Technical Difficulties

by Alex Roston


Story Copyright (C) 2010, Alex Roston .
Images Copyright (C) 2010, Rudy Rucker.
2,300 Words.


It’s a weakness. I’ll freely admit it. I love to watch myself work. When I do a job, which doesn’t happen that often despite what you read in the news, I’ll hack into some kid’s portable and program it to search the net for media related to the job. The hacked machine records everything, then sends out my new collection through a set of anonymous routers, which are carefully chosen to be non-sentient. I follow my own exploits regardless of whether they’re covered by big media broadcasts, bloggers, vloggers, or even a cthogger or two – they might not be human anymore, but they frequently offer an interesting perspective on “what the food is doing.”

Take, for example, my latest bit of work...


“Hello, and welcome once again to the ‘Black Ops’ segment of our news broadcast. I’m Mindy Capricorn, and tonight we have something very special for you. We’ve previously interviewed counterintelligence AIs, ex-terrorists, intel-bloggers, surveillance mites, and even the head of Home World Security, but you’ve never seen anything like what we’re going to show you tonight. We have with us Lakshmi Osama bin Westboro, one of many faceless operatives in the black ops world. She has a very special skill set, which she employs in service of the worst political terror. Lakshmi, please tell our studio audience what you do?”

“Well Mindy,” I look a little nervous, probably because I’ve never deliberately gone on media before. Sure, you’ll see me on surveillance video, but I don’t usually court publicity. “I’m a highly paid, very successful and experienced suicide bomber.”

I don’t usually wear a female body. In fact, I find the whole experience of being female very uncomfortable, but my next target was a Gay woman who sat near the top of a big company’s food chain. Everything the tabloids reported implied a major fetish for tall, slender girls from the Indian subcontinent. Also, my usual incarnation doesn’t look a thing like the body I was wearing and I don’t want to be tracked down. Meanwhile, my current male incarnation can’t help but notice that my female self is really, really hot. One more weird sensation, courtesy of high-power nanotech.

“And who do you bomb for?” Mindy wore her “concerned professional” expression. “What is their ideology?”

“I bomb for anyone who pays me.” This is the payoff line. Every “People’s Front for the Liberation of Stupidistan” has suicide bombers; that’s a longstanding tradition, but in a world where anyone can make a personality backup and have it poured into a new body, killing yourself is not a real sign of commitment. These days, suicide bombing is more a practical thing. The world’s population long ago became reconciled to pat-down searches and X-Rays when entering a restaurant or shopping center, but businesses that want to keep their customers don’t do cavity searches or blood tests. Suicide is simply the best way to get the job done. But doing it for pay? Without an ideological commitment? That’s a new one, at least for Mindy’s viewers.

“So you’re really nothing more than a paid assassin.” It was a statement, not a question, one meant to make Mindy look like a tough-minded journalist rather than a platinum blond who’s every question and opinion is carefully scripted by the executives at her conglomerate. I should further point out that Mindy is also wearing an earbug, which is doubtless tied into her producer’s mike, the network executives, and maybe even someone from marketing. Call it “journalism by committee” with all that implies.

“Tough On Terror,” as always, is a cheap way to keep the news interesting and score political points, even though the very worst terror attack to date has killed less people than die in a month due to personality backup failure.

“I think of myself as a media specialist like yourself,” I reply. Mindy raises one eyebrow, but doesn’t otherwise seem upset by the comparison. “There are people who have a statement to make, one which they feel is not getting adequate coverage from either old media or the big blogs, and I help them get noticed.”

“By killing people?” Mindy challenged me. “Sometimes people who can’t afford a personality backup, or haven’t made one for months, or even years?”

“That’s right,” I say. “Can I help it if major world governments don’t believe that Personality Backup is a major human rights issue? Or if most governments don’t require the backup companies to have a secure facility or use even an MD7 checksum on the personalities they store?”

“So you do have an ideology!” Mindy looked triumphant. “It sounds like you’re an upper-wing liberal!”

“I’m not political,” I shrug, “but I do consider the mechanics of my occupation. Frankly, I’m glad governments don’t do a better job of regulating personality backup – it makes what I do more effective and much more valuable to those that hire me.”

Just to claw away the haze, and because you can’t necessarily believe anything anyone in any black field tells you, I make frequent contributions to politicians who dislike medical regulation. If personality backup facilities were forced by law to make their premises more secure, or keep offsite backups, or use MD7 sums, or any of a dozen other ‘recommended best practices’ the jobs I do would represent nothing more than inconvenience (plus some property damage.) Nobody notices a bombing unless it causes real pain.

Mindy looked directly at the camera behind my shoulder and raised one perfect eyebrow. Call it her “signature gesture,” a safe but sexy way of drawing the viewer in and saying, “Can you believe this yokel?”



Naturally, I notice the gesture. “Take for example the Mumbai Forced Fertilization bombings,” I say, just a bit more forcefully than I might have otherwise. “I’m not claiming responsibility, by the way, they were amateurs who got lucky, but the average memory gap for the victims was more than 7 months, with more than 100 real deaths. It got noticed.” Suddenly I’m much more intense than usual, and I realize that my female self has bought into Mindy’s world, let the journalist maneuver her into defending herself. “It forced changes.” Onscreen me takes a deep breath and forces herself to relax.

Just to clear the air some more, I was heavily involved with the Mumbai Forced Fertilization bombings. I created, very illegally, five different instances of myself. Four walked into local Forced Fertilization clinics, and one of them walked into the Mumbai Planning Department, a poorly-secured building next door to the very well-secured Mumbai City Hall.

Mindy’s expression remained skeptical. “Did you, by chance, approve of the changes your bombing forced?”

“It wasn’t really my issue,” I said, and it wasn’t. I tend to absorb a little ideological contamination from each job I do. The kind of people who hire me tend to repeat themselves a lot, and professionally speaking it helps if I can discuss the customer’s ideas as necessary. “Sure, there’s an ick-factor to forced fertilization, particularly when it’s imposed by the state, but on the grand scale of things it’s not too bad. I’ll tell you what pisses me off...” I trail off, deliberately giving Mindy a chance to get a word in edgewise if she wants, but apparently neither she nor her producer has a canned response for, ‘on the grand scale of things, forced fertilization isn’t too bad,’ and they definitely don’t want to give the suicide bomber a platform by asking what pisses me off.

“So you didn’t do the Mumbai bombings,” she says, still sounding doubtful, “but you agree with their ideology.”

I shrug again, but don’t say anything.

“Tell me Lakshmi,” Mindy asked, “If you don’t have any ideological leanings, why don’t you work for say... a criminal syndicate, or some company’s black ops division?”

“I’m a total attention whore,” I confess, “and corporate black-ops don’t make the front page.” I’m using my sultry, sexy voice, trying for a little distraction, trying not to overdo it – once again, I’m not comfortable as a female, but I’m trying to imply something like, ‘this messed up gal has orgasms when she sees her own dead body on the news.’ There’s a little of that I suppose, not orgasms over dead bodies, of course, but there is a certain frisson that comes with all the attention. If I were being perfectly honest with Mindy, I would have explained that anyone can walk into a building and explode, just like every amateur suicide bomber who never even made page three, but I don’t want to seem too cynical. Nonetheless, I’ve clearly pinged Mindy’s bullshit detector, because she gives me yet another skeptical look.

Exploding is the easy part. I could talk about that, but I don’t. The hard part is the research, figuring out why it’s better to blow up this Forced Fertilization Clinic instead of that one. Which church of the sect my client hates is closest to where news drones cover traffic? Which Dubai hotel houses more celebrities? Which reporter needs a good story right now? What does the public know about my client’s special issue? Then there’s more mundane stuff, like, ‘where do I send a press release?’ or ‘when does sweeps week start?’ or even ‘how will this building’s architecture channel the blast?’ You can’t type that question into a search engine – not if you’re smart – but you can learn the theory, and apply it properly.



Mindy, who wants to be an anchor when J. Abdul Madison retires next year, moves on to her next question. “Which bombings did you take part in?”

“Oh let’s see...” I’d invented and memorized a list, some of which I was actually responsible for, some of which got thrown in to point the authorities in odd directions. And one more thing, which we’ll get to in a minute. “I did the Trinidad Shuttle bombing, the Dartmouth Ecstasy Club, the World Organization for Women, the Southwest Bible Church, the London AI Registry, the Daiei Studios Gamera Museum – that was fun, I’ve always preferred Godzilla. Can anyone really take a flying turtle seriously?

“I did the Lunar Beekeeping Lab, the Fifth and Sixth Karbala bombings, the Atlanta Submarine Acropolis...” I trailed off and pretended to think about it some more, “...the Everest Shoe Company, the L5 Contamination Episode, and the Universal Cthoggers Convention, though that doesn’t count.” At Mindy’s perplexed expression I add, with a smile, that the Universal Cthoggers Convention bombing was paid for out of their entertainment budget.

We shared a laugh – who knows what those Elder God wannabes are thinking, anyway—then Mindy got serious again. “So you did all those bombings, yet the only one you cared enough to comment on was the Gamera Museum? And only because you like G—I mean because you like the competition better?” Then she looks me in the eye, her expression very severe “Lakshmi, isn’t Gamera a friend to children everywhere?”

I love watching someone rise to the bait. Let’s watch it again.

“Lakshmi, isn’t Gamera a friend to children everywhere?” That one had to come from marketing. A little risky, but most people will see it as a joke, not a plug, because nobody ever pays any attention to who owns which company.

On screen, I laugh. “Right, your company bought Daiei Pictures a couple years back, didn’t they. I guess you’ve got to plug the product when you get a chance.”

Mindy’s nostrils flared. It’s really bad form to comment when someone pimps the company’s product, particularly when she’s a rising star doing a Very Serious Interview About Terror, but she shrugs off the impoliteness, though her smile has become as frosty as her hair. “And what group of fanatics are you working for currently?” she asks.

“As a matter of fact,” I lean forward here, eager to push my own product, “I’m currently working for a group of radical journalism activists who don’t think the big media does a good job of covering the news. There are real problems in the world right now, ranging from the rights of sentient bacteria to parents who mindsculpt their children, to corruption in the major governments, and your organization is still flogging the old ‘War On Terror’ schtick, with the occasional diversion to sell Gamera toys!”

Suddenly Mindy gets it. She understands exactly why I’ve consented to an interview, and the expression on her face is priceless. Then the camera is pointing at the ceiling, and you can hear running feet and a tech saying, “Oh shit,” over and over again. Meanwhile, I keep talking, waiting for the nano-machines in my legs to finish turning meat and bone into a combination of oxygen, C-9 and catalyst. It doesn’t take long. “The citizens of this Solar System deserve to hear real journalistic—”

There’s a burst of weird, digitized static on the screen, followed by the network logo and a prerecorded message: “We are experiencing technical difficulties, please stand by.”


You know what’s really great? I got a bonus for picking up on the ‘Gamera toys’ thing. It wasn’t much – radical journalism activists don’t have much money – but they did pass the hat and I did appreciated the gesture. Better yet, Mindy hadn’t backed herself up in months, which was one reason I recommended her as the target. She won’t remember her whirlwind romance, or her wedding to that Bollywood Actress, or even their very first kiss. It’s got a great human interest angle, and I promise you they’ll be covering it for months.

Why yes, I’d love to help your organization.



About the Author


There’s not much to say about Alex Roston. He had an utterly prosaic childhood in several of the stultifying suburbs that pervade Southern Caliornia. He was on the track team in high school, where he won a medal, and he played Dungeons and Dragons, albeit badly, through most of his adolescence. He spent his college money traveling in Asia and Central America during his early twenties, but did not find a single pre-human city or non-Euclidian idol, which depressed him deeply. He is currently married and has spawned twice. He works for a network services company and reads lots of history.

The rumor that he was abandoned in the surf off Innsmouth and raised by kindly shoggoths is false, but he does own a very ancient and terrible book, which taught him the truth about wombats.



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