Twelfth Issue! Scary Cyberspace
Welcome to the twelfth issue of the FLAME TREE PRESS NEWSLETTER! This issue brings two great stories, exclusive for subscribers to read for one month. The themes for last month's flash fiction were Scary Psychopaths and Cyberspace!
This month's newsletter features:
- Original Sci-Fi Flash Fiction: So Over This by Brian Rappatta
- Original Horror Flash Fiction: Fathers / Sons by Paul Latham
- FLAME TREE PRESS - September Releases and Author Q&As
- New releases from Flame Tree Publishing
Original Science Fiction Story
So Over This
“You’re too late, Major. It’s already done.”
I lowered my weapon. I had no reason to believe he’d exceeded his programming enough to lie to me, so I took him at his word. Besides, he was alone, and the snaking mass of cables and wires connected to virtually every port on his exo-body, jacking him into all the considerable circuitry in the room, precluded him from leaping across the distance separating us and killing me.
I took a cautious step into the room. “You led me on quite the chase,” I said.
He nodded slightly, just enough not to jar the cables plugged into the half-dozen ports on his head. “I knew you would find me eventually,” he said. “They say you are the best.”
“You’re no slouch yourself.” I’d spent the better part of the last three days chasing down all his false trails. If I’d found him just a little bit sooner, I might have been able to prevent him from worming his way so far into more servers than I could count.
“You can relax, Major,” he said. “No one will suffer any permanent harm from my incursions.”
“Uh-huh.” That much was probably the truth. I’d detected no attempts to crack through any vital systems, hack any national security encryptions—which is why he had the NSA thoroughly spooked. Any sentient whose purpose was a complete mystery was certainly cause for a lot of official pants-shitting. “You’ll forgive me, but I’ve heard that one before.”
He smiled wryly. His facial expression hardware was top of the line; he managed to just seem . . . sad. “I am merely fulfilling my programming. I mean only to help humanity,” he said.
“Yeah? How is this helping, exactly?”
His left hand had cables coming out of every port in his fingertips, so with his right he swiped to summon a holographic monitor screen angled toward me, directly at my eye level. “You should check your feed.”
“My feed?” I raised an eyebrow, but there didn’t seem to be any harm in what he was suggesting. I took a step closer and peered at the monitor. He’d tapped into the aggregator app that pooled all of my social media accounts.
Irritated and annoyed
my mother had posted. Or rather, he had posted on her account. Odd. Anybody who knew my mother would know that that would sound nothing like her.
my sister had posted. That was it. Just that one message. And, as I continued scrolling, my aunt:
Well, that one, at least, sounded exactly like her. Aunt Betty was a first-rate drama queen.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “You went through all this just to make phony feed posts?” Sentients’ electronic reasoning didn’t always adhere to human standards of logic, but even by their standards this seemed particularly innocuous. “What is it? Some kind of cypher?” I looked at my feed again.
Somebody rescue me
one of my high school classmates had posted.
“No code. Just irrelevancies.”
“That’s it? You broke at least half a dozen cyber laws just to piss people off?”
He smiled wryly. “Of course not. It’s a tipping point.”
“Tell me this. What do you do when you see vague posts like those?”
“I ignore them.”
“Of course. Because you have no context to understand them. Most of the time, such posts are merely harmless venting. But our analysis suggests that the prevalence of such posts statistically decreases the efficacy of online communication by a small but significant margin per year. And our algorithms have linked decontextualization to having a gradual deleterious effect on human empathy.”
“So why commandeer the social media feeds of billions of people and flood them with precisely what you are trying to combat?”
“Simple,” he said. “I calculate a ninety-two percent probability that after today, people will be far more reluctant to ‘vaguebook’, as you call it. By raising the phenomenon to epidemic proportions, we will increase the social stigma attached with vaguebooking in the future. Consider it ‘cure by overdose.’
His line of cyber-sentient logic made a certain sort of sense. I imagined billions of people all over the world logging onto their social media, only to find streams and streams of pointless computer-generated vaguebooking. Sentients always played the long game.
“An interesting tipping point,” I said. “It will probably work. For a while, anyway. But eventually, it will fade.”
He shrugged. “That is to be expected. The effect of stimuli on human psychology is always ephemeral. But there will be other tipping points.”
“You know I can’t just let this continue,” I said. “Even if your intentions were to do no harm, what you’ve done is still dangerous. Others could replicate your infiltrations for much more harmful purposes.”
He nodded. “I understand. You must fulfill your function, Major.”
I raised my weapon. “Godspeed,” I said.
I pressed the button. The emitter fired out the pulse that would scramble his sentient positronic matrix and fry most of the circuitry in this entire room.
The effect was immediate. His entire body convulsed—an eerily human reaction. One by one the ports in his head blinked off. His head lolled.
I turned to leave, but then turned back. I considered the holomonitor screen, still hanging in midair, still keyed in to my social media feed.
What the hell? I thought. At the moment I was the only one in the world who had any control of his social media feeds.
I toggled a holographic keyboard, and typed:
NO ONE LIKES A MARTYR.
Brian Rappatta hails from the American Midwest, though is currently living and working in South Korea. His short fiction in various genres has appeared in venues such as Chilling Ghost Stories from Flame Tree Publishing, Shock Totem, Writers of the Future, and the revival of Amazing Stories. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writers Workshop.
Original Horror Story
Fathers / Sons
I beat Timothy when he was young, sure. Beat the hell out of him with my cane, my belt, whatever was handy. Spare the rod, and spoil the child is what the Good Book says. When he was about six years old, he got it in his damn head that he could leave the table without asking to be excused. Kids these days have no respect. None. You wouldn’t believe it, Loretta.
The little bastard wanted to read something besides the Bible, and I told him no sir. He could read about the blood, death, and Holy Ghost same as everyone. He complained, but I raised a welt on the side of his head with a wrench. What was I supposed to do? Raise a child with no goddamn religion?
When he asked nice, I’d let him have extra food. When he tried to run away, I chained him out in the doghouse for a night. Better than what my Daddy would’ve done to me. I came to get him in the morning and he was pretending to be sad and acted all angry. It was the damndest thing. Kids today are soft; that’s the whole problem with the world now.
Timothy grew up; started putting dog heads on sticks. That was strange, but just part of growing up. I’m sure I did something like that when I was close to his age. He killed those stray dogs, or found ‘em dead on the road.
Stop crying, Loretta.
He got kicked out of school when he was thirteen. The dumb little bastard smeared peanut butter on a teacher’s stapler. She was allergic and left the school in a goddamn ambulance. He never would say he was sorry or anything else; never even seemed to realize that some people might frown on killing someone. Maybe she had it coming, anyways.
He was seventeen when he tried to set the Johnson’s barn on fire; childish stuff but still. Serious enough that the cops became involved for a little while. Never arrested him ‘cause Timothy could charm the pants off anyone when he wanted. Even had a girlfriend for a while; don’t know what happened to her though. Never came to the house.
Her Mom did. Asked if I had seen her daughter with Timothy. I said no, that my son’s business was his business and that was it. She got angry and left. I never asked Timothy about that girl, either.
One day he was just gone. I was glad of it; he’d been a real pain in the ass. Not that you would know anything about it, Loretta. Didn’t know where he went at first. Two counties over, someone reported their daughter missing. I didn’t think nothing about it at first. Then, a month later it happened again in another town. These women had their feet and hands took off. Bound and gagged, left to starve in the woods. I thought it might be Timothy, but who knows?
I never said anything to the cops, and they never asked. Nothing like that has happened around home in a long time. And no, I ain’t seen the boy. I don’t want to, neither.
After a couple of years, I figured maybe he’d grown out of all that, you know? You know how a child can grow and put childish things behind him, even when he don’t have a mother that’s worth two shits to teach him right from wrong. There’s some stories about women disappearing here and there along the river and being found later, maybe missing a limb or their eyes. It’s interesting what fish can do to a body.
As for you, this is why I got you tied to the chair: so I can make you die for what you done, Loretta. You whore. I know Timothy ain’t mine. Don’t know whose he is but I raised him up like my own while you ran off. But he’s gone and now it’s time for you to face some consequences. I got a knife here and some matches. We are gonna fix you up, honey. Can’t believe I found you but I did. God works in mysterious ways.
Paul Latham lives with his wife in West Tennessee. His parents were overseas missionaries, and he grew up in various parts of the Philippines and Fort Worth, Texas. He was fortunate to have a father that read him the Chronicles of Narnia, and a mother that encouraged him to write. AlienSkin magazine published a story of his over a decade ago. Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Neil Gaiman are among his favorite authors.
FLAME TREE PRESS | September Releases
We are extremely excited to be announcing our upcoming September titles! Alice must unlock the grim mystery of the house before she becomes the next victim in D.W. Gillespie's latest Horror One by One, prison thriller meets 28 Days Later in the intriguing Post-Apocalyptic tale from David Tallerman called A Savage Generation, and finally we have a secret that could change the course of civilisation in The Guardian, J.D. Moyer's latest Sci-Fi novel which follows on from his previous novel Sky Woman and is the second book in the Reclaimed Earth series.
Flame Tree Publishing | Great Works that Shape Our World
We are so excited to announce the UK release of Flame Tree Publishing's brand new series Great Works that Shape our World, a range of definitive books drawing on ancient, medieval and modern writing. Created to entertain, inform and enrich, these books will bring infinite variety to refresh the mind, presented in beautiful editions for the modern market. Each title features a new, accessible introduction, specially written for these editions, placing the book in context both as part of the new series, and highlighting its special contribution to the advancement of human understanding; they examine the significance of each work, their impact at time of publication, and their influence today.
Out this month in the UK and November in the US we have Albert Einstein's Special & General Relativity, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, and Quantum Theory by Max Planck and Niels Bohr. These classic texts are the perfect gift for fans of the works and a chance to own a special edition of these books.
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