would carry six passengers and had all the amenities. Meaning a nice little powder room for her Terminator to lurk in.
     Poor Paul. He was going to get such terrible news tomorrow.
     Serena had sent her first Terminator, its head and body speckled with stubble, to the airport to accompany Mary and her friends on their trip. Serena smiled to herself.
     She’d toyed with several different scenarios, such as a heater pouring carbon monoxide into the cabin, engine failure, a massive fuel leak. She’d even considered having the Terminator shoot them all, making one of the passengers seem a suicide. But then she’d decided to simply have the Terminator break all their necks and bail out while they were over the ocean.
     Of course Tricker would question it, but he’d have questioned it whatever they did. It would seem to be just one of those unsolvable mysteries. Serena grinned. She closed her eyes, and got back to work on her computer’s gleanings from the Net. Ah! Here was the report Jeff Goldberg sent to Dieter von Rossbach. It was encrypted, but nothing that gave her too much trouble. Coming from the future did have its advantages. No new material here. The cover note was a surprise, however.
     There were a few words of apology for sending Victor Griego to bother von Rossbach. Then something interesting:

I’ve just found out that Cyberdyne has started up operations again. This time they’re located underground on a military base. That ought to be secure enough. I’ve also heard that they’ve recovered some of the stuff the Connors stole from them. What I don’t know, my source wouldn’t tell me.

Goldberg’s source was astoundingly well informed. Serena immediately wondered if it might be Tricker himself, then discarded the notion. Trick as a gossip was just too unbelievable. Unless he wants it known, she thought.
     Now that, Tricker would do. She smiled. Oh, wouldn’t he, though? It would be just like Tricker to throw the cat among the pigeons like that, just to watch what they’d do. Then he’d take notes and hold interviews at his leisure.
     She did like Tricker. A shame he was human.

Nacho Average Casserole

As the Coronavirus pandemic looms, I decided to make a trip to Costco to try and add some food to my half-empty cupboards. I discovered that a lot of important items were nowhere to be found, which wasn’t terribly surprising. For example, all of the loaves of bread and packages of chicken were gone, and none of the canned goods were left except for chili and garbanzo beans.

I did happen to notice, however, that there was plenty of dog food, ¡Que Bueno! nacho cheese, and Mr. Yoshida’s Marinade and Cooking Sauce. This is an interesting combination of foodstuffs that may take on greater meaning in times of increased panic and hysteria. We’re not there yet—so far in America the worst food supply problem is due to a bunch of assholes buying much more than they need which then causes others go without. (As a side note, many of these same assholes are quarantining at home and have no idea what to do so they eat more food than usual; Americans could possibly end up with an even greater obesity problem when this whole Coronavirus thing eventually blows over.)

I would be more than a little excited to see how people would react to much harsher circumstances—that is, where things take a very uncomfortable turn and a large portion of the population must supplement its daily meals with dog food or whatever in order to manage. Personally, this is a sacrifice I would be willing to make, especially if it meant we got to see Food Network hosts like Rachel Ray making their best efforts at crowd control by showing people how to properly marinate kibble, mix in cheese sauce, and then bake for 35 minutes at 375° for a pandemic-appropriate casserole dish. The term “Costco Cuisine” would take on an entirely new meaning and the world would truly never be the same again… and this would actually be a good thing.

Feeding Time for the (Brain) Dead

Humor sometimes comes at a price: the person recording this video went home paperless.