Short Story Giveaway Madness Bonanza!

  • I have just come back from holiday (well, physically I was back a week ago, but mentally I returned yesterday). I have a new router for the interwebs. It worked on every single device in the house except my main PC. I tried everything, it didn’t work. Which is why I thought of this story, which I wrote for The Quota – a short fiction-writing online-club-thing co-founded with Guy Haley and Matt Keefe (both of the pieces linked to first appeared on The Quota).

I think it encapsulates a certain hopelessness we all feel when confronted by broken technology – the same technology we now employ to elicit aid when things go wrong. Enjoy.

Incidentally, I eventually fixed the problem by wiggling the antenna things on the network adapter. Old skool is still cool. The icon on my screen tells me I have no connection. Don’t be fooled by everything you see, though part of me suspects this will be unpostable by the time I have finished typing.

Update – As I feared, it all went wrong again before I could post. So, another day later, here we go again…

Update- Two days later, this will hopefully work. Seems my WordPress problems have been Firefox-related, let’s see if Explorer works.


By Gav Thorpe

The incessant beeping of the alarm signal inside his head roused Luther Green from the semi-slumber he had been enjoying. A bright summer morning forced its way through the thin curtains across the window of his small bedroom. With a groan he sent the shutoff signal and pushed back the covers. Even as he swung his legs free of the bed linen the alarm signal sounded again and with a snarl he sent the shutoff once more.

Having dragged on a pair of jox from where he had discarded them on the threadbare carpet the night before, Luther rubbed his eyes and staggered towards the door while he accessed his synmail. Or at least, he tried to.


The message blinked into his true-consciousness and then faded into his memory short-slot. With a sigh, he ambled out of the door and into the bathroom to the left. He peered at himself in the mirror, noting the extra wrinkles around his eyes. Last night’s drinking session had not been heavy, but at forty-two he knew he couldn’t live it up like he used to.

Plucking the sonibrush from its charger he began to clean his teeth whilst resubmitting the access login for his synmail.


Luther spat venomously into the sink and rammed the brush back into its holder. He called up the datalog as he made his way downstairs and into the kitchen. Everything seemed as it should be. His brainload upfile had gone through without incident while he had slept. Perhaps it was a signal problem.

Turning on the autocaff, Luther slumped into the solitary wooden chair next to his small breakfast table and dialled up the BBC News channel.


Luther was frustrated now. He tried several other channel-feeds and came up with the same notification. The gurgle of the coffee machine distracted him for a moment and he stood up to take the steaming mug from its little alcove. As he did so, Luther glanced out of the narrow window at the brain-net antenna that soared up from the building opposite. The tall, dish-covered mast looked fine. The weather was bright and clear and there’d been no storm as far as he could remember. The signal should be strong. He tried his synmail again without success.

A worrying thought struck Luther. What if it was a hardware problem? His synaptic terminal was over a month old now; virtually ancient in the fast-moving world of the Nebulous Neural Net. Still, he expected his connection to be a few milliseconds slow, not completely defunct.

He decided he should get dressed, before he got hung up on diagnostics and endless wild digital goose chases. Coffee in hand he made his way upstairs. Luther was unsettled not just by the thought that he might have to fork out another few thousand pounds for a new receiver, but also by a sudden sense of isolation. Without his neurolink he was shut off from all information – friends, the company, the wider world. More than anything, it was bloody irritating.

As well as another try of the synmail, he attempted to access his neuroscape board, the NNN upload site and a number of other community access points to which he was subscribed. Different error messages scrolled through his mind’s eye, but they all boiled down to the same thing: no entry.

Distracted, he threw on yesterday’s t-shirt and jubs and walked downstairs with more purpose. He was halfway down the stairs when he realised he had left his coffee in the bedroom.

Turning to go back for it, he felt a sudden flash of connectivity. The receiver signal bar turned green for perhaps fifty milliseconds and then reverted to the dull red it had been since he had awoken. Luther stopped in his tracks and sent the connect algorithm again and again for almost a minute, hoping that whatever glitch was plaguing him would be circumnavigated by sheer persistence. It wasn’t.

Having retrieved his coffee Luther settled down in the tattered mock-leather armchair in his lounge. Thus ensconced in his favourite place he set about diagnosing exactly what the problem was. He ran through the hardware checks and everything seemed to be working fine. The loopback signal test came back as positive, indicating that the NNN carrier wave was indeed being transmitted from the antenna outside.

He tried his synmail again, just in case he could catch by surprise whatever malignant software bug it was that vexed him. Despite such resourceful trickery the synmail failed to load.

For the next thirteen minutes and twenty-six seconds Luther ran through more checks and verifications, including resetting his neurotrans three times and rebooting the synaptic analogue. Nothing seemed to work. Finally he went through each of his implants one by one, checking their version numbers against the software drivers he had installed.

Another twenty-three minutes and fourteen seconds of investigation revealed the anomaly. Last night’s update had erroneously imposed the 3.2.1 driver on his cortical link, which needed 3.2.3. He couldn’t fathom why the download would do such a thing; it was automated direct from Microsoft Neurohub.

Then he caught himself. Of course it was entirely possible that the automatic download was messed up. It was just like the time that it had missed out the version update on his SkyWeb subscription and he’d missed four hours of his favourite sitcom. Then there was the time his location filter had been de-synched and the pizzabot had taken his order to a flat three floors above. Or the time…

He realised that recounting past corporate cock-ups was not going to fix his present situation. All he had to do was rollback the version driver to the last one that had worked. Except, he remembered with a snarl, he had submitted for automatic backup on his downloads after getting bored authorising them every morning when he woke up. There was no rollback driver to install.

Finishing his coffee, Luther tried to work out what he could do. The problem was that he really didn’t have much of a clue about the various implants that were stuffed into his head. He wasn’t a technician, or for that matter much of an educated enthusiast. He’d bought each upgrade and new brain peripheral as they’d come out, just like everybody else. He wished he had paid more attention and at least completed the tutorials.

If anything but the receiver had gone wrong he could have manually reinstalled the data from off the neurohub, but without a connection that was impossible. It was the same thing with hooking up to a helpdesk: no signal, no contact.

The more he thought about it, the angrier Luther became. Of all the things he had hoped to do on his day off, mucking about with his synware was the last. He’d envisaged a morning spent channel-surfing and relaxing in his underpants. He’d also planned to dial up Marko and some of his less-employed friends to see if they fancied spending the afternoon in an Omega Wars 3 group-sesh. Now he was going to spend ages sorting out this mess.

Resisting the urge to hurl his coffee mug across the room, Luther tried to link with his synmail again. It didn’t work. Whatever the solution was, it wasn’t going to be sitting here and hoping the problem might fix itself.

He’d have to go out. That would mean getting showered and dressed properly. Luther didn’t care for that idea; it was his day off. Still, he resigned himself to the thought and hauled himself out of the armchair, ready for action.

He stopped. His anger was replaced by doubt, which quickly became a gnawing fear the more he thought about the situation.

Where would he go? Who did you go to see about a signal problem? His implants had all been autodelivered from who knew where and software was always downloaded straight from the grid. Was there even such a place he could visit?

Another realisation trickled coldly into his thoughts: how would he get there? He couldn’t dial-up a cab because he didn’t have a signal. Even if he went out and was lucky enough to catch one close at hand he had no way to make the credit transfer to pay for it.

He needed help from someone else. He couldn’t sort out this problem on his own.

Having thus deferred any real course of action for the moment, he put the mug in the cleanser and went upstairs to get himself ready for public view.

Seven minutes and sixteen seconds later Luther strode downstairs with more purpose, invigorated by the vibro-shower. He made himself another coffee and stood at the kitchen window sipping at it while he decided who he should call on. He was on pretty good terms with his next door neighbours on each side, but they would both be out at work by now. There was a young family just down the hall, maybe one of them would be in. The prospect of having to talk to a comparative stranger turned a tight knot in Luther’s stomach. He wasn’t good with people he didn’t know.

Still, there was nothing for it unless he was going to spend the rest of his life sat in his flat slowly withering away. Gritting his teeth at the potential humiliation awaiting him, Luther pulled on his coat and headed out of the flat.

The snick of the lock behind him was like a deafening crack as he realised the tenantscan wouldn’t let him back in again without getting his id-broadcast. Now that he was out of the flat, he wouldn’t be able to get back in until he got his problem fixed. He was stuck outside.

Luther kicked the door hard and pain lanced through his foot. Oddly enough, the sensation wasn’t entirely unpleasant. Since he’d woken up his mind had been empty of all input; devoid of noise except for the gurgle of the coffee machine and robbed of all sensation except for the caffeine and the shower.

The feeling of isolation returned as the throbbing in Luther’s foot subsided. He couldn’t call his friends. He couldn’t get in touch with work. He couldn’t dial up a map or directory to find somewhere to go. He couldn’t order food, pay any transactions, get any news. Nothing.

Panicked, Luther hurried along the whitewashed hallway and stood at the door a little way down. Again, without a signal he couldn’t activate the caller-id. How was he going to let the family inside know he was there?

He decided that if he banged his hand on the door it might attract attention. After twelve seconds of pounding, the door clicked open to reveal a young woman with curly blond hair, a small child cradled in her arms. Wires linked the babe to its mother from the back of its neck to her temple-socket. It was sweet in a way and Luther smiled at the sight, the thought mirrored by a cute emoticon surfacing in his brainware. He briefly remembered what it was like when he had been fitted with hard-pointss as a child. His dad had stopped him going wireless until he was eight even though most of his friends had dropped their cables when they were six. It had seemed so unfair at the time. Now Luther wished dearly that he still had that clumsy, physical node to connect with.

The woman looked at him with a suspicious frown, holding the baby away from the door with unconscious protective instinct.

Luther realised she’d probably been signalling him for the last few seconds and was now wondering why he didn’t reply. Even his short-band personal chat-sig had been messed up by the driver glitch. He pointed to his head and then made a chopping motion with his hand, trying to indicate to the woman what was wrong. Her frown deepened and she moved to close the door. Luther jammed his foot in the way with a pleading look and jabbed a finger towards his skull and shook his head. The woman’s eyes now widened in fear and she kicked him hard in the shin, forcing him to withdraw his foot. The door slammed shut.

Luther hoped that the young mum was scared enough to tab an alarm to the block’s security officers. They would come to investigate and then Luther would be able to explain the problem. If he got the chance, a small, scared part of his mind pointed out. They might just as likely turn up expecting some armed serial rapist, broadcasting surrender messages that he wouldn’t pick up. It would look like he was resisting and they’d shoot him dead. Possibly.

How likely was that to happen? It didn’t really matter, Luther decided. Even if the chances were slim, when you were dead you were dead. It would be little comfort to his cooling body that events had gone against the odds.

Deciding that a confrontation with the rent-a-cops was not a good idea, Luther jogged further down the corridor to the elevator. At least there was one benefit to living in this crappy block of flats – the lift still had an old-fashioned touchpad as well as a signal receiver. He stabbed the third access level into the keypad and waited for the car to arrive.

There was still no sign of any security guards when the doors wheezed open. With a quick glance each way along the corridor, he stepped inside. As before, the gentle hum of the elevator was comforting, reassuring. It was sensation that he could assimilate, something the whirling, hi-func parts of his souped-up brain could be kept busy processing. He listened to the little rattles and squeaks, the near-inaudible scratching of cables.

The lift took seven seconds to reach the third access level. Luther poked his head out to check the landing for guards and then stepped into the hallway. The wide landing was covered by a glass canopy and the sun bathed the concrete plaza. Sweat prickled on Luther’s brow as soon as he stepped out from the air-conditioned climate of the main building. It had been a while since he had actually felt the sun. Obviously, every time he went out, it was there, when the storms weren’t unleashing their fury upon Britain. It had always been something annoying; a means of creating unwanted sweat between door and cab, between cab and door. His mind had been elsewhere, on the vast playgrounds and media thoroughfares of the neuronet.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had actually savoured the heat, the invigorating feel and the enriching sensation of the sun’s energy. He stopped for a moment and cast his face upwards. The breeze was gentle in the humid air, wafting softly back from the whitewashed walls of the flats.

Unbidden, a joy emoticon rose through his subconscious and hovered in his thoughts. There was nowhere for it to go, no means of transmitting it, and the smiling face bobbed around for a while like a bubble trapped in a jar, and then faded from his thoughts.

Filled with a fresh purpose, Luther strode out onto the plaza and headed towards the cab rank. He didn’t know what he was going to do, how he was going to get somewhere or where that place might even be, but the burst of energy from the sun had refreshed his optimism.

Two cabs floated at the docking station. They were like aerial jellyfish with gondolas hung beneath, gently rising and falling in the thermals of central London. He stood next to one, resetting his trans-signal over and over in the hopes that he might get a tiny fragment of a connection; enough to order the door to open.

His attempts met with failure. His signal was well and truly defunct.

With a sigh, Luther turned back and looked for other souls. A young man, barely in his twenties, walked dreamily along the wall to the left, his mind clearly lost in some synchat or neurozone. He disappeared into the building’s innards before Luther could reach him.

A strange chirruping from above drew Luther’s eyes skyward. Small birds were darting to and fro across the glass canopy, snapping flies out of the air. It was odd to hear their song from outside his head; since his earliest memories sounds were something picked up inside his brain rather than via his ears. The peculiar choreography of their dance distracted him for a while, until he realised that three minutes and eighteen seconds had passed. As refreshing as it was to watch the birds, it didn’t help him solve his problem.

The whine of motors drew his attention back towards the street and Luther wandered over to the railing at the edge of the plaza. Looking up and down he saw cabs drifting past, while here and there slick autonomous transports hummed through the air, conveying their owners to whatever high-powered board meetings or tawdry secret pleasures such important people had. Two storeys higher something bright was moving fast, weaving in and out of the light traffic. It was an ambulance, racing to the aid of some poor stranger.

Seeing it gave Luther a radical thought. He dismissed it at first, but the more he tried to put it to one side, the more insistent it became. It would be a bit desperate, but it might be the solution he needed. If he got injured, where someone else could see him, an ambulance would arrive. He’d get taken to a clinicare centre, and perhaps they would discover his problem.

How would he hurt himself enough to require medical treatment? He didn’t want to do anything too dramatic or dangerous. On the other hand, a simple cut or bruise would be cleared up by his blood nanos and nobody would take it seriously enough to call the ambulance. He had to walk a fine line between inconvenience and potential major trauma.

Luther went back to the lift and took it down fifteen storeys to the second access level. It was still five floors to the ground below but it was the only way to get outside without being right at the bottom. He walked to the outermost edge and stepped up onto the railing, peering down at the street.

Traffic was getting lighter as the day wore on, but there was still a passing cab or car every few seconds.

With a deep breath, Luther threw himself over the railing.

The rush of wind built up in his ears and he felt his alarm rising. A snarling, red-faced icon buzzed angrily through his synconscious. He was falling backwards and he looked up to see mirrored windows whooshing past. He wondered if anyone was looking out, surprised to see a man hurtling past.

There was no time for another thought as he smashed into the pavement, feeling his one leg crack beneath him a moment before his spine snapped in his lower back. Pain flooded into him and he blacked out, his last thought a hope that someone would call a damn ambulance.

There was no pain when he awoke. The clinicare room was disappointingly devoid of beeping machines and throbbing pumps. The walls were a pale yellow, as were the sheets of the bed in which he laid. There was a frieze of cute chicks dancing wing-in-hand with teddy bears.

Hopeful, Luther tried to establish a signal link, but found himself still cut off from the neuronet. He digested this with hope; there was probably some account or protocol that had to be activated.

Moving cautiously, Luther twisted his back. There was no discomfort or any other sensation to indicate all was not well. Similarly, throwing back the sheets revealed his right leg was whole and uncompromised. A small intravenous clamp was still tightened on his left wrist. On instinct, the childish décor prompting the thought, he raised a hand to behind his right ear. Sure enough, he felt the small aperture of a neurosocket, like he used to have as a kid. They’d be able to plug him in, he’d update his drivers and then he’d be up and away.

Spying the monitorcam in the corner of the room, he raised a hand and waved. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he waited patiently, his excitement growing. Soon he would have everything back. He’d be able to get in touch with his friends and catch up on the news. He’d be able to check his financials and order food. He’d be able to hail a cab and go home.

For one minute and thirty-eight seconds Luther’s anticipation grew, until the door opened and a nurse in a crisp blue uniform entered. She was not exactly pretty, but Luther didn’t mind. An elderly man followed her in; the doctor Luther assumed from his long white coat and serious demeanour. The nurse was smiling vacantly, no doubt broadcasting all manner of pleasantries despite the deaf and dumb nature of her patient.

The doctor gave Luther an inquiring look, no doubt accessing scans and records on his neural interface, and then smiled too. He gave the nurse a nod and then left. Luther pouted for a moment; the doctor could have at least waited until he could transmit again.

Opening a cupboard beneath the bed, the nurse brought out an old-style adapter and hub cable, which she plugged into the wall. That explained why he was in the paediatric room; there’d be cable interfaces for him to use.

The nurse patted his hand and motioned for him to lean forward. She was probably a paediatric specialist too, hence her somewhat patronising demeanour. Luther didn’t care; she was an angel if she hooked him back up to the NNN.

Luther felt the spark of connection as the nurse plugged in the transmitter cable. A moment later routines and applications that had been dormant for most of his life stirred into action. With a thought, Luther brought up the date and time, seeing that he’d been out of circulation for just over two days while they’d operated on him and regrown damaged bones, muscles and nerves.

Two days wasn’t that bad.

Everything came in a rush as Luther’s mind went online once more: seven hundred and forty-six synmails; eighty-two neurochat invites; sixty-eight error checks; four hundred and ninety-four virus alerts; one hundred and eight archive retrievals; fourteen overdue work databases; eight appointment reminders; sixteen hundred and twelve credit requests; four thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven server error messages; twelve passive recall loops; seventy-eight minutes of sitcoms; fifty-six minutes of cop dramas; twenty-two minutes of commercials; three hundred and seventy two syn-ads; fifteen hours of news updates; three hundred and seventy-two sports bulletins; four hours and seventeen seconds of weather forecast; ninety-eight lottery requests; seventeen insurance quotes; sixty-eight unsolicited pornography links; nineteen transaction receipts; forty-three syn-cards; seventy-four newchat subscriptions; seven hundred and nine chat status updates; three memory warnings; eighty-three software updates; sixty-seven new update invitations.

On and on it all came, gigabyte after gigabyte of data compressed for easy access.

Luther’s scream was raw and long; the first sound he’d uttered in forty years.

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 9:44 am  Leave a Comment  

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