Prologue (Part 0 of Surfers)

[Estimated reading time: 10 minutes]

The ANN Greer began its life as a an ancient Stream mega-transport. This was in the early days of Stream exploration, before the tech shrank and became reliable, so the transport had multiple overpowered reactors and vast spaces for all manner of cargo.

The Stream tech kept improving and quickly it became much too expensive to power the Greer, and so much cheaper to jury rig a Stream reactor to a smaller craft, a shipping container, an ATV, or even a tractor. After less than a century of ferrying mega-tons around the Solar System, Greer was repurposed as a travelling research lab and long-term transport.

At the moment, she's sailing across Saturn's face in strange non-orbits, orbits that can only be attained (cheaply) with the Stream tech.

Kieran watches the muddy yellows of the gas giant being stirred up by a storm that cuts across the planet from east to west. It will soon reach its tail, the earliest disturbances the storm caused in the atmosphere as it circles the planet.


Saturn storm
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Jaz (Part 1 of Surfers)

[Estimated reading time: 26 minutes]

Previous chapter: Prologue


It's my last day at work, for a while at least, and it's as hectic as usual. My lead, Magda, is running around as if her head was on fire, but this is her MO. She just enjoys being overwhelmed, double-booked, and pushed up against a hard deadline.

From Jaz To @WorkSocialGroup Congrats on the great job! I'll miss you all. Lukewarm Spiders Meme See you at the club!

I hand off the last touch-ups of my set of holos, the last updates we'd discussed just an hour earlier, send them on to my lead. Magda notices and shouts, from the other side of the large space we occupy, a thanks and a "have fun", and she's gone again, diving back into some work-fire.

From Minear to @WorkSocialGroup: Dragoons! Dragoons #19 meme

The rest of the group echoes back, memes start flying through my vision, great big hulking sumo wrestlers are toppling buildings over and over again.

Through the carnage I notice that Gabe is walking with determination to some point in front of me, between myself and the exit. There's a holo in his hand, but it looks strange, its colors have gone neon. Gabe is creating a Vatican art exhibit, so this is probably a "Gabe problem" that he's making a "Jaz problem". Gotta love the interns, their moves are so predictable.

I side-step just in time to avoid colliding with Gabe, then watch with mild amusement as he gets tangled in the furniture. "Looks like your colors are all off. Talk to Minear, he had a similar issue when...", I pause and dredge up the memory from a few months back, "he worked on the Caravaggio sets."

The team is all ragged smiles. We've delivered on the promised courses, even with the last-minute changes, and everyone's feeling nice and accomplished, but dead tired. We pushed ourselves for this one. I continue making my way out through the blizzard of farewells and memes and wave my goodbyes. Gabe beams and waves from the floor, then gets back to his struggle.

From Pearl to Jaz: Break a leg!

From Jaz To Pearl: Policeman flipping the crux at the photographer

I run for the closest outer shuttle, slump into an open seat by the window and wonder if I forgot to do anything. I'm sure I did, but it's not like I'm going into hibernation. I queue up something from my high-tempo collection and techno floods my head, the subdermal speakers thrum my skull. My heart-rate increases and I smile.

Playing: "Call me Ishmael" by Lukewarm Spiders

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S&G

[Estimated reading time: 7 minutes]

I hop the train before texting, sure of the outcome already. Kevin will see the text, will debate himself, will lose, and we'll have a fun night in. It's that simple. I know the exact train, so this is a photo finish as I'm the last one aboard.

In the train, I find a seat behind a yuppie couple. They are heading back from their "First Time in the Big City", it's written on their faces. They smile those idiot grins, but only for the first couple of days, then they pick up the "local look", and pandhandlers know to avoid them.

I set the sting on them, leave it running in my backpack. On my phone I watch their internet traffic and wonder who these two are.

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Memory Fail, 4

[Estimated reading time: 4 minutes]

Sarah's SUV speeds through forests and along lakes, eventually bringing her and the driver to the Olympia Veterans Affairs offices. The building doubles as a live-in facility as well. They park the car in the sparse but expansive lot, this one next to a sprawling corn field so large they are unable to see any other edges, and enter the administrative building.

Captain Wilcox is there to meet them. He is the ranking officer of the staff and will be helping with today's drill and session.

VA was told this was a new form of exercise-based therapy, they went along and supplied volunteers, soldiers who were willing to try just about anything. These were typically soldiers suffering from severe cases of PTSD, the trauma from their time in the military ruining any chance at a new life.

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Voice

[Estimated reading time: 19 minutes]

Author’s note: this is a work in progress.

"I don't normally do unpacking videos," I speak from behind the camera, "but this is like something out of sci-fi, so let's do it!

"OK, the box is out. Not too big, see. Not exactly what I was expecting, but no matter. Here's the collar, charging brick, cable. Hmm. And a cute little informational pamphlet. Let's forget about that for now.

"Thor, come here buddy! Yeah, who's a good girl? You are! Gosh, you just know when the camera's rolling, don't you? Of course you do! You're gonna be a star soon, gonna need to get you an agent..."

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Commute

[Estimated reading time: 6 minutes]

The red-and-green highly visible headphones are my protective shield as I walk past barely-shuffling heroin user and the teenage runaways. The song changes to "Lady in Black" and there's a spring in my step. I descend the marble stairs - instead of taking the escalator with its "everyone knows you're high" stickers and the luggage-lugging tourists - and sing along under my breath, a 21st century chorus to an immortalized 1971 version of Uriah Heep.

A short walk on this connecting platform, also marble, and a swipe of the fare card sounds a familiar beep, an announcement to the whole station that I've paid my way, nothing to see here folks. I fly down the stairs, the soles of my shoes barely making contact with the steps. After two or three of these, my feet lift off and I'm leaping, descending past a dozen hard hard marble outcroppings. A voice screams inside my skull, a few beats too late.

I'm falling, the ground is coming up awfully fast, there's a gasp from above but I can't look up, can't look away from the nondescript spot on the floor where I anticipate to make my painful landing.

But I don't fall. The ground isn't flying up to smack me in the face. It was, but then rethought, changed its mind, and receded from me instead.

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In a Flash

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

Author's note: this story is a result of following along a lecture by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Pan, the world-famous rocket-jockey and world-class asshole, was going to die like a real captain: stuck on top of the open-air deck of his high-speed hover coast-runner (coaster, in the parlance of our times), holding onto a handrail for dear life, screaming into the merciless tropical storm that was about to make landfall. He couldn't get back inside the cockpit, and the storm was about to cut his trip short.

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Block

[Estimated reading time: 12 minutes]

On a cloudy weekend afternoon Martin drove his pickup a few hours away, to a town farther up the coast, one that is marginally larger than his own village, and found a store that is somewhere between an antique shop and a battered-goods store. They had chairs and a table for a few bucks, pretty vases at a steep discount. He spent forty bucks and loaded up his purchases in the truck, small bits in the passenger seat, larger items in the bed, then headed back. During the drive he glanced at the mostly-ceramic haul next to him and started telling himself stories about each piece.

World's Okayest Dad mug ended up at the store after the father fled, in the middle of the night and with a battered suitcase. The mother was relieved to take his belongings, box after box, to the used-goods shop.

The picture frame with the twin sisters at graduation was left behind during one of the many moves. The landlord's wife took the forgotten junk over last week, having tired of the lost-and-found box that no one ever asked about. The sisters were now running a coffee shop, on the other side of the country, and didn't even realize they were missing this picture. One of dozens they had always around.

Some stories, Martin told himself, needed to be happy ones.

He drove and thought and plotted and cursed his brain. Behind the wheel, twisting through picturesque landscapes, Martin was free to come up with detailed stories, his brain in overdrive as it supplied oodles of tiny bits of trivia that rendered a fictional reality. But as soon as he made it home, had walked into his living room and plopped down in front of his typewriter, his brain seized up in mental constipation.

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