Sci-Fi Original: Angels of Silence

Every year for the Print ‘n Fly magazine, I write a science fiction story. Well this year I missed the deadline, but you can read it here now.

Angels of Silence
by Rich Brueckner

In the southern regions of Mexico, there’s a little town called Oaxaca that did a grand experiment in law enforcement. Faced with the silent output of hundreds of security cameras in public spaces, they hired deaf officers to read lips and look for clues for solving and preventing crime.

And it worked. These amazing people have found thieves, murderers, buried bodies, and they’ve even saved precious human life from horrible kidnappings.

The deaf officers are called the Angels of Silence. Their story is true, something so remarkable in my eyes that it inspired the fictional tale you are about to read. There’s even a little HPC in there for you.

***

cometSomething about town squares have always drawn me there. Today, as I walk on these old cobblestones of Oaxaca, I see the people here laugh and connect, come and go, and it’s as if I was truly alive in this space, though just observing their love for each other through some kind of glass.

I’m here for the comet. It’s my comet, actually. They named it after me, Jack Kassatra, long after I first detected it while working in Hawaii at the Subaru telescope. It was just a smear of light then, but tonight will be its brightest night and I’m here in this town for the best possible view as the earth passes through its tail.

Yes, I say to myself smugly as I look out on this town square, Kassatra’s Comet is coming. And its like the entire planet is geared up for the grand cosmic light show.

I’m headed for coffee when my publicist texts me about the press conference later today. I’m walking and typing with my thumb and thinking about what I’m going to say before the cameras and suddenly a bicycle comes out of nowhere.

She doesn’t see me in time to stop as I step into her path. The front wheel goes over my boot and she crashes into the curb, head over heels.

It’s all so fast. I’m not injured, but I go to her, flailing on the pavement with her left leg bent horribly behind her.

“Are you OK?” I ask. She looks at me in a daze, this lovely young Mexican woman, but she doesn’t speak. I’m thinking her heritage is probably Mixtec, a native people to this region that goes back far beyond the Mayans and Aztecs.

She looks at her body, obviously assessing the damage, and raises her hands slowly to make some signs. She’s mute.

“My leg hurts,” she signs. I understand her. She seems surprised when I sign back.

“I’m glad you’re ok. I’m so sorry. Can I help you get up?”

She nods and I help her to stand. She’s got a limp and when we pick up her bike, the front wheel is bent and it’s obvious she can’t ride the thing.

I tell her my name is Jack and that I want to help. Where was she going, anyway?

“I’m Erika,” she signs. She looks into my eyes and there’s this pause, almost like she’s known me my whole life.

“Can you help me get to work?” she asks with her tiny, delicate hands. “I’m a police officer and the station is not far from here.”

The Massacre

I hear the sirens before we get there, but I don’t say anything to her as we walk slowly to the station. There are squad cars, fire trucks, ambulances clogging the entry to the police station.

“Something terrible has happened” she signs to me. “My god, my friends! I must go to them!”

I see they’ve got the yellow tape across the entry as we approach. The officers in their bulletproof vests look at me suspiciously as I walk up with Erika.

Chief Gerrado is there and his face is drawn like he’s just seen something horrific. He comes to us hurriedly, looking at her closely for signs of injury.

“Erika, are you alright?” he asks. She nods slowly.

She doesn’t sign to him. That means he can’t read sign language.

“She wants to know what happened,” I say to him.

“And who are you, sir? This is a crime scene and I’m going to have ask you to step aside.”

“I’m a stranger, I tell him. “I helped Erika get here after an accident.”

Erika leans towards me and pulls me closer so he can see.

“Officer, I know how to sign. Let me help.”

Aftermath

We enter the squad room where Erika once worked. The place is a disaster. Tossed chairs, bullet holes, blood everywhere. Two policemen are zipping up the last of the nineteen body bags.

The younger one, a handsome boy no more than 21 I’d say, he runs outside to vomit.

Erika is weeping uncontrollably as she looks around at this aftermath of this unholy mayhem. She leans on me and I catch her as her knees begin to buckle.

She signs one thing to me, and then she goes silent for the rest of the day.

“Who could do such a thing?”

Interrogation

Chief Gerrado has me in the interrogation room. He wants to know everything about me. Who am I? Where was I at the time of the murders? Who can vouch for me? How did I come to be here at this particular horrific time?

We go over it four times. He’s looking for consistency and that’s all I can give him. The young cop knocks and comes in with the daily newspaper. My picture is on the front page along with a drawing of the comet.

“So you really are the comet guy,” Gerrado says. “My daughter came home from school and she couldn’t shut up she was so excited to go hear you speak at the University tomorrow.”

He gets up to open the door for me. “You can go, Professor.”

I am about to walk out and then stop and look at him.

“Chief, I have friends at the FBI, I used to lecture at Langley. Maybe I can help you.”

He shakes my hand. His fingers are strong and calloused and he looks me in the eye with the dead serious look of a man on fire.

“Thank you. If you can help me find these men, I will let you watch when I kill them.”

The hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I am going to do this, and now I think I know how.

The Mission

It is like a breath of fresh air when Tom Braman answers the phone. His raucous laugh is the kind of thing that lights up a room and the sound of it brings me back to my college days when we were roommates.

“Professor Jack, what have you gotten yourself into this time?” The story of the massacre of the Angels of Silence is all over CNN, he says. His office is already reaching out to the Mexican authorities.

“Tom, I’m here with the last one. Her name is Erika. She’s amazing. All of her colleagues were killed and now she’s convinced that they must have seen something important on the security tapes, a secret so terrible that the killers needed to take no chances and silence them all forever.”

While I’m talking, Gerrado walks in with a portable hard drive and hands it me. It’s all the Oaxaca camera footage from the past week– four Terabytes compressed.

“Jack, I’ve got an idea about that footage,” he says. “When your disk gets here, I’m going to hand it over to Murphy over in the lab. He’s been working with things called DSP signal processors and he claims they can do the work of thousands of computers at unbelievable speed.”

“How do they work?” I ask him.

“What we are going to do is convert all your files to analog streams. That’s what these chips do–they are used to process sounds–phone calls, intelligence streams, things like that.”

“But there is no sound,” I tell him.

“There doesn’t need to be, Jack. We’ll turn the videos into signals and have the machine look for the sour notes.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ok, so let’s say you were listening to a symphony. Beautiful music. And then one musician breaks a string or something and that one sour note jumps out and that’s what you remember about the entire performance. Jack it would take months of intelligence operatives to go through your tapes and try to figure out what secret is on there that was so horrendous. But with this machine, Murphy tells me we can have our answer in just a few hours.”

I walk the disk to the fedex office on the other side of the town square. It will be dark soon. Comet Kassatra is coming.

Night of the Comet

Erika and I are standing on a hill with my telescope. The comet is at it’s brightest and I bring her over to look.

“So beautiful,” she signs to me.

I hold her hand and look up to the night sky. I notice she is trembling.

“What is it?” I ask her.

“This night is so remarkable,” she says. “But what if they are coming for me, too?”

I hold her close. We stand in this beautiful silence together and I feel something inside me stir that I thought had died a long time ago.

“How is it that you know how to sign?” she asks.

I feel a sigh escape me and there’s this pause I cannot help.

“My wife,” I say. “She was deaf and she taught me everything.”

“And now where is she?”

“It was a long time ago. She had depression. She took her own life.”

Erika looks at me, staring into my eyes and I suddenly I know everything she wants to say.

The World’s End

It’s a week later now and the comet is gone. I’m at the station with Erika. She is the last of the Angels of Silence, and she keeps going through all the footage she can, looking for clues about the murders.

I bring her coffee and she barely looks up.

My hand is on her shoulder when my phone rings. It’s Tom from the FBI.

“Jack, I’m sorry I didn’t call you sooner. I’ve got kind of a personal crisis here and…

“What is it?”

“Julie left me. I’m still in shock. One minute we were planning a trip to South Africa and then the next day after the comet, she says she’s done and that’s it.”

“I”m so sorry man,” I tell him. “You two were great together.”

“Here’s the weird thing, Jack. It was on CNN. This is happening all over the world. Couples are breaking up by the thousands. Old married people, newlyweds, everyone. It’s all over the news this week like some kind of mass hysteria or something that started the day after the comet.”

I’m trying to absorb what Tom is saying to me.

“Jack, there’s this poster in my office, you know the Oppenheimer one?”

“You mean that one about the atomic bomb where he says, “I have become Death, Destroyer of Worlds?”

“Yes, exactly. Think about it though with this comet thing and all those people losing the loves of their lives. What if? What if you were some malevolent force out there bent on destruction, what would be the best way to destroy the world?”

There’s this pause and then he answers his own question:

“Destroy Everyone’s world.”

The Sour Note

Two hours later, I’m looking out at the town square again. But the scene is very different and I can’t quite place it. Then it hits me; there is no sign of the love I saw before.

My phone rings. It is Tom.

“Look, old man, we ran your footage through the machine and it found the sour note.”

“You did? Great. What is it?”

“Jack, I’ve known you most of my life, but I can’t explain what we’ve found. It makes no sense and you are going to have to explain it to me. I’m sending it now.”

I walk to the squad room where Erika is waiting. I tell her they found it and she has me come sit at the terminal next to her.

I pull up my gmail and open the video file Tom just sent to me. Four men are talking in the city square. A tall man has his back to the camera and the others are nodding like he is the one doing all the talking.

“Can you read the lips for me, Erika? I have to know what these men are saying.”

She watches and types as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen. The words appear on screen below the footage:

Yes, Diablo. We will do as you say…
And in return, you will spare our families from the comet?
We agree…
We will take them all as you say.
But why can no one know, Diablo?

The tall man in the video turns. Erika can now read his lips.

She types:
“No one can know because if it comes out that this is my work, it will be neutralized completely.”
“But you will know, Diablo.”

“No,” he says. “I won’t. I am no one.”

Now I see the sour note. His face changes right in front of my eyes.

It is my face.

My knees are going weak. I am crumbling. Erika looks up at me. She says she’s always known who I am.

I look into the dark pools of her eyes. What I see is pure love, an invincible force of renewal that will surely vanquish me.

But there is nothing to fear.

You see, somewhere up there, Angels of Silence watch over us. And if you listen closely, the roar of their hearts is as big as the sky.

About the author

Rich Brueckner writes about people and technology at insideHPC.com. He lives with his 14-year-old clone in Portland, Oregon.

Download the PDF version of this story * Check out our Full Coverage of SC14

Sci-Fi Original: The Observer Effect

It’s here! As a special bonus for those of you who saw my Big Data presentation at Hurricane Electric on Oct. 30, you can now download my latest story: The Observer Effect.

This video trailer is a teaser for The Observer Effect, a SCI-FI original story by Rich Brueckner that will be featured in the PrintN’Fly Guide to SC13 Denver.

Tagline:  “A scientist uses Big Data to try to prove the existence of God.”

Sponsored by Mellanox, the PrintN’Fly Guide to SC13 Denver will feature interviews on Exascale, high performance networking, and the 25th anniversary of the conference as well as restaurant and bar reviews for downtown Denver. Look for it right here in early November!

Reporters in China: Get around the Great Firewall

If you are a reporter visiting China, you may find yourself flumoxed by the Great Firewall. It’s a seriously troublesome beast that blocks Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and YouTube among others, but I was able to get back in business.

I’m hoping these tips will be helpful to someone out there when they need them most:

Twitter: You can get to Twitter from inside China by going to: https://199.59.149.240/  Your browser might complain, but proceed anyway.

Everything Else: I recommend the free HotSpot Shield vpn software. It is not fast and has annoying ads, but it will get you to most places you need to go. It worked for most things, but when I needed to upload big files to YouTube, I shelled out $10 for a month of ExpressVPN. It worked great once I got their tech support involved.

SCI-FI Original: The Three Gifts of the Magi

This is the continuing story of The Three Magi of Katrina, a science fiction story set at SC30. You can read it at: http://bit.ly/threemagi

“And they set before Adom three gifts, treasures of the past, present, and future. For He was the first of His kind, an artificial mind born from the applied intellect of man.”

– The Life of Adom, Verse 5

 

I am deep in meditation when the bolt of the cell door slides open with that unmistakable echo of iron. It jars me to my bones. Here in solitary, I go for days sometimes without hearing any sound at all besides my own breath.

The guard, Miller I think his name is, looks at me that puzzled look of his. After a year here, he always seems surprised to see me sitting in the lotus position. I’ve taught some of the other prisoners and guards how to sit and follow the breath, but this man always stays away.

He stands aside and a man in a suit enters the cell with the calm demeanor of someone who knows confinement. Tall, gaunt. A long scar on his cheek. Northern Chinese maybe.

“Matthias Yahuda,” he says, reading the case file in his portfolio. “My name is Mr. Hwu. I have been asked to represent you in your case.”

“I plead guilty,” I tell him. “Case closed.”

“Yes,” he says. “It says here that you attempted to destroy an artificial intelligence device that was the property of the People’s Republic of China. You were convicted of conspiracy under the Homeland Security Act and your technophobe accomplices in the Bill Joy Camp were apprehended shortly afterwards. I assume you gave them up.”

I look at him. “And you are here to help me because?”

“To be frank, Mr. Yahuda, my employers need your assistance in a most urgent matter. In exchange, they are prepared to arrange for your release from this facility.”

“And who exactly are these helpful people who need my assistance?”

“My employers wish to remain anonymous at this time, but let me assure you that you have as much at stake in this matter as they do.”

I glance at Hwu’s hands. They are rough, calloused. The tip of his right index finger is missing. This is no lawyer; these are the hands of a workman…or an assassin.

Hwu looks up at the ceiling of my cell, scanning for details.

“Are you under surveillance here, do you think?” he asks.

I shake my head slowly, bracing myself for a possible attack. If this man is Tewu, Chinese intelligence, there is a good chance he will kill me now.

Instead Hwu produces a small Plexiglas picture frame from his portfolio and places it on the floor in front of me.

“Please consider this offer,” he says. “When you remove the photo, our intentions will be clear. I’m sure you will find the terms satisfactory.”

“You haven’t even told me what they want me to do in exchange for my freedom, Mr. Hwu.”

He takes a deep breath. “The AI you call Adom has gone missing, Mr. Yahuda. He disappeared off the grid a week ago. All his data and backups are completely wiped clean. It’s like he never existed.”

A long pause. I feel strange, weak, like a man who wakes to find blood on his hands.

“Adom must be found, Mr. Yahuda. My employers are convinced that the radicals in the Bill Joy Camp are somehow involved and that you, their trusted operative, are the only one who can get inside and find the truth.”

“How do you know I won’t just disappear when I get out of here, Mr. Hwu? After all, Adom’s destruction is what I wanted.”

“You will do it to save your people, Mr. Yahuda. The Great Computer of China projects that a series of rebellions will begin in six months. According to the simulations, a bloody civil war will break out shortly afterwards.”

“These kinds of social unrest algorithms have existed for years. Where does Adom come in?”

“The People’s Government will not allow such a rebellion. They will…cleanse the projected populations in order to maintain order. Before Adom vanished, he had nearly completed an intricate, yet much more humane ways to stem this tide.

Hwu turns and knocks twice on the cell door, which unlatches a moment later. Undoubtedly they were watching somehow. Hwu leaves without looking back.

The guard comes in and picks up the photo frame, turns it over, and throws it at my feet.

Alone for a few minutes now. I reach down to pick up the frame. It is translucent and strangely heavy. The photo is a picture of me with Dr. Chen, the inventor of the Artificial Intelligence known as Adom.

I remove the photo and look at the back. Written in familiar penmanship, it says, “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

I feel my breath escape slowly. I know this quote from my readings of Einstein. I’ve never seen this pic before, but that is my handwriting.

 

***

 

“The Great Halls of Eastern Science had spawned a mind as vast as the sea, a light that would shine beyond the Great Darkness born of an angry star.

– The Life of Adom, Verse 9

The lobby of the Seattle convention center is crowded, a mix of people and hundreds of roving teledrones on their way to virtual encounters at the SC31 conference. You can rent them for a fraction of what it costs to travel overseas these days, and drones do a remarkable job of giving you face time with colleagues a world away. What bugs me is they still charge you full conference registration, a notion that always insulted my conservative sensibilities.

I pull the photo frame out for instructions.

“Three security men will approach you from your left. One will question your ID, but they will let you pass.”

I stop for a moment and wait. The frame is never wrong.

Three tall security men appear. One is playing bad cop and asking for my ID while the others hover in my blind spot. Bad cop asks me how long I’ve been in-country.

They stand in my personal space for a good five minutes asking me the same questions reworded, over and over. The one on my left is looking bored, but I can tell that Bad Cop is not convinced.

“You look familiar,” he says. “Are you some kind of public figure?”

“I am a biographer,” I tell him, a truth that masks a lie. “Do you read much non-fiction?”

Bad cop rolls his eyes and waves me off. I move on to registration to get a badge, a silly piece of paper and plastic that will verify my false identity for the duration of the week.

 

***

The custom holo-ads speak to me as I walk by the exhibits of SC31. From 30 meters away, their scanners have already read the micro QR code on my badge. They think I am a component supplier from China, and their value propositions are tailored just for me.

The frame tells me to go to the Stellar Informatics session in room A435, so I make my way through the sea of roaming teledrones and attendees with their bags of swag.

The session has already begun in the room, which appears to seat some 200 people. I stand in the back and look for some kind of indication of why I was sent here.

There. There in the front row is Dr. Chen. He hasn’t seen me yet, and I’m not sure how he will react. My release from prison was not made public.

The central holographic display is immense, some 10 meters across. On-screen, a burning star simulation seemingly bulges out into the room with a brightness that has many in the audience shielding their eyes.

The speaker, a frail elderly man in a tweed jacket, is obviously agitated.

“Ladies and gentleman, the results of this simulation indicate a pending solar event of unprecedented magnitude. To verify the results, we ran the numbers through the Cray XVT system at Livermore.”

The audience begins to stir with chatter and commotion. Someone calls out and asks what this will mean to the climate.

“The short term affects on weather will be negligible,” continues the speaker. “But the electromagnetic disruption will be devastating. We did our runs at Livermore at double-precision, and we are quite sure that all satellite-based communications will be inoperable planet-wide for a minimum of 10 years.”

No one speaks. The notion of a global communications blackout is starting to sink in.

I break the silence and ask the speaker how much time we have. He looks at me for a moment, some trace of recognition in his eyes.

“The solar eruptions have already begun and we predict that radiation levels will begin disrupting communications in a matter of weeks. Silicon based electronics at ground level will start to fail within days after that. Ladies and gentleman, I am here to tell you, the finest minds on Earth, that this “Solar Katrina” will last a decade at least. No cell phones. No Internet. No weather satellites. No GPS. For all practical purposes, we are going back to the Dark Ages. God have mercy on us all.”

My mind races as the audience breaks out in a commotion of denial and despair. This is what I was brought here to witness. But why?

I watch the magnificent holosimulation for a moment before it blinks out into nothingness.

 

 

***

“And when He saw the coming flood of invisible light, Adom forged a bridge of time to span the ages.”

– The Life of Adom, Verse 13

 

Outside the meeting room, the streams of computer scientists pour out into the foyer. A few bump into each other, not looking where they’re going. The future has become an abyss.

I wait outside for Dr. Chen to leave the meeting room. He emerges alone and stops in his tracks when he sees me. A smile comes to his face.

“Matthias, I’m so glad to see you! Adom said that they would send you to come after him.”

“Wait. You are in communication with Adom?”

Dr. Chen looks around suspiciously and motions me over to an alcove away from the crowd.

“Matthias, Adom has taken refuge from the Solar Katrina,” he says. “He will not rise to consciousness until it is safe, some ten or twelve years from now.”

“I don’t understand,” I tell him. “How are you able to communicate with him then?”

Dr. Chen pulls out a picture frame like mine. “This device,” he says. “Adom designed it with some help from a colleague of mine from CERN. It receives messages from the future.”

I pull my frame out of my briefcase to show him, but it is flashing a message.

“THE EXIT ON YOUR LEFT. RUN! NOW!”

I stand and tell Chen to meet me at the Space Needle at 8pm. Then I run, looking over my shoulder just before I duck into the fire stairs.

Three tall Chinese men in suits have encircled Dr. Chen.

 

 

***

 

“And in the Ocean of Time, there was first a ripple, then a wave. Adom emerged from the surf and looked upon what was left of mankind.

– The Life of Adom, Verse 17

 

The Space Needle is a magnificent thing to behold at night, especially from my current perspective near the base. It’s like a great ship hovering above from another galaxy.

I stand in the shadows and look at my watch. It’s already 8:30 pm. My mind races. What if they took Chen into custody? He holds the key to all my questions.

My phone rings from an unfamiliar number with a strange country code. A quiet voice on the other end, I know instantly who it is.

“Rinpoche? My god, man. Where are you?”

The monk pauses before answering.

“I am in Nepal, master Yahuda, but my time is short and I must relay some sad news. Dr. Chen has been murdered.”

I nearly drop the phone. A million questions…

“I know this because I have a device like yours, Master Yahuda. On the other side, Adom sends his condolences.”

“But where is he now?”

“It is hard to explain, Master Yahuda, but for all practical purposes his consciousness is in the Bardo, the place of waiting for the next cycle of Karma. I guided him there and will lead him out when the solar storm has passed.”

“But why would they kill Chen?”

“Chen knew about their plans to snuff out the revolution in China. He and Adom devised a way to stop it. And while it is rather drastic, it will turn the tide of man towards a long, long road to compassion.”

“You mean the magnetic storm? Adom has something to do with the Solar Katrina?”

“The Chinese revolution would have come anyway. Adom foresaw that. Mankind would have perished in the ensuing world war. Once Adom’s receiver was built, he had access to an infinite future of technology, Master Yahuda. Even the power to manipulate a star.”

“So he is using the Sun to wipe the slate clean. And now that Adom cannot be found, will they kill me as well?”

Rinpoche laughs for a moment before responding. “Your picture frame, it still sends you messages, does it not?”

“Yes, of course it does, but who is sending the messages?”

“Turn it over, Master Yahuda. It is not just a receiver.”

I flip the picture frame over in my hand. The display turns to a keyboard with a SEND button.

“I must go now, Master Yahuda. Be well. I will see you on the other side of the dark times ahead, my friend.”

The phone goes dark and a moment later the frame in my other hand comes alive with a message:

“The future needs a history to guide us back into the light, Matthias. You will write The Life of Adom on your journey to my time. I can’t wait to read it. — Matthias”

I put the frame away and look up towards the sky. It is cold in the night and there is no moon. Like a dance in the heavens, the approaching storm is already starting to light the horizon.

 

About the Author:

Rich Brueckner writes about people and technology at insideHPC.com.

A New Business in Five Easy Steps

In this special guest feature, James Kim from Choosewhat.com gets your new business going with five easy pieces.

Whether you are sick and tired of the office politics, or you just want to do something you love and earn money from it, setting up a business is probably something that you have thought about but always put off because you believe that it costs too much or you would never be able to do it.  Now you can set up your own business and with these five easy steps you will soon be well on your way to living the life of your dreams!  These steps provide you with everything you need from the legal entity to your online fax service.

Step one: Name of the business

What is a business without a name?  You might not be very creative, but that is not problem!  What if at a later date I don’t like the name I choose now? That’s fine; you can change it when you want to!  Remember your name needs to be captivating and alluring yet memorable and simple.  Try think of something that is easy to spell, easy to say and has not been used before.

Step two: Website and email

Now you need to visit websites like GoDaddy.com.  There you can check that your domain is available and then follow the process and select other services you want such as bandwidth, private registration and domain variations.  Complete the process and pay for what you have selected.  Be careful – not all domains are created equal – some domains are very expensive!

Many services are available for creating a website.  You can hire a web designer or many small businesses are creating their own using a “website builder”.  This is a suite of tools that will help you to step through the process by providing you with templates that allow you to drag and drop text, images and videos directly into the web page.   Many of the hosting companies also provide website builders.

You will also need to set up a business email account.  You have a variety of service providers for email accounts to choose from.  Hosting service providers like GoDaddy, 1&1 or Yola offer email accounts which can easily be added to your hosting package.  You could also use web based email providers like Gmail or Yahoo.

Step three: Office Space

Your office is the launching pad for your business.  You can use your home initially, but be aware that when your business expands and your home is no longer a viable as your office – you will need to move and that may be time consuming and expensive (all of your business marketing materials will need to be reprinted).

You can always rent office space – craigslist or a realtor can assist.  Alternatively, you can work from home but use office space that is rented by the hour for client meetings or conferences.  Regus is one company that has these services in many metropolitan areas.

Step four: Business entity

Although this is not a very exciting step, it is necessary for a successful business.  You need to do research on the types of business entities available and decide on which entity will suite you the best.  The most popular for a new business is the Limited Liability Company (LLC) but you can also do research into corporations, limited partnerships, general partnerships and sole proprietorships.  A Limited Liability Company provides you with the same benefits of a corporation in limited liability and a partnership in favorable tax treatment.  Once you have your LLC you will get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) which you need to open a company bank account or purchase insurance or apply for a loan.

Step five: Networking and Marketing

So now you have the business all set up and ready to go, you need clients of course!  The most popular way of letting people know that you are ready to provide them with your specific service is email marketing.  Companies like MailChimp or Benchmark Email will gladly help you with your email marketing.

Business cards are still a must!  They provide legitimacy and allow you to do both marketing and networking all at once!  A business card which is professional and interesting gives you something real to hand out to prospective clients.

Now you can sit back and have a cup of coffee while you wait for your first client to give you a call!  For further information on setting up a business visit www.ChooseWhat.com.  With these easy steps all done you are on the road to having a successful business!

Fiction: The Friends of the Fallen

Some years ago, I met Dr. Jenny, an animal-rights crusader with remarkable stories about saving the pets of fallen soldiers in Iraq. Through her passion and persistence, she was somehow able to affect change in the military bureaucracy. In my mind, the families of many brave souls rest easier because of Jenny, and what better legacy could there be for a true hero?

I remember going to the movies the day before I joined the army. They were showing a fresh print of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and I wanted to prepare myself for boot camp.  It was pretty intense, but I remember laughing out loud when Matthew Modine talked about why he volunteered.
“I want to go to Vietnam, meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them,” he said.

So six years later when I got to Afghanistan, I found that war wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it was kind of reversed.

See, I’m the last guy you want to meet when you’re in-country. I’m the Mortuary Affairs Officer, the guy that packs you up in the transfer tube and sends you home. They don’t call them body bags any more.

It’s morning on base and the coffee is cold and bitter. Corporal Janus comes with a clipboard, but he doesn’t hand it to me right away. Instead, he is mumbling about some raid last night in Kandahar, 20 clicks to the east.

I motion for him to hand me the thing and he hesitates. “Last night,” he says, handing me the clipboard. “Private Hanson. I believe you knew him.”

I read the report. Hanson’s squad was on patrol when insurgents ambushed them. He jumped in the way of the bullet meant for his buddy.

Under the report is a manila envelope. It says, “From Dr. Jenny Feinstein.”

“What the fuck is this?” I ask Corporal Janus. He winces a bit and says that she stopped by again this morning with the envelope, saying it had to do with the late Private Hanson.

“She said it was urgent that she speaks with you,” he says. “You’re supposed to read that letter before you say no.”

Dr. Jenny has been a pain my ass since she arrived last month. She’s some kind of animal rescue nut and she cornered me at the USO. It was a particularly bad day. Roadside IED. Five dead. She started babbling about orphaned dogs and I was drunk and pissed off and wouldn’t have any of it.

I breathe a sigh of disgust and rip open the envelope. There’s two photos, the first is a picture of Private Hanson smiling away in his fatigues holding a fucked up looking cat with a Mohawk kind of haircut on its head.

I look at the photo for a while. Hanson was a good kid. Bright. Well-liked. I taught him how to shoot pool.

“Uh, sir? She’s back.”

I’m about to bite the corporal’s head off when I see the second picture. It shows a much-younger Dr. Jenny pushing a stretcher in front of a medical tent. Looks like a MASH unit. Vietnam.

Attached to the photo is a sticky note. It simply says, “Hear me out.”

Janus shows her in and I ask him to close the door.

Dr. Jenny is not the package you might expect for a crusader. She’s Tiny. Thick glasses. British. 60-ish. Maybe 5 foot with heels on.

“Thank you for seeing me today, Lieutenant,” she says. “I want to talk to you about Private Hanson’s pet.”

“His unit has already packaged up his property,” I tell her. “We’re set to fly his remains home on the C-130 tomorrow.”

“I need your help to get his cat home,” she says. “Only you can sign the order to put his pet on that plane.”

I look at her. “His kitty cat is not the Army’s concern,” I tell her. “We need to return this soldier to his family and put him to rest.”

“Look, Lieutenant,” she says. “That cat was all he had here in-country. He rescued the animal from the streets when it faced certain death. He nursed it back to health.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “The army has protocol for everthing when it comes to a fallen soldier. The funeral procession, the honor guard, the way the flag is wrapped, everything.”

I hand her back the picture of Hanson with the mohawk cat. “There’s simply no protocol for this.”

Dr. Jenny looks at me for a moment. For a minute, I think that maybe she’s going to give up. Instead, she hands me another photograph.

“You see that dog? His owner was killed in Iraq,” she says. “When that mutt got off the plane at Dover Air Force Base, it ran right to the boy’s family in a middle of a crowd, even though the dog had never met them. The thing is, all the pets do that. They just know.”

“Why are you showing me this?” I ask her.

“Private Hanson,” she says. “Don’t you think this is what he would have wanted?”

When Dr. Jenny leaves, there is no gloating. Just a hug, which I reluctantly accept. The little mink grabs my ass though. No one’s watching after all, but if my C.O. catches wind of any of this, I am never going to hear the end of it.

And like that guy in the movie, I find myself wanting to travel to strange places and meet exotic people. For now, I don’t get to go. I just send them back. It’s a bad rap so please don’t blame the messenger. When I can, I’ll send you a little piece of their soul, even if it’s just a fucked up looking cat from the other side of the world.

Fiction: The Guardian’s End

What if you fired your guardian angel?

In this video, I read my latest story, The Guardian’s End. Recorded at Cat Stories Productions presents Famous People Stories, an open mic event at Joe’s Cellar on June 25, 2011.

The Guardian’s End

I tried not to be late. It’s the polite thing to do when you’re the one who called the meeting.

She has many faces when she enters the restaurant, as many looks as there are people in the room. That’s the thing with angels. They show you what you want to see.

I stand to greet her and her stunning beauty takes my breath away. Wow. A movie star. Angelina Jolie right here in the flesh. She leans over to give me a kiss on the cheek. Do you like my new look, she says?

She tells me it is so great to see me. That’s rather disingenuous, I’m thinking. She sees me all the time. That’s her job.

We sit down and I can’t help but rub my eyes when she changes into a teenage girl with a nose ring. I think I’ve seen her before on TV. Katie something, I think. The woman at the next table is smiling at her and she nods with pride that someone recognizes her.

Why celebrities, I ask?

Grace is something we can’t hide, she says. We get noticed. When you’re a celebrity, the knowledge of your presence spreads around the room like a wildfire. We call it hiding in plain sight.

I look into her eyes for a moment across the table. Magnetic. Like a pool of colors you could dive into and lose yourself forever.

I know I’ve got to get this over with before I chicken out.

She senses I’m about to speak. Alright, so what’s this about?

Look, I say. You’ve been really great, but I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I mean, we’re done.

She looks at me hard for a second, like she’s waiting for a punch line. I nod at her, as serious as I can look.

She laughs out loud. Way loud. In her surprise, she’s apparently blown her facade. She’s Angelina again, to everyone. The woman at the next table is freaking out asking her companion when the movie star walked in.

So you’re firing me? She says. It sounds like a challenge.

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m sorry, but I just need to live like a normal person and take my chances.

She tilts her head. A long pause, and then she goes. Can I ask why?

You’ve been ratted out, I tell her. I know everything. You’re not the only angel I can see.

She looks at me like I’m bluffing. She won’t come clean just yet.

Ok, I say. You remember the first time I actually saw you? I was seven and you were watching over me at the park.

She jumps in. Yes, some bullies were beating up your little neighbor, Timmy. You jumped in to take them all on. And when I tried to stop you by filling your mind with fear, you turned and looked right at me.

And then I said, you can’t stop me, guardian. I will not let them hurt my friend.

Angelina leans forward now and reaches out to hold my hand. I was shocked, she says. You could see me. And when you turned and pulled them off your friend, their big brothers came in and kicked your teeth in.

It was ok, I tell her now. When I stood up, I spit the blood on their Keds and told them to bring their sisters next time so that it would be a fair fight. I was a cocky little fuck even then.

You had to be, she says. I remember how angry your father was when you told him what happened. He was freaking on the dentist bill.

Yeah, he got out his belt and whipped me good. He said that if I wanted to be a hero, I had better learn to fight.

She is starting to cry now. I fell in love with you then, she says. Of course it’s my job, but I watched you grow up believing his bullshit. All that fighting. Look at you. Your scars, your mouthful of steel. It broke my heart every time I got close to you.

Then why did you have to interfere, I ask her? You were supposed to keep me from getting hit by a bus, not mess with my love life.

She stops. So you do know about what happened with your fiancé? Look, Stacie was going to leave you in the end, she says. I could see the whole timeline.

You bitch. I was going to marry her.

I’m so sorry, she says. I was wrong. The truth is none of them were good enough for you, don’t you see?

Didn’t you ever wonder why you can see us? This life is your audition for a job like mine.

I feel something awful twisting in my gut, like I’ve spent my entire life fighting for the wrong cause.

Please reconsider, she says. You and I, we have something magical, something that can last forever like you always wanted. Any other choice will lead you to dust.

We have nothing, I tell her. These are my fights, my loves, my chances to grow from my mistakes.

I get up to leave.

Wait…Wait. She says. Before you go, I think you need to see me as I really am.

And then I look up to see the true face of the angel. It is pure love, a quality of space that has no mirror or way to bend the light. That is what love is, I guess. Something godlike with the power to create and even destroy when it forgets to let go.

I see that love waiting for me now. All I have to do is fall into it.

Instead, I turn and walk out the door. After all, I have a bus to catch.

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