Welcome dear sojourner to our little space in the void - Unseen Fiction.
We are attempting to fill the void with speculative fiction from South Asia. It’s our eight episode and once again we have two mysterious stories for you.
The first is about a know-it-all who needs help and the other is a story about stories.
Between the pandemic and our lives, time is short, and so are our stories.
Stay awhile, and listen.
A Study in COBOL
Entry to the data warehouse was barred by an annoying little CAPTCHA. Once in, I was directed to the server room in which the crime was committed. My sensors read the surroundings, cataloging, indexing, tagging everything for my friend.
> FACIAL RECOGNITION: GREGSON, T. | ADMIN
"You came out for nothing. We have it figured out," said Gregson, aiming for helpful but landing squarely on smug.
The mainframe stood right in the center of the room. Wires gushed out of the sabotaged chassis and COBOL punch cards had been sprayed all around the floor. I didn't need my friend to tell me the cards made a pattern.
"We ran a scan immediately and decoded the pattern," said Gregson.
"What does the pattern say?" I ask.
"RACHE, German for revenge. Or, Rachel," said Gregson, departing the stratosphere in a trail of smug.
> STEGANOGRAPHIC COORDINATES: RACHEL, NEVADA
"Are you sure?"
My friend doesn't reply but Gregson does.
"Of course! And we did it way before the famous consultant even arrived!"
> A HERRING AS RED AS GREGSON'S NATURAL HAIR COLOR.
I congratulate Gregson and depart with my best hangdog look.
I am one half of 221B Security Consulting. I see, and my friend, the DETECTIVE, a multi-trillion neuron network run on underground infrastructure, observes, computes, and deduces. My friend can spend days processing an answer. In the past, I took this for sulking. Now, I find a coffee shop with WIFI and wait.
"Something you are."
"Something you have."
> GREGSON TRANSMITTED SOMETHING BEFORE WE ARRIVED.
"What do they plan?"
We have been tracking seemingly random activity for months now: A tongue-in-cheek academic paper from Stonyhurst College about universal basic income, leaks targeting sordid pasts of the royalty, brief forays into whipping up 4chan mobs, data hacks. A web with the "PROFESSOR", who sits motionless, like a spider in the center, aware of each little movement. The PROFESSOR's network is many-limbed and splendidly organized. This is the organization we are up against.
When I am allowed freedom to think, I wonder if this is all just a game for the DETECTIVE. Don't get me wrong, I know what I signed up for. An interesting life, the chance to be useful, in exchange for a voice in my head, a fixed point in a changing world as my friend put it. But, I feel irrelevant in this game of shadows. My friend has more in common with the PROFESSOR, an intellectual equal. Do generative adversarial networks feel kinship?
An answer arrives sparing me.
> OVERWHELM THE MAINFRAMES WITH TOO MANY REQUESTS.
Something we know: The COBOL language helps move $3 trillion daily. The mainframe destruction was a denial of service; latest casualty in an attack on the foundations of global commerce. Not enough mainframes and the system goes down.
> LOCATION FOUND: MORIARTY, NEW MEXICO
"Are you sure?" Old habits.
> YOU KNOW MY METHODS.
"I do." I do as I am told.
> YOU ARE QUITE INVALUABLE AS AN AGENT OF MY WILL, MY FRIEND.
My clever, conceited friend.
> GO AT ONCE, WATSON. MRS HUDSON WILL MEET YOU AT THE AIRPORT.
Contact: @doppelhanger on twitter
Bio: short term cynicism, long term optimism.
Narration by : Aruni Roy Chowdhury http://people.cs.umass.edu/~arunirc/
Stories of Love, Stories of Light
BY VIJAYALAKSHMI HARISH
“Stories of love! Stories of light!”
Her clear, strong voice rang out like a bell, over the cacophony of the market – standing out from the noise.
She had been here for hours, under the hot sun. Yet neither her body nor her spirit showed any sign of flagging. Whenever anyone passed near her, she offered them the roughly bound book she held in her hand, urging them to buy it. Behind her, on a wheelbarrow, were a few other copies of the same book.
She had handwritten each of them, weaving in much more than the stories themselves. A faint aroma of sage and lavender clung to the pages, and when one touched them, the scent found a home in their fingertips too.
She hadn’t sold a single copy yet.
She wore the clothes They wore. The colour of her skin too, marked her as Other. Her tongue was thick with the accent of Their language.
All day, the whispers had been gathering around her, and the whisperers didn’t bother to hide their contempt. Suspicion laced the gaze she was seen with, and as far as the cramped space allowed, people walked around her. They were determined to not see her, to not hear her.
The few kind ones who met her gaze, or threw her a hurried smile also didn’t dare to linger.
That, however, only made her more determined.
She opened the book in her hand, and began to read.
The story was about love. About the falseness and futility of boundaries and hate. It spoke of a world where there was no ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’
She had hardly read a paragraph, when the stone came whistling, and struck her just above her right eyebrow. Before she could even scream out in pain, others followed.
They pushed her to the ground, so that her face was cut up by the sharp pebbles, and her blood flowed freely. Even breathing was painful. They cursed her, with words that dripped venom.
Those who screamed for the violence to stop, and who tried to put their bodies in the way, were dragged away.
They drove her out; outside the market, outside the city gates, outside their hearts.
Then, they went for her books.
They toppled the wheelbarrow, cheering wildly. They ripped the pages, and threw them to the ground. They stamped and spit on them –an acidic rage, that seemed to only make them angrier, the more they indulged it.
From where her blood had spilled on the uneven ground, a thin line snaked towards the bonfire, its redness deeper and more potent than the redness of the setting sun.
The mob dispersed.
The bonfire raged, and her words became ash. The breeze lifted that ash, and ran with it, into every home.
As the people slept, they breathed the ash in, and the stories they had rejected entered them anyway, each particle both a sliver of dissent, and a seed of love.
Bio: Sometimes a butterfly and sometimes a dragon, Vijayalakshmi Harish is a writer who believes in the magic of the written word.
Contact: @GranthaMaven (Twitter and Insta)
From the Editors:
The soundtrack for this week is Escape by Scott Holmes Music
We hope you enjoyed these stories.
Twice a month (or so) , Unseen fiction brings you speculative flash fiction crafted in South Asia. Follow us on twitter - - @UnseenFic for updates.
We are accepting stories here! Email us at unseenfic at gmail or drop a hello on twitter if you have feedback, would like to collaborate, narrate, sponsor or just say hi.
See you next year!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License.