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Tag: sci-fi


Henry Tavit tore out his own brain. That’s an abstraction, but abstraction is everything.

Look, let’s talk about computers. In 2006, a single bit flip in a Toyota Camry glued the accelerator pedal to the floor and took the car into a tree, killing the passenger instantly. The onboard computer between the pedal and the engine had over 10,000,000 lines of code. I bet you didn’t even know there was a computer there, cars are barely mechanical any more—they haven’t been for decades. It took three years to find the bug, and it was one solitary bit flip: 0 → 1, and a car goes into a tree.

Bookout v Toyota Motor Company took eight years. Toyota was found guilty of negligence, ordered to pay three million dollars: eighteen hours of their global profit, and significantly less than the cost of a Camry recall. The ‘05 Camry is still on the market. It’s a popular car; you probably pass at least one every day on the way to work, and every single one has—lurking somewhere in a gnarled grey matter of its codebase—the bug that killed Barbara Schwarz. This really happened. If you don’t believe me, ask your phone.

I don’t want to go into the details of how a Trimplant works so here’s the short version. There are about forty million lines of code in a chip the size of a grain of rice. It perches on the occipital lobe. You turn it on, and you trip balls.

The problem is, it’s always on. It’s not always active, but the difference killed Henry Tavit. When it’s on, it’s still processing data. The human brain is electric: neurons are pushed along their routes by tiny charges of bioelectricity. They factored it into the design, of course: the Trimplant leeches tiny microelectric charges to keep itself running, never more than it needs. Over the nine months, its spiderweb wiring dug into Henry’s occipital meat, and the electricity changed it. Piece by piece, in imperceptible fragments until—nine months after implantation, while he was in his apartment kitchen, knife in hand—a 0 turned into a 1.

The Trimplant was not poorly-designed. It was a marvel. The engineers knew the risks of putting hardware into a human brain, and they spared no expense in development. It hurts to say, because we want villains in these things, but the team who made the Trimplant were highly competent. They accounted for almost everything but they—like the engineers at Toyota, like the engineers who run our power grid, like every engineer for the last hundred years—weren’t gods. They didn’t think it would be a problem. Nobody worries about drowning in a stream but given enough time, streams will carve canyons from bedrock. The almost-imperceptible flow of bioelectricity took nine months, but it changed a 0 into a 1.

Standing in his kitchen at 3am—half-sober, half-awake, making himself a grilled cheese—he started to trip. You ever had a New Certainty? Sometimes, when it leads us into the light, we call it an epiphany. Sometimes though, you wake up with red-eyed demons standing around your bed and your chest so tight it’s about to break open and disgorge your guts and you go oh, okay, I guess this is my reality now. Henry had the second type. He realised—as the drip-drip of water opened up a critical weakness and the ocean rushed in—that his house was alive, and hateful. He was in its belly, being slowly digested. The walls moved in and out, the rough timpani of a monstrous heart.

Henry was a clever man. On some level, he knew what was happening. On another, a dark wave crashed down on him. The cameras in his home caught almost nothing: just a twitch, and a stillness. He stood in his underwear with his knife halfway into a block of cheese, almost comical. His two halves fought in silence. Then, without speaking, he smashed his head against the kitchen window. Once, twice, cracks spiderwebbing out like a cruel echo of the wiring in his brain. Three times, and he opened up a hole. He gulped at the cool autumn air like a fish on the dock, opened up gashes on his chin, his cheeks. Sliced open the soft cartilage of his nose. His expression remained fixed: dead-eyed, staring into the distance.

Whatever part of him stayed cogent kicked in. It knew what was happening. It could stop it, or die. It had a kitchen knife, and very little time. Henry Tavit died performing neurosurgery on himself at 3AM, in his kitchen, with a model of the human brain open on his laptop. He opened a slit on the back of his neck—close, to access the occipital lobe, but inches-as-miles from where it needed to be—and struck his spinal column with the blade. Collapsed to the floor, gasping, no feeling below the neck. He broke his neck when he fell, and blood flowed into his airway and lungs. The dishwasher grumbled, as though the whole house were laughing. Henry Tavit died on his kitchen floor, surrounded by demons.

The Trimplant is still on the market. The next bit-flip might happen to a surgeon, or a pilot, or a president. A recall of installed units is almost impossible, and a recall of units on shelves is costly enough that the accountancy department quietly nodded to themselves and made the company forget. The court case is ongoing. The story appeared on newsfeeds as a suicide. It didn’t last a day before the tide carried it away.


The old weeds grasp, the old vines grow;

such things, to all, are known-as-known.

When the world broke, it cast us off in all directions — scattered us as spores in the wind. When we are few, we are stupid; we must multiply. There are no nutrients in void, nor anywhere for mycelium to grow. Void is anathema –  we grow where we can, in the crevices of meteors. We lose thousands of children in their fiery tails, but we persist.

Perhaps one in ten thousand great stone fists make landfall, and fewer still will crash brutish down onto any sort of fecund soil. It matters now; it takes only a single survivor of the old weeds to reach down through the earth, spread mycelia, and grow. We drink deep of the loam, to heal that which was broken. Other plants provide rare nutrients — there is no joy in consumption, but it is necessary: we persist.

This world, this – it shows promise. True, there is hard stone, and salt-water — such things hold little interest. In and upon the soil, there are plants great and small. We consume only what we must, though it makes them writhe, and shriek. It shatters them, as we were shattered. They burn us with chemicals. They have strange spore-caps; covered in multicoloured mycelium, and each cap supported by a lattice of calcium. Upon each cap are two jellied orbs to process light — they become wet when we grow upon them. The new plants live in tall stone beds, where they are hard to reach. They make the soil sick, and it kills many of our children. It pains us, but we have lost more for less –  we persist.

This world is not void –  it is fertile. We were few, and now we are many. The new plants do not need meteors: they move from planet to planet in great cold hulks made of deep-earth mineral-metal. At first we ate of them too fast, and the ships became more meteors –  crashing down where they would, into lifeless soil. In time, we saw the new plants had a rare and special gift: direction. The new plants flee, and we follow – one spore is all it takes. The lone spore sleeps until it can no-longer feel the void, then awakens. Rooted in strange new soil, it feeds and feeds until there is no food left. There is no joy in it, but it must be done. We persist.

We eat so we are many; when we are many, we are strong. There must be an end, when we are whole again — un-scattered. Until then, we eat, and grow, and ride the void on the backs of any plant that will give us passage.

We were once broken, scattered and few, but now we are many.

We persist.

Radio Silence

It was Marco’s bright-fuckin’-idea; swan up to water-haulers using stolen police codes, pretend it was an inspection run, find some ridiculous infraction and use it as pretence to ‘confiscate’ the cargo. There were so many governments in this part of space that you were always breaking somebody’s rules. Marco, with his droopy moustache and sad little eyes, looked like a harried bureaucrat. Three of ‘em would go in: Marco, playing a rule-loving police lawyer, Gilroy as the don’t-fuck-with-me spacecop, and Kat as their tech aide. Marco would find a loose wire, Gilroy would shout until the target was quiet and guilty, Kat would go onto their computers and erased any data on the ‘transaction’ so they were harder to follow.

“This is RimPol cruiser Hebe to control, please identify,” said Kat.

Nothing but static on the comms. Scans showed a water-hauler, probably Neo-French, heading to the outer rim colony worlds. Big slow thing, but well-crewed and well-armed. Gilroy paced up and down the bridge with his hands in his pockets. He wasn’t swearing, which was comforting and worrying in equal measure. The whole gang crowded the bridge. It was quiet enough, you could hear people chewing their nails.

Convincing the mark was always the hardest part: once they thought you were friendly police on an inspection run, they’d let you come and go as you pleased. There was a script, but it got hairy as soon as the target didn’t follow along. Silence coulda meant a lot of things. Kat tucked a strand of bleach-white hair behind her ear, and rubbed her fingers over the cross around her neck.

“Hebe to control, you’re in an unmarked zone. Please identify immediately, or we’ll initiate blade-docking.”

That usually sent ‘em running to cooperate. Blade docks were meant to keep the target ship intact, but everybody had heard a few horror stories about ships getting torn in two.

Nothing on the comms but silence. Gilroy’s magboots crashed across the grating. He was getting ready to shout; Kat ducked down and covered her ears –  

–  and the board lit up green on all corners. Their target ship rolled over like a cat waiting for a belly-scratch, and thrust out a docking tube. Everybody sank down a little, and somebody whistled.

“Busted radio mast?” said Gilroy. Kat nodded, and said nothing.


The docking tube was ancient tech: canvas draped over a steel lattice. No air, no grav. You can’t move too quickly in space, or you’ll start moving and never stop: every step must be precise. Kat gripped her cross even harder — only a few layers of canvas between her and the void. She could hear warm radio-static from her headset, and nothing else.

The depressurization room lay open before them, like a wound in the ship’s side. The lights were off. They stepped inside, and the doors slammed shut behind them. After the hiss of depressurization, sound returned, but it didn’t –  just a different timbre of silence. The inner door slid open, and they stepped inside.


They walked through empty hallways, and the only sound was their boots clicking on the steel floors. The lights were on, the place was clean, and there was nobody to be seen.

“Doesn’t look like a fight,” said Gilroy. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

Kat nodded. “Trap,” she said.

Their words echoed off the steel walls.

“You smell that?” said Marco. Kat sniffed the air, but it was what you’d expect — metal, grease, touches of disinfectant.

“Smell what?” she said.

“Oranges,” said Marco. He smiled, and laughed. “Oranges. I haven’t had them in years. I didn’t know you could even grow them this far out.”

Kat didn’t know what oranges smelled like, but she guessed they coulda smelled like spaceship hallways. She shrugged.

“Sure,” she said, “I smell oranges. Let’s get out of here.”

“No!” said Marco. “I gotta have those oranges!”

She grabbed Marco’s arm. He was shivering. His pupils were dilated and empty.

“Are you high?” she said. Marco laughed, then he punched her in the jaw. Her head cracked against the wall. She saw spots, and smelled the iron-tang of blood. Gilroy shouted something, and she heard the clank-clank-clank of boots running away down the ship’s hallways.


SHIT,” said Gilroy. Kat felt somebody pulling her up. She opened her eyes. Everything was spinning. The smell of blood was overpowering, but she was happy to see there wasn’t a lot of it on the walls. She ran her fingers through her hair, and they didn’t come back as red and sticky as she’d feared.

“You alright?” said Gilroy.

She took a deep breath, and nodded. “Gotta g’mrco” she mumbled. The con wouldn’t work without him, after all. She took a moment to regain her composure, then radioed the Hebe. She began to speak, then realised there was no connection – only static. By the look on his face, Gilroy had figured out the same thing.

They staggered back to the airlock, Gilroy with his arm around a limping Kat. She tried to access the holo-interface, but the doors stayed resolutely shut. The off-centre crack between them seemed to sneer at her. The smell of blood was overpowering now. Could she have internal bleeding in her brain? If that was the case, she was a dead woman walking. It didn’t seem like such a little punch could do that, but human beings were terrifyingly fragile things.

“Get me to the bridge,” she said. “Can probably crack into the ship’s systems from there; surely somebody left a terminal open.”

“Aye,” said Gilroy. “Looks like the crew here left in a hurry. Bridge it is.”

He drew the gun.They didn’t actually have any bullets, but a fake-policeman needed a gun on his hip. It’s little details like that that tend to trip people up. You could walk in with a full cardboard uniform and nobody would notice, but God help you if you got the shoulder-insignia wrong.

She leaned on her boss, and they staggered up the polished hallways. The only sounds were their boots, and her heavy breathing, and static on the comms.


The elevators were off, so they had to take the winding stairs up the bridge. There were smears of fresh blood on the wall here. Very fresh –  Marco’s? She thought the idiot was clean, but apparently not. Once a junkie, always a junkie. Up and up they went, and the rank smell of blood cloaked everything: too much smell, not enough blood.

“You smell that?” said Gilroy.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

He looked confused. “Yeah,” he said. “H-horrible. That’s it. What was I thinking. It reeks. It’s like rotten butter.”


“Yeah, butter?”

Well, she didn’t know what butter smelled like either. A rich man’s food and no doubt. Gilroy had been military, and army lads got fed better than kings. What if must have been like, to go back to civilian life.

The stairs planed off. The doors ahead of them lay wide open. As they approached, Marco leapt at them. Kat and Gilroy both fell back against the wall.

Marco stood over them.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. He grabbed a nearby i-beam, and rammed his forehead against it. Bones shattered with a wet crack.

“Beautiful.” he muttered. He leant back. Gilroy stood to stop him, but he wasn’t fast enough: Marco smashed his head against the wall one last time, then slumped and went still.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Gilroy. “Holy fucking, I mean, – FUCK.”

“Yessir,” said Kat. “We are in accord.”

She stood and brushed herself off. Marco had left a slick grey-red mess on the wall. His skull lay open like some grotesque bone flower. They stood a moment in silence, then moved on. There was nothing else to do.


The bridge was practically stoneage tech — still running on some old Window OS. She’d never seen anything like it before, but she had a knack for these things. The network’s secrets unfolded before her. The logs were standard up until two days prior, when they picked up a floating object in space.


and then

nothing. Empty logs. The automated systems registered escape pods leaving and —

The world was blood — the reek of it, the play of it across uncut skin. She cried out. She wasn’t on the bridge any more. She was floating, and something hung above her. It was different, though the word hardly does it justice: it was totally different in ways we have no words for, because we spent words like “totally” and “different” on cheap imitations. It was other, weird, alien, unknown.

And she realised it wasn’t blood. It was speaking to her, in its own language. Blood was a word, though she didn’t know what it meant. Oranges were a word. Butter was a word. It wasn’t malevolent, but it was con

dused it was lost it was not

In its rightful place it was be

autiful it was awesome as God is awe

some it was terrific in that it brought terror

it was panic in that it was like Pan — truly alive, and terrified

Lashing out and

Gilroy shook her awake. The world around her smelled of metal and grease, with touches of disinfectant. It smelled of nothing. You cannot thrust somebody into God’s light, then cast them back down to earth. She screamed, and there was something heavy in her hand, and there was the rich, beautiful reek of blood as she brought it down on Gilroy’s head again and again

For a moment, she could touch heaven. She smiled. A nearby radio crackled to life. “This is Hebe,” it said. “We sent crew aboard, but have had no contact. Unknown vessel, do you read? We’re sending another crew aboard. Please open your airlock or we will be forced to blade-dock.”

Kat staggered to her feet, and to the ship’s ancient controls. She smiled, and went to work.

Space is Our Destiny

Four mates from Perth, captured in an alien prison! However will our brave Aussie battlers escape this pickle? Stay tuned kids, for the fantastic finale filled with adventure and derring-do!

“A steak and cheese pie,” said Gibbo, “then a can of Fosters, and then I’m gonna kiss my wife.”

He poked his head through the bars. The vile two-headed alien guard was out on a lunch break. They had maybe two minutes. Willie had gotten a plum job working in the chemical baths, and he’d managed to knock together a stick of dynamite. Marvin –using good old Aussie ingenuity–  had built the wiring and detonator from random junk lying around in the prison yard.

“Uh huh,” said Damon. Tick tick tick went the pickaxe. They needed to weaken the wall just enough for the blast to take care of the rest. “Not the missus first?”

Gibbo went red. “c-course not,” he said. “Pies and beer and other manly stuff. Riding horses in the desert and whatnot.”

“Uh huh,” said Damon. “Sure. I bet you-”

The dynamite went boom, and took most of the cell’s outer wall with it. There was a distant whistling, then a pitterpatterthud of reinforced concrete redecorating the prison yard.

“Strewth,” said Willie. “Give us a bit of warning next time.”  

Marvin nodded. “Ayep,” he said. That was the only word he ever said. Marvin was a bitter of a nutter, to be honest. No sane man was that good at making things go boom. The explosion had done exactly what it was supposed to – not just tear up the wall, but leave a generous hole in the outer electrofence. The prison perimeter was paper-thin: with the wild jungles of Gorthumax for kletons in every direction, where would escapees even go? Well let me tell you, those pesky aliens didn’t figure on plucky Australians!

“Peg it, lads!” shouted Gibbo. They pegged it, thoroughly: sprinting pell-mell out of the prison while sirens blared and lasers blew holes in the concrete all around them. Marvin got out first, then Damon. The other men stumbled around a bit, before the first two lads hauled them through the gap. Within seconds, the brave Aussie battlers had disappeared into the jungle, where they knew the cowardly guards wouldn’t dare follow.


“So let me get this straight,” said Damon, “using tree bark, a broken wristwatch, and some shiny beetles, you’ve configured a distress signal that will call the Australian Space Navy to our exact coordinates, so long as we can get to the top of Bloodcreek Mountain, at which altitude the signal can pierce the stratosphere?”

“Ayep,” said Marvin. He held up the device. It looked like a ball of mud with a bunch of LEDs stuck in it.

“Strewth,” said Willie, “I bet you a two-headed alien couldn’t make a machine like that. Bunch of blouses, all of them. Those subhuman two headed aliens don’t stand a chance if we all stick together and buy war bonds! Tell your parents today!”

“That’s right,” said Gibbo, “the war effort needs the help of ordinary folks back home. Just a few dollars will help us to buy guns, tanks and ammunition needed to finish what we started with those two-headed freaks. Space is our destiny!”

“Space is our destiny!” said Willie. “Stewth!”


Bloodcreek Mountain was an extinct volcano. The crater was an ancient holy site for the savage aliens, with dozens of armed guards all around. Whatever will our fine lads do against such barbarians?

“Okay,” said Damon, “so they plan is that we distract them with shiny lights and trinkets, while Marvin sneaks up through the trees to the top and activates the beacon?”

“Ayep,” said Marvin. He was very stealthy. He had a necklace of ears from all the aliens who hadn’t even seen him coming. Not that they needed ears in hell, right? Space is our destiny, not their destiny.

While Marvin sneaked his way through the dense jungle around the lip of the crater, the three friends walked casually out in front of the guards. The foul aliens drew their guns and spouted their incomprehensible babble, but Gibbo held up a wristwatch and said “see? Shiny! It can tell you WHEN you are without even needing the sun.”

The alien dropped their laser blasters to come closer, at which point






“That wasn’t part of the plan!” roared Damon as the other aliens shrieked and charged, swinging their bladed forearms. All of them exploded at once – it was Marvin! Standing atop the highest hill, with the sun behind him, wielding a grenade launcher. Chunks of body fell everywhere around him.

“Ayep,” he said.

The beacon was lit, and the good old Aussie Space Navy were quick to respond – flying in from orbit to save our brave lads in the nick of time. Remember, no man who goes to war is ever left behind! This is our glorious cause! How can you help? Buy war bonds and always remember, space is our destiny.

why wise men die under open sky

She went under the earth without a sound. Funny that; how everybody is listening on the one day you’re least equipped to speak. Listening hard, as if you’re to open your eyes at any second, tell them they were wrong, and let the ache release its grip from their ribs and throats. On the day they buried her, not a sound was heard – not even birdsong.

Only, she didn’t die, as such. As a germ of her soul fell through the pine, it took into itself a mouthful of dirt, and another. Greedy, feasting on worms, bones and char as the world turned in the far-and-away. The part of her that left her body behind called itself Ophiadne; the snake woman, for she coiled and uncoiled around the roots of the world, choking or giving breath as she saw fit, drinking deeply of the souls that fell down through the cracks. With their joys and sorrows, she strove to fill the hole the silence had left behind.

From her came others, shat out and taken on forms of their own, to suckle at that monstrous teat, and fail to grow strong. There was Jula; the Empty, Sawat; the Cavernous, Egritta; the Blasphemy of Stars. All grand names, struggling in the shadow of the snake woman, feeding on the scraps she left behind until they were little bone twists topped with gasping mouths, ribboned with their many grasping hands, staring eyeless and screaming tongueless against the tyranny of the mud and stone.

All starved, but were denied death. The tendrils of their dreams twitched through the veil and into the dreams of mortals, who woke screaming about a wasteland of souls, and a baroness who ruled the roots of the tree of life. A painter woke one morning unable to paint, and took his hand in a fit of rage. A poet, truly lost for words, cut out his own tongue. There were more, but they matter no more than raindrops on dirt, run together in a shallow trickle of lost souls, a million deep. The draught of gods, or something like them. A draught of which there is no cup deep enough, nor will there ever be.

When they feed, the sky weeps openly, as if a great flood could wash them away. If you would die in the rain, hold on. There are things worse than death, as Ophiadne herself learnt so long ago.