Welcome to NaNoWriMo, where I - and thousands of other plucky souls - try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
You are reading "Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now.
Everything you read is possible - there's no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let's crack on with...
(Trigger Warnings: Sexual Assault & Miscarriage.)
I have the fucking stupidest superpower.
My mom thought her precious little boy was deranged. Once I had learned to read, I would occasionally show off by reading out things that she couldn't see. I have a vivid memory of walking down the street holding mom's hand and seeing a woman walk by wearing a t-shirt that just said "Hi!" - I was thrilled to be able to read these two glowing letters, so I shouted "Hi" at her. The strange woman gasped in shock and started shouting questions at me. Mom angrily pulled me away and told me not to be so rude to strangers.
She took me to doctors, shrinks, optometrists, and faith healers in the hopes of finding out what was wrong with her miracle baby. I was, according to the experts, in perfect health - physically, psychologically, optically, and spiritually. I just had an overactive imagination. Very common in young boys. He'll settle down.
I didn't exactly settle down; I just hid what I was seeing. To be honest, I didn't really understand any of what I read. Sometimes in the middle of a newspaper would be a tiny article printed in between the lines of another article - it contained gossip about people I'd never heard of. Once, I watched a political campaign advert on TV - some douchebag running for governor - superimposed above his head glowed the word "LIAR!" I subtly checked with all my friends, but none of them had seen it. I was sure it was there, but I didn't fancy another visit to the psychiatrist, so I kept quiet.
I genuinely thought I was going mad and was too terrified to tell anyone. I never knew when an "episode" (as mom called it) would occur. Words would mysteriously blaze out on billboards and only I could see them. A freezeframe on a video would contain a joke that I didn't get. As my Mom dragged me from state to state, the words followed.
By the time I was 17 we were living in a cramped single room in New York. Mom's career had never quite taken off, and my education had suffered from constantly changing schools. We were both getting bitter about our lot in life. I stormed out of the apartment after a particularly nasty argument. I can't remember now what it was about. I just wish I'd been able to say a proper goodbye to her.
I rode a bus to the city in the vague hope of meeting a friend and finding a place to crash. It was late and winter was beginning to bite. I pounded the streets looking for an all-night diner where I might stay warm for the cost of coffee. And then I saw it. Painted above a back-street bodega were the words "TETRA SAFE".
From the way it burned in my eyes, I knew that it was one of those messages only I could see.
I stumbled in. Maneki-neko sat on the counter beckoning me towards a little Asian woman who sat behind her.
"Hi. Uh. Do You..." I stuttered and she reached behind the counter for a pack of Trojans.
"No. Sorry. I... God, this is so stupid. It says Tetra Safe? What does that mean?"
"Who tell you that?" She snapped, her face a mask of terror.
"It just says it above your store, right? Tetra Safe? I keep seeing things and..."
She pulled a gun on me! I shit you not! This little grandma swung a pistol up from under the counter and screamed at me to get on my fucking knees.
I got on my fucking knees.
She stabbed away at an emergency button and a younger woman - her daughter I presumed - came flying out of the back stockroom. There was a stream of unintelligible gibberish being shouted between them. The old lady kept me in her crosshairs, while the younger one locked the door and pulled down the shutters.
"It says 'Tetra Safe' outside, I just wanted to know why!" I moaned.
The younger woman strode up to me, pulled off her sweater, and lifted up her t-shirt. "What does my tattoo say?" she screamed, pointing at her chest.
I was unaccustomed to seeing real tits this close, but that's not why I was trembling.
"I don't know," I wailed, "I can't read Japanese! But it looks like a square with some lines in it and a sort of smiling PacMan with a hat."
From behind me I heard someone swear under their breath. A black back was swiftly placed over my head and I felt the gun push into my back. They dragged me out back and threw me down on a chair. Zip ties bound my wrists tightly against its frame.
"Sit there!" Instructed a woman's voice. "Don't move."
It felt like hours before the mask was removed. In front of me were three women, all wearing knitted ski masks. Through the holes in the masks I could see they looked terrified.
The largest of the three spoke first. "Who are you?"
I gave them my name and tried to explain what was going on.
"Shut the fuck up before I shut you up. Are you male or female?"
"What? I'm male."
"Trans or cis?"
"Uh, cis, I guess? I was born male..."
She gestured to the others "Check him."
Under normal circumstances, having two women pull off my pants while I was strapped to a chair was high on my list of fantasies. Reality is a lot more humiliating. They exposed me, gave my dick a perfunctory tug to make sure it wasn't a prosthetic, and left me swinging. I felt scared and fought the urge to piss myself.
The second woman was rummaging through a box in the corner of the room. She pulled out a stack of cards. "Read these." She commanded.
"Um. Could you pull my pants back up? Please? I'll do what you want, but, you know... would you mind?"
"Read. The. God. Damn. Cards."
There were a series of Ishihara Tests. Coloured swirls with differing patterns on them. I remember doing them as a kid when my mom took me round endless ophthalmology departments. But these were different. As well as the usual tests for Deuteranomaly and Tritanopia, there were other, stranger cards. Some had words, some had symbols, some were blank. I did them all.
The smaller woman said, "He's about a 3.7 on the scale. Weak, but definitely there. Can we pull his pants up please? I don't want that thing waving in my face all evening?"
As they hoisted my jeans back on, I once again pleaded with them to explain what was going on.
The large one spoke "You shouldn't exist. You're unnatural. But we can't deal with you alone."
The shorter one asked in a strong Japanese accent "Are we going to tell the others?"
A pause. "No. Not yet. Let's get the Mother Superior."
They unclipped one of my hands, gave me a few bags of foreign chips and a disgusting green tea soda.
"There's a bucket in the corner if you need it. We'll be back in the morning." And with that, they filed out and locked me in. I did not sleep well that night.
The next morning, four women entered the room. The newest woman was tubby and walked with a cane, her breathing laboured beneath the ski mask.
"I want to see this with my own eyes," she wheezed. From her handbag she pulled out a different set of cards and administered the test. This one was harder, the words fainter and the symbols less distinct. After half an hour, I was done.
"Easily a 3.7. Possibly even a 4 with good lighting." She pointed at my crotch. "Would you mind, my dear?"
"I need a piss anyway," I said. I hobbled over to the bucket and drained the lizard. Never fun with an audience, but it satisfied both her need and mine.
"Well. Now I've seen everything," she huffed. "I think we can dispose of these masks."
A few glances passed between the others, but they deferred to her. Off they came. There were the two Asian women from the convenience store, a white woman with a suburban-mom haircut, and this squat Black lady. They removed the last zip tie from me and took me into a more salubrious room behind the store.
"Welcome to Tetra Safe," Said the white woman. "I guess you'd like an explanation?"
I nodded dumbly. The whole room was filled with the same strange lettering as I'd seen outside the shop.
They explained the secrets of the sisterhood of Tetrachromacy to me.
Most people have three cone types in their eyes - that's what lets humans see in color. Due to genetic mutations, a few humans have abnormalities which reduce their colour vision. That mostly happens to men and is what causes color blindness. But, every few million births produces a girl with extra cones. This fourth cone allows them to see more colors than a normal human. It is a precious gift, but one that the great-grandmothers of The Sisterhood decided should be kept secret. They'd seen what normal people did to "mutants" and wanted to protect any girl who was gifted. It was a loose network of friends, rather than a secret society. Most large cities had a "Tetra Safe" club - a home away from home where women could meet away from prying eyes. There was nothing much that connected them politically or racially. The writing I'd seen in papers or on TV were messages from one chapter to another. They never wrote about their condition in email; far too easy to track. But they would wear badges or t-shirts which let other Tetras know who they were. Some of them even got tattoos. The mutation seemed random. But it was strictly confined to the female of the species.
I stayed in the safe-house for a few weeks. The women apologised for the harsh treatment but hoped I understood why they had reacted. In 400 years of recorded history, no male had ever been found with the same mutation. I spent the weeks learning about The Sisterhood, I met dozens of curious women - all of whom wanted to test me themselves. Thankfully they all took it on trust that I was a natal male. I didn't give a second thought about my mom; I had a new family now.
I say family. The women wouldn't let me leave the safe-house. So perhaps they were jailers?
Eventually I plucked up the courage to ask what they intended to do with me. I promised that I wouldn't spill their secrets and, besides, who would believe me?
The gaggle of Sisters formed a huddle and whispered together. Eventually, one of them was thrust forward to explain their plan.
"We've been thinking long and hard about this. You're such a unique young man. We had no idea someone like you existed. There are so few of us and it's impossible to tell whether our daughters will be born Tetra or not." She paused and looked embarrassed. Someone coughed. "So. Anyway. We were thinking. If you don't mind. Would you breed with us?"
Again. Top 10 fantasy right there. A pile of women desperate for me to raw-dog them. I was young, dumb, and completely ready for this assignment! The reality was, of course, humiliating.
A few times a week I'd go to the toilet, jack off into a pot, and sheepishly hand it to a waiting woman. She'd write down the date, volume, and temperature of the deposit. The pot would be nestled between her tits to keep it warm and she'd deliver it to the waiting recipient. I daresay a turkey-baster was involved. It was gross. The women were all very friendly, but they were understandably wary of me. I knew they were armed and didn't feel I could refuse their demands. The more I read about the history of The Sisterhood, the more it became obvious that they were dwindling in number. And the few daughters that were being born were getting progressively weaker at seeing the sacred Tetrachromatic writing. I felt sorry for them. Perhaps if I could help replenish their numbers they'd let me go free?
It didn't work.
I wasn't shooting blanks - hurrah! - but all the women's' bodies rejected the foetuses after a few months. I heard again and again about how yet another woman had miscarried. It seemed endless. Until Mei. She was the woman with the 四色 tattoo on her chest. When it came her turn to be inseminated, she opted for the old fashioned way. By this point I was far beyond caring about whether I was a hostage or not, I just wanted human company. Mei and I were never particularly close, but it was wonderful watching her blossom. Seeing her grow our child and becoming happier every day. Just for a moment, I allowed myself to be happy.
They didn't trust me enough to accompany Mei for the 6 month scan. I was allowed to video-call her while it happened. The doctor was very gentle with us both as he explained the myriad of deformities present in our precious little girl. Her eyes were completely missing. There were large cavities stretching back from the eye sockets to the deepest reaches of her skull. If she made it to term, he said in a quiet voice, it was likely that her condition would be incompatible with life. It was, of course, our choice how to proceed.
I don't remember how I escaped the Tetra Safe house. The sisters turned on each other with howling recriminations. I suspect I just ran out the door while those disorganised bitches fought each other. I needed to get as far away as possible. I needed to hide. So I enlisted. I was relatively young, obviously running away, and - most importantly - undereducated. The recruiting sergeant practically drove me to Fort Moore himself.
Over time, I let the memories of that hellish year evaporate. I blossomed in the army. I trained hard and bonded harder. I made lifelong friends and discovered talents I never knew I had. The army consumed me and the horrors of The Sisterhood were a distant memory. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to get as far away as possible. I got my wish.
One hot summer's day, some fancy-ass General stopped by the base. Apparently she made it her business to regularly inspect the raw meat she was going to have to work with. We were exhausted, with sweat dripping down the collars of our scratchy uniforms. She was dolled up in the full regalia, with medals dripping down her chest. We lined up and made a good show of humouring her as she strode past us asking questions. I was standing to attention, eyes front, but something kept burning in the corner of my eye. I stole a glance as she made her way down the line towards me. There! Underneath all that fruit salad was an insignia which surely wasn't standard issue. I didn't recognise the symbol, but I knew that it was only visible to a select few. It blazed so harshly it nearly blinded me when I stared directly at it.
I felt my knees tremble. I thought I had escaped them, but they'd found me. I wanted to run. I couldn't. I wanted to scream. I couldn't. My whole body began to shake uncontrollably. I felt a trickle of urine escape as I remembered the horrors they'd put me through. The General reached me. Her insignia was so painful that tears sprang from my eyes.
"Private!" She snapped, "What the hell is the meaning of this?"
I raised my hand and pointed to her chest. I managed to stammer "Tetra" before fainting.
I awoke in the back of a truck, travelling at quite some speed judging from the vibrations. Someone had cleaned me up and stuck me in a gray PFU. The General sat opposite me. Glaring.
"Private. What do you know about Tetra?"
I slowly rolled up my sleeve. On the day Mei learned she was pregnant with our daughter, she had branded my forearm with a Tetrachromatic tattoo. It didn't shine as brightly as the General's insignia, but it was still painful to look at.
"You're the one The Sisterhood found?"
"Fuck. We'd heard rumours, of course. They're not the queens of OpSec they think they are. But I wasn't expecting it to be true. It's hard for us to spy on domestic groups - especially when we can't explain why a bunch of women meeting behind a bodega are suspicious. They're not exactly domestic terrorists. If we'd known about you, we'd have done something."
"What are you going to do with me?"
She sucked her teeth. "Let me tell you a story."
The five hour wagon ride flew by as she demolished the lies told to me by The Sisterhood. Apparently, 100 years ago there had been a schism. A small but determined group of women's libbers had wanted to reveal themselves. They thought the world was ready to hear their story. They thought they would be welcomed with open arms as a new breed of human. They were wrong. One of the women was sent to an insane asylum where her husband had her lobotomised. Another tried to confess to her priest, and spent months being "exorcised". A third went to the press so the Sisterhood firebombed the paper's offices to ensure the letter was destroyed.
The fallout led to The Sisterhood splitting in two. One half retained the loose social club aspect and ran the "Tetra Safe" meeting houses. The Others infiltrated the Government. There was the General, a Presidential Advisor, one Congresswoman, and a handful of others scattered about the system. The deal was that The Sisterhood held their tea parties while The Others worked behind the scenes to protect them. If a new girl was found, The Sisterhood were supposed to offer her to The Others. Some girls joined, but most didn't.
As for what The Others wanted with me?
With the General's patronage, I was given accelerated entry into the NASA astronaut corps. There was an influential Congresswoman pushing for increased NASA funding. The President's Advisor whispered tirelessly in his ear until our mission was a foregone conclusion. Strings were pulled. Favours were traded. No doubt bribes were paid. Until, after 12 years of vigorous training, I found myself orbiting the Moon.
Free of Earth's atmosphere and away from its light pollution, it shone with ethereal splendour.
I put pen to paper and began drawing the symbols glowing on the lunar surface.
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.