Archives for December 2016

52 Week Short Story Challenge #10 – WireLurker

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I was late uploading this story because of reasons, but I assure you it was finished Saturday.

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WireLurker

It usually took Bryan Grady at least three days to fully get over his jetlag so when he walked into the conference room he was feeling slightly out of it, having only had eight hours between stepping off the plane and sitting down at the table. He was the first one to arrive as always, which gave him some time to yawn in private.

Beijing was fourteen hours ahead of Chicago, where he was from, and it was the middle of the night as far as his brain was concerned. He didn’t mind business trips but preferred them when they lasted a week or more so he could get used to the time change. He glanced at his phone, not expecting to see a message from his wife but hoping he would just the same. There was nothing and he sighed.

While he was considering sending Marissa a message for her to get when she woke up, the door opened again and several men came into the room. Three of them were Chinese and a fourth had sandy brown hair and a sleepy look on his face that clearly told Bryan that he was from America too.

“Good afternoon,” Bryan said, standing up to greet them. His Chinese was excellent, which was why he was chosen for the job, and the three men looked relieved. “It’s good to see you.”

“Good afternoon,” the tallest of the three said. Bryan had seen pictures of all of them but was fairly certain this man’s name was Winston, because he’d thought it was strange for a Chinese man to have an English name. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“This is a problem for all of us,” Bryan said. “People think our product is supposed to be virus-proof, and while we all know that’s impossible, there’s still that perception we need to be aware of.” He looked at the sandy-haired man, who was looking between Bryan and Winston. His confusion was evident and Bryan smiled at him, switching back to English. “Don’t speak Chinese, huh?”

“Not a word. My interpreter isn’t here yet, so I’m kind of stuck.” He held out a hand for Bryan to shake. “Jack Bolton. I’m from the Australian office. Our regular guy got sick so I had to come in his place.”

“I’ll do my best to remember to translate for you,” Bryan said, hoping Jack’s interpreter came soon. They had a problem to deal with and stopping to explain everything twice was going to get tiring very quickly. “You’re one of the PR guys?”

“I’m actually one of the developers in the Australian area. My specialty is—“ He was cut off as a slender man in a suit that wasn’t half as sharp as Winston’s came in, bowing apologetically.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said. “I got lost.”

“That’s no problem,” Winston said with a wave of his hand. “Let’s get started. What we’re looking at is malware, not a virus, and it’s a nasty piece of work.” Bryan, who had started as a developer and worked his way up the food chain, didn’t feel much like dancing around the subject and sat forward.

“What does it do?”

“I’ll show you,” Winston said, taking out a laptop. It was a MacBook Pro, the top of the line model, and he set it on the table. “It’s very subtle. Unlike a Windows computer that prompts you to install a fake program to set up malware in your computer, WireLurker is hidden inside an app. It records your data and when it’s supposed to be connecting with your data on the website, it’s actually sending it to hackers.” He turned on the computer. “And as soon as you try to remove it, it does this.”

The men around the table leaned in to see a computer screen that looked completely normal in every way. Winston typed in his password and the computer’s screen suddenly fuzzed and distorted. It started making a strange humming sound, and when Winston tried to push any of the keys it turned into a sound that reminded him of an old computer modem trying to connect. The men around the table started shouting at Winston to turn it off in both Chinese and English, and he slammed the MacBook closed with a shake of his head.

“How many cases of this do we have?”

“Only four or five,” Winston said. “And you think that’s bad, it gets worse.” He took out an iPhone and held it up. “Since the app syncs with the one on your phone, the malware gets on it too. And then your phone is nonfunctional. If you download this app on your computer, you’re sending data to hackers and if you try and take it off either your phone or your computer, it bricks them both.” The interpreter told all of this to Jack and he frowned and spoke in English.

“How does it get to the phone? Bounces from the website?”

“It’s transmitted wirelessly during the sync,” Winston said, and the interpreter explained it to Jack. “And any compatible computer that’s in sync range is vulnerable.”

“How is that possible? That technology can’t possibly exist,” Bryan said. His heart was pounding in his chest and he felt it skip a beat or two. His stomach dropped several feet. The last time that had happened, the battery in his pacemaker had been running out. If that was what was happening, he would have to have it replaced while he was in China and it was possibly the last thing he wanted to happen. He had no idea how insurance would work, what kind of quality he would be getting, and how long it would take to recover.

“We don’t know,” Winston said. “That’s why you and Mr. Bolton are here. We have to determine what kind of technology we are looking at and our information says that the malware originated in either America or Australia.”

“You can’t possibly suspect America of doing something like this!” Bryan stood up, indignantly. His heart was going wild in his chest but he tried to ignore it. Their accusations were as good as saying that someone from Apple was sabotaging their own product and he knew it was impossible. Jack’s interpreter was speaking so rapidly that he was sure things were getting missed but he couldn’t hear over the roaring in his ears. “You can’t—“ His words were cut off abruptly as his heart seized up, and he grabbed for his chest.

“Mr. Grady?” Winston looked at him, then at Jack, then back at Bryan as he crumpled to the ground, struggling to breathe. No one seemed terribly concerned about what was happening. In fact, they were all looking at him with curiosity, murmuring to each other. Bryan was certain he was asking for a doctor but he couldn’t hear anything coming out of his mouth and the rest of the men in the room were going about their business.

“The technology certainly performs as promised,” Winston said to Jack as the light began to go out of Bryan’s eyes. “How did you manage to hack a medical appliance with a simple piece of malware?” He was speaking Chinese now, and when Jack replied he was speaking it fluently.

“I’ll be happy to tell you that,” he said with a grin, just before he spoke the last words Bryan would ever hear. “As soon as we agree on a price.”

Holly Jolly Headache

imageI am not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas music. Even when I was a kid it wasn’t the most wonderful time of the year for me. I think a big part of it is that there only about 10 songs that are popular, and those popular songs have been done to death by fifty people. And don’t get me started on the good old date rape Christmas song.

It does seem to be good for one thing, though. I got a hell of an idea while I was standing in the recovery area listening to yet another version of Oh Holy Night.

You may not know this but I’m not a Christian. I’m actually a Buddhist and have been for 16 or  17 years now. What you may not know about Buddhists is that we respect Jesus as a teacher and honor him. My temple in Chicago even celebrated Easter with a dharma talk that focused on his lessons. Our priest discussed how Jesus can be considered a bodhisattva because he became enlightened and then shared his wisdom with others to help them become good people and enlightened as well.

I was, however, raised in a Christian family. My mother took me to a lot of Protestant churches looking for the one that fit her best, but I also joined friends for Catholic mass and attended services at synagogues. I had friends who told me about Hinduism and learned about the Sikh faith from other friends, then went to a Catholic college and had to take religion classes. I turned all this over in my head and chose to become Buddhist.

With this extensive background in what was basically comparative religion, I had Some Questions. My main character also has some questions that he really can’t get answers to because of his church. I’m not writing a religious book but parts of it may end up being seen as somewhat spiritual. I’m okay with that.

And for the record, there are a couple of  Christmas songs that I like. I like Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You, Bruce Springsteen’s version of Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and the Christmas Canon from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

It is what it is.

52 Week Short Story Challenge #5.5 – Sacked (Again)

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A couple of weeks ago, the prompt was a little different. We were invited to go to Page to Pixel’s writing prompt generator and let it find us something to write about.

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Then we take that information to the Most Dangerous Writing App and write for three terrifying minutes then share the results. The result was a small snippet that I thought had some promise, so I wrote a little more on it to see what I could come up with. Sammy and Brandy got a little more interesting for sure.

 

Sacked

Brandy was tired. The kind of tired that went so deep it felt like she was walking through water. She’d taken the overnight shift when it had opened up because the pay was better but after three months she still wasn’t used to her new sleep schedule. People kept telling her it would calm down a little after the holidays but she wasn’t betting on it. The warehouse was one of thousands that belonged to the world’s largest online retailer and it wasn’t like people stopped ordering laptops and twenty pound bags of marshmallows just because it was suddenly January 2nd.

Tonight had been especially difficult because her friend Sammy hadn’t been there. Over the last few months they’d become almost inseparable in the warehouse, keeping an eye on each other and keeping each other awake when necessary. They’d clocked in together at 11 PM but he’d been called to the office less than an hour later and she hadn’t seen him since.

She was just thinking about calling him when she saw him coming up the sidewalk that wrapped around the parking lot. His head was down and he looked like he meant business. She hadn’t even known he’d left the warehouse.

“What are you doing?” Brandy looked at Sammy in surprise as she kept walking across the lot to her car. The sun was just coming up but she was able to see what looked like a duffel bag under his arm. “Let’s go to the Waffle House and I’ll buy us some hashbrowns.” Sammy stopped and looked at her, then jogged over to join her on her way to the car.

“I can’t,” Sammy said, shaking his head. “I’ve got to go blow up the warehouse.”

“Sure,” Brandy said with a laugh. “And then later we’ll tear down some voting booths too. Full-on anarchy will ensue, I’m sure.” She opened her car door. “Come on, I’ve got Dad’s car. Hashbrowns. And waffles, if you play your cards right.” Sammy didn’t answer her, only turned and started walking back toward the building in the midst of the crowd of people that were coming out of the open doors. Cursing, she relocked her door and ran after him. “Sammy,” Brandy called. He didn’t turn this time and she ran faster until she caught up with him. “Seriously, what are you doing?”

“They fired me,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to lose now so I’m gonna do what I always wanted and blow this place up.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Of course I’m serious. Look around. What do you see?” Brandy looked at the faces passing on their way to the parking lot, then shrugged. “Last shift change. Five to seven AM is the only time there’s no one in this place. No one’s gonna get hurt. The only thing that’s gonna get hurt is this temple to gleefully unbridled capitalism.”

“Because you got fired?”

“No, because of why I got fired.” Sammy stopped walking and looked at Brandy seriously. “They fired me because I’m trans.” Brandy stared at him in shock.

“What? They can’t do that. Isn’t that against the law?”

“Not in this state. They can fire you for any reason they want and they actually don’t even have to tell you why.” He took a deep breath. “I asked them why they were firing me. I said I’ve been on time every day, only ever called in sick once. I even made employee of the month. They said it’s not working out anymore. When I asked if they’d give me a reference for somewhere else, they said they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it for someone like me.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Sammy started walking again and Brandy followed him, knowing that she should turn around and leave before she got any further into this but unable to let her friend go without a fight. “Just forget about them. I’ll help you find another job. Hell, we can both get other jobs. Christmas is in a month, we can get hired as holiday help and come up with something better later.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sammy said. “After I plant these bombs.”

“Sammy—“

“Look. This country doesn’t want people like me in it. They pass laws that basically make it so I can’t go to the bathroom in public, and find new and more creative ways to keep me from getting my hormones. Now they’ve taken away my job, and it’s going to be harder to find one now that I’ve started transitioning.” He shook his head. “This isn’t about making some kind of statement, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s revenge, plain and simple. And if you don’t want in on it, you should leave now. If everything goes as planned, they’ll never be able to connect it to me.”

“How? They’re going to know it was you, they just fired you.”

“Good thing I’m in Florida,” Sammy said.

“What?”

“According to Megabus and my debit card I’m currently on the way to Orlando. Once I get this stuff planted, I’m getting on an actual bus to Orlando that should get there about the same time as the Megabus. By the time these go off I’ll be headed down South and I won’t be coming back until after the New Year.” Sammy raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re welcome to come if you like.”

“What would I do in Florida?”

“I don’t know. Disney World?”

The flow of people around them had slowed to a trickle, and by the time they reached the warehouse they were the only ones on the sidewalk. The doors were still open, though, and Sammy walked through them as if he belonged there. Brandy looked around to see if anyone was watching, then went after him.

She’d never been to Disney World, after all.

 

52 Week Short Story Challenge #9 – A Bird in the Bag

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Another prompt from me this week! I went with a quetzal because I just love the damn things so much. Fun fact: I have a large quetzal tattoo and top of my bucket list is to see a live one. Possibly eating an avocado in the bargain.

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A Bird in the Bag

When the drugs started wearing off, the bird was completely confused as to where he was. It was dark, stuffy, and he could hear voices all around him. There was only one thing he knew for sure, and that was that he wasn’t in South America anymore. He shifted slightly, testing the limits. How much he was able to move. How stiff his prison was. What little information he came up with was stored in the back of his mind for when he would be able to make a move.

He listened closely. The bird had no idea what human voices were saying when they made their words, but he’d heard enough of them to interpret what was going on. The people closest to him were whispering, which made them even more difficult to hear, but he could tell they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. It took him a few seconds, possibly because of the drugs still in his system, to realize they were talking about him.

***

                “How much longer are we going to be delayed?” Arturo looked around the terminal for the tenth time and Alicia reached over and pinched his arm. “Ow! What was that for?”

“Do the words ‘act natural’ mean nothing to you? You keep looking around like you’re expecting someone to come after us.” She stretched out her legs and put one on either side of the black duffel bag. “We made it through security in Guatemala, we just have to make our connection and then our friend Malik will walk us through customs. The hardest part is over.”

“This was too risky,” he said, shaking his head. “Parrots and lories are one thing but this thing is the national damn bird of Guatemala. Forget a fine, we’re looking at real jail time. In South America. The only place with worse prisons than South America is China.”

“I don’t know where you get ideas like this,” Alicia sighed. “Besides, this bird is going be the last bird. You know how much that thing is worth?” She lowered her voice even further. “Resplendent Quetzal. Our buyer is paying us two million dollars. That’s a million dollars each. We can retire. Open an actual pet store. Or a bar. We can do whatever we want.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what I was thinking.” Arturo rubbed his forehead. “Oh my God.”

“Will you please just shut up?” Alicia leaned back in her chair. “It’s going to go fine.”

***

                The bird was starting to remember what he was. His wings and legs were slowly unfreezing, tingling as the feeling came back. Whatever they had given him was almost out of his system and he made a soft clucking sound to check whether or not he was still able to make noise. It didn’t sound quite right and he made another, a little louder, and wriggled to the side. He was almost there. And when he got all the way there, the humans who had stuck him in this bag were going to regret doing it. Majestic though he was, his beak was still sharp.

***

                “Oh my God,” Arturo said, sitting forward suddenly. “It moved. The bag moved. Did you just see it move?”

“It didn’t move,” Alicia said. She pushed the bag with her foot. “It’s just the material settling. I gave the stupid thing the same amount I gave that cockatoo, and that one was still dopey when we met the buyer. They weighed about the same, I figured the dose was the same.”

“I swear it moved. Maybe we should take it to the bathroom and check. Make sure it’s still asleep.” He looked around the terminal, which was crowded and getting more so every minute. “You have more of the medication, right?”

“It didn’t move,” insisted Alicia. “Besides, if I gave that bird more dope it might not survive the trip. Alive, that thing’s worth two million. Dead, it’s just a bunch of green and red feathers and a prison sentence. No way. We’re taking this thing to New York, giving it to the idiot with more money than sense, then going out for dinner. My treat.”

“Who cares about dinner? I don’t think I could even eat a package of peanuts right now.” Arturo looked down at the bag. “I wish we could just get on the plane now. What is taking them so long?”

***

                The quetzal was completely awake now. There were tiny pinpricks of light coming through the fabric around him and he could feel that he was somewhere else. He wasn’t in Guatemala, probably not even in South America anymore. The air tasted different. It tasted good enough for him to draw in great lungfuls, though, and his chest moved like a bellows.

Wherever he was, there was a good chance that if he was found he would be able to get himself back home if he got the attention of the humans around the humans that had stuffed him into this bag. Judging from the amount of noise around him, there were even more people than there had been before and that was a very good thing. They might be able to keep hiding him if only a few people saw what they were up to, but if a whole group of people saw there would be no way around it.

His beak made it impossible to actually smile, but there was a definite smirk in his heart as he pulled his foot back and prepared to kick at the same time he filled his lungs. When he got started this time, it was going to be epic.

***

                “All I’m saying—“ Arturo didn’t get to finish whatever he was about to say. The bird in their bag had gone off like a bomb. It was squawking, the sound slightly strangled coming from inside the heavy canvas bag, and thrashing like it was a shark caught in a net. Alicia stripped off her jacket and tossed it over the bag, finally panicking.

“Shut up, shut up,” she said, squeezing her jacket around the bag. The bird responded by squawking louder. “No, no, no, it should have been enough. There were enough drugs in that syringe, I know there were!”

“Oh my God,” Arturo said, looking over at the door where three armed guards were coming toward them. “We’re going to get arrested. We’re going to jail.” The bird was still screaming and kicking and Arturo began debating the pros and cons of abandoning Alicia altogether and running for it. Sure, he’d be a fugitive but at least he wouldn’t be in prison. “Do something!”

The guards were almost on them now, shouting in Spanish too rapid for Arturo to understand and pointing at the bag. Alicia stood up and held up her hands, and the bird’s squawking suddenly stopped. They all stared at the bag and the jacket it was under. Then, from under the jacket a beautiful red and green bird emerged and shook its head. One bright black bead of an eye looked around the airport and the quetzal clicked its beak.

After all this struggling, it was quite hungry.

NaNoWriMo 2016, the Aftermath

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It seems that every November the same thing happens to me. With a total of 58,066 words, I won NaNoWriMo on November 17th. I was doing 5,000 or 6,000 words on a daily basis and having a hell of a time. Then I crossed the finish line, finished the chapter I was on and promptly slowed waaaaaaaaaay down.

This is almost exactly what happened to me when I was writing the first draft of Escape a couple of years back. I wrote until I was at the brink of sanity and then just stopped. I’m still writing it and still enjoying it but I’ve kind of slowed down.

In any case, I won. I’m glad I did it, as always, and I’m planning on putting this crazy amount of effort into another project that just sort of occurred to me today while I was at work listening to an interminable amount of Christmas music. It’s going to take a lot of effort and some research, and there’s no way I’ll be able to hold off until April and Camo NaNoWriMo but I’m excited about it!

Thanks to Hamilton, I suddenly hear the chorus singing “how do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you’re alive, every second you’re alive, every second you’re alive?”

Lin-Manuel Miranda is both a terrible and wonderful human being.