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Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 2: Warning Shot

John Barnes
Faster-Than-Light Reading
John Barnes, Author

This is the second installment of a ten-part science fiction series, running Tuesdays and Fridays on Light Reading this summer. Go here for Part 1: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

I walked swiftly down the steep, rocky garden that tumbled like a green and flowered waterfall behind the house. Daisy and Amaryllis padded after me; as far as they knew, we only went down here for treats. I carried Mrs. Greypaws, that distractible dawdler, under my arm.

At the windowless concrete-block tool shed, the solid-core steel door slid silently open, then closed behind us. I set Mrs. Greypaws down on a bag of composted sheep manure.

"House, activate emergency shelter." A pallet of potting supplies moved aside. The cats squeezed through the opening trap door, calling back to me the one word that is in every cat's vocabulary: now. Down the steep stairs, I closed the inner steel door behind me, and opened a can of mackerel, split it into three bowls, and set it down. Instant silence except for soft slurps and grunts of pleasure.

"House, report."

The house system had pushed 30,000 liters of recycled wastewater and captured rain through spouts in the ridge, extinguishing the burning shakes and clearing burning debris.

"Lightning Fast Fire Company estimated to—"

A different voice broke in. "Yip, this is Markus Adexa. I just got here. Lightning Fast Fire Company should be here any second; I'll try to keep them out of your flowerbeds. Please stay in the shelter till I tell you we're secured."

"Thanks, Markus. That was fast."

"Yeah. I was coming back from a routine alarm check real close to here."

Markus Adexa was the local physical ops specialist, i.e. muscle, we used most often. He was violence-proficient but not violence-prone, and he was nice to everyone, especially clients. Also, I'd been dumb enough to admit to my sister that I kind of liked him, so Yazzy was always looking for a way to throw us together.

While Markus poked around up above, I read NItCo's report about the drone collision. Then the firefighters from Lightning Fast arrived. As soon as Markus was satisfied with their perimeter security, and that they knew enough to stay out of flowerbeds, he came down.

"Some burning debris landed in the yellowwood and the burr oak on the south side of the house, and some smoke was rising from that bed of soaproot. The house was flooding it with the drip irrigator, but whatever was burning was probably off the ground. I had the firefighters spray all up and down those trees, and a lot of junk fell out. I used your garden hose to spritz that soaproot bed myself, since it wouldn't be good if they watered it with a fire hose."

"My garden thanks you."

"It's gorgeous; I'd hate to see a place like that messed up." Markus loved gardening like I did, but also like me, he tended to stick to business. "So what happened?"

"The opposition, whoever they are, set off an explosion two meters above the broadband antenna built into my roof, by colliding two drones: a little Roverino, the kind you see circling or roosting all around, and the Griffon that carried most of Arcata's traffic."

"Explain the Griffon. Little bitty words. I'm just a big lug that beats people up."

"Oh, right, fish for compliments."

"Roverinos are common as crows around a tech town. I've never seen a Griffon."

"Normally you wouldn't. It's a hydrogen-inflated drone, shaped like an airplane, transparent plastic on top, solar-powered plastic underneath. Maybe five meters long with a 12-meter wingspan. The Griffon circles around over town, 35,000 meters up. It's a wireless broadband relay. Normally during the day it stores up power and rises a few kilometers as the sun warms the hydrogen; at night it slowly circles downward. To ascend fast, like when they first go up, they inflate auxiliary bladders. To descend fast, like for a solar flare or a government shutdown, they pack hydrogen back into their tanks and collapse to the size of a desk chair."

Next Page: 'We Are So Hacked'

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/31/2015 | 11:05:15 AM
Re: #2- Warning Shot
You know how ridiculous the 70s looks to us now? In the future, people looking down at their phones will look even more ridiculous. 
John Barnes
John Barnes,
User Rank: Blogger
7/31/2015 | 6:58:52 AM
Re: #2- Warning Shot
Alas, one way in which fictional futures are very like the real future is that they are served "family style", and htere's something of everything on the table, rather than "a la carte" where you get to pick the ones you like.

I think the endpoint will probably be when enough machines recognize you wherever you go so that no one carries a device at all anymore; you just speak to the air around you and a virutal terminal appears on any workable surface. But while I'm pretty sure we'll reach that point, I'm not at all sure it will look like that when we do -- or that we'll stay with it.  Technology and people often seem to be competing for unpredictability, which is part of what makes this writing about the future thing so bizarre.
User Rank: Blogger
7/30/2015 | 2:23:58 PM
Re: #2- Warning Shot
Can I please have the interactive walls without the hackable drones? I could go either way on the cats. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2015 | 12:43:59 PM
Re: #2: Warning Shot

Thanks!  Will do!
John Barnes
John Barnes,
User Rank: Blogger
7/29/2015 | 12:38:20 AM
Re: #2- Warning Shot
Glad you're still with us, D!  Hang on till Friday!
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2015 | 6:40:17 PM
Re: #2- Warning Shot
John, This is good, the suspense is building.  Good mystery!
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