Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

Light Reading brings you something different from our usual fare -- a science fiction thriller for the communications service provider community. You might say it's light reading from Light Reading.

John Barnes, Author

July 24, 2015

6 Min Read
Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

And now for some light reading on Light Reading: Something a liltle different for our readers -- a science fiction story, written especially for communications service providers by veteran science fiction writer and technology journalist John Barnes.

Join us in the day after tomorrow, as a mild-mannered network security consultant is ripped from her quiet life when she investigates unusual activity affecting the biggest cloud applications provider in the world.

"Silence Like Diamonds" is brought to you in ten parts on Fridays and Tuesdays for the next few weeks. Sit back, pour yourself a cup of chamomile-peppermint tea, pet the cats and enjoy Episode 1. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. -- The Editors

The override siren made me spill a lovely, just-drinking-temperature cup of chamomile-peppermint. Amaryllis, Daisy and Mrs. Greypaws all bolted from the balcony and under the bed, wailing.

My sister Yazzy paid me extra to have that super-powered, never-off phone bell always hanging over my silence. It was worth it except when it went off. I rubbed the tea splashes on my old yoga pants, kicked my slippers off at the French doors and padded inside barefoot. "House, main parlor."

The siren doused into muffled plaintive mewing. Paintings, bulletin boards and windows vanished from the interior wall. I dragged my chair over to face it, about a meter away.

The wall became apparently transparent, seeming to join my morning parlor to my sister's late afternoon office. She had that smirk, having caught me before I dressed for the day. "Hi, Yip. How's Arcata?"

"Same as always. How's Prague?"

"Different from Arcata. I talked to the folks on Thursday. They're still okay?"

"You know, the usual. Mama robbed a bank; Táta drove the getaway car."

She stuck her tongue out at me, just like when we were kids. "All right, and how're things on the Markus front?"

"I'm sorry I ever told you about that. I don't know if I should even try to get his interest. What if he finds out there's hereditary yenta-ism in my family?"

Yazzy sighed. "I guess you just want to get right to business, huh?"

"Well, I do have my itsy-bitsy pottering pleasures to bury myself in."

"I'm sorry I ever said that. Does that make us even?"

"What's the gig, sis? Who's the client and what's the matter?"

"It's NameItCorp. I guess you know who they are."

I held a thumb high. "Hey, good going." I was so impressed I didn't care if she saw. NameItCorp was as ubiquitous nowadays as Google had once been. Type or speak "NItCO" or "NameItCorp" while connected to the Net, add the name of any problem and AI and human operators would rush you a price and a time estimate, or Sorry, not possible with present tech, or Sorry, illegal. "What do they need us for?"

Yazzy shrugged. "They need you. And they're smart enough to know it. There are maybe 200 scheme architecture analysts worldwide, and last time Dusan ran 1,000 iterations of an open-ended self-defining search, 1,000 out of 1,000 times, you turned up in the top three."

"He's biased. He's your husband—"

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"He's the Zalodny in Zalodny Integrated Security, Yip. When he's analyzing on the marketing and business side, his feelings get into it about as much as yours do when you're tracing the money or mine do reading code. You're our single most salable asset, which is why we do pretty much any ridiculous thing you ask so that we can be the only 4D security firm that has 'Yi Ingrid Palacek, Yip to her friends, a legend in scheme architecture analysis...' "

"Ugh. I hate that stupid bio." It was good that we were talking through the screen-wall; it kept me from throwing vases at her.

Next Page: Deadly Interruption

"I love that stupid bio. It's some of Dusan's best work. When prospects read it, they want you so bad that they'll take us to get you." She was grinning. "Don't even try to pretend you're not flattered."

"All right, I won't try to pretend that. For the 10 millionth time, Yazzy, I don't get off on being told how good I am at scheme architecture analysis. I just need them to know that I'm the best so they won't be joggling my elbow all the time. You won't get the value out of a grandmaster who has to take half an hour after each move to explain everything to a high school chess club. Selling me as the best is just the best way to sell the clients on staying out of my way."

Mrs. Greypaws leapt into my lap.

Yazzy smiled. "Lot of tuna in this case, anyway. All right, Yip, I thought you'd like to hear how much we need you. Wrong as always, I guess. But whether you want to hear it or not, we can't do it without you."

"Suit yourself." I'd spent enough time in my life already trying to tell Yazzy that I didn't feel what she expected me to feel. "Now, who's the opposition this time? And what are they doing to NItCo?"

"The not yet identified opposition is like an imitation of the best security company ever, suddenly volunteering to work for NItCo. They're blocking almost every attempt to penetrate NItCo's security in all the physical channels: drone hacks, cubesat hacks, smart environment hacks, public crypto, even old-fashioned human voice and video penetration. As soon as anyone taps into NItCo's communications, the opposition covers it up, blurs out the analyzable part—"

Joy Sobretu, the familiar NItCo company avatar, appeared, seemingly standing with a foot on each side of the boundary between Arcata and Prague. "You mentioned NItCo and a problem. Do you need help blurring the analyzable—"

A thunderclap shook my roof. Pressure pulsed through the French doors. Glare flooded through every window.

"What the hell was that?" Yazzy asked.

"Identification available: $1," the NItCO avatar said.

"Sure," I said.

Where Sobretu had stood, a 3D animation showed a high-altitude public communications drone over Arcata folding its wings and plunging toward my house, colliding with a local booster drone two meters above my roof ridge. Sobretu's voice explained, "General Electric Griffon III stratospheric hybrid drone intercepted by ATRizon Roverino pocket drone. Noise and light primarily hydrogen explosion."

The graphic vanished into Sobretu. "Offer: send firefighters? Several roof shakes are currently smoldering. Offer: summon your preferred physical protection? Combined fee: $110—"

"Do it." I scooped up Mrs. Greypaws, whistled for Daisy and Amaryllis, and moved. "Yazzy, we'll be back in touch once my roof isn't on fire."

Next: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 2: Warning Shot!

John Barnes Follow me on Twitter is the author of 31 commercially published and two self-published novels, along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts and encyclopedia articles, so he likes to describe himself as an extensively published obscure writer.

About the Author(s)

John Barnes


John Barnes has 31 commercially published and 2 self-published novels, some of them to his credit,  along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts, and encyclopedia articles, totaling more than five million paid-for words, so he likes to describe himself as an extensively published obscure writer. Most of his life he has written professionally, and for much of it he has been some kind of teacher, and in between he has held a large number of odd jobs involving math, show business, politics, and marketing, which have more in common than you'd think.

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