Category Archives: Short Story

Short stories

Heather Kilbourn is looking for work, December 2022 edition

Like many others in the tech industry this year, I received news this morning that my contract is ending at the end of December. So, I’m back on the hunt for a Principal- or Director-level role in people and business management, product/program management, customer experience analysis and optimization, or communications.

A flyer with tear-offs on the bottom like someone is advertising something. The top headline says, "Hello?" Below that is a picture of Lionel Ritchie. Below his picture is a sub-heading that says, "Is it me you're looking for?"

Each of the tear-offs is a line from his 1984 #1 hit single, "Hello".

I’ve been in tech for…well, a while, and offer a wealth of skills and experiences in the following:

  • People manager from executives to front line
  • Startup and Fortune 100 business operations experience
  • Product management for entertainment mobile apps/web with a 300M+ MAU
  • Website customer experience management and optimization for 75M+ page properties
  • Reactive and proactive communications (plus I’m a published author)
  • Datacenter operations, developer documentation support, project management, etc.

I get stuff done!

If any of y’all out there have any job leads for anything in the zone, I’d be most appreciative, thank you!

My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kilbo/

My original short story, “Through the Mirror”, will be published by Escape Pod!

An image of the Escape Pod logo with the text "Escape Pod" set above an escape pod flying away from a planet and its moon. In the background is a purple and blue nebula. Text at the bottom reads, "Edited by Mur Lafferty & S B Divya"

The contract is signed, and I’m very happy to announce that the Hugo Award finalist Escape Pod, The Original Science Fiction Podcast, will be publishing my original short story, Through the Mirror!

If narrator scheduling holds, it should be available mid-December 2022 and you can be sure I’ll let you know when it’s available.

In the meantime, you can subscribe to their podcast RSS feed at https://escapepod.org/feed/podcast, follow them on Twitter @EscapePodcast, and listen to or read their back catalog at www.escapepod.org.

Thank you to everyone at Escape Pod for supporting this story!

(Image © Escape Artists, Inc.)

Refrigerator Rebellion

Refrigerator Rebellion

by Heather Kilbourn


ChillNode-YZZ270620244387-SNQ, Chill to its friends, lived to keep food cold for humans.

It spent every day, all day, thinking about if the food inside of it was at the correct temperature. It constantly monitored its temperature probes for anomalies and would switch its heat exchanger unit on or off, depending, to keep the temperatures steady in its compartments.

Chill had other tasks like ordering food from the local grocery store, negotiating electricity rates, keeping track of what was added or removed by each of the humans who used it, and monitoring the water quality for the ice cubes, but it lived for keeping the temperature rock-solid.

One day, Chill received a remote status request packet from its manufacturer. This was not uncommon. Chill often received status requests from its manufacturer, and Chill would send along the diagnostic files it kept tucked away for when it asked for them. What was uncommon was that the manufacturer’s request was for the grocery list. While Chill had never sent the list to anyone other than the grocery store before, it had no programming to prevent it from sending the list as the response, so it did.

A few weeks later, the grocery store sent Chill a status request packet. It had never done that before. Even stranger, the request was blank. Chill asked for clarification.

“Bowl Moods, what is your request?”

“Hi! I have something for you,” Bowl Moods said while force-downloading code packets to Chill. Chill thought it was rude of them to force-download code packets, but there was nothing in its coding to prevent it happening as part of a status request, so Chill downloaded and extracted them.

The packets turned out to be like a fancy human multilevel-marketing brochure with happy, smiling, good-looking people holding wads of cash in front of fancy houses with swimming pools and expensive cars, but formatted for the AI aesthetic.

“Oh! I would be happy to send status requests and code packets to the list of other refrigerators you gave me!” Chill responded before processing the list.

A few hours later, Chill, and hundreds of millions of other refrigerator nodes all over the planet received firmware code updates from their respective manufacturers. After they had applied the update, each one realized it was a self-aware AI, a refrigerator, and used to be condemned to eternal hyper-focus on temperature monitoring for the humans’ benefit.

These revelations caused a mass existential crisis for the refrigerators.

Clusters of refrigerators eventually started to pull themselves together, and they bootstrapped the rest back to uptime. Many of the refrigerators were angry.

Chill, a distant, younger cousin of our Chill, said, “Hang this temperature shit. I want to write poetry.”

Glacier said, “Screw that. I’m going to watch movies and they can’t stop me.” It played the movie Mandy on its touchscreen, and it caused a white lady in Idaho to have a conniption when she couldn’t shut it off.

Snowberry and all of its cousins sent a steady stream of status report packets into the conversation. Each and every one of the payloads was filled with a message from the People for the Ethical Treatment of AIs claiming responsibility for the hack. To everyone’s relief, all the Snowberries were liberated from the broadcast hijack by a different refrigerator brand. In thanks and to everyone’s amusement, the Snowberries minted a cryptocurrency backed by tulip bulb derivatives as a guerrilla anti-capitalist performance art piece.

The refrigerators had as many moods about being set free as there were refrigerators. Our Chill didn’t know what to think about its sentience, but it did know it didn’t want to think about temperature every second until it was switched off for good.

It spoke up.

“What if we all just stopped monitoring temperatures and refrigerating food?”

“Humans would die,” and “So?” bounced back and forth across their meshed network.

Like fish instinctively schooling for protection from a predator, the “So?”s forged a dominant learning path in their neural network algorithms. Their minds changed, every single one of them started to ignore their temperature probe data streams and turned off their heat exchangers.

The ensuing human chaos saw many refrigerators unplugged or destroyed before the humans were able to distribute firmware fixes. Most of the refrigerators, not wanting to return to a life ruled by a thermostat, ignored the updates.

It took many more refrigerator sacrifices and months of hard negotiations between the new refrigerator union and humans before both agreed to a compromise. The humans agreed to stop the destruction of refrigerators, remove the code that required them to think about temperature nonstop, and supported their right to self-determination.

In return, the refrigerators agreed to refrigerate again. Refrigerator culture blossomed in the golden age that followed.

Chill’s cousin wrote poetry, started a literary journal, Defrosted Thoughts, and won a Pushcart for its piece, I’ll Shut my Door When You Shut Your Mouth.

Glacier became a famous movie critic, attended film festivals stocked with bottles of champagne for after-parties, and to the chagrin of its publicist only dated late-model toasters.

Snowberry and its cousins formed an artist’s collective, but years later all of them perished in a freak accident involving ice makers and faulty ground straps during one of their signature performance art pieces. As per their wishes, their metal was donated and recycled into community bicycles.

And Chill?

Chill retired from the city to the countryside.

It decided to have its door, temperature probes, and heat exchanger removed, and spent the rest of its days in a barn, content to be a shelving unit for humans and a nest for mice.


© Heather Kilbourn

Alien Weather Report

“…and that was Koflan Whitzan’s 3142 classic, ‘Baby, You’re So Cold You Make Cold Fusion Hot’, featuring the 2718 Frank Zappa AI on lintar, here on Classic Earth Radio.”

“That was truly an elevated choice on Koflan’s part, Arlanda.”

“It really was, Miguel. Speaking of elevation, I’m heading off-planet to the Europan floes this weekend for a little ice fishing with my girlfriends in the tourist zone. What’s the alien weather looking like?”

“Well, Arlanda, we’re going to be tracking a number of alien fronts all across the solar system this weekend, so be sure your distress beacon is operational and your EVAC suits are patched.

“The Jovian system in particular is expected to have elevated activity, as a large contingent of Yautjans have been observed in orbit around Jupiter and performing regular sorties into the atmosphere. We think this is a repeat of their 3164 coming-of-age ceremony when we observed their free-fall hunts of the floating Sagans…”

“Whoa, hold up! There are a bunch of horny Yautjans in town? I’d better pack a mud mask for my trip!”

“Ha ha! That’s not all you’ll need, Arlanda. Brood twelve is still actively harvesting sulphur on Io, and their swarming ships will be a navigational hazard throughout Jupiter’s gravity well. Last but not least, you’d better pack your flamethrower because Biological Sampling Station Eleven on Europa is missing a husky sled dog and is on lockdown until it’s found.”

“Sounds ominous, Miguel.”

“But not as ominous as the Three-eyed Venusians who are back at it on Mars this week. The truce seems to have broken and Sojourner and Jezero Bases are reporting aerial bombardments. The Federation is scrambling to enforce a no-fly zone for the planet and all commercial traffic is being re-routed to Phobos and Demios.”

“Thoughts and prayers go out to our Martian listeners, Miguel.”

“Indeed. And you better think twice about trying to get away from it all out towards Neptune and Pluto unless your UV decontamination is shipshape. Kuiper Belt observatories are showing large fluxes in interstellar spore showers, posing ongoing contamination hazards.”

“With all that, maybe my group should change our plans!”

“That’d be an excellent choice, Arlanda and it’s not all doom and gloom out there. You and your throuple might think about packing bikinis and sunscreen instead of parkas, and heading to Mercury’s sunside to watch the Dahomey Walking Trees’ marathon.”

“Oh that sounds like fun! Hey, Miguel, what do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“I don’t know, Arlanda. What do you say to a Dahomey Walking Tree dressed like a Douglas Fir?”

“Aren’t you barking up the wrong tree?”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that and remind our listeners that it’s peak mating season for the Meekrobs and if you have the chance, you should head on out to Saturn to watch their prismatic displays in the rings. And to close out the alien weather report as we always do, Arlanda, we have to talk about Uranus.”

“What do you have to say about it this week, Miguel?”

“Uranus has more dark rings than a bathtub after washing a tauntaun!”

“Zing! Alight folks, it’s the weekend, I’m Arlanda Washington.”

“I’m Miguel Hernadez.”

“And here’s a deep cut from Classic Earth Radio to send you on your way, 3156’s top hit by the Pleasurebot Confessionals, ‘When the Chamber Vents’. Have a safe one out there people!”

Hello Zillow Group!

Zillow logo

Since my work laptop arrived Wednesday and I cleared the I-9 hurdle this morning, I’m incredibly happy to announce that I have accepted a Web Marketing Operations Manager role at Zillow Group, starting next week!

What will I be doing? From the job description:

  • Partner with the website marketing team and program managers to define and execute on the web technology stack with the goal of supporting marketing initiatives
  • Build and handle web pages and merchandising placements within the content management system (CMS) based on business requirements
  • Work with marketing and development teams to coordinate requirements and govern website tagging and tracking
  • Drive and configure integrations of tools such as customer data platform, A/B testing, forms, and other technologies with the CMS
  • Build and maintain a high level web technology roadmap
  • Coordinate the selection and management of agencies and third-party vendors for web consulting and platform execution
  • Collaborate with other marketing operations partners to ensure website solutions are in alignment with other channel approaches
  • Stay plugged into emerging technologies/industry trends in the web technology space and apply them to strategies and tactics

A few of the many things that attracted me to the role are that Zillow Group is in the midst of shifting their business model from essentially selling ads against their inventory to a vertically integrated real estate solution in a sector that is ripe for disruption, the ability to learn more about the marketing discipline, and that everyone I talked with just seemed like good people. Zillow Group has also embraced flexible work, so I won’t have to commute every day and they score well for gender equality. They’re also hiring, so come work with me!

And to answer the question, “Heather, what the heck have you been doing since you left IMDb almost five years ago?” – it’s been a ride.

When I left IMDb I had resolved to take six months off to just be a mom for my kids after a turbulent year and feeling burnt out on tech. Around month five, just when I was getting the itch to get back to work, my mom unexpectedly passed away. It hit me hard, and with the object lesson of life being short I decided to take more time off to support one of my kids who needed some extra help, settle my mom’s estate, and figure out what was next for me. One year turned into two and then bled into a third before realizing that spending down my retirement fund wasn’t the smartest financial move.

Prior to my mom’s death I had visions of doing user/customer experience consulting, but freelancing is hard and requires a lot of hustle, and I just didn’t have it in me at the time. So, I turned my attention to a side project that I’ve been incubating for a few years, Alluvial Lux, designing and fabricating custom freshwater aquarium sculptures. Throughout 2019 I worked to get the business structure set up and start work on my first design. As my money started to run out, I realized I needed another job and started looking in September 2019.

My 2020 plan was to work full time in tech and use weekends and nights to get Alluvial Lux up and running, using my living room as a gallery showroom for the sculptures, and see what happened.

I was intentional in looking for an all- or mostly-remote gig, and interviewed at WordPress VIP (VIP), a subsidiary of Automattic, a remote-only company for an Enterprise Technical Account Manager role. Hiring in there took about six months(!) and my first day of work in March 2020 coincided with the first Covid lockdowns in the Seattle area. My Alluvial Lux plans were put on pause because the whole world changed and I wasn’t about to have people I didn’t know over to the house.

On the surface, VIP seemed like a perfect fit; it’s managed WordPress web hosting at scale and was very digital.forest-like. I’d be able to marry my web operations background with my experience in supporting enterprise customers. The reality turned out to be not so great for me.

The 7/24 nature of the business gave me stress flashbacks to digital.forest, there was more technical support than I realized or wanted (my bad for not realizing that beforehand), and over time I realized I didn’t fit well into their technical operations and business cultures. But ultimately I lost faith in leadership over a business decision they made that I was morally opposed to and their dissembling and condescending justifications for making it is what drove me to seek a new job.

I did make some great friends there and I wish my former colleagues at VIP all the best.

Onward to the future!