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Old 08-01-2008, 01:25 PM   #76
Steven Lyle Jordan
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"Wow. These guys really are everywhere," I couldn't help but say.

Amy glanced at me wryly, and walked inside, following the proprietor. "Try to keep up," she said.

"All right, I'll bite," I said. "Why a Starbucks?"

The proprietor looked at me. "Boy, this is the future for writers. Where else can you spend time in a public place, with free internet connections, sit at a private table, pound on your keyboard all day long, and still be considered cool?"

"Um... libraries?"

He made a rude noise through his lips. "Geeks hang at libraries. Luddites hang at libraries. Why? To see sexy librarians? They aren't there any anymore!" He made a face, and muttered more softly, "Trust me, I've looked." Then more forcefully, "They've all become sexy business associates that hang at Starbucks!"

"Hadn't thought of that..."

"You were in the castle too long."

"The what?"

"The castle... the publishing castle," Amy explained. "You were in there with the rest of the elite, the royalty that ran the publishing empires, while the peasants have been out here, shut out by the publishing elite, toiling away in the muck. It's been that elite attitude that has kept the publishers isolated from the rest of the world for so long. Resisting the winds of change."

"But someday," the proprietor added, "the peasants here will rise up and storm the castle, and those inside will find themselves the guests of honor at the re-enactment of the French Revolution!" He raised a pudgy hand, straightened his palm like a blade, and brought it down on the back of his neck.

"Back to Starbucks," I urged.

"Oh... right. Look around you. Here, people can be smart, and attractive, and private, and pretentious, and connected, and supportive of the economy, all at the same time. And through the windows, you can see the world going by... they are in the middle of what's happening! That means they can know the world, and they can write what they know!"

"If you want to write about pedestrians," I mused, though only now had I noticed that this Starbucks, approximately three stories underground, actually had picture windows that looked out onto a street!

Before I could ask about that, though, Amy had noticed my reaction. "Display screens. Cameras up on the street are capturing the street scenes in real time, and broadcasting them down here."

"What's above us?" I asked. "It's not a real Starbucks, is it? That would blow my irony meter right to hell."

"No," Amy said. "If people were coming in and out of a real Starbucks upstairs, it would eventually blow our cover. The street entrance is a place where no one ever goes anymore."

"Where's that?"

"A XXX video store."

"Ah. So, what happens now?"

"Well," the proprietor said, "from here you can create your new obscure literary reference screen name and avatar, set up your website, your MySpace page, your You-Tube page, your Yahoo page, and your Second Life page... establish your PayPal account... start programming your interactive videos... assemble your viral marketing campaign... get a latte... poll the marketplace to choose which of the approximately 200 conversion programs you plan to use... set up a blog to trade ad space with other bloggers... buy vintage Sinatra CD at the counter... download your bootleg education copy of InDesign... and, um... write."

"What? What if I don't want to do all that?"

"Well, you can always get a frapp instead..." the proprietor shrugged.

Amy interrupted him. "What did you think you'd have to do, to sell books outside of the publishing castle? Did you think you'd just have to sign on to some obscure fanboy forum, and hope the world would beat a path to your door?"

"Um..."

"Welcome to the 21st century... log onto Craigslist and buy a clue! We are on our own out here! No one is going to come waltzing into your local malt shop and 'discover' you! If you want to write, you have to work hard at it! You have to do all the things the publishers used to do for you!"

Then, Amy moved closer to me, and whispered lightly, "Or... you could help us."

"Help you to do what?"

"We're going to bring down the publishing castle," she said. "We're going to level the playing field... for everyone." Even pitched as low as her voice was, many of the patrons looked up expectantly from their laptops and PDAs and waited for Amy's next words.

I asked, "How are you going to do that?"

Amy smiled. "We're going to take away their ability to print."
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Old 08-01-2008, 02:18 PM   #77
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"You," I said, "have my full attention. This has gotta be good."

"Years ago," Amy began, "we thought we could combat the publishing revolution by appealing to the world's sense of conservation of resources. Paper, after all, represents a multi-billion-dollar industry, worldwide, and has contributed to the clearcutting of entire countries' forestry resources."

"Creating soil erosion and sustainability problems, ruining entire ecosystems, and contributing to global warming," I said.

"Right," Amy nodded. "So we were at the forefront of a campaign organized to alert the public to the plight of the world's forests, and to cease the all-out harvesting of our forests for reading material. The idea was, if publishers couldn't get paper, their printing and distributions would shut down, and they'd collapse under their own weight."

"Hmph. That almost sounds like it could work. So, what happened?"

The proprietor replied, simply, "S**t."

"Excuse me?"

"Toilet paper," Amy said, giving the proprietor a nasty glance. "The world uses a lot of toilet paper. They also like to read when on the toilet. And in poorer countries, they use reading matter as toilet paper. They weren't going to sit still... so to speak... while a bunch of fanatics tried to rid the world of paper. So we were shot down every time."

"So, there's still paper," I stated. "What else can you do to stop printing?"

"What's the other essential element required in printing?" Amy asked. "Ink. No ink, no printing."

"You're trying to rid the world of... ink?"

"Not 'rid the world'... we already know that won't work," Amy replied. "Instead, we are working to repurpose it."

"How?"

"After doing extensive research," the proprietor said, "We've discovered that although people are not so hep to protect a few random forests, they are a lot more interested in protecting animals. Especially cute ones. Brings out the maternal instincts, and all that."

"Okay, I'll buy that," I said.

"The trick was," Amy continued, "to find a way to combine that with our needs. We discovered a cute animal that is on the road to extinction, its habitats threatened by industrialization, its food sources running out in many areas. This animal is so popular that people worldwide want to save them, and will pay big money to see them in zoos and private collections. The market is huge.

"However, there simply aren't enough of them to go around, and they do not breed well in captivity. So we are diverting two resources to fill a market for a third."

"How?"

"First, we had to find an animal that was very close in appearance to the endangered animal. We hack into worldwide delivery databases for ink, and arrange to have as much ink as we can diverted to our secret labs in Boca Raton. There, we use the ink to alter the appearance of our substitute animals, to create our endangered animals. Then we sell them to zoos, and use the profits to divert more ink through legitimate sales channels. Here."

Amy brought me over to a writer at a table. After asking to borrow his laptop, she turned it in her direction, and started typing. "You can see an example of it, on our encrypted YouTube page, YouTube-dot-com-slash-user-slash-secretallpaperbooksmustdiediedie." After a few more seconds of typing, she turned the laptop to me, and I saw a video queueing up.

When the video started, I saw a wooden crate being positioned on a small platform by a team of white-smocked technicians. Once they were satisfied the crate was properly positioned, they exited the room. a few seconds elapsed, in which nothing happened... then, a robotic hand extended from somewhere in the ceiling, grasped the edge of the crate, and began to slide one side up and away.

"Our substitute animal is in there," Amy explained. Wait for it..."

A moment later, the animal slowly ambled out of the crate. It was clearly a member of the Ursidae family... that is, it was a bear. However, it was not a bear I'd ever seen. Its coat was snowy-white, even whiter than that of a polar bear, and its face was much shorter than that of the average bear. That short nose, and stubby legs, gave it an appearance that was hard not to appreciate.

"Aw. Ain't he cute?"

"Just wait," Amy said, "and in a second, he'll be even cuter."

And I remembered what Amy had been telling me a moment before. "Hey, wait a minute... you're not--"

Before I could finish, I saw five robotic arms quickly descend from the ceiling in the video. The arms poised themselves in strategic places around the white bear... adjusted their positions slightly... and all of a sudden, the room was obscured by clouds of pitch-black smoke.

"Jesus!" I exclaimed. "You can't be serious!"

"As a heart attack," the proprietor said from behind me. "Watch."

Sure enough, the smoke began to dissipate, apparently with the help of unseen air handlers. As the air cleared, I found myself staring at a ready-made panda bear. The owner of the laptop clapped.

Amy said, "Now, that's cute."

"And best of all," the proprietor said, "it used up enough ink to keep one copy of War and Peace... or a good Tom Clancy novel... off the bookshelves!"

I straightened up from the laptop very slowly. It was very clear to me now that these people were as insane as you could get without a prescription.

And that, naturally, is when Amy looked me in the eye and said: "So. Will you help us?"

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Old 08-01-2008, 03:38 PM   #78
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Ok, which of your books should I buy to get more of this kind of humor?
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Old 08-01-2008, 05:14 PM   #79
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Ok, which of your books should I buy to get more of this kind of humor?
Sorry, none of them are this unutterably silly, although there are a precious few moments in Encephalopath and As the Mirror Cracks that come close. I'm not sure if I could sustain that for a full-length novel, though. Otherwise, I'd take that as a request.
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Old 08-01-2008, 05:43 PM   #80
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What do the substitute pandas have to do with the panda zoo keepers? Are they going to infiltrate the publisher pandas or something? I'm getting confused.
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Old 08-01-2008, 05:47 PM   #81
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He's let out the whole acutelation process. Now we're going to have to kill him. And I was really getting into the story too, dangit!
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Old 08-01-2008, 06:00 PM   #82
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He's let out the whole acutelation process. Now we're going to have to kill him. And I was really getting into the story too, dangit!
Shush, don't put him off. Haven't I told you about MoM yet? Oh yes; I did that in about a week. Well, Don't Panic! Just wait for the full director's cut DVD (Steve; take that as a request!).

By the way, does anyone know when the Popcorn convoy is due to arrive? The concession stand is out again -- just got the last box.

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Old 08-01-2008, 08:37 PM   #83
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Sorry, none of them are this unutterably silly, although there are a precious few moments in Encephalopath and As the Mirror Cracks that come close. I'm not sure if I could sustain that for a full-length novel, though. Otherwise, I'd take that as a request.
The segment of Encephalopath that I read had a bit too much sex-without-plot for my tastes, but if the rest of the book has silly moments like this, I might give it another go. Perhaps I should check out As the Mirror Cracks as well.
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Old 08-02-2008, 09:46 AM   #84
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At this point, I was starting to reconsider my decision not to take the blue pill. Even Guantanemo might have been better than this lot. However, I was here, and these crazed lunatics were standing between me and my freedom… So I had to think fast, or I’d end up being sold for panda-fodder.

“Help you?” I said. “You seem to have your little pseudo-panda smuggling ring down pat.”

“Yes, but there’s the Zoo to deal with.”

“Didn’t you tell me you weren’t working for Panda-man?”

“Yes,” Amy said. “I was sent in there to infiltrate his organization. You remember all the pandas… we had to find out where theirs were coming from, because they threatened to undermine our operation.”

“And what did you find out?”

“Those pandas are all clones of real pandas,” the proprietor explained. “They can’t produce them as fast as we can create out fake pandas. However, they are perfectly capable of unmasking our pandas to zookeepers, and selling theirs to us instead.”

“Unfortunately,” Amy added, “their cloning process has the unfortunate side-effect of reflecting the number of the clone in his eye-markings. No one wants pandas with numbers on their faces. But if they get that problem licked, our fake panda operation goes up in smoke.”

“We must destroy the Zoo, and its cloning operation,” the proprietor stated. “It’s the only way we’ll ever be able to finance our efforts to kill the printing industry, and thereby make room in the world for e-books.”

“Mmm,” I said, not liking where this was going. “And to do that?”

“To do that,” Amy said, “we have to go back… to the Zoo!

“Oh, you guys are nuts,” I stated flatly. “Exactly how are we going to sneak back into the Zoo, and get anything done while we’re hiding from everyone there? It’s full of nothing but pandas! It’s not like we blend in!”

“Already taken care of,” Amy stated proudly. “We have clever disguises.” She walked over to the ordering counter, reached behind it, and extracted to jars. She held them up to me. One was filled with a white cream. The other was filled with a black cream.

“We can buy you a white suit and black gloves on the way."

I groaned. Clearly, I needed to start thinking a lot faster.
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Old 08-02-2008, 04:32 PM   #85
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Given that pandas are endangered, I don't know about destroying the clones. Couldn't they be stolen, or the whole operation could be subverted to the side of virtue or something?
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Old 08-04-2008, 10:28 AM   #86
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Considering how I'd gotten out of the zoo, I really wasn't expecting how I'd get back in. "What? No blue pill?" I'd asked Amy.

"Those things are expensive... and dangerous," she replied. "Besides, we haven't been able to steal any from the zookeepers. It's this, or nothing."

"Yeah, but... this?" Parked next to me, inside a C-51 cargo plane that had flown us out of a tiny Florida airstrip anecdotally known to be popular among Columbian drug smugglers, was a tandem hand glider, made of non-reflective black fabric and black-anodized aluminum framing. Someone had cast a light on it, before we'd left, and it seemed to magically absorb every bit of the light.

"It's the only way we can get in unnoticed," Amy explained. "The zoo's sensors would detect close-passing aircraft, engine noise or heat signatures."

"Please tell me you've done this before," I asked. I'd actually tried hang gliding once, and had gotten scared witless when I managed to reach a grand total of twenty feet in altitude.

"Only once before," Amy replied. "That time, it was in the middle of heavy winds, and we got down fine. We won't have any trouble today."

"We?"

"I've taken others inside," she explained.

"Oh. Will they be helping us?"

"Not likely... they're all dead."

"Caught as spies?"

"No: Turned out to be allergic to leeks."

"Mm-hmm."

Once we were over the drop point, some thirty miles distant from the zoo, the rear of the cargo plane started to open, whipping any dust and loose debris about like a mini-hurricane, and drowning us in wind noise. Amy patted me on the knee, and stood up. "Time to go!"

Our harnesses that fit over our coveralls included a sort of body-sock that you shrugged into, to aid aerodynamics. Once into the harness, an accompanying technician helped me into the tandem, with Amy strapped in on top of me--forcing me to consider how many times I'd managed to get this close to her in the past few days, with no result. Talk about incentive to get this whole mess over with. As I fought to not overdwell on Amy's practically straddling me, the technician pushed us out of the back, where a tether strung us out to a safe distance, then cut us loose.

Immediately, the hang glider began twisting and flipping through the air... despite our distance from the plane, its backwash tossed us like a kite during Katrina. I bit my lip and squeezed me eyes shut, assuming at that moment that my concerns over dragging this adventure out were probably unfounded. But in time, Amy managed to wrest control of the hang glider back from the elements, we were finally able to tuck our legs into the socks, and we began a leisurely glide through the night.

I knew Amy had a heads-up display in her helmet, but mine had no such equipment. So I asked: "How long until we reach land?"

"About an hour," she replied. "You can't rush espionage."

"Speaking of which... I know we talked about this mission, and all. You said there might be casualties. But I hope you understand that I want nothing to do with the killing of innocent pandas, clones or no."

"Don't worry," Amy said. "We discussed this. If the plan goes properly, not a single panda will be harmed in the accomplishment of this mission. Now, settle back and enjoy the ride."

"If you wanted me to enjoy it," I complained in a low voice, "you should have had us reverse positions..." My complaint was cut short by a knee-jab on the back of my thigh, preventing me from suggesting further that I could have been facing upward, at least...

Traveling at night on a silent glider, when you can't see anything around or below you, tends to drag out a trip. Consequently, when it seemed like about day and a half had passed, Amy finally announced, "There it is." Now I could vaguely see lights ahead and below us, though it was too dark to make out details. "I'm going to aim for the east beach. Remember to relax and let the sock take the landing."

There was nothing for me to do but hang on, while Amy brought us about and angled for the ground. Abruptly, I could make out the beach below us, approaching fast. Amy flared us out, and we flew parallel to the beach for a few yards. She lowered us easily, and then, my sock was dragging on the sand, bringing us down and killing our airspeed. I, Amy, and the glider did the last few yards on my chest, as I sputtered to keep sand out of my mouth.

"Perfect," Amy whispered, as she shrugged out of her sock and started to climb off me.

"Yeah, I'm sure you enjoyed it immensely," I replied, still spitting sand out of my mouth.

"Shh! Let's get rid of the glider." After I was out of my gear, we picked the glider up, walked it over to the surf, waited for the tide to go out, and simply deposited it on the sand. When the tide came in and washed over the bottom of the glider, it immediately began to melt like a sand castle, fabric, struts, and all.

"No way," I whispered.

"What better way to get rid of the evidence?" Amy smiled in the gloom.

"But... what if we'd had a problem, and had to ditch in the ocean?" I asked.

Despite the dark, I could see Amy roll her eyes. "Men: You're such pessimists! Come on."

We snuck off the beach and into the zoo village, and my proximity to this strange place that I felt like I'd just escaped from, left a bitter taste in my mouth. Or maybe it was just sand. Amy steered us to a small building, and used a key to open the door. We entered, using a small flashlight to find our way. Eventually, Amy stopped at one of many unmarked doors, and we stepped inside. She locked the door behind us, then found a light switch on the wall. The room was a storage closet, with the usual cleaning tools, a small sink, and a locker on the wall.

Amy unzipped her coverall and pulled it off, revealing the white suit underneath it. I did the same, and we deposited the coveralls in the locker. Then she held out the black and white creams to me. Suppressing a groan, I started to smear cream on my face, copying Amy's treatment of covering her face with white, then her eyes and ears with patches of black. Once we were done, she put the creams in the locker, and we donned our black gloves.

Amy grinned at me, as we shouldered the small packs we'd brought with us. "Showtime!"
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Old 08-04-2008, 10:59 AM   #87
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I'm amazed by your talent! And will overlook that their hair is showing, or if the panda suits have hoods, then why would they blacken their ears?
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:00 PM   #88
Steven Lyle Jordan
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It was already approaching dawn when we emerged from the building where we had changed. Soon, as I had been told during my briefing, we could expect the pandas to come out and start circulating about the zoo.

At once, Amy unzipped her pack, and removed a small device. It looked like a PDA, although I had been told that it was really a cheap Chinese knock-off, and it actually only did two things as purchased: It stored addresses; and it stored notes. She took the bogus PDA, and placed it on a low wall where it would be sure to be noticed. Then she nodded at me and my pack. I opened my pack, and we both began moving about, depositing identical PDAs around the zoo.

Not for the first time, I looked at our outfits... simple white shirts, white pants and white sport-coats, black shoes, and black gloves... not to mention the ridiculous white and black makeup on our faces... and muttered, "I can't believe that this so-called 'disguise' could actually fool any panda."

"Yes, hard to believe... isn't it?" Amy admitted. "It's due to the cloning process, apparently. It leaves the pandas less able to distinguish another panda, or to tell the difference between a panda or a human dressed like this."

I began to express my disbelief, but at that moment, Amy stopped walking, and signaled me to stop. I did so, and after a moment, I saw what was happening... I single panda had ambled around the corner, and was walking towards us. He saw us, stopped, and regarded us for a moment. Amy quietly reached into her pack, and handed a PDA to the panda. The panda looked at the screen of the PDA for a few moments, then walked off with it, heading for the beach.

"It works like a charm," Amy whispered, and started off again. I merely shook my head in amazement, both for the effectiveness of our disguises, and of our plan, and followed her.

We continued to leave the PDAs about the zoo. As dawn broke, more pandas began appearing, wandering about singly or in groups, or picking at stands of leeks along the sides of the road. As I continued on, I would occasionally look back and notice the pandas all finding PDAs, examining their screens for a few minutes, then heading off, always towards the beach. At one point, I reached a spot where I could look down the road, between the houses, and see the beach from my vantage point. There, near a distinctive outcropping of rocks at the water's edge, had gathered an enormous mob of pandas, and more could be seen approaching the rocks from the village.

Impressed at the sight, I was surprised when Amy and I came around the corner, and discovered a man, dressed in the same white suit and black-and-white makeup, crossing a street. He saw us at the same moment, and said, "Hoy! You two! What's going on?"

My blood ran cold, but Amy immediately veered his way. "Hey, Miles."

"Oh... is that you, Amy?" The man addressed as Miles seemed to relax. "Haven't seen you around for a few days."

"I had some leave time coming. Use it or lose it, you know."

"Oh, right. Who's this?"

Amy nodded at me. "This is Bob. New guy."

"Hi, Bob," Miles said, offering his hand. "Say, what's the deal with all the pandas? Where are they?"

"They're all heading for the beach," Amy explained. She handed Miles a PDA. "They've all seen this, apparently. Once they see it, they head down there."

Miles took the PDA, and turned it on. After he examined the screen, his eyebrows raised a bit. "Oh, yeah? That might be something to take a look at..." He paused, when he noticed our packs. "Hoy, what's all that, then?"

"More of the PDAs," I replied quickly. "We're trying to collect as many as we can... for evidence."

"Aye... good thinking, Bob," Miles said. He looked again at the PDA. "Um, I'm going to go and check this out... to make sure the pandas aren't... uh... hurting themselves. Heh." He grinned at Amy. "Catch you later, guys."

"See you," Amy said, as Miles headed for the beach. She turned to me. "Nice work, 'Bob'."

"Thanks," I replied. "Let's get on with this, shall we?"

We continued to leave PDAs about, and the pandas continued to find them, examine them, and head for the beach. Eventually, we were out of PDAs, and had worked our way to a wooded area roughly behind the green dome. Amy started picking her way carefully through the woods, until she reached a spot beside an ivy-covered hillside that caught her attention. She found a small rock on the ground, bent down, and placed her hand upon it. A moment later, the ivy on the hillside seemed to part like a curtain, revealing a steel door embedded in the ground. The door opened silently. Amy nodded to me, and I followed her inside.

"So much for phase one," she whispered. "Now it's time for phase two..."
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:10 PM   #89
nekokami
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I find I'm trying hard not to imagine what the pandas are seeing on the PDAs...
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:17 PM   #90
GeoffC
Chocolate Grasshopper ...
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Seeing they're all rushing to the beach....

PDA -
Panda Depth Alert...
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