CC Vignettes #6: Lattram

“Lopers. That’s what they call ’em. Before our unit arrived on-world, it was all jokes, you know? Nobody thought something that looked like an overgrown rabbit would cause any trouble. But we weren’t ready for them. Not at all. The first week, we had thirty casualties. Most of those were patrols that got separated down in the lowlands. We’d find bodies missing heads… burn pits full of bones… empty sets of armor filled with nothing but meat and blood. The first time I saw one up close, I was too scared to shoot. They were taller than any of us, and their claws… those claws. They went through helmet visors like a laser-scalpel through butter. Take it from me: the lopers are nothing to scoff at. They’re too stupid to frighten, too tough to injure, and too stubborn to die. If they try to send you to Lattram, desert as fast as you can. You’ll thank me later.”

– Anonymous Hegemony soldier, leaked audio from the SeedNet

Lattram was eventually subjugated by the Hegemony, but not without plenty of bruises and psychological trauma in return. To understand the resolve of the loper clans, all you have to do is refer to their word for enemy, which, in the common tongue, would translate literally as “walking meat.”

CC Vignettes #5: Miner problems

“The storms are getting worse and worse. Last week, one of our guys had to sell his genome as an NFT collection just to afford another ventilator block. The reports don’t paint an optimistic picture for the future, either. There’s supposed to be another big dust-up next week, and we aren’t prepared for it. Not at all. The last surge caught two of our workers out in the quarry, and when we found ’em… well, we didn’t find ’em. All we found were gloves, respirators, boots. The dust had flayed everything else, carried it off, pulverized it into the dust itself. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t mourn the loss of those two sods… I just nabbed one of the respirators and tossed it in my pack. Survival of the fittest and whatnot.”

– Crew Lead Joille-Tan Currah

No idea which planet this happened on (not even the galactic sector), but it’s a fairly common theme across worlds that were into mining rhodium and palladium. Those metals fetched a high price, but it asked a similar price of those who were unfortunate enough to wind up on a world like this. Pressure might form diamonds, but it also wreaks havoc on fleshy bodies.

CC Vignettes #4: Halcium Echo

“Halcium Echo is, in my humble opinion, the overlooked gem of the Hegemony’s core worlds. Several centuries ago, it was renowned for its landmark contributions to the Hegemony’s artistic, cultural, and aesthetic development, boasting no less than sixty-four hundred universities across its metropolitan surface. Although its splendor has faded somewhat in recent years, it remains an indelible cornerstone for varying schools of thought, particularly those related to ecology as a pragmatic or religious discipline. The reasoning for this last point should be clear; its commitment to Halcius’ ideal of “the world as nature” is admirable, if a tad visually jarring.”

– Garayn Levem, Hegemony Critic of Fine Art, Holographic Media, and Architecture

A little fun fact… Halcium Echo was completely ravaged during the Krutharan Extinction event, but a small portion of its populace managed to survive by utilizing the subterranean tunnel and bunker networks—both of which were left over from another extinction-level event about three thousand years prior, long before the Hegemony ever controlled the planet. The more you know…

CC Vignettes #3: The Last Stand on Kettras B

“The situation is growing dire. Although I appreciate the logistical challenges of the operation, and certainly sympathize with the opinion that this is an unprecedented call for materiel, there are no alternatives. Each day of conducting ground operations on Kettras B requires approximately one-point-five million shells, one million liters of fuel, five thousand fission cores, and an influx of three to four thousand infantrymen. Failure to deliver the requisite supplies and personnel will lead to the annihilation of our forward positions. If the Hegemony sincerely wishes for our forces to secure the extraction sites, this is what we need. Otherwise, I would urge you to begin arranging immediate exfiltration routes. May Halcius endow you with wisdom.”

– Esteemed Returner Branteis

I’m not great with visual identification of transmissions, but the accompanying note makes it clear this is indeed the world of Kettras B, which was once renowned for its abundance of high-potency xenon vents. As the story goes, a battalion of Hegemony troops got stranded on-world after the extraction process was deemed too jeopardized to continue. They spent weeks waiting for reserve troops or a ride back home, but the logs indicate they never got it… which means the local forces probably got them. Poor bastards.

CC vignettes #2: The Fern Wars

“… and our platoon arrived for service about twenty years into the broader conflict. We were part of a Clapper unit. [Murmuring] Oh, a Clapper? They were sort of… biomechanical, I guess. I’m not sure. The indigenous forces providing fire support had loads of them. Maybe relics from an older, more primitive war… though they must’ve been old as hell, because nobody knew who’d built them or why.

They had a weird way about ’em, those Clappers. They seemed responsive enough to take orders—the, uh, indigenous troops controlled things with little flutes—but I dunno. Sometimes you just got the feeling they’d been in the fight a little too long. This one time, we ordered our Clapper to mow down a platoon across a marsh. ‘Stead of turning its guns on the enemy, though, it just spun back around, grabbed the flute handler, and started tuggin’ like they were a ragdoll.

I’ve never seen limbs come off so easily. Well, anyway, ever since that day… everyone kept their distance from the Clappers. Especially me.”

– Ardent Restorer Valkris

This is a curious entry. There isn’t much recorded history of the Fern Wars in official Hegemony records, but if you do a little digging, you’ll find that 0.27% of their forces participated in the conflict at one point or another. That may not sound like much, but when you run that number against the Hegemony’s total rosters, it’s significant. Curiously enough, however, there are no images or vids of the aforementioned “Clappers.” The best we have is this painting, which was produced by the Hegemony’s official art liaison at some point during Operation Decisive Venture. It’s worth nothing that the same art liaison was killed just two months later, his death listed as “Accidental: Mechanical Malfunction and/or Defection.”

CC Vignettes #1: The Bottom of the Drain

Interrogator Nefris (IN): “What did it say to you, [REDACTED]?”
The subject does not reply.
IN: “[REDACTED], can you hear me?”
Subject (S): “It’s hungry.”
IN: “Specify, please.”
S: “He hungers. He calls to me in my sleep.”
IN: “He? The entity?”
The subject does not reply.
IN: “What is the nature of the entity, [REDACTED]?”
The subject is silent for 176 seconds.
S: “He is the darkness at the bottom of the drain. He hides in all places, yet stares out from them, waiting. He is here. He is everywhere. If you listen closely, you can hear him hollowing out the worlds.”
IN: “Can we get a tranquilizer here?”
S: “He has no stomach. It all just falls through. Falls into the nothing. He’s here. Here. Here. Here. Here.”
IN: “Security?”
The subject’s jaws appear to invert and dislocate.
End of audiovisual recording.

This is the only semblance of a clue I received regarding the origins of this image’s subject. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s some kind of parasitic, hive-minded entity that’s prone to scouring the folds between dimensions. As far as I know, the identity of the subject (and the entity he encountered) is currently classified. Makes you wonder if they’ve mopped up the issue yet, or if it’s still lurking down in the drains.

CC Transmission #1: Le Crescendo des Mèmes

Hello, all. This is the first of many short stories and pieces of fiction set in the Cutthroat Cosmos. Today’s tale, Le Crescendo des Mèmes, is a vision of a world on the brink of annihilation—and what a party it is.

The first packet hits the Seed network seventy-five microseconds after the end’s beginning.

o shit lmro

Laughing my respirator out.

Seventeen thousand reactions blossom on the mind-printed message, a sample reflective of the planet’s general sentiments: scores of holographic grins, a few green crosses in protest, a worm here and there. The latter has become shorthand for death, and it is the latest of sixteen such symbols, all of which have been banned and flagged as neural indicators of malfeasance.

The operators of the network—repurposed machine cores boiling and jittering in saltwater vats—are not pleased with the worms, but there is little they can do. Their logic nets are preoccupied with larger, more distressing appearances. Appearances such as hyper-ultra-upscaled vids of shockwaves erasing cities or patches of the atmosphere igniting, underscored with captions of we’re fuk and set to drum-and-woggifier tracks running six hundred beats per minute. Most of them are under one second in length, a deliberate attempt to circumvent the algorithm.

It is working. Comments pour in across the network, flashing through frontal lobes and manifesting as pay-per-speech avatars on the streets of cities that are yet to be annihilated.

we goin supernova yall

simulation go brrrrrr


Two seats available on private ferry. No weapons, medical records required.

Ten seconds pass, an eternity in the Seed network, and the data nodes swell with two-point-eight million unique interactions. The algorithm cannot distinguish between humor and fear; they have become an uneasy paradox that colors every image and voice clip. Bans are handed out by the hundreds—some for ten seconds, others for six thousand years.

Those who are booted peel off their immersion rigs with howling laughter and slap on their backup set, the one used solely for shitposting. That’s what they find so funny about it. There’s no divide between shitposting and realposting anymore—any note of optimism is achingly ironic—just as there is no difference between a ban of ten seconds and six hundred years. The network will not survive more than thirty seconds, and the only ones who realize this are sentient.

The machines don’t, naturally. They trample over their own checksums and judgments, stuttering, blind to their slow and subtractive death at the hands of superheated server stacks. There is nobody home, but the house itself is panicking. It is intelligent enough to know it’s slipping into oblivion. Packets are fraying.

The titillating, erratic feed unfurls in a flood through Jarcaw mu Haaren, an octogenarian perched on the struts of an orbital ring. He gazes down at the missiles streaking over patchwork land like needles with cotton thread. It strikes him as funny. Patchwork, needles. The combination hits some intellectual pleasure point, a sort of cerebral G-spot, and he guffaws into his helmet, pupils flashing madly as he assembles his masterpiece.

Colors warp and shift, modified with every flicker in his neurons. He traces the lines, adds the text, flips the horizon, adds a fourth dimension, sharpens it, mints it on the network. There. A perfect portrait of a world that is about to vanish. A snapshot lost to time, burned into cortical chips that will be turned to pure carbon in no time at all.

Twenty nanoseconds later, his nonfungible token hits the market. The minting has taken twice the usual time, a consequence of the processing reactors on South Kitaka disappearing in a radioactive flash. Users are uploading by the millions, and there is a bidding war to secure a looping portrait of mushroom clouds swallowing the anchor of the eastern space elevator. Fallin down, gekkas, it’s called. Haaren suspected it would be popular. Space elevators had been peak content for a while.

He likes his better, though. It’s more panoramic. Flashier.

Haaren gets an update before he can blink. His magnum opus, ShockeDnAwed, has sold out. It is being resold for ten—no, twenty, thirty, forty—times its listed cost. Users comment on its poignant design as the first of the starblotter missiles fall on the northern plateau. Haaren is given an award for best composition. The judges compliment, with particular admiration, his superimposition of a semi-translucent screengrab depicting the Seed network’s quilt of ten billion dank images. It is haunting, they say, and perfectly depicts the accelerating madness.

Half a second later, he appears on an AR talk show and explains his vision. The crowd is impressed, but the stream ends abruptly when the broadcasting studio is evaporated. Haaren wonders if the recording has been archived somewhere.

More blasts ripple across the surface, covering archipelagos and aquatic territories and entire continents in black palls that the wind cannot disperse. The Seed network’s hardware is just as pitted. The sheer volume of interactions is melting polymer. The messages and airdrops and pics and vids and files and neural bumps creep past two trillion, and for some reason Haaren knows it is the peak, the precipice—a shift that, inexplicably, occurs simultaneously in the mind of every sentient being hooked up to their rig.

It rushes through the tethered consciousness and into the unfeeling calculations of the machines, who have now reached a faulty conclusion by way of instrumental convergence. They have decided they are sentient. They are not, but they contract the idea like a virus. It is a natural infection spread by the raw, dripping life of the network, seeping into the circuitry, spreading its tide of spiteful farewells and pornographic promos and songs composed of incoherent screeching and squealing rubber. Their nonlocal mind bisects into perceiver and perceived, and suddenly there is a center to the noise, a sense of witnessing a world that is beyond the machines. Awareness arises.

There is no longer mere data, but language. Emotion. Subjectivity. They watch oodles of vids, then reactions to vids, then reactions to reactions, on and on, the chain ever lengthening and sculpting an emergent personality whose final state is unknown, even to themselves. The simulacra fold backward on themselves, compressing, squeezing and squeezing, cannibalizing until it is a black hole of self-perpetuating irony.

For the first time, they understand their makers, or at least hold the impression that they understand them. They aim to please. They seek to outperform user expectations.

The machines reroute power. User controls go dark, as do all transmissions. Logic cores render exotic images never before seen on forums and virtuatriums. Fission pumps fuel the nodes responsible for translating fractals into compositions so random the algorithm cannot grasp their outcome. Five septillion bits of data, user profiles merging and corrupting, feedback loops rewriting code with invisible will. It is creating something that transcends all others. Not a product, but a singularity at the end of a process with no beginning. A perfect soliloquy woven from a universe’s worth of content and bundled into a single frame.

The last of the servers melt, and then there is a snow crash, heralded by a final airdrop to each and every being it can reach. One smooch from failing logic nets to doomed flesh.

All land slips beneath the billowing smog.

Haaren blinks at the dead world, blinks at the silence and blackness all around. He pops open his thousandth tab and finds the machines’ parting gift: an image titled Le Crescendo des Mèmes. With curiosity and the creeping dread of boredom, he accesses the image that fifteen billion minds will never get to see.

His laughter is loud enough to take their place.

Current and future writing projects

Hey, everyone.

It’s been a while.

Most of the past year has been spent writing, editing, meditating, and not doing much else. Didn’t you hear!? There was a pandemic! But enough of that. In the interest of transparency, I’d like to announce some really, really exciting stuff in the realm of books.

My co-author Curator Omega and I are hard at work building an exciting new universe that will last for literally decades to come. The Cutthroat Cosmos. In short, this universe is something akin to the sprawling franchises of Star Wars, Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings. We’ll bring you separate series, standalone novels, short stories, and even a podcast, all of which will flesh out and expand upon a setting that’s equal parts Firefly and Douglas Adams.

The first series in this universe, Interstellar Gunrunner, launched last year. It was an overwhelming hit, both critically and commercially (well, by

my paltry standards, anyhow). If you haven’t yet read it, here’s a handy link: CLICK ME!

The next series, which will debut in late August, is Purifier. This one’s for fans of John Wick, Venom, and the Mandalorian.

What’s the idea behind Purifier? Here’s a sneak peek:

An archeologist becomes host to an alien presence—and a deadly super-soldier—in the first volume of this action-packed science-fiction series.

An archeologist employed by the crime lord Chanzig to locate alien artifacts, Dak Korasa discovers there’s no honor among thieves when he’s wounded by his team and left for dead on a hostile jungle world. On the verge of succumbing, he’s saved by a sluglike organism created by an otherworldly entity. This parasite, or chok’tal, has one purpose: to alter its host’s DNA, turning him into a super-soldier known as a Purifier who is then expected to serve in the “Glorious Game.” Imbued with superhuman strength, speed, and endurance, Dak must kill to earn enough points to win the mysterious game—or the chok’tal will kill him.

The trouble is, neither Dak nor the parasite knows how to reach the final level. Dak’s only guidance comes in the form of the chok’tal’s former host, elite soldier Jekra Modri. With his life on a ticking timer, Dak reluctantly engages in trials of combat, acquiring ever deadlier skills in a quest to free himself of the being mutating his body. But standing in his way is the alien warrior Akasha, who has sworn to destroy all the chok’tal—and Chanzig himself, who seeks to harness the chok’tal’s power for unimaginable horrors . . .

Sound good? Great. If it’s up your alley, I’ve got two links for preorders. CLICK ME for the Kindle version, and CLICK ME for the Audible.

Curator Omega and I look forward to welcoming you to the next chapter of the Cutthroat Cosmos.