OverSharing (See Explanation)

This one’s a bit late…

Way back at the end of October last year, I sent my story OverSharing to InfectiveINK.com for their “future of privacy” prompt for November publication. I never heard back from them and waited until November had come and passed before I gave it up as another rejection. I thought about querying, but it was pointless since the story was written for a specific prompt. I put the story out of mind…

Then we come to last night. I was Googling myself for fun (oh, come on, you all do it), and in the third page of results I found a link to InfectiveINK. Following the link I found to my utter bewilderment that OverSharing had been published on November 28. I have no clue how it took me over five months to figure this out, but whatever, here it is:

After the first hour of waiting for the doctor Kieva began to wish she had scheduled an appointment. She had fallen asleep in her invitingly comfortable armchair last night (something she was increasingly prone to) and, upon waking up with her tablet in her hands, had immediately gone to the eHealth Webdr site. Apparently 8 a.m. wasn’t early enough anymore to beat the millions of patients who clogged the site around midday.

Keep reading

So what did I learn? Well, I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s anything I could have done differently besides checking the site regularly or querying too soon and seeming overly eager. I talked with the INK team and it seems the emails they sent me never went through. Sometimes communication breaks down. For this story I really wanted a final revision, and I would have loved to have used InfectiveINK on my publication history for story submissions up to now. But this is the way things worked out. I accept that.

At least I have a pretty good story now for when people ask how my writing is going.

 

The Greatest Limit

This one was rejected by the same two magazines as the last. I guess I should branch out a bit with future stories. Anyway, I don’t feel like sending it out again. Please leave me comments with your thoughts, good or bad.

Iddo waited.

As data swirled around him in its endless dance, coding the visual existence of walls and ceiling, he stood before the luminescent terminal with his left hand resting motionlessly on the integration port. He waited for a ghost, a piece of himself sent out on a mission, to come back and be whole again. Thousands of seconds passed while he stood a majestic statue, eyes fixed upon the bluish light beneath his hand, his boots like an extension of the floor as they enshrouded his feet, which felt the boots because the Core programmed them to.

He closed his eyes, as he often did during these waits, and tried to see the world fall away, tried to feel himself unwinding from the endless connectivity that was the Core’s world. Five great colonies, each with millions of people like him and millions upon millions of programs running together in perfect synchronization. His own consciousness stretched deeper into the Network than most, but he imagined he could pull away for brief glimpses of something not within the Core’s control, something the Core itself relied on. In that other place, he saw walls, cold and grey and free of information, staring down at least a gigasecond from his reach and stretching up far beyond the limits of his second sight. The visions were not dreams—he knew that because he could not control them. They were something more disturbing than even those dreams that escaped from his deepest subconscious programming.

“Do you have any idea how long you’ve been here?”

Opening his eyes and coming back to reality, Iddo saw that Rinwir had materialized beside him. His genderless partner had chosen the appearance of a female for this particular interaction. Iddo reverted from the female display he wore back to his primary male form.

“Three-point-two kiloseconds,” Iddo said, turning back to the terminal.

“What are you doing?”

“You’ll see soon.”

And soon it was. In a few more seconds, the panel beneath Iddo’s hand turned green, and he felt the mass of information reincorporated within him. He scanned the new data the ghost had brought, and found what he was expecting.

“What is it?” Rinwir asked.

Ignoring the question, Iddo split another ghost from himself and sent it on the same path: to the P-Colony, outermost level of the Network. He then split a second, third, fourth, and sent each to one of the other three colonies, resting his hand once again in its inexorable slumber upon the integration port, which turned blue. Waiting now.

“Well?” Rinwir’s face was the shining grey of its original form, making the programmed female body seem unnatural.

“Have you ever been to another colony?” Iddo asked.

“No. I hear the programming’s all the same. What’s the point?” Rinwir, like many, did not share Iddo’s curiosity.

“You know I’ve been a lot,” he said, strangely aware that the deep breath he took was an act of the Core and not his body’s need. “It feels like an instant, but you lose time. Where do those seconds go? Why should it take time unless there is distance?”

“I don’t understand,” Rinwir said, face now taking on a look more human and twisting into confusion.

Iddo elaborated, “If the colonies were simply different levels of the Network, why do we need to use the broadcast terminals to transfer?”

“Security?”

“Yes, but why does it take kiloseconds?” Rinwir stood in silence, so Iddo answered himself, “There’s something between, some space. Think, why are we programmed to believe the Network is infinite? If we were free from limits, could we go on and on forever? What if all the Network, the whole core itself, is just a speck in something greater, some place with definite form and substance?”

Rinwir would not or could not answer. Iddo could almost hear Rinwir running through countless strings of information, picking apart his words with tense excitement.

“I believe the colonies are separate,” Iddo said. “The Core is not the universe. It’s in some place, suspended. Just wait.”

They passed kiloseconds in silence. In the time it took for a ghost to make the round trip to the P-Colony, the other three went to and from their respective colonies twice. They converged in the terminal, their work complete, and once again merged with Iddo, who drank up information and felt his body glow white in anticipation.

“I knew it,” he said, grasping Rinwir’s hand and sending his delight through the connection. “The trip to each colony takes a different amount of time. Like they’re spread all over some big space. But…this is…I didn’t expect this.” He let Rinwir’s hand go and focused. “The time between each trip changes slightly for each colony. We’re moving. They’re moving.” Then, a new thought: “What if there are other places? Besides the colonies?”

Knowing his plan the instant he thought it, Rinwir said, “You can’t. It’s dangerous. What if you lose them?”

“But what if I don’t?” Rinwir did not understand Iddo’s need. Rinwir was content with base reality, but Iddo simply could not be.

Three ghosts this time. Iddo split them off and bypassed the terminal’s navigation, sending them into the space he knew was around the colonies. Even if they found a new place, they would likely never return. But perhaps he could see what they saw. Perhaps he could observe. If it meant losing a bit of himself, it was still a favorable tradeoff.

“Meet me at the habitation. Twenty kiloseconds?” Rinwir disappeared.

Iddo waited. Stifling curiosity kept him from slipping into the other reality, the one he now knew was real. Kiloseconds crawled by him in lines of code sent from the Core, perpetuating his false perception of this virtual world. The ghosts did not return. They saw nothing. Rinwir would be waiting for him by now. Iddo left the terminal a lessened being, resolving to be content with this existence.

In time he would learn to overcome the limit of reality.

The Bridge from the Cave

This story was rejected by the online publications Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. I made the decision initially that I would retire it from the story submission circuit after two rejections and publish it myself here.  I will be grateful if you read it and tell me what you think. It’s weird. You’ve been warned.

Few among those stooping, naked things in the cave remember a time when a passage led to brighter, more massive chambers–places where the Great Lights shone down until collapses forced survivors to this tiny hole at the edge of the world.

Gen cannot remember those times. He remembers the cave when it was twice as large and his fellow humans numbered ten times what they had become. He remembers when the dripping gardens still made the walls glisten with succulent sap and the cleansing stream washed in life and swept out death. But that time is gone.

Perched on a boulder that fell during the last cave-in, Gen likes to stare beyond the cave’s mouth, out over the drinking pond whose surface is perpetual stone, to look at the curious shadows cast by menacing grey pillars that taper upward many times Gen’s full height and terminate in an impenetrable canopy of interwoven steel rope. Countless blinking lights line the snaking steel, giving off beautiful milky whites, effervescent blues, and faintest yellows; often appearing in massive clusters for brief moments to make even the most timid cave-dwellers stare out in wonder, other times going all but silent while Gen and the others shiver in fear.

The old ones say there is nothing in that other world but illusion, that beyond the lights is a darkness colder than the cave. Some brave or hungry enough have ventured out across the motionless water and never returned. The old ones are satisfied. Gen is not.

A stench fills the cave, and it grows worse with time. The stream once carried the filth through the wall and away. Now it piles up along with corpses. No one knows what to do. The sick and old take up precious space and grow in number, much to the misfortune of everyone: some stink worse than the death and the excrement.

The pool’s surface moves and all of the cave-dwellers recede as far back as the sloping wall of fallen rock will allow. Gen waits in jittery silence as the first white tentacle breaks the surface and finds footing on the jagged floor of the cave. Another stretches out and another, grasping and slipping back until firm rock is gripped. When enough slimy limbs have found an agreeable hold, the thing pulls its shapeless mass of throbbing flesh out of the water, shudders there on the rock for a few short breaths while the blinking lights shine through its papery skin to reveal whirling goo-shapes within, and then dies. Gen and a handful of others, who have waited and watched in wonder and terror, spring forward and tear the thing open, each slurping up a mouthful of the sour stuff inside before taking handfuls to all those others who cannot move. It is the same ritual they have performed since the last cave-in, only now the feeders are far outnumbered by the infirm and the children.

A child slurps the paste from Gen’s hand. Only the children seem to digest the stuff with any form of satiation, but they are still weak. They are different from the others. Their skin is oddly gray and their bodies hairless. They are genderless unless inspected closely. The old ones say lack of true light made them so. Gen wonders.

 ***

So much time has passed since the last tentacle thing came that most of the cave-dwellers are dead. Those who are left moan and writhe on the rocks in delirium. Gen has stayed still on his perch longer than ever before. Staring into the forest, he tries to ignore the stench, but there is no getting used to it.

The time has come.

When he crosses to the edge of the pond, a child appears at his side. It clings to his back with slender fingers as he swims across, releasing its grip upon reaching dry land. The ground beyond is soft and warm, utterly alien next to the cold rock Gen has always known. He hears the child climb up behind him. The lights above are brighter now—too bright. Gen has to shield his face and turn it downward, feeling a surge of despair that he cannot see the same wonder in the lights he had lusted after in the cave. The child, though, looks up and squeals with glee. Its weird face is stretched into what must be a grin and it seems livelier than any children had been in the cave, laughing uncontrollably and running around Gen.

Gen walks on, the child still skipping around him, and takes in the scenery below the lights. The pillars are metal—but not like the artifacts of his youth. The material of the pillars is smoother, purer. He touches one. It’s like water that will not bend to his hand. He runs his fingers gently around the cylindrical trunk, walking around it, and gasps at what he sees on the other side.

The being standing before him is barely half his size. Its skin is grey like the child’s, its features ambiguous: neither male nor female. Below the neck, its body is covered in a substance like that of the pillars, only softer. Gen is suddenly embarrassed of his hairiness and shifts uneasily.

It isn’t startled by Gen.

The child grows silent and stops its merry prancing, standing in front of Gen and looking at the being. Gen understands moments after the child does. These two things standing before him in the forest of metal and light belong together. With pride and relief, Gen nudges the child forward and is met with a look of deepest gratitude from the being. The two new companions embrace like mother and child. The being gives Gen another lasting look, then it and the child turn and leave him alone.

Some time passes while Gen stands motionless and watches them go. He notices for the first time how marvelously the lights dance off the metal pillars. He sets off alone, but not back to the cave.