From the (unstaffed) Building C-West foyer, he took the left stairs up to the second floor. Another corridor, comprised of high-wall cubicle workstations, both sides, over its entire length. All of these were empty. Eighteen, twenty, twenty-two steps down, on his left-hand side he spotted his own first name and initial, and an integer.  “James S-7.” He sat down in the chair. No laptop, no phone, just the muted grays and browns of the sparse cubicle furnishings.

After about a minute, a fellow came down the corridor and walked into James’ cube.


“James, Major Scofield—Jim? Hello. I am Adrian Severin.” He held out his hand, and Jim shook it.  “I’ve been assigned as your manager. How do you do? And, I should say, Welcome Back!”  He looked like he was about to try some lameass sort of salute, but at Scofield’s look he thought better of it.

“Fine, thanks, umm, Hi.” Scofield offered his hand. “Did Bob retire?”

“I couldn’t say. You know, protocol.”

“Oh, for fucks’ sake. Right, OK. Sorry. Well, who is around? Skip, Stephen, Jon?

Severin frowned.

“You’re kidding me.”

Severin shook his head.

“Who is in our workgroup then?”

Severin frowned again.  “You are it, I’m afraid”


Severin stood looking at him a moment, then said, “I’ll be right back.”

This was all very cryptic, and unlike the corporate culture Scofield remembered. “What’s the deal?” he wondered. They must have laid everyone off. It was the only logical explanation. But why all the secrecy?

∞ ∞ ∞

A little while later, Severin returned with a hefty stack of what appeared to be printouts of telephone call logs.

“While we’re waiting to get your workstation set up, I wondered if you could tend to a short-term task for us? To pour over these, basically, and look for anomalies and patterns.”

“Such as?” This was the stupidest-sounding request-order he had heard in a long time. And, over in-country, he had heard some doozies.

“As you can see,” Severin continued, “these are color-coded to indicate Authorized calls, in green bars, and Unauthorized calls— orange bars.


“And if you could go through the ‘Unath’ lines and look for patterns, clusters, anything that leaps out at you, whatever might help us towards discover something actionable.”

“By hand?” Scofield scowled.  “This would certainly go a lot faster with even the simplest bit of programming applied to the problem. What system houses the call records?”

“The phone system.”

There was a moment while Scofield suppressed the urge to explicitly mock this bullshit.

“Right. Look, Adrian, is there something you are not telling me?”

“Such as?”

“Such as, maybe Kronsys has closed down my old department, and, because of the VRR/USERRA stuff, you don’t know what to do about me?

“I suppose that might be a reasonable inference for you to make. But we do have work that needs to be done.”

“I see. Well, OK. How about I dig into these until lunch, and then after a break and a bite to eat, maybe we could discuss this further? How can I reach you—since I don’t even have a desk phone yet?”

“Sounds good. Your workstation should be set up by the time you return; and, with any luck, your phone—internal calls only at this point.”

“All right then. See you at 1:00”

Scofield pulled the stack of printouts towards him, put the yellow pad and fine tip marker at his right hand, and dived into the work.

Two hours later, his eyes hurt and he hadn’t started to glimpse any pattern to be discerned in the small set of  ‘Unauth’ call records. He really was starting to conclude that the whole setup was merely ‘make-work’ and that they were pulling a CYA to keep out of hot water with their funders at the Pentagon.

He thought instead about his inexplicably odd and disquieting first day back at work, starting just ten hours ago, this morning. At his final Army debriefing, His CO had suggested that he take a break, a week anyway, but he was not a fan of idleness.  He had jumped right back in.

Scofield recalled that he was driving to work yesterday morning, heading in for his first day back at his civilian job at Kronsys Corp, a MIL-SPEC defense equipment manufacturer. He had been deployed in Afghanistan for eighteen months, and he was looking forward to seeing his old buds again, especially his old business partner Bob Thomson.

Due to the security protocols of the contracting work they did, personal, off-the-job electronic communication was forbidden among Kronsys employees. Although of course it went on anyway, here and there. Like office romance and harassment, it was discouraged but never quite squelched entirely. He had tried to contact Bob while he was away but, ever a stickler for ‘the rules, Thompson never wrote him back.  In fact, he hadn’t heard hardly a thing from Skip, or Jon, or Stephen, the other guys on his team  since shipping out. Nothing in the work Inbox other than required official crap from corporate. He was looking forward to rejoining their old lunchtime walking club, and catching up on all the skinny.

Scofield parked his car in a pretty good spot, got out and entered the lobby.  The young lady staffing the reception desk was new. Pretty, too.

“Hi, I’m Jim, I work here. I am restarting.” He held out his badge for her to see.

“Very good. Sign here please, while I print you some identifying information and an access pass.”

“I have that. Here … ”

“Oh. No, you need a new one, and a new photo. Protocol, you see.”

“Yes, OK. Like in the Army, I know.” He smiled as he handed over the old ID.

No return smile was offered.

“Hmm. Not so pretty inside, maybe,” he mused.

Getting new ID only took a few moments. The receptionist handed it to him—He put a hand out to proceed through the second, access door, waiting for her to buzz it open.

She looked up at him. “You will need directions.”


“You’ve been relocated.”

He realized that he should have expected some changes like this. “Where to?”

“Down the length of this corridor, then out; proceed to Building C2, across the quad. You’re still within the compound there, so your badge will work when you get to the Building C entrance.”

“OK. My boss is Bob Thompson, can you call him and tell him that I am on my way?”

She looked at her screen, and then back at Scofield. “Building C, 200 west. Proceed until you locate your cubicle, it will be on your left.  There you should find your new workstation and assignment materials. There will be someone around soon to discuss your re-entry schedule.”

“Not Bob?”

“I couldn’t say, sir. You know, protocol.”


She hit a button on her screen, and a sensomotor on the doorframe made an unlocking sound.

Scofield walked through it, and began walking down the long corridor. That he was pleased that to observe, he did remember. “One goddam thing is the same, at least.” And so on, out into the quad, arriving at the front of Building C.  He held up his new badge to the doorway reader and heard an unlocking motor whir again. He entered.

[I’ve been working on this one for a while, and while I have a beginning, a middle, and an end, I don’t know that I’m going to finish it. ]

“Under VRR/USERRA, military services members returning to the civilian workforce have enforceable reemployment protection, and are entitled to the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits, as they would have had reason to expect had they not been called up.”  — U.S. Department of Labor/Veterans Affairs (VA)


If asked to name one person of his long acquaintance whom Major James Scofield, recently ex- of the US Army Reserves, would have considered the least likely to commit suicide, his pick might been his business partner, Bob Thomson. And yet, as he read in the Metro section of the Boston Globe online, last night Bob Thompson had done just exactly that.

He re-read the Globe’s brief reporting. “Former calibration engineer Robert Thompson, 43, was found dead at his Waltham home this evening. An official on the scene stated that the victim’s single gunshot wound appeared to be self-inflicted.  Police are still on-scene.”

Steve Allison, another old Kronsys colleague, had sent him the link. Kronsys staff were instructed, on day one and on an annual rotation subsequently, not to personal e-mail addresses, supposedly due to the security requirements demanded  of a defense contractor. But Scofield had this one, as well as Thompson’s, since before their small calibration shop had been acquired by Kronsys, only 36 months ago. He didn’t especially like or admire Allison – Bob had hired him – but he was a good worker and effective at his specialty.

Scanning his inbox, Scofield determined that there were no recent messages from Bob. Thompson was ever a stickler for the rules. Pushing back his chair, he grabbed a beer from the mini-fridge and reflected, trying to make an assessment of what the hell he did feel about the death of his quirky friend. He was not able to yet; he couldn’t take it in. It was too large  and dark and troubling. With an effort of will, he turned his mind to something else. Also disturbing but less, he expected, painful. There was nothing to be done for poor Bob Thompson at this point, anyway.

The Brick

I was wrapping the brick in my room. Yeah, I had it. And yeah, I was going to hand it over to the client. You get a reputation for delivering on your contracts, and you need to uphold it. I was only worried about how I would get it back into the museum without being caught.

In this part of the world, and in the circles I had to travel in, Siberian tea bricks were once again the preferred form of currency. It sounds crazy, but after the fall of the G8 and the corporate moguls, there was no trust in government specie anymore and traders reverted to the old forms. And no tea bricks were more valuable than the old pre-fall, Communist ones. Pressed and dried by long-dead Commissars back when both China and Russia laid their jealous eyes on Tibet. They were things of beauty, well-constructed and, in a pinch, functionally useful. If you liked tea, I suppose.

As a gifted Traveller, and a bit of a off-license thief, I was able to slip between times and worlds without all the usual paperwork. This was a great advantage for jobs like this, but it carried all manner of attendant risks. The largest of which was Banning. If I were caught swiping the artifact from some museum in a time and place other than my homeline, they’d go into my head and do some “ad-justing” and “re-educating” and I’d be relegated to singletravelling like every other poor sod on this foolish and fallen rock.

And, above all, I didn’t want that to happen.

But right now, I had to get the brick to the man. And that in itself was far from a sure thing. You have no idea how inconvenient crosstown traffic had become since the most recent takeover.

Dear Mr. Warshaw,

There are those who would consume your music. I don’t mean that they would listen to it, as you do. I mean that they would siphon off your enjoyment of it, forever. And for their own pleasure, without a moment’s regret. And not just yours: Everyone’s.

I know this sounds like a paranoid rant, and very likely it is. But I haven’t lived 300 years on this world and not learned a few things.

I’ve learned – or, I’ve come to understand – that there is conspiracy which is sucking away those creative and imaginative brain functions that lead to the authentic invention and enjoyment of music. What I don’t know is who is behind it, how far they have proceeded, and what they intend to do with this stealthy, bizarre capacity.

How do I know? Can I prove it? Am I a crackpot? I know you are asking yourself these things, and so you should. You know about some things beyond the edges, as it were. That’s why I turned to you.

I have evidence. But I can’t risk bringing it to you. They’re watching. Come to me, here. Please come quickly, I haven’t got much time and they want to silence me like they’ve silenced everyone else who’s found out.

/A Friend

Alan got home and poured a tall glass of the cheap stuff he kept over the sink. His Mom was already asleep. He sat there, stirring it, not even sipping.

He opened his mobile assistant device. He stared at the CrimStarter app for 9, 10, 11 minutes. He opened the app and wrote out Ebben’s tale of woe, disproportionality and hopelessness. He hit ‘Create Case’. Up it went.

He slept a while, after. Then he opened the app again and checked for pledges. There were none. Not even $5 from the guys he went to law school with, who would have seen the case pledge request open immediately. Crickets.

He took out his court-issued Amex and pledged $15,000 that he knew he could never pay. He had crossed a big red ethical line there, and he knew it.

Alan lay down and slept until morning.

He woke up, took a leak, and hit GO on the coffeemaker. While it was brewing he opened his device again and checked the CrimStarter case file.


It had hit $75K.


Alan looked again, threw on his glasses and took a third look, his eyes finally in focus. The case was flagged as Ready to File—and was $16K to the good of the minimum threshold.

He showered, threw on his clothes and got moving on his way back to the GoodNeighborHood™  prison where Ebben was being held overnight. Alan could repudiate his pledge as soon as the appeal paperwork went through, there was already enough for the first filing, and he might even be able to get Ebben out on his recognizance, lack of flight risk, etc. etc. His mind was racing with the possibilities. My god, he thought, is this actually going to work?

He arrived at the prison and asked for an authorized client visit. The officer behind the desk looked at him, looked at his screen a moment, and then should his head.

“The inmate exercised his Early Resolution rights at 4:07 this morning, it says here.”

His name was Ebben. It was an unusual name, so Alan repeated it to himself.  “Ebben Hilbert.” Ebben stood accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Although he could not provide a credible alibi, only a few sketchy (read: paid) witnesses seemed to place him at the scene. The physical forensics were crappy, the digital trail was weak. Still, a kid had been crippled, it would take years of PT to get him walking again; and property had been destroyed.  So someone had to pay. That’s the courts, these days. Alan sighed.

Alan felt the old despondency arising again in his psyche. No matter how many of the new depressor-suppressors he took, it still always lurking around the edges of his consciousness. Especially in circumstances as bleak as these.

But what options were there for Ebben, considered realistically? Justice, as his father used to tell him, was expensive. Never more than now, he thought. Without money, Ebben had no route to getting an appeal opened. He could, in theory, petition the Governor Executive for his Clemency. But Ebben was an unknown person in the larger world, his media Q was negligible, and the crime of which he was a popular target in political campaigns. For who, standing for office and having paid to enter the lists, would want to be painted as weak on violent crime?

Or should he start a Tweeterer campaign, pleading for attention in the media where some of Ebben’s compadres might see it and be roused to action? If Alan were caught at that tactic, his personal penalty would entail immediate disbarment.

“I have no rich friends, so there was no meaningful plea to be made for a patronal stake via one of the state’s Registered Plutocrats. That was a dead end, too.

He swigged the last of his drink. What about CrimStarter? That would be a truly desperate move. The ‘fill up the boot’ plan, a derivative of the old Kickstarter and IndieGogo models of the early 21st century had been cobbled together by a few of the remaining tech giants and the Big Law firms. The basic idea was you, a criminal advocate or family member on the outside, set up the appeal for funds based on the known and estimated court costs and filiing fees, but didn’t collect the money unless a specified threshold was reached. It was considered legit, although a poor-town strategy, since the Big 10 firms had put up the cash to build its initial operations. A means of unjamming the wheels of justice – using cash to grease the wheels, as had gone on for centuries.

But, Morel reasoned, even if the tech weenies got onboard with the case, he’d never get to a meaningful money threshold in time. The minimum to open a case, pre-filing was $50K. Way out of his league.


No, that was a terrible idea. It would be his death sentence as a lawyer, once it was found out. For honest people, there weren’t any secrets any more. Or worse, he might be charged with a crime and enter the system himself. That, Alan knew, he knew he couldn’t face.

The Sign said: ‘Suicide IS Painless. Apply Within’


Two things served to finally lay to rest the old taboo on suicide.  The first was technological, as it always is. The second was economic, and you may make of that what you like. And, of course, no one cared much about justice, or the law, anymore.  For those living in our America of 2025, ‘justice’ was mostly a matter of filling out the right forms in the right order, paying your way out of what you could, and enduring whatever else came along. Alan Morel was working as Junior Transition Counsel in District Court 17. It was shit work, but there were too many lawyers and not enough jobs and that had been the way of it for decades. His role was to formally, for the record, argue with the just-convicted felon. Assert that life was precious, that 10 years was not so long a stretch, and that there was surely a good a reason to go on, etc. etc. And the unstated part was that he was expected to fail in the vast majority of cases. That they would take the prescriptions, and then the rest of us could move on.

There were just too many incentives on the other side. Expungement of your criminal and social media record. Life insurance payouts to next-of-kin. Settlement of associated civil liabilities. Aside from all that, the ubiquitous private prisons were, in a word, wretched; and essentially unendurable, by design.

Alan was just serving his time, too. A ten-years apprenticeship in this sort of thing was no longer uncommon. He was living in his parents’ home, getting by, and dreaming of better days to come, working in an office somewhere. Working the Life Courts wasn’t soul-crushing if you didn’t let them get to you. He kept telling himself that. The clients were, for the most part, guys in their 20’s who had made some really bad choices, including getting caught and then fighting it in court. They hated it when you fought it.

Right past the courtroom, where they walked the client down after they banged the gavel on him, was the door everyone called Dr. Jack’s. Before they cuffed you, before you took the wagon ride to the max pen, you could freely stop into Dr. Jack’s and ask for the two prescriptions. The first dulled your hippocampus, the neuronal source of your will to live. Quieting your natural revulsion, that universal fear of death. The second was a slo-dose of goodnight juice, such that you’d have it with dinner, lay down in your bunk, and never get up again in this world. The courts had given the Dr. Jack’s a right to set up in that corridor, and given those who were convicted the right to stop in before the rest of the process took its course. And most everyone felt better about the whole business, and the tremendous savings it represented, and the immediate closure it brought to the families. But Alan felt like – he couldn’t say he “knew” — this kid was different. This kid didn’t want to die, and kept talking about the old days when you could appeal your conviction and your sentence. He was facing 20 years. He said they had the wrong guy. Alan didn’t want to believe him; but he did. And that hurt. The trial wasn’t going well for his client; they never did, any more.

And that was the end of it. I don’t think I ever saw him again. He may still be alive, living with his wife’s people in the south, hunting and fishing as he loved to do.

He was my brother. I loved him and for a long time I envied him, and then feared him. But I never harmed him nor he me.

You are sprung from a contentious family. Take this story to heart, my sons. Take it into your hearts.

I met my brother that morning at the ford, where the river was shallow enough to cross with the flock.

“Jake, is that you?”

“Yes, Esse.”

“I am so glad I found you. “

“You have not sought me out to take a vengeance?”

“Ye gods, no. You took from me, by your cleverness, a burden I couldn’t bear, never could have borne. You gave me, instead, my freedom.  The only thing I ever really wanted.”

“I see.” Although I didn’t see. I was wary. Esse was not canny, but he could have learned to dissemble somewhere. He was clever enough for that.

“It is about Izzy. He finally has died this time. We need to bury him. Together—it is only right. Then I will finally be free of him and this family.”

“You mean you’d feel guilty if we didn’t do our offices?”

“I guess so.”

I was surprised. I didn’t think he had it in him. “Okay. Let’s go.”