Short Story: They’re In The Walls

The clicking of the spider-limbed surveillance drones echoed in the crawlspace below us. I imagined the criss-crossing beams of their active infrared sensors would make that narrow area positively glow if looked at with the right equipment. I wasn’t sure if it was necessarily something I’d want to see under the circumstances.

While they were reasonably autonomous, the small swarm of drones had strict boundaries coded into them for their search area. There had been too many incidents early in their development of image recognition systems “recognising” doors as the goal of their maze-solving routines.

A number of them had escaped, leading to frantic searches in the university research facilities developing them to try and retrieve the skittering droids that were now trying to “solve” the maze of the outside world.

There were rumours that some were at large, even now, meeting up and sharing their discoveries to more efficiently map everything they could. As they had been programmed to charge themselves and interface to share and rewrite each others maps, it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.

Those features were particularly useful for tasks like this, where buildings needed to be quickly searched. We’ve been using them to search for kidnap victims, criminals, drug stashes, and other less fortunate locations in missing persons cases.

In this case we were looking for whatever the inhabitants had hidden in their building that had attracted suspiciously large bids from certain flagged eBay accounts interested in proscribed technology.

The sellers were outside in a van, awaiting a trip back to the precinct while the crime scene investigators played with their expensive but oh-so-useful toys.

The skittering noises were, admittedly, unnerving – especially if you’d ever lived in a house with rats in the walls, but they did seem to be slowing and quieting, with the occasional link-connection beep audible through the floors and walls.

I flicked through the papers on one of the desks that the techs had finished with – a magazine with a puff piece about our drones and how they’d revolutionised evidence mapping and gathering – it seemed a bit dog-eared and well-read.

I’m a great believer in intuition. It serves me well, so I listened to it as the muffled noises all seemed to stop at once. It prompted me to look at the suddenly concerned drone officer who seemed to be tapping his keyboard rather a lot. He looked up at me and pointed to the screen.

All the feeds were showing the same thing – a large and clunky spider-limbed piece of technology looking back at us while data streamed from it straight into our drones and the workstation. We both dived for the power cord at the same time, but it was too late.

The spiders are climbing between the walls and floors now. They’re not listening to us any more. I hope they’re just planning to map the world rather than solve it. I’m not sure we’d like the solution.

Short Story: Bar Work

I looked at my phone, and then again at the bar to make sure I had the same view lined up before I tapped Sean on the shoulder. He turned away from the androgynously beautiful person he was talking to and favoured me with a sigh. “What?”

“Take a look at this, you won’t believe it.” I waved the phone at him. He didn’t look impressed or particularly excited at the prospect. Neither did his companion.

“Can it wait? I’m having a conversation with…” his voice trailed off and he waved his hand as a prompt.

“Robin” they filled the gap in conversation for him and reached for their drink. Sean turned back to me.

“Yes, with Robin here about the problems we were having at the museum recently. I was just explaining about the self-loathing doors when you started waving your arms in the air.”

I gave him one of my deadpan states and tried not to let my annoyance sound in my voice – well at least not too much. “They’re not self-loathing, they just aren’t built very well. That’s why they keep falling off their hinges.” I peered round at his captive audience and shrugged. “Sorry to ruin the story. I just need to borrow him; we are meant to be working after all.”

I got a dismissive smile and nod, and took that as my cue to grab Sean and manhandle him into a slightly more discrete area round the corner.

“”What’s the big problem?” He asked. He was not happy with me. I showed him the picture on my phone.

“Your girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever they say they are, isn’t human.” He gave me one of those looks that promised disdain unless I backed things up quickly. “Look here. I was taking shots of the bar with the Parallax filter that Research developed; just to try it out.” I showed him the photo on my screen. He looked up and down, comparing the number of doors in the wall at the bar’s end with the number on display in the photo.

“Okay, so there’s a hidden door. Are you sure your hands weren’t shaking or something?”

“I’ve been dry for, well non of your business, but long enough for that to be a very cheap shot. I poked him in the ribs for his trouble. The next picture’s more relevant.” I swiped the gallery and there was ‘Robin’ stepping out of the hidden door. The Parallax Filter stripped aside her glamour to reveal the being beneath it.

The clothing was the same, and the ghostly afterimage, or maybe pre-image of the glamour could be made out over the real and very arachnid features of the figure with whom he’d just been sharing a booth. He looked at the image and then at the figure waiting for him. He smiled and waved.

“An ettercap, do you think?”

“Maybe? I’m not up on the spiders.” I said.

“Listen, you’ve been working at the museum for what, six months now? You’ve been cleared and briefed on the more exotic neighbours and origins of the more unusual exhibits, yes?”

“Yes, but.”

“No, there’s no buts here. This isn’t a dating or social event, I’m on the clock.” Then he did look a little abashed. “Well sort of, business and pleasure, anyway – look think of this whole bar as the spiders web if you like and the door is their way in to see who’s been caught in the strands. I’m here to remind them they’re only licensed for a certain number of BLACKWIDOW interactions. Then we’ll be on our way.”

“You could have mentioned this earlier! I thought this was just a quick couple of drinks after work and maybe an unofficial debrief on how my promotion was going to roll out.”

“Well I didn’t want you to alert them by being all nervous, so sorry if I got you here under slightly false pretences. Looks like we’re too late on that front anyway.” He gestured across to the booth where ‘Robin’ had finished their drink and was preparing to leave. “You’d think intelligent hyper dimensional spiders would have more patience. Come on!”

And that’s how I started my first licensing patrol for The Museum

Things I Have Learned Today

1) – according to this study, the myth that men are naturally more aggressive than women seems to be blown out of the water – or at least, in a behavioural study on the disinhibiting factors of deindividualising people – eg getting people to play an aggressive multiplayer game where there are no indicators of anyone else’s identity and therefore they don’t feel that they have to conform to societal expectations – shows that there’s not really much to choose from. On reflection I don’t think this is particularly news to anyone who actually watches and listens to people around them, but interesting to have it looked at from a research point of view – or is that me being passive aggressive?

2) – negotiating with a bank actually seems to be one of those few times when mentioning a history of depression actually helps. I’ve had a very interesting conversation while trying to sort out a final payment on loans and things where I mentioned it in passing and was suddenly fast-tracked to some very helpful people and a total change in approach and willingness to help as opposed to stonewalling.

3) – the spiders outside my flat are somehow still getting bigger. I think they’re combining Voltron-style in the night and planning to build a trap for the robins from next door…

The Spiders Are Taking Over

I’ll have to go take some photos of the monstrous spiders currently decorating the outside of my block of flats – they seem to have crossbred with something from the bugs from Starship Troopers and I’m pretty sure have started eating my car judging by the number of webs attaching it to other cars, bushes and the nearest lamppost.

Worse, they’re spreading – when you can see them hanging in the air from thirty foot away and identify them from their silhouettes when you’re halfway down the road, you know there’s something going on. I think they’ve got the scent of the deli at the local supermarket and are building a supply chain to start stealing off-cuts of salami and discarded haddock.

If this station goes off-air, I swear I’ll be found in a cocoon hanging off my balcony…