Jane’s War (part 4)

Connecting to the soldier’s implants digitally was almost trivial. The hard part was the actual manipulation of data. For obvious reasons, the implants were designed to resist this exact sort of tampering. Covering her tracks was time consuming as well.

Fortunately, most Janes were conditioned to ignore anything that wasn’t part of their immediate task. When Jane drew the curtain around her rack, none of the other Jane’s would bother her and her guest.

“How did you know where I was from?” The soldier asked as Jane worked.

“Hmm?” Jane mumbled as she finished pulling the cable from her arm, plugging it into the power connection by her bedside.

“You knew I was from Akiing…er…ES-89 I mean. How?” The soldier asked.

“Oh,” Jane plugged the cable into a port in the soldier’s armor, “You mentioned you were in the same division as the dead soldier. I made an assumption.”

“I could have been from anywhere though,” the soldier protested.

“It’s…your hump…on your back…I’m sorry, but I assumed it was a mutation. ES-89 is where most of the mutants come from,” Jane tried to sound apologetic as possible.

The soldier chuckled, “Not all of them.”

“Most of them,” Jane flicked her fingers in front of her as she navigated her display.

“I could have been from ES-63. Lot of mutants there,” the soldier made an exaggerated gesture with their hand. They didn’t seem upset, though that helmet made everything sound threatening, they seemed to just be making conversation.

“True, but they don’t have as many soldiers in the service,” Jane explained.

“How would you know?” the soldier waved a hand over the faceless mask.

Jane grinned, “I’ve seen the demographic records. They barely have a viable population as it is. They can’t afford to be sending too many people off world.”

The soldier shrugged.

There was a long lull in the conversation as Jane setup the process she needed to wipe evidence of her conversation.

She wondered if she was being paranoid.

She’d met at least a couple Does who’d been away from the Homeland long enough, and indulged by their owners enough, that they would speak that openly about their feelings on the Julians.

But in those cases the Julians had found it humorous.

Linisa wasn’t a Julian though, as much as she tried to be, and underestimating her intellectually would probably be a mistake. She’d risen this far hadn’t she; from soldier, to management, to Director General of this installation? Add to that the fact that she had that job because a soldier had turned on her predecessor. She was unlikely to be forgiving to even vaguely seditious utterings.

Better to err on the side of caution.

That was how you survived.

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I nearly lost my mother to terrorism.

I didn’t, but it was close.

I was 7 at the time, and didn’t understand it. It took me years before I really thought about it in terms of “Terrorism.” For a long time, I thought about it as something cool: a big national news story my mom had a connection to.

The year was 1996, in Atlanta, Georgia. The terrorist was a man named Eric.

He wasn’t caught until 2003, six years later, and he bombed three other places after the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta.

Eric was (still is I imagine) a radical Christian. He didn’t like what he called “global socialism,” gay people, or abortion that much. He went on to bomb a lesbian bar and two abortion clinics after Centennial Olympic Park.

As a socialist leaning pro-choice bisexual atheist, I don’t think Eric would like me very much.

Fortunately, at the centennial park, a security guard spotted the explosives and started evacuating before they went off. Only one person died in the bombing (and another in the aftermath), but more than a hundred were injured. .

My mother was there, in the exact spot, less than a half hour before the explosion.

She had come down for the Olympics with a friend, and they may have stayed in the area had they not been worn out by travel and long lines.

It wasn’t until the next morning, turning on the news in her hotel room, that she realized something had happened.

When I speak with her about it today, she laughs it off.

“20 minutes or 20 years; it makes no difference,” she told me. As far as she was concerned, it didn’t matter how close it had come, she had missed it. She too, thought of it merely as a news story she had a loose connection to.

Ever since I put in in that context though, as an act of terrorism, I can’t help but think how close my siblings and I came to growing up without a mother.

But for half and hour and a diligent security guard…

So when people ask me how I can be ok accepting Syrian refugees into the country; or tries to tell me that Islam is an inherently violent religion; or any other bullshit based on the idea that the terrorists I should be afraid of are brown people half a world away, I want to tell them to shut their fucking mouths.

The terrorist who nearly ruined my family was a white guy from the States, killing in the name of Christ.

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The Fleet [Up the Spine]

Getting from Hab to the Spine is easy in theory. Just keep going up until you get to the doors labeled “Warning: Low Gravity Zone.”

Theories are treacherous things.

The gravity starts getting weaker pretty much immediately once you’re out of Hab proper. By three levels up I was already having trouble, bouncing with each step.

I hit my head four times before I even got to the first low-g signs.

The bulkhead to the outer regions of the Spine was propped open with a hook that was glued to the wall. Very unsafe, and very illegal, but you have to pick your battles. I ignored it.

A couple of vagabonds sat, drinking dime-make booze, on either side of the bulkhead, legs spread out across the narrow hallway.

“Officer Nic!” one of them, Marcela, waved at me as I approached, “What brings you up to our level?”

I smiled, “Crime, naturally.”

She threw up her hands, as did her elderly drinking companion.

“I didn’t do it,” she laughed.

“I hope not.” I smiled. Once I got close, my mobile picked up on their IDs. Alejandro was the name of her companion, “We had a murder last night.”

Marcela’s smile turned inside out.

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Optimal Book Placement

I was reading a book my partner gave me. It was late in the evening, they were already in bed. We had been fighting a bit, nothing huge, but a bit. Still, I had promised the other day that I would give the book a chance, and I wasn’t busy.

It was poetry. Free verse and heart-wrenchingly honest.

I really enjoyed it.

But it was late, and I needed to get to bed, so I closed the book and went to set it down.

Which suddenly became a terrible little adventure.

“No don’t set it there,” I say to myself, “If you put it back where it was, they’ll think you haven’t been reading it. Put it over here on your desk, so they know you took the time.”

So I move to put it there.

“No you fool!” shouts another piece of myself, “Don’t you remember you were arguing? If you set it there it looks passive aggressive. ‘Oh look at me, I read some of your book so you can’t be mad at me anymore.’”

I’m forced to admit, that would look pretty bad.

So I go to set it down where it was.

But now I can’t just set it down. Because now I have to give a long, thorough think.

Where is the optimal place to set this book? What spot indicates that I really did read it and enjoyed it, without looking like I meant to indicate such a thing at all? Does such a spot even exist?

The presence of vague hostilities, however temporary, transforms the simple act of releasing a thing from my hand into a game of political intrigue that would make the court’s of Renaissance Europe weep.

Finally, and with more frustration than I ever intended, I thrust the book into a spot almost exactly where it was before.

I probably shouldn’t be skipping my anxiety meds.

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Lonely Books

I took a train this holiday season.

I know nobody really takes the train anymore unless you live in a major city East of the Mississippi (in America at least). I quite like trains though, and so when the option came up as an alternative to driving to my destination over New Years Eve, I thought “Why not?”

I was waiting for this train, sitting on the benches in the station, enjoying the brief respite from the -5°F weather outside (not counting the wind chill), when I saw one of those rotating racks for pamphlets, maps, and brochures. It was mostly empty. Comically so. Either literally everyone who walked through this station had taken a pamphlet, or the rack had been basically abandoned by whoever was supposed to be stocking it.

The only thing left, wasn’t a pamphlet, map, or brochure, but a book. A slightly worn copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn.

I had my cheap laugh right away. Seeing a book nigh universally acknowledged as terrible to be the last thing on this forlorn rack was more than a little bit funny.

But I couldn’t help but wonder why it was there. It didn’t look like the station had any stores or sold anything aside from the row of vending machines.

It must have been left behind by someone.

Deliberately; either out of some visceral hatred of the book which left them completely unwilling to bring this thing with them on the train, or because they wanted someone else to come across it and experience the joys they had while reading it.

That second one seemed unlikely.

It could have been an accident, left behind by mistake and put up on the rack by someone who had no idea what to do with this thing.

Or it could have been none of those things.

There are probably many many other reasons the book could have been left behind, but these are the ones that ran through my head, sitting on the bench in the train station.

Looking over at it, I felt a sudden wave of sadness wash over me. It really did look pretty pathetic over they, scuffed up at the edges, all alone in a place it didn’t belong.

It occurs to me now that somebody must have loved the book at some point, right?

Either someone bought it for themselves, or for somebody else as a gift. It had been purchased with every intention that it would be read by somebody presumably.

And here it was, abandoned in a train station.

I have never actually read the Twilight Saga. I know it by reputation, and I forced myself to watch two of the movies out of a sense of obligation to give something a chance, but I’ve never actually read it.

I almost picked that book up.

I almost regret not doing it still.

I used to work at a used book store, filled with row upon row of books that had been loved, and would be loved again if I had any say in it. To me, in that moment, an abandoned book just seemed like the saddest thing I could imagine, and I wanted to pick it up and say “It’s ok. I’ll read you once, then see if I can’t find some place to donate you.”

But I didn’t pick it up.

I had things to do that day and couldn’t be asked to haul the extra weight of a book around.

More’s the pity.

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Jane’s War (part 3)

The extraction took seven hours.

Much quicker than Jane had expected.

Accessing military implants was no easy task. Any wrong move could set off the sensors meant to detect tampering and slag the implant, which usually made the extraction a 12 hour process.

Koya’s mutations and cellular degradation had necessitated relocating the implants from their standard locations, which might have made for an even longer extraction.

Fortunately, in more ways than one, many of Koya’s implants had been destroyed, making recovery impossible. Jane would have audibly sighed if she wasn’t being watched.

A few slaves had come in to take Koya’s body away as she peeled off gloves soaked in putrid blood and pus. The slaves, tall natives to the local region of this Earth, were clearly uncomfortable with the smell, which Jane supposed was the natural and healthy response. It was impossible to ignore the smells of death entirely, but Jane had worked for Julians long enough that she could endure them better than most.

The slaves and the soldier turned again to let her change, and when she was finished, the slaves left with Koya and the soiled surgical clothes. Both were bound for the incinerator. The soldier, who had spent the last 5 hours seated against the most comfortable bit of wall they could find, packed up the small terminal.

“Are you ready to go?” they’d asked in that soldier’s-growl.

“Yes,” she said

“Finally,” the soldier sighed.

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Living Outside the Kingdom

Imagine, if you will, that you could build a human from scratch.

Molecule by molecule, assembling each cell individually.

Imagine if you could do this, and when the process was done, you had a viable human.

A living breathing human being, built from the ground up.

No parents, no siblings, no relations whatsoever in the entirety of the human race.

Is this creature still evolved from an ape-like ancestor?

They have no relations. They were not born. Any DNA similarities to any existing human are coincidental or manufactured. The only thing this person has inherited from the rest of humanity is the idea what a human is in your mind when you started building them.

Indeed, is this creature even a human person, or merely a creature very much like a human. They might have been a human, but by virtue of their artificiality, are they not?

Consider for a moment the implications of your answer.

Not just for this hypothetical human, but for the prospects of thinking machines.

Bare with me for a moment.

When we think of intelligent machines of the future, many will argue that there will eventually come a point, when machines are complex enough, that they will have to be recognized as sentient “living” creatures deserving of the same respect we accord to humanity.

You may have seen this on an episode of Star Trek once or thrice.

The benchmark for this transition from tool to living thing is, of course, hypothetical and ill defined, but when we consider it, we often consider this new, mechanical life to be inherently separate from ourselves, the Animal Kingdom, and indeed the Tree of Life as we understand it.

Now consider our constructed human once again. If this creature, built from scratch, is still a human after all, regardless of whether they were born or made, then isn’t this intelligent machine our evolutionary descendant?

Or, if our constructed mammal is not a human, not really, then is it kin to our intelligent machines in their loneliness; two creatures living outside the Animal Kingdom.

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One Star Soup Kitchen

I saw a one star review of a soup kitchen.

The existence of such a review says so much before I even read the content.

I didn’t question why the review existed, because of course it did. It is everything late capitalism promises in a nutshell. If everything is dialog between provider and consumer then naturally you can leave a review of a place like a soup kitchen.

My coworker, reading over my shoulder, chuckled and scoffed, “Can you believe that?”

I knew at once that he wasn’t laughing at the absurdity that you can leave a review of a soup kitchen, because (again) of course you can. He wasn’t remarking at the rating service, rather his incredulity was at the one star rating.

More capitalist thinking at play.

In context, the logic even seems sound. They’re poor, therefore they have nothing. They are availing themselves of social program, therefore my taxes are paying for it. They are eating on my dime, therefore they should be grateful for what they get.

My kneejerk reaction was to agree. Afterall, if you are in need of a soup kitchen to feed yourself or your family, surely it is better than the alternative by default.

This too is rooted in a capitalist line of thought.

If you can’t afford quality, you don’t deserve it.

The whole thing, from service to rating to my reaction, was within this tiny cross space in the Venn diagram of late stage capitalist thinking.

The modern American worldview in microcosm: a one star review of a soup kitchen.

I clicked on the review.

“My whole family got food poisoning. Go someplace else.”

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Jane’s War (part 2)

Jane examined her tools. They were hers, not just whatever was in surplus. Somebody had gone up to the dormitories and taken her tools from her belongings.

Jane had to remind herself that it was a breach of her privacy.

It was so easy to forget that maybe her things shouldn’t be so accessible. A lifetime of servitude left you with low standards of personal space.

She took a moment to feel righteously indignant.

“Is there a problem?” the soldier at the door asked through the helmet’s voice modulator.

Jane used that to help keep her smile. The voice the soldiers spoke in was a modulation the Julians had determined would exemplify the ferocity and intimidation they wanted their forces to project to primitive societies. It might be dark and menacing now, but Jane knew it had gone through round after round of development and focus testing, all so that short mutants could sound like demons. The thought of that process, of fifteen Julians poking at settings in a sound editing program to get the voice juuuust terrifying enough, was amusing to Jane. She wasn’t sure why.

As if the radiation and toxin ravaged bodies of the mutants they employed wouldn’t terrify their conquered slaves enough. But then, the Julians preferred to keep their soldiers in their face-concealing helmets. That way, those beneath them could never know if they were speaking to some mutant, a native collaborator, a Julian, or even a Jane.

Not that they would ever give a Jane a gun. Even back in the Homeland, only Johns could carry guns, never Janes.

That would be against the rules.

“Not at all, soldier. I am merely inspecting my tools,” Jane smiled over at the soldier. This one was terribly thin, and too tall to be from Koya’s world. The poisons that permeated that world rarely allowed for such stature.

“Well hurry it up,” the soldier growled, “I’d like to incinerate this traitor’s corpse sooner rather than later.”

Jane raised an eyebrow at the soldier.

“Have you seen a data extraction before, soldier?” she asked.

“No,” the soldier said, the helmet making it sound like a bark.

Jane turned to face them, “These procedures can take some time, soldier. Days even. There are several factors involved that…”

“The Director General wants this data as soon as possible,” the soldier insisted.

“I will work as fast as possible. It may still be several days,” Jane picked up one of her slim probes, pulling free the cable at the back.

She looked at her forearms, still covered by satin gloves.

She turned to the soldier, holding up her hands as if presenting evidence, “I will need to change.”

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Jane’s War (part 1)

Jane ( flexed her new fingers.

It wasn’t her first artificial limb, she already had a replacement leg from the knee down. But she never thought much about the responsiveness or flexibility of her leg. It simply wasn’t something she thought about. This was different; she used her fingers all the time.

She made a fist, then stretched out the fingers, then twisted them up a bit.

The fingers seemed slow to respond at first, but once they got the message they seemed to move in double time to catch up. She felt like she was constantly overcompensating.

It would take some getting used to.

The elbow and shoulder were better, but still it would take some time to move with full proficiency again.

Jane Doe ( stood over her, gesturing to dismiss some part of her personal display.

“How does it feel?” 78.1 asked.

“Fine,” Jane said, putting on a smile. You had to smile. Jane’s all smiled. That was one of the rules.

“Please take the time to rate your service,” 78.1 said, gathering up her tools.

Jane kept flexing her fingers as 78.1 left, leaning back on examination table, letting her mind wander. The new arm might make her job a lot easier actually. Her old augments were good, but the fully synthetic arm would hold more and better augments than her original. So that was something to look forward too.

One of her sisters was transferring to this planet, and it would be good to see her if she could. She couldn’t be too obvious about trying to see Jane (, or they’d both be taken away. Probably shipped back to the Homeland, to be reeducated or killed. She didn’t think she could handle losing another friend so soon after Koya.

Poor Koya.

At least he hadn’t been captured.

The Julians could have made him talk. Jane knew this. She’d carried out the procedure herself.

She realized she’d been in the workshop too long. If she stayed much longer, she would be accused of laziness or failure to acclimate to her new parts. Both of those were against the rules.

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