God’s Unblinking Eye – a science fiction short story

Taylor swaggered past the cheap, staticky holographic greeter and into the coffee shop. She was followed by Boon, the two of them wearing suits cut to hide their military augments. She would have preferred something more practical, in case their target caused trouble, but people asked fewer questions when you wore suits. Her boss had been clear, they needed to raise no questions.

The girl was sitting at a shadow-slicked corner table, her computer rolled out in front of her. It had no screen or projection. She wore mirror shades and a scarf patterned in staticky black and white abstraction, an affectation too far.

“Caz Crystal?” Taylor asked.

“What?” The kid didn’t look up, just kept typing.

“You’re coming with us.”

“Why would I do that?”

Taylor held out her ID. Boon opened his jacket just wide enough to flash the butt of his pistol.

“Use your fucking words,” Caz said, still typing.

“Fine. My name is Taylor Grant. I run security for Neon Blue Holdings. Ring a bell?”

Caz stopped typing for a moment, then started again. “Nope.”

It was easier to lie from behind a pair of shades, so Taylor snatched them off Caz’s face. In place of eyes were two gleaming silver orbs pierced by the dead black holes of inoperative camera lenses. Taylor glanced down at the computer and registered the braille on the haptic interface.

“Hey!” A barista said, pointing angrily at the shades. “Not cool. Give her those back.”

Taylor tossed the glasses onto the table.

“Neon Blue security. We have a policing licence.”

“Didn’t you bust up the living wage protest last month?”

“You want us to bust you up?” Boon squared up to the barista, who took a nervous step back, then scurried behind the counter and pulled out his phone.

“You’re coming now,” Taylor said to the kid. “And if we have to arrest you, then we’ll confiscate your fancy shades and your fancier computer.”

“Bitch,” Caz spat, but she rolled the computer up and followed them out.


Taylor leaned against the interrogation room wall, reading a copy of Caz’s file projected by a subdermal chip. The kid sat with her arms crossed, the shades back over her eyes, the lower half of her face buried in her scarf. From the corners of the room, security cameras watched them, the unblinking eyes of a corporate god.

“Second time you’ve hacked Neon Blue property,” Taylor said.

“You stopped providing tech support for my eyes. How was I meant to see without jailbreaking them?”

“Buy the upgrade, like anyone else.”

“You know the price of that upgrade?”

“I know the law, and I know you broke it.”

For the second time in as many hours, Taylor removed Caz’s shades. This time she took the scarf off too and dropped it in a crumpled heap.

“That’s better,” she said. “I like to see who I’m talking to.”

“So would I, but your employers took that from me.” Caz felt about on the floor until her fingers closed around her scarf. She laid it on the table and flattened it out, while her empty gaze settled on a space in the air past Taylor’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t drop other people’s possessions in the dirt.”

“And you shouldn’t hack other people’s drones.”

“It worked then?” Caz’s smile was knife blade thin. Her fingers stretched out across the table like they were feeling for an interface, a way to interact with a world she couldn’t see.

“As far as the press and our corporate partners are concerned, it’s just minor disruption at a depot.” Taylor leaned across the table into Caz’s space. The kid didn’t flinch. “But between you and me, you trashed shipments worth millions, and that’s not the kind of cost my employers can ignore.”

“You fuckers deserved it. You bankrupted me and left me blind.”

“You did that to yourself.”

“Really? So what am I doing to myself this time? Private prison perhaps, assembling your microchips for no wage, one more corporate slave?”

“Eventually.” Taylor cracked her knuckles, pulled out her phone, and brought up the controls for the security cameras. “But first, you need to learn a lesson.”

She tapped the icon to kill the camera feeds.

Nothing happened. She frowned, looked up, and saw the cameras pointing straight at her. A lock clicked and the door of the interrogation room swung open. A drone flew in and laid a rolled-up computer on the table.

“What the hell?”

Caz picked up her scarf and held it out to show the staticky pattern.

“Got this printed specially for today,” she said. “Read by the right sort of camera, the pattern turns into a code, which gets into your system and triggers another code planted by my last hack. One that couldn’t get past your firewall until you walked me in.”

She wrapped the scar back around the lower half of her face, ran a hand across the table, and found her shades.

Taylor fought the urge to hit the kid. She knew how this went, how bad it must be to have earned the big reveal. Suddenly, she was the powerless one.

“Ransomware,” she said. “Only unlockable by you, only from the outside, and only once a large crypto payment has triggered some digital switch.”

“Exactly.” Caz’s smile wasn’t a knife blade anymore. It was a banner announcing her victory. She unrolled the computer and ran her fingers across the raised symbols of its keys, which were lifting up and down, telling her what her program had found.  “Now, let’s talk about how you’re going to fix my eyes.”


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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Memories of Innocence – a flash science fiction story

Inspector Jane Pilgrim sipped at her coffee. It was cold, but it was here as a prop, not a refreshment. Something to give her time to think.

Across the table of the interview room, Brian Diggle sat next to his lawyer, an odious man in a pinstripe suit named Jack Oliver.

“You didn’t hack the neural game factory?” Pilgrim asked. “You’re not the reason all those people’s implants hijacked their brains?”

“No,” Diggle repeated. “Do you have to keep asking?”

His expression was so innocent, his responses so unrehearsed. Both his story, and his emotional reactions were perfect. After this long, nobody could put on a show this good.

Yet she knew it had to be Diggle. The evidence excluded every other possibility. That sleaze ball Oliver might be able to make it inadmissible, but they all knew what the trail showed.

All except the man behind it.

Then it struck her. If Diggle could hijack other people’s brains, could he hijack his own too?

“Time’s almost up, detective,” Oliver said, grinning like a lizard in the sunshine. “Unless you have something else, you’re going to have to let my client go.”

Pilgrim took a deep breath. She had been trying to break through the shell of a guilty Diggle. Maybe instead she needed to work with an innocent man.

“Mister Diggle,” she said, leaning forwards. “Do you know what a neural overlay is?”

“That’s what you say I did to those people,” Diggle said. “Turning them into some sort of zombies.”

“That’s one option, yes,” Pilgrim said. “But there are other uses too. Overlays based on real memories help veterans in trauma counselling. There are stories of spies using them. Laying a fake personality over their real one to get through interrogation.

“Those spies set a pre-arranged fault in the programming. Afterwards, they read a code word or experience an event that triggers a real memory. The fake personality vanishes, taking its memories with it, leaving the true person behind.”

“You’re saying I’m using an overlay?” Diggle laughed angrily. “This is absurd. You’re making things up now.”

“I’m not saying that you’re using an overlay, Mister Diggle. I’m saying that you are one. And underneath it all, the real Brian Diggle, the man who destroyed all those lives, is hiding.”

Oliver shifted uncomfortably in his seat. There was a faint whir from the video camera in the corner.

“No,” Diggle said. “I remember my life. I remember my past. I’m a real person.”

“Do you remember what you had for breakfast yesterday?” Pilgrim asked. “What your favourite toy was as a child? Who your first crush was? These are the details that make us human, Mister Diggle, but there’s seldom time to include them in an overlay.”

Diggle’s eyes went wide. His lips parted as if he was about to speak, but instead he just sat, mouth agape, horror freezing his expression.

“Enough,” Oliver said. “This is absurd. My client is leaving.”

He got up and tried to haul Diggle to his feet. But Diggle shook him off and sat staring at Pilgrim.

“I don’t want to not be real,” he whispered. “I don’t want to be wiped away.”

“Don’t say anything more,” Oliver snapped. “You have to come with me.”

“You don’t have to go anywhere,” Pilgrim said.

“I don’t get to live, do I?” Diggle asked, eyes watering. He really was an innocent. “Once this is over, he’ll come back.”

“There will be a signal,” Pilgrim said. “Something you know you want to do after the interview. That will trigger the change.”

“A cigarette,” Diggle whispered. He pulled a packet out of his pocket and dropped it on the table. “I don’t smoke, but I want to have a cigarette when I leave.”

He looked at the packet sadly, rotating it on the tabetop with one thin finger.

“If I don’t ever smoke it, will he never come back?” he asked.

“Sooner or later, the overlay will collapse,” Pilgrim said. “Maybe you’ll smell someone else’s cigarette and that will be enough. Maybe the programming will just fade. Either way, you don’t have long.”

“Fuck.” He wiped a tear from his cheek. “So what do I do?”

“Help me catch the man who did this,” Pilgrim said. “If the overlay drops here, on record, I might do something with that.”

“No!” Oliver exclaimed. “We’re leaving. Now.”

“Fuck you,” Diggle snapped. “You’re fired.”

“You can’t fire me! You’re not even-” Oliver froze. “Ah.”

Pilgrim stood, opened the door, and glared at the lawyer.

“Your client just fired you,” she said. “You have no right to be here.”

Shoulders slumping, Oliver slunk out. Pilgrim slammed the door behind him.

“Ready?” she asked.

“No,” Diggle said, placing a cigarette between his lips. “But I’m still doing it.”

As he raised a lighter, Pilgrim went to stand behind him, out of sight. There was a click, the sound of a deep breath, and then a cloud of smoke.

Brian Diggle’s shoulders shifted, his legs stretched out, and he leaned back.

“Wicked,” he said. Then he glanced around. “Wait, why am I still here?” He raised his voice. “Oliver, where are you, you wanker?”

“What were we just talking about, Mister Diggle?” Pilgrim asked.

He jumped at the sound of her voice. Angry eyes turned to glare at the detective.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked. “Where’s my fucking lawyer?”

“You don’t remember?” she asked.

“No, I don’t fucking remember,” Diggle snarled. “Lawyer. Now.”

“Brian Diggle,” Inspector Pilgrim said, “you are under arrest for attempting to obstruct the police in the course of their investigations through the use of a memory overlay…”

For the second time, she began reading him his rights.

Except that it wasn’t the second time, and the man she had met before was sadly gone.

* * *


Sometimes story comes from theme. I was reading a bunch of articles, looking for inspiration. Stories about robots in disguise, lizards with sheddable skin, dark web versions of normal websites. Then I noticed a theme in the things that had interested me. They were all about things with hidden natures. So rather than write about one of those specific ideas, I decided to riff on that theme, and here’s the result.

If you enjoyed this story then please share it, and consider checking out my collection of sci-fi stories, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves.