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Welcome September 9, 2008

Posted by gznork26 in Uncategorized.
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Okay, so here’s the thing: I write subversive short stories. Really. They harbor dangerous ideas, thoughts that could wreck your world.

Welcome to KlurgSheld. Most of what you’ll find here is fiction, even some of the conventional posts. For example, there are a few items here by the ‘Bank Shot Blogger’. These posts were written from the point of view of ‘John Frachetti’, a character in my series about the three-year incarceration of the Fremont-Wayfarer Corporation. You’ll find links to that series in both the Political and the Business sections. I do, however, occasionally lapse into my real voice and write a commentary which didn’t want to be submerged inside a story.

Prowl the categories listed in the “About my Short Stories” tab (above) and pick a few stories at random. Among those stories are some that take place in the worlds I created in the novels on the right. They’re available for purchase at the Barnes and Noble Nook store and at the Amazon Kindle store. Enjoy!

P. Orin Zack

P.S.: If you find something you like, please tell someone. Stories need to be read, just like cats need to be pet.

Short Story: “Journeyman Wizard” August 12, 2014

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Magical & Psychic, Metaphysics, Short Stories.
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“Journeyman Wizard”
by P. Orin Zack
[07/09/2014]

Lila Oort may have been staring at the flickering homemade candle on her table, but the dancing yellow flame wasn’t what she saw. Between the mesmerizing image of a filagreed solar flare in her head and the fact that she was idly shuffling her favorite deck of divination cards, the effect was more akin to a Zen trance. She’d been in this state long enough that her black and white cat had changed position on the table three times, and was now busy watching the flick of cards in her hands.

Her fascination wasn’t so much with solar astronomy as it was with metaphysical resonances to the name she had chosen for herself at the Grey School of Wizardry. ‘CoronaWeaver’ had the right feel to it, since her flavor of magick involved energy work, which she’d used informally to temporarily ease some kinds of pain for her friends and family ever since she was in college. But what she was hunting right now were the deeper resonances, and that’s what the cards were for.

Lila’s hands suddenly stopped moving. After a few seconds, Kiyesh rose and gently tapped the exposed edge of the deck, perhaps to set them in motion again. Two cards slipped out and fell face down on the table before Lila emerged from her trance.

She set down the deck and scratched him behind the ears. “Was this reading for you?” she asked him. But before she could turn the errant cards over, her phone sounded: there was a text. The notification on the lock screen was terse. It read, ‘Got time? Need to vc now.’

Kiyesh followed her into the living room, where she opened her laptop and accepted Henri Bequerat’s request for a video chat. He slid into frame from the left, and gazed mutely into the camera for a long moment. He had a frightened look about him that didn’t comport well with the barely-controlled manic energy that he usually projected. She leaned forward and quietly said, “KytheWarden, are you all right?”

He exhaled, and blinked a few times. “I’m, uh… I’m at my night job right now. This is the hotel’s PC. I don’t know how long we can talk before… Look, the manager doesn’t approve of me making personal calls, and he might come by, so I may have to cut you off suddenly.”

Lila smiled. “No worries, Henri. If that happens, I’ll wait until you can get back on. What happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” (more…)

Short Story “Maira Bundis” June 28, 2014

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This series started with the story, ‘Bait‘.

“Maira Bundis”
(Part 7 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
(6/1/2014)

Cinquetta Mills hadn’t set out to be the spokesperson for the most hated person in the world, but here she was, and the more she learned about him, the more she admired him. The thing was, Alphon Quince didn’t fit the role he’d been cast in by the governments and transnationals that wanted him dead and forgotten. To hear them tell it — and you could hardly go an hour between tellings, he was the terrorist mastermind behind not only the destruction of the Golden State Barrage in San Francisco Bay, but also the murder of dozens of global financial leaders when the ice shelf collapsed on the Cold Comfort Resort in Greenland.

She was sitting in a maker lab at what the Hacker Collective had been calling ‘Bayou Bundis’, idly stroking the glossy wings of a 3D-printed butterfly, when the biggest story of 2095 caught her eye and crossed the room towards her.

“That’s her memorial, you know,” Quince told her, indicating the sculpture.
Cinquetta glanced at the butterfly, which was incongruously emerging from an egg-shaped geode, and recalled that his traveling companion had been shot by military gunfire moments after they emerged from a HyperLoop pod that had fallen into Lake Pontchartrain. “Phoebe Butler?”

His pace faltered, and a fleeting look of regret escaped its hiding place. “No,” he said quietly. “It was for her mother, Meg.” He stopped beside her and looked at the sculpture for a long moment. “Well, Maira Bundis, really. That’s how she introduced herself to me before she was…” He trailed off as his finger touched the eerily human-looking eyespot on one of the wings.

“I’m sorry,” she said, afraid of opening yet another wound.

“Don’t be,” he said, regaining his composure. “Unlike Phoebe, Meg wasn’t killed because of me. It was because of a box.” He smiled at her and gestured vaguely at the head-mounted A/V kit she always wore. “Did you… want to record this?”

Normally, she’d have jumped at the chance. After all, it was the sort of scoop any independent reporter worth her salt would kill for. But if she reached up to her temple and tapped the record switch, she’d also have to turn off her emotions and approach the interview dispassionately. And that was something she didn’t want to do right now. Finding out who Alphon Quince really was meant being someone he could be at ease with when he spoke to her, and she couldn’t do that with the recorder on. “No,” she said, “there’s time for that later. So what was in the box?”

“Some goo, and the instructions for how to make it.”

“And that was worth killing her over?” (more…)

Short Story: “Lightning Strikes” May 18, 2014

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Politics, Short Stories.
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This series started with the story, ‘Bait‘.

“Lightning Strikes”
(Part 6 of a Series)
by P. Orin Zack
[03/15/14]

Victor Schandrul had been glaring at his clenched fist for so long that the reason he was angry had gotten lost in the fetid mélange of every argument he’d ever had with his parents. Ten years out of college, ten years as a Heuristics Analyst with the Port of Chicago, and he was still playing errand boy for them. “That does it,” he muttered to the autoCab as it turned left and entered the FlatOCL District, “I’ve got to move somewhere else; find another job.” The fact that his father worked for the Port might have made getting in the door easier, but the longer he stayed, the more he resented it.

As the cab pulled to a stop in front of a boxy prefab in a cramped development on the site of the old Indiana Harbor Works, his ire refocused, and he rebuked himself for agreeing to run the errand in the first place. For one thing, the stuff was illegal. Well, maybe not actually illegal, but there was no way a home-made herbal salve was on the healthcare formulary, even if his father did swear by it. He’d told his mother that buying it could get him trouble, but she’d insisted, and work was no place to make a scene. It was, however, the perfect place to look at his situation dispassionately, and let logic dictate a solution: if he had to buy the crap, then the only way to do it safely was with cash, because he certainly didn’t want a purchase like this sullying the credit score he’d spent ten years nurturing.

He confirmed the wait request that he’d logged when he ordered up the ride, got out, and took a quick look around. The neighborhood was pretty nondescript. Prefab developments usually were, but the Thandri’s house stood out anyway, because it looked like it had been recently vandalized. A section of gutter had been wrenched from its mounting and was laying in the rock garden surrounding the building, along with some roofing debris. That rock garden was the other thing that set it apart. All the other units were surrounded by a strain of genmod grass that was designed to grow in the same company’s home-store soils, a strain that was instantly recognizable by the signature green and blue striped blades. The ads were inescapable.

Approaching the house, Victor ticked off two more reasons to doubt the wisdom of this trip: there were blast marks on the door and on the adjacent siding that radiated out from the hinges, and the doorscreen was toast. Whoever had broken in wasn’t too concerned about being noticed. His pace slowed precipitously as a wave of discomfort rose from his gut. He stood there, fighting the urge to run, and unsure of how to announce his presence without an electronic intermediary. Fortunately, he was saved from that embarrassment when the door opened slightly with a loud crack, and then swung wide on complaining hinges to reveal a South Asian man with a bemused scowl. He quickly revised the tally to four as he made eye contact, and prepared for the worst. (more…)

Short Story: “Standing to Resist” March 3, 2014

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Politics, Short Stories.
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This series started with the story, ‘Bait‘.

“Standing to Resist”
(Part 5 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[2/8/2014]

Having a medicinal herb garden wasn’t exactly something you told the neighbors about in East Chicago. For one thing, self-medication was grounds for losing your government-mandated insurance card, which, eighty years after the Affordable Care Act became law, had become enough to get you ostracized from what became a grudgingly polite society, not to mention cut off from any government services you might have needed. But Rafi Thandri’s indoor garden was even more off-label than that. The really damning feature about it was the way it was watered: with rain collected in a modified recycling barrel that was hidden in the attic.

Right now, though, his main concern was the leak in the gutter that diverted water to the barrel. That was because his sister Eshana was running short of a few ingredients she used for compounding a salve that was especially popular among the maintenance crew at the Daley Transshipment Center, and the herbs didn’t much like the chemical cocktail in the city’s corporate water supply. He steadied himself and looked down at the puddle spreading out across the barren ground below. Trying to grow anything that wasn’t a genmod on land that used to be an old steel mill was a fool’s errand, so you could either shell out hard-earned money to green your yard, or do what the Thandris did, and turn it into a rock garden. Inside, however, hidden away from public view, they had a patch of what ought to have been healthy hydroponic greenery, except for that nasty leak. For the moment, the primary beneficiary of their rainwater was the rock garden, and that’s why he was on the roof on this brisk autumn day while she was inside keeping warm.

Eshana’s main concern, on the other hand, was about a thousand miles south of them. When he went back inside, she was still watching the IndyMedia vid feed of the stretch of HyperLoop tube in Louisiana that had tipped over and was hanging over Lake Pontchartrain. (more…)

Short Story: “In the Company of Vipers” January 25, 2014

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This series started with the story, ‘Bait‘.

“In the Company of Vipers”
(Part 4 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[1/3/2014]

“He’s like one of those firebugs you hear about,” the man said. “You know the type. They torch a building, and then hang around to watch it burn? Creepy. Well, this was the same sort of thing, only instead of a fire it was the destruction of the Golden State Barrage, and Alphon Quince was hanging around to watch Oakland drown.”

Phoebe Butler — she’d reclaimed her family name even before Alex filed the divorce forms — tried not to be too obvious about watching the news vid playing on the phone that the passenger in front of her was holding, but the woman made eye contact in the reflection and angled it away. She had just left New Orleans on the HyperLoop, and was en route to collect her things before Alex had a chance to sell them. The only other passenger in the pod, the one in the bucket seat to her right, was the man being denigrated on the news. Flanking them, on the face of the twin gull-wing hatches, a sanitized version of the view beyond the carbon-fiber tubes scrolled past, healthy Louisiana scrub on the left, a pristine version of Lake Pontchartrain on the right.

She exchanged nervous glances with Alphon when the news reader said that he was the last person to leave their apartment building in the flood evacuation zone. Phoebe had done what she could to disguise him, but a change of clothes and hair color, and the addition of her mother’s retro eyeglass frames, which they’d fitted out with newly printed reflective lenses, didn’t do much to scotch the resemblance to the picture that was shown before the interview. “What were you doing?” she asked him in little more than a whisper.

“Searching for clues. You’ve seen the vids. A controlled demolition wouldn’t have looked like that. The official story was absurd.”

The programmatically inflected voice of the renderbot news reader echoed hollowly in the nearly empty HL pod. “Quince then took ground transport to the Gulf Coast,” it said, “where he murdered Megan Butler, a woman who had long been under surveillance for subversive tendencies, and then destroyed valuable government property.”

Phoebe winced at the official characterization of her mother. Meg was a former engineer who ran a secret maker lab after being pushed out of the job market decades earlier in the wake of the global intellectual property crackdown. She’d been murdered, all right, but not by Alphon. The two had been chased and fired at by a spy drone, which Meg was able to disable remotely. Then, after she fished it out of the bayou, it exploded in her arms. Alphon was the only witness. Phoebe studied his face idly, lingering on her mother’s eyeglass frames, and wondered what she’d think about the chain of events that had followed her death.

“A telepresence drone,” the bot reader went on, “was sent to investigate.”

Alphon huffed. That drone, he had told her, was there to retrieve a package that Meg and her friend Ferd had ordered, a package containing contraband IP.

“Quince and his accomplice, a man named Ferdinand Wu-McCrory, threatened to destroy the nation’s infrastructure, and then, days later, he masterminded the destruction of the Cold Comfort resort in Greenland, and the murder of dozens of high-profile figures from businesses and governments around the world.”

The woman glanced nervously over her shoulder at them.

“This man is extremely dangerous. He—.” (more…)

Short Story: “Under an Icy Sky” December 16, 2013

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Politics, Short Stories.
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This series started with the story, ‘Bait‘.

“Under an Icy Sky”
(Part 3 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[12/1/2013]

“I saw that gleam in your eyes,” Alphon Quince whispered to the mute image. “What was it, Maira? What were you thinking?” The indistinct details of her eyes nearly filled the frame in his hand. He’d been standing in one of the stations of her maker lab for several minutes, gazing into eyes that had reflected the world of thirty years earlier, before he was even born. He felt responsible for her death, and yet she was still a cipher to him. As much as he tried, it was a mystery he couldn’t shake.

The rhythmic thrum of the 3D printer from across the domed lab helped to soothe his nerves. In his imagination, the sound seemed to come from the picture, lending her memory a semblance of life, if only through the machine’s hollow heartbeat. He’d zoomed up the light-field holo, which the note said was taken shortly after she’d opened her first maker lab, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the spark that had been snuffed by an exploding drone three days earlier. He knew her name was really Meg — her friend Ferd had corrected him at gunpoint when he found Alphon, still covered with her blood, in the compound — but that’s how she’d introduced herself, and so that was how he addressed the image.

“It wasn’t enough that you killed her?” an angry female voice intoned from close behind him. “Do you have to violate her memory as well?” Her breath rasped in her throat. “You don’t even know her goddamn name!”

Alphon swallowed hard when he realized it was the heavyset postal worker he’d asked to put a note in Maira’s box when he came to the bayou in search of a missing data file. He put the picture down, and had just started to turn around when she put a firm hand on his shoulder. “But I do!” he protested, facing her squarely.

“Sure you do. Like you knew who owned that share when you came into my post office and cost me my job.”

Alphon glanced at the intricate tattoo on her left arm as she withdrew it. Ferd had told him that she’d helped to design the memorial that he was printing, but apparently she wasn’t expecting to find anyone else here. “I didn’t kill her,” he insisted. “It was the drone she downed.”

“A drone,” she shot back, incensed, “that wouldn’t have been following her if you hadn’t broken her routine. She’s been getting her mail every Wednesday for years without raising any suspicion. Keeping to yourself is just simple common sense these days. What backwater did you come from, anyway?”

Backwater. He winced, recalling the video he’d watched just before fleeing his home in the evacuation zone.  A news intern, reporting on the flooding in Oakland when the Golden State Barrage collapsed, inadvertently caught his own death as the undertow separated him from his phone. The old sea wall had kept the risen Pacific at bay for most of the 21st century. “The Sacramento Valley if you must know. I thought that file was a clue to what happened to the Barrage.”

She looked away in disgust. “It was terrorists, idiot. Or are you one of those truthers who deny anything the government says?” (more…)

Short Story: “Hollow Threat” November 14, 2013

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Politics, Short Stories.
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This series started with the story, ‘Bait‘.

“Hollow Threat”
(Part 2 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[11/6/2013]

When Ferd realized that the glow filtering through the trees ahead wasn’t the rising moon, he killed the raft’s built-in water jet and drifted amid the shadowy cypress.

“Something’s… wrong,” he whispered to a frog ribbiting crossly at him. “She knows better than that. Those lights might attract someone’s attention.”

He’d made the trip to her part of the bayou a day early because the package they’d been waiting for was supposed to have arrived at the Post Office today, and he just couldn’t wait to see what it was.

“Then again,” he rationalized to the frog, “if she’s as excited about this as I am, I can understand breaking protocol.” He reached down and restarted the jet.

As he rounded the barricade that obscured the boat ramp from casual view, he reconsidered that first impression: her jetraft was lolling from the tow-hook cable. It hadn’t been hoisted full onto dry land before the tide came in. She would never have done that, especially after bringing something home that could keep the crud that passed for water in 2095 Louisiana from dissolving the hull.

Wary of giving himself away, Ferd throttled the already quiet water-jet back a tad, and slowly drew closer. Rather than risk alerting anyone with the crunch of carbon fiber on concrete from driving the raft partway up the ramp under power, he killed the jet early, jumped out, lifted the front end and pulled it clear of the water. Then he unhooked her jetraft, gentled it the rest of the way up the ramp, and set it down next to his.

Turning back towards the compound, he eyed the nearest shed, a six by eight lashup where she’d stored spare parts for the raft’s water jet. Normally, it was locked, but right now the light was on and the door was ajar. He gingerly touched the edge, and swung it open a bit, but froze at the sight of a dark red splash on the inside. Blood. He steeled himself and looked into the shed. (more…)

First Followers October 18, 2013

Posted by gznork26 in Politics, Topicality.
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There’s something I wanted to tell you, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it was. You know the feeling? It’s right on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t spit it out. Everyone’s probably experienced this, but when it happens, all you can say about it is that it’s an annoyance, because what you really wanted was to free the thought that was stuck, so you could get it out and get on with whatever it was you were trying to do. The thing is, that moment is critically important, and all we want is for it to go away. Well, don’t. Not yet, anyway, because that’s the key to how anything gets done, how movements are born, and how the world is changed.

In April 2013, Rob Kall of OpEdNews wrote, “Sometimes small acts make huge things happen… you never know whether the something that YOU do could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the action that shifts the power and becomes the tipping point.” Rob’s words reminded me of Derek Sivers’ TED talk from 2010, and the video he showed that demonstrated how movements begin: it’s not the leader that makes them happen, but the first follower. They also reminded me of Mark Buchanan’s 2001 book, “Ubiquity“, which focused on the critical state from which unpredictably large actions arise, and of “Cascade“, a short story I’d written in 2008 about the difficulty of warning people about such events. After reading the comments to Rob’s piece, I added my own, noting the power of first followers, and got on with my day.

That was six months ago. This morning, Mr. Kall invited me to expand on that comment about first followers and unpredictable event cascades. As it happens, I had returned to this thought just last month, in a short story called “Bait“, so his adding that straw was enough to get me to spit out the thought on my tongue. And it was this: Immediacy is not important. (more…)

Short Story: “Bait” September 23, 2013

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Politics, Short Stories.
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“Bait”
(part 1 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
[09/05/2013]

Alphon Quince was startled out of his reverie by the grating tones of his emergency alert. The 20-year-old physical systems troubleshooter absently waved aside the cross-section of a damaged HyperLoop tube he’d been studying and threw the open-hand gesture for the alert’s newsfeed to take over his tri-d.

A shaky vid filled the space with a wall of water coming at him at high speed. He’d just begun to wonder how anyone could have gotten a shot like that, when the phone was snatched from the owner’s hand. A dizzying whirl of light and shadow followed as he was dragged away by the undertow, culminating in a see-sawing of fractured building facades, debris and sky as the orphaned phone floated to the top of the rushing deluge.

“That… was the grisly scene in Oakland a few moments ago,” the announcer said, catching his breath, “just after the 75-year old Golden State Barrage protecting San Francisco Bay collapsed, severely damaging the new western span of the Bay Bridge. Our condolences go out to the family of Marty Fine, the intern who gave his life to get you that video.” (more…)

Short Story: “Engaging Constituency” July 21, 2013

Posted by gznork26 in Fiction, Politics, Short Stories.
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The need to find your true voice isn’t limited to individuals. This series started with “Crossing the Line“, and continued in parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

“Engaging Constituency”
[Part 7 and conclusion of a series]
by P. Orin Zack
[7/16/2013]

“Emulating Hong Kong?” The wiry old man with thinning white hair shrugged off his oversized backpack and flipped through the information packet he’d just been handed. “What does a modified GA have to do with Hong Kong?”

Norman Knox, a 30-something commercial real estate agent who’d recently had his fixation on profit margins forcibly perforated, gazed at the crowd streaming past them for a moment while he figured out how to safely backpedal the glib remark. Volunteering for community-service duty felt like overdue penance for years of chasing after a pot of tainted gold. They were standing just inside the entrance to the city’s newly renovated sports stadium, which was filling up with an electorate that didn’t reflect the population of any district in the city. The only thing they seemed to have in common was that even though they entered as strangers, they quickly engaged with one another, and were deep in discussion well before they reached the stands. It was nearly ten o’clock, and the meeting was about to start.

“I’m sorry,” he said over a nervous laugh he thought he’d outgrown in college. “Forgive me. My— my mother’s a librarian, and I forget that not everyone’s addicted to research.”

“Look, kid, there’s no reason to talk down to me. I may be homeless right now, but I got a Masters in Chemistry before you were born and medical expenses ate my life savings. So let’s try that again. What does Hong Kong have to do with a city council election?” (more…)

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