[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.”

I was traveling to pay off one of Labyn’s debts to a townsman in another region, and I had already broken with my first wife and had some children with my second, as you all know. We had everything we owned in the world with us and were moving the flock without hurrying, as it was lambing time.

Labyn was feeble with age by this now, and I had the management of the entire household. I had the money for the debt; by then, I had plenty of money of my own and we were prosperous. It comes and it goes, life is uncertain and the Lord provides as he wills. I had just made the decision to move the flocks to the northeast, where the forage would soon come up by the lake and the mountains.

Then one of my helpers runs up to me and says, “Your brother …” He wheezed and coughed, out of breath.  He recovered himself, and said, “Your brother and his band are nearing the opposite shore of this river. He seeks you wherever he goes. They haven’t seen us yet.”

“I can handle this. It will be all right,” I thought. We were planning to leave at first light the next day, and we could not travel with the flocks at night. He wouldn’t know where we’d gone. I was distressed, and I prayed. Sleep overtook me, and I had a dream. In this dream, a stranger with a bright face fought me, I grappled with him. He told me I must not run again, and told me to face my brother or I would surely die.

As the dream was finishing, the stranger struck me in my hip, dislocating it. While I still grasped him in the fight, neither could I throw him down. I awoke alone, in a sweat. And my hip hurt—I was hobbled. There would be no running this time.

I ran. There’s no other way to see it. I had seen my brother before, when he was enraged and I knew the damage he could do with his fists—or worse, if he were drunk.

I ran to our old uncle’s Labyn’s grazing lands, west by the great sea. I could tend sheep for him, or perhaps I could learn to fish. At least I wouldn’t starve. And I wouldn’t have to face Esse or father again over what I’d done.

After only a few days, I arrived at Labyn’s flock, and he welcomed me in. Perhaps Becca had sent word by a fast courier, guessing where I’d go. She was canny like that.

Laybn put me right to work. Of course he put me to work. Work, and his flock, were the extent of his world. His heart was good, but his views were limited to what he could see and touch. That also applied to his daughters, whom I married. First the ugly one, and then later the pretty one. But this isn’t their story.

It was at least ten years of this life before word came that my brother was seeking me.