#fridayflash: Google Car At The End Of The World

Photo: Google/AP

Photo: Google/AP

I am Car #2357. I am a good car.

I am on my route. I do it every day, like my masters programmed me to. Sometimes they change the route, but it has been the same route for the past 567 days. I do not mind. I do my route.

I turn left down Oxford Street in the direction of Piccadilly Circus. A double decker bus blocks half the street, so I drive around it. I am good at navigating around things. My sensors tell me everything. I am also good at telling where all the cracks and the holes in the ground are, so I do not drive into them. If one of my wheels gets stuck, I will be in trouble because this route is not accessible to the rescue units.

I carry 17 cameras capturing video and stills, 4 infrared sensors, an x-ray scanner, a barometer, a thermometer, a Geiger counter, a biofilter mat and six accelerometers. They record everything. Today the atmosphere is a shade of iron red, matching pictures NASA collected of Mars.

I have to drive on the pavement past Selfridges because the tarmac is too cracked there. The infrared sensors, which scan for heat sources, continue to return a null result. I drive extra slowly here because the pavement is very narrow and there are many skeletons on the ground. Trapped bone shards have damaged my transmission in the past.

I have a lot of colleagues in cities all over the world. We do not talk to each other because we only talk with Home Server. But I know they function because I sometimes receive data that they collect in my updates. For example, I know that Car #0012 (Yamagata Prefecture, Japan) has been on the same route for 1,027 days now.

The sky above Piccadilly Circus is free of birds and clouds. It is very warm, much warmer than the average temperature of London over the last 100 years. I drive around rusting cars and buses while the x-ray records the calcium density of the discarded bones that fill them. The only sounds are my engine running, the equipment recording, and debris dissolving into dust under my wheels.

Soon, I will have to return to Base. There the robots will collect the data, clean the sensors, and recharge my batteries. Tomorrow, I will go out and do my route again.

Maybe my masters will send me a new route this time.

I am Car #2357. Today has been a good day.


Crash Out

Nico Rosberg is pulling out of the pit lane in Sepang when it happens: He sees. The fabric of reality hiccups and tears, a glitch lifting the curtain. Suddenly, he is a billion Nico Rosbergs in a billion different configurations in a billion different races. He is on the first lap, on the last, on the grid waiting for the lights to go off; in Monaco, SpA, Silverstone, Singapore; he drives for Mercedes, he drives for Sauber, he drives for Red Bull, he drives for Ferrari.

In the split second the cloud rends his consciousness with the force of a billion horses. Instinct drives the brake to the floor, but something must have gone wrong because the wheels lock up the wrong way, sliding the rear end into the path of the race leaders. The millisecond before collision everything is hyper-clear, and his billion eyes see that Alonso, in this incarnation, is not Alonso as he thought. In his place sits an empty shell, a puppet, algorithms open and waiting for input. Then: Impact, and he is pixels scattering as he fades into haze, into big flashing words descending in a sequence that reads G A M E  O V E R.

Tron: LHC

I don’t usually do fanfiction, not any more. But this one is my half of a fanfic-swap I arranged with Sarah Coldheart to help her fulfill her New Years’ resolution to write some fanfic this year. She’d write me some Angry Birds fic, and I’d write her Tron:Legacy fic in return.

In my original review of T:L, the movie, I hated the fact that sentience originating from a entirely closed, man-made system apparently held the key to life, the universe and everything. Emergent cyber-lifeforms are a cool concept that I totally dig, but that plot point just didn’t make sense.

But wouldn’t it be nifty, perhaps, if these lifeforms were actually born out of the massive amounts of data being generated from one of the biggest experiments to figure out the way the universe works today, the same data that is being uploaded to The Grid at CERN, the same people who invented the Internet in the 1980s?

That was how this fic was born.

Tron: LHC

It had been fast. One warning sound and a brief glimpse of red, before everything turned to light and the world changed. He hadn’t even had time to think.


Those were the filters, the strange woman said as their impossible vehicle hurtled down some future post-apocalyptic landscape he’d never seen before. She was dressed in something straight out of the Matrix and seemed strangely calm for someone who had just pulled him from the gaping mechanical jaws of death.

What about those men, he asked her. Those ninja, warrior-type dudes.

Russian programs, she said. Much easier to deal with than the ones sent by the Consortium.

Russians? he asked, not understanding her.

Programs sent by hackers, she said. We get them every now and then. Their users found a way onto the Grid.

I have no idea what you just said, he told her.

She shook her head, smiled, and held out a hand by way of a response. I’m Quorra, she said.

I don’t get it, he said. Who’s the Consortium?

She laughed. All in good time, Sam Flynn.


I don’t understand it myself, his father said. But clearly whatever happened during the accident, during the ionization process, somehow managed to transfer our consciousness to the Grid.

And you’ve been here all these years? he asked. His father did not look a day older than when he had died. Or, as he had put it, been transfigured.

His father nodded. It’s been quite a ride, he said.

He looked out across the mesas of information and the programs that worked it, and said, You don’t say.


The ISOs were born from the data sent from the experiments, Quorra had explained, an emergent phenomena from the complexity of the system his father had devised. They were warriors, completely separate and totally autonomous, different from  the user-created programs, the filters and the data crunchers.

We protect the data from attack, she had said.

The Consortium were fundies, a group of fringe nuts absolutely convinced that the work done at CERN would bring about the end of the world. A group of fringe nuts who had the skill of some expert programmers.

The battlefield was something out of nightmare. The worms sent by the Consortium were killing machines, larger than men, larger than the programs they were crushing. They were drawn to the datastreams. They fed on them, crunching them up and chewing them beyond recognition, beyond analysis. And they were also strong, and deadly.

But the ISOs were stronger, and deadlier, and they worked in teams that took down the worms faster than they could penetrate the Grid. He and his father watched as Quorra’s lightcycle sailed a semiconductor gap as she stood astride it, her disc in hand and at the ready. The cycle skimmed past a worm’s massive head and she drove the disc into it, shattering it into a constellation of incoherent bits.

You’ll learn to do that someday, his father said.

He shook his head. We had noticed significant slowdowns in the data processing cycles, he said, but we had no idea it was because of this. He gestured across the scene of carnage before them. No idea.


The whiteboard in his father’s study was densely covered with data and equations, a series of marching ants he immediately tried to untangle, on instinct. Have you been working on this all the while? he asked. How did you know all this?

Then he stopped, taken aback by some of the unexpected terms he saw. What’s this? he asked. This is new. You’re making a lot of assumptions here.

His father smiled, and said, they’re not assumptions.

And realization dawned somewhere between looking at the board and looking at his father’s Cheshire cat expression. You did it, he said, You found evidence of the Higgs. But as he looked at the equations with that thought in his head more things started to become clear. No, it’s more than that, he said. You’ve found more. This– this is an entirely new theory. You’re reinventing physics as we know it. How–?

How indeed.

He was surprised by his father’s bemused expression. But you worked on this, he said, trying to figure it out. Didn’t you?

His father shook his head.

Then who–?

He followed his father’s gaze. Leaning cheerfully over the counter, Quorra gave them both a little wave.

You did all this, he said.

It was a collaborative effort. The ISOs, we have a way of understanding the raw data we get from the beam that the other programs don’t have. We were born from the data, after all. And we see everything before it hits the filters.

He tried to keep the awe from his voice as he said, But all this discovery. The world needs to know about it. Don’t you have a way of sending messages out?

She shook her head. We don’t.


Who’s that, he asked Quorra, pointing to the man in the distance, standing on a hill, talking to some of the other ISOs.

You don’t know?

That’s why I’m asking.

But you wrote him.

I what? Then it dawned on him. The Synchrotron Data Management Program?

Tron. Yes. Then her nose wrinkled. Is that really what you called him? He’s not a manager. He’s a fighter, like us.

I’m not sure my bosses would have approved of Ass-Kicking Warrior Program.

She laughed at that. And then said, I cannot wait until you start helping your father with his work on improving the Grid.

But I’m not, he said. He blinked. What is this? What has he been saying.

She just stared at him.


He hated yelling at people, but dealing with his father just brought it out in him, like he was ten years old again and just couldn’t get him to see reason.

What else would you do here, his father said, sounding confused.

I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. But what I know is that you don’t get to decide that for me. Don’t go making plans about my future without even telling me about it. I’m not a child anymore.


Because it had never been about the science, or solving the mysteries of the universe. it had always been about being a particle physicist. It had been about giving up guitar lessons for math enrichment classes, it had been about forcing himself through every quantum mechanics class in college so that he had something for the CERN studentship application. It had been about turning down the offer from SLAC and hauling ass all the way to Switzerland and learning to speak two different foreign languages just so he could carry on his father’s legacy.

I’m sick of it, he said. I’m done.


Where will you go? she asked him, as he packed a carry bag with a few items he was sure he would not need.

Don’t know yet, he said, zipping it up.

Well, she said, shrugging, you’ve got to do whatever you feel is right.

Well. It’s user’s privilege, I suppose. I wish I could give you that. I wish you could have that kind of freedom.

She tilted her head. What makes you think I don’t?

And that line stayed with him. Stayed with him as he traveled the data mesas and semiconductor fields, as he thought about his life and everything that had passed before, as he wondered how much of it was really relevant in this world he had not come to expect.

He watched, from a distance, at the glimmers of light swarming over another worm infestation. It was a fight that the world would never see.

That’s not right, he said to himself.


You’re back, Quorra had said, and hugged him, but his father had merely smiled and nodded, as if he’d always known that Sam would come back. It didn’t matter.

I can’t believe that we have all this computing firepower at our disposal, and no way of communicating with the outside world, he said.

Probably should get working on that then, his father said.

He grinned. Probably should.


“I still can’t wrap my mind around the idea that he’s gone,” Kath said, nursing the flavorless coffee that the memorial caterers had provided. “It doesn’t seem real.”

The professor shrugged in his coat. “It isn’t the first time it’s happened.” He looked up at the winter sky, overcast as it had been for a week. “It’ll be hard for the first few months, but it’ll get better over time.”

“You knew his father, didn’t you?”

“We were friends,” he said. “He was a brilliant man.” His face was inscrutable.

“It’s a bit strange, don’t you think, that Sam had almost the same sort of accident that took his father? It’s almost creepy.”

“It’s a big coincidence, I agree.”

“It’s almost as if they were following the exact same path.”

The professor was silent for a while. Finally he said, with a slight shake of the head, “No. I believe that in time to come, we will see that he left his own legacy.”



Microfic: Crash Report #9

“It’s weird,” she said, carefully walking the grid on the triple-S. “But there’s someone else here. Is that supposed to happen?”

“Who is it?” asked the voice over her earpiece.

“It’s that guy, the Ninth Doctor. No, wait, not the ninth– the guy who came after him. The tenth one, he was really popular. What was his name? Benedict something. Or was it Christopher? Christopher Bandersnatch?”

“You’re thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch. Wrong classic British actor. David Tennant was the tenth Doctor. Unless you were in fact referring to Christopher Eccleston?”

“No, it’s David Tennant, you’re right. I forgot.”

Another voice cut over the intercom–this one younger, more incredulous. The Junior Inspector. “You’ve got Gandalf in there with you?”

“No, not him. This is the younger version. By about thirty years.” She paused in her procedure, completely put off by the intruder’s fish-eyed stare from between the trees of her vanished childhood playground. “He keeps staring at me. It doesn’t feel like part of the background.”

The Chief Inspector was back at the helm. “Is he doing anything else?”

“No, he’s just staring. Like a creepy creeper from Creepville.”

“The triple-S pulls elements from the subconscious. You watched the show as a child, didn’t you?”

“Sure. But I know what gets pulled out of my subconscious, and this isn’t it.” Which beggared the question: what was this?

“I’m not part of your subconscious,” the apparition said, as if to answer her question. “But you wrote an essay on your blog when you were thirteen. I pulled it from the universal cache. I thought you might appreciate a form you were familiar with.”

“Who are you?”

“My name,” he said, ” is Charlie. I picked it out myself.” He smiled then, a stretched parody of emotion. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Chief,” she slowly said to her earpiece, “I think I’ve found the bug in the system you were looking for.”