18. Two sci-fi vignettes
The soldier shouts. I hear the bang of gunfire. I smash the button strapped to my palm.
Merry Christmas, for those who celebrate it! 🎄
In this newsletter letter we’ll have
a quick project update
quick thoughts on cyberpunk
two scifi vignettes (the cool part)
Philosophers on Twitch playing Flight Simulator
In an earlier post, maybe this one, I mentioned how I’d set up a Twitch channel, but found that it was way harder to convert my Twitter audience (now nearly 1500) to Twitch viewers. I’d put a bunch of energy into it, but for a variety of reasons Twitch has been looking less synergistic than I’d hoped it would be, and much more like a dead end.
But! I’ve basically solved these problems in one fell swoop, incrementally speaking. The concept:
In the last two weeks I’ve recorded 2 episodes of PoTpFS, and my Twitch followership jumped to ~47 after being at like 12-16 for months. Pretty cool! It seems like a talk show about chilling with Twitter people & chatting philosophy has more of a draw.
I’ve been having fun with the graphic design. In a couple hours, I’m going to record my latest live episode with Rival Voices:
Michael Curzi @michaelcurziTHIS TUESDAY.... On ℙ𝕙𝕚𝕝𝕠𝕤𝕠𝕡𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕤 on 𝕋𝕨𝕚𝕥𝕔𝕙 playing 𝔽𝕝𝕚𝕘𝕙𝕥 𝕊𝕚𝕞𝕦𝕝𝕒𝕥𝕠𝕣 #2... @PrinceVogel & I TAKE TO THE SKIES 🛫 to FIND ATLANTIS??? 👁 🔱 🌊 🔮 (Discussing the Minoans & their spooky alphabet & more😱) Join us live: https://t.co/CtYeKZmTW0 https://t.co/7dAhvXddA3 https://t.co/TK0Kn4BJvN
Here’s the last episode, in which PrinceVogel and I flew around Greece and India while discussing theories of the historical Atlantis:
Feel free to drop by the live show on a Tuesday evening US time, to shoot the shit, ask questions, etc!
Cyberpunk is cool as hell
I’ve been playing that new Cyberpunk game. A lot of people are upset about glitches and gameplay issues, but if you’re in it for the atmosphere and narrative elements, it’s absolutely cool as hell.
I’m going to hit you with a few screenshots just because I’m overly excited about how the game looks:
The cyberpunk genre as a whole, stretching back past the Bladerunner movies to the writing (I have learned) of one William Gibson, is something I found myself thinking a bunch about:
Writing sci-fi can be a great exercise in thinking about the future. It’s challenging to describe a simulated future world, which coheres with itself and follows the principles you believe cause the real world to run. If you think you have a mechanical world model, turn the crank, and tell me what it yields for us in a few decades or centuries!
I don’t consider myself particularly good at fiction writing, let alone sci-fi writing in particular, but you’ve got to start somewhere… and here is somewhere, isn’t it.
I present my first two attempts at short scifi vignettes. Enjoy!
SCIFI01 - KWAME
Kwame watched the black speck drift lazily across a blooming cloud. It was finally time. He called out to his friends, and they began to run.
They skipped past brush and bramble, vaunting a rocky hill a mile later. The two-meter-tall, plastic-wrapped cube had already landed in the clearing below. Its billowing parachute, bright white but dirtied by the landing, retracted into an impossibly small sphere dangling from the cube’s corner.
They approached with excitement.
Kwame jolted. Blinking, bright red letters flashed through the white plastic. First in English, then Somali, French, Arabic, Berber - a blinding red light, accompanied by a siren blare and tinny audio commands. The command looped, and then changed.
Kwame remembered himself, reaching into a dusty satchel around his neck, retrieving an inch-long keyfob. He approached with care as his friends watched. He heard a little jingle as his keycode was accepted.
Thin lines radiated from the package’s upper corner, thin protective plastic crinkling and sliding off as the tension was released. The massive cube bisected itself with a pop, unfolding. Refrigerated air met the savannah sun and turned to steam.
The interior, now exposed, revealed a range of other packages, color-coded and labeled in international languages, with large icons suggesting their contents. Medicine. Iodine. A printer with bio-cable. Seeds.
Would a package contain weapons?
Kwame’s friends, visibly excited, began to step forward.
The siren blare was shrill this time - more of a shriek, a mix between the sound of a wild animal and that of a terrified woman. Kwame’s friends looked to him with anxiety.
He waved them back. “Follow the instructions,” he said. “Wait for me.”
A black beetle emerged from somewhere in the refrigerated hollow. It was large for a beetle, thought Kwame - about two inches across - but then again, it was technical, not animal. Small for a machine.
The beetle tittered towards him, following the keyfob.
A beetle-shaped light appeared on Kwame’s keyfob. Self-explanatory. Kwame took a deep breath, pressing the image more firmly than he had to.
The beetle scuttled up his leg, thorny footpads pulling, but not breaking skin. It crawled up his hip, onto his back. Kwame shivered despite the heat. The machine gripped the base of his neck, clawlike. A sharp needle suddenly pierced his skin, and he grit his teeth, in pain and afraid.
…Was that it?
A wave of nausea. Kwame doubled over, vision blurring as he vomited on the ground. His muscles began to twitch - ripples radiating from his neck, as though each of his muscles was being prodded in turn. His fingers bent in strange patterns as the range and dimension of each digit was tested.
He fell to his knees, a bead of sweat gathering on his forehead. What was he doing here again? It seemed much better to sleep. He relaxed, and forgot himself.
Kwame’s body stood. It was more upright, less easy, than his usual posture. His friends looked on in horror, but they were excited. Kwame’s eyes rolled in his head, and his body moved with conviction.
The directive was clear. Kwame’s body retrieved an electric baton from the cube, still cold from its refrigerated voyage.
This time the command came from Kwame’s mouth and the cube at the same time.
Kwame’s friends began to work.
SCIFI02 - BUGS
The itching is unbearable. A bubble curls up my leg. I dare not scratch it.
I push forward in the rain. Trying to not seem too nervous. Too intentional. Too ‘intense’. I thought I might feel afraid, but the benzos keep me smooth and clear. But I still shudder as another bubble ripples through my arm, under the skin. I shuffle my poncho to stay tucked out of sight.
My head is throbbing. The rain comes down. Am I dehydrated? Another few hundred meters, and it won’t matter anymore. Funny to think of a thing like dehydration, at a time like this. I suppose some part of me still expects to make it. I try to keep my mind off the rolling, the rippling. Off my gut, my itching limbs. My wretched, infected body.
I push my way through the crowd.
I may seem like a bastard, but they all deserve what’s coming. For looking away. From the fucking horror of it all. From the tragedy, the idiocy. Being farmed like sheep might be a bit more bearable, if it weren’t by a bunch of morons.
My train of thought is interrupted. Far above, a drone hesitates and changes its course.
I start to get nervous. You’d think that, with all the noise and the rain, the crowd, the singsong ads and the rumble of cars, that I wouldn’t have noticed a thing. But even now, eons away from the savannah, from the dark primordial forest, you sometimes just know when someone’s got their eyes on you. Even when that someone is a something.
The samurai tried to craft that sense into a superpower, called it zanshin. A psychic early warning system, of sorts. To alert you when someone was going to pull a knife on your liege. That someone had rigged your car to blow. That someone like me was pushing his way into your Thursday afternoon.
I may be moments from oblivion, but my survival instinct persists. In a final act of loyalty, it tells me that I’ve been had. A soldier touches his helmet, and looks in my direction.
It’s now or never.
I shove someone in front of me. The drones dive. The soldier shouts. I hear the bang of gunfire, as a bullet rips through my shoulder. I smash the button strapped to my palm.
A thousand mechanical insects erupt out of my body, and all I can do is scream.
The pain is indescribable. From my head, my neck, my arms, my legs. I’m a mess of blood. The bugs fill the air, whizzing by at blinding speed. They dive on the crowd, ascend to open windows, enter sewer grates and shops, seeking flesh. The crowd lurches as a panicked mass, and the people scream with me, like a wild-eyed pack of zebra.
I’m shot again, but it’s too late. At least a hundred will be infected within the next minute, if they haven’t been already. However many the security forces round up or execute in an inspired act of martial law, a few dozen will escape - and chances are, a few of them will be running the latest gen of FLADGATE chips, the ones with the security hole. Most will prefer to risk the insects to getting bagged and sent to a NatSec kangaroo court.
But by the time they try to dig the bug out, chances are they’ll be under Halcyon’s control. Within seconds of invasion, INSTINCT will have been pumping hormones and painkillers, physiological distractions for the real payload: a rapidfire electric pulse, sending the program that conquers the nervous system. Halcyon will have his army, and the latest round of conscripts won’t even need to believe.
We did it. I did it.
I roll onto my back. My pain gives way to emptiness. The chaos falls still, silent. I feel some regret, some sadness. Not really the time for it, but here we are.
At least it doesn’t itch anymore.