A new short short with a little puzzle http://plottersink.blogspot.com/2017/09/inside-insight.html
A new short short with a little puzzle http://plottersink.blogspot.com/2017/09/inside-insight.html
Lt. Duke LeJeune was sitting in his office staring at gruesome crime scene photos. Because he was a homicide detective this was not unusual. He was deep in thought constructing theories about the murderer when his cell phone buzzed. After a short conversation, he turned to his young colleague Sgt. Adele Palmer, a cybercrime specialist, and said sourly, “Seems like the Cheshire Cat is back at Gilgamesh, and the CEO is certain only we can save his company.”
“Cheshire Cat…you mean the anonymous group, The Friends of Lewis Carroll, is back with ransom demands?”
Duke scowled, “Yes. They’ve hacked into Gilgamesh servers again and all their systems are locked. And like last time, they’re threatening to steal Gilgamesh code to blackmail Gilgamesh customers, if they don’t get what they want.”
“Very serious, Duke. Over a 100 banks use Gilgamesh programs. And what do they want?”
“To win the rematch with the beamish boy.”
Adele couldn’t hold back a giggle at hearing the word ‘boy’ applied to the brawny, ex-Special Forces lieutenant. “You mean they want a rematch with you, three riddles again?”
“Yes…so let’s go. And this time maybe we can trace the hackers.”
The CEO and CTO, both late-thirties, both former coders, both looking grey, were waiting for them in the conference room. A large monitor connected to a laptop displayed a grinning cartoon calico cat wearing black bushy eyebrows, black-framed glasses, a black bushy mustache and a prominent nose.
“Great, the Cheshire Cat dressed up as Groucho Marx,” Duke muttered.
“Groucho who?” the CTO and Adele asked simultaneously.
“Never mind. Just look it up.” Duke replied curtly.
As they watched, a cartoon paw came into view and waved not a cigar, but a fat brown roll labeled ‘Bitcoin’.
“Can’t happen.” Adele said. “Bitcoins don’t physically exist.”
Below the Cat was the command: ‘Enter your name but only if you are the beamish boy.’
Duke typed ‘Duke LeJeune’.
Excellent. Hello Copper. First riddle. Fill in the blanks with the same letters in the same order. The _____ Red Queen said to Alice, “I’m _____ to have you to tea. I’ve _____.”
Duke stared at the monitor for a moment, then entered: The notable Red Queen said to Alice, “I’m not able to have you to tea. I’ve no table.”
The Cat’s grin widened and showed some pointy teeth. ‘So, at least you’re a literate Copper. Are you also a betting man? Suppose you play this simple card game. Every time you draw you bet $11 in the hope of winning $10 when you draw red. If you draw black you lose the $11. At the end of 42 cards, you’re even. How many reds did you draw?”
Duke wrote 10 and 11 on a page in his notepad then glanced out the window at the city fifteen stories below. He wished he was back at his desk, working on the murder case. He doodled for a moment then typed ‘22’.
The Cat’s eyebrows rose and the wide grin became more sinister. ‘Tsk-tsk! So very familiar with sports gambling? Copper, do you have a secret vice? No matter. Last round. You return from a car chase, and check your vehicles. 70% have lost the left front wheel, 75% have lost the right front wheel, 80% have lost the left back wheel and 85% have lost the right back wheel. What is the smallest percentage of cars that have no wheels, and the maximum percentage.”
Duke turned to Adele. “Please confirm my addition that 70+75+80+85 equals 310.”
When Adele nodded Duke smiled and entered, ‘10% and 70%’
The Cat’s eyebrows bounced up and down while the Cat’s face expanded to fill most of the monitor. “So, you know your Lewis Carroll. Then the Cheshire Cat slowly faded away. The black mustache and the toothy smile were the last to disappear.
A message flashed, ‘You have done much too well, beamish Copper. Next time the Bandersnatch.” Then the screen went black. The CTO’s assistant rushed in and shouted that all systems were unlocked and behaving normally.
Duke looked at Adele. “Sorry Duke, they’re using TOR.”
The CEO wheezed, “Next time? Bandersnatch?”
Another long day manning the Sheriff’s office, another long trek home under a moonless sky. Amelia Largo, her jaw clenching each time the old pickup hit a rut or a ridge in the gravel road, was looking forward to a late-evening meal of hot tuna casserole washed down with hot coffee. As she bounced along, she tried to build a case that would convince the county administrator to spend some money on a new truck so she could hunt for criminals in greater comfort. The replacement didn’t need to be fresh off the assembly line, just newer, less beat up and with better shock absorbers.
The darkness was shattered by a circle of yellow lights, hovering a foot above the gravel about three car lengths ahead. Gears groaned as her foot crushed the brake pedal. She jumped out of the truck, ready to read the riot act to whoever was flying drones so low. But, she had stomped forward only a few feet when she was hit in the side by something sharp. She collapsed, nose first in the dirt.
Amelia awakened to a familiar garlic smell, emanating from a familiar alien sitting across from her on the other side of a gray mushroom-shaped desk. Her ear lobe throbbed from being squeezed by the alien’s translator device which turned the alien’s tweets and chirps into fractured English.
With zero enthusiasm, Amelia greeted the alien. “Hello Kwatt…what brings you back to the neighborhood?”
This time the alien did not apologize for abducting her. “Ha…ha…ha…so you have memory good for Kwatt’s face.”
Amelia wrinkled her nose and sighed. “Well, to be precise, I have not seen your face…just that bling envirosuit and those goofy goggles you are wearing. But you’re certainly hard to forget.”
“You not so easy for Kwatt to memory. All peoples look same, reek like rancid stuffs on bedposts.”
Amelia did not understand how bedposts came into it, but she knew the translator was error-prone. “Well, you did find me…so I repeat, why have you come back?”
“Bigger boss angry, smash things. Say we lost much richness. He say test smartness again. He sure you cheat.”
“He screech runty feeble loathsomes cannot be smartness so must be trick.”
Amelia swallowed down a sharp retort and instead said neutrally, “Kwatt, you know I didn’t cheat.”
“He say test again, or I muck WockerJabber cages.”
Amelia interpreted this to mean that if she passed the smartness test, Kwatt would be busted down to rank of grunt, but as she had no clue about the social structure, she didn’t know how horrible his boss could be. So either the puzzles in the test would be very hard to solve, or Kwatt would resort to cheating himself.
“Not really my problem, Kwatt…and it’s been a very busy day, rescuing a cat from a tree, breaking up an illegal poker game and stopping two bar fights, so I really want to go home. Get on with the test.”
“This test two games. You lose, we rub out runts and other waste, take oxidane.”
After a short awkward pause, a box materialized on the desk. “In box two small cubes one red, one green. You put hand through hole in side and take cube. If red you die, if green you try next game.”
Amelia thought that if Kwatt was typical, this alien race liked gambling but was not so good at it.
“How do I know it’s safe for my hand, that it’s not trap disguised as a box. You take one and show it then we’ll know the color of my cube.”
“I not make trap.” This was followed by a few additional harsh chirrups that did not get translated but Amelia concluded that Kwatt was indignant.
Amelia crossed her arms. “No way I put my hand in that box. How about you stick the cubes into my coat pocket while I close my eyes, then I will choose one.”
“No.” Kwatt slapped the desk with a large appendage. “I create empty bag.” A shiny silver opaque bag appeared. He offered it to Amelia for inspection.
Amelia felt the bag and nodded, so Kwatt picked up the box, reached in, grabbed, then thrust what he had grabbed into the bag and laid the bag on the desk. The bag bulged with two indistinct lumps.
Amelia immediately seized the bag, shoved her hand in and wrapped her fingers around one cube which she put in her pocket without opening her fist. She dumped the other cube onto the desk. It was red.
“Oh ho,” Amelia crowed, “The cube in my pocket must be green. I win.”
The air became ever more garlicky as Kwatt chirped, “Ha…ha…just first game. Second game, I sure you loss. We erect henge of 146 other feeble runts plus you. First runt in circle shoot next one then give weapon to next runt not down. Next does same. Runts keep shooting until all but one down. Select where spot you. If you in wrong spot you die. We win.”
Amelia visualized standing in a row of dominoes being knocked to the ground. “I choose 39.”
Kwatt waved his hand and a ring of 147 tiny simulated humans floated over the gray surface of the desk. He waved again and the game played itself out, until only the fake human in position 39 was still standing.
Kwatt sagged in his chair and the garlic stink became almost unbearable. “So you know how to counting. So you win again.”
Amelia felt a teeny twinge of sympathy for Kwatt. She asked, “Kwatt, does your commander like to play games or solve puzzles?”
“All on UFO boats play games. Long trips very boredom.”
“Well I know a game for the two of you to play. Maybe you already play some version of it. Tell him that if he can’t win, he is not as smart as runts and so he cannot take your command away.”
“You each have 100 well-shuffled cards face down in a stack, 50 black and 50 gold, and 100 tokens. You draw a gold card and he gives you a token. You draw a black card and you give him a token. You can stop any time you want, then he takes his turn and stops when he wants. You each reshuffle and repeat 100 times. The winner is the one with the most tokens after 100 turns. The game ends immediately if one of you runs out of tokens.”
Kwatt stayed silent, as if he was thinking deeply, so Amelia added, “I can tell from the games we’ve played that you probably have already figured out how to win.”
Kwatt hooted a long string of chirps and cackles, which the translator interpreted as, “Ha…ha…ha…new game clever. Haw…haw…haw…I crush vulture moron boss. Now you leave. We leave.”
Amelia was suddenly sitting on hard gravel, leaning against her truck. She stood up, dusted herself off, and watched the circle of yellow lights disappear in the night sky. She opened the driver’s door to switch on the dome light, then pulled the cube out of her pocket. It sparkled like a red ruby in her palm. She was still chuckling as she pulled into her driveway.
Carpenter the Crow is hired as the director for the remake of a famous horror movie. In the movie, a small coastal town is enveloped in glowing mist that brings in the wrathful wraiths of dead deckhands. Carpenter decides to change the color of the mist and to add a lot of special effects that he hopes will thrill this generation’s audiences. He shows the first cut to several movie reviewers. They like it, except for one, Brad Hebert, who complains that the mist is too thick and should be less green. ‘ Pa’ DeWack, the young special effects lead, is very disheartened. Carpenter just shakes his head dismissively and says, “It just flick flak, Pa DeWack, leave the fog alone.”
(Copyright ©2017 by Alyce Rita Campbell All Rights Reserved. This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
It was dark, no moon, and the inky sky was swollen with stars. Amelia Largo bounced easily along the gravel road until a circle of bright lights hovering above the cottonwood caused her to step on the brakes. Then her engine stalled. She tried the ignition but the clink-clink-clink told her that apparently the battery was dead. She sighed and climbed out of the pickup to check out the lights. It was the fourth time this month, and she was getting tired of bumping into the failed experiments of the crazy astro-engineers and fly-boys from Area 51.
Suddenly the lights flickered then grew even brighter and she saw what looked like a golf cart trundling towards her. The vehicle came to a halt about a yard away and its driver pointed a square object at her. She fell to the ground immobilized by an electric shock and then the sky disappeared.
When she woke up, she was sitting on a gray toadstool-shaped chair, facing a large gray toadstool-shaped desk. She didn’t sense any restraints but when she tried to stand her legs wouldn’t respond. Her left ear ached so she raised her hand to her lobe and felt a metallic ring about the size of a dime.
A gray-clad creature about her height shuffled in through a sliding door and sat adown cross from her. The creature exuded the smell of garlic. He stared at her with large black eyes that had no pupils. After a few minutes of staring back, she decided he was wearing an envirosuit with eye protection very much like swimmers’ goggles.
She clamped her mouth shut, forcing her capture to make his first move. The creature made whistling and chirping sounds that revealed the purpose of the metal earring: it was a translator.
The translator wasn’t perfect. There were a few seconds of time delay between a string of chirps and trills and the computer-generated semi-comprehensible English phrases.
The creature said, “I Kwatt, top boss of this scout UFO. Taking over you a must regrettable.”
Amelia thought that the translator program needed some serious training.
“I am Amelia.”
“Amelia…your land boat regrettable.”
Amelia guessed that the creature was apologizing for stopping her truck.
“Okay, apology accepted. Kwatt, why are you here?”
“Planet rich in you call oxidane. We want.”
Amelia rummaged through the fragments of her college chemistry class. “You mean water. You want to buy water.”
A short pause then, “Ha, ha joke. We give good things for oxidane? No…I send tweet, many ships come, clean up rocky orb, take.”
Another pause. “One rule. We no take from orbs with smart life. Find leader, we must and test.”
Amelia paled. “Clean up” could only mean that dreadful things would happen, like extermination. She thought to herself that as sheriff of the county she could justify claiming to be the leader.
“That’s kind of you. We smart life need water too. And you’re in luck. I’m the leader around here. What is your test?”
“Three puzzles. If you solve we go different place. Maybe little orb near big gas orb. But much harder to take. No dry place. Cold.”
“Ah…Enceladus. Moon of Saturn.”
“Said I that.”
Amelia hoped that alien and human thinking were similar or the puzzles would be hopelessly difficult.
“First puzzle: It always 1 to 6, it always 15 to 20; it always 5. Only 21 if flying.”
“Kind of long. Can I write it down?”
“No but I can repeat,” and the creature did.
Now Amelia listened carefully and thought about all things with odds. She thought of Las Vegas. Then it hit her.
“You mean a dice, a six-sided object for playing.”
“Ha, ha, joke…yes…long journey in scout UFO. We play games.” His garlic smell intensified.
Amelia forced out a small chuckle, wondering what they gambled with and for.
“Second puzzle: On scout UFO, we have fierce WockerJabber in cage which grows double each earth rotation, if we feed it lots. If creature is fed lots, in ten rotations it fills cage. How many rotations to fill ¼ and ½ cage?”
Amelia mentally grimaced. She had always hated logic puzzles in her math classes. She started by thinking backwards from ten days. It must be half sized at 9 days so it would be quarter size on the 8th day.
She smiled and said, “Half at 9, quarter at 8.”
The creature said, “Ha, ha, ha so you can do arithmetic. Now third puzzle.” He waved his hand to show three doors in three shades of gray.
“Door one go to engine. We toss you in, you fry. Door two go to oxidane tank. We toss you in, you drown. Door three go to WockerJabber not fed many rotations. We toss you in, you WockerJabber food. Choose door.”
Amelia thought that this was it, her loss was humankind’s loss. But with door three she might be able fend off the creature or…another thought crossed her mind.
“Door three…I choose door three.”
The creature’s chirps and trills came fast and furious and the garlic stench became almost intolerable. The translator delivered a string of words that included many darns and damnations.
The creature opened door three, and showed what Amelia had expected: a tiny alien animaloid that looked half-dead and cowered in the corner.
“Smarty pants leader. You go now. We go now.”
Within a minute Amelia found herself lying on the ground beside her truck. As she stood and dusted herself off the circle of lights rose vertically until it was lost among the billions of stars in the inky sky.
Lil Red the Hen lives on Old MacDonald’s Farm. She has become known as something of a celebrity for her weather predictions, so the senior editor of the Barnyard Digital Gazette has asked her to write a weekly column. Nervously she presents her first essay to the junior editor, a Mr. Patrick DeRack. The junior editor marks it up then gives it to the senior editor. After a few minutes, the senior editor frowns and scolds, “Red’s no hick hack, Pat DeRack, leave the blog alone.”
Meanwhile, Lil Red’s friends, Dilly Duck and Frilly Frog go the electronics store. They walk around looking at all kinds of communications devices from tablets to pagers. Then they stop, confused. A novice sales associate named Patricia Rack strolls over and says to Frilly Frog, “You want to be able to talk to Dilly, don’t you?” Frilly nods. The sales associate has been trained to steer customers to the most expensive items so she leads them over to the tablets and starts extolling the advantages from word processing to instant access to email to live video conferences. The associate’s manager, Billy Bear has been observing and walks over. “She wants a quick quack, Patti Rack, give the frog a phone.”
Lt. Duke LeJeune, a homicide detective, drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk. He was staring at a digital image of a Cheshire cat sitting beside a digital golden key. He and his colleague, Adele Palmer, a cybercrime specialist, were in the luxurious conference room of Gilgamesh Software, a global company whose applications were used by over a hundred big banks. Duke and Adele were investigating a new type of ransomware, from a new anonymous group that called itself Friends of Lewis Carroll and referred to themselves as Carrollians. The group had hacked into the Gilgamesh AI and other systems and had easily bypassed all the protections the IT team had put in place. Now the system was frozen by the software program they had left behind.
Duke caught murderers so he had tried to beg off, but the Chief had insisted that completely locking down all the firm’s computers and holding encrypted files hostage was effectively a plot to murder the company. Duke’s job was to try and find a way, if he could, to unfreeze the firm’s computer assets.
The Carrollians didn’t want money from Gilgamesh. Instead, they intended to use the company’s apps to extract money from the company’s clients, which the CEO knew they could. Like all software, Gilgamesh code had flaws. But the Carrollians also had a peculiar sense of fair play. They offered to free Gilgamesh from the digital shackles if its champion could solve three riddles. The CEO, no prize in either the logic or the humor department, had immediately called the SFPD and the SFPD had immediately sent Duke and Adele.
To start the riddles, the user had to press the letter Q, so Duke pressed Q.
The Carrollians’ ransomware program unlocked the monitor and the keyboard, then displayed the first riddle. This riddle was easy because it was famous and from Alice in Wonderland.
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
Adele, hailing from Virginia, whispered, “Because Poe wrote on them both.”
When Duke typed that response in, the Cheshire cat’s grin grew a little wider and the golden key became less lustrous.
The next riddle was, in Duke’s view, just goofy and made him wonder if they somehow knew that a policeman and not the CEO was answering the questions.
“There are two bodies on the floor surrounded by water and broken glass. How did they die?”
Duke typed, “The fishbowl got knocked over. They’re gold fish.”
After a few seconds, the Cheshire cat’s grin grew even wider but showed some sharp teeth.
The third riddle was a digital image of the Queen of Hearts with a cartoon balloon over her head which said:
“If you tell a lie, we will steal all your software. If you tell the truth we will erase all your files.”
The CEO put his head into his hands and groaned, “We’re done for.”
Duke thought for a moment and typed, “You will steal all the software.”
The Cheshire Cat disappeared and the display said, “You have done well, beamish boy. But beware the Bandersnatch.” Then the head of IT came running in and said all systems had been released and the AI was behaving normally.
Duke looked at Adele. “No luck Duke, we still don’t know how they came or went or if they’ve left a software bomb for another day.”
(Flash fiction from SkyFireFox author Alyce Campbell. Copyright © 2017 by Alyce Rita Campbell All Rights Reserved. Candor Tasmanian Devil is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
I can’t say I didn’t have doubts, after letting my betrothed, Lou, strong-arm me into buying the empty warehouse balanced on the edge of Candor Canyon. And I mean that literally—he won the arm-wrestling match that decided what we would do with our severance pay from The Service. At least I won the coin toss and got to name the place. I chose to honor Nero, my first, my only, and now my sadly long-dead, foster pet.
Lou guffawed. “Emma, calling our speakeasy The Tasmanian Devil is just inviting trouble, but I admit it suits you. Those little critters are tetchy and can fly into a maniacal rage when facing a predator or fighting with a mate!” He laughed again, giving me a hug.
I almost spat out a snarky retort but bit my tongue so as not to prove his point. Instead I very gently replied, “Lou, that’s ‘when fighting FOR a mate’, and I have never been maniacal. Besides, it’s catchy.”
So after a few months of exhausting grunt-work, we launched, and two buddies still in The Service, Milo and Elway, drove up at noon and started guzzling my homemade whiskey. I set out dried blueberries mixed with some candied mint as a snack. At three, they enthusiastically clapped when Eva, our belly dancer, started swaying to Lou’s jazzy sax. For an hour, they sat blissfully ogling her strategically placed flower-petal tattoos, visible under her sheer veils.
But then I served the fish and chips (fish from the farm in our pond out back, potatoes and lemons from the greenhouse). Milo took one bite and glared at his plate through boozy bloodshot eyes. He growled, “Emma, this belongs in the compost.”
I should have booted him out, as he was conspicuously drunk, the thin air amplifying his buzz. But being ex-Service myself, I knew homesickness when I saw it.
“Milo, don’t give me flak. I don’t have a long menu…costs being what they are…so it’s that or beansprout salad.”
Milo snarled, “Tasmanian Devil…even that scavenger wouldn’t eat this grub!”
He stood and snatched up the plate as if to throw it to the floor.
Now I could not abide waste. Every edible ounce was a little victory in the unrelenting struggle to make our freehold profitable. Whether we would succeed or leave with our tails between our legs was still to be determined. I jumped up and grabbed his hand. Lou jumped up and grabbed my hand. We scuffled for a few seconds but, in the end, all that got spilled were the blueberries, which formed a purple mass by Milo’s glass of booze.
Milo’s pique had died, replaced by acute embarrassment.
Then he scooped up the berries, dumped them into his glass, and took a swallow.
I watched as surprised delight flooded his face.
“That’s damn good!”
He handed me the glass and I took a sip. The mingling of blueberry, mint and rye reminded me of lazy summers in my native Raleigh but I was still able to smell the distinct aromas of grain grown on local soil.
The drink needed a little bite so I squeezed lemon juice into the glass and swirled. I handed the glass to Lou.
“Damn good,” was all he said after he took his sip.
A knowing look passed between us.
I smiled: “So I think we do need to change the name of this speakeasy, but I still can honor Nero. I christen this drink the Candor Tasmanian Devil.
And that’s the story of the first cocktail invented on the planet Mars.