June 09, 2003

Story: Cory -- CONCLUSION

He stared at her, stunned into bovine silence. She pinched his cheek and shoved the papers into his hands. "Bon voyage, mon ami," she said. She kissed each cheek, then pulled out a compact and fixed the concealer on her lip.


Paris in springtime was everything it was meant to be and more. Roscoe couldn't sit down in a cafe without being smartmobbed by unwirer groupies who wanted him to sign their repeaters and tell them war-stories about his days as a guerrilla fighter for technological freedom. They were terribly, awfully young, just kids, Marcel's age or younger, and they were heartbreaking in their attempts to understand his crummy French. The girls were beautiful, the boys were handsome, and they laughed and smoked and ordered him glasses of wine until he couldn't walk. He'd put on twenty pounds, and when he did the billboard ads for Be, Inc. and Motorola, they had to strap him into a girdle. "Le choix Américain," in bold sans-serif letters underneath a picture of him scaling a buildingside with a Moto batarang clenched in his teeth.

Truth be told, he couldn't even keep up with it all. Hardly a week went by without a new business popping up, a new bit of technological gewgaggery appearing on the tables of the Algerian street-vendors by the Eiffel Tower. He couldn't even make sense of half the ads on the Metro.

But life was good. He had a very nice apartment with a view and a landlady who chased away the paparazzi with stern French and a broom. He could get four bars of signal on his complimentary Be laptop from the bathroom, and ten bars from the window, and the throng and thrum of the city and the net filled his days and nights.

And yet.

He was a foreigner. A curiosity. A fish, transplanted from the sea to MarineLand, swimming in a tank where the tourists could come and gawp. He slept fitfully, and in his dreams, he was caged in a cell at Leavenworth, back on the inside, in maximum security, pacing the yard in solitary stillness.

We woke to the sound of his phone trilling. The ring was the special one, the one that only a one person had the number for. He struggled out of bed and lunged for his jacket, fumbled the phone out.


"Roscoe! God, I know it's early, but God, I just had to tell you!"

He looked at the window. It was still dark. On his bedstand, the clock glowed 4:21.

"What? What is it?"

"God! Valenti's been called to testify at a Senate hearing on Unwiring. He's stepping down as chairman, I just put in a call to his office and into his dad's office at the MPAA. The lines were *jammed*. I'm on my way to get the Acela into DC."

"You're covering it for the *Journal*?"

"Better. I got a *book deal*! My agent ran a bidding war between Simon and Schuster and St. Martin's until three AM last night. I'm hot shit. The whole fucking thing is coming down like a house of shit. I've had three Congressional staffers fax me discussion drafts of bills -- one to fund $300 million in DARPA grants to study TCP/IP, another to repeal the terrorism statutes on network activity, and a compulsory license on movies and music online. God! If only you could see it."

"That's -- amazing," Roscoe said. He pictured her in the cab on the way to Grand Central, headset screwed in, fixing her makeup in her compact, dressed in a smart spring suit, off to meet with the Hill Rats.

"It's incredible. It's better than I dreamed."

"Well..." he said. He didn't know what to say. "See if you can get me a pardon, OK?" The joke sounded lame even to him.

"What?" There was a blare of taxi horns. "Oh, crap, Roscoe, I'm sorry. It'll work out, you'll see. Clemency or amnesty or something."

"We can talk about it next month, OK?" She'd booked the tickets the week before, and they had two weeks of touring on the continent planned.

"Oh, Roscoe, I'm sorry. I can't do it. The book's due in 12 weeks. Afterward, OK? You understand, don't you?"

He pulled back the curtains and looked out at the foreign city, looking candlelit in the night. "I understand, sweetie," he said. "This is great work. I'm proud of you."

Another blare of horns from 6,000 miles away. "Look, I've got to go. I'll call you from the Hill, OK?"

"OK," Roscoe said. But she'd already hung up.

He had six bars on his phone, and Paris was lit up with invisible radio waves, lit up with coverage and innovation and smart, trim boys and girls who thought he was a hero, and 6,000 miles away, the real unwiring was taking place.

He looked down at his slim silver phone, glowing with blue LEDs, a gift from Nokia. He tossed it from hand to hand, and then he opened the window and chucked it three storeys down to the street. It made an unsatisfying clatter as it disintegrated on the pavement.

Word count to date: 10915

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 09:53 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack (2)

Story: Charlie

"Thought so," she said, but made no further comment as he fastened the new plates in place.

Finally he stood up. "Okay, let's go," he said.

"What's the plan?" She paused, hand on door handle.

"The plan is to get away from here. Then figure out what to do next." He glanced at her sidelong, calculating. "I think you'll be alright, whatever happens. But that little idiot --" He realised his hands were shaking.

Sylvie climbed into the truck. Roscoe sat for a minute, concentrating on getting a grip on himself. Then he turned the ignition key.

He drove slowly, starting every time he saw moving shadows, the headlights of other vehicles. One time the road took a bend and he passed a police car, stationary at the kerb. He nearly jumped out of his skin, but forced back the urge to put his foot down or even turn his head -- *give no sign*, he told himself.

Sylvie sighed as the police car vanished in the rear view. "You're going to go the rendezvous, like you told him?" she asked.

"Yeah. More than the little shit deserves, but I owe him that much. We've got to sort this out together." He tapped the steering wheel. "I'll have to ditch the truck. Report it stolen, maybe. If I can spin an airtight alibi --"


Roscoe stared at her. Sylvie's face was half in shadow, half a flat orange wash-out from the street lamps. "I don't trust him. I think he's a provo."

"What?" Roscoe shook his head then looked back at the road. "He's rash and impulsive, is all. A bit young." They were not far from Main Street, and he began looking around for somewhere to park the truck. "Listen, we're going to have to walk a ways. You up to an hour on foot?"

"A hike in the dark? Yeah, I guess so." Sylvie sniffed. "If you go to that Donut House they'll arrest you. Terrorist charges."

Roscoe didn't dignify her paranoia with a response. Instead he pulled over. "Open the glove locker. There's a can of foam cleaner and some wipes inside, pass 'em over."

"If you want." She sounded resigned. Roscoe focussed on polishing the wheel and gearshift handle. Old prints he didn't care about, but he didn't want to leave fresh ones. "There have been arrests you haven't heard about."

Roscoe opened his door and climbed out. The air was freezingly cold, trying to suck the life from his face and lungs. He picked up the trash bag from the back and paused, about to close the door. Instead he left it open, forcing himself to leave the keys dangling enticingly in the ignition. "You coming?" he asked.

Sylvie hurried to catch up. "There's a guy called Dennis Morgan, out west," she said quietly. "Don't know where he is, the feds won't say -- they pulled him in on firearms charges but all the warrants, search and seizure, went through a special FEMA courthouse that won't talk to us. We tried FOIA notices and got knocked back. Dennis had no record of violent offenses, like you, he was just an unwirer, but they charged him with attempted murder of a federal agent then stuck him in a hole so deep we can't find him."

Roscoe slowed, hearing her panting for breath.

"*Secret* trials, Roscoe, special terrorism courts. They don't call them that, but all the records are sealed and I can't even find the defense attorneys in the goddamn phone book. 'S a woman called Caitlin Delaney in Washington State, they found kiddie porn in her house and a meth lab in her garage after they shot her resisting arrest, you know? They made her out to be some kind of gangster. She was fifty, Roscoe, and she had multiple sclerosis, and her back lot just happened to have line of sight to the frontier."

Roscoe slowed even more, until he felt Sylvie walking beside him. "FCC, Roscoe, they've been making sure we know all about these dangerous terrorists, did you know that? But I made some phone calls from payphones to local stringers, had them do some digging. Unwirers are disappearing. Their patch gets too visibly wired and then they vanish, leaving behind guns and drugs and kiddie porn. That's the *real* story I'm here to cover. Roscoe, if you go to that donut joint and Marcel is what I think he is, you won't be coming out alive."

She took his hand and stopped. Roscoe felt himself halt. His shoulders were tense and the lining of his jacket felt icy-slick with freezing sweat. "What do you want?"

Her breath steamed in the air before him. "I don't want you to get yourself killed," she said. Up close he could see the scar on her lip, the smudged foundation on her cheek. "Shit." She leaned against him and put her chin on his shoulder, nosing in like a small animal in search of warmth. "Look, come up to my room. We can discuss it there."


The Days Inn was a hell of a lot closer than the Donut House near the Rainbow Bridge, that was for sure. Being scared half out of his skin and on the run was incredibly tiring, and Roscoe was perversely grateful to Sylvie for leading him back to the motel room, even though a nagging paranoid corner of his head kept shrieking that she, not Marcel, was the agent provocateur, that she'd get him into bed and G-men with signal meters and search warrants would erupt from the closet --

But it wasn't like that, it wasn't like that at all.

They ended up naked, in bed together. And before anything much could happen, Roscoe was asleep, snoring quietly, dead to the world. He didn't notice it, actually: what he noticed was waking up to the dim red glow of the alarm clock's flickering digits, Sylvie's face limned against the pillow next to him with the incipient glow of hell-fire, digits flickering towards seven o'clock and an appointment with an uncertain future.

"Hey. Wake up."

"Mm-hum." Sylvie rolled towards him for a warm moment, then her eyes opened. "We didn't?" She looked hopeful.

"Not yet." He ran one hand along her back, cupping her buttocks with a sense of gratified astonishment. *How did this happen to us?* He wondered, a thought that always hit him between the eyes when he found himself in bed with a new woman. *It's been a long time.*

Her gaze travelled past him, settling on the clock. "Oh shit." She hugged him, then pulled back. "There's never enough time. Later?"

"After the meet-up, when I know if it's safe to go --"

"Shut up." She leaned over and kissed him hard, almost angrily. "This is so unprofessional -- look, if I'm wrong I apologize, alright? But if you go there I think you're walking into a sting. I don't think you should go near the place. If I had a repeater I could stake it out with a webcam, but --"

"A repeater?" Roscoe sat up. "There's one in my sack."

"Oh *good*." She rolled out of bed and stretched. He couldn't take his eyes away from her. "Listen, let's freshen up and get outa here." She grinned at him, friendly but far from the intimacy of a minute ago, and he feld a tangible sense of lost possibilities slipping away: "let's get the donut joint wired for video. Then we can go grab some coffee and figure out what to do next."

Signal strength near the bridge was good. Roscoe just glommed his repeater onto a street lamp above eye level, to boost the final hundred yards to the block. "They'll spot it immediately, probably take it down later today," he said. "Hope this is worth it."

"It will be," she reassured him fiercely, before striding away towards the donut joint. He stared after her, a slim figure bundled in improbable layers of cold-weather gear, and resisted the impulse to run after. If the cops were looking for anyone it'd be him, a known parole violator, not a single young female on the far side of the road. Plan was to fasten the cam to the back of a road sign opposite the doorway, use cable ties to keep it on target. He glanced at his watch: seven zero seven hours. *Cutting it fine, if it's a stake-out* ...

Roscoe took a walk around the block, stamping his feet against the chill, trying not to dwell on the unpleasant possibilities. His heart gave a little lurch as he came back around the alleyway and saw Sylvie walking back down the street towards him, but she was smiling and as she caught up with him she grabbed his arm. "Come on, there's a Starbucks on the next block," she said.

"I *hate* Starbucks," he complained.

"Yeah, but it's indoors and off the street," she explained. "So you're going to put up with it this once, okay?"


They shed gloves and caps as they went in past the Micronet booths and the pastry counter. Sylvie ordered a couple of large lattes. "Is the mezzanine open?" she asked.

"Sure, go on up." The gum-chewing help didn't even look up.

At the top of the stairs, in a dark corner well back from the shop front, Sylvie produced her phone and began fiddling with it. "Let's see. Ah ... uh-huh. Here it is." She turned it so he could see the tiny colour display. The front of the donut shop was recognizable. "It does voice over IP, too, lots of people use these instead of laptops. What time do you make it?"

"Seven thirty," Roscoe said automatically. Just as a gray minivan pulled up in front of the shop and disgorged a bunch of guys in trenchcoats and one very recognizable figure. His stomach lurched. "Who are those guys? What's Marcel doing with --" He stopped. Further comments seemed redundant.

"Let's see who else turns up," Sylvie suggested, sipping her latte.

Marcel went into the donut store. Two of the men in trenchcoats followed him. Most of the others moved out of frame, but one of them was just visible, hurrying down the alley at the side of the store.

Nothing happened for a couple of minutes, then a police car pulled up. Two uniforms got out, but as they headed for the door one of the trenchcoats came out. Words were exchanged, and angry gestures. The uniforms went back to their car and drove away: the trenchcoat headed back inside. Sylvie sniffed. "Serve 'em right, stopping for donuts on your tax dollars."

Roscoe tensed. "I think you were right," he said slowly.

Sylvie beamed at him. "Oh, you haven't seen nothing yet!"

It was five minutes to eight. Roscoe went downstairs for another coffee, his feed dragging, as if in a daze. Everything seemed to be closing in, going nightmarishly wrong. *I'm stuffed*, he realised. *I'm going to have to run --*

"Roscoe?" He heard her voice.

"Coming." He turned back and hurried upstairs. "What is it?"

"Watch." She pointed the phone display where he could see it. A pickup truck roughly the same colour and age as Roscoe's drew up in front of the donut store.

"Hey, that's not --"

"I told you we employ stringers. Right?"

A man wearing a jacket and cap climbed out of the cab. He looked a bit like Roscoe, if you were watching via a covert webcam from across the street. He turned and looked at the camera, but he was too far from it for Roscoe to see if he winked or not. Then he turned and went in.

Trenchcoats boiled out from behind trashcans like so many black leather cockroaches. They swarmed the truck and blocked the doorway and two of them with guns and warrant cards drawn covered the parking lot. There was chaos and motion for almost a minute, then another trenchcoat barreled out of the door and started yelling instructions at them. The guns vanished. Marcel appeared in the doorway behind him, pointing. Two of the trenchcoats began to cross the road, heading towards the camera.

"I think that's enough," said Sylvie, and killed the feed. Then she hit one of the speed-dial buttons on her phone. It rang twice. "Bonjour. Ou est le --"

Roscoe shook his head. He felt approximately the way he imagined a tuna fish might feel with a wooden deck under one flank and the cruel sun beating mercillessly down on the other, gills gasping in a medium they'd never evolved to survive exposure to. Sylvie was speaking in rapid-fire French, arguing with somebody by the sound of it, while he was drowning on dry land.

Sylvie finished her call and closed her phone with a snap. She laid her hand across his: "you're sorted," she said, smiling.

"Huh?" Roscoe started, setting the empty coffee cups.

"That was the French consulate in Toronto. I set it up in advance so they'd see the webcam. My editor, too. If you can cross over into Canada and get to the consulate you've got diplomatic asylum, genuine refugee status." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small box; it unfolded like intricate brushed-aluminium origami, forming a keyboard for her to plug the phone into. "We're going to hit the front page of the Journal tomorrow, Roscoe. It's all documented -- your background, Marcel, the gun, the stake-out, the whole lot. With a witness." She pointed a thumb at herself. "We've been looking for a break like this for *months*." She was almost gloating, now: "that bastard Valenti isn't going to know what's hit him, did I tell you my boss went into journalism in the wake of Watergate and he's been looking for something like this ever since?"

Roscoe sat and stared at her dumbly.

"Cheer up! You're going to be famous -- and they won't be able to put you away! All we have to do is get you to Montreal. I'm told there's a crossing at the Mohawk Reservation

"Cheer up! You're going to be famous -- and they won't be able to put you away! All we have to do is get you to Montreal. There's a crossing set up at the Mohawk Reservation, and I've got a rental car in the lot next door to the Days Inn. While I'm at it, can you sign these?" She thrust a bundle of papers at him and winced apologetically: "exclusive contract with the Wall Street Journal. It covers your expenses -- flight included -- plus fifteen grand for your story. I tried to hold out for more, but you know how things are." She shrugged.

Word count to date: 10,060 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 07:31 AM | Comments (1)

June 07, 2003

Story: Cory

Note to the confused. Charlie and I have decided to try it my way for now, though he's going to try a rewrite if it bugs him too much.

"Not yet, you aren't," the voice said again, this time without the amplification, much closer. Roscoe looked in the rear-view at the sillhouette of the woman cop, flipping her handcuffs on her belt, stepping carefully on the ice surface. In her bulky parka, she could have been any state trooper, but the way she flipped her cuffs --

"Go go go," hissed Marcel from the back seat. "*Vite*!"

"Sit tight," Sylvie said.

From the back seat, a click. A gun being cocked. Roscoe kept his eyes on the rear-view, and mumbled, "Marcel, if that is a gun I just heard, I am going to shove it up your fucking ass and pull the trigger."

Roscoe rolled down his window. "Evening, officer," he said. Her face was haloed by the light bouncing off her breath's fog, but he recognized her. Had seen her, the day before, hanging off the edge of the gorge, aiming an antenna Canadawards.

"Evening sir," she said. "Evening, ma'am. Nice night, huh? Doing some bird-watching?"

Made. Roscoe's testicles shriveled up and tried to climb into his abdomen. His feet and hands weren't cold, they were *numb*. He couldn't have moved if he tried. He couldn't go back --

Another click. A flashlight. The cop shone it on Sylvie. Roscoe turned. The concealer was smudged around her scar.

"Officer, really, is this necessary?" Sylvie's voice was exasperated, and had a Manhattan accent she hadn't had before, one that made her sound scary-aggro. "It was just the heat of the moment."

Roscoe touched his lips and his finger came back with a powdering of concealer and a smudge of lipstick.

"Yes, ma'am, it is. Sir, could you step out of the car, please?"

Roscoe reached for his seatbelt, and the flashlight swung toward the back seat. The cop's eyes flickered behind him, and then she slapped for her holster, stepping back quickly. "Everyone hands where I see them NOW!"

Fucking Marcel. Jesus.

She was still fumbling with her holster, and there was the sound of the car door behind her opening. "Liz?" a voice called. The other cop, her partner. 4th and Walnut. "Everything OK?"

She was staring wide-eyed now, panting out puffs of steam. Staring at the rear window. Roscoe looked over his shoulder. Marcel had a small pistol, pointed at her.

"Drive, Roscoe," he said. "Drive fast."

Moving as in a dream, he reached for the ignition. The engine coughed to life and he slammed it into gear, cranking hard on the wheel, turning away from the cop, a wide circle through the empty parking lot that he came out of in a an uncontrolled fishtail, swinging back on forth on the slick paving.

He regained control as they crested the ridge and hit the downhill slope back to the highway. Behind him, he heard the cop-car swing into the chainlink fence, and in his rearview mirror, he saw the car whirling across the ice on the parkinglot, its headlights moving in slow circles. It was mesmerizing, but Sylvie's gasp snapped him back to his driving. They were careening down the hill now, tires whining for purchase, threatening to fishtail, picking up speed.

He let out an involuntary eep and touched the brakes, triggering another skid. The truck hit the main road still skidding, but now they had rock-salt under the rubber, and he brought the truck back under control and he floored it, switching off his headlights, running dark on the dark road.

"This isn't safe," Sylvie said.

"You said 'Drive fast,'" Roscoe said, hammering the gearbox. He sounded hysterical, even to his own years. He swallowed. "It's not far."

"What's not far?" she said.

"Shut up," he said. "OK? We've got about five minutes before their backup arrives. Seven minutes until the chopper's in the sky. Need to get off the road."

"The safe house," Marcel said.

"SHUT UP," Roscoe said, touching the brakes. They passed an oncoming car that blinked its high-beams at them. *Yes, driving with my lights off, thank you,* Roscoe thought.


Roscoe hadn't been to the safe-house in a year. It was an old public park whose jungle-gym has rusted through and killed a kid 18 months before. He'd gone there to scout out a good repeater location, and found that the public toilet, behind the chain-link fence, was still unlocked. He kept an extra access-point there, a blanket, achange of clothes, a first-aid kit, and a fresh license-plate, double-bagged in kitchen garbage bags stashed in the drop-ceiling.

He parked the truck outside the fence, snugged up between the bushes that grew on one side and the chain-link. They were invisible from the road. He got out of the truck quickly.

"Marcel, get the camper-bed," he said, digging a crowbar out from under his seat and passing it to him.

"What are you going to do?" Sylvie asked.

"Help me," he said, unlatching the camper and grabbing a tarpaulin. "Unfold this on the ground there, and pile the stuff I pass you on top of it."

He unloaded the truck quickly, handing Sylvie the access-points, the repeaters, the toolboxes and ropes and spraycans of camou colors. "Make a bundle of it," he said, once the truck was empty. "Tie the corners together with the rope. Use the grommets."

He snatched the crowbar away from Marcel and went to work on the remaining nuts holding down the camper bed. When he had the last one undone, he jammed the pry-end of the bar between the lid and the truck and levered it off the bed. It began to slide off and he grunted "Get it," to Marcel, but it was Sylvie who caught the end.

"Over the fence," he gasped, holding up his end while he scrambled into the back of the truck. They flipped it over together, and it landed upside-down.

A car rolled past. They all flinched, but it kept going. Roscoe thought it was a cop-car, but he couldn't be sure. He stilled his breathing and listened for the chop-chop of a helicopter, and thought that, yes, he heard it, off in the distance, but maybe getting closer.

"Marcel, give me that fucking gun," he said, with deceptive calmness.

Marcel looked down at the snow.

"I will cave in your skull with this rod if you don't hand me your gun," he said, hefting the crowbar. "Unless you shoot me," he said.

Marcel reached into the depths of his jacket and produced the pistol. Roscoe had never handled a pistol,a nd he was surprised by its weight -- heaver than it looked, lighter than he'd thought it would be.

"Over the fence," he said. "All of us." He put the gun in his pocket. "Marcel first."

Marcel opened his mouth.

"Not a word," Roscoe said. "If you say one goddamned word, either of you, you're out. We're quits. Fence."

Marcel went over the fence first, landing atop the camper-bed. Then Sylvie, picking her way down with her toes jammed in the chain-link. Roscoe set down the crow-bar quietly and followed.

"Roscoe," Sylvie said. "Can you explain this to me?"

"No," Roscoe said. "Sylvie, you stay here and cover the camper bed with snow. Kick it over. As much as you can. Marcel, with me."

They entered the dark toilet single file, and once the door had closed behind them, Roscoe pulled out his flashlight and clicked it on.

"We're not going home ever again. Whatever you had in your pockets, that's all you've got. Do you understand?"

Marcel opened his mouth and Roscoe lunged for him.

"Don't speak. Just nod. I don't want to hear your voice. You've destroyed my life, climbing that tower, pulling that gun. I'm over, you understand? Just nod."

Marcel nodded. His eyes were very wide.

"Climb up on the toilet tank and pop out that ceiling tile and bring down the bag." He aimed the flashlight to emphasize his point.

Marcel brought down the bag and Roscoe felt some of the tension leak out of him. At least he had a new license-plate and a change of clothes. It was a start.

Sylvie had covered the bottom third of the camper-bed and her gloves and boots were caked with snow. Roscoe set down the trash-bag and helped her, and after a moment, Marcel pitched in. Soon they had the whole thing covered.

"I don't know that it'll fool anyone who walks over here, but it should keep it hidden from the road, at least," Roscoe said. His heart had finally begun to slow down and he was breathing normally.

"Here's the plan," he said. "I'm going to swap the license plates and drive into town. Sylvie lies down on the back seat. They're looking for a truck with three people in it and a camper-bed. Marcel, you're walking. It's a long walk. There're some chemical hot-pads in the first-aid kit. Stuff them in your boots and mitts. Don't let anyone see you. Find somewhere to hide until tomorrow, and then we'll meet at the Donut House near the Rainbow Bridge, 8AM, OK?"

Marcel nodded mutely. The snow was falling harder now, clouds dimming the moonlight.

Roscoe dug out the hot-pads and tossed them to him. "Go," he said. "Now."

Wordlessly, Marcel climbed the fence and started slogging toward the highway.

They watched his back recede, then Roscoe jumped the fence with the trashbag. He dropped it in the back of the truck and hauled his tarpaulin-bundle back to the playground side, then dragged it into the bathroom. It was too heavy to get into the drop-ceiling and the drag-marks in the fresh snow were like a blinking arrow anyway. He left it on the floor.

He helped Sylvie over the fence, then hunkered down, using a small wrench to remove the plates from the truck. Sylvie crouched beside him, holding the flashlight.

"Did you know he had a gun?" Sylvie said, as he tightened down the bolts.

"No," Roscoe said. "No guns. We don't use guns. We're fucking network engineers, not pistoleros."

Word count to date: 7671

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

May 25, 2003

Story: Charlie (revised)

We got some diffs confused between my copy and Cory's copy, so this is a merge of changes between the two versions. No new material here.

Word count to date: 7522 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2003

Story: Charlie

"Not yet, you aren't," the voice said again, this time without the amplification, much closer. Roscoe looked in the rear-view at the sillhouette of the woman cop, flipping her handcuffs on her belt, stepping carefully on the ice surface. In her bulky parka, she could have been any state trooper, but the way she flipped her cuffs --

"Go go go," hissed Marcel from the back seat. "*Vite*!"

"Sit tight," Sylvie said.

From the back seat, a click. Roscoe kept his eyes on the rear- view: "Marcel, *keep down*." He rolled down his window. "Evening, officer," he said. Her face was haloed by the light bouncing off her breath's fog, but he recognized her. Had seen her, the day before, hanging off the edge of the gorge, aiming an antenna Canadawards.

"Evening sir," she said. "Evening, ma'am. Nice night, huh? Doing some bird-watching?"

Made. Roscoe's testicles shriveled up and tried to climb into his abdomen. His feet and hands weren't cold, they were *numb*. He couldn't have moved if he tried. He couldn't go back --

Another click. A flashlight. The cop shone it on Sylvie. Roscoe turned. The concealer was smudged around her scar.

"Officer, really, is this necessary?" Sylvie's voice was exasperated, and had a Manhattan accent she hadn't had before, one that made her sound aggro. "It was just the heat of the moment."

Roscoe touched his lips and his finger came back with a powdering of concealer and a smudge of lipstick.

"Yes, ma'am, it is. Sir, could you step out of the car, please?"

Another noise from the back seat, a second click. Fucking Marcel. Jesus. Moving as in a dream, Roscoe reached for the ignition. The engine coughed to life and he slammed it into gear, cranking hard on the wheel, turning away from the cop, a wide circle through the empty parking lot that he came out of in a an uncontrolled fishtail, swinging back on forth on the slick paving.

"Hey! STOP!" The amplified voice from the police car yelled after them. As the truck slid round he got a confused view of the cop reaching for something at her belt. Roscoe downshifted manually, feeling the gearbox judder as it switched traction between wheels in a barely-controlled skid. Everything happened in real-world slow-mo, like a goddamn nightmare. Marcel was sitting up yanking at the window. Sylvie yelled something and flailed at him over the bench seat and Roscoe flinched. There was a bang as the truck drifted against a fencepost, throwing Roscoe against the steering wheel: Marcel went down. Then the wheels were biting again, chewing down on fresh-fallen snow, and Roscoe heel-and-toed into the driveway.

Something cracked outside Marcel's open window. *Are they shooting?* he wondered, then hit the switch that killed all the lights, even the brake lamps. His guts cramped as he blinked at the darkness, trying to see how the path ran. His palms were slippery with fear as he nudged the wheel, hearing the high whine of first gear and feeling the judder of the wheels slipping and sliding. Another thud and he careened off a back of compacted snow. "Hey, mind where you're going!" Marcel snarled from the back seat.

"Shut the fuck up." Roscoe's knuckles were tight on the wheel. The sound of a siren rose behind them -- then there was a muffled banging sound that seemed to go on for an age, the thud of metal screeching as the police cruiser spun out into the chainlink fence at the top of the hill. "Let me explain something." *Shift into second.* "You'd better check your seat harness." *Feel the wheels skitter and begin to spin on the slick icy surface.* "Because we *are* going to run out of fucking road any moment now." Sirens rising in the background again, and Roscoe managed to keep the wheels on the road as it snaked off to the left in a treacherous curve.

"Better ditch the gun, Marcel," Sylvie said tensely. "If they catch you with it --"

"They won't catch us," Marcel replied nonchalantly.

*A gun?* Roscoe's skin crawled. *No time, not now --* a wider darkness loomed up ahead of him and he hit the brakes, felt ABS juddering and shaking as they ground to a halt. He glanced sideways and saw a gathering light, the high beams of a car rounding the curve of the road in front of them. He closed his eyes for a couple of seconds then, as soon as the car slid past, he pulled out and set his eyes on the red glow of its tail lights. "If that's a gun you've got, you can get out and walk home," he said conversationally. "See, that's a parole violation. Good for five years in the big house if I'm caught with you. And we are probably going to be caught now, thanks to your antics."

"They won't catch us," Marcel repeated, less confidently.

"Well you can fucking throw the gear out the side window right now," Roscoe said firmly. "*All* of it. Cans, relays, batarangs. 'Fraid that goes for you too, Sylvie."

"Shit." Sylvie sounded mildly annoyed, but the blast of cold air told him she'd wound down her window. "You going to do like he says, Marcel?" She asked.

"Shit." With poor grace, Marcel wound his window down and threw something cylindrical out into the night. Roscoe flipped a mental dime then brought up the lights, running lights only, just enough to see what the hell he was doing. About twenty five, it turned out, on a mostly gritted road.

"We've got maybe two minutes," He announced. "They'll have radio'd ahead." *Slowing, slowing, gentle on the brakes.* The truck drifted to a halt. "Okay, Marcel. *Out*. Now."

"What?" Marcel's voice rose in a whine: "what you doing, man? What do you want?"

"I want you out of this truck right now," Roscoe grated. "I want *all* the gear out. If that's a fucking gun you've got I want *it* out too. You can hitch, no trouble, I'll meet you back at the apartment after the cops get through with us. But you *are* getting out now, because if they find you with the gear I'm going to cram your head so far up your ass you can see daylight. Capisce?"

"I get it." Marcel sounded sullen. "We got away but you want to take it out on --"

"We haven't gotten away," Sylvie said clearly. "They'll pick us up in the next five minutes. They've got this little thing called *radio*, Marcel, and helicopters and SWAT teams and things. They're the Man." Roscoe stared at her side profile intently. The tiny crows-foot wrinkles by the side of her eyes. "A panicky couple dating in the wrong car park they might buy. An unwirer with a trunk full of cans and an unregistered gun is another matter."

"Put it this way," Roscoe added, "one of us is walking home."

*Click*. The rear door opened. "Okay, I'm going, I'm going." Marcel slammed the door shut. "Get on with it!"

Sylvie caught Roscoe's eye, gave an imperceptible nod, and he goosed the gas pedal. Marcel stood by the road, forlorn in the tail lights, and for a moment Roscoe almost had second thoughts. Then Sylvie's low whistle brought him back to himself. "Stop the truck round the next bend. Okay?" He nodded.

When he stopped, Sylvie unfastened her harness. "Wait," she told him. He stared blindly out through the windshield as she walked round the truck, rooting in the load bed then in the back seat legwell where Marcel had been crouched. Her torch spun shards of broken light off the ceiling. A muffled curse, and she was back in the passenger seat next to him. "Okay, we're clean now," she said.

"Right." Roscoe put the truck in gear cautiously. "Find anything?"

"Does Marcel take the trash out when you ask him to? And does he hunt?" Sylvie asked.

"Huh? He doesn't hunt, but he pulls his weight on the housekeeping. Grumbles a bit. Why?"

"I found a couple of empty Pringles cans under the seat. And this." She held up a rifle cartridge for him to see, then wound down the window and threw it hard into the night. "And a dime bag of what the Brits call whacky backy."

Roscoe thumped the steering wheel and swore. "He's getting careless."

"What do you mean, getting?" Sylvie raised an eyebrow. There were lights ahead, red and blue lights just visible through the trees lining the road. "Uh huh, trouble. Slow down." Roscoe hit the brakes. "This is where we learn to bluff." She leaned over towards him. "Kiss me. No, I mean mouth to mouth. Mmm. That's better. No, don't rub it off." She fumbled with her jacket, speaking in a low monotone: "remember we didn't know it was a private car park, we just wanted some privacy as your housemate's at home and you're really sorry you panicked and your pants are undone, and you won't do it again and then I pull my press card and we try to get you off with a ticket or a caution. Okay?"

"Check." Roscoe's mouth was dry and his heart thudded. *This can't be happening*, he told himself. Sylvie's hand on his thigh told him that it was.

"He set you up," she added as she unzipped his fly. "You do realize that, don't you?"

Word count to date: 7488 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 08:10 AM | Comments (19)

May 13, 2003

Administrivia: More plot noodling

Danger: plot discussion. Don't read the extended entry if you don't like spoilers.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 10:01 AM | Comments (16)

May 11, 2003

Story: Cory

"Not yet, you aren't," the voice said again, this time without the amplification, much closer. Roscoe looked in the rear-view at the sillhouette of the woman cop, flipping her handcuffs on her belt, stepping carefully on the ice surface. In her bulky parka, she could have been any state trooper, but the way she flipped her cuffs --

"Go go go," hissed Marcel from the back seat. "*Vite*!"

"Sit tight," Sylvie said.

From the back seat, a click. A gun being cocked. Roscoe kept his eyes on the rear-view, and mumbled, "Marcel, if that is a gun I just heard, I am going to shove it up your fucking ass and pull the trigger."

Roscoe rolled down his window. "Evening, officer," he said. Her face was haloed by the light bouncing off her breath's fog, but he recognized her. Had seen her, the day before, hanging off the edge of the gorge, aiming an antenna Canadawards.

"Evening sir," she said. "Evening, ma'am. Nice night, huh? Doing some bird-watching?"

Made. Roscoe's testicles shriveled up and tried to climb into his abdomen. His feet and hands weren't cold, they were *numb*. He couldn't have moved if he tried. He couldn't go back --

Another click. A flashlight. The cop shone it on Sylvie. Roscoe turned. The concealer was smudged around her scar.

"Officer, really, is this necessary?" Sylvie's voice was exasperated, and had a Manhattan accent she hadn't had before, one that made her sound aggro. "It was just the heat of the moment."

Roscoe touched his lips and his finger came back with a powdering of concealer and a smudge of lipstick.

"Yes, ma'am, it is. Sir, could you step out of the car, please?"

Roscoe reached for his seatbelt, and the flashlight swung toward the back seat. The cop's eyes flickered behind him, and then she slapped for her holster, stepping back quickly. "Everyone hands where I see them NOW!"

Fucking Marcel. Jesus.

She was still fumbling with her holster, and there was the sound of the car door behind her opening. "Liz?" a voice called. The other cop, her partner. 4th and Walnut. "Everything OK?"

She was staring wide-eyed now, panting out puffs of steam. Staring at the rear window. Roscoe looked over his shoulder. Marcel had a small pistol out, pointed at her.

"Drive, Roscoe," he said. "Drive fast."

Moving as in a dream, he reached for the ignition. The engine coughed to life and he slammed it into gear, cranking hard on the wheel, turning away from the cop, a wide circle through the empty parking lot that he came out of in a an uncontrolled fishtail, swinging back on forth on the slick paving.

Word count to date: 6415

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 12:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

May 09, 2003

Story: Charlie

"Okay, pass me the next." Roscoe breathed deeply as Marcel went back to the truck for the other repeated. *This* one worked fine. But it still left them with a problem. "Didn't you bring a third?" Roscoe asked.

"What for?" Marcel shrugged. "I swear I tested them both back home -- maybe it's the cold, or something?"

"Shit." Roscoe stamped his feet and looked back at the road. Sylvie was standing close to the truck, hands in her pockets, looking interested. He glanced at the hill and the microwave mast on top of it. A light blinked regularly, warm and red like an invitation.

"Why'n't we try the hill?" Marcel asked. "Then we could make do with one."

Roscoe stared at the mast. "Let me think." He picked up the working repeater and shambled back to the truck cab absent-mindedly, weighing the options. "Come on."

"What now?" asked Sylvie, climbing in the passenger seat.

"I think." Roscoe turned the ignition key. "Kid has half a point. We've only got the one unit, if we can stick it on the mast it'll do the job." He turned half-round in his seat to stare at Marcel. "But we are *not* going to get caught, y'hear?" He glanced at Sylvie. "If you think it's not safe, I'll give you a lift home first. Or bail. It's your call. Everyone gets a veto."

Sylvie stared at him through slitted eyes. Then she whistled tunelessly. "It's your ass. Don't get into this just because I'm watching."

"Okay." Roscoe put the truck in gear. "You guys keep an eye out behind for any sign of anything at all, anyone following us." He pulled away slowly, driving with excruciating care. "Marcel? Stick that bag under my seat, will you?"

The side-road up to the crest of the hill was dark, shadowed by snow-laden trees to either side. Roscoe took it slowly; a couple of times there was a whine as the all-wheel drive cut in on the uncleared snow. "No fast getaways," Sylvie noted quietly.

"We're not bank robbers." Roscoe shifted down a gear and turned in to the driveway leading to the mast. There was an empty parking lot at the end, surrounded by a chain-link fence with a gate in it. On the other side, the mast rose from a concrete plinth, towering above them like a giant intrusion from another world. Roscoe pulled up and killed the lights. "Anyone see anything?"

"No," said Marcel from the back seat.

"Looks okay to -- hey, wait!" Sylvie did a double-take. "Stop! Don't open the door!"

"Why --" Marcel began.

"Stop. Just stop." Sylvie seemed agitated and right then Roscoe, his eyes recovering from headlight glare, noticed the faint shadows. "Marcel, *get down*!"

"What's up?" Marcel asked, sounding confused.

"Crouch down! Below window level!" Sylvie was insistent. She turned to Roscoe. "Looks like you were right."

"I was right?" Roscoe looked past her. The shadows were getting sharper and now he could hear the other vehicle. "Shit. We've been --" He reached towards the ignition key and Sylvie slapped his hand away. "Ouch!"

"Here." She leaned forward, sparing a glance for the back seat where Marcel was crouching down. "Make it look like you mean it."

"Mean what --" Roscoe got it a moment before she kissed him. He responded automatically, hugging her as the truck cab flooded with light.

"*You! Out of the* -- oh fuck." The amplified voice trailed off. Sylvie and Roscoe turned and blinked at the spotlights mounted on the gray Dodge van as its doors opened.

Sylvie wound down the side window and stuck her head out. "I don't know what you're playing at, but you can fuck right off!" she yelled angrily. "Fucking voyeurs!"

Word count to date: 5888 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 09:48 AM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2003

Story: Cory

"How many unwirers are there working in the area?" Sylvie said, breaking the silence.

Marcel said, "Just us," at the same moment as Roscoe said, "dozens." Sylvie laughed.

"We're solo," Roscoe said, "but there are lots of other solos in the area. It's not a *conspiracy*, you know -- more like an emergent form of democracy."

Sylvie looked up from her palmtop. "That's from a manifesto, isn't it?"

Marcel pinked. "Guilty as charged. Got it from Barlow's *Letters from Prison.* I read a lot of prison-lit. Before I went into the joint."

"Amateurs plagiarize, artists steal," she said. "Might as well steal from the best. Barlow talks a mean stick. You know he wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead?"

"Yeah," Marcel said. "I got into unwiring through some deadhead tape-traders who were importing open recorders from Germany to take to shows. One of them hooked me up with -- someone -- who could get French networking gear. It was just a few steps from there to fun-loving criminal, undermining the body politic."


Marcel came out of his sulk when they got to the site. He loaded up his backpack and a surveyor's tripod and was the model of efficiency as he lined up the bank-shot around the hill that would get their signal out and about.

Sylvie hung back with Roscoe, who was taking all the gear through a series of tests, using his unweildy laptop and two home-made antennae to measure signal-strength. "Got to get it right the first time. Don't like to revisit a site after it's set up. Dog returning to its vomit and all."

She took out her keychain and dangled it in the path of the business-end of the repeater Roscoe was testing. "I'm getting good directional signal," she said, turning the keychain so he could see the glowing blue LEDs arranged to form the distinctive Nokia "N."

Roscoe reached for the fob. "These are just *wicked*," he said.

"Keep it," she said. "I've got a few more in my room. They had a fishbowl full of them on the reception desk in Helsinki. The more lights, the better the signal."

Roscoe felt an obscure species of embarassment, like he was a primitive, tacking up tin cans and string around a provincial backwater of a country. "Thanks," he said, gruffly. "Hey, Marcel, you got us all lined up?"

"Got it."

Only he didn't. They lined up both repeaters and tested each link, but the signal drop-off on each segment was near-total. Bad solder joints, interference from the microwave tower, gremlins... Who knew? Sometimes a shot just didn't work and debugging it in the frigid winter dusk wasn't anyone's idea of a fun time.

Word count to date: 5306

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 09:21 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Story: Charlie

They hit the road closer to five than to four. It was chilly, and the gathering clouds and intermittent breeze promised more snow after dark when Roscoe parked outside the apartment. Marcel was ready and waiting, positively jumping up and down as soon as Roscoe opened the door. "Let's go, man!"

Back in the cab Sylvie was making notes on a palmtop. "Hi," she said guardedly, making eye contact with Marcel.

"Hi yourself." Marcel smiled. "Where we going tonight, man? I brought the stuff." He dumped Roscoe's toolbox and a bag containing a bunch of passive repeaters on the bench seat next to him.

"We're heading for $SUBURB." Roscoe looked over his shoulder as he backed the truck into the street, barely noticing Sylvie watching him. "There's a low hill there that's blocking signal to the mesh in $HOOD_1, and we're going to do something about that."

"Great!" Marcel shuffled about to get comfortable as Roscoe cautiously drove along the icy road. "Hey, isn't there a microwave mast up there?"

"Yeah." Sylvie was making notes. "By the way, if you could keep from saying exactly where we're placing the repeaters? In your article? Otherwise FCC'll just take 'em straight down."

"Okay." Sylvie put her pocket computer down. It was one of those weird Brit designs with the folding keyboards and built-in wireless that had trashed Palm all over Europe. "So you're going to, what? String a bunch of repeaters along a road around the hillside?"

"Pretty much that, exactly. Should only need two or three at the most, and it's wooded around there. I figure an hour for each and we can be home by nine, grab a Chinese on the way."

"Why don't we use the microwave mast?" Marcel chipped in.


"The microwave mast," Marcel repeated. "We go up there, we put one repeater on it, and we bounce signal *over* the kill, no need to go 'round the bushes."

"I don't think so," Roscoe said absently. "Criminal tresspass."

"But it'd save time! And they'd never look up there, it'll look just like any other phone company dish --"

Roscoe sighed. "I am so not hearing this." He paused for a few seconds, merging with another lane of traffic. "Listen, if we get caught climbing a tree by the roadside I can drop the cans and say I was bird spotting. They'll never find them. But if I get caught climbing a phone company microwave tower that is criminal tresspass, *and* they'll probably nail me for felony theft of service, and going equipped for a felony -- they'll find the cans for sure, it's like a parking lot around the base of those things -- and parole breach. I'll be back in prison while you're still figuring out how to hitch-hike home. So enough about saving time, okay? I'm not putting my ass on the line to save time."

"Okay," Marcel said patiently, "we'll do it your way." He crossed his arms and stared out the window at the passing trees under their winter caul of snow.

Word count to date: 4810 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 02:16 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2003

Story: Cory

He grinned despite himself. Marcel was good at fonzing dishes into place with one well-placed whack, could crack him up when the winter slush was turning his mood to pitch. He was a good kid, basically. Hot head. Like Roscoe, once.

"C'mon c'mon c'mon," Marcel said, and he could picture the kid pogoing up and down in a phone-booth, heard his boots crunching on rock-salt.

He covered the receiver and turned to Sylvie, who had a bemused smirk that wasn't half cute on her. "You wanna hit the road, right?" She nodded. "You wanna write about how unwirers get made? I could bring along the kid I'm 'prenticing-up, you like." Through the cellphone, he heard Marcel shouting "Yes! Yes! YES!" and imagined the kid punching the air and pounding the booth's walls triumphantly.

"It's a good angle," she said. "*You* want him along, right?"

He held the receiver in the air so that they could both hear the hollers coming down the line. "I don't think I could live with him if I didn't take him," he said, "so yeah."

She nodded and bit her upper lip, just where the scar was, an oddly canine gesture that thrust her chin forward and made her look slightly belligerent. "Let's do it."

He clamped the phone back to his head. "Marcel! Calm down, twerp! Breathe. OK. You gonna be good if I take you along?"

"So good, man, so very very very very good, you won't believe --"

"You gonna be *safe*, I bring you along?"

"Safe as houses. Won't breathe without your permission. Man, you are the *best* --"

"Yeah, I am. Four PM. Bring the stuff."

Word count to date: 4332

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

May 03, 2003

Story: Charlie

"You can be as famous as you like, inside the state pen," Roscoe said wearily. "Like I said, all I'm planning on doing is installing a couple of new peers. What more do you want?"

"Got this great idea, boss. It's about $SUBURB_2, an' I've been doing some checking. You been complaining we can't get signal in there cuz of the $TERRAIN_OBSTACLE? But there's a TV tower on top of $TERRAIN_OBSTACLE. I was thinking, we could climb the tower and put in a repeater --"

"For fuck's sake!" Roscoe caught himself glaring at Sylvie; he hastily moderated his expression with a shrug of apology. "Listen, we are *not* going to do that, do you understand? Do the words 'criminal' and 'tresspass' ring any bells? And we are not going to pull any half-assed publicity stunts on my watch. Hold it -- hold it! No complaints. You've been drinking, kid. Go watch some TV or something then go to bed, we'll talk about this in the morning. No, I'm trying to save your sorry ass, what part of 'prison is not a summer camp' don't you understand? Yeah, well fuck you too. *Asshole*," he added with feeling, closing the phone with a snap.

"Who was *that*?" Sylvie asked, with a raised eyebrow.

"Damn idiot kid I'm trying to keep out of prison." Roscoe sighed. "Doesn't seem to get the distinction between changing the world an inch at a time and going for a yard and getting taken down. He gets beered up now and again and gets these
silly ideas --"

"They're supposed to be running sabs in New Mexico," Sylvie interrupted. "What he was saying, I'm sorry I couldn't help over-hearing, he sounded pretty provocative."

Roscoe sighed. "More like young, ballsy and convinced he can't ever put a foot wrong."

"I'd still worry about agents provocateur. I got this heavy lecture from my desk editor about COINTELPRO -- that was back when he was a cub reporter -- and what I'm hearing out there does sound a lot like that. FCC agents moving into town, setting up false identities and joining groups, then trying to make them pull stupid stunts."

Roscoe looked pensive. "Naah, Marcel's not together enough to be doing that. I know his type; I was like that once."

"What changed you?"

"Prison." Roscoe pulled a face. "Losing my house, my wife, and my job. It's like getting run over -- I was roadkill on the information superhighway. They were going to make an example of me and only some neat footwork by my defense attorney bargained me down from getting a heavier sentence than a serial rapist. For giving away uncensored bandwidth."

"Uh-huh." Sylvie, he realised, had a tiny pocket recorder running, one of those Taiwanese solid-state ones that looked like a piece of cubist jewellery. She was gadget central, it seemed, like a visitor from another planet. "That's really heavy. Do you have any ideas you're willing to have quoted about why they're so down on unwirers? I mean, doing the full-dress Prohibition routine in guys like yourself, the raids, the exemplary sentencing, the COINTELPRO stuff?"

Word count to date: 4579 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2003

Story: Cory

Sylvie's hotel-room had a cigarette-burns-and-must squalor that reminded Roscoe of jail. "Bonjour, M'sieu," she said as she admitted him.

"Bon soir, madame," he said. "Commentava?"

"Oy," she said. "My granmother woulda said, 'you've got a no-accent on you like a Litvak.' Lookee here, the treasures of the Left Bank." She handed him the Motorola batarang he'd glimpsed earlier. The underside had a waxed-paper peel-off strip and when he lifted a corner, his thumb stuck so hard to the tackiness beneath that he lost the top layer of skin when he pulled it loose. He turned it over in his hands.

"How's it powered?"

"Radio energy, natch. It sucks up a little of the radio it emits and uses it to power its antenna. Passive repeater -- doesn't draw too many amps. Put one in a subway car and you've got an instant ad-hoc network that everyone in the car can use. Put one in the next car and they'll mesh. Put one on the platform and you'll get connectivity with the train when it pulls in."

"Shitfire," he said, stroking the matte finish in a way that bordered on the erotic.

She grinned. She was slightly snaggletoothed, and he noticed a scar on her upper lip from a cleft-palette operation that must have been covered up with concealer earlier. "Total cost of goods is about three Euros, and Moto's margin is five hundred percent. But some Taiwanese knock-offs have already appeared that slice that in half. Moto'll have to invent something new next year if it wants to keep that profit."

"They will," Roscoe said, still stroking the batarang. He transferred it to his armpit and unslung his luggable laptop. "Innovation is still legal there." The laptop sank into the orange bedspread and the soft mattress beneath it.

"You could do some real damage with one of these, I bet," she said.

"With a thousand of them, maybe," he said. "If they were a little less conspicuous."

Her chest began to buzz. She slipped a wee phone from her breast-pocket and answered it. "Yes?" She handed the phone to Roscoe. "It's for you." She made a curious face at him.

He clamped it to his ear. "Who is this?"

"Eet eez eye, zee masked avenger, doer of naughty deeds and wooer of reporters' hearts."


"Yes, boss."

"You shouldn't be calling me on this number." He remembered the yellow pad, sitting on his bedside table. Marcel did all the dusting.

"Sorry, boss," he said. He giggled.

"Have you been drinking?" Marcel and he had bonded over many, many beers since they'd met in a bar in Utica, but Roscoe didn't drink these days. Drinking made you sloppy.

"No, no," he said. "Just in a good mood is all. I'm sorry we fought, darlin', can we kiss and make up?"

"What do you want, Marcel?"

"I want to be in the story, dude. Hook me up! I want to be famous!"

Word count to date: 4057

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 02:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

April 29, 2003

Story: Charlie


That evening, Marcel picked a fight with Roscoe over supper. It started low key, as Roscoe sliced up the pizza. "What are you planning this week?"

Roscoe shifted two slices onto his plate before he answered. "More dishes. Got a couple of folks to splice in downtown if I want to hook up $SUBURB -- there're some black spots there, but I figure with some QOS-based routing and a few more repeaters we can clear them up. Why?"

Marcel toyed with a strand of cooling cheese. "It's, like, boring. When are you going to run a new fat pipe in?"

"When the current one's full." Roscoe attacked the pizza, chewing methodically. "You know damn well the feds would like nothing better than to roll up a fibre drop from the border. 'Sides, got the journalist to think about."

"I could take over part of the fibre drop," Marcel offered.

"I don't think so." Roscoe put his plate down.

"But I could --" Marcel looked at him. "What's wrong?"

"Security," Roscoe grunted. "Goddamnit, you can't just waltz up to some guy who's looking at twenty to life and say 'hi, Roscoe sent me, howzabout we run some dark fibre over the border, huh?' Some of the guys in this game are, huh, you wouldn't want to meet them on a dark night. Are you with me? And others are just plain paranoid. They wouldn't want to meet *you*. Fastest way to convince 'em the DA's office is trying to shut them down."

"You could introduce me," Marcel said after a brief pause.

Roscoe laughed, a short bark. "In your dreams, son."

Marcel dropped his fork, clattering. "You're going to take your pet blonde on a repeater splice and show her everything and you're afraid to let me help you run a new fat pipe in? Where the hell's that stick up your ass come from, man?"

"Listen." Roscoe stood up, and Marcel tensed -- but rather than move towards him, Roscoe turned to the breakfast bar and the pizza box. "Get the Wall Street Journal on our side and we have some credibility. A crack in the wall. Legitimacy. Do you know what that means, kid? You can't buy it. But run another fat pipe into town and we have a waste of bandwidth, upstream dealers who want to know what the hell we're pissing around with, another fibre or laser link to lose to cop-induced backhoe fade, and about fifty percent higher probability of the whole network getting rolled up because local folks will notice if we're screwing with their TV reception and go complain to the FCC. Do you want that?" He picked another cooling pizza slice out of the box. "Do you really want that?"

"You've got the hots for that blonde," Marcel accused him.

"Fuck you." Roscoe returned to his seat, shoulders set defensively. "Fuck you very much." They finished the meal in silence, then Roscoe headed out to his evening class in conversational French. Marcel, he figured, was just jealous because he wasn't getting to do any of the secret agent stuff. Being an unwirer was a lot less romantic than it sounded, and the first rule of unwiring was *keep your trap shut*. Maybe Marcel would get there one day, assuming his big mouth didn't get everyone around him arrested first.


Word count to date: 3490 words.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 09:01 AM | Comments (3)

April 26, 2003

Administrivia: Plot noodling

WARNING: plot noodling follows. Authors at work.

Do not read the rest of this entry, or comments on it, if you want to read the story as a fun and entertaining piece of fiction with surprises in the plot.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 08:48 AM | Comments (7)

April 25, 2003

Administrivia: They're Unwiring Westminster

Meanwhile, back in our time line according to The Register ...

London's City of Westminster Council is to bring 802.11b wireless networking to the streets of Soho. The scheme, dubbed the Westminster 4G project, will initially provide Wi-Fi connectivity for council operatives and remote systems.

But in a direct challenge to ISPs and the UK's wired and mobile telcos, the Conservative-led Council plans to extend the network to provide data and voice services to the public.

Westminster 4G, due to be rolled out next month, will see a number of "smart boxes" installed throughout the Soho district of central London. Greek Street, Old Compton Street and Dean Street will be among the first to be given blanket Wi-Fi coverage, project leader and West End ward councillor Ian Wilder told The Register.

(Full story here.)

The one thing that springs to mind is that if you combine this with a PDA like the new Palm Tungsten C -- with built in 802.11b -- and SIP (a basic but workable VoIP stack) it makes the mobile phone obsolete. You can tunnel phone calls over TCP/IP over 802.11b wireless, instead of tunnelling TCP/IP sockets over PPP over some kind of brain-dead 1980's PSTN system.

Posted by Charlie Stross at 12:43 PM | Comments (3)

April 24, 2003

Story: Cory

She closed her eyes for a moment. Then she dangled her keyring again, just a flash of matte black plastic. "These are everywhere in Europe these days, along with these," she opened her purse and he caught a glimpse of a sliver of curved metal, like a boomerang, in the shape of the Motorola batwing logo-mark. "They're meshing wireless repeaters. Once you've got a critical mass, you can relay data from anywhere to anywhere. Teenagers are whacking them up on the sides of buildings, tangling them in tree-branches, sticking them to their windows. The telcos there are screaming blue murder, of course. Business is down 40 percent in Finland, sixty in France. They're using the net for telephone calls, instant messaging, file-sharing -- the wireline infrastructure is looking more and more obsolete every day. Even the ISPs are getting nervous."

Roscoe tried to hide his grin. To be an unwirer in the streets of Paris, operating with impunity, putting the telcos, the Hollywood studios and the ISPs on notice that there was no longer any such thing as a "consumer" -- that yesterday's couch potatoes are today's *participants*!

"We've got ten years' worth of editorials in our morgue about the destruction of the European entertainment and telco market and the wisdom of our National Information Infrastructure here in the US, but it's starting to ring hollow. The European governments are *ignoring* the telcos! The device and services market being built on top of the freenets is accounting for nearly half the GDP in France. To hear *my* paper describe it, though, you'd think they were starving in the streets: it's like the received wisdom about Canadian socialized healthcare. Everyone *knows* it doesn't work -- except for the Canadians, who think we're goddamned *barbarians* for not adopting it.

"I just got back from a month in the field in the EU. I've got interviews in the can with CEOs, with street-thugs, with grandmothers and with regulators, all saying the same thing: unmetered communications are the secret engine of the economy, of liberty. The highest-quality 'content' isn't 100-million-dollar movies, it's conversations with other people. Crypto is a tool of 'privacy'" -- she pronounced it in the British way, prihv-icy, making the word seem even more alien to his ears -- "not piracy.

"The unwirers are heroes in Europe. You hear them talk, it's like listening to a course in *US* constitutional freedoms. But here, you people are crooks, cable-thieves, pirates, abetters of terrorists. I want to change that."

Word count to date: 2954

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Story: Charlie

The Days Inn was, indeed, a dump. More importantly, several second -- and third -- thoughts occured to Roscoe on his way over. Like, if she was a fed there might be more ways she could nail him than just by arresting him in the same room as an illegal wireless card. So when Roscoe spotted a diner along the block from the motel he pulled over, then went inside to look for a wired phone.

"Room 208, please ... hi there. If you'd care to come outside, there's a diner about fifty yards down the road. Just turn left out of the lobby. I'm already there." He hung up before she could ask any awkward questions, then headed for a booth by the window. Almost as an afterthought, he pulled the copy of 2600 out of his pocket. The hacker magazine (shut down by a court injunction last year) was, he'd found, a really good recognition signal -- plus, having it didn't violate the letter of his parole.

Roscoe was halfway down his first mug of coffee when someone leaned over him. "Hi," she said.

"You must be Sylvie." He registered a confused impression of bleached blonde hair, brown eyes, freckles. *Must be straight out of journalism school*, he thought vaguely. "Have a seat. Coffee?"

"Yes please." She put something like a keyring down then waved a hand, trying to catch the waitress's eye. Roscoe looked at the keyring. Very black, very small, very Nokia. Rumour said they were giving them away in cereal packets in France.

"Suppose you tell me why you wanted to meet up," Roscoe said quietly. "Up front. I can tell you right now that I'm out on parole, and I've got no intention of doing anything that puts me back inside."

The waitress ambled over, pad in hand. Sylvie ordered a coffee. "What were you charged with?" she said. "If you don't mind me asking."

Roscoe snorted. *Score one for the cool lady* -- some folks he'd met ran a mile the instant he mentioned being a con. "I was *accused* of infringement with a side order of black crypto, but plea bargained it down to unlawful emissions." *Score two* -- she smiled. It was a weak joke, but it took some of the sting out of it. "Strictly no-collar crime." He took another mouthful of coffee. "So what is it you're doing up here?"

"I'm working on a story about some aspects of unwiring that don't usually make the national press," she said, as the waitress came over, empty mug in one hand and jug in the other. Roscoe held his up for a refill.


"I could give you a phone number, but would you trust it?"

"Point." Roscoe leaned back against the elderly vinyl seat. *Young, but cynical.*

"Well," she added, "I can do better." She pulled out a notepad and began scribbling. "*This* is my editor's name and address. *You* can look up his number. If you place a call and ask for him you'll get put through -- you're on the list of interview subjects I left him. Next, here's my -- no, an -- email address." Roscoe blinked -- it was a handle on a famous Finnish anonymous remixer. "Get a friend to ping it and ask me something." It was worth five to twenty for black crypto -- anonymity was the FCC's worst nightmare about the uncontrolled net. "Finally, here's my press pass."

"Okay, I'll check these out." He met her eyes. "Now, why don't you tell me why the Wall Street Journal is interested in a burned out ex-con and ex-unwirer, and we can take it from there?"

Word count to date: 2519 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 03:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 22, 2003

Story: Cory

"Then you should be familiar with CALEA," he said, bridling at the condecension in her voice. CALEA was the wiretap bill, required switch-vendors to put snoopware into every hop in the phone network. It was bad enough in and of itself, but it made the noncompliant routing code that was built into the BeOS. access-points he had hidden in a bus-locker doubly illegal and hence even harder to lay hands on.

"Paranoid, much?" she said.

"I have nothing to be paranoid about," he said, spelling it out like he was talking to a child. "I am a law-abiding citizen, complying with the terms of my parole. If you *are* a journalist, I'd be happy to chat. In person."

"I'm staying at the Days Inn on Main Street," she said. "It's a dump, but it's got a *view of the Falls*," she said in a hokey secret-agent voice, making it plain that she meant, "It's line of sight to a repeater for a Canadian wireless router."

"I can be there in twenty," he said.

"Room 208," she said. "Knock twice, then once, then three times." Then she giggled. "Or just send me an SMS."

"See you then," he said.

Marcel looked up from his machine, an IBM box manufactured for the US market. It was the size of a family bible, and styled for the corporate market. They both lusted furiously after the brushed-aluminium slivers that Be was cranking out in France, but they were *way* too conspicuous here.

Roscoe pointed at the wireless card protruding from the slot on the side nearest him. "You're violating security," he said. "I could get sent up again just for being in the same room as that." He was past being angry, though. In the joint, he'd met real crooks who could maintain real project secrecy. The cowboy kids he worked with on the outside couldn't keep a secret if their life depended on it.

Marcel blushed. "It was a mistake, OK?" He popped the card. "I'll stash it."

Word count to date: 1927

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:21 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

April 21, 2003

Story: Charlie

Roscoe shook his head. "Bullshit or not, you going to take any chances?" He straightened up slowly. "Believe me, there's one place you don't want to go."

"Okay, okay, take it easy man." Marcel waved his hands at Roscoe placatingly. "I hear what you're saying."

"I hope you do." Roscoe dumped the wad of towels in the kitchen trash and stomped back into the living room, then dropped himself on the sofa. "Listen, when I was your age I thought it couldn't happen to me, neither. Now look at me." He started thumbing his way through the stack of old magazines on the coffee table.

"I'm looking at you." Marcel grinned. "Listen, there was a call while you were out."

"A call?" Roscoe paused with his hand on a collector's copy of 2600.

"Some woman, said she wanted to talk to you. I took her number."

"Uh-huh." Roscoe put the magazine back down. *Heads it's Janice, tails it's her lawyer*, he thought. It was shaping up to be that kind of day; all he needed now was some asshole to slash his tires. Marcel pointed at the yellow pad next to the elderly dial phone. "Ah, shit. I suppose I should find out what it's about."

The number, when he looked at it, wasn't familar. That didn't mean much -- Janice was capable of moving and her fancy-pants lawyer seemed to carry a new mobile every time he saw her -- but it was hopeful. Roscoe dialed. "Hello? Roscoe. Who am I talking to?"

A stranger's voice: "hi there! I was talking to your flatmate about an hour ago? I'm Sylvie Smith. I was given your name by a guy called Buzz who told me you put him on the backbone."

Roscoe sat up tensely. Odds were that this Sylvie Smith was just another innocent punter looking to leech a final mile feed, but after this morning's run-in with the law he was taking nothing for granted.

"Are you a law enforcement officer federal employee police officer lawyer FCC or FBI agent?" he asked, almost running the words together, knowing that if she was any of the above she'd probably lie -- but it might help sway a jury towards letting him off if he was targeted by a sting.

"No." She sounded almost amused. "I'm a journalist."

Word count to date: 1568

Posted by Charlie Stross at 02:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Administrivia: How about P2P?

What about if the musicians abroad have tried to spoil P2Pnets by flooding them with bogus files like Madonna's recent stunt, and as a result, have had courts rule that they deliberately diluted their trademark interests in their band-names? See my blog entry for more details:

I doubt Madonna has thought about the damage these planted spoofs could do by diluting her trademarks. Trademarks, after all, are intended to protect consumers by defending a source's association with quality goods and services. If the same name is increasingly found on deliberately poor quality music files or curses, with the authorization of the trademark holder, duped listeners might reasonably stop thinking favorably of the brand -- giving a plausible argument that the artist had diluted or abandoned her own mark.
(quote from Wendy Seltzer, an EFF staff atty)

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 07:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

April 20, 2003

Story: Cory

Marcel looked up from his laptop as Roscoe stamped through the living-room.

"Slushy boots! For chrissakes, Roscoe, I just cleaned."

Roscoe turned to look at the salty brown slush he'd tracked over the painted floor and shook his head.

"Sorry," he said, lamely, and sat down on the floor to take his heavy steel-shank Kodiaks off. He carried them back to the doormat and then grabbed a roll of paper towels from the kitchen and started wiping up the mess. The landlord used cheap enamel paint on the floor and the road-salt could eat through to the scuffed wood in half an hour.

"And paper towels, God, it's like you've got a personal vendetta against the forests. There's a rag-bag under the sink, as you'd know if you ever did any cleaning around this place."

"Ease the fuck off, kid, you sound like my goddamned ex-wife," Roscoe said, giving the floor a vicious swipe. "Just ease back and let me do my thing, all right? It didn't go so good."

Marcel set his machine down reverently on the small hearthrug beside his Goodwill recliner. "What happened?"

Roscoe related his run-in with the law quickly. Marcel shook his head slowly.

"I bet it's bullshit. Ever since Tijuana, everyone's seeing spooks." The ISPs on the Tijuana side of the San Ysidro border-crossing had been making good coin off of unwirer-symptathizers who'd pointed their antennae across the chain-link fence. La Migra tried tightening the fence-gauge up to act as a Faraday cage, but they just went over it with point-to-point links that were resistent to the noise from the 2.4GHz light-standards that the INS erected at its toll-booths. Finally, the radio cops got tired of ferretting out the high-gain antennae on the San Diego side and they'd Ruby-Ridged the whole operation, killing ten "terrorists" in a simultaneous strike with Mexican narcs who'd raided the ISPs under the rubric of shutting down narcotraficante activity. TELMEX had screamed blue murder when their fibre had been cut by the simple expedient of driving a backhoe through the main conduit, and had pulled lineage all along the Rio Grande.

Word count to date: 1193

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 09:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

Story: Charlie

"Sounds good to me." Roscoe relaxed imperceptibly, certain now that this wasn't a bust. Then the cop cleared his throat. "Still, you might want to finish this one then go home and stay there for a while. DA's office, they've got some kind of hot shot from the FCC in town preaching the gospel and, uh, getting heavy on bird watchers. That sort of thing."

Roscoe sucked in his lower lip. "I may do just that," he conceded. "And thank you for the warning."

The cop waved as he turned away. "My pleasure, sir."

* * *

Roscoe drove home slowly, and not just because of the snow and compacted slush on the roads. *A hot shot from the FCC* sounded ominous : looked like the inquisition were in town. Roscoe had conceived a deep and abiding hatred for everything they stood for -- *not the people but the party* he had to force himself to remember -- about three years ago, when they first got him on a Federal telecoms rap. He'd lost his job and spent the best part of six months inside before his attorney plea-bargained them down, from a twenty years-to-life infoterrorism stretch to second degree tarriff evasion. The judge sentenced him to time served plus two years' probation, two years in which he wasn't allowed to program a goddamn microwave oven, let alone admin the networks that had been his trade. Prison hadn't been as bad for him as it could have been -- unwirers got respect -- but while he was inside Janice filed for divorce, and by the time he got out he'd lost everything he'd spent the last decade building -- his marriage, his house, his savings, his career. Everything except for the unwiring.

It was this experience that had turned him from a fun-loving geek into what $NAME [[need credible name for Chairman of the FCC]] called "one of the information terrorists undermining our homeland's security." And so it was with a shudder and a glance over his shoulder that he climbed the front steps and put his key in the lock of the house he and Dan rented.

Word count to date: 750 words

Posted by Charlie Stross at 03:42 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

April 18, 2003

Story: Cory

The cops caught Roscoe as he was tightening the butterfly bolts on the dish antenna he'd pitoned into the rock-face opposite the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. They were State Troopers, not Fed radio cops, and they pulled their cruiser onto the soft shoulder of the freeway, braking a few feet short of the soles of his boots. It took Roscoe a moment to tighten the bolts down properly before he could let go of the dish and roll over to face the cops, but he knew from the crunch of their boots on the road-salt and the creak of their cold holsters that they were the law.

"Be right with you, officers," he hollered into the gale-force winds that whipped along the rockface. The antenna was made from a surplus pizza-dish satellite rig, a polished tomato soup can and a length of co-ax that descended to a pigtail with the right fitting for a wireless card. All perfectly legal, mostly.

He tightened the last of the bolts and slid back on his belly, off the insulated thermarest he'd laid between him and the frozen ground. The cops' heads were wreathed in the steam of their exhalations, and one of them was nervously flicking his -- no, *her* -- handcuffs around on her belt.

"Everything all right, sir?" the other one said, in a flat upstate New York accent. A townie. He stretched his gloved hand out and pulled Roscoe to his feet.

"Yeah, just fine," he said. "I like to watch winter birds on the river. Forgot my binox today, but I still got some good sightings."

"Winter birds, huh?" The cop was giving him a bemused look.

"Winter birds."

The cop leaned over the railing and took a long look down. "Huh. Better you shouldn't do it by the roadside, sir," he said. "Never know when someone's going to skid out and drive off onto the shoulder -- you could be crushed." He waved at his partner, who retreated into the steamy warmth of the cruiser. "All right, then," he said. "When does your node go up?"

Roscoe smiled and dared a wink. "I'll be finished aligning the dish in about an hour. I've got line of sight from here to a repeater on a support on the Rainbow Bridge, and from there down the Rainbow Street corridor. Some good tall buildings there, line of sight to most of downtown, at least when the trees are bare. Leaves and wireless don't mix."

Word count to date: 416

Posted by Cory Doctorow at 08:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 16, 2003

Administrivia: Story outline

Click the "Read more..." link for the outline we sold this story from. Warning: it's one big spoiler. Read more...
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 08:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Administrivia: Jury Service

Our first collaboration was a story called "Jury Service," which SciFi.com syndicated in December, 2002. You can read the whole text here.
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 08:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Administrivia: Flowers from Alice

Here's an excerpt from "Flowers from Alice," our last collaboration, forthcoming (soon!) in Mike Resnick's New Faces in Science Fiction anthology, which DAW is publishing. Read more...
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 02:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)