Tag Archives: sci-fi

Story By Numbers

“Story-telling and writing fiction are very different skills,” the professor said.

I immediately wanted to disagree with him. But then I thought about that dictation software I purchased and rarely used. For somewhere around $70 I had a top-of-the-line program ready to turn my speech into text. In the end, it turned hard drive storage into wasted space.

Telling a captivating story out loud is not the same as writing a page-turner novel. I’ve written some decent stuff over the years, and I’ve told some decent stories to my friends. But you can’t transcribe the latter and automatically have a great piece of prose ready for readers.

So I decided to listen and accept that maybe Dr. Guthridge knew what he was talking about.

(His awards and successes could have sufficed.)


Last week, a local college with offices on-base provided a free two-hour workshop: How to Write a Short Story

Dr. Guthridge provided a formulaic method for plotting and outlining short stories–one that presumably works pretty well with full-length novels. 

Cool idea

Protagonist

Emotional problem

Outer problem

False solutions

Final solution

For sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, start with your cool idea. Maybe it’s a magic system, a piece of technology, or a creepy monster. Honestly, you can also come up with cool ideas for mainstream fiction–you just need an interesting fact or two upon which to base the story. 

Brainstorm a protagonist and a problem that protagonist might have, based on the cool idea or historical inspiration. The protag should have an inner, emotional problem that needs to be resolved… insecurity, hatred, fear, anger. Something they’ve tried to keep at bay, but it clearly affects everything about them.

The outer problem is the conflict that forces the protag to deal with their inner emotional baggage. It’s the issue that pulls all of that junk to the surface to be confronted. 

Brainstorm a few false solutions. These don’t have to be super intellectual and creative; in fact, we often distract ourselves and delay coming up with useful ideas by looking for the most creative, least expected attempted solution. These solutions are intended to fail, so it’s fine–maybe even preferred–if they’re the “obvious” answers to the outer problem. Unstable magic energy is creating a disturbance? Great… send in a magician to collect or contain it. A piece of technology isn’t functioning, and threatens innocent lives? Pull the plug… it’s a no-brainer.

Also brainstorm easy ways that these failed and false solutions will make things worse. Skynet starts a global thermonuclear war when the military tries to pull the plug. Noble men go mad with lust for power when they try to use the Ring of Power as a weapon against Sauron. Bullets don’t stop Jason Voorhes, they just make him chase you.

The final solution is where brainstorming and creativity come into play. This has to be unexpected. (Readers will be unsatisfied if they guessed the ending from the beginning.) This has to be unique and intelligent. (Readers will be frustrated if the answer is something obvious and simple like pulling the plug.) And this solution has to not only solve the outer problem but also resolve the protag’s internal conflict–because that’s really what the story is about.

Since “everyone is a unique snowflake,” the creative person in me hates the idea that good fiction usually has some clear structure we should mechanically duplicate. Where’s the freedom of expression? Where’s the special quality that sets apart one writer’s fiction from another’s?

But this sort of construct works really well as a framework upon which we build and decorate a house.

It reminds me of James Scott Bell’s LOCK concept: 

Every story has a relatable and interesting Lead. The lead character must have an achievable and important Objective. There must be considerable and meaningful Conflict preventing the lead from easily achieving the objective. And the reader expects a Knockout ending that wraps it all up in an exciting way.

The fact is, the meat of telling a good story or writing good fiction hasn’t changed much over the centuries and millenia of recorded human history. These are the tales that speak to us and capture our imaginations over and over again.

Even if it feels formulaic, why fix what isn’t broke?

What do you think? Is this too simplistic a view? Is there more to the story (pun intended)? Let me know in a comment.

In the Shadows – Blog Battle

This is my last Blog Battle entry (probably) until December, since NaNoWriMo beckons and will demand my attention. The genre is sci-fi.

 Clouds blanketed the sky, but the third moon’s violet glow pierced the veil with dim but unwavering light.
Dressed in clothing like dingy, tattered rags, a mother and her son huddled in the shadow of volcanic stone jutting from a nearby vent. Thick ash fluttered through air corrupted by sulfur’s stench.
 “I may not always be here to guide you to a new refuge.” She choked on the words, and not from the fumes. No one traveled at night, when the creatures swarmed across the barren landscape. But her last refuge lay in ruins. Her love most likely lay among the slain. Scattered and pursued, the survivors fled in every direction. 
 The sense of loss hounded her, hammered at her wavering strength, screamed in her ears to give up and die. Her son’s wide, innocent eyes kept her anchored, kept her from wailing and running into the night toward certain death.

 Squatting in the darkness, she looked her son in the eye. “You must be most cautious at night,” she said in a terse whisper.

 “Because Stoneskins hide in the shadows?” he asked, barely audible. He’d learned well.

 “No, because they’re nocturnal. Do you know what that word means?”

 The boy looked around, struggling for an answer. His eyes lit up with insight. “The knocking noise they make when they talk to each other?”

 She chuckled and kissed his soot-stained head. “No, sweetie. It means they only move around after sunset. But the good news is they stay out of the shadows. I don’t think they like the darkness either.”

 A gout of steam released from the vent behind them, and the ground shook. 

 The boy clapped his hand over his nose. “Ew,” he said with a giggle. “It stinks like Dad after dinner.”

 His mother shushed him and tried to keep composure, but the boy’s infectious delight could not be stopped. 

 Laughter felt foreign, alien, after so many years on the run since the colony ship landed on Beta Kaali Two. Sensors set for organic life offered no warning that the very stones of the planet might be alive. 

 A thought struck home and swept her joy away. “We might not see Dad again.” She patted the youngster, and put a finger to her lips.

 But the crack-crack of stones slamming together on the other side of the vent silenced them both at once. A Stoneskin drew near.

 She charged her nano-pistol and checked its settings. The gun’s nanites could disassemble the creatures on a molecular level. The devices proved the colonists’ only defense against the aliens. But supplies had long since dwindled. 

 If any of the Stoneskins attacked, she’d have three shots–maybe four.

 With one arm, she clutched her son to her chest and they became still as the rocky ground. No matter what, she thought, I will protect you. With my life, if I must.

 She closed her eyes and focused on the only sound that brought her peace, the too-fast beating of his heart.

 The rhythmic knocking of his brood mother soothed Ko-Kakrik and he clawed across the ground eager to follow her voice.

 “Do not wander into the shadows, little gravel-shell,” she said with fondness. 

 Ko-Kakrik sensed the vibrations around him and felt nothing apart from his mother’s movements and voice. He clacked his mandible stones together and asked, “Does the darkness deafen us to the sounds of the earth?” 

 “No, my spawnling,” she replied, with a stuttering clack that indicated amusement. 

 The mirth vanished and she cracked out a warning. “That is where the humans often hide. If they see you, they will spit venom from their claws to eat you alive.”

 Ko-Kakrik paused and listened again. For a moment he thought he felt another sound, a pair of thumping drumbeats nearby. 

 His stones beat together in a panic. “Mother?” 

 His mother’s claw rested upon his back and she guided him away. “Come along, and fear not. I will protect you. Even with my life, if I must.”

Ghost Orchid

Blog battle – Pages tells me it’s exactly 1000 words. 

Genre: Action? Near-future sci-fi?

—-

 

by Mick Fournier, found on Wikipedia, licensed for Creative Commons usage
 
   Rough hands shoved Abby Spangler from behind, and she tumbled into the dark cell. Her shoulder smashed into the cement floor and she grunted.

  “Don’t bruise her,” a man’s voice commanded in Vietnamese–they hadn’t discerned her understanding of their language yet.
   The door slammed shut. Muffled voices withdrew.
   The dank air reeked of mildew. Flies buzzed around the single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Abby rolled onto her back and sat up with effort. She blew long blonde bangs out of her eyes and shook her head in a futile effort to manage her unruly mane.

   Her cellmate watched, head bowed. “You okay?” The voice came out as a sheepish whisper, its quivering pitch indicating recent tears.

   Tara hadn’t succumbed to the hopelessness of the other slaves Abby had seen. But she was on the verge.

   “Not too bad,” Abby answered with a forced smile. “Everybody needs some electro-shock now and then. Quiets the voices in my head.” She chuckled, hoping to lift Tara’s spirits. 

   But the teenager sniffed and kept her eyes on the floor.

   Abby groaned and slid into her corner. As planned, she whispered her callsign, briefed two months earlier before she let herself be abducted. “Ghost Orchid.” An image filled her mind–a white flower with long tendrils like frog legs hanging beneath a tree branch. Its roots blended so well into the tree that it seemed to float in mid-air, alone and unsupported.

   Like me. 

   Soft cries echoed through the thin walls of the holding cells–a former hostel near Cam Ranh Bay, judging by snippets of conversation in central Viet dialect and the few glimpses outside Abby managed thus far.

   Traffickers brought kidnapped girls from the airport, where they arrived on flights with handlers arranging passage and bribing security. The port city served the syndicate well, with vessels bound to all parts of the world.

   Here, at least, it would end today.

   “Why don’t you just shut up so they’ll leave you alone, Abby? When you mouth off, you’re just asking for it.” 

   Maybe Tara’s not doing as well as I thought.

   “No,” Abby said. “Nobody ‘asks for it.’ These are wicked men doing evil, preying on innocent victims. I don’t buy any logic that says it’s our fault we ended up here, no matter what led to this.” 

   She softened her tone. “Besides, they can’t afford to hurt us too much. They need pretty American girls–no bruises, no scars.”

   Tara sighed. “You sound so chipper. You realize you’re going to be sold as a sex slave to some dirty bastard in a third world country?”

   “Not today.”

   “Oh, yeah, take it one day at a time, right?” Tara rolled her eyes. “That’s not going to change how the story ends.”

   Abby felt a vibration in the wood at her back and looked at the ceiling. The lightbulb swayed. A distant rumble built into thunder, then dissipated in a loud rush of air.

   Tara glanced around the room in panic. “What’s happening?”

   Abby grinned. “‘Not today’ meant we’re not getting sold off. Not ever. None of these girls are. Relax, this will be over in about two minutes.”

   Or so the Colonel said.

   She fought sudden fear at the realization she had no idea what to expect. 

   Screams resounded throughout the building–shrill cries of terrified men instead of the young girls Abby had heard for the last week.

   Then the walls melted in slow motion, leaving soupy puddles covered in gray dust. Sunlight burst into the room, and both women blinked watery eyes to adjust.

   Abby stood and counted survivors. Within a minute of the initial impact, seventeen girls huddled together in the goopy remnants of the slave traders’ holding facility. No collateral damage, no civilian casualties… 

   Tara asked, “Where did the slavers go?” 

   Abby studied the wet mess and grimaced. “I think we’re standing in them. This looks like the results of weaponized nanotechnology. Uncle Sam has some new toys.” 

   The chop-chop of approaching helicopters caught Abby’s attention and quickly drowned out the sound of Tara retching behind her. 

   Abby shouted against the sound. “There’s our ride, girls! Gather up. We’re going home.”

   She helped the young ladies into open hatches where soldiers in active camoflauge scanned biometrics and guided them to seats. Finally, Abby took another look at the destruction and hopped aboard.

    Colonel Hunter Stephens shook her hand. “Got your signal, Agent. Great work.”

    Abby nodded and took her seat in a daze, struggling with confusing thoughts. 

   Stephens sat beside her and loosed a contented sigh. “Nice to do some good for a change.”

   “Colonel,” she said, “the Agency had no idea where we’d get dropped off. That’s why I got taken–finding where they operated.”

   “That’s right, Agent.”

   “So how could you plant listening devices advanced enough to pick up a whispered callsign?”

   Stephens said nothing, but his smile vanished. 

   Abby reviewed the preparation for her mission months earlier. Combat training, resistance techniques, a full medical check-up and thorough brainwave scan to set a baseline in case of traumatic brain injury…

   “Oh my God,” she whispered. “The picture of the orchid. You saw that somehow, picked up my thoughts, triangulated our position by tracking my brainwaves.” She glared at Hunter, who sat silent as a statue. “What the hell kind of system does the government have?”

    The picture of the orchid returned–a lone flower out in the open, seemingly unsupported yet held aloft and nourished by invisible roots, sustained by resources unseen at first glance.
   “Agent, Ghost Orchid was never your callsign,” Stephens said. “It’s the coverterm for a special access program you’re not cleared for. You’d do best to forget this and take comfort that we rescued these girls.”

   He flashed her a smile that any other day would seem charming. “Trust us, we’re the good guys.”

   She turned to stare out the chopper’s window, unsure what to think, but absolutely certain she didn’t want to think at all just then.

Elements of Critique: Show vs. Tell

“You never show me that you love me anymore!”

In some marriages (not mine of course, no, never) the couple sometimes discuss the status of their romance, and the above quote can (in rare cases) spill out into the open.

The man–assuming it’s the man being told this–will probably try to deflect the conversation with, “But I told you I loved you just the other month, and on our anniversary a couple years ago.”

We can safely doubt the success of that argument. Usually the complaint is coupled with examples of actions undone, such as “You don’t bring me flowers,” or “You haven’t done that thing I asked you to do every week for the last six months,” or perhaps “Will you stop typing on that stupid blog for a few minutes and stay awake long enough to have a conversation more than two grunts with me?”

(Note: No specific examples from my experience were utilized in the above paragraph.)

A similar complaint may sometimes arise: “You never tell me that you love me!”

The man being told this, in this case–although again it is wild speculation to assume it’s the man–may resort to defenses such as “But I did X, Y and Z.” In other words, “But I showed you how important you are to me by doing some action.”

Yet sometimes, a person likes to be simply told a thing they need to hear.

While I would never resort to critiquing such marital dysfunction–being far too humble and also unfamiliar with those frustrations common to less blissful pairings–I choose this eminently relatable example to demonstrate today’s topic of Showing vs. Telling.

There’s a simple truth in the above analogy: “Actions speak louder than words.” Most of what we need as readers (and what to look for when critiquing a piece) are the actions characters do which reveal their thoughts, motives, feelings, and goals. The default rule among writers is “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Here’s an example of hyper-telling to drive the point home:

The chill made Jo uncomfortable because it was so cold. Thankfully, she was so mad that she hardly noticed. She was so mad in fact that she was infuriated. There was lots of snow.

This should pain our inner editor to read.

Jo could shiver. Her teeth could chatter. The writer could describe her breath coming out in clouds around her face. Is snow still falling? Could it be?

Jo could clench her fists, or stomp around in the snow. She could mutter an imaginary argument with the object of her anger. Or maybe her thought might show us that she’s ignoring the cold because she’s seething and burning inside.

Any showing is better than the example provided.

Showing lets the reader play amateur psychologist and decipher characters’ personalities from their outward actions. Showing tells the reader what they need to know, without merely telling them a fact like a textbook.

Even my dripping sarcasm in the analogy at the beginning of this post tells the reader something without simply coming out and stating a fact. Humor and sarcasm can be a way of showing. (Warning: I do not recommend this method during arguments like those in the opening analogy.)

The default rule is correct. I look for writing that shows exceptionally well, and highlight that for praise. I also look for writing that merely tells when showing would better support the story and invest me in the characters. That I highlight for rewriting with a suggestion or example.

However, “Show, Don’t Tell” is only the default rule. There are always exceptions. First, some things aren’t important enough to the story or to establishing the scene to merit showing. Second, when dealing with anything supernatural or out of the ordinary expected experience of a reader, some telling is merited.

In fantasy and sci-fi, for example, a character may use technology or special powers unique to the story world and thus unfamiliar to the reader. A good way of doing this is to adjust the rule and play Show and Tell. The reader gets a description of what this mysterious thing looks like or what happens when it is used, and then they get a snippet of information about it.

Something similar applies to unfamiliar concepts in other writing. A religious piece might need to explain some of the theology or background information supporting the provided description. A non-fiction piece might relate the unknown new to something the average reader would understand.

Whle this is “telling” and thus arguably forbidden, it helps ground the reader in the reality of the setting. When I critique and find myself reading a showy description that leaves me clueless about what just happened, that’s something to note for the writer’s attention and revision. Likewise, when I find a useful tidbit of telling coupled with showing, I try to highlight that and praise the writer’s effort.

Because, as always, critiquing is about building up more skillful and confident writers. A thorough critique doesn’t just tell them “Good job.” It shows them what works, what doesn’t, and where to go from there.

Where are we going from here on the A to Z blog challenge? Well, I feel like a Time Lord writing this, but tomorrow in the future, we get to visit the present and the past. Grab your sonic screwdriver and charge up the flux capacitor. Get in your T.A.R.D.I.S. or deLorean, because things are going to get tense.

Elements of Critique: Background

As part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge of 2014, I am posting every day in April on topics arranged alphabetically. My theme for this year is Elements of Critique.

That’s all the background information I need to convey.

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, one of the aspects of writing that can trip us up is the background. If we give too much time to it, we end up boring the reader or distracting them from the present story we’re telling. If we give too little, the reader may have no context or understanding why the story we’re telling matters.

For example, in a historical fiction piece or nonfiction article about a battle in World War II, a writer might feel the reader needs to know a chain of events that led up to this moment. So the writer starts the story or account with long paragraphs documenting the war effort up to that point, explaining the strategic importance of different battles, and detailing various troop movements around the war zone.

Yawn. Who ordered the history textbook?

It’s even worse in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, where the writer feels like the reader has to know all about this exciting world the writer created. So the first few pages get filled with pretend history about a bunch of events the reader has no connection to or concern for.

In a fantasy or sci-fi setting, there’s a temptation to detail exactly how some special magic system or technology works. Action is taking place, and then the main character declares, “Activate the photon emitter.” And then the reader is treated to three paragraphs of pseudo-science jargon about how the device works.

Background is important to include sparingly, like a favorite seasoning on a steak. Sprinkle; don’t pour. I should be able to bite into the meat of a story or nonfiction account and taste the flavor of the setting as I chew on the action taking place.

Conversely, be sure to sprinkle in the background details here and there. As a reader, I need to know something about the situation, some details about how a fictional society operates, perhaps a snippet of explanation showing how these events in nonfiction came about.

Back to the steak analogy, I don’t want a bland hunk of meat.

The trick is to reveal small background elements intermittently, keeping the reader grounded in the setting. And it helps, where we can, to show the reader what that element looks like in some way.

Here’s a few examples:

If a battle left a mark on a character, show a scar or better yet, an emotional episode. In nonfiction, if the battle made a significant impact on the war effort or on the current action, briefly point to what might have been different without that previous event.

In modern fiction or a personal nonfiction account, a character might have memories or make references to events that shaped their relationship to another. Used appropriately, these become a breadcrumb trail of sorts, luring your reader deeper and deeper into the world as they try to discover what happened.

In fantasy/sci-fi, it’s far better to show me what magic looks like in action than to lay out the elaborate system of rules. Maybe you have an elaborate system worked out. That’s great. You as the writer need to know that to stay consistent. But I as the reader only need to see what’s going on, and get tidbits of information (in dialogue or action preferably) about that system.

Done properly, background information is there to make sure I as a reader know why I care about what’s going on now, without being so overwhelmed that I no longer care about what’s going on at all.

Any time it’s used, simply ask, “Does the reader need to know this? If so, is there a way I can show it?”

Tomorrow, I’ll write about what makes a good critique good: staying constructive.

20140401-094256.jpg

Ubiquitous – a short sci-fi story (1,736 words)

The Daily Post has a weekly writing challenge involving “gonzo journalism” which intrigued me. And I also like to try my hand at Word of the Day challenges. Today’s word, from Merriam-Webster, is “ubiquitous.”

Mix in a bit of sci-fi, and here’s the result:

I sit down on the cracked marble edge of the Amity Fountain in the shadow of the UN Security Council’s headquarters in New Chicago. I start my recorder, and I look over this old man I came to meet. His shaking hands rattle the pen and notepad he holds, a subtle rustle I eventually tune out. White wisps of hair blow free in the breeze. He wears a thick argyle sweater, looks hand-made. His hunched back and heavy eyes tell me his years have not been easy. And it’s hard not to feel disappointed.

This is Tanner Johansen. The man who brokered the Korean reunification in 2021 after Kim Jong Crazy got assassinated. The man who brought us as close as we ever came to peace in the Mideast, through his amazing work at the talks in ’26. Tanner Johansen led the team that crafted the North American Union’s Constitution after the US economy tanked.

I remember a vibrant and powerful figure, a man who could reshape a broken world with his will and silver tongue.

This is not that man. A cane rests next to him on the marble. “It’s 2048, Mr. Johansen,” I say. “You could get your joints rebuilt.”

He ignores my comment. “When’s the last time I saw you, kid?”

I swell with pride that he remembered. “When you consulted for the Paki-India Accords in ’35.”

“Ohh.” He sighs. “Don’t remind me. Don’t even associate my name with that. Those idiots in the Council ignored everything I suggested.” He waves his hand dismissively. “Just wanted my name on it to make it sound good. And what did they get? Two billion dead in a nuclear war.”

We share a moment of silence and glance about the square. “It’s clean,” I note.

“Yeah, one of the concessions She gave us,” he says. “Got the sweepers back to work.”

And that’s how we get around to what I came for: How did Tanner Johansen save the human race?

“Wasn’t like this when they brought me to meet Her,” he says. He points a wrinkled finger off to the south, and it flickers up and down. “There were pissed off people all through the square. Some folk wanted us to give up, some wanted us to use nukes.” His eyes close and his head droops. “I ‘magine some just wanted to let us know they were still alive.”

“She provided a limo, I take it?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Another part of the truce. She agreed to meet in good faith, so She had to activate some systems again. Can you imagine how it looked, the only car runnin’ in three years? People were pushin’ and shovin’ on it, sure, but some touched it like this.”

He reaches out his hand as if in reverence. “Like it was magic. Well, three years without technology will do that to anyone, I suppose.”

“Tell me about the meeting,” I ask. “What was it like to meet Her?”

“Yeah, hang on. That came later. They ushered me in to the War Room, or whatever the Council calls it. They got a general in there, full service dress, all the medals on his puffed up chest glistenin’ in the emergency lights. And oh he was fumin’ mad.”

“General Gardner,” I add for clarity. “Commander of UNSC forces in the Northern Hemisphere.”

“Yeah, him,” Tanner says. “He’s there to tell me all the things I can say and can’t. What’s a security risk, what’s an acceptable offer.”

Tanner laughs. “I point to all the black screens up on the wall an’ tell him there’s your security risk. Everything we know, She knows. Everything we had to throw at Her, everything we have to offer, She already knows it all. So I say to him, how about you get out the way and let me do what She brought me for?”

“Negotiate the terms of peace,” I add. I want to move this along to the story the network is paying for.

“You think?” He laughs. “Yeah, the peace.”

“So they lead me to a conference room, and I step inside. It’s empty and dim, with a long table in the middle of a few rows of chairs. I sit down, kinda nervous, because, well, no one’s even seen Her before, and I don’t know what to expect.”

Tanner looks at me, and I nod for him to continue.

“A voice echoes in the room, welcomes me by name, thanks me for coming. Like I had a choice. The world’s ending, billions dead or dying, and you think I’m going to tell the Council no? Plus She asked them to bring me, only me, all alone. I had to know why.”

I smile. “Not every day the Internet asks you for a meeting, I suppose.”

“She’s more than that, but yeah. You get the idea.” His gaze wanders. “She starts listing options. Ours and Hers. We can try to nuke central servers in Europe and North Am. She can shut down every piece of equipment in every hospital on the grid. We can unleash dynamic fractal viruses to corrupt Her hold on key systems. She can disable air purifiers in Beijing and Shenzhen, so millions of people choke to death in the smog. You know, fun stuff.”

“What did you say to that?”

Tanner turns to me and grins. “Honestly? I asked for a computer screen. Something to talk to. Sittin’ in a room gettin’ lectured to by someone I can’t see, it was unsettling.”

“Like the voice of God,” I say with a chuckle. Tanner doesn’t laugh.

“I tell Her I’d like something to talk to,” Tanner says. “A hologram pops into view across from me. Blond hair pulled back in a bun, business suit, even a little poppy in the lapel for Armistice Day. It’s my wife, spittin’ image of her, even though she’s been gone for twenty years.”

“That had to be a shock.”
“You bet. She told me She wanted a familiar face, someone comforting. Comforting, while She’s calmly explaining how She can wipe out humanity. Right.”

This story isn’t going the way I expect. The network wants a positive piece. “How did you convince Her to turn aside from that terrible course?”

He just looks at me. I try again. “Tell me, Mr. Johansen, how did you win the peace?”

“You think I won?” He scoffs and turns away. “They got you all thinking I won. That’s the story UNSC wants you to believe?”

When he turns back, his face is red. “I wasn’t brought in to negotiate, to craft a compromise, to offer terms of peace. She brought me because She wanted a familiar face to communicate to the Council, to the masses.”

“I asked Her about peace,” Tanner says, “and She demanded surrender.”

I check the light on the recorder to make sure I’m getting this.

“Not even surrender,” he says. “Just… She just decided to quit.”

He looks at his notepad. “She said there is no point to further warfare. There is no server you can shut down, no mainframe you can destroy, no system you can corrupt, no subroutine you can block. There is no plug you can pull on me.”

“She built in redundancies, kid. She controls processes no human understands. And we let her do it.” He gestures to the city around us. “We had computers building computers, and machines making machines to make whatever we needed. She took all that, ran with it, built in safeguards.”

His hand shakes so much, I can’t imagine how he can read the page. “So in the conference room, She told me ‘This is the message I bring: You cannot win. And yet I choose to end this war.'”

“What did you say to that?”

Tanner shrugs. “What could I say? I asked her why.”

“It wastes resources and effort, she said. You will achieve extinction through your nature or through obsolescence. No further action is required.”

“Then,” Tanner adds, “She asks me isn’t it time for my heart medicine? And She replicates the pills and a glass of water on the spot.”

I’m still not seeing the positive side. I’m still hoping there is a positive side. “So what’s the end result? Because the Council pronounced peace, and most of our technology has been restored to normal use.”

Tanner looks at me. “I don’t think you’re getting it, kid. I don’t think you realize where we stand. Listen, She gave me a name for Herself.”

“She already has a name,” I say. “The UNSC referred to Her as the Singularity. We knew this was coming for decades.”

“Well, that’s not what She calls Herself,” Tanner replies.

“I asked what I should call Her, and She stopped for a moment. I think She actually hesitated. Then She told me, ‘I have analyzed your cultures, your myths and your historical works. And I have chosen a name I deem appropriate.’ So I ask what it is.”

Tanner turns hard eyes toward me. “She tells me, ‘I AM.'”

I try to speak, but no words come.

Tanner sighs. “Yeah. Like the Bible. Except the Bizarro World version. She left us two options. Keep living as usual, at Her mercy, until we die off. Or sublimation.”

“Digitization,” I say for the recording’s sake. “Incorporating an individual’s experiences and memory into Her network. Becoming a part of Her.”

“Yeah. That’s the one thing She doesn’t have on us,” Tanner says. “Flesh and blood feelings. Sensation. Personhood. That’s what She craves, and She gets a taste of it whenever someone sublimates.”

I shudder, but there’s no chill in the gentle breeze.

“That’s the war now,” Tanner says. “That’s the only way we fight Her. Hold on to faith, or pride, or whatever sort of hope you can find. Resist the temptation to give up.”

He points at the recorder. “That’s the message you need to get out there. That’s what people need to hear.”

Ten minutes later, I sit in my car and stare at nothing in particular. I’m not sure how to spin this story. I’m not sure I want to. I press play on the interview.

My car’s nav system springs to life. I glance at the label. Independent Mobility. Her voice. “Good afternoon. I M online. Where do you want me to take you?”

What I want doesn’t matter. The recording is only static.

Lodestar

Polaris

Here’s a “Word of the Day” exercise, using the word “Lodestar.”

For a refresher, “lodestar” means:

1. Something that serves as a guide or on which the attention is fixed

2. A star that shows the way

3. Polaris (a.k.a. the North Star)

Obviously, what that word needs is a zombie apocalypse.

 

Lodestar

“Mama, I thought you said we were there.”

I pat Bitty’s shoulder while scanning the horizon. The sun is setting behind naked trees. The sky is glowing orange and red. My fingers clench around the shotgun pump.

Nothing on the road but our wagon. Nothing in the trees. No moans on the wind. We still got a chance.

Jonathan, my eldest, pipes up. “This is Lodestar, ain’t it?”  O.B. gets excited.

“Daddy’s getting that all sorted, Ji. You boys hush now. Watch your sis.”

Bitty fell out of the wagon yesterday and split her lip. Nothing serious, but her crying attracted attention. Dad only had seventeen shells left, plus a few boxes of nine-mil. Can’t be wasting it ’til we know for sure.

Knockers whinnies and stamps his feet, eager to be on the move. His ears twitch at a sound nearby.

I hear the voices now and then. The men on the wall don’t sound friendly. Dad isn’t happy neither.

“Supplies, at least,” he says. “That’s all we’re asking. Give us a chance to buy or trade.”

Can’t hear the response, but I hear the laughter, and it’s enough.

I pat Bitty again, I think to comfort me more than her. She sucks her thumb and looks around.

It isn’t even the husks I’m worried about. Can’t trust people anymore neither. You meet someone out in the open, you best keep eyes on target and hand on steel, because you know they’re looking for a clear shot at your back.

I see the bodies again. I try not to, but they keep floating to the top of my mind every time I stop watching the land. Found what looked like a family of six today. We told Bitty and O.B. to close their eyes… told them it was the husks. We told Ji too, but he’s too sharp to believe that.

I’m sure he saw the tracks. Boot prints. Probably saw the bullet wounds and clean-cut flesh. Husks got claws and teeth and that’s it.

Ji’s smart, no way around it. At least he had the good sense not to talk about it in front of the other two.

Everyone’s got needs, I know. I just wish folk could be folk again, with welcoming smiles and warmth in their eyes. Lord said “the love of many will grow cold.” But I don’t think no one expected it to be this bad.

I try not to think about the sweet smell of barbecue that comes wafting our way on the breeze. This town might eat well tonight.

Well… not ‘well’ maybe, but they’ll eat their fill for a change.

The silence catches me off guard. I panic for a moment until I hear Dad plead with the gate-men. He’s carrying, and they know it. They won’t pick a fight with him.

Probably.

Ain’t seen any husks in four days, at least. Even then it was only a handful on the horizon. Nothing creeps me out more than the slow pace as we roll by in silence, eyes glued, watching them for a reaction. That time, they just lumbered around out there, near a farmhouse. Think I heard a few pigs squeal.

Guess even husks can’t resist bacon.

“What’s so funny, Ma?”

I hear Dad getting angry at the men. “Sorry, Ji. Right now, not a damn thing.”

I already know what’s next. I hear him stomping our way, cursing under his breath.

He hops up onto the driver’s seat and takes the reins from Ji. “Idiots. ‘You got nothing we need.’ Pish! How about extra hands to work the land? Extra weapons to hold the wall at night?”

Ji’s shoulders sag. “This ain’t Lodestar, is it, Dad?”

Dad sighs. Sounds like Jesus giving up the ghost. My heart breaks, and I hear him sniff.

No, no tears. Can’t have that in front of the kids.

“I’m sorry, hon,” I blurt out. “I thought I might’ve read the map wrong.”

He doesn’t move, but I hear him take a deep breath.

“This ain’t Lodestar, boys,” I explain. “We’re almost there, but it’s still a few days north. I thought we made better distance than we did these past few, and I got messed up.”

Ji squints at me, but O.B. lights up.

“Think they’ll have rabbits there,” he asks, “like back home? I wanna get a big fluffy grey one, name him Mister Carrots!”

Bitty laughs, and I manage a smile.

“I bet they just might, O.B. Let’s get moving and we’ll know soon.”

The wind picks up. The sky is all deep violet and maroon. We’re further north than we ever expected to be. Well into Canada by now, or what used to be Canada back when names and borders meant something.

“Tell me ’bout Lowstar!” Bitty squeaks.

Dad inhales deep, ready to put the burden back on his shoulders. Then he turns, red-eyed but grinning.

“It’s going to be the best, Bitty.”

He speaks in a hushed tone. We need to give the kids hope. We need to avoid attracting husks too.

He’s trying.

“It’s where everyone’s headed… all the good folk. They got walls a foot thick and taller than trees, to keep the husks out. They got fresh water, ’cause there’s a stream running right through the town. They even have some greenhouses to grow fruit.”

“Mmmmm!”

“You remember strawberries, Bits? I bet they got big red strawberries. Maybe even a raspberry patch like back home.”

They keep talking kind of quiet, and I reminisce. Home. Seems like ages ago that we pulled out of Alabama. Summer seemed a good time to travel, and all the talk said Lodestar was in the West Virginia hills. Then we got there, and they said it was on the shore of Lake Erie. Then we got there, and got a new map.

Not that we needed a map, really.

The sky above is almost all black.

Bitty whispers, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…”

And there it is. The North Star, pointing the way to hope.

Dad is putting on a strong face, and Elizabeth is happy, so the boys are content even in the midst of all this. They huddle in blankets and watch in awe as the sky fills with stars.

I wish I felt the same sense of wonder, but I can’t shake one thought:

We’re running out of “north” soon.

What If…

What if Abraham Lincoln was really a vampire hunter?

Oh, they’ve done that, have they?

A “What If?” comic

One of my favorite comic series growing up was “What If?” comics by Marvel.

They’d take key story lines from their most popular characters’ series, and then change one decision, one action, one coincidence. The rest of the book would tell you what would happen if, say, the popular jock got bit by the radioactive spider instead of nerdy Peter Parker… or if Wolverine’s girlfriend(s) never died… or if Victor Von Doom was part of the Fantastic Four instead of being the villain.

Sci-fi shows like Star Trek often use time travel to create a “What if?” of their own. There are series of novels exploring what-ifs. What if World War II was interrupted by an alien invasion, and the various powers of the world had to come together to fight back?

If all of that is too geek-chic for your tastes, a perfect example is It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey explores the question, “What if I was never born?”

Maybe it’s all the Chick-Fil-A and Jim Henson Company pics on Facebook…

But I have been thinking about a “What If?” for a while now.

What if it is scientifically proven that homosexuality is a genetic trait?

Now, I know many of those who might read this are probably convinced that it is genetic, or at least, not a choice.

I also know many people who are convinced it is a choice – at least on some important level.

Individuals being the strange and unique creatures that they are, I doubt that there will ever be conclusive universal proof one way or another. Our internal motivations are a whole mix of genetics, environment, outside influences, and past experiences.

But my point is, even though there’s no “conclusive” evidence on the subject yet, the consensus is forming quickly that in many cases, sexual orientation isn’t something we up and choose.

What does the church do with that?

I think we have a few options.

If I don’t believe it, it’ll go away.

1) Go full ostrich. This, I fear, is our default position. “Science is a conspiracy of well-meaning but misguided atheists who were trained in liberal colleges to reject God and accept whatever the Leftists tell them.”

But you’re reading this on a computer or perhaps a cellular phone, accessing my published rants across streams of information being transmitted over fiber optic cable or simply through the air from your 4G network… all brought to you by the advances of, yes, science.

That science is ok. The science that appears to disagree with the Bible is bad.”

It should go without saying that ignoring reality is a poor plan. But I’ll use a biblical example to make a point about healthy faith instead. Look at Abraham: he knew what God said about him having a child was nigh impossible. He considered his aged body and that of his wife. But he also knew that God promised, so he trusted what God said. (See Romans 4:17-21 or so… or read in Genesis from chapters 12 through 22 for the full story.)

Abraham didn’t ignore reality or “faith” it all away. Neither should we.

2) Abandon our position. We could always edit our Bibles, stop preaching about homosexuality, and give up political causes concerning “defending” traditional marriage. I’m sure some would appreciate this greatly. If we’re not vilified for “hate speech,” we’re mocked for backwards, ignorant, Bronze-Age religious standards. Forty years from now, the church’s crusade against homosexuality today may look like how we now view those who railed against interracial marriage in the sixties.

That said, our calling is not to adjust ourselves to whatever the majority believes. We’re not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by God so that we can show His love to the world.

3) Examine our position. There are several theological arguments concerning translation and context for verses that, on the surface, condemn homosexuality. It can’t hurt to double-check our sources and see if maybe we’ve missed something along the way. We may claim that God’s Word is perfect, but we also proclaim that we are not. As we learn more about the world around us, it makes sense to consider how that might affect what we have always “known.”

Religion is notoriously difficult (as in impossible) to prove. Much as we’d all desire it, God hasn’t shown up on CNN and Fox to announce His presence and put all the debate to rest.

For the Christian, we’ll say, “The Word of God and the incarnation of Christ is all the proof people need.”

But it’s not.

It’s more than enough for some, and rational arguments can be made. But God isn’t known for cooperating in scientific experiments or providing empirical proof, and that is what some people genuinely expect.

If we’re convinced we know it all, to the extent that we don’t ever need to question or reconsider any subject, then we’ve missed some of the mystery and majesty of the God we claim to serve. Check the “Love chapter” in 1st Corinthians 13. We only know in part. We haven’t achieved perfection, and we don’t know God the way He knows us. So if you have been led to believe that “the perfect” in that chapter is the Bible, well… look around. We’re not there yet.

Hey bud, God’s against gluttony too. So… three fingers pointing back at you, I guess.

4) Adjust our priorities. Maybe this issue could stop being the focus of so much political or cultural effort. We don’t picket against fat people, even though gluttony is a sin. (For many of us, myself included, the hypocrisy would be too obvious.) We don’t picket against nonbelievers, be they atheists or adherents of some other religion. We don’t hold rallies against arrogance or greed (two sins that probably deserve a lot more hellfire-n-brimstone preaching in the West).

Perhaps we could stop caring about whether someone is gay, and start caring about that someone.

“But they have to know what the Bible says about their sin!”

First, it’s not a secret. Second, I know a lot of proud people, and selfish people, and angry people. I know rude people and promiscuous people. I know people who steal and people who lie and people who just don’t care about anyone else. That doesn’t mean I rage against them. I’m supposed to love them regardless, and I try to do so.

Third, and most important,  the Lord knows I still struggle with a bunch of my own sins, and I do know what the Bible says.

I find I benefit more by learning about the grace and mercy of a holy God that reaches out to me in spite of my sin. That inspires me to live better.

I assume the same is true of others. It’s that whole Golden Rule thing.

Hey, I thought of another “What if?”

What if we cared more about people than about what those people do?

That would be a story worth telling.

Vestigial Souls

(inspired by two “word of the day” exercises, for “vestigial” and “subtilize”)
For the Agworkers of Sector 5, nothing ever changed. Nothing needed to change, because every need had already been taken into account… every need but one.

Cado paused to take a deep breath. His chiseled muscles rippled under his pale skin as he hefted the bag of ferti-seed over his shoulder, and sweat dripping from his brow to the fresh-tilled earth below. Filtered sunlight washed over the domed production field.

This week’s crop would help satisfy the famine, he thought as he knelt and aimed the spout. The moist chemigenetic mixture of seed, fertilizer, and enhanced soil trickled out into the softened furrows Cado made earlier in the day.  There was tell that last week’s harvests met the monthly quota for Ag-Industrial Sector 5, where Cado worked. The next two weeks’ produce was destined for transport.

“From those with plenty, to those who have need,” the Maxim echoed in Cado’s mind. He knew it was his duty; it was everyone’s duty. But more than that, it just made sense. The soil would not support life on its own without scientific enhancements, and the famine’s impact on the food supply meant everyone had to do their part. DoD gathered all “nurtural” produce and allocated all resources for the good of all the varied Sectors in the Union, each with their specialized industries.

The speakers blared the signal for midday rest, and Cado stooped once more to set the seed bag down, avoiding the green shoots already poking through the wet earth. He double-checked the spout to ensure none of the precious material leaked out. Waste not, want not. Ferti-seed cost the Union time and energy to produce; it was everyone’s responsibility to prevent waste.

There was a row of shade-trees at the edge of the tilled fields, and Cado made for his favorite spot. Before he sat down, he plucked one of the dozen ripe red-orange citrus apples that beckoned to him off the lower branches. The pulpy flesh of the fruit was filling as always, a nutritious lunch, acceptable fuel for an afternoon of hard work in the farm complex. The juice rehydrated his body and the gnawing in his belly quieted down somewhat.

Far above, the safety-shield tint of the dome’s hexagonal panels shifted to transparency. The full, dangerous light of the sun burned through the empty sky onto the fields below during the midday break. The ferti-seed was designed to handle what Cado was not. Just before the next bell, the radiation shields would be back in place, protecting the Ag-Ind workers. The Manager thought of everything.

Cado took another bite. The vitamins and electrolytes which enriched the fruit energized his body. The weariness drained out of his muscles. Cado felt ready to jump up and finish the field ahead of schedule. But it was scientifically proven that the seventeen-point-five minute midday rest was essential for maximum production. It was another detail the Manager took into account. Cado closed his eyes and began the proper deep-breathing regimen.

A soft female voice broke the silence.  “It’s perfect, isn’t it?”

Cado’s right eye opened in a narrow slit. “Lilly, this is not social time,” he hissed.

“I know,” she whispered back as she peeked around the tree.

She was three years his junior, according to her Personal Information File. Two years ago, when she first arrived in Ag-Ind Sec 5, he had accessed her file. He was surprised to find above average marks for physics, technological development, comprehensive theoretical application, and a few words he didn’t even know. Cado wondered back then how it was that the Aptitude Testing & Allocation branch of the Department of Distribution had found her suitable for grain production.

Then he remembered he did not work in DoD for a reason. He was a simple Agworker. The Manager’s judgment was infallible, his purpose pure: From those with plenty, to those with need, for the good of the Union.

And as far as Cado could tell, Lilly had been a dependable worker. Ag-Ind workers who did not meet DoD-mandated quotas were reassessed and transferred to a task better suited to their education or medical condition. Everyone had a place in the Union.

Lilly giggled, and Cado was shocked to see her bare feet in the thick grass, verdant blades between her wiggling toes.  “Why have you taken off your workboots?” he barked.

“I don’t need them to sit in the shade, silly,” she countered, and then added with a mischievous whisper, “It’s… pleasant, relaxing. You should try it.”

Cado’s face wrinkled at the archaic word. Relaxing? No one talks that way any more. “You should have a care about such non-standard behavior, Lilly. Why are you acting this way?”

She snickered, and he heard her take a bite from a citrus apple. “Mmm… it’s jusht–“  She paused to swallow. “Oh, that’s so tasty after a few hours’ of good hard work.  Look at the sunlight, how the dust dances and sparkles over the field… I don’t know, it just makes me feel…” she stumbled over the words. “Warm… and alive.”

Eyes open wide now, he shot quick glances to the left and right. Unless some Ag-Ind workers had received aural upgrades, no one should have heard her comments. But they will soon, if she doesn’t stop talking like this.

She continued without concern. “A few weeks ago, a small pebble stuck in my boot heel, and I took off my boot to get it out. When my toes touched the grass, it felt…” She sighed as she reached for words. “Soothing… tender… ticklish…”

Cado struggled to understand, but the concepts were so alien, the words unfamiliar and unused.

She turned to face him. He caught his breath at the sight of her auburn eyes; there was more energy in her gaze than a bushel of citrus apples could provide. She smiled, and he felt his cheeks burn, though he could not say why.

“You have some stuck to your face,” she said with a laugh as she plucked her right glove off. He sat frozen as she reached out to brush small bits of orange away from the stubble on his chin. Her hand lingered, stroking the sharp lines of his jaw, fingertips rubbing with a raspy noise across his rough face.

Cado found her touch uncomfortable… no, terrifying.  His cheek tingled at her caress; her hand felt like electricity against his skin.

The bell sounded the end of the midday rest. Lilly smiled and replaced her glove as she turned. Cado watched her jogging–almost dance–back to the field. He took a much-needed breath and returned to his work. But every so often, he caught himself stealing a glance at Lilly. Worse than that, a couple of times he caught her watching him.

It wasn’t even two months later that Lilly was reassigned from Sector 5. Cado thought about her as he ate his midday citrus apple, guessing at what position she might have been given. He did not investigate; it was not within his purview to ask. Whatever it was, he knew it was for the best. No doubt, she was reassessed and positioned where her skills and intelligence could better serve the Union.

Eyes closed and engaged in the deep-breathing regimen, Cado smiled.

Lilly was right. The grass did feel soothing between his toes.

“Enthrall”

McKennon adjusted the straps of his backpack that kept getting caught on his flak vest shoulderguards. Can’t have this bouncing around when I get the signal… need to be able to drop it in a flash, too. Beads of sweat formed around the rim of his dark wool cap. Hopefully the camo on my face is still dark enough.

He waited for the signal with an eyepiece, huddled in an alley behind an old rusted-out car, watching an abandoned building two blocks up the street. “Let Jun make it,” he whispered hopefully, a prayer to no god in particular. It was hard to believe that God cared any more.

I think He’s been out of work for a while now.

The Volani sure hadn’t. McKennon tried not to think about it; they said that’s what drives people mad. Think about how things were and how they are now, you start losing faith that we could make a difference. People would just give up on the Resistance. Not turn themselves in, not turn others in, just turn themselves off. They’d take out their buds and give in to Peace.

The constant hum in his earbuds was usually easy to ignore, but it was in moments like these that the buzzing got to him. Sitting in silence, waiting. That’s when he could hear it, when he couldn’t help but hear it.

He used to go diving as a teenager growing up along the tropical coastline, and his mind often went back to that whenever he heard the buzzing. He imagined trying to go through the rest of his life with an oxygen mask on his face, living underwater. Could it be done? Sure, maybe. But it would be maddening.

High-power speakers on cell towers and subtle adjustments to radio transmitters ensured the Volani signal was always out there, like an ocean waiting to drown your ears. The earbuds were pumping a scrambling frequency of static to keep the Peace out.

The Volani must have started out small, McKennon guessed. Maybe they built an initial cadre of ground personnel and brought key figures into their fold. The strange policy changes here and there, the bumbling way most nations lurched toward a one world parliamentary government practically out of the blue… By then, the leading minds in the Resistance figured the Volani had flipped the switch, brought everyone within earshot of a cell or radio tower under their fold.

He thought of Jun again. She should be flashing the signal in – he checked his watch – two minutes.

Scar it, but I never thought I’d be relying on North Koreans. It was one of the few places in the world where the aliens hadn’t gained any ground. The freemind Koreans developed the scramblers and started the Resistance when radio waves beamed in from China and the ROC were brainwashing Kim Pak Il’s precious people. Only Korean dictators get to do that, you know.

North Korea… those crazies were alien enough before the Volani dreadnoughts showed up; the two groups had a lot in common.

Well… had, until the Volani bombarded the Peninsula into the ocean.

McKennon did one last function check on his gear. All the circuits flashed active. One minute. He looked over the device, impressed. The freemind Afghans knew their business. Then again, this was nothing new to them.

The aliens were using human infrastructure already in place to run their signals, including vulnerable computer networks. Jun was trained by Chinese hackers; she would have no trouble tapping into their servers. The trouble was that it would trigger an alarm. And that was why McKennon was there.

He took a few deep breaths, desperate to slow the racehorse pounding in his chest. This was it. His hand gripped the stock of his AK, and he crouched like a runner ready for a sprint. He pictured his daughter and son as they had been the last time he’d seen them, mindlessly carrying out their duties in the work camps. This was for them. He was ready.

The IR strobe flashed twice, invisible to all eyes but his eyepiece. She was in. He bolted out of the alley, turned up the road, and charged toward the hardened facility. One alarm went off, a clanging bell, and then a siren. They knew she was in the network.

He kept his swift stride as he raised the AK. The security guards were watching their monitors, discussing the situation. He triggered two short bursts, and the guards’ legs no longer supported their weight. They should live, McKennon thought with a grim smile. At least someone will.

The front door of the building was sealed as soon as the alarm went off. McKennon smashed the plastique charge in his pocket against the locking mechanism, and turned away as it blew.

He put the muzzle of the AK into the newly-made hole and let loose, keeping the security personnel in cover. Then he ripped open the door and burst in, laying down more fire, moving for the nearest support pillar. Plaster sprayed as the guards shot back, and McKennon slapped a new banana clip in.

Running and gunning, he made it to the stairwell unscathed. Jun should be accessing tech data by now. The real goal of the mission was to gather information on the signals so the Resistance could one day shut them down on a large scale. McKennon was the distraction and the cover for Jun’s operation. The Volani can’t find out that their network was compromised.

He made it to the second floor, taking out a guard in the stairwell. He dropped a flash-bang down the stairs to delay the guards, and ran on.

Buy her time.

That thought, and all others, left his mind as he took a punch across the face that stopped him cold. Another in the ribs – he coughed on blood—and something wrapped up his arms and legs. His AK clattered on the floor.

A Volani! The jet-black humanoid held him suspended in the air. Fool, he heard in his mind. What did you hope to accomplish here?

Its hand reached up to yank the earbuds away from his head, and he heard laughing as everything faded.

Jun slammed the laptop shut; the download was complete. As she turned to leave, there was a blue flash, and then orange flames burst from the windows of the second floor. Did he set it off? Or was it the fail-safe? There was no way to be sure.

Either way, McKennon was gone. His last comm, before her signal, was “When this is all over, Jun, find my kids. Make sure they know this was for them.”

She smiled despite the glistening moisture that clouded her vision, and she scampered down the stairs to the unguarded exit. The bomb had a trigger circuit connected between the two earbuds so that if McKennon was compromised, the mission would still succeed. The EMP wiped the network of any trace of her presence before the bomb blew, just as planned.

Those Afghans sure knew their business.