New Things

Admittedly, I am a far happier person when I stick to the predictable. Want to take me out for something to eat? Take me to someplace I know well enough to avoid looking at the menu and I’ll be a happy. I usually ignore alternative driving directions because they might take me along unknown roads and into unexperienced traffic messes. And I spend the greatest effort in my day-to-day affairs sticking to a predictable schedule so that both Aral and I can exist in the tranquility that results from that sort of routine.

I’ve played World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer on-line role playing game of great fame, since people actually role played within the confines of the world. When it was new I got sucked into it because a friend was playing and because it was arguably the climax of a pursuit I had invested a lot of time and effort into previously (starting way back with DiKU MUDs). So, for nearly a decade now, I’ve ponied up about $15 bucks a month and slogged my way through dungeons, guild politics, griefers and hackers while seeking purples and legendary orange tokens indicative of my dedication to this collective suspension of disbelief.

After a while this became sort of a habit. Something I kept doing because I have done it before, because I scheduled my life around this game. “Leave me alone, it’s raid night,” was a common refrain heard in my household. I don’t think I ever over did this indulgence, but I certainly invested my time and effort into it. Often gladly, some times even with great joy.

But here is where my story finds a kink. Last January, while attending Legendary Confusion, I met a representative from S2 Games. Unfortunately I don’t recall the guys name, but I imagine I could pick him out of a line up if pressed. Hopefully I can be forgiven, there were a lot of new faces and names and likely some drinking mixed in. Anyway, he handed me a short comic book about the new game he and his compatriots were working on.

I thanked him and tucked it into my bag next to a growing stack of interesting hand outs. There it sat, forgotten until just a few days ago.

Sometime this summer, when I was increasingly frustrated and bored by the same old slog I have labeled Pandarian Summer Funk, I somehow made it into the closed beta for Strife. I downloaded the game and played a little. Game play was exciting and new, tactically challenging even. Most matches were over in an average of seventeen minutes, which meant that I could pop open the client, get a quick game fix and return to real life satisfied. Compared to the cluster events that even Looking for Raid imposed upon me this was an exceptional advantage. Write a thousand words, play a quick match, fold some laundry — my days and life are not consumed by a little escapism.

As time wore on and the beta opened up I started looking into the story. The artworkS2 commissioned, both in game and for the game, is excellent. A very rich and involving world with just enough visual zing to keep the GPU warm. The character and world development feels a lot like looking over the edge of a crevasse on a deep glacier. You don’t see much on just over the surface, but you get the impression of depth. And the story itself, that the heros gather on the fields of Strife to practice their martial arts, requires no more disbelief than WOW ever did.

By September Strife had replaced all other games. Today I composed the basis of one of three new heros that have been floating around in my head (a werehippo named Hadiya, she if freaking awesome). In some small way, a way that I thought never to see repeated after WOW entered my life, my imagination has been captured once again by a game.

I’ve recently canceled my WOW subscription. Ostensibly it’s because I just don’t have that much time to play games these days, but you can add to this that I think Blizzard has lost the all too critical thread of their own story. They seem more focused on improving graphic rendering in game and concocting media sell-out events designed to pander attention than hiring good writers who can continue their formerly strong tradition of story telling. Seriously, Azeroth Cycles? This is some of the shit I am trying to escape while playing people.

Going through some of my convention stash recently I came across the comic I had been given last January. I pulled it out of its plastic and thumbed through the pages. Mostly inked over pencil work, nothing stupendous as far as a comic book goes, but in these pages I saw a group of people in love with an idea. Taking time and effort to perfect their craft and, more importantly, to tell a really cool, new story.

That’s gold, no tropes being repeated here, golden story telling.

EDIT:

If you’re interested in trying (and Strife is free to play) if you could use my referral link than you’d be buffing a true fan of the game. Click on through from here.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Rock Landing

Three days and nearly no sleep. The solo crossing from Makah Bay to Ucluete had turned out to be much more of a challenge than Paul had expected. He had stuck with it, dodging the huge cargo craft entering and exiting the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Avoiding La Migración where they had staked out safe bays and inlets on the south side of the US border waiting in ambush for the unpapered.  And in sticking to the open water he had even landed a pair of salmon that would fill his larder for weeks. If only he could make it to shore and smoke them before they spoiled.

Now Paul was reaching as hard and as fast as Brosings’ Necklace could cut the current. He needed a beach, one with a high waterline, because a very low pressure hyper-dynamic Rossby circulation was headed his direction. The Navicom had raised an alarm that morning, but thankfully the broadcast described a storm front moving at an average and predictable speed. That he had even bothered to re-check the device had more to do with the wind-driven waves he had spent the afternoon negotiating, big haystacks with plenty of foam crashing down one after the other on the cramped deck house of the single handed sloop. Fortunately he had taken the time to sort through all the new information that had been disseminated by the weather service. The storm front had picked up energy and speed as the day had progressed and now it was rolling into the coast like a train without breaks.

Paul was tired and wet, but most of all he was worried. He was having a difficult time making out the lighthouse beacon that stood on the end of the little peninsula which would protect him and his tiny boat. The wind driven waves were threatened to capsize his boat and they were now driving snow and icy spray into the little craft.

Brosings’ Necklace had become the cradle of Paul’s life. He had traded in his on shore past months before, imagining that life at sea might prove more liberating than the existence he had inherited within the dense confines of the city. So far, the little boat had exceeded all his expectations. Coasting up and down the Puget Sound had been enjoyable and sometimes profitable. He had been scared once or twice. Belligerent immigration agents rounding up illegals near Anacortes had passed over Brosings’ Necklace twice despite Paul’s lack of a valid visa or a boat registration. He was a very small fry swimming in the same sea as Los Tiburones. Paul was just another undocumented barnacle with nothing of value and no one to ransom him from the clink, and he liked that about this lifestyle. No one cared about him, he had no one to care about.

And then Vera had sailed into his life. Late on a a sunny August  afternoon she had slid into Mail Bay. Paul had been fishing, or, depending on how you looked at it, patiently waiting for the sunset. Her long-distance rig had rounded the shallow inlet on the east side of Waldron Island. He had flagged her down before she made landfall. Paul had been lucky enough to catch a PirateNet broadcast earlier that day about the county sheriff nabbing “boat people” who made landfall anywhere on the San Juans. Vera had seen him waving her down and had dropped her traction kite. She had paddled the rest of the way to Brosings’ Necklace on the polymorphic hydroplane she called home.

Vera’s companionship had been a wonderful break from the lonely existence to which Paul had escaped. They had remained mostly autonomous since their chance meeting at Mail Bay, but, perhaps more so when they were apart, Paul felt his growing connection to this strange woman. Their instant attraction, perhaps a byproduct of their shared nomadic lifestyle, had seen Brosings’ Necklace rafted next to her polymorphic hydroplane in pod form night after night. Night after night they shared their food and conversations around a tiny fire brazier on the pilot house of Brosings’ Necklace.

One morning, he had woken to the tide slapping the side of her hull and wondered if all this was sustainable. Vera was as undocumented as they came. Paul wondered what he might do when La Migración caught up to her, how he might feel when they carted her off. Deportation for him meant transport back to Hansen-Seattle Arcology number 12 with the possibility of indenture. Paul lay there attempting to justify leaving; for Vera, a citizen of the Mayori Nation, capture was a fate he was unwilling to contemplate.

When he had worked up the courage to talk to her about his feelings she had proposed that they move up the coast separately. Spend some time on their own and the regroup. “Maybe we could meet up near Port Hardy”, she had suggested. Paul’s sloop had never been wetted in open water and so he decided that he’d take the outside passage. Vera had been talking up an open water crossing, plus all that space was sure to give Paul some isolation to think things over. Terrified of his growing attachment to this woman, Paul had set sail into the Pacific.

Since then Paul had weathered two lows always running to shelter from the open before these storms made landfall. The hyper-dynamic Rossby circulations were now acknowledged as a permanent climate feature of the North Pacific. Very large, slow-moving high-pressure fronts pushed up into the fast melting arctic followed by very large, lows dipping down from the pole creeping across the middle latitudes. The destructive capacity of each cyclical system had become the norm. Sailors knew to find shelter before a low crashed into the coast. This was Paul’s third Rossby wave and he had not stayed ahead of it.

Now Paul was cranking on the rudder hoping that the light off his port was the right one. A big windblown wave crashed into the left gunnel of the Brosings’ Necklace, threatening again to capsize the sloop. Paul scrambled up the deck and leaned over the side, trying to bring the keel under her. Another wave smashed into his back and water obstructed his breathing for a moment. The boat’s heel lessened and he dropped down into the pilot’s well able to breath in the calmer air. A beam of light, still to his left, cut across his bow this time definite and sure. Checking his Navicom mounted on the backside of the deck house, Paul saw that he had slid into the channel south of Ucluete. Wind poured over the rocky spit of land that now separated Paul from the raging storm front and the rigging of Brosings’ Necklace rattled above his head, but he was safe behind the wall of sand and riprap. Paul sailed up the narrow channel enjoying the calm. On the starboard light from the little settlement of Ucluete slit the salty spray rolling over the storm wall. There in the harbor, before his prow, lay Vera’s polymorphic hydroplane.

This Should Be a Thing

I’m plum tuckered out. Today I have been more or less consistently disappointed by humanity. Disappointed in general, as well as in particular. Pretty much everyone I’ve encountered in the last twelve to sixteen hours has figured out a new and sometimes interesting way to let me down. For example, the long line of college aged kids on the trail to Lake Serene who were speaking so loudly I could make them out over the din of the forest and a 200 foot cascade crashing into boulders. Guys, hiking should be a lot like visiting the library. Then there is pretty much everyone on social media for, well, saying dumb shit.

After our hike we picked up some passable fried fish and an okay beer. Expectations thereafter lowered, the Fam and I returned to our castle on the hill and played frisbee at the park for a while. Mostly good, but I caught a disc, thrown at close range by my three year old, with my ear. It’s still throbbing. Eventually, we made our way back to the house and I thought, “Hey, I need a pick-me-up. I should see what my friends are up to,” and then clicked through to Facebook because I’m a glutton for punishment, or disappointment. Take your pick. At the top of my feed the fine folks at Facebook thought I’d appreciate this.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always set me on edge.

I love helping out new authors. But I’m super busy, so I can’t really take the time to pour myself into that kind of critical reading. And whenever I tell someone this, it’s always a crapshoot whether I’ll get a “thanks for your time” or a raging screed about arrogant writers.

I will not name the author that wrote this. He’s a good guy, and I suspect that this was probably written out of frustration. The amount of reading anybody associated with this gig is constantly asked to undertake can be daunting. At some point we all have to draw lines and declare “None shall pass.” Also noteworthy, I am not the author making said request. This guy writes fantasy, I write science fiction; I’m uncertain he would understand my works any more than I get his. Add to this he’s just an acquaintance I’ve made, not a bosom buddy or a connection to an agent or an imprint. Just some dude I was friendly with over beers at a convention. I’d be really surprised if he reads this blog post. Ever.

But this very public comment struck me as particularly off-putting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a public declaration characterized by indirect refusal to the request of another. He’s not refusing to help by telling the requesting author, he is refusing by telling his fans. While this avenue of response avoids direct confrontation, it also creates more drama than it solves. While at the same time, the comment itself appears to be a lightly veiled attempt to raise one author above another. The Cliff notes for this post? “I’ve got mine, don’t bother asking.”

Add to the above that I’ve found this attitude somewhat widespread. At conventions I’ve sat next to people, other authors, who spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about the unwashed masses with whom they’re too good to consort. To further the misattribution of a phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” This seems to me the genre specific contemporary version of Marie Antoinette’s contempt. Funnily it is not the people with swimming pools of book revenue that tend to do this. Go figure.

If you “love helping out new authors” than give it your best shot. Do what you can, no one expects any more. Be more than a self-promoter, be an advocate for your favorite stories. Tell others about all the really fine works that will improve their appreciation of your canon. You’ve worked hard to find your audience, and you may have had help along the way. If not, it cannot hurt to pay it forward. If you really don’t have the time to read someone else’s work than, at the very least, be honest and mature. Tell them upfront.

In an attempt to reconstruct my attitude I turned this nugget on its head because I’m not into maintaining a never ending streak of disappointment. I seriously had to let this one go or risk staying up all night thinking about it, thus, this is a little bit of therapy. I probably need to turn this into a policy statement, but in the mean time consider my public declaration an invitation. Feel free to change out the pronouns as you see fit.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always get me excited.

I love helping out new authors because I might have just been given an early opportunity to find my next favorite wordsmith. This is why I will create time in my busy schedule to read his book instead of concocting a series of excuses designed to passive-aggressively justify my own narcissism and surreptitiously segregate him from my social crowd. Besides, I should spend less time playing video games. Whenever I tell someone that I will read their book I am reasonably confident I’ll receive a sincere “thank you” for my time, perhaps some quid pro quo. This is far preferable to the anxiety of waiting on their reply which can range from polite dismissal to an arrogant, raging screed.

It is the last day of August. Today I can officially say I’ve been doing this professionally for a year. Writing, or making shit up for living as I love to call it, is an excellent way to make a living.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last year is that it’s a group effort. No one makes it alone. The idea of an “independent author” is a myth, a complete and utter fabrication. For each and every one of us who takes this chance, who writes something down and then sends it out into the world, there must necessarily be a collection of people to read that wager. If you’ve got your’s, I say, “Great! Good on ya.” But I’d also remind you that you did not find your level of success on your own. Someone read what you had to write and loved it enough to tell a friend, to write a blurb, put it in front of your agent or your publisher, or just leave a review on Amazon.

Don’t crap on your fans. Don’t crap on your peers. Pay it forward when ever you can. And always, ALWAYS play nice.

Textbook Example

Extreme Precipitation in US Increasing Data from the latest National Climate Assessment shows that brief, heavy downpours are increasing across the United States, with the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern states hardest hit.

Good morning! For the first time in a very long while the Seattle area is covered, horizon to horizon, with a dense, probably-won’t-burn-off-today layer of creamy, rich, gray clouds. In celebration of this momentous day I put on my running shorts, loaded up the bulki, added Aral, and ran down into Issaquah. Right now, we’re sitting near the rear of the Issaquah Coffee Company; well I am anyway, he is playing with trains and friends in the play area.

First observation of the day: while it is far cooler, it is dog gamed muggy today. Running in muggy is miserable. The body wants to sweat, but the air is not going to help you out. Not one little bit. So you plow through that air moving faster, because while you might sweat a little more, the movement of air over your body feels marginally more comfortable than clinging, humid, still air.

I think about it this way, muggy running should be naked running. Seems you cannot even get away with that at Burning Man these days so I suppose I’m SOL. Otherwise, it was a good run. When we’re done at coffee I’m going to pack everything back up into the bulki, run around town getting some errands done, and then head back up the hill. Perhaps some of the moisture will fall out of the air in the mean time.

Now, beyond contemplating my slimy skin in humid weather, my mind did wonder quite a bit on the run down. I kept coming back to this PopSci article about extreme precipitation, which has been making me say to myself, “Well yeah, this is news?” It’s not news. Rather this is textbook, meaning predictions of a general increase in the intensity of weather events has been around since nearly the beginning of climate science. Meaning that you can literally read about extreme weather predictions in any credible textbook on the subject.

I realize that this may be me experiencing some some cultural dissociation from the rest of the country. Hell, even the rest of the population juxtaposed right next to me. That there are people who still don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change is something I know about. And while I know this, my rational mind wants, desperately, to not believe in this ridiculous state of affairs.

Derp, derp, derpy, derp. Numbers from Gallup’s annual Environment poll, a nationally representative telephone survey conducted each March since 2001. The 2014 update was conducted March 6-9.

So you’re wondering, “Where is Matt going with this? How is he ever going to tie this back into science fiction?” Dear Audiance, that’s the fun part. There is a lot of science fiction and speculative fiction out there which describes a future so morbidly FUBAR that this question is no longer permitted. In these stories, the stark reality that everyone inhabits is so far gone that characters are no longer aloud the luxury of being such bone headed ingrates.

Now here’s the challenging part. John Scalzi has written extensively about white male privilege in the genre. He’s been acknowledged as something of an expert opinion on this topic and having met the man I’d have to endorse that opinion. Dude’s got credit when it comes to recognizing easy mode.

John Scalzi’s linked essay has a line in it which I believe is endlessly quotable:

So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

The thought occurred to me while running down from the plateau this morning that writers who write a) in the future and often b) in settings that have been fundamentally altered by climate change are often choosing easy mode. Myself included. In these stories it is a very rare bird that does not believe in what he or she can  easily see happening all around them.

Paolo Bachigalupi’s Ship Breaker series, for instance, lacks characters who persistently ignore their setting. Who insist that climate change is not affecting them. Even Nailer, illiterate and uneducated as he is, knows that things are now much different than they were in the distant past. And those characters necessarily padded by privilege from the consequences of climate change still believe that so much has changed, often for the worse.

This is not a criticism of Bachigalupi’s work, but it is illustrative of my point. Writing in this mode preempts the debate and worse avoids solving a persistent problem of our time. I’m guessing here, but I imagine that Bachigalupi set out to scare/thrill our pants off with Ship Breaker, not quell an irrational dissension on a contemporary topic.

But if you’re writing cli-fi and you’re not writing irrational denial of the obvious you are choosing easy mode. Why? Because, right now, every day, plenty of people are still holding out despite the very real consequences of anthropogenic climate change.

Detroit, Boulder, Kearney, the whole freaking Gulf Coast, the East Coast, the West Coast, the Rocky Mountain Region, you name a place and even the most cursory web search looking for an extreme weather event will likely reveal occurrence as well as increase. And in every one of these locations there will be a population of cognitively dissonant people who will deny the obvious happening right outside their doors. In fact, the will dogmatically cling to the fiction of denial, even when those events come crashing through those doors. If 43% of the US population can ignore these facts of everyday life in 2014, how do we imagine that a similar percentage of people won’t defect from reality in 2040?

Much of my editing of late has been focused on getting Counterfeit Horizon closer to publishing. Not to provide spoilers, but I’ve effectively removed all human agency when it comes to climate change in the conclusion of this story. In doing so I’ve also crossed into the gray area which resides somewhere between science fiction and fantasy and consequently I’ve neglected to realistically solve the very problem that I pose. Humanity does not solve for climate change.

Convincing others of the obvious, then somehow compelling them to act in their own best interests, that’s hard mode and even I haven’t written that story yet. The good news is that the plot arc is now written, the outline is right there. I don’t believe that the existing mechanisms for changing people’s minds will be any more effective in the future than they have been up to this point. The fun and the challenge is going to come making up workable solutions to this problem.

Rolled a Druid

While researching something for something I’m writing I came across this character generator, which asks a bunch of personal questions to build a D&D character. I’m a middling Druid it turns out. Watch yourselves or I’ll cast stone skin on you and whack you with my +2 Staff of Beating.


I Am A: Neutral Good Human Druid (6th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-13
Dexterity-12
Constitution-14
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-10
Charisma-13

Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Top Ten

ListDavid Wohlreich recently posted a list of ten books that have remained with him and/or influenced him throughout his life. Any reasonably literate person probably has a list like this simmering on their back burner, but bringing it to the front, where it can stand as a fully formed entrée, seems like an undertaking.

Just as I said I would, I’ve given this some thought. Here’s my list in no particular order.

There are many more stories and works that I’d love to put on this list. Ultimately, writing it down became an act of excision. And yes, there is indeed a trilogy in my list. You cannot read just one of these books and have the whole of the story.

Finally, I’m posting this to the blog and not directly to Facebook. Why? Mostly because this is a little portal into my head and I’d much rather share these sorts of thoughts near the core. Facebook feels much like a social extremity. Also, I get to link to the titles themselves.

Finally, I’m not challenging anyone, but if you feel inspired to write your top ten books down please feel free to tag me so I’ll know. Give it some thought, make the list longer than ten then start chopping.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Gumballs and Pirates

Howard Wallerton’s diamond smile was front and center on the WorldCore simulcast that hung above the bar. This was the moment that Keller had been waiting for. He had parked himself in the chain joint, overdecorated with Jolly Roger kitsch and swimming with too-perky waitstaff because it boasted something like fifty flat-screens. He had endured the bartender’s perpetual can-I-get-you-anything glances just so he could watch this broadcast. Although he otherwise would not have been caught dead watching WorldCore anything, Keller had to admit that Wellerton’s segue from newsy opinion piece on the Lincoln Park Incident was smooth; too smooth. Even the product placement felt like silk on his ears. It tickled in a bad way.

This was Keller’s moment, the one he had been working toward since he dropped out of engineering school back in ’21, and he’d be damned if he was going to watch it as a rebroadcast. Wellerton’s words dripped slowly from his chiseled lips like warm honey.

“And now onto our feature story. Lincoln Park, a small holdout enclave south of Detroit, has seen its fair share of rioting recently. Reportedly, residents hit the streets demanding better food rations, an all too common complaint of the voluntarily disenfranchised. However, when rioters resorted to violence the Michigan Heavy Police contingent was brought in to quell the disturbance. Police believe that terrorist elements may be providing material aid to street rioters, thereby escalating the conflict. Viewers should be aware that some images may not be suitable for all audiences. You may want to pause the broadcast and remove children from the room before watching.”

“Yeah, get on with it,” muttered Keller. The bartender saw his lips moving and seemed to imagine that this meant he wanted another pint. The bartender pointed to the tap, Keller held up the half empty glass of Amerifuzz and mouthed, “Not yet.”

“For more, we go to Jessie Kay, our Midwest correspondent on the scene,” said Wellerton before the screen flickered to show a slender newsy-model hidden within an oversized urban camouflage flack vest. The word “PRESS” emblazoned in highly reflective white letters across the chest piece negated any concealing effect the printed pattern might have should reporter Kay find herself in the midst of a firefight. Keller grinned in recollection. Those letters had represented a particularly nasty problem.

Her über-platinum hair, almost as reflective as the lettering on her chest, was pressed over her delicate ears by the riot helmet balanced atop her tiny head. Keller wondered for a moment at the woman’s age; impossible to estimate simply by appearance, given that there appeared to be more applied medical whizbangery in the thirty-six square centimeters of that face than had ever been offered to the denizens of Lincoln Park. This was a person who had been fundamentally altered for ratings. Something about her appearance momentarily moved Keller. It was an uncomfortable sensation, simultaneous affection and loathing, like watching his mother leave on a date after her divorce.

“Bill, I’m standing behind Michigan Heavy Police barricades, now located within Detroit proper.” High-lift armored troop transport vehicles made up the backdrop for the on-site simulcast. The broadcast could have been pitched from anywhere.

“Earlier today, police conducted an organized retreat when Lincoln Park rioters were surprisingly assisted by a swarm of unmanned aerial drones.” Keller wondered whether even the woman’s voice had been altered. If anything could make this beer worse, it was the saccharin sound coming from her lips.

“With me here is the Heavy Battalion Incident Commander, Marc Creech. Commander Creech, can you tell our viewers what happened today and why your men were forced to pull back?”

Creech held up something in his hand. The camera zoomed in on a device, and Keller got to see his creation for the first time in the wild. “This morning we started to notice these drones collecting above Lincoln Park. For most of the morning they would pop up above riot lines. We believed they were just performing reconnaissance for riot organizers.”

“Wrong on two counts,” muttered Keller.

The bartender, for the first time that night, seemed interested in the broadcast and moved down the counter to catch the WorldCore story. “Why’s he wrong?” he asked Keller, seemingly making small talk.

“They’re not video drones. Just watch,” Keller replied.

Commander Creech went on barking into the microphone, “At about 15:37 this afternoon we were surprised by a swarm of these little devices.” The screen switched to some footage recorded earlier in the day. What had to be a hundred thousand mechanical contraptions darkened the hazy Michigan air above a line of decaying brick buildings. Below the swarm, rioters began to pull back. The Michigan Heavy Police began to press their advantage. As the riot police moved forward, a contingent of the drone swarm broke from the cloud above, diving at the armored men. Riot shields were raised and batons were momentarily brandished like baseball bats, but the mechanical assault stopped just short of engaging the troops. Then a multi-colored dayglow eruption burst from the line of drones, liberally coating the first and second row of police troops in rainbow goo.

“That’s not silly string?” queried Jessie Kay off camera.

“These drones are equipped with an aerosol can which our forensics team describes as custom cocktail of fast setting epoxy foam. As you can see, the drone swarm fires on police with the foam, pinning our forces in place. I’ve still got men trapped in Lincoln Park who cannot move.”

“That sounds…bad, Commander Creech. Why haven’t your men been able to lock down the area and disable the drones? Isn’t it true you have an electronic warfare contingent on site?” The camera again focused on the little device with the contra-rotating top rotor in Commander Creech’s hand. The container of foam was now plainly visible. Keller noticed that whoever made it used their own nozzle.

“We’re still awaiting results from the FBI lab, but it appears that these devices are semi-autonomous. Independently they’re almost worthless, but together they have a swarm-intelligence that allows them to to operate for extended periods without additional instructions. They can recharge their batteries from environmental sources, which makes them a persistent threat. The electronic warfare unit on site with us today has tried everything short of an electromagnetic discharge to bring these things down. They are too fast to shoot down with conventional firearms and they never get close enough for police units to grab or hit. This one had a faulty spray nozzle. It saturated its own motor before it seized.”

Keller was chuckling to himself, and the bartender was paying attention. He asked Keller, “What’s so funny?” The question soured Keller’s mirth just a tad.

“One out of one hundred-thousand! That’s pretty good quality control for a DIY project, don’t you think?” Keller answered, letting a little pride leak into his response.

“This evening our electronic warfare unit was able to locate where these things originate. The devices are part of a do-it-yourself kit that was made freely available on web sites some time ago. The Gumball drones make use of easily available electronics components; a Chinese manufactured toy actually, a microprocessor, and some freely available code. We believe they are using a rudimentary object-recognition algorithm which is keyed to a variety of camouflage patterns,” said the Commander.

“Wow, that’s pretty keen,” said the bartender. “I suppose who ever made that thing is in for some grief.”

“Yeah,” Keller agreed. “Probably the federal level, water board, black box sort if you ask me.” Keller figured he could not lay it on too thick. He had already broken discipline just coming into this place, and he could not tell whether this stranger suspected something or was just being nosey. Keller had long ago internalized a state of self-protective paranoia. It was always better to appear just another cog than signal where his passions lay.

The incident commander continued, “We have an arrest warrant for the creators of this device. A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. The FBI has opened a toll-free hotline where you can call in any information you might have regarding the identity of these terrorists.”

“You suspect there’s more than one person responsible for the Gumball drones?” asked Kay.

“Yes. Right now we’re focusing our attention on known terrorist organizations that possess the manpower to quickly develop such a capable swarm intelligence. The Bureau has agreed to assist us in our search. The wide distribution and availability of the plans to make this drone system means that Homeland will likely spearhead future investigations.”

“Have you been able to remove the plans and software from the websites you mentioned?” Keller knew the answer to this one already, but watching Creech’s shoulders tense in frustration made his response more enjoyable to watch.

“No. We’ve been able to remove some repostings from networks maintained by commercial entities. However, we’ve discovered that the drone plans are widely available via an illegal anonymous offline file-sharing and communications system known as PirateBox10,” said Creech. “I’d like to take a moment to remind citizens that manufacture and distribution of these network devices is also illegal and people caught with pirate networks will be prosecuted.”

“Thank you, Commander Creech. Back to WorldCore and you Bill,” said Jessie Kay. Keller was no longer paying attention. The Gumball drones were doing everything he hoped they might. Better the toy he had used as a chassis for the robot had just come down another twenty percent in price. Anyone could build one, and many probably would.

The bartender snatched a glass from the counter under the screen and turned around to the tap. He smiled while pulling a pint of thick amber liquid that looked remarkably tasty compared to the swill that had died unlamented in the bottom of Keller’s glass.

“You know,” said the bartender, sliding the nutty smelling foam-topped pint down the counter where it came to rest just to Keller’s right, “I sure hope they find those terrorists.”

Keller looked up at the man standing behind the bar. The bartender pointed to the glossy molded likeness of a Jolly Roger on the tap he had just pulled, and winked.