By 2050, screens have shrunk and become more flexible until the dream of “programmable paper” becomes a reality. Citizens of the future read newspapers like the ones in Harry Potter that include moving images and even videos of important events. This new technology even makes it as far as the US Post Office, where they decide to include programmable stamps. Instead of a static picture of eg George Washington’s head, it will have a moving image of Washington speaking and giving his famous Farewell Address.
Unfortunately, the technology isn’t ready for the kind of abuse that envelopes undergo on their travel throughout the country and the world. Most of the computerized stamps become corrupted and “crash”; in a particularly common bug, they try to reload but just end up displaying “GENERATING IMAGE…” permanently. The government has no money to fix the problem, so people just get used to stamps on their letters that say “GENERATING IMAGE…” instead of having interesting pictures on them.
Moral of the story: If you want a vision of the future, imagine a human face booting on a stamp forever.
He was strolling through the open air marketplace of Vedna, thinking about getting something to eat, when his earpiece chimed. He tapped his phone to complete the connection.
"Cowal here," he said absently. Potato pancakes, maybe? No matter what star system you were in, potatoes were pretty much potatoes.
"Lieutenant," said Cory, his ship's AI. "Are you able to talk?"
He sighed. "Cory, I told you, they re-activated my commission just as a formality for the courier run we have coming up. You don't have to call me Lieutenant."
There was the barest of pauses before Cory replied. "My apologies, Commander Cowal."
Paul frowned. "Commander isn't any better. Or accurate. Just call me skipper, like you always have."
"I feel that would be inappropriate at this time," Cory said, hesitating slightly before continuing. "Captain," said Cory. "In any case, I am currently in receipt of..."
He didn't the let AI finish the sentence. "Cory, are you OK?" he asked, concerned. "You're all over the map. Run diagnostics, please."
Cory hesitated, then said, "Diagnostic scan commencing. Preliminary report, all systems normal. Detailed diagnostics will be available in three minutes, Admiral." Cory rarely displayed emotion, but Paul could tell from his modulation that he was frustrated.
"Good. You may not have noticed it, but you've been using different forms of address for me," he said. "I'm worried you might have picked up something from one of the public nets..."
"SIR!" Cory shouted. Paul winced at the volume and cursed.
"If you would please let me finish," said Cory, hurriedly. "I am currently in receipt of military subspace traffic from the Coral navy."
Paul stopped, and looked up at the sky. "Wait, what? How..."
"Part of the encryption package we got for the courier mission," said Cory. "That's not important. I have been receiving real-time updates of a running battle in Coral space. A numerically superior force entered the system approximately 4 minutes ago, and engaged the fleet. Projected losses are statistically indistinguishable from 100%, Acting High Admiral."
Paul froze, and opened his mouth. He tried to say something, but words would not come.
"Based on those reports, you are almost certainly the last active member of the CNS Fleet still alive," said Cory. "In addition, 34 seconds ago I received what I presume is a final transmission from the CNS CARTAHENA," said Cory.
"Go," said Paul, quietly.
"Shortly after the attack commenced, they reported sub-lightspeed kinetic energy weapon impacts on the capital, Fleet Command, and all visible major cities." Cory waited a second, then continued. "Following the succession rules enumerated by the 194th Coral Tricameral, and in accordance with the Founding Charter and Constitution..."
"No," said Paul.
"... until such time as a more qualified survivor is located, you are to be considered the acting President and Commander-In-Chief of the Coral government," said Cory.
"Crap on a crutch," breathed Paul.
"Indeed," said Cory, dryly. "Your orders, Mr. President?"
Yeah. Dresden Files fan fiction.
It popped into my head this evening, and... well, it wasn't going to let me get anything else done until I had at least sketched it out.
My name is Leo Armitage Kozlowski. I’m a dentist. Not the new school type, with all the bells and whistles and flashing lights and computers doing 3D realtime modeling of your bite pattern. No, I’m old school. Picks, mirrors, wax impressions, fillings, all done by hand. Artisanal, even.
I should put that on my cards.
I have a couple of full sets of tools. Every dentist does - you need them to get through a typical day, since it would be bad manners and worse hygiene to share them around. Unlike most dentists, though, I also have some custom sets of complete instruments, hand-made from cast bronze.
They’re for my special customers.
See, nobody really likes visiting the dentist in the first place. I understand that. Heck, I’m a dentist, and even I don’t like visiting my own dentist. A regular cleaning is bad enough. When you know there’s something wrong, though, that’s a special sort of bad. When you call to make an appointment that you know, just know, will lead to drilling, filling, or - even worse - the juxtaposition of the words “root” and “canal”… well. Even I can get a little titchy.
So when something out of the Nevernever gets cranky and desperate enough to start asking around for a dentist, believe me, the last thing I want to do is go rooting around in some Faerie’s mouth with iron tools.
Yeah. Chicago gets deep disk pizza, the Bulls, and Harry Freaking Dresden. Pittsburgh gets pirogies, the Steelers, and the world’s only practicing Faerie dentist. Which might not seem fair, but Chicago will just have to learn to live with second place, I guess.
I was in the office early on a Monday, standing behind the front desk, going through the weekend mail. Bills, bills, bills, and… oh, yeah, More bills. I sighed. The life of an independent businessman. Well, there was an invitation to the annual ADA convention. In Detroit.
I was contemplating whether spending a weekend surrounded by dentists in Detroit would be a net positive or negative to my nearly nonexistent social life when the phone at the desk rang. I picked it up and cradled the receiver in the crook of my neck, keeping my hands free to continue sorting through the mail.
“Kozlowski Dentistry,” I said. “Kozlowski speaking.”
“Hey, Jinx,” said the voice on the other end. Manny Carlucci. He’d been my Council sponsor, way back when. When he found out what the guys on the ship had called me, he had picked up that nickname with glee. It wasn’t my fault that I was a wizard, nor that I hadn’t even had an inkling of the fact until I was 10 years into serving the Navy as a dentist. I was such a minor ability that the Council had debated whether or not I could really be considered a wizard. They had erred on the side of caution, though, so at the tender age of 33, I had found myself shanghaied into Council membership, whether I wanted it or not.
Yeah, yeah. I know. The irony of a Navy man getting shanghaied is not lost on me.
The name came from my ineptitude with, and general inability to be in the vicinity of, electronic equipment. Which I know is related to the wizard thing, now. My first decade in the Navy, though, things just tended to go wrong around me in interesting and sparky ways. I had eventually earned my Surface Warfare pin, but not until the Captain of the second ship I tried to qualify on had banned me from ever stepping foot onto the bridge or into the Combat Information Center ever again. Seems the radar techs in CIC had a thing about keeping their equipment up and running without having to put out electrical fires every few minutes.
“Manny,” I said. “Do I owe you money or something?”
“Or something,” he said. I could hear traffic noises in the background. “Just wanted to give you a heads up. Audit next week.”
I tossed the mail in the general direction of the inbox and managed to get most of it in the general location. I took the phone in my hand and closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose. “Manny, they just did one a few weeks ago.” The Wardens were always on the prowl for incipient warlockry, and for some reason, they had decided that I was a prime candidate. Maybe they thought I was doing illegal dentures for Black Court vamps, or that I was doing bridge work for the wrong type of troll, or something. Whatever it was, I had ended up on somebody’s short list.
“Yeah, I know,” said Manny. He sounded apologetic. “There’s a new guy taking over the ward. Mallory. He’s doing the rounds, and wanted to start with you.”
“Any idea why?” I asked. There bell above the door jangled as someone walked it. I glanced at the clock. Nine o’clock on the dot. I didn’t have any appointments until ten, but we did get the occasional walk-in. I raised my hand in the general direction of the door to ackowledge whoever it was, and turned away slightly to keep the conversation with Manny private.
“Nope,” he said. “Probably nothing. Guys seems like the type to go in random order, just to shake things up.”
“Great,” I sighed. “OK, Manny. Thanks. I owe you one.”
“Told you you owed me something,” he said cheerfully. “Beer me later, man. Friday at Industry?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “See you then. And Manny - I mean it. Thanks.”
“No problem,” he said. “Catch you later.”
I hung up the phone, put on a smile that I didn’t really feel, and turned around to greet my first customer of the day. “Sorry about that. What can I do for you…”
Yeah, I kind of trailed off. The woman standing at the counter was beyond striking. Easily six feet tall, with a narrow face, piercing green eyes, and long, red hair. She was bundled up a bit against the cold in a pale green leather coat that matched her eyes, and wearing a gold necklace that looked like it was studded with emeralds and opals.
All of which was secondary to what really made me draw up short. I generally don’t get many dragons as walk-in clients. By which I mean, I never get them.
Her aura was so strong that I didn’t even need to look at her with my second sight to know what she was. Her face was carefully neutral, which I think was her way of trying to be polite. It worked. If she had smiled at me right then, I’m pretty sure that mind hindbrain would have crawled out my ear and slid down my torso in an attempt to escape, gibbering in fear.
“… M’am?” I finished the sentence that I had started what now seemed a long, long time ago. I was distinctly aware that my voice squeaked in a way that I hadn’t heard since puberty. I worked on shutting down my second sight as tightly as I possibly could.
“Dr. Kozlowski, I presume?” she said. Her voice was melodious, beautiful, and nearly as scary as her aura.
“Yes!” I said, with a little too much emphasis. My mind raced. What was the protocol for dragons? Was I supposed to bow? Shake hands? Fall to the ground weeping?
She made the decision simple by holding out her hand. She was wearing a pair of black gloves. I looked at her hand stupidly for a moment, then took it gently. The corner of her mouth quirked up slightly as I shook her hand.
“M’am,” I said, letting go. I decided that absolute honesty was my best bet, took a deep breath, and spoke carefully. “I understand that I am in the presence of someone much, much older, wiser, and more powerful than myself. I beg you to forgive any slight I might inadvertently give, and to understand that if I do so, it is entirely out of ignorance, and not an indication of any lack of respect.”
She did give me a smile at that point, but I was ready for it. “I have heard good things about you, Doctor, from some… associates.” She tilted her head slightly in my direction. “Your honesty is refreshing, but I am not looking for a diplomat.” The smile faded. “I am afraid that I find myself in need of your services.”
I blinked, and looked at her, not with my second sight, but with my experience. She was doing her best not to show it, but… yeah. She was nervous.
I told you. Nobody likes going to the dentist.
Quinn Norton at Medium tell us that Everything Is Broken, and reminds us that not only is computer security terrible, it's even worse than you imagine:
The number of people whose job it is to make software secure can practically fit in a large bar, and I’ve watched them drink. It’s not comforting.