ANTIGONE + MAUDE #16 (2022/08/09)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#16

by Stanley Lieber

SENTIENT SLIME

Ten years of litigation had finally decided the status of the mall. The debts had been acquired by Mold Industries, Inc., an (among other things) predatory lender out of New York. Reps incoming.

Bill Fomo learned about all this via a legal notice taped to the glass doors at the front of the building. His first thought was that this might alarm the customers. He was still groggy. Shaking out the sleep, he slid his hand over his face and headed inside, searching for Maude.

Jason at Floating World was already hosting a fundraiser.

Antigone and Maude were having breakfast at the Sbarro. Bill thought that was just gross.

"Dad! We’re fucked!" Maude announced, and burped.

Oh, he knew.

ELVIS HAIR

Daisuke’s son had been promised an inheritance that included all the family scrolls, a few antique swords, and the mall dojo. This last was most important to him because he intended to renovate the retail space into a comic shop.

Nothing was working out how Daisuke, Jr. had planned.

His dad wanted him to take over the family business, sure, which included the dojo. But as a dojo, meaning that Daisuke, Jr. was expected to carry on training with an eye towards eventually passing on the school to his own son, who had yet to be born.

First of all, Daisuke, Jr. wasn’t planning on having children. Second, he hated physical activity, so training was out. This left the comic books. Check and mate. Only, his father didn’t see things that way...

And now there was this kid, Granit, soaking up all his dad’s attention.

Daisuke, Jr. combed back his impressive coiffure, an enormous pompadour in the style of 1950s rockers. His red gi with gold trim stood out, to be sure, particularly the fishnet arm and leg gauntlets, his clear cane, and the metal flake gold guitar he carried around with him everywhere he went.

The students were entertained, but uniformly not intimidated.

Another problem: There was already a comic shop in the mall.

But Daisuke, Jr. was a problem solver.

He was playing a show at the other shop tonight.

QUARTERS

The machine was only producing slime. Insert a coin, turn the crank, and receive a plastic egg. Inside every egg was a uniform portion of glow-in-the-dark slime.

"Aw, I wanted the candy bracelet," Esmé said.

Ororo hit the machine with her palm like Arthur Fonzarelli. Another egg of slime fell out. She tried again and got the same result. So, it wasn’t the quarters.

"Let’s give the children a chance to clear some of these out," Ororo said, and started off towards the food court.

"Do kids still buy these things?" Esmé asked.

It was a moot point.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #15 (2022/08/06)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#15

by Stanley Lieber

REPRIEVE

The roof of the building was far away from the internecine squabbles of the mall. Endless civil war amongst factions who weren’t even supposed to be operating businesses within the condemned structure in the first place. The relentless bickering was bad enough, but couldn’t they all see that stooping to property damage and violence against the customers only proved to endanger their business model?

Granit sat on the bare roof. He’d already destroyed one lawn chair (far too fragile), and now he was concerned that his great weight was damaging the weather sealing under his giant stone ass.

Everyone assumed he was a teenager. Why?

The roof sagged. He wasn’t sure if it was his fault.

Daisuke had just named him Soke, inheritor of the mall dojo.

KINDLING

Ororo came back with the whole cup of chopsticks, dumped them on the table. Started erecting a complicated looking structure, elbowing condiments and napkins out of her way as she worked. She took the Chick tracts and wadded them up, one by one, under the base of her wooden shrine. Snapped her fingers and a tiny bolt of lightning set the whole thing ablaze.

Ororo was a mutant, weather witch, worshiped as a goddess amongst her tribe. She had grown up a pick pocket on the streets of Cairo before at last returning home to her ancestral village in Kenya.

And now she was here, wasting time at the mall.

"Geeze, Ororo," Esmé said.

There was a rumble of thunder as a tiny rain cloud appeared above the table, followed by a tiny rain storm that doused the flames.

"Hush, child," Ororo said.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #14 (2022/08/05)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#14

by Stanley Lieber

SAKKI TEST

Something was wrong.

BILLS, BILLS, BILLS

Bill Unsub was ready to go.

LIKE, FOR SURE

Europa descended the escalator, presumably resplendent, but refracted through the cubist effect of the surrounding mirrors, it was difficult to tell.

She stepped over the threshold. In this mall, there were believers. Was her step a little lighter? She wasn’t telling.

The old gods avoided the mall, for the most part. Convenience was one thing, but mostly you were paying outlandish prices in order to see, and be seen. And quite obviously they’d let anyone into a place like this.

What was in it for her?

YO-NIN

Where was she?

Esmé waited for Ororo at a table in the food court. Just running over to the Radio Shack for some capacitors, she’d said. That was half an hour ago.

Mall sushi was anything but.

Ororo plopped her plastic shopping bag down with uncharacteristic carelessness. It was full of Chick tracts. Religious comics by Jack T. Chick.

"Isn’t that guy dead?" Esmé asked, munching on rancid sushi.

"Precisely," Ororo said. "So who is profiting from the distribution of this material?"

The little pamphlets were given out for free at the Radio Shack, and presumably at Radio Shacks everywhere. Ororo had taken them all.

"Us, I guess," Esmé said, and almost barfed.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #13 (2022/08/02)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#13

by Stanley Lieber

LOW OBSERVABLE

Not that it would have mattered. Unsub was still able to track Castillo in either mode. In this case, by purchasing location data from the vendor of his audiobook app. The whole thing was automated, he only had to check in every hour or so. Which left plenty of time to operate his business.

Unsub felt invisible there, standing in center of the fountain. Foot traffic was minimal. Nobody seemed interested in what he was selling.

And what was he selling?

Unsub consulted his tablet. It said here he was the proprieter of a pop-up privacy shop. Bootleg Fendi Faraday bags, N95 respirators with particulate filters that doubled to defeat facial recognition technology. Nobody wanted this stuff. He was sitting on a lot of inventory.

He concluded it was decent cover.

MA-AI

The dojo was saved, thanks to Granit. His dues alone would cover operating expenses. And with greater rank would come greater dues.

Fortunately, his arm had been easily reattached.

Daisuke probed the folds of the kokoro membrane, subtly. Beyond the next few days he could sense nothing, which was troubling. At intervals his concentration was disrupted by the dull grinding of Granit’s limbs as the poor boy ran through the fundamental movements, over, and over, and over again on the other side of the room, without making much progress.

Rock scrapes rock.

There were trade-offs in every relationship.

Daisuke let go.

DAD, RELAX

Bill Fomo was not about to let this go. If money was coming in from some scheme, whatever it was, then the girls were going to have to contribute to maintaining the household. They might have been squatting in this abandoned mall, sure, but there were still bills that had to be paid. For example, their dues down at the dojo.

As he walked through the gallery, nearly every retail space and kiosk appeared to be occupied. Some of the shops looked interesting. Others slid in and out of his field of vision without registering in his conscious mind. Well, Bill had his tastes. He smelled pretzels baking.

Whatever, if Maude was collecting signatures, all of them would have to pay.

Aw, who was he kidding. Bill didn’t have it in him to badger anyone about money.

He wanted to take a shower.

He wanted to talk to his wife.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #12 (2022/07/29)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#12

by Stanley Lieber

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY

Esmé slipped the book into her MP3.COM branded messenger bag. At this point, shoplifting was merely habit; she hadn’t even looked at the title. Across the aisle, Ororo was staring her down.

This new comic shop was okay, she guessed. "The Floating World." Ororo had said it had something to do with Shinto, a Japanese religion. Whatever, Esmé didn’t even like comics, much less religion.

"There are no Marvel comics in this store," Ororo said.

"Fuck the X-Men!" they screamed in unison, and laughed.

WANING MONTAGE

Castillo was never actually seen driving, but somehow he appeared in different locations around the city. It had been the same in Miami. A mystery to everyone that knew him.

Jump cut.

On his way out of the mall he’d ignored obvious signs of loitering, shoplifting, and even drug use. Not like himself, but then, after the confrontation at Daisuke’s, he was tired. Even after disassembling the rock boy, he’d somehow managed to impale himself during egress on a broken spire of the security barrier. No doubt to Daisuke’s great amusement.

Jump cut.

Driving now, Castillo glared at himself in the rearview mirror.

He pushed in the cassette adapter for his phone, thumbed over to his audiobook. Rolled down the window and lit a cigarette.

Bleeding all over his seat.

He hadn’t even bothered to engage the cloaking device.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #11 (2022/07/27)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#11

by Stanley Lieber

MOSS GARDEN

Instrumental track from David Bowie’s 1977 album. On repeat, for some reason. The sound system had been installed first. They were still working on the lighting.

Jason had found out about the mall reopening from scuttlebutt online. He used to come here as a kid, looking for direct market titles on the plexiglass and pressboard spinner rack at Waldenbooks. And now he was moving his comic store here. Full circle.

He called his shop the Floating World. (Europa was not amused.) Focusing on titles he actually enjoyed himself, but still willing to stock mainstream fare, he didn’t pass judgment so long as people were buying and enjoying comics.

The lights dimmed momentarily, and Jason straightened his fuzzy green cardigan.

Customers.

NINTAI

Granit’s enormous body was almost entirely covered with moss. Probably to mitigate the smell, Castillo deduced. Not that it was really working.

He shifted his grip on the katana, twisting the blade just so, reflecting a stripe of fluorescent light directly across Granit’s eyes, something like the dramatic trope from STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, a solid white rectangle across Kirk’s otherwise deeply shaded face. Granit winced, blinked repeatedly.

It was at this moment that Castillo removed Granit’s left arm, separating stone from stone, moss from moss, in one fluid movement, before returning his shitty sword to its equally shitty scabbard.

Granit looked to his master, who remained, if you’ll forgive the pun, stone-faced, and then he looked back at his attacker. This stranger. This...

Granit picked up his severed arm and advanced towards Castillo, who hadn’t expected this, at all, swinging it like a club. Castillo backpedaled.

Daisuke rose at once, clapped his hands in approval, and retired to his backroom office.

Now, Castillo had only come to the mall to get his sword sharpened. He hadn’t planned on a mall brawl with his replacement, a giant concrete teenager too eager for acceptance into this ancient, though sparsely documented tradition. Clearly, Daisuke was still sore that Castillo had stopped coming to training.

The Lt. stepped aside and Granit crashed headlong into the security barrier at the front of the dojo. Daisuke had activated it shortly after Castillo had entered from the gallery, to prevent bystanders from being injured. Now his golden boy was sitting on the floor, a pile of broken rocks and dust.

"We’re closed," Granit finally said, and dropped to the floor. His severed arm was not far behind him.

"You need to take a shower," Castillo said, cooly.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #10 (2022/07/26)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#10

by Stanley Lieber

COUNTERINTELLIGENT DESIGN

Europa deplored the bullheaded stubbornness of her subjects. Well, they were only human. The perimeter of the mall was a sufficient delimiter of human desire. Each shopper tracing their own personal Koch snowflake. They’d even returned to the scene, long after the place was condemned. Couldn’t have stopped them, really.

But now that she had them all safely in the bag again, what to do?

A few of her favorites had developed minds of their own. "Minds" might be stretching it, but suffice to say they were generating novelty through their mindless yet entertaining actions. A guilty pleasure, for the deity. And this was counter to plan.

Remedies included: closing the mall, flooding the mall (lava, or otherwise), burning down the mall (as distinct from lava damage), converting the mall to residential housing, somehow driving out the big box stores, or some combination of the above, fearfully and meticulously devised and implemented.

But it seemed unlikely the humans would really go away.

UNFORCED ERROR

Castillo gripped the katana lightly, staring straight through Granit at his master, his brother in arms, his friend, his... whatever this was.

Low synth pads.

Castillo glared.

Granit was caught somewhere in the middle, which was precisely how Daisuke had planned it. His new personal student, who happened to be physically and psychically invulnerable, versus his ex-personal student, who happened to be short, middle-aged, and armed only with an antique sword which had been a truck stop modern replica even when it was new.

Castillo moved out of seigan no kamae to strike.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #9 (2022/07/24)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#9

by Stanley Lieber

UNSUBSCRIBE

The contract was still intact.

Unsub considered the terms of his deal. A sizable advance against sales, the obligation to recoup at least the amount of that advance, or find himself in debt to the mall. Worse, he’d still be signed, and prohibited from opening up another shop somewhere else.

Ubsub experienced enlightenment. Realized suddenly that the arrangement somewhat favored the venue.

But, he figured, Uncle Sam was picking up the bill.

Unsub stood his ground in the fountain. He’d even begun to decorate the space. Midwestern corporate, nothing overtly literate, or otherwise expressing pretentions of self-worth beyond one’s obligations to the collective. Herd-confidence, rather than self-confidence.

The customers began to pour in.

CASTILLO

Lt. Martin Castillo didn’t like the mall, but it was too late in the day to drive across town. Besides, Daisuke’s place offered a discount to law enforcement.

Facility maintenance seemed... sparse. Safety hazards abounded. Strictly speaking, zoning and code violations weren’t Castillo’s beat, but someone should probably say something.

He put out his cigarette before ducking through the reflective doors, his thin coiffure bristling gently under the blowers.

Inside, a lot had changed. Did the place seem busier? (Busier than when?) It was difficult to order his thoughts. After a brief flash of sensory overload, his awareness gradually adjusted to the new normal.

He didn’t like what he saw.

UCHI-DESHI

Granit’s stone body already conformed to the ryu’s most stringent conditioning. Daisuke feigned indifference, but privately he was astonished. He had transmitted the scrolls to his new student on his first day of training, a cavalier gesture, to be sure, knowing somehow that this was his last chance to pass on what he had learned. Incredibly, it seemed that his impulsive action had been precisely correct. This young man might actually succeed in carrying his art forward and translating it to the next generation.

Granit shifted slightly under the weight of Daisuke’s body, who presently reclined, balanced on a small folding chair perched atop Granit’s back.

"How are we doing down there?" Daisuke asked, and sipped his tea.

"What pain?" Granit laughed, grinning from stone ear to stone ear. A regular laughing Buddha.

Enter Castillo.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #8 (2022/07/22)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#8

by Stanley Lieber

DAD’S MAD

Food court, his usual stool. Bill ordered his minced ham sandwich, Doritos, sweet gherkin pickles, and a Pepsi.

It wasn’t enough.

He re-upped, this time noticing his surroundings as he ate. Business around here was picking up, although he couldn’t begin to imagine where all these shop partisans were actually shopping. He was going to have to ask the girls some questions.

New guy in the fountain.

And there was Daisuke, looking forlorn (as usual) in his empty dojo.

But what was with all these other new storefronts? Natural Wonders. Waldenbooks. None of these companies existed anymore. And yet, here they were, viable businesses, doing brisk trade.

God damn it.

TAIDEN

Granit wasn’t sure what to do with his afternoon, so he hit the mall. Sometimes coming alone was depressing, but today he honestly didn’t care. He just liked the ambience of the big, empty space. The weird smells.

Passed by one of those cheesy martial arts academies. The ones so elite they opened franchises in shopping malls. Backed up. Something about the sad little man kneeling in the center of the otherwise completely empty space pricked his conscience. That was the only way he could describe it. It certainly wasn’t the decor that drew him in, in any case.

On an impulse, Granit clapped his big stone mitts and asked if he could sign up for classes.

"The conditioning has already begun," Daisuke murmured, and disappeared (rolling) into his backroom office.

Granit followed.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #7 (2022/07/19)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#7

by Stanley Lieber

DAD’S DEAD

Antigone was beside herself with grief. They’d found him there, laying flat on his back near customer service. He hadn’t even opened his Pepsi, which was unlike him. Maude was predictably cool, which made Antigone all the more angry.

She glared at her sister, who was, indeed, beside herself; but who hardly seemed to be grieving.

"I get the hat!"

Maude plucked the mesh back cap off of Dad’s still warm head, placed it gently on top of her permanent. Hopped onto the counter and started kicking her legs back and forth absentmindedly, impacting the side of one of Dad’s velcro low top sneakers.

Antigone stared at her, hard.

YABAN

The gaijin were the reason he’d received hamon in the first place. Once, shortly after he’d opened his store front, he’d accepted a foreigner as a student, and inside of six months he had been contacted by hombu dojo with complaints about the student’s behavior during his first trip to Japan. Then, Soke had cottoned to the gaijin’s multi-level marketing scheme, and the foreigner had been promoted to partner, leapfrogging his own rank.

Checkmate.

Daiskuke wasn’t bitter. But he was driven nearly mad by the injustice of it all. At one point Soke had promised him he (Daisuke) would inherit the whole show.

Now, here he was.

He knotted his fingers into an improbable configuration and intoned the sacred mantra.

"Fuck capitalism," he droned, still not doing it right, even after all these years.

DAD GENES

Bill Fomo regained consciousness slowly. He must have fallen down. At least he’d made it home. The girls were right, he had to start getting more sleep.

Where the fuck was his hat?

Something kicked him hard in the foot. Again. Bill sat straight up, taking in the whole scene, instantly recognizing his two teenaged daughters. Showtime.

"Girls, isn’t it time for bed? What are you even doing in here?"

"Dad!"

And suddenly Antigone was on him, smothering him, sitting on his chest, choking him out. He tried to accommodate her, then he tried to tap out, but still he couldn’t manage to take a breath, and no, she wasn’t budging. She was screaming, then sobbing his name into the crook of his arm, and he felt like he was going to die if he didn’t pry her off.

What was wrong?

Maude shrugged, threw Bill’s hat on the floor, and hopped off the counter.

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ANTIGONE + MAUDE #6 (2022/07/17)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#6

by Stanley Lieber

DAD’S HOME

Bill Fomo was tired. He stopped to inspect himself in the reflecting glass before entering the food court. He hadn’t bothered to shower after the fire, and now he wasn’t sure he had the energy left to stand up and wash himself off. Sweat trickled down his face from a reservoir somewhere under his mesh back cap. Like a weeping skylight, or, I dunno, a tiny shower.

The wave of cold air as he entered the food court hit him like a fire truck, and for a moment he considered retreating to his 1982 Plymouth Reliant wagon out in the parking lot. He’d slept there before. But, the girls were expecting him home.

Unfamiliar faces, here, and in the main gallery. The girls had been doing good business.

Trudged to his makeshift bedroom in the Sears at the other end of the mall.

Made it.

Bill Fomo collapsed on the polished tile floor, releasing his grip on his unopened can of Pepsi, which rolled in a straight line to an abrupt stop under the customer service desk.

He snored.

RENT SEEKING

It could never be enough. No matter how many tenants they packed in, Maude would always want more money. Antigone could feel it all going wrong.

"What if we set hard limits in advance?" she said. "Let’s decide how many spaces we want to fill and then let’s rent only that many. I know there’s nothing I hate more than a retail space that’s oversubscribed."

Maude appeared to be considering what she had said, but it turned out she was only staring out the window at a city bus as it deposited a fresh raft of abandoned mall walkers.

"Fifty-five hundred dollars a week," Maude said, hopping down off her counter. "You and I both know we can do much better than that."

Antigone had to admit she liked having pocket money for new cassette tapes and giant pretzels. On the other hand, the mall was abandoned. It wasn’t really their property. None of them were even supposed to be inside the place, much less performing historical reenactments of consumer transactions.

And what would they do when Dad found out?

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(2022/07/14)






ANTIGONE + MAUDE #5 (2022/07/13)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#5

by Stanley Lieber

ADMINISTRATIVE STATE

"Here, fill these out."

Maude let the big ream of paper drop on her desk like a big ream of paper. Unsub was incredulous, but gradually his training kicked in and he got down to business processing paperwork.

The office smelled damp.

"Right here it asks for my social media handles. I’m not giving you my social media handles," Unsub protested.

"Boilerplate. Corporate policy," Maude lamented sympathetically. "Take it or leave it."

Unsub filled in all his social media handles. The ones with which he’d spent the last few years baiting randos from the opposition. There wasn’t enough room on the form to list them all, so he limited himself to only those accounts with the most followers.

Two full podcasts elapsed.

"All right, good," Maude said, when he was finally finished, and dropped the resulting ream of paper in her waste paper basket like a big ream of paper. "Now, let’s find you a space."

He followed her back down to the food court, where, counter to the logic of shuttered businesses, several of the restaurants had booted up their lighting, were preparing for the morning rush. He could smell the grease undulating all around him. Mixed feelings.

On to the main gallery, Maude led him to a dilapidated space surrounded by potted palm trees and pink tiled trash bins. She stood in the center of what at one time must have been a fountain. Or perhaps the site of mass baptisms. He picked up a penny.

"We can remove the fixtures," she said, by way of apology for the unorthodox situatedness of his new digs. "It may not look like it now, but this place is filling up."

Maude pocketed Unbsub’s fee and made for her Sears.

The skylights wheezed, quietly.

KAERU

To Daisuke, all of this was intolerable. New tenants were not being held to the same standards as those unlucky enough to have contracted early in the mall’s life cycle. Nowadays they weren’t even subjected to the tough physical conditioning of his heydey. No more punching one’s fingers into the chests of unruly customers to strengthen the digits. Now it was all online surveys.

Even the contracts probably just ended up in the trash.

As Daisuke knelt in seiza and stared, another fluorescent light flickered and sputtered out.

He sighed.

ESME + ORORO

Esmé figured the new guy had potential, but Ororo said not to steal from him too often. New tenants were always quick to complain. It wouldn’t do them any good to get banned from the mall.

"Ha. They’re setting him up in a fountain," Esmé mused.

It was as yet unclear what the man was selling.

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shoshin inta netto (2009) (2022/07/12)

shoshin

http://inri.net/archive/2009/05/05/shoshin.inta.netto/

I gave up.






ANTIGONE + MAUDE #4 (2022/07/07)

ANTIGONE + MAUDE

#4

by Stanley Lieber

UNKNOWN SUBJECT

Usub studied himself in the reflecting glass of the automatic doors. How had he ended up here? The mall was closed.

Good. He almost believed himself. He didn’t need to check his wallet, he knew everything he needed was there. If he were to be searched, all that would be found were his bogus credentials and a twenty dollar bill.

He entered the derelict shopping mall, at once convinced that the structure was on the verge of collapse. Water infiltrated through the skylights, its assault accomplished in randomly distributed puddles throughout the facility. Wherefore art thou, building services?

Unbsub had successfully insinuated himself into the hostile environment. No one had questioned his manner, or his attire. In point of fact no one was around at all.

Unsub set down his pack and began to set up shop.

"You can’t set up there." Maude sipped her Orange Julius, then gestured with her cup. "That space is rented to the Blanks."

So. Locals.

Unsub stopped what he was doing, tried to match Maude’s body language, but he didn’t have a drink. He slipped one hand casually into his slacks pocket. Stared.

"The mall’s closed."

Maude took another sip.

"Doesn’t matter. The contract’s still intact. That’s all that stands between us and a loss of faith in our institutions."

Unsub sighed.

"Okay, then, how do I sign up for a kiosk space?"

Maude sat down her cup.

"Follow me."

GANBARU

Daisuke’s neon sign was broken, and he was pretty sure he was not going to make rent. Nobody came to this mall anymore. He hadn’t had a new student in years, and the hombu dojo in Los Angeles was still after him for their cut of his non-existent profits, even though he had quit and started his own splinter organization over twenty years ago. He was contemplating not naming an heir, letting his unique system die out with him.

He ate another cold french fry.

Daisuke detected activity, somewhere at the other end of the food court.

New tenants?

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stolen valor (2022/07/03)

star wars wallet, 1983

I started kindergarten in the fall of 1983. For my birthday that year I received this Star Wars wallet. I carried it everywhere.

oberto beef jerky

I stuffed a bunch of clippings inside, filling out my legend with various bits of pocket litter. I don’t remember ever actually eating beef jerky while I was growing up, but according to my cover story I loved it.

cpr for citizens, narrated by orson welles

The character I was portraying was also a big fan of Orson Welles.

military markings

And, I insisted, a veteran of the Vietnam War (more on that in a moment).

i am

“I am that I am.”

tattoo (removed)

This is the tattoo I got during my tour in Vietnam. I had it removed before I came home, and I carried it around to remind me of everything I’d been through. I may or may not have left a young family behind there, whom by this time, I would guess, are all grown up. Just like me.

back of wallet






(2022/06/29)






new zine (2022/05/18)

FUCK COMPUTERS #3

FUCK COMPUTERS #3






(2022/04/19)






complexity vs idiots (2022/04/03)

KEK, KEK, KEK!

Around 1997 I used search engines to find poorly configured IRIX servers with /etc/passwd exposed to the Internet via classic directory traversal. IRIX helpfully provided several accounts with factory default passwords, so these usernames were easy to search for, which was in turn an easy way to identify IRIX hosts. Unpatched local root vulnerabilities ensured that “Game over, man.”

9front includes a web server written in rc, called rc-httpd. It was written to run on a Mac, but early on I transplanted it into Plan 9 in order to serve 9front.org, cat-v.org, and other sites. We’ve made some refinements over the years, but it remains very simple. Most importantly, it works well for static or CGI pages, the latter of which is needed by werc.

Plan 9 makes erecting trivial sandboxes easy, but robust ones remain elusive if the quirky restrictions embodied in the special user none are for some reason undesirable. For close to ten years I’ve run all our sites on rc-httpd with no sandboxing at all. Since public websites and public mailing lists are all that have ever been stored on the machine, I’ve never mustered the gumption to try and harden the environment further.

Tangle of fibers terminating in a Juniper MX960.

Late last month, 4chan’s /g/ discovered a directory traversal bug in rc-httpd. It shouldn’t have been much of a problem because the web files should have been sandboxed from the rest of the file system. It wasn’t much of a problem because not much else was accessible via the file system. Still, it’s true this class of bug in a web server program has been very well known dating back to the dawn of the World Wide Web, and it’s pretty silly that it was present in rc-httpd. The 4chan thread was full of witty comments about the rookie mistakes in our homemade software. The solution of course is to run software too complex to be understood by humans, whose development is sponsored by, and for all practical purposes controlled by hostile corporations.

Corporate sponsored ABCs.

Based on my logs it is clear that two major leaks occurred as a result of this attack:

No other private information was exfiltrated. No data on the server was modified. There was, however, considerable excitement surrounding the “discovery” of files on the server that were either part of the 9front distribution or otherwise linked from the websites served by the machine. In other words, data that was already publicly available even without unintended directory traversal.

Because rc-httpd’s configuration file is also executable rc, I was able to close the hole on my server in a handful of minutes by manually rejecting requests containing the improper string. Because the code was simple in general, the program was patched fairly quickly. Because I have been mostly absent from 9front development since the importation of git9, I flubbed the initial commit, and later accidentally reverted the fix on my own server for several hours.

Because I’m an idiot, all of this happened in the first place.

Computers are unsafe at any speed.

Virtual Reality user panhandles for food.