It was remarkably fast, in retrospect. Under 12 years. It was a classic Frog Boil – turn up the heat slowly so no one notices. The chronic irony, of course, was that everyone did. But did nothing.

***

The salvage boat set off from a hidden dock in the Rocky Archipelago.

The first mate always chuckled at the thought of the Rockies as islands. He was the only one.

It was a terrible night. A storm had hit and they were only really going out for the sake of it. There was no way anyone was diving.

Storms were always trouble, sometimes mines broke free and drifted out into the open sea.

But it wasn’t a mine they encountered that day. It was what came to be dubbed “The First Boy.”

He was near death when they found him, clinging to a smashed boat. The crew stabilized him. His first words, “Am I in Heaven?”

***

He woke ten hours later. The crew were alerted to this by the screams coming from his room. They burst in to find him in a corner, a broken chair brandished as a weapon.

He figured if he wasn’t dead, and wasn’t in Merica, then he must be in the hands of the Evil Doers. And he wasn’t going to let Them take him. He had God on his side. Presnit said so.

They gave him news feeds, computers, newspapers – even a mobile phone.

All tools of Satan, which he smashed. Merica alone was the Saved Land. Everywhere else was lost to the Flood and the Burning Times that laid waste to the sinners.

He refused food and water and, three days after he arrived, killed himself.

In the years that followed more people were found – some by accident, some rescued. The First Contact teams were trained to keep more of them alive.

Each survivor had a piece of the picture.

The new regime … well, the old regime … declared elections unconstitutional during times of war. And then they initiated “The Change.”

They started with the schools – a new, faith based, curriculum was put in place. Books were burnt, not officially, of course, but by “concerned parent groups.”

Flag waving became the only way to remain safe. There was uproar outside the country but the media – now the Department of Information Dissemination – painted everyone who wasn’t with them as being against them. Each commentator, pundit or anchor repeated these sentiments. These were then repeated on the radio to like minded communities.

No one blinked an eye when the internment camps opened.

The echo chamber sounded loudly.

So the world turned its back on a nation rapidly descending into senility. Albeit a nation with enough power to destroy the world. Why that didn’t happen, no one knew.

And then came the Night of the Burning. The rest of the world burning at the hands of terrorist dirty bombs.

Everyone saw it. Everyone inside the borders.

All communication was blocked going in and out of the country. With nothing to contradict the official version, people got in line. All now believed that the world was now just Merica.

You had to stand together. Anything else would insult the memories of those brave soldiers that lost their lives.

“In the Might of God we Trust.”

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She lent over and made sure he was strapped in. He looked nervous.

She gave him a kiss and squeezed his…manipulator.

“It will be OK, honey.” She hoped it was reassuring. “He has to like you, because I love you.”

He did that thing that he assured her was smiling.

She strapped herself in and pulled out.

They were heading to her folks. It was dinner and an ulterior motive. They wanted to meet her big secret.

It’s not that she was ashamed. Inter-species relationships were looked at differently.

And her father was very strict.

She put on some music.

“He’s going to hate me.” He said.

“He isn’t.”

“You said that he hoped you’d find someone of your own kind. I am definitely not your kind.”

“I don’t care. And neither should you. He’s not the one dating you. I am.”

The disk ended and they sat in silence for a while.

It started to rain.

She flicked on the wipers. He watched them wipe.

“You’ll hypnotise yourself if you keep doing that. And then I’ll program you to say “Hi, I sleep with your daughter” whenever you hear my fathers voice.”

He tried to fight the smile, and looked out of his window.

“Oh..oh, don’t smile. You’ll crack your face…doooon’t.”

There were laughs. He mumbled something.

“No…no I don’t think I heard that.”

“You did too.”

“Nope. I think you said “slurh, shlurh, slurgh”

He smiled again. “That’s because our language is different to yours.”

She looked horrified. “Oh, so now it’s a language thing. I think I understood every word you said last night. And you seemed to understand what I was saying.”

He blushed.

“OK, OK, I love you. I said I love you.”

“That’s better. Now, give me a kiss.”

They pulled up outside the apartment. He unclipped, took a deep breath and got out.

Her mother was already at the door. Boyfriend introduced, they went inside.

Dinner wasn’t so awkward. He thought he did OK. He even tried some of her language – which caused a few smiles.

But dinner soon came to an end, and they jumped in the car and headed off into the night. Her parents stood at the door, waving them off.

Her mother closed the door, turned to her husband, smiled fading, and said “Don’t. He’s nice.”

The husband looked mortified. “What do you mean? I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Yes you were. He’s OK. And it doesn’t matter that he’s not one of us.”

He huffed, caught by his wife’s piercing logic. “No…no…If she’s happy, then I’m happy.” The father shifted on his tail. “But, really. Did she have to pick a human?”

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The phone rang. She was old fashioned that way.

She checked the ID and picked up, “Bubalah.”

He grinned. She could tell when he spoke. “Hey beautiful. Busy?”

She looked at her many screens, all full of work.

“Eh, you know.”

“Cool. Can I ask you for a favour?”

“That depends if it’s with a U or not.”

He laughed. “I have a rush job. Needs out ASAP, and seeing as you’re the best…”

“Flattery will get you everywhere. Show me.”

He uploaded the movie.

“Got it.” There was silence. “Shit. Are -”

“Yeah. Students.”

“But they’re being gunned down…by cops?”

“Private security,” he sent a new file. “Look.”

The screen changed to a bar. A drunk, older guy was talking, filmed with a hidden camera.

“Private security in cop uniforms. It’s perfect. They do what we want, and then we blame the company. It’s one great hand wash.”

“Where did you get this?” She was still shocked.

“I can’t tell you that.”

A thought hit her. “Is this line safe?”

“Of course.” A link flashed on her screen. “Look. This is the government’s tap on our line. This is what they hear.”

She opened the link and listened to him talking to his mum about dinner.

Her brow furrowed and she shook her head.

“Everyone has to see this.”  Her voice was hard. “Not just the choir”

“Sure. We’ll embed it on official news sites.”

She thought. “If you can handle delivery, I can get it on the air.”

“What? You can wh-”

She added. “You know we can’t be touched by this.”

“You can?”

“Are you in?”

“Give me 10.”

***

For the next 10 minutes he called, bartered and cajoled, but at the end he had a team.

She sat and watched the video.

HNer next decision would change her life.

She dialled.

“Hey, Peaches. We got that contract for the Vault, right?”

***

He called back. “I’ve got a crew, and a one shot transmitter.”

“I have an access point. Secure for one use. I also need you and your crew to bomb this name.”

Her fingers flew across the keyboard.

He laughed. “You’re kidding?”

“Nope.”

“That name?”

“Yes.”

“THAT name?”

“3 hours?”

“On it.”

***

6:30.

They stood on a beach. The report was held on a phone. The phone on a raft. At 7:00 it would be SMS’d a code, access a news stream and deliver the movie.

***

“This…is the evening news. Coming up -”

The picture cut, sharply.
Uniformed security forces fired live rounds into a group of students.
A female voice stated “Students murdered for protesting.”

A tight cut to an injured student having round after round emptied into her.

“By a private army you pay for. Spime here for the full report. An image appeared in the corner of the screen.

A shadowy face. The Anchor.

“I’m the Dread Pirate Roberts and this is the first of many reports.”

***

“We’d have to shut the system down and reboot it. The way we set up the feed was exactly so something like this couldn’t happen once the show was on air.” The stream manager was on a conference lynching.

“Then do that!”
“What about ad revenue?” He countered.
A channel head screamed, “I don’t care. Get that off the air, now.”

***

Screens went dead.

Newsfeeds ran with: “News Silenced.” And the entire audience moved from screen to spime to continue watching.

The Dread Pirate Roberts’ first crew spent the next 30 minutes keeping servers alive.

Servers fell to overuse, to government attack, to denial of service attacks. Those not protecting and moving data were protecting those that were.

Once it was over the entire thing was seeded to the torrent sites and within an hour everything was scrubbed clean.

***

The net went mad trying to source the anchor. Every search produced the same answer.

Media Pirate.

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The clock blinked 3:50.

Paul stretched, his back aching. He took a swig of coffee and grimaced. Cold.

He stood, stretched again. His back popped.

“orfee” He mumbled, surprised by his own voice. He looked at the time again. It had been at least 36 hours since he last spoke to anyone.

He stumbled to the kitchen and filled the kettle. He yawned again, listening to the water heating.

“Fuck that.” He clicked the kettle off. “Sleep.”

Setting his alarm clock for 30 minutes, he pulled his duvet over him and closed his eyes.

***

His hand reached out. 5 seconds later he clicked off the alarm.

Another yawn and he pulled himself off the sofa and moved over to the computer.

It had finished.

Paul had been programing a Narrative Simulator. His theory was simple. Fiction was an observable world. As long as he built a good enough simulator, he could observe it.

For the past month he had been hacking personalities into a fairy tale village. He pulled down some menus and piped the output to a document. In the time he slept, it appeared that certain personalities had coupled, built houses and had children.

But no stories. No wicked step mothers, none of the animals in the forest had done anything and no one had moved into the castle and had a ball.

All in all, it was disappointing.

He slumped back into his chair.

“Bugger.”

***

Observation causes change.

In the next output, his village was now productive. There was a tailor, a shepherd, a shoemaker and a lumberjack. He set the output to follow the shoemaker and went out go get some milk. When he came back the shoe maker had made hundreds of pairs of shoes. At night. While he slept.

And Paul couldn’t see how. And that’s when he knew it was working.

***

He programmed a new variable and prepared to send it into the system.

This would prove everything. He took one more look around his room – the networked machines all looking at different sections of the world, all taking different feeds.

He pressed “RETURN.”

The networked machines kicked into life. An old woman in a house in the forest, a wood cutter, a family in the village, a little girl.

The red hooded cape.

He focused on more characters and went to have a cup of tea.

***

Half an hour later he sat staring at the screens. All of them showed variants of Red Riding Hood – rocks in the stomach, the woodsman coming to the rescue. Even an incredibly strange “it’s all sex and she’s growing up” version. The dialogue was a bit ropey, but it was Red Riding Hood.

All generated through observing the characters in the engine. All the stories existing simultaneously in the engine. It was his own narrative quantum paradox.

He picked up the phone and called his friend. “Andy? Can you come over? I think I want to show you something.”

Hanging up, Paul mused at what a great story this would make.

He stopped.

His story.

Him.

He reached for a keyboard and started tapping.

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She was beautiful. Which was unsurprising considering it was her job.

And beauty like that didn’t come cheap.

Her face had been entirely  remodeled to be completely symmetrical. The first look lasted, because no one was quite sure what was so unnerving. That ensured they kept looking, allowing them to really appreciate the eyes – multihued keying off emotional state – or the bee sting lips – full and slightly pouty.

Her hair was an integrated SmartHair(TM) system. Fully programable nanohair that made colour, and style, changes easy. The only thing it couldn’t do was grow at will. As such, she had been careful to take jobs that allowed her to keep her hair long.

Her body was classic hourglass. Her breasts, naturally full, were lifted to an almost gravity defying swell. Her buttocks were shaped to give them a fuller, firmer look, and feel…

Today she wore a black, half-corset over a crisp white shirt. Her pants were so tight they could have been painted on (and many stared to find out if they were). Her hair was pitch black and sat at shoulder length. The whole dominatrix effect was finished off with knee high boots, scarlet lipstick and a riding crop.

She strode through the Restaurant District dragging eyes with her. Those closest got to experience her crowning glory. She had been glanded so she could secrete pheromones at will. The scent she was giving off today was chemically engineered to keep attention but ensure that everyone would forget her 2 minutes from the last sniff.

She was paid to be noticed, and paid exceptionally well for it.

Which is how the team of assassins managed slip into the Giani Family’s restaurant in broad daylight, and execute the lot of them without a single witness.

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