Preview for my new novella. Amazon link is here Hope you enjoy.
The Phentrai wriggled on the ground, its four tentacles flapping piteously, mandibles clacking in fear.
“What about my rights?” it said in a hideous whine.
“What about your wrongs?” came the gravel voice reply.
A red button blossomed in the alien’s forehead. Its brains spilled out in a thick schlump. Spiff Blasthandy looked to the iron clad sky in the distance. This job was done, but how much more injustice was spawning in this cold, cold galaxy?
Fade to black.
The feed switched back to the studio. The paid audience responded to the applause sign like well-trained apes. The host, lauded for his skill in imitating a warm smile no matter how odious the guest, gestured to Cecil Jaworski, star of the Spiff Blasthandy series.
Cecil, a dark haired square-jawed man, sat in an amorphous chair that molded itself to a body’s contours. Piercing blue eyes registered and analyzed the host’s every movement.
“Wow just wow,” the host said.
Cecil smiled. Despite his muscles and confident demeanor, he was a mass of tender nerves. His powerful frame sweated heavily under the “clean” suit- which absorbed most stains, bodily secretions, and odors. He hated these real time interviews. What if he said the wrong thing? What if he burped on live flow? What if he was asked a question he didn’t understand. What if… what if… and on and on and on. It was just so much damn easier to beam a prerecorded message from the hidden recesses of his private chalet.
But this was the most popular late night talk thing on the Earth flows this ratings quarter and they insisted on “authenticity”. Real audience, real reactions, everyone in the same studio. Terrifying. Cecil had to take a double dose of beta-blockers just to get in the studio door, but with 15 million live viewers gawping at him over the flow they had little effect.
The flow. The interconnected wireless media. Everything and nothing. Everywhere and nowhere. People jacked into it from their datapads, home systems, anywhere they wanted. It provided them with all the free entertainment, porn, news, and knowledge they could ever hope for. Anyone could add to it. Anyone could be a star. Anyone a music legend waiting to happen. All of Earth culture was now balled up into one gigantic wireless mess.
“So, Cecil…,” the host laughed. “Sorry, I just can’t think of your name as anything but Spiff. Can I call you Spiff?”
“Oh please do,” Cecil replied. “I get it all the time.”
Great, a buzzing from inside his clavicle said. Makes you look like a relaxed guy. One of them. A feet-on-the-ground slob who loves beer, broads, and cyball.
“So, Cecil,” the host said, ignoring his previous statement to the crowd’s amusement, “you’ve come a long way from your early days at fourteen doing ads for topical medication.”
An image of a 14 year old Cecil, ripe with acne, appeared. His hands were slapped against his face, eyes wide. Who will rid me of these turbulent zits? A dyslexic mirror image of the rugged man Cecil was today.
Laugh along with it. The buzzing demanded. He’s trying to bait you.
At the other end of the buzz was his manager, monitoring everything from a cozy desk. As nearly every other method of communication could be tapped by crazed fans and snoop paparazzi, Cecil had a receiver implanted in his jaw that tapped out a coded signal into the bone which radiated up the skeletal structure and was interpreted by a specialized chip inside his brain. This might be sound extraordinary, but extraordinary means were needed for total secrecy.
“That was so long ago. Were we ever so young?” Cecil laughed, an obviously forced one. The host’s eyebrows cocked. What did that mean?
“But you’re not the only one in your family who had such a young start in the entertainment industry, right Cecil?”
Uh-oh. Stay on the script. Buzz buzz.
“Long before Spiff Blasthandy there was your brother…”
“Hey, can we focus on what people want to hear today? Not dredge up some ancient history.”
Blood in the water. The host’s piranha sense was tingling.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to talk about something other than yourself.”
“It’s not that.” Cecil faltered. “I just, you know…,” Bad memories. Dark deeds. The needle’s lure. Times that needed to be suppressed. “There are some things better left buried.”
“Like your brother?”
Cecil could hear the pundits and media sluts clicking their tongues at this arrogant, self-absorbed celebrity. To paraphrase Machiavelli: It was fine to be self-centered, but not to appear to be self-centered.
You’re losing them. Do something funny!
“I didn’t mean it like that. Everyone has problems. It’s just not a situation I feel comfortable discussing live.”
Better. Makes you seem sympathetic. Not actually sympathetic, only seem that way.
“Well, how about your co-star Roawar Mobawr, who plays your Cizerack sidekick Cloe?” the host asked sharpishly. “Is that okay to talk about?”
“Sure. She’s a lovely actress and working with her is a joy.”
“Roawar is a male.”
Cizeracks were a four legged vaguely feline species from halfway across the galaxy. Cecil had barely had any face-to-face dealings with the race.
“Who the hell can tell those people apart?” he said thoughtlessly.
That sealed it. Worst interview ever. The flows were alive with harpies gossiping, condemning, virtue signaling about Cecil Jaworski. The celebrity who thought he was too big to notice the gender of his co-stars. Even as he stormed backstage, he knew the entire interview was being dissected, cut up, and tossed out over the flow with some pompous critic’s worthless opinion voiced over the images.
Bad bad bad bad.
He stomped to the tiny dressing room followed by satellites. Two assistant drones, one pure AI, the other was connected to a guy somewhere in Turkey, floated about, waiting to fulfill his demands. Ahead, two security drones hovered, zapping back any of the gathering herd of fans who got too close. Despite his faux pas, which must’ve been signaled round the solar system by now, they yelled for an autograph, a livestream, a still shot, anything.
His personal interface assistant, the only live help he had, handed him a cocktail in the dressing room. The assistant, whatever his name was, was a necessary evil. Sometimes gadgets fail, then someone real was needed to open doors and fetch drinks.
“Don’t worry too much, sir,” the assistant said, irritating Cecil.
“I’m not worried.”
He plopped down and took off his goddamn shoes. They were very trendy and looked good on screen, but pinched his feet like a bastard.
“Get the foot bath,” he ordered.
“I still wouldn’t worry…”
“I’m not. Get the thing!”
And he wasn’t too worried. The show had been doing well on its main flow. In the current age, each show was sponsored by a parent content flow with new episodes appearing exclusively there. After that, an entire season was doled out on its own individual flow. Later on, it was bundled up with other shows into a yearly content package and sold to a colony, chartered dominion media corporation, or, on rare occasions, to an alien world.
“Here you go, sir.”
The assistant put down a plastic tub filled with hot water. Cecil dunked his aching bunions. Rollers dug into his arches, kneading deep into the flesh. A tiny bit of heaven.
The AI drone squawked, “Your agent is attempting communication.”
“Very good <crackle>.”
He let the warm sensations on his feet cascade up his legs and over his abdomen. It was a meditative technique from the Zen Rigeln people that had become a bit of a fad in upper crust culture. And not a bad one, Cecil had to admit. It was helpful. But real life wouldn’t shut up today.
I’m on damage control, his jaw buzzed. We’ve got to spin this quick.
“Can’t I get a moment’s peace?”
“Sir?” asked the assistant.
“I’m not talking to you. Should know that by now. Get me some grapes.”
The assistant ran out. Cecil rose and shook the water off of his feet. If he couldn’t get into a good mood then he might as well indulge the bad. This was going to be a protracted headache, he felt it deep in soul. If only that guy hadn’t mentioned his brother…
“Look, Lolly,” The name of his manager. “I’m heading home. This will blow over in a week. I should just lay low.”
No can do, bud. Corporate has deemed that you make nice and do good. Light and airy.
And that was that. Corporate was the money, and the money had spoken.
The human systems were generally organized along sponsorship flows with conglomerates buying and selling the individual flows back and forth. They had attempted to expand to all human incorporated systems, but the Media Monopoly Act passed by the lower Alliance Councils ruled that no corporations could own more than a tenth of the registered flows for any system.
For a flow on the human channels, while technically open to anyone, a person still had to pay a registration and annual license fee, the cost of which had gradually been jacked up to be prohibitive to most people. This is how the new media corps had come into being. They offered to cover fees, advertising, distribution to other systems, and scrounge up sponsors in exchange for a lion’s share of the profits. While it may seem a rip off, the popular channels found the noticeably increased take of personal profits quelled most complaints.
Other races had their own way of handling it. Such as the Zen Rigeln or the Eridani who had only a few tightly controlled government-run media flows. The Orions had a free-for-all with over ten trillion flows where any slob with a data pad and the desire to stutter their dim-witted ideas into it could potentially broadcast across the galaxy. And in the Cizerack states, which did not have a uniform planetary government, organizing any constant laws was impossible. What they had varied wildly from state to state and was too much of a headache for anyone to bother working on the problem.
Hey, I’ve got your back. As long as the money rolled in. If the show was canceled, two seconds later it would be, “What have you done for me lately?” We’ve been working on a few ideas, shooting them back and forth with corporate.
Lolly always said “we”, but Cecil had no idea how many people actually worked for him, if any did. He’d only met the man once for five minutes in New York, since then it’d all been wireless communication.
We considered moving your marriage forward. Big splashy event. All the nobs from the fiction flows kibitzing, being fabulous.
“No way.” Though if someone wanted to punish him for his slip up, that would be the way to go.
Her people nixed it as well. They feel her image will take a hit by being associated with you right now.
What a nice surprise. How many other annoying people would shun him for this? Maybe he should make a few more racial remarks, get everyone to back off.
Well there’s the Galactic Marine Benefit Society chili cook-off in Houston
Corporate wants it common. Your demographic is working class people who like watching bad guys being shot. Keep them on your side and you’re golden. So you’ve got to slum with the plebs.
“Fine. Try to make it fun though.”
The personal interface assistant returned offering a half a stem of wrinkled grapes. “Your air cruiser is here,” he said in a whimpering tone.
The assistant ran around collecting stuff. But he just couldn’t stop trying to ingratiate himself.
“It’s not too bad,” he ventured again. “If only… if only it wasn’t the Cizeracks.”
The man had never learned the essential art of keeping his fat mouth shut. Still, he was right. Had it been one of the truly weird alien species the public wouldn’t have cared, might’ve even cheered him on. But the Cizeracks, with their feline grace, beautiful fur, and wide comforting eyes, were adored by people. His demographic more so than most.
Most of the Earth’s feline and canine species had gone extinct due to genetic plagues and chromosomal unspoolers from the old wars before the Alliance was formed. To many humans, Cizeracks filled in the fluffy-furry hole they found in their lives.
Cecil tapped the AI drone.
“Coordinate with Lolly on travel schedules and accommodations. And…and get me a new personal interface assistant.”
He left the man behind in the dressing room, eyes pleading. The air cruiser whisked Cecil away.