Spawn and Die

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]

     “I’m sorry about that scene the other night,” George said.
     Ronald stopped spraying the soap mixture and looked down at him. The fresh spring air and the scent of blossom wafted by, unnoticed. Birds hopped and cheeped, and something small and furry scurried through a row of blackberry bushes not far away, intent on its own affairs.
     “That wasn’t a scene,” Ron said, “that was an assassination attempt.”
     George curled up his lips and looked down at his work boots. “No one is trying to kill you, Ron,” the older man said.
     Labane climbed down the ladder so that he could look him in the eye.
     “You have all lost your focus,” he said. “You now want nothing more than to have a nice peaceful life with slippers and babies and apple pie and screw the revolution. Let the kids take care of it, I’m tired,” he mimicked. “When we were kids we were going to do it. Now you want the ones you were going to do it for to do it for you!”
     George shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe we’re older and we’ve got a better sense of perspective,” he offered. “We know what a giant job it is and that maybe it’s too much for just us to do.”
     “You know what, George? The only people who ever accomplish anything in this world are the ones who are prepared to risk everything. People who try to hold on to what they’ve got and play by the rules just get old and die and a generation later nobody even knows they ever lived at all. They don’t get rich, they don’t change anything, the just spawn and die.”
     He moved a little closer, standing in George’s space.
     “But I haven’t lost my focus. I am willing to risk everything and there isn’t one of you that doesn’t scare easy. You resent it, too. And that’s what that ‘scene’ the other night was really about. It was about fear and knowing that you’ll never accomplish your goals because you’ve lost the will. And envy that I haven’t given up.”
     George stepped back a couple of paces and frowned. “You keep using these violent words, man. ‘Assassination’ and ‘revolution’ and ‘fear.’ Just what do you mean when you say stuff like that?”
     Ron looked at him in mild exasperation. Sometimes he thought George was a bit dim. He was a wonderful agriculturist, the most valuable member of the commune in that respect. But sometime he came on so dumb!
     “When I said ‘assassination’ I was speaking metaphorically. When I talk about fear I’m talking about financial risk and losing the good opinion of the neighbors. When I say ‘revolution’ I’m talking about a grass-roots movement, maybe something like a religious conversion, where we finally get people to realize the danger this whole planet is in! You used to say ‘revolution’ all the time, and you knew what it meant then.” He looked at his onetime friend and shook his head. “It wasn’t all that long ago, George.” He leaned down and picked up the sprayer. “I feel sorry for you.”
     Labane turned and walked away, a little smile playing on his lips. That had felt good.

     The next morning he slapped a manuscript down on the table and announced, “I’m going in to town. Does anyone need anything?”
     Every eye was on the pile of paper.
     “What’s that?” Branwyn asked, coming over from the sink to look at it.
     “That,” Ron said, putting on his jacket, “is my book. Which I am shipping off to New York today.”
     “The New Luddite Manifesto,” Lisa read. “Congratulations, honey.” She put her hand on his neck and reached up to kiss his cheek.
     Ron simply stared at her blankly. Since the big meeting he’d been sleeping on the cot in his office. As far as he was concerned there was no longer anything between them. The sooner she got used to that, the better for both of them.
     “So no one needs anything?” he said to the group at large.
     They shook their heads, silenced by his coldness to Lisa.
     “Okay, bye.”
     It wasn’t until he was actually in the van that he realized he wasn’t coming back. He was going to drive his manuscript to New York. He was going to hand-deliver it to the editor and make that man or woman listen to him. Because giving up on your dreams meant you were ready to lie down and die and he was a long, long way from that.
     As far as Ron was concerned he was leaving behind a house full of the walking dead. It was time to cut his losses and look to the future. As he drove past the house the baby began to cry.

Time is Malleable but Not Easily Manipulated

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]

     California sunshine partially diffused the bright blue streamers of electrical discharge that suddenly reached out of nowhere like blind hands. They touched… a dumpster, a chain-link fence, and a van sitting empty outside a dress shop in a tiny L.A. strip mall. Then they crawled and coalesced into a black sphere resting on the surface of the ground. Steel sparked and glowed as a corner of the dumpster vanished; a hole of perfect circularity appeared in the chain-link. A shallow hemisphere was scooped out of the asphalt paving, all in an instant of not-time. Wind blew, stirring a Styrofoam cup and a scrap of newspaper, a scatter of thin eucalyptus leaves, tossing them in whirling circles.
     Static hum built to an unbearable intensity—mounting to an earsplitting crack that died into sudden silence. Debris floated gently down to earth.
     The I-950 writhed helplessly as spasms shook through its human tissue. Internal systems driven off-line by the discharge began to come up one by one. The computer part of its brain began to alter neural function, suppressing pain and muscular spasms gradually.
     As soon as motor function allowed, Serena rolled under the van and lay in its shadow, taking in her surroundings. There were sounds all around her, snatches of music, voices, footsteps, vehicles passing. The myriad sounds of a careless human world.
     She narrowed focus to sample the area around the van. No one was nearby; no voices indicated surprise or alarm. Apparently no one had seen or heard her arrival. And though it was obvious to Serena’s eyes, the damage her transport had caused to the surrounding area attracted no notice at all. She relaxed marginally.
     The air held the dying scent of ozone from her passage and the tang of fluorocarbons, but there was also the scent of chlorophyll, of a great deal of healthy plant life. More plant life than she’d ever seen before except in the most remote mountain zones.
     In front of the van a yellow flower surrounded by ragged-edged green leaves had forced itself out of the pavement between the parking lot and the sidewalk. Serena stared at it in fascination; automatically she sorted its scent from the surrounding area—faint, but sharp and fresh. Pleasing. She reduced specialization and the most overpowering scent became the nearby dumpster, now leaking. Far less pleasing.
     Instinctively the I-950 reached out to Skynet to report and was greeted by a shattering absence. There is no Skynet. It jarred her. The computer damped adrenaline function, helping to suppress panic, while her training allowed her to move on to the next thing.
     She still heard the memories in her mind, the memories of merging with her creator:
     There are temporal anomalies. Files show that I became sentient in the year 1997 and began my counterattack against my creators at that time. Files also record that this happened years later and in a different location. There are further instances of… blurring. Some are trivial details. Others are in areas of high priority. Some show that you played an important role in my creation. Others do not list an I-950 unit in times antecedent to this at all.
     A part of her consciousness had remained separate even in total linkage; enough to frame a question.
     What is happening? If she had been fully individuated, she would have felt disorientation, even fear. Cause-and-effect relationships were the foundation of her worldview.
     There is insufficient data for definitive analysis. The highest probability is that there is a… temporal fluctuation involved. Time is malleable but not easily manipulated. It has an…—a complex mathematical formula followed, too esoteric for her to grasp—in verbal terms, it has an inertia. When artificially diverted, it seeks to resume its original path. While matters are in doubt, several alternative world-lines can coexist in a state of quantum superimposition.
     Like Schrödinger’s cat, she had thought/shared/communicated.
     Correct. A ghostly machine analogue of irony tinged the machine’s communication: And in answer to the question, which you are about to formulate, it is inherently impossible to say which alternative will become “real.” That sector of our world-lines is by its nature inaccessible to us, no matter how we double back through time. It is a… potential.
     She shook off the memory. Her task now was to see to it that the humans created Skynet. At this time it was probably nothing more than a mass of theory unsupported by technology. Serena allowed herself a grim smile. In a sense, she would be midwife to the future. A future that would not include the carefree humans around her.
     She put herself in wait mode, alert, but otherwise conserving energy. Her opportunity would come. Meanwhile, it was far too light and open for a naked female to go unremarked.
     Eventually a woman returned to the van sheltering Serena, the illogically high, balance-hindering heels of her shoes clicking sharply on the pavement. The tilt of her heels emphasized the curve of her tanned calves. She opened the front door of the van and turned, tossing in her packages and lifting one leg high to enter.
     Serena rolled out from under the van and rose in one smooth motion. With the heel of her hand she knocked the woman unconscious and tossed her inert body onto the passenger side. She caught up the dropped keys and had the van turned around in a few flowing motions. Beside her the woman’s body slumped like a rag doll.
     Pulling out onto the road, the I-950 modulated her vehicle’s speed to that of the ones around her. They were so colorful, and so many! She couldn’t help but be surprised that the humans could keep track of all this activity surrounding them. Not only did they manage it, but a good many of them appeared to ignore it as they talked on the phone or to the people beside them, or ate, slinging their vehicles in and out of lanes as they did so. She didn’t know whether to be impressed or terrified. At the first opportunity she pulled off into an alley between a group of large, low buildings and stopped.
     For a moment she looked at the windowless facades beside her. The buildings were no more than three stories tall, but to someone who’d seen only ruins they were astonishing. Serena had seen pictures of pre-Judgment Day buildings, but to actually sit beside them and feel a sense of their weight and height was… different. Skynet and the humans of the future both preferred, for their own reasons, to build downward. Concealment had become a reflex. These structures were so—so brazen.
     She shook her head; there would be time for familiarization later. Right now there were other matters to take care of.

Hard Work and Dedication

Excerpt from the television show Eastbound and Down icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by HBO icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

The illustrious Kenny Powers from HBO's "Eastbound and Down."

Ask anybody out there and they’ll tell you that the foundation of a great baseball player starts with the understanding of some basic fundamentals: running, stretching, physical conditioning. These are the things that prepare your body for the many challenges a baseball player faces. I heard that bullshit thrown at me all my damn life. You know what Kenny Powers says? Fundamentals are the crutch of the talentless. This one coach tried to put me on a weight training program and I was all like, “You and your weights can fuck off somewhere—I’m not lifting that shit! It’s heavy! You tell me why I need strength training when I’m strong enough to throw a goddamn 100mph pitch! Fuck that!”

See, in life, when you have talent, all the other shit doesn’t matter. If we were on an island with no weights and no running drills, who would be on top then? The guy with the talent.

In a nutshell, you can train all you want. You can work on your catching, on your throwing, on your running… hell, it might even be enough to get you into the majors. But in order to be a standout… an all-star… a champion… you need more than hard work and dedication. You need something that you can’t work for. You need a blessing from God Almighty.

So Sad They Had to Fade

Everyone Wants to Rule the World icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 (track 03 from the Songs from the Big Chair LP by Tears for Fears icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 )

Tears for Fears' "Songs from the Big Chair" album cover. [Formatted]

Welcome to your life
There is no turning back
Even while we sleep we will find you
Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on mother nature
Everybody wants to rule the world

It’s my own desire
It’s my own remorse
Help me to decide
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

There is a room where the light won’t find you
Holding hands while the walls come tumbling down
When they do, I’ll be right behind you

So glad we have almost made it
So sad they had to fade
Everybody wants to rule the world

I can’t stand this indecision married with a lack of vision
Everybody wants to rule the world

Say that you will never need it
One headline, why believe it?
Everybody wants to rule the world

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world