Tag: Fictional Science

210 – Free Alaska, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and ten.

Flash PulpTonight we present, Free Alaska, Part 1 of 1.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the In Broad Daylight.

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, we present a tale from Flash Pulp’s future history, a time of terror, tyranny, and automatons.

Flash Pulp 210 – Free Alaska, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

He wasn’t a terrorist – he’d done nothing wrong, beyond being born in a place full of oil, and this wasn’t the Middle East, were Logan Clark’s thoughts as he snapped down the last of the zip ties.

They were overkill, and he knew it, as his welding job would either hold, or the device would be too imprecise to be useful, but he’d been nervously filling time before his departure.

The Alaskan sky above his two-car garage was cloudless and unending, a blue canvas stretching from horizon to horizon, marred only by the occasional flashing streak descending from altitudes beyond his ability to see naturally.

Reflecting on the fact, Clark patted the plastic telescope absentmindedly, his eyes tracing the wire connecting the Warlmart-purchase to his laptop. His absorbed state meant missing the entrance swing open.

“Dad?” asked Trinity, fourteen. Both of her hands were tucked in her blue sweater’s pouch pocket.

Giving his head a shake, Logan replied. “Yeah, baby?”

“Mom seems pretty mad.”

“Ah, hell.”

His knees popped as he stood, and his back ached as he bent to wipe the dust from his jeans.

What followed was another explanatory conversation which he knew wouldn’t end in his favour – but he also knew it didn’t matter much, as he’d made his mind up.

The argument concluded with the bedroom door slamming in his face, and his apologizing through it to no response.

As he moved towards the living room, he retrieved his battered Miller’s Trucking ball cap from its resting place on the kitchen sideboard, then, still wearing his boots, stepped onto the beige carpet and addressed Trinity, who was working the TV remote hard to find something other than news coverage.

“If she comes out, tell her I’m sorry,” he said.

“Dad – what exactly did you do? Mom hasn’t been this mad since you cussed out Aunt Kim at Gran’s wedding.”

“I’ve got some stuff I gotta take care of – just a quick trip.”

Trinity chewed her lip and muted a Pillsbury commercial.

She asked, “you aren’t messing with those idiot rebels, right?”

“Hah, as the man said, I wouldn’t join any club that’d have me as a member. Make sure your Ma eats, I’ll grab something for myself on the road.”

He didn’t wait for a reply, and he intentionally forgot his goodbyes.

“Just a quick trip,” he said aloud, as he stepped back into the garage.

* * *

The drive out of Juneau had always left him relaxed in the past, but, as the pickup cruised north, his shoulders grew increasingly rigid.

Looking to distract himself, he engaged the radio.

“Hey,” said an announcer he didn’t recognize, but who, to Logan’s ear, seemed to have a Floridian accent, “we should just be happy that the drone strikes are so surgical. There aren’t stormtroopers knocking on every door, there aren’t tanks in the streets of Anchorage, so calm down.”

The twang in his radio tone stood out strongly after the eighteen month long ban on civilian flights.

“Perhaps,” Clark replied, to the empty cab, “if there were, the folks down south who still believe in justice might raise a stink, and citizens wouldn’t be quietly murdered in their beds by flying robots.”

“They aren’t killing us,” said Florida, “they’re killing the terrorists – the pipeline saboteurs, and secessionists, have brought this justice from on high upon themselves.”

Logan punched the power knob.

“Ain’t no way a teenager staring at a tiny screen from a thousand miles away knows shit about shit regarding ‘saboteurs or secessionists’. It ain’t twenty-twenty-five anymore, they want to have some say in matters up here, they’ll have to march some actual boots our way.”

The bobble-headed husky on his dash nodded in agreement.

* * *

By the time he’d reached the tumbled hunting cabin, his neck was stiff and his wrists ached.

Once the property had belonged to his father, but the bank had taken the land not long before the cancer had taken him, and the shack had rotted to the ground in the shadows of the Yellow Cedars. He was concerned that the family connection might link him to his actions, but he knew from experience that the military were no detectives, they were missile lobbers, and no one would come looking if they somehow managed to stop him.

He’d been to the area two years previous on a hunting expedition with a few friends from work. They hadn’t managed to kill anything beyond cases of beer, but a stumbling tramp through the woods had reminded him of Platform Rock. The jumbled stone formation, named by Logan’s father for its flat crown, provided a clear view over the tree-tops, and he’d spent an evening deep in thought after making a drunken ascent.

Now he was discovering it was a long way to haul equipment, even with a handcart, but Clark was a man who’d learned patience via a storied career in the muck of the mining industry. The ore sniffing business had also introduced him to the newest advances in high-powered portable lasers.

Night had fallen, and he was huffing, by the time he had once again booted the laptop, and plugged the telescope in. With a last check of the laser’s battery slug, he tugged at the pull cord of the small gas engine intended to power the computer, then hurried down the slope.

The racket would certainly be noticeable for some distance, but he knew no one would come to investigate.

The online fellow who’d put together the rig’s simple software package had thought to apply a delay before start-up, but Logan found himself too worried that he’d somehow pooched the process to make for his truck until the show had begun.

He could see little from down below, but the ratchet of the mount’s directional motors was easy to hear, even over the chug of the generator.

The laser clicked twice, and Clark was sure something was wrong.

It clicked again, and there was a flash to the west – a drone being eaten by its own suddenly-flaming fuel supply.

The clatter of aiming recommenced, and Logan, smiling, ran for his vehicle.

By the time he reached home, it was starlight alone that glittered in the night sky.

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Flash Pulp 110 – Deliberation, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ten.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present Deliberation, Part 1 of 1
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp110.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by the the new Nutty Bites Podcast

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, we present a tale of futuristic justice.


Flash Pulp 110 – Deliberation, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


“Well, they all look like over-sized mars rovers, and they all roll around killing cows – that’s about it, mostly.”

The prosecutor smirked at the rough-handed man currently on the stand.

“A country understatement if I’ve ever heard one. You’re familiar with the farm’s operations? With the unit itself?”

“I’ve been working on the Lancaster’s spread for fifteen years, although only with, uh the unit, for the last four.”

“- and you knew Gregor Petrov personally?”

“Yeah, I knew him. We worked together five days a week for seven years.”

“What about the day he died?”

“I wasn’t actually on-shift when it happened, but the only surprise was that the robot had done it – I figured it would have been one of the other guys.”

“You were the sole maintenance man for the farm?”

“Well, no, I mean, I’m definitely the guy who does the hard stuff, but most folks on a farm know how to twist wires and pour gas.”

“Fine, but for something as complex as a portable abatoir…?”

“Yeah, sure, I was probably the only one who knew enough to plug a laptop in and poke at the interface, and I did a lot of the mechanical maintenance, but that doesn’t mean I have clue one about his electronics. I’m sure you know how to set your microwave’s clock and can replace the spinning platter if it cracks, but that doesn’t mean you can build one from scratch or even fix it if someone dumps a mug of coffee in the back. We have seven of the units, and Grumpy is the only one I’ve ever seen acting weird.”

The lawyer took a sip of her water, then re-approached the witness box.

“Do you think what happened was a mechanical or software failure?”


“Do you think this robot was programmed to kill?”

The cowhand licked his lips.

“Not especially. People might not have liked Gregor, and I could possibly see someone wanting to do him in, but changing Grumpy that much would be way out of my league, and I know I’m well ahead of the rest of the pack back at the ranch.”

“Do you think the company that built it might be culpable?”

“Well – not exactly. I don’t know how their learning software works, but I have to wonder.”

* * *

The technician which now occupied the hot-seat pulled at his tie, considering his answer.

“Before this incident we’d only had one human fatality. The units use something we call the adaptive education matrix to learn to make smarter decisions, but only in areas related to what they do. They learn to recognize who they need to be partnered with, and some of their human companions preferences – it learns the map of the area it operates in… but certainly nothing that we might think of as emotions. It’s mostly just a computer.”

“Doesn’t it have something of a sense of humour as a sort of emotional assistance to the human it’s working with in the slaughter house? My understanding is that it picks up jokes from the people it works with and passes them on?”

The tech shifted in his seat before replying.

“Sort of – all it’s really doing is analyzing a history of how often the people that it knows know the punchline interact with the person its assisting, then, if it thinks there’s a low incidence of crossover, it’ll try it out.”

“Frankly, Mitch, that’s how I tell my jokes as well.”

“We’ve been over his code with a fine toothed comb, repeatedly. After what happened last time, we actually reformatted him, just in case. We’ve got over ten-thousand of these guys out in the wild, and this is the only one that’s killed a man. If it hadn’t been for the fact that one of our quality assurance ladies has an obsession with perfection that drove her to memorize his serial number, we wouldn’t even have been aware that it was the same unit.”

“You refer to it as a “him”, why is that?”

“Oh, I, uh, don’t mean it, it’s just that after a long while of working with a ‘bot you start to project – it’s probably because the milkers we build have suction cups, and the slaughterers have a pneumatic spike.”

“What happened the last time your product killed someone?”

“Well – it was ruled an accident. We ran tests; we stripped him down; in the end we couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was. You can’t always anticipate what’ll happen when you bring that many interfaces together, but it was obvious from the volume of alternates we had in the field, and the number of man-hours logged without incident, that it was a fluke.”

“- and still a fluke the second time?”

* * *

It took the jury four days to determine they weren’t going to come back with a proper verdict, and the press were relieved that a hung jury meant they could keep the ratings going for at least a few more months.

When the announcement was made, Grumpy rolled gently back and forth, twice. The robot’s lawyer put a hand out onto the unit’s boxy shell – unbeknownst to both, a Time cover in the making – then directed his client out of the courthouse.

The defendant rolled past the cameras without comment.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.