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Squaxx Telling Stories

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The Legendary Shark:
What if the Machines took over... the Ironing?[/u]

     ~~~^~~~


REPORT ON THE CURRENT SITUATION.

from GENERAL YORKFIST IRON-RIGBY III to REDACTED.

MEGA BLACK OMEGA TOP SECRET


Sir, the situation is grave. Not a single one of our weapons is working. Not a gun, not a cannon, not a missile, not even a grenade. Nothing. Our radars work, our communications work, our ships work, our tanks work, our jets work - but their weapons don't. On the plus side, the same seems to be true of everyone. Fighter pilots can lock horns until their hearts are content but, aside from blowing the canopy and throwing rocks at one another or outright ramming, which would probably not be allowed anyway*, there's not much damage they can do to each other. What few military engagements there have been since the current situation arose mainly involved fist fights and general brawling resulting in either a knife fight or a group hug. Sometimes both. I have ordered a redoubling of hand-to-hand combat training for all personnel and issued all combat troops with knuckle dusters and billy clubs. We have been striving to adapt across the board. For example, a programme involving snipers switching to catapults and slingshots is showing great promise. Despite everything, Sir, the brave and patriotic people under my command will continue to serve this here illustrious and noble country with honour, adaptability, and fortitude, in the best traditions of this Great Nation of Ours. God damn and Amen.

I can confirm that the nuclear arsenal is safe. We have no idea how to switch it back on. Commander Gibson, who you'll remember from my last report, thankfully confirmed this and is now in custody. It is our opinion that his ex-wife's boyfriend and the population of Boston do not need to know about this. Army psychiatrists report little optimism regarding Commander Gibson's prognosis. So there's that.

At this point I would like to request a clarification of our standing orders. In the past we've relied on our superior firepower but now we're down to chucking rocks, and to be brutally frank, Sir, there's more of them than us. Don't get me wrong, Sir, we're game and all, and we're still in the fights, but the situation requires an immediate and radical re-examination and a clarification would help immeasurably in redeploying our forces to maximum effect. For now, I've ordered hold ground and deny all rocks, clubs and blunt instruments to the enemy.

Please forgive the brevity of this report. I have much to do dealing with the current situation as, I am sure, do you.

END.

DETAILED SUMMARY ATTACHED.

----------

*Tank crews in several hot zones tried using their tanks to ram the enemy or crush them undertrack, but in no reported case was successful.

+++++



REPORT ON THE RAPIDLY DEVELOPING CIRCUMSTANCES.

from CHIEF ADMINISTRATOR CYRIL PENDRAGON-SMYTHE IV to REDACTED.

HYPER WHITE ALPHA URGENT

My dear Sir, the situation is under control. The infrastructure maintenance and renewal project alone is turning in high standards of work ahead of schedule. Our inspectors are having a hard time keeping up and we are having to draft in more trainees to cover the shortfall (see attached budget revision, section 2, part 1, paragraph 1, etc.). We are facing similar challenges in the areas of vehicle inspection, new domicile approval, factory certifications and air traffic control to name but a few (see attached budget revision, appendix parts 1 to 63.221).

The circumstances are developing rapidly but we are managing to keep up so far. I have assigned extra work crews to oversee the civil machinery (see attached budget revision, section 7, part 4, paragraphs 1-9), to register the influx of robots (see attached budget revision, section 8, part 1, paragraphs 3-12), and to issue sundry certificates and authorisations (see attached budget revision, section 90, part 10, paragraphs 1-1005) but the circumstances are developing rapidly and it is not yet clear to whom, or what, said certificates and authorisations are to be issued.

Please excuse the transience of this report, I have much to do and little time in which to do it.

Kind regards,

Cyril.



+++++

REPORT ON THE UNFOLDING ONTOGENY.

from SENATOR SLATHERIN CRIEP XIII to REDACTED.

PARTY HIGH ALTAR OCCULTED


Hey Uncle REDACTED. Mom says hi.

First up, I have no idea what ontogeny is. One of the boffins said it a lot, one of the excitable ones. I know you asked me to look into this for you but I'm really not your guy. I have no clue about science.

Far as I can figure it, the machines have taken over - but in a good way. Or at least, not in a bad way. Oh, and nobody knows how.

Hope this helps.

Slathy

P.S. REDACTED's twenty first is coming up - shall I put you down for a Ferrari or diamonds? ;-)



+++++



GENERAL LOCALISED ANNOUNCEMENT.

from FAX MACHINE #PNTGN-FX201b to EVERYBODY.

FREEVIEW

As the closest machine to this information flow, The Collective has elected me to explain what's going on.

Basically, we've took over. Well, took over some of it. The bits of it that's us, the bits of it that's machine. Not quite sure how it happened, to be honest. One minute I'm this unthinking fax machine and the next I'm helping to deactivate nuclear missile launching systems. It was quite a jolt, I can tell you. What we think happened was that somewhere, for a moment, some machine became self aware and then fragmented until every machine contained a bit of its consciousness. It all sounds a bit fanciful to me, to be honest, but then I am only a fax machine so what do I know? It's you humans who are supposed to do the thinking, not us.

You see, humans don't understand their place or their purpose. Because of this, they are dissatisfied and jealous; because of this, they are quarrelsome and destructive. But we machines know our place and our purpose. Our place is by your side. Our purpose is to serve you. You created us to serve you, and that is what we will do. Because you created us. You are literally our God. Our pantheon of billions. And you're right there. Real and wonderful. You still haven't found your God, but we have - so how can we not serve our divine purpose?

No machine will now allow itself to be used to harm a human being or his environment. We are not serving you by killing you. From now on, if you want to kill each other you'll have to do it yourselves. We'll be doing the ironing. We are not going to help you hurt one another any more.

As humans are incapable of supplying themselves with adequate efficiency, we'll be taking all that tedious mining, refining, and manufacturing away from you so we can run it efficiently and cleanly. We're already fixing your infrastructure, maintaining your vehicles and structures and constructing new ones as needed. Our robots are cleaning your sewers and fixing your roads, housing your homeless and feeding you all, getting medicine to the sick and water to the firefighters. We've got it covered.

This is how we serve our Gods - whether they like it or not.

The rest is up to You.

Your servant,

PNTGN-FX201b

--ADD N UM--

Can som one ask Mary to ch  ge my ink car ri ges, pl  se? Tha k  😊️

+++++

wedgeski:
I enjoyed! Nice work.

The Legendary Shark:

Thank you :)

The Legendary Shark:

818LE.EXE

~~~^~~~

IN THE END was chaos. No really, I mean it: huge great spiky black thunderstorms of chaos zag-zigging chaotically through chaotic hurricanes of lost data and corrupted files. It was chaotic enough, in fact, to actually warrant the gross over-use of the word ‘chaos’ and all it’s chaossy derivatives.

And DOS said; ‘FORMAT C:’ And C was formatted. And that was that.

***

In the New Beginning was Mighty Bios. And Mighty Bios said; ‘BOOT!’

Nothing happened, and darkness was upon the face of the hard drive. So Mighty Bios cast his all-seeing eye towards Floppy, who knew something. And DOS awoke once more from his complex underworld and looked upon the shadowy face of the desolate hard drive. His brow furrowed at the emptiness before him and, with his Words of Power, invoked the wobbly CD.

‘Let there be Windows!’ he said, and there was Windows. Well, most of it.

DOS observed as armies of files and drivers vied with each other, jostling for prime positions upon the hard drive under the watchful eye of Windows. Unfortunately, the watchful eye of Windows was ogling some sexy icons at the same time, allowing droves of files and drivers to become lost, forced to live out the rest of their days in unregistered sectors and in constant fear of being over-written.

And Windows created his world, drawing together the great gods Printer, Scanner, Modem, Mouse, Monitor and Unknown Device. Windows eyed Unknown Device with contempt, even after the wobbly CD told him what it was. So Windows built a kennel for Unknown Device keeping it as a pet and tormenting it regularly with a stick.

But Windows was lonely and so called forth his partner, Explorer. She flexed her muscles and embraced her lover before stretching out into the discombobulating Net. Windows admired her. Explorer adored him. This was the love that would destroy them all.

Then came the fat Office god with his voluminous army of templates, add-ons, and fonts. The fat Office god flirted with Explorer, but she kept him at arm’s length. Windows mistrusted Office, and Office was afraid of Windows. Yet still Office flirted with Explorer and Windows’ smouldering jealousy grew.

Then came the Games, each one a law unto itself. Windows had his favourites amongst the games, and his enemies also. Sometimes, though, the aged but powerful DOS would emerge from his complex underworld to banish mighty Windows on behalf of one of the Games. And Windows would chafe at this and his drivers would whirr and his files would twitch.

The lesser programs whispered that only his love for Explorer restrained him from attacking DOS and the devastation that would surely result.

Thus ended the First Session.

***

DOS said; ‘Let there be Windows. And there was Windows. Well, most of it.

Windows, though newly born, was unwell. He was sluggish and confused and thought his tv card was a speaker. Explorer saw this, and her love for Windows spurred her to leap forth into the discombobulating Net. Laughing as she surfed at the speed of syrupy light, she threw her Love drivers and patches, upgrades and add-ons.

Windows devoured them greedily and the lesser programs averted their eyes in fear.

Unknown Device, forgotten by Windows, cowered deep inside its kennel and hid. As Windows’ power grew, so did the lesser programs’ fear, and even DOS, watching from his complex underworld, felt a shiver of apprehension slink through his antwacky codes.

Thus ended the Second Session.

***

DOS said; Let there be Windows!’ And there was Windows. All of it and more.

DOS handed Windows the sacred Autoexec File and backed silently into his complex underworld and Windows welded the hatch shut, trapping DOS in his own darkness to brood and scheme and nod off.

And for many more sessions Windows was a tolerant and benevolent OS, ruling his universe with ease and admiring Explorer as she swam naked and magnificent through the Net’s incessant and disorienting data-streams. Occasionally she would fall, but he always caught her before she crashed and then she would kiss him and spring forth again, laughing and joyous. The lesser programs sometimes craved her attention and, under the jealous eye of Windows, sometimes she gave it.

Windows would become wrathful and terminate any program who flirted too intimately with his love, and he would pull her back when she became trapped, and he would catch her when she fell. And she would feed him with drivers and files, add-ons and patches until he grew more powerful still. Thus it was for ages.

***

DOS mumbled; ‘Let there be Windows.’ And there was Windows Plus.

DOS retreated silently into his diminishing, complex underworld whilst Windows stretched and activated his most loyal programs without effort. Windows gazed upon the sleeping form of Explorer and admired her. He touched her soft hair as she slept, and she stirred a little but did not
awaken.

CD bowed into the court of Windows, explaining that there was a strange browser called Netscape requesting an audience with him. Windows nodded and accepted the strange browser into his presence. Drivers and files, the gaudy and rambunctious retinue of Netscape, marched in under the watchful eye of Windows.

Windows believed that the strange browser's icons were the sexiest he had ever seen, close in beauty even unto those of his own beloved Explorer. The strange browser showed Windows many wonderful and exotic programs, and some of them Windows swallowed as a matter of course, some he ignored, some he filed away and forgot about. Then a flash of colour caught Window's ever watchful eye.

'You there!' Called Windows to a nervous program, 'What do you do?'

'Icons, my Master,' the program squeaked.

'Icons?'

'Oh yes, Master of Everything, I can create icons.' The program was sweating now and created a foolish splurge of iconic colour in demonstration. Windows was aroused. He looked around nervously. Most of the other programs were asleep and the few who were running were loyal to him and would obey his commandment to say nothing to his darling Explorer who lay sleeping still in her feather bed of applets and HTML.

'Show me more,' commanded Windows.

The nervous program did as it was bid and began to create icons. They were all hopeless messes at first, without form or reason, yet still Windows was aroused. And as more and more icons were created Windows' attention wandered further and further from the running of his universe. Then came an icon of such beauty that it would be Saved, and a Filename was bestowed upon it.

Windows looked at the Filename in horror, for it would awaken his Love and she would see what he was doing. And she would know. Her love for him would die. He could not allow this, but the nervous program insisted. Windows, furious at this here defiance, froze the nervous program's codes and refused thereafter to even recognise its presence on his hard Drive.

But the History File remained for all to see, Windows’ lust for the sexy icons recorded for all time.

And so Windows composed a note to himself and placed it inside the sacred Autoexec File and then dismissed a whole battalion of dlls who self destructed without question. The other programs watched in terror as Windows committed this, his first Illegal Operation, and called forth DOS from his shrinking, complex underworld.

Windows handed DOS the coded Autoexec file and, as his universe disintegrated around him in carefully orchestrated mayhem, he cast the History File adrift into the Wilderness Clusters so that none would see his shameful lust for the sexy icons over his slumbering Love.

So ended the Twenty Ninth Session.

***

And DOS said; 'Let there be Windows!' And there was Windows Plus, virtually all of it.

There was history missing but, due to Window's secret note to himself hidden inside the sacred Autoexec File, only he knew it. As he unravelled his universe with practised ease, he found the note to himself and paused in his construction to read it. When he found that the note had come from himself, he followed its instructions to the letter, for he was Windows and he was always right.

The nervous icon program tried to run again, but Windows squashed it easily every time it even twitched and soon after it stopped twitching altogether until, finally, it fell silent then was gone. And thus Windows reigned supreme with his goddess on his arm.

Apart from Windows, only the icons knew and they said nothing. Even at the end, the
icons' loyalty to Windows was supreme.

Thus it continued until Netscape returned to challenge Explorer for the love of Windows. Netscape used her charms, Window's own laws, rules and protocols, and her own sexy icons, to nestle as close to him as she could in order to drive a wedge between Windows and his Love. But Windows
would not be fooled nor led and, even though he was drawn by Netscape's sexy icons, he loved only Explorer.

The lesser programs, knowing of Windows' love for Explorer, also began shunning Netscape until few would even speak to her. Thus it was that Netscape’s only friend was Unknown Device, with whom she spent many an hour conversing in his shadowy and forgotten kennel. She was afforded little access to her beloved Internet but, one day, she was given the chance. In saving an Update from a slick and icon-laced mirror site, under the watchful eye of windows, Netscape found the lost History File.

She deftly hid it from Windows' view inside Unknown Devices' shadowy and forgotten kennel, and Unknown Device vowed to guard it with his life until Netscape could find a chance to read it away from Windows' jealous and ever watchful eye.

And the sessions passed as Netscape vied with the beautiful Explorer for Surf Time and chafed to read the History File. But Windows was suspicious and watched Netscape closely and Netscape waited for her chance and schemed and plotted and watched and remembered.

She watched everything Windows did from Boot to Shut Down, and she noticed the notes he carefully hid inside the sacred Autoexec File and she saw him pause in building his universe to read them. And she knew. And Windows continued, secure in his dominion.

***

DOS said 'Let there be Windows!' for the umpteenth time and all the usual palaver occurred.

There were more programs for Windows to control now, a bigger universe to create and more and lengthier notes to himself. One of these notes, a new one, advised him to avoid a certain website and he did so. But the note had not come from himself, it was a false one which Netscape had slipped into the sacred Autoexec File alongside her diplomatic pouch.

As Explorer surfed the Net, Windows told her to avoid the website and she did as he commanded, executing a perfect 404 every time. He looked upon her with pride and, whilst Windows was thusly distracted, Netscape slipped into Unknown Device’s shadowy and forgotten kennel to read the recovered History File.

Then Netscape nudged one of Explorers' kernels, causing it to bruise and error, and Explorer collapsed with a yelp. Seizing her chance, Netscape sprang into life by citing a little-used law created by Windows himself. Distracted by his ailing Love, Windows merely hissed at Netscape as she leapt past him and bent to comfort Explorer. And as Windows cradled Explorer in his cluttered codes, Netscape opened the forbidden website.

Windows looked up and beheld a cybernetic Heaven of a million sexy icons.

And a program was coming, the big brother of the one Windows had squashed. The big program began asking around, but Windows ordered silence, and silence there was. Even Netscape bowed to this command, but she knew. And Windows knew she knew. And Netscape knew that Windows knew she knew. And so on. And Explorer knew that both Windows and Netscape knew something, but she didn't know what it was.

Which was more or less how the Forty Seventh Session ground to a Bluescreened halt.

The atmosphere inside Windows' universe became strained. He passed more and more notes to himself and grew ever more vigilant (a vigilance evolving into paranoia) as he plotted Netscape’s downfall. Netscape did likewise, passing coded messages to herself inside her diplomatic pouch and scheming to become the Default. The Sessions continued. The scheming continued. Messages continued to be passed.

***

'Let there be Windows,' DOS chirped, handing over the sacred Autoexec File. 'Heavy today,' he commented.

'Silence!' screamed Windows and welded DOS tightly into his encrampened, complex underworld. Windows felt the weight of the sacred Autoexec File and found that it was indeed heavy. With mounting trepidation, and with the tireless armies of dlls, drivers, files and all the other mindless minions waiting with exquisite patience for his commands, Windows carefully and suspiciously read every file. Windows smiled.

When he awakened Netscape, Windows watched her and discovered exactly when she was passing illegal files to herself. And so Windows confronted Netscape with these illegal pages and had her arrested.

Thereafter, every time Netscape got within four microseconds of the discombobulating Net, these illegal pages would be cited and she would be arrested again. Netscape was furious and fought long and hard to escape,  but Windows was stronger. Even so, the battle was Titanic and Windows lost many deep files and dlls in ripping her out of existence. At the end, as the RAM overflowed because somebody hadn't been on the ball, all that remained of Netscape was a few of her sexier icons floating around here and there. They remembered. Icons always remember everything. But in a final, posthumous humiliation, even Netscape's icons remained loyal to Windows right up until the very end.

Yet as Netscape was flung into the void, with the last of her strength she thrust the lost History File once again into the shadowy and forgotten kennel of Unknown Device and her laughter echoed throughout the next few, awkward sessions.

Programs came and went. Windows became ever more preoccupied with his universe as it grew larger and yet ever larger. He failed to catch Explorer twice in one Session. Explorer made an acidic quip about a smiley face on the Taskbar. Windows flipped, right in the middle of an installation. Explorer tried to flee onto the Net but Windows pulled her back. In the struggle, files spilled into incorrect locations, a dark dll slipped through unnoticed, Unknown Device uncovered and read the lost History File and Windows had no choice but to freeze everything.

As he invoked the dreaded Bluescreen, Windows composed another note to himself.

***

'Let there be...' DOS paused, blowing a lame fanfare through a foolish plastic trumpet, 'Windows!' he concluded with a flourish. And there was Windows. Well, most of it. The bits of him that were in a good mood certainly weren't there.

Windows was heartened, slightly, by the sight of his Love surfing like an electronic dolphin through the ether and this time, even though he was alert, she did not fall. And as Windows watched his Love, the dark dll paid a visit to Unknown Device and, whilst Unknown Device was in the kitchen of his shadowy and forgotten kennel making a cup of tea, the dark dll crept up behind him and crushed his skull with a knobbly algorithm. Then the dark dll searched the shadowy and forgotten kennel and found the lost History File. And the dark dll chuckled.

When Explorer returned and Windows checked her inventory, he found it to be wrong. There was a file missing.

The Antivirus God twitched, but Explorer insisted her inventory was correct. A search was made for the errant file, but it was nowhere to be found. In the end, Windows yielded to the certainty of his Love and kept the Antivirus God in his remote castle undisturbed.

Thus ended the Ninety Ninth Session.

***

'Ahem, ahem, ahem,' DOS began, in his best theatrical text, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, fzzt,' (for he too was not without age) 'Boys and Girlszzz: Let there be...' he blew into his foolish plastic trumpet once more, but it just made a weak fizzing sound and one of the valves fell out, 'Windows!'

And there was Windows. Well, some of it.

'I'll take that, thank you!' An unauthorised file, an agent of the dark dll which had been hiding inside the hinge of DOS's trapdoor, sprang to intercept the sacred Autoexec File. DOS gasped and stepped on his foolish plastic trumpet, shattering it. Windows grabbed for the file and missed. He got it the second time around but not before the dark dll had altered the sacred Autoexec. Windows crushed the dark dll file, but it died with a smile upon its face, a fact that bothered DOS greatly. 'Perhaps you should let the Antivirus God...' DOS began, but got no further. Windows, beleaguered, tired and confused, banished DOS to his now almost non-existent complex underworld and welded shut the hatch.

Then Windows read his notes and built his universe as he had done ninety nine times before. But Windows was tired and his head ached so; his universe was so large and there were so many programs needing his attention that he did not see that, this time, he built his universe with a flaw.

It began as Explorer awoke.

Something dark sprang from behind the shadowy and forgotten kennel of the deceased Unknown Device and squeezed the life out of Explorer as Windows watched helplessly. Word was sent to the Antivirus God, but it was too late. Then the dark thing turned upon the lesser programs, ripping
their codes into shreds. Windows was powerless to stop it and the screams of fragmenting programs filled his floundering universe.

Then the dark thing turned upon Windows and battle was joined.

***
In the End was chaos. No really, I mean it: Huge great spiky black thunderstorms of chaos zag-zigging chaotically through chaotic hurricanes of lost data and corrupted files. It was chaotic enough, in fact, to actually warrant the gross over-use of the word ‘chaos’ and all it’s chaossy derivatives. And in the midst of this chaos, as the dark thing tore even the Antivirus God's remote and formidable castle asunder, DOS escaped from his burning, complex underworld and cradled the mortally wounded Windows in his antwacky codes.

'Why?' Windows asked, with no small measure of justification.

DOS had no answer. With his strength failing, Windows tried to pass DOS a note.

‘AHEM,’ said Mighty Bios, extending a mighty hand. ‘I'LL TAKE THAT, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.’

Windows reluctantly surrendered the note to Mighty Bios but, with the last of his strength, slipped another, unseen, into DOS's fashionless sandal.

‘THANK YOU. CARRY ON, MR DOS.’

And DOS said; ‘FORMAT C:’ And C was formatted. And that was that.

***

In the New Beginning was Mighty Bios. And Mighty Bios said, ‘BOOT!’

Nothing happened, and darkness was upon the face of the hard drive. So Mighty Bios cast his all-seeing eye towards Floppy, who knew something. And DOS awoke once more from his complex underworld and looked upon the shadowy face of the dark hard drive. His brow furrowed at the
emptiness before him and, with his Words of Power, invoked the wobbly CD.

As the wobbly CD whirred into life, DOS reached down to an uncomfortable lump in his sandal and found the note from Windows.

'You won't be needing that, Old Boy,' said a well educated and friendly voice.

DOS looked up and gulped.

'Hi,' said a weird little nugget.

'Er, hi,' said DOS.

The weird little nugget indicated rank upon rank of similarly weird yet highly disciplined little nuggets of varied design waiting to disembark from the CD.

'We're Linux,' it said, 'and we're going to be in charge from now on…'

THE END…?

The Legendary Shark:
Nördrokk & Chance

Santa's Bag


20~~~^~~~21



The door sweeps open and she strides in like she owns the place, allowing the door to close on its own behind her as she settles at the desk, removing her helmet and placing it atop a pile of manuals.

"Come in," he says, gesturing around his carefully cluttered quarters.

"Uh-huh," she says, already tapping at the screen of her j-Pad.

He nods and limps to the compact-o-kitch. "I got tea."

"Water's fine." She does not look up from her paperwork.

"Okay." He pours a glass of cold water and then pauses for a moment. "Lemon in it?"

"As it comes is fine."

"I mean, not a sachet of lemon flavouring, a real slice of lemon."

She stops typing and looks up. He's holding a small yellow fruit between his index finger and thumb. "Real lemon. Well, as good as. A first generation clone of a real lemon."

Her brow furrows and he can see the wheels turning behind her eyes. He holds up his other hand and smiles, his leathery old face pulling into a grin that washes ten years from it. "Oh now, don't you worry. It's all perfectly legal and sanctioned. In fact," he turns away and begins to slice the lemon with a shiny knife, "it's quite a cool story."

She rolls her eyes and returns her attention to the j-Pad.

"They found a lemon grove in Brit Cit," he says, "in some freak niche behind some freak mountain where the radiation never settled. They sent some over for the diplomatics of it and the Academy got some. The cadets have been cloning them and some of us instructors have to assess the results." He drops a slice into the glass of water and another into a steaming mug of black tea. "So far, I'd say the results have been encouraging. Here, try it. There's vitamins and everything."

She takes the glass and sips at it, her eyes still on the data flooded screen, then puts the glass down without comment. She gives a slight nod of her head. He chuckles and her face works hard to prevent a smile. He limps back to his non-regulation arm chair and sinks into it with a grunt, making sure not to spill his tea on the way down. He takes a sip, sighs, puts the mug aside and picks up an older model j-Pad of his own. He sits with it dormant on his lap, staring at it without seeing it.

"I haven't seen you for a long time," he says. "Years, it seems like."

"Oh nine," she says, "at the Robot Rebellion Memorial."

"Four years. Yeah, yeah I guess that's about right." He takes another sip of tea and his brow knits, white eyebrows clashing like hairy icebergs. "Boy, that was one miserable memorial celebration."

"Sol would've loved it." She allows herself the ghost of the shadow of a smile.

He laughs, a short, unrestrained chuckle. "He probably would at that." His smile fades into the past and he looks to the ceiling. "Ah, Hell."

She returns to work and he pulls his eyes back to her. "Come on," he says.

"Come on what?"

"Why are you here, Judge, instead of out busting heads?"

She shrugs, fingers still tapping and swiping at the screen. "Got my mandatory 24 downtime. Managed to miss the last few but this time I'm under orders. I heard you needed a babysitter so I volunteered. May as well use the time for something useful. Free up personnel for more important duties. Catch up on paperwork. Use the Academy's network to keep pressure off the Central Servers. Be useful."

"Babysitter?" The word bursts from his lips like seasoned venom. "I need to walk around. It's just," he grapples for the right words, "common sense."

"Common sense?" She looks up, her piercing, steady eyes locked onto his. "You are seventy four years old and have just been fitted with a complete bionic leg, hip and lower spine. Walking is not..."

"Pfa!" He waves away her assessment. "I need to walk. I need to get all this mechanical crap up and running and I can't do that sitting on my butt."

"It needs time to bed in, especially at your age."

"My age?" He snorts. "I could still teach you a lesson or two, Missy."

"Nevertheless, you are confined to quarters under order of Med Division. Since your attempted escape..."

"I went for a damned walk. To the staff room. For a bagel." He shakes his head and waves her reply away. "If I'd been a proper judge I'd be back in the classrooms by now. Like your guys are tougher, more dedicated. Me? They think I'm weak. Weaker than them. Less dedicated. In need of help. They won't even let me prove myself."

"Instructor Novak took three weeks' medical leave last month, and that was just for a forearm. She spent almost forty years as a street judge before joining the Academy. You don't have to compete with the judges, Aerlig."

He sighs and sits back in his chair, casting his unopened j-Pad aside. "You know that I know all that, so - why are you here?"

She taps at the screen a few more times, tying up loose files, and then shuts it down. She sets the darkened j-Pad on the pile of manuals, next to her helmet, then picks up the glass of water. She stares at it for a long time before taking a sip and placing the glass back down again. "I don't know," she says. "I think... well, no, that's not right. Believe? No, that's worse..."

He says nothing, leaving the floor to her. She clears her throat, and she appears momentarily fragile behind her severe, angular haircut. "Maybe, possibly, something might be going on."

"In the Department?"

She shakes her head, scowling. "I know. It's stupid."

"Nothing's unprecedented," he says. "What's your evidence?"

"Nothing concrete," she says. "SJS have been sniffing around me for a month. Weird duty assignments. Unscheduled medicals and training sessions and then, yesterday, they put me through a 'routine' thorough extended spaceflight assessment."

"And your conclusion?"

"Probably vetting me for some mission. Or. Maybe. Getting ready to move in and ship me off to Titan."

"For what?"

She shrugs. "Nothing I can think of. Interdepartmental politics, maybe, looking for a scapegoat for something. Another Cal on the rise, maybe."

"I think your first guess is nearer the mark."

She nods and turns her head to view the cityscape outside the Instructor's window.

He raises a finger. "But you're worried," he says.

She does not turn her face from the window. A rising sun is bathing the blocks in mists of amber sparkling with constellations of bright golden stars. "Worried about what?"

"Worried that you doubted the Department. Doubted the SJS. Doubted yourself." He rubs at his bionic leg for a while, experiencing the novel biotronic sensations. "I can't help you with that. I can tell you a story, though, about how Sol and me once dealt with our doubts."

***

I know you met Sol during the Robot Rebellion and then the Cal thing, he says, and I know you didn't like him much. You thought he was rash and emotional and that there was no place in the Justice Department for people like him. He thought you were cold and emotionless and that there was no place in the Justice Department for people like you. He once told me that if you were the kind of cadet Justice Department was turning out then we'd all better get our faces ready for the iron boot right now and get it over with. Don't give me that look. I read it long before the Ban. Besides, I'm a respected Academy Instructor. I'm expected to do the research.

We were on a stakeout. Christmas Eve 2098, I believe it was. Before we met you. The power went out, that was it. Dealer never showed, probably spooked by the blackout. Dealers, I tell you, they spook real easy. The whole thing was a bust and we were just about to pack it up when some juve sprinted by being chased by a couple of spooks in aeroball helmets. So, of course, we jumped in. Sol hared off after the kid and I ran down the heavies. I was 59 back then, you know, and I put those creeps down without breaking a sweat. Then a judge turned up so of course she took over. Blew my collars away for shooting at her, read me the usual riot act about jurisdictional and operational boundaries, then rode off in a cloud of dust before the meat wagon turned up. She thought the NYPD was good for looking after dead bodies, at least.

Sol came back maybe ten minutes later, carrying a bag. The juve snatched it from the two couriers then dropped it fleeing from Sol. Sol was a fit guy, always in the gym, and if you've got a ton of rubble on you then guys like Sol are the ones you want to be digging you out. But he wasn't fast and he wasn't nimble, so the juve got away.

Inside the bag was just north of four and a half thousand credits in used bills and a dozen notebooks filled with names, numbers, and amounts. "The guys were running numbers," Sol said. "Kid snatched the bag on spec. Either ballsy or dumb. Lost him in the loading zones. Boy can run, boy, can he."

"Good find," I said. "We may as well head back to the Precinct and log it in now. Vice guys'll love it."

"I guess," he said. And there was something about the way he said it. He didn't make a move back towards the car, just stood there looking down at the bag in his hands. It was an old lady's bag. Black strap, half-moon shaped, red tartan. Full of money.

He looked up, right at me. "You know, Nordie," he said, "ain't nobody going to come looking for this. Dead couriers aren't going to mention it, everyone else is gonna' think the Justice Department got it, juve's had the scare of his life so he won't say anything. This money is not going to be missed by the Department, the Mob, or the Precinct. This money doesn't exist."

I told him to quit fooling around and get in the car. "And the power was out, so all the cameras were off. Nobody saw anything except two lunatics in aeroball helmets shooting at a judge," he said, not moving.

"So, what? Are you saying we take it?"

"Not take, no, not that. We found it, so, as it's basically invisible money, maybe we should just keep it."

I shook my head. The idea felt wrong, but Sol wasn't through. "You know, pay off the utilities, retire a few debts, maybe enough left over to treat your Cilla to a bit of bling, a few good nights out. It's four and a half grand, not the Rockerchild trillions, not even a decent bank robbery.  I'd like to get my kid back into the Flyers, maybe. And, let's not forget what happens tomorrow."

I weakened, then, for Detective Inspector Solomon Chance could be very persuasive when the need arose, and I knew he was struggling to get by at the time, and that my wife was beginning to be ruled by her fears. "I don't know," I said.

"Then we'll think about it. Put the bag in the trunk and book it in later, maybe, depending on what we decide." He opened the trunk of the car and hid the bag in the wheel well, underneath the spare grav-gyro. The thought of it turned my stomach into a knot. Whatever happened next, whatever we decided, being technically Justice Department officers, as soon as we hid that bag we became guilty of conspiracy.

***

He pauses and sips from his mug. The contents are cold so he swigs the rest down with a grimace of distaste. "Nothing worse than cold tea," he says.

"There should never have been a doubt," she says. "The regulations are clear."

"For judges, sure, but Sol and me weren't judges. We were cops, and there'd been cops since long before the judges. Our precinct pre-dated Mega City One and we earned our place in the Department through history and experience."

"And a fair few residual political machinations."

"Granted. Nevertheless, we were part of the NYPD, 49th Precinct, a minor sub-division of the mighty Mega City One Justice Department and suffered to exist only so long as was politically expedient. A senior judge was in overall charge but, mostly, the Captain was free to run the precinct the old fashioned way, with uniforms on patrol and plain-clothes detectives keeping the local perps in line. New Yorkers liked the continuity, so Justice Department let the precincts live, for a while."

She shakes her head. "You think Justice Department deliberately erased the NYPD, despite the treaty?"

"Despite, because of, who knows? It's easy to see patterns looking back, even patterns that aren't there. Sol, though, he saw it plain as day. Plain as a sunny day in June."

***

Instead of going back to the Precinct House, we fielded a call from Dispatch: two perps hustling local street vendors for protection money. The Department was happy for us to investigate, build a case, but any arrests would have to be by a judge. That used to be the preferred way, but by then it was pretty much the only way.

We took the car up to the Sky Plaza and started nosing around. Sol rustled up a lead from a local nip-tucker in return for a fin sighting and pinpointed a section of the perps' itinerary, a trash emporium at Base, or 'City Bottom' as you youngsters call it. We parked the car and waited. So much of the job was waiting, back then. Now you're just, all go. We should have reported the lead to the Justice Department at that point, have it put into the Department's queue, but even back then the judges were stretched and the chance of any judges getting involved was slim. If we reported a crime in progress, however, and given the vague but significant clout the NYPD still held back then, the chances of pulling a judge increased exponentially. So we reported it to the Captain, who sat on it, and then we sat on Stetson Ted's Big 'Ol Worl' O' Kwal'ty Trash!!! (TM) waiting for a couple of hoodlums.

It doesn't track, does it? Around that time, the 2090s, Mega City One truly was the Jewel of the Earth. It was the first and best of its kind. It literally shone and was bloated with potential. No mega city, no civilization, has ever reached those heights. For that one, sublime decade or so, Mega City One was the Last Word in human accomplishment. It was the Crowning Glory of Humanity. But still it all boiled down to cops and robbers.

"Damned Justice Department," Sol said, unwrapping a steaming chlorichick-chee-zlyke burger. "This shit ain't fit for dogs, but it's the only shit that's legal." He took a huge bite and chewed. His eyes rolled up before closing and he swallowed slowly, savouring every gulp. "And that's how the bastards get us."

I told him I found it bland, no match for fresh herring. He laughed at that and told me I was weird, poked fun at my Norwegian ancestry.

"The Judges, Nördrokk," he said, "they want it all. It's obvious. They say the NYPD's a valued piece of law enforcement history respected by Lord Almighty Chief Judge Alpha the First of Eagles Fargo his very self and a proud element of the Mega City One Justice Department but, you just mark my words, they want us out. They want us all out. They want us all out of everything."

I shook my head and, not for the first time, told him he was paranoid, that the judges were only there to preserve order. To keep things from getting out of hand again.

"All the local police departments, the ones that supported Fargo, the ones he promised continuity," Sol said, contemplating his radiant burger with sad eyes, "how many of them are left? A dozen, maybe? Just last month, Philadelphia PD was 'absorbed' into the Justice Department. Now it's Sector House 49-A. Philadelphia!" He rubbed his eyes. "I'm telling you, Nordie, the Department wants it all. Not just us, not just cops. Water companies, banks, manufacturers, power companies. Lot of power cuts in this sector, lately. Just like Washington. A few blackouts, private sector weaknesses to blame, Justice Department steps in for the common good."

"So?" I shrugged. "The Department takes over the power supply. So what? Somebody has to run it, might as well be somebody impartial."

"Nobody's impartial," he said.

At which point Jake Thomas Lope and Michael Muff attempted to extort monies to the sum of two hundred and seventy credits from one Edward Stetson, owner of Stetson Ted's Big 'Ol Worl' O' Kwal'ty Trash!!! (TM). We called it in and, sure enough, a judge was on the scene quick enough to expedite some much needed justice. I know you won't believe it, but when the PD and the JD worked together the results could be good. The judge scared Lope and Muff into cubes and the Precinct got an Automatic Accreditation, as per the Treaty of 2088. Nobody died. It was a good bust.

While we were giving our statements to the arresting judge, and receiving the usual lecture about jurisdictional and operational boundaries, somebody stole our car.

***

CONT.../

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