The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock
By
Andrija Popovic
(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

4:19 AM Eastern Time. 

Every morning, an hour and a half before his alarm was set to go off, he awoke. His eyes snapped open. He took a deep breath, almost gasping. Reaching out, he touched his snoring wife’s form to one side, and his snoring cat’s from to the other. 

You have time. Just go back to sleep. He would tell himself this lie every time. But his mind would never fall back into torpor. He was awake. The ticking clock inside him said it was time to walk about, to rise. The rest of his body obeyed, despite his mind’s dearest wishes. 

After the fifth night, his wife said: “You need to see a specialist.”

So he visited the body shop and had his specialist crack him open. As he lay back, brain case exposed, the specialist peered at a tiny bit of grey matter held between two foreceps. “Well, that’s your problem right there.”

“What?”

“Damn biological clock was never set to auto-update for daylight savings time.  Gonna have to reprogram it and get it synced again. That’ll probably be another nine-hundred or so.”

Goddamned highway robbery, he thought. The specialist took the grey matter away and tinkered with it, quietly, in the background. Another two thousand down the tubes. Still, what was the value of a good night’s sleep?

4:19 AM Eastern Time. His mental clock did not go off. He did not wake up suddenly.

He woke up slowly, and really had to pee. Son of a bitch…

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It Was A Day

It Was A Day

by

Andrija Popovic
(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

I’d just returned home and downloaded into my standard body when Theta pinged my personal network. “Hey? You centered yet?”

“Gimme a bit. I’m still synching.” My work body, designed for zero-G work, rested comfortably in the wall transfer closet. I shook the pins & needles from my normal form. No prehensile feet and tail on this one. Just a baseline model crafted to match against my original body’s DNA.  I watched the counter on my iris-HUD click over to green. All experiences from work were now synced, and backed-up in off-line memory. “Still feeling a little post-sync crud. Heading to the shower. Join me there?”

“Already have it warm for you.” Thea v.7 was one fork of a SyntheticIntelligence I met at work. She (preferred pronoun) ran predictive micrometeorite tracking and helped keep the orbital free of debris. Most nights, she was syncing with her sisters, matching version numbers and trading the day’s news around this time. I’d come home, we’d talk – she liked low-level processing. Said it felt more thoughtful.

When she dropped by early, she was usually interested in syncing with my nervous system, and playing hologram in my tiny apartment. Stepping into the shower, I felt her request for connectivity. Granting it, I closed my eyes. Water ran down my back, pushing aside the transfer closet’s preservative sludge.  Opening my eyes, I saw her in the shower with me. She manifested as a curvy lady in her mid-40’s with curly dark hair and shimmering koi tattoos running along her back.  We complimented each other well. I leaned in and kissed her, the system pairing tricking my nerves into thinking the projection was real.

“Hey. How’s the family?”

“Well. They’re doing well.” She wrapped her arms around my waist. The shower was barely big enough for myself and her hologram. She glitched slightly against the walls. One day, we’d be able to add another sector to our habitat module. Get a full-sized shower with double the projectors. But, I supposed those are the dreams young transhuman couples have: move in together, get more cloud and physical storage, maybe settle down into something permanent. “The sisters did ask me about something, though. And it lead me to think. I took a work cycle of personal time to help sort this through.”

“Oh? What’s that?” I let the shower hit me with soap and hair jell.

Thea reached up and showed me the palm of her hand. The koi tattoo along her back drifted, swimming up to her palm. When it surfaced, it blew a bubble with a compacted optical scan code embedded in the surface. I decoded it in a blink. It was her root address – the one she shared with all the other instances of herself. But it was too long. It had–

“Is this…oh, Thea, are you sure?”

“Yes.” She took my hand. “Maxi, I’d like to single-instance myself with you. I’d like to be a unique Thea. One that lives with you. If you’ll have me.”

By way of an answer, I reached out and took the code from her hand. My personal network read the address information, and instantly gave it a unique presence in my systems. Thea no longer shared a root system with her systems. She shared it with me.”

“I’d be honored.” I held her against me, enjoying the illusion of her actually being in the shower with me. “Welcome home, Thea v.7.m.” And then I laughed. “So, what next? Furniture shopping together.”

“Maybe. Did I tell you I was looking for datalife friendly bodies? Found a few I liked, but wanted to get your thoughts…” Thea smiled. I closed my eyes, picked through a memory of a particularly interesting kiss from my past, and dubbed her into it. She almost purred.

“Thea, hon, you are always in my thoughts. Now, let me get dried off. We can hop the mesh into one of the monitoring satellites and watch the sun hit the orbital as we talk.” Thea returned the kiss, edited and enhanced, and stepped out of the shower. I had a moment to myself.

Shared networks. It was time. And I’d been thinking of asking her. Now the body, that’s a different commitment. We’d need to slow down a bit, but we had time. As I shut off the shower, and walked over to the wall screens where Thea’s preferred bodies were displayed. Most were starter kits – simple, but a good place for any SI to begin feeling the new world. A year from now, maybe we could afford a more advanced model for her.

What is the one-year anniversary gift for a mixed SI/transhuman relationship? I didn’t know. but I wanted to find out.

(Inspired by a recent viewing of Blade Runner 2049.)

Death of All Things – Now In Print

The new anthology set from Zombies Need Brains, LLC, is now in print. This includes The Death of All Things featuring my short story, “Finding the Dancer.”

Please, pick up a copy, and encourage your friends to do so as well.  I share space with some amazing writers, and had the privilege of being edited by two authors I admire: Kat Richards and Laura Ann Gilman.

You can also get the amazing cover for this book as an art print at the ZNB store:

Death-of-all-Things

While you’re there, pick up the companion anthologies Submerged and All Hail our Robot Conquerors! My earlier appearance in ZNB’s Alien Artifacts anthology is still in print. You’ll want it for “The God Emperor of Lassie Point” alone. Trust me.

Meanwhile, That Tuesday (NSFW)

Meanwhile, That Tuesday
by
Andrija Popovic

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

 

Tuesday morning, cultists of Sesuva-Danna, the Seething God of Pain and Ecstasy, captured Michael Disimilov on his way to work. They dragged him out into the dark reaches of the city, beneath an abandoned manor, and flayed the business suit from his back with razor-tipped flails. Worshipers – male, female, indeterminate and others – took turns pleasuring and torturing him. Strapped to a great framework cut from the bones of dead gods, blood and semen ran down his body in equal measure. In the space of half a day, Michael’s nerves no longer distinguished between the cut of a blade or the lick of a tongue.

And then the rituals began.

Great malefic drawings were made from the spilled life on the floor. The cultists painted odes to their god, mixing pigment with that which dripped from Michael’s orifices. The walls blazed with Giger-esque landscapes; orgies of flayed bodies, tentacled faces, and alien genitalia swirled together into a whirlwind of aching desire. In the center of the great sexual melee stood the Priest/ess of Sesuva-Sanna, resplendent in zir piercing-covered skin and cobalt-blue body paint. Ze stroked Michael’s quivering lips and spoke:

“Rejoice! You have been chosen. You will become part of the great gateway that allows Sesuva-Danna to enter this realm at the next alignment of the stars. For thirty days and thirty nights, you will be loved and defiled until all sensations become one silver spear of light. Then, only then, will Sesuva-Danna descend upon this realm, and devour us all!”

Oh, thank God, thought Michael. At least I won’t have to tell my boss the Finterbrook account is cancelling. It’ll spare me another dip in my renewal rate…

Michael laughed and cried. He rejoiced as the Priest/Ess straddled and penetrated him, while the cultists sang, decorating each other with scars. This was his best Tuesday in months. For while he may become the unholy conduit through which a sybaritic god would enter this world, at least he would not have to withstand another Quarterly Business Review with Devon Martin and his smug “it doesn’t matter how terrible the product if you can sell the value of the company” speeches.

For once, Michael couldn’t wait for hump day…

 

The Tour is Not Worth the Donation

The Tour Is Not Worth the DonationBy

Andrija Popovic

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

“Hello, and welcome to the National Museum of Existential Dread. Thank you for your donation and for participating in this tour. My name is Andy and I will be your guide. Before we reach our main attraction, please take a moment to download our tour app onto your personal devices and networks.

“While we wait, allow me to describe the museum itself. This is a unique example of early twenty-first century Brutalist revival architecture. Based on an unused design found in the home of the late master of Brutalism, Paul Rudolphe, the museum was constructed from traditional materials for the style. The exposed concrete, blackened metal framework, and tinted windows emphasize the imposing, angular design of the building. At it’s opening, the noted architectural critic Anna DuMonde said, “the building almost crushes one under its harsh, unrelenting, lines.”

“OK, it looks like everyone has downloaded the application. Thank you. We’ll move on to our first exhibit before the main gallery. Existential Dread was first described by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his book, “The Concept of Dread.” While he primarily centered existential dread around concepts of faith, in later years this dread centered around the unmoored feelings brought on by existence itself.

“Human freedom, and the responsibility to use that freedom, became a source of melancholia or angst within a person. As one realizes there is no higher plan, no direction in life, it becomes initially liberating, but engenders a terror on par with agoraphobia. Dread, existential dread, becomes a response to the meaninglessness and absurdity of life.

“We then attempt to suppress this dread by indulging in the everyday routines in life. Suffocating routine becomes a comfort. We abdicate our freedoms for the comfort of the mundane. Only the supremely confident amongst, or the supremely narcissistic and sociopathic, can look at the terrifying breadth of human experience and feel they can master it.”

“Now, please follow me into the main hall and activate your personal networks and devices.”

“What you are seeing – projected via the most advanced direct input simsense technology allowed by law – is your life. The terms of service you agreed to when downloading our tour application allowed our advanced synthetic intelligence driven datacrawlers to pull together a full profile of your life. Yes, the museum only consists of the first floor. All other floors contain the necessary machinery to present our subject in absolute clarity.”

“Look upon the different panels. Each is hung like a portrait. Each one is tailored to your life and your life alone. The simsense projectors will ensure no one but you sees the images there. You will see every choice you made to get to where you are today. But you can look and see a projection of where you could have gone, where you should have gone, had you just… been… better. 

“This is you as you could have been. Had you not let the existential dread of total freedom lead you to choose lives that masked your angst with drudgery, false ambition, failed passions, and meaningless relationships –

“Had you been masters of your choices, and not pawns of fate and fear –

“Had you not given in to existential dread –

“Well, look how amazing you would be.”

“And if you think this cruel of me, well, I’m on these walls as well. Imagine the dread which lead me to be a tour guide in a museum like this.”

“Now, please take a moment to collect yourselves. There are chairs and couches if you needn’t a seat. Tissues are provided, though we do not offer drinks until you have reached the museum bar at the end of the tour. When you are ready, just step through the door.

“Much like life, from here on out, you are on your own. And there is no guide. Thank you. And, please, fill out a comment card.”

“Death has a dignity all its own.”

(Feel free to re-listen to “… And Justice For All” after reading the blog subject. But, do it with the bass elements properly mixed back in. Also, think about what grief can do to people, and alter the decisions they make.)

I announced this on my Facebook feed but felt it deserved a deeper treatment here. My short story “Finding the Dancer” is going to be included in the latest anthology from ZNB, LLC called The Death of all Things. Edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson, you can can pre-order it here. But, before jumping on and getting  copy or two to pass around, please take a look at the amazing cover by Justin Adams of Varia Studios. You can also see table of contents by clicking on the image below.

When the book comes out, I’ll talk a bit more about the story, the process behind it, and what it’s like getting editorial comments from two authors/editors you admire. But like my last published story, this was an amazing learning experience. I re-thought many of my old assumptions about creating stories.  I also encourage you to look at all of ZNB’s anthologies. Small presses like ZNB give starting authors, like myself, a chance to stand beside bestsellers and every dollar goes to keeping imaginative anthologies like the ones they publish alive.

Until then, keep writing.

 

Bad Decisions Make Good Stories

I’ve seen this on a t-shirt in a few different places. It’s supposed to be some kind of devil-may-care, “I’m try-sexual – I’ll try anything” type of declaration. But I saw it worn by the co-author of Hard Case Crime’s brilliant comic, Peepland.  And it might as well be the thesis for film noir, and their pulp crime antecedents.

It’s also a good guideline for compelling stories, and the hardest one to follow. At least, for me.

But, film noir first. The last few months, every unoccupied Sunday morning, I join Eddie Muller and a gaggle of folks on Twitter for Turner Classic Movie’s Noir Alley.  At 10am Eastern, you can follow #NoirAlley and join a conversation about that morning’s selection.  Yes, they do have well known entries, like The Maltese Falcon (the debut) but they also show off lesser known, but equally deserving entries like the boxing tale The Set-Up featuring one of Robert Ryan’s best performances. I’m still waiting for a chance to see Woman on the Run again – a lost classic starring Ann Sheridan as a wife searching for her estranged husband after he’s witnessed a gangland hit – but there are a large number of interesting films to explore.

Noir Alley was an offshoot of TCM’s “Summer of Darkness” where, for Friday nights in August it was nothing but noir all the time.  An evening of desperate people making rough choices and exposing the dark underbelly of the American dream.  Hearing Eddie Muller’s insights before and after each feature exposed how much of the film noir movement grew organically from the American crime fiction and an onrush of talent escaping the shadow of fascism in Europe.  No one declared a movement until well after the ‘golden years’ of film noir ended.

Defining film noir always started with the aesthetics, but in truth, it was the story and the characters: deeply flawed, often villainous protagonists making bad decisions in their attempt to get what they want.  Many look at the Bogart detective dramas as the template for noir, but I look at Double Indemnity and it’s overlooked counterpart (and feature on this week’s edition of Noir Alley), The Prowler.  Both feature hungry individuals looking for ways out of their stifling lives.

Desperate measures lead to bad decisions. And bad decisions make great stories.

They rarely make for happy endings, though. At least, if you’re following the template of noir fiction. Or, the endings are never bright shiny ones. Let’s take “The Set-Up” for example. The happy ending involves a man having his hands broken and shattered for not falling down and being a terrible boxer, like everyone expected of him. It saves his marriage, and probably his life, but there’s a cost.

Bad decision lead to bad ends. No good deed goes unpunished, and the bad ones often end with you getting gunned down in the desert.  It’s not the best and most hopeful way of seeing the world.  To quote Greg Stoltze’s noir RPG game, it’s A Dirty World. Everything comes at a cost.

Which means adhering to the “Bad decisions lead to good stories” tenant when you’re suffering depression is a very difficult thing to do.  Despite everything you hear, no one ever does their best work when hungry, depressed, strung-out, or miserable. No one wants to write about grim situations and desperate individuals caught in traps of their own making when they’re clinging onto their anti-anxiety meds for a reason not to go back to cutting.

But their are other stories you can tell.

I know many folks deride ‘cozy’ mysteries. And I’m not to fond of them myself in some ways. But one can write mysteries, or stories exploring the dark, where the dark doesn’t consume everything.  The late P.D. James is a perfect example of this balance. She is not a shy lady when it comes to the dark side. She spends the first act of her Adam Dalgliesh books describing the deep flaws and dark desires of her soon-to-be suspects. And when the detective-poet delves into the lives surrounding the crime, darker secrets come to night.

But P.D. James offers the reader something noir doesn’t – a light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t an oncoming train. For all the darkness she finds, at the end of the book, justice exists.  The killer will be found. And while not everyone is innocent, the truly guilty will be found and punished.  Bad decisions may lead to good stories – but they don’t have to be the protagonist’s bad decisions.  And I don’t have to write about them if I’m not in the best place to do so. There are other ways.

So every free Sunday at 10, I’ll settle with TCM and Eddie Muller and #NoirAlley. I’ll see how bad decisions can lead to good stories. But I will also curl up with P. D. James as well. I’ll find different kinds of stories, different kinds of comfort, and know when I can’t write one because it hits too close to home, the other is there for me.

Now both stories will still be shot by John Alton – but that’s another discussion.