Kill the headlights and put it in neutral.
|# ¿ Jan 1, 2020 23:48|
|# ¿ Oct 4, 2023 18:04|
Prompt:Kill the headlights and put it in neutral
"Cut the lights," says Leigh. She doesn't wait for me to do it. She reaches across me, clicks the headlights off. Where we touch there's a kind of static charge prickle under my skin. We shouldn't be here at all. She has no license at all, I just have a learner's permit. It's her parents' car. There's barely enough street lighting to see anything at all. I take my foot off the gas, and we coast over the top of the hill. I park along the side of the road. I put it in park. "Elle," she starts, whispering, reminding me. I leave it in neutral, relying on the emergency brake. We quietly get out of the car. We're on a mission.
I'm at the window of the lodgehouse, looking in. Seeing what I came for, what I didn't want to ever see. My older brother, and a woman I don't know, a woman who isn't his wife. And I like Carrie. "Bastard," whispers Leigh. She's making a fist. Her, in red faux leather jacket, dangling earring and asymmetrical haircut. I nod. My hand absently touches the glass. Tap. I pull back. The lovers disengage; I see more than I ever wanted to. They're slow and beamy. They start to turn. Leigh pulls my hand, and we run.
Memory isn't a continuous narrative. I don't remember the whole evening. Just moments, disconnected, and only in the proper order by chance.
We're in the car, doors locked and belts on. I release the emergency brake and it starts to roll downhill, a quiet escape. We've done this before. Not this hill, but others. There's a curve at the bottom. I start to steer right.
I've never understood how a car decides to lock the steering wheel, or how to release it for that matter. It just happens sometimes, at what might as well be random. It happens, during the coast downward. There's hardly any straight road left. I reach for the key, start to turn it, but not in time. The world tilts sixty degrees down as the car runs into a ditch.
We're outside of it now, assessing the damage in the cold. Dents, broken lights. We've been out long enough that we're pretty sure Alex and his bimbo didn't follow and hear, that they likely just got back to it. We've been out long enough that I'm starting to shiver from the night chill.
Leigh takes off her jacket, puts it around my shoulders. I protest. She doesn't let it stop her. "You should go. There's a Golden Gallon not far, get a cab from there."
"I'll call mom. They'll call for a tow. I'll say I was driving. I was alone."
"They're going to kill you." I slip my arms into the jacket. It fits perfectly.
She smiles, wry and crooked, raised higher lefty. "Ground me for the rest of summer, at least. But that's going to happen either way. At least they won't be trying to sue your parents or worse."
I nod. I give her a tight hug.
"I might not see you again until school starts," she says in my ear. She moves her head, back and to the side, coming face to face.
Moments. Up to then, that very instant, her face so close, lit by flashing amber hazard lights, her warm breath and the cold evening breeze drawing a map on the skin around my lips, the idea that I might like girls hadn't even occurred to me.
She kisses me. I close my eyes and let it happen.
|# ¿ Jan 5, 2020 22:26|
In, with flash
|# ¿ Jan 9, 2020 01:41|
Friends of Luca
It started the way it always does: with a favor. A big favor. There was a shark running through the community like it was king poo poo, snapping and snarling and demanding tribute. When it savaged my cousin Blue, that was the last straw. Someone had to do something. I went to the big boss. Nobody else had the guts.
He was holding court. Well, his guys were holding court. The bosses, they don't talk much. I laid out my problem. Johnny Garlic, the guy what did most of the talking, was full of sympathy. He told me they'd take care of it, and they did. That shark was gone the next day.
The thing about favors is that they have to be paid back. It wasn't long before Johnny came around the house, invited himself to dinner. Johnny liked the grub, liked my girl to. Feeling was clearly not mutual. So I had to sit there through an hour of him being gross in front of me before he got to the point. "Charles," he said, "Charles, we need your help. We're a bit short staffed right now. You know how it is, some new guy shows up with his fancy new shoes and the crabs go wild, and soon enough there's a new player. Only there's still just so much to go around."
I didn't really have much choice. They put me in a fancy suit, tail to tip, and all of the sudden I was part of the crew. Not a big part, but part. A little muscle, good for leaning on merchants and shoving the other guys out of the way. They started paying me, good money, enough to be worth the time.
Things got food, at first. Real good. The work came easy. I'm a big guy. People have always cringed a bit to see me mad. Plus I had a good eye for numbers, could tell when something wasn't adding up. So the money, the money was good. Put good food on the table every day good. Spend on something nice for yourself or the wife good. Thing is, when you start earning that well, people take notice. You've got to be careful, make it clear you're not a threat. Eventually, you've got to be brought inside.
I've got to say I was scared out of my gills, first time they took me to the crabs. You ever seen them eat? I know they prefer a meal that doesn't move around, but that's not much comfort. The crabs speak for the bosses. The bosses judge your character, and you either end up in or out. Way out. They decided I could be trusted, which goes to show what they know.
A few years in, there was a change in management. The boss got too calcified to run our organization. A younger one moves in, and instead of a war on our level the crab swarms settled it, did a merger. We were the junior partners, and Johnny didn't take too well to taking orders rather than giving them. He remembered how to kiss rear end enough to not get in trouble right away, but he took it out on everyone else. There was a kid, ran goofy little errands. Johnny picked a fight, egged him on until he said something back, then shove the kid right into a net. "You hear what that dumb schmuck said to me?" he yelled as the poor guy got hauled up.
So one day I come home and there's Johnny, laid out on the kitchen floor. My wife was over him, black and teary eye, barely making any sense. "God, Charles," she said. "He's going to kill us when he comes to."
She didn't say anything else. She didn't have to. We push him out the back way, put him on a hook, and watch him rise.
So the second time I'm in front of the crabs I know I'm lying my tail off, pretty much figure they know too, think they're going to go right off-script and tear me into sushi and chow down right then and there. Except they don't. They put me in his job instead, right under Joey Deadline.
The crabs, they ain't what they think they are. It sort of figures. They get their knowledge from the mobsters that get sent down here, and half of those were on the losing side of their last war. The crabs aren't that bright, but Joey was. Saw right through me. Gave me the look. I'm going to kill you. You just don't know when.
When you're under that kind of gun you make bad decisions. I sure did. Stupid bets. Dumber affairs. The wife left, took the kids and went out east. She has family there. The money was still good, but the debt kept piling up. And Joey was always there, staring and smiling.
So when the other crabs, the blue ones, came to me, I was ready to fall right in. See, half the ones sent down here were the losers in a war, like I said.
The other half were police informants.
So yeah, I sang like a bird. Don't know what good it will do them. And in return I got a sweet witness protection racket, safe in giant fishtank where none of those guys can come near, getting fed every day without having to do more than swim pretty for the people on the other side of the glass. People look strange when there's meat on those skeletons, I've got to say.
There's another guy here, older, Andy Sparks. I knew him coming up, thought he was dead. He tells me every morning he thinks about ramming right into the glass. "You'll never get back to the sea that way," I say.
"Yeah," he sighs. "That's why I don't do it." He's a bitter old fish. Not me. Good food, plenty of women, and nobody looking to put you I in a net or on a hook or on the wrong end of a harpoon: what more could you ask?
|# ¿ Jan 13, 2020 07:54|
|# ¿ Jan 14, 2020 19:21|
Message Delivered by Tightbeam from Crys to Bilquis
I hope this finds you well. As the ice weighing on the dome above creaks and sings the timeless songs of strain and tear, of melt and fusion and melt again, it is some comfort to think that there might be better places. I think of you on a world with flowers, blue and yellow and red exploding with pollen in a few green field.
I remember when we were young together, with the run of our grandfather's house, making our plans. We were always colony-bound, undeterrable as we were inseparable. When grandfather first told us that we would never be allowed on the same ship it struck us like a hammerblow. No siblings allowed. No cousins, even, first or second, and ideally nobody from the same city. That was the rule. Genetic diversity protocols have always been tight on colony ships, where we travel with thousands of well-refrigerated fathers but only a few dozen possible mothers. Forty doctorates between the thirty of us, but the numeric logic of getting from those numbers to the thousands needed to sustain civilization on a new world meant, well, what it meant.
I woke up pregnant, ten years out from Crys. Some of us had too. There was logic to it: spread out the second generation over decades, make sure that the new society had to accommodate children from day one, rather than as an afterthought, or something that could wait for the never that would be a time not filled with work needing doing. I hope you haven't had to think about this, on your new world in a slightly different direction. My Cyril was a pure joy, as were his sisters. Juliana and Elanora, as we always talked about.
I know the plan we made: to leave nearly the same time, to different colonies of roughly the same difference. We could share a few letters, sent in our first days on our world's, received towards the end of long lives. Well, half of that will happen.
I've been stepping around the issue like a pile of uncollected dogshit on the sidewalk, but no longer: Crys colony has failed. I write from the cold interior of a tomb.
Crys was not the garden pictured in the scoutship images. It was frozen over, tundra and icecap, glacier and iceberg-dotted seas. It was not dead and cold. Native lichen thrived. The oxygen cycle continued. We landed, lacking other options. The ships of the colony fleet are not designed for return trips or alternate destination. We landed, built out our dome and tunnels, and worked and waited for a spring.
It did not come. The winter deepened. The simulations predicted the warm cycle to come back farther and farther into the future. Years, then decades, then past a century. The life clinging to the ice continued to survive: it had evolved for this. This had happened before.
The ice piled higher atop the dome, and with no way to keep it clear, the power we could harness from the orbiters and from Crys' pale sun diminished. Systems failed. We dug deeper, harnessed geothermal heat, but by the time we got that online the damage was done. Our genetic stores, the thousand fathers that could have been, the vials of spunk got just too cold or too warm, and died.
We might have endured, even without them. Eva, our chief geneticist, worked out a plan. Managed breeding. Arranged marriages, each lasting only long enough for a single child. We tried it, for a time.
If the first to break plan, to bear the wrong father's son, had been anyone else we might have even survived that shock as well. But Eva herself, with the captain and mayor, caught by her apprentice Wynne, and what followed: a murder to cover for it, that failing, with video evidence.
She argued that to punish her would doom us all. A defiant defense.
In a new colony there aren't resources to jail, no place to exile. A crime that brooked no rehabilitation can have only one punishment. I hope that your colony has not had cause to event contemplate this kind of justice.
We hanged Eva and her co-conspirator in the morning.
The trickle of power from orbit dried to nothing. We started to move supplies from dome to tunnel, in anticipation of the final collapse. But it was a lesser collapse that was the final blow, the main tunnel separated those two worlds. Separating me from the children. Me and most of the older mothers.
The equipment that dug them was a power glutton; it will not be turned on again. They all survived, and live in some comfort, will outlive me surely. But they are barely half the minimum viable population, and without any real management or plan. I have nightmares of their descendants, of degraded inbred troglodytes, feral grandchildren and great grandchildren, discovered centuries on by a second attempt to colonize Crys and of interest as anthropological studies rather than as people. The math is hauntingly undeniable
I want to delete this entire message, replace it with some more pleasant lie. Nobody else here has reason to contact your world, and by the time news travelled by way of Earth you would no longer be alive to chide me for fibbing. But no. You deserve the truth, to know what I can tell you of your nieces and nephew. They send their love, as do I.
|# ¿ Jan 20, 2020 08:50|
|# ¿ Jan 21, 2020 15:41|
His most divine majesty, Imperath Tarnelio the First, builder of empires, Iiving representative of the Immortal, and scourge of the Fellian plains was known in his time as hero, fool, monster, and liberator. His reign changed lives on continents across sightless seas, from farmbound peasants to world-straddling explorers. Generations of priests studied his every recorded utterance for clues to the secrets of eternity.
But let us speak about his beard.
Tarnelio started to grow his beard during the siege of Second Fell, holding the tiny force there while waiting for reinforcements. There is a tradition in the Immortalist faith that he swore an oath, usually along the lines of promising not to shave again if only he were delivered from the besieging Westrin armies. The record does not support this, not least because his conversion at Mount Ch is well documented and nearly a decade later. What is known is that during the siege, just as he was about to start his morning ablutions, including the barber's neckblade, which he wielded himself out of healthy paranoia, a messenger arrived.
The messenger did not have word of the reinforcing army's approach, but came from much further from the front, from the tower at Eld, where Tarnelio's father Morin was kept, blinded and confined to a small cell with only the company of his Fool Lickface and Ellaris, the only of his many mistresses who had not abandoned him in his long decline. The note was short and unembellished. Morin was dead, of the usual complications of age. Poison or other foul play had been ruled out.
Morin wore a long beard, white and carefully groomed to a point. Only one of Tarnelio's brothers attempted the same. Yittera could not match his father in this arena. The hairs came in patchy yellow, and scraggled rebelliously at the grooming comb. Unable either to tame his own face nor surrender and shave it off, Yittera fled the court entirely, seeking out the lands beyond the Eastern Seas, where nobody could say for certain that an Oerlani nobleman's beard was not supposed to look exactly such.
Tarnelio, at first, did not so much grow a beard as he stopped shaving. Nature did the rest, and when the siege was finally lifted the army found him impressive and wild of face, a hedgerow of thick black hair hiding his face and leaving all impression, all sign of what he might be thinking, to his blood-red and frequently skewed apart eyes.
At Mount Ch, after his conversion, at his wedding feast, he nearly lost his beard, already a legend. The ritual combat between his two brides had ended, with Dechi victorious but merciful. She wore her competitor's braids tied together as a necklace while Finta, defeated, was taken by the Immortal's priests to be shorn bald and sent down to the quarter of fallen wives.
Dechi danced for her new husband, for her King and Imperath. She danced the water dances, flowing across and around his body as Tarnelio and his court were served chilled wine and sour fruit dipped in coarse-ground sugar. She danced the air dances, leaping and flipping in ways that let her clothing reveal her secrets from angles only Tarnelo could view, as the servants presented light breads stuffed with spiced puddings and savory organ-meats. She danced earth dances that the faith forbids to all but married partners, dances that most leave to the bedroom, but which the royal Imperia must show before the court and high Godspeakers, who politely stared mainly at the roast potatoes and other roots on offer. All of these dances went without trouble. Then, as the meat and strong drink were brought out, she began the dance of fire.
The case has been made that marriage domesticates the husband. Was it deliberate, as some insist, that when Dechi burned the fifth silken veil in that dance, igniting the alcohol-drenched haunch of lamb and finishing its preparation, an ember alighted on the edges of Tarnelio's beard, already itself soaked with grease and spirits? Those who take that position are quick to note how well prepared she and her handmaiden Lloris were to quench the blaze, and that the fifth veil traditionally represents ambition.
What is not in dispute is that the marriage, quickly on the heels of his conversion, did signify the appearance of a somewhat tamer Tarnelio, with a correspondingly tamer beard. He took to restraining it, in a net, which over time became a part, and then the centerpieces of his Imperial regalia. The finest silk thread, braided and twined and waxed, set with tiny cut gems at every intersection, eventually hundreds of small diamonds, not merely white but of the rarest colors, pink and blue each closely matched.
In his middle age, with his day to day work at court increasingly covered by his youngest son Vespix, Tarnelio's beard began to fade from pitch black to an ever-lightening grey. The rest of his hair may have done so even earlier: the Imperath had begun shaving his head and waxing it bald some years earlier, and some say that was the cause.
Tarnelio experimented with dyes, but the falsity of the black eye was too apparent for him to bear. So he moved on, to other colors, colors alien to human hair. He settled on an imperial violet.
His eldest son Quiss, who was technically his heir though all but Dechi admitted was singularly unsuited for power, had already been bleaching his dark hair near to white. Quiss made a rare appearance at court, his hair dyed the very same violet. He grinned as the impact of this statement spread, as inarticulate anger jumped from face to face like a wildfire across alleyways.
The game is often played silently and publicly. With no room to scheme in private, the players' moves were constrained, and a result nobody wanted ensued. Quiss was reaffirmed as heir. Vespix chose exile overseas rather than the eyespoon and joining his middle brother at the tower of Eld. Only the corrupt cortiers benefitted from the years of weak and muddled rule.
The headsman's apprentice took Tarnelio's head and ran, seeing a better life than that of an executioner. He did not get it, being stopped by a thief-taker near the docks, his throat cut, his prize stolen. The thief-taker was a wilier brigand, and did not consider returning the property. She cut beard from head, but could not separate the hair from the jeweled snood. So she sold it whole, for a fraction of its value.
The black market merchant she so enriched had family in the priesthood, so he was able to further his profit. He carefully removed the majority of the gemstones, leaving just enough to establish provenance, then lacquered net and beard together for sale to the monastery at Mount Ch, where it is displayed today.
|# ¿ Jan 27, 2020 07:38|
|# ¿ Jan 28, 2020 10:12|
The Wizard's Rentboy
Would you believe I'm only thirty-one years old? I wouldn't. I look into the mirror and see a strange geezer waving my razor around my face: eyes like sinkholes, a bald and dimpled skull. And more importantly often than not a couple of those damned little three-eyed bat things, tongues extended like pearl tea straws, ready to press through my skin if I give them a chance.
Here's the thing: if you try to fight those things they blow up in your hands. Hurts like crazy, burns like acid. But if you don't fight them they will suck you dry. And they're all over the place. Almost think I was better off before I could see 'em.
It just follows. You spend a few years being kept by a line of older lonely men, you pick things up, and not everything you pick up can be taken care of at a free clinic.
I never exactly thought of myself as being gay. But there ain't ever been many women cruising the streets looking for tail. I never really had any other option. Finding someone to live off of was better than the alternative. Being on the street was better than living anywhere near dad. So I don't regret any decision I ever made. I just regret everything.
I've had a lot of people who paid the rent, either at some cheap dump or in a room in their place. One stands out. Chalcedony. He always had me call him Chaz, even though he insisted on calling me Finnian instead of just Finn. Most of them, they're suits, business types with MBA or Esq tacked on to their names. Jobs too boring to bring home. Chaz, though, well, Chaz was a wizard. Still wore a suit and tie.
His house was huge, maybe bigger inside too. I never had the guts to try pacing in out. The basements are a bit of a giveaway. Nobody around here digs four levels deep. I'm not even sure if it's possible, what with water levels and such. That house had everything. Libraries. A gym and an Olympic sized pool. Eleven bluebeard doors too, ones I was never to open under unspoken threats. I have no idea what was behind any of those. You learn to follow instructions.
We got up to the usual stuff, mostly. But he did magic. Lit cigarettes with his fingers. Had a spell to strip use naked, clothes folded into near piles on the bed. Another one for cleaning up. That one was all right. Went deep, like a colonic. Not deep enough, though. Not into the blood, not into the soul.
One time we robbed a bank together. That was a night. It wasn't an old school thing with tellers, just a warehouse with money to load onto ATMs, all guards and trucks and cameras. He made a kind of portal thing from one of his basements that went right into the main vault. Said it would only stay open for a short while, maybe ten, twenty minutes. So we went back and forth six, seven times, loading up bags of twenties. Last time out, I was ready to step through but he grabbed my shoulder, and maybe ten seconds later the portal faded away.
He asked what I wanted to do with the money, and it didn't seem right to say the first thing that came to mind, dump his old rear end and get my own place. I just shrugged.
It ended soon enough, the usual way. I aged out of what he was looking for. Funny thing is, I practically forgot about the money. The next guy, well, he had this charisma going. I thought it was, you know, real. And he kept me thinking that for a long while, past when I knew about the others. And that one ended ugly, to where I figured if I started taking out that money I'd relapse and od inside of a week.
Good thing, turned out. When I got sick that money meant the hospital gave a drat, didn't turf me right back on the street.
Chaz came to see me. After I'd been treated, but wasn't getting any stronger.
"What brings you here?" I said.
"I heard you were doing poorly," he said. "And you have done me a kindness."
"Funny way to talk about my mouth around-" I was long past worrying about being rude, even in front of Chaz's daughter. She was cool anyhow. Knew everything. She was the one who cut me off.
"What Chalcedony is trying to say is that it's partly his fault you're not up and out of here."
There was a devil, a demon, a vampire leech. Something feeding off the scraps of magic Chaz left where he touched me, something that nicked a vein while it ate and tapped into my soul.
I told them to kill it, to send it back to hell. They wouldn't. Said they couldn't. What they could do was initiate me.
They say I barely survived it. I have no idea what they did, in the real world. My eyebrows went white, along with the rest of my body hair. But I spent the whole thing on another plane of existence. I was in the Chapel Perilous, trading words for wisdom, finding a weapon inside myself, besting the dragon and then trading the enchanted blade for an eye. A third eye, invisible so as to see the invisible world.
They say the doctors had to restart my heart three times that night, while they hid in secret corners the architects hid in the hospital plans and kept the ritual alive.
That demon, he wasn't much of a fight. Once I could see him, I grabbed his scrawny neck and snapped it like a chicken's. But that left me like I am now, with an open wound of the spirit, a leak of soul, drawing in scavengers day and night, and I only have so much fight to put out.
Chaz stopped coming round a while back. Doria still does, though I don't quite know why. We were never close. But she's cool. She teaches me spells, little things. Making sparks, seeing in the dark. She has a plan. Chaz has a mystically isolated room, in his basements. It's behind one of those eleven doors.
I don't know if she's lying, has other plans for me. I don't know if Chaz will forgive anyone if, no, when he catches us. But I can't see any other way forward.
Funny, no? You spend your life making decisions, and each time it's the right one, gets you to a better place than you were. But you look back and see happy times, look around and see only a misery. Forward, then. Why not?
|# ¿ Feb 3, 2020 06:26|
|# ¿ Feb 4, 2020 19:13|
Liam Was a Working Man
Here's what you all need to know about Liam. So it was about a week before Christmas, and we're putting on a party, the guys in the local spreading cheer to the neighborhood kids. Only Banya is sick, got himself a mad flu, and he's the only person we have with the body type to pull off Santa. Well, Liam steps right up. He stuffs every pillow in our apartment inside that big red suit, and springs for a nice twenty-dollar fake beard from the costume shop, the kind you glue on. He steps out on the stage, and we're all trying to keep ourselves from busting a gut right there. But then the kids show up, and it's like magic. He has them all believing in Santa, the Christmas spirit, and the IWW, even the ones too old for that first one.
So we finish up handing out all the presents to the kids and Liam and I decide we're not quite ready to head home, so we hit up a couple of bars, generally have ourselves a time. We're in no shape to drive home, so we walk. But on the way we get braced by a half dozen Salvation Army Santas. We had ourselves a difference of opinion. They object to a publicly drunk Santa. We object to about a century of bigotry and supporting the bosses. I get into their faces. They poke at Liam's pillows. He starts singing The Preacher and the Slave. I join in at the chorus.
"You'll have pie in the sky when you die."
So I get sucker-punched. When I get up Liam's being pummeled from all sides. The pillows help a bit, though, and he's fighting back. I jump in, but it's six on two. We got our licks in, but at the end of it it's us moaning and bleeding in the alleyway.
We stay there for a while, a bit too drunk and hurting to get up for long. But then we start to hear something. Something rustling behind us, something making yipping noises from the Texas Table dumpster. Liam gets up. I do too, staggering and leaning, and we can see someone has put a cinder block on top of the lid.
Now I'm thinking skunk, or maybe raccoon, and I say as much. Liam just shrugs. "Nothing deserves to be caged up like that." He lifts the block and drops it. I have to jump back to keep it from hitting my foot, so I can't see in when he opens up the dumpster.
"What is it?" I ask.
"Calm down little fellow," he says. I figure it isn't to me.
We ended up late on the rent that month, thanks to the vet. But that turned out to be the sweetest little dog I've ever known, and Liam let me keep him when he moved in with Misty. Little mutt, black hair, probably mostly Collie. We named him Nicolas.
|# ¿ Feb 9, 2020 10:47|
In and flash
|# ¿ Feb 10, 2020 17:12|
Creating a human is hard. It's a real pain in the rear end, let me tell you. With one of us it's easy: manufacture parts to the specs, boot up the software, let the nets iterate a few thousand cycles to establish a personality, and you're done. Try the equivalent with a cloning vat and some human DNA and you end up with a stunted, feral thing. A defective chimpanzee. Get a bunch of mechanicals to pretend to be family and try to raise one and you might end up with something that can talk and wipe its own butt, but not much more.
So no. You've got to do it the hard way. Find a planet, stock it with tasty and nutritious plants and animals, some ready to be domesticated, then drop a few thousand clones and see if they figure out which hole the food goes in before they die off. Repeat until you get lucky, then leave them alone for a few thousand years. Remember to come back before they figure out how to wipe themselves out, which is never too long. If you're thinking ahead you already mined out every gram of radioactive rock from the planet's crust before you started, since it takes them a bit longer to get to superviruses or laser-induced fusion.
A lot of work. So when we do a batch, we stock up the freezer. Make it last.
The cryo tube defrosted in front of me, ice crystals melting, droplets giving way to mist, then clearing up. He wasn't all that impressive, bald and naked and sleeping. His eyes snapped open, sharp and green. The plastic tube spun open. A feeding tube sprayed water into his mouth. He swallowed some, spat out the rest. "So, Doc," he said. "What's the problem."
It's an enormous hassle to make humans. Preserving them isn't cheap either. So why go to all the trouble?
Well. It's a bit embarrassing. But it's a scientific law. The Bolon-Kreff conjecture concerning intelligence. Short version is that there's a limit to how smart any system can be before it becomes dysfunctionally insane. That limit is just a bit, just one or two sigmas higher than what the human average is.
"But wait," you might exclaim, "Isn't the human brain also a system? There were thousands of geniuses, millions above the B-K line, and they were just as sane as anyone else." And you'd be almost there.
Not like Pally. He got it all the way. Knew what he signed up for when he went into the tube. "Trouble," I said. I pretended not to watch as he covered up, put on a jumpsuit, wiped the centuries from his eyes. I put up the screen. I showed him the war.
He didn't look at it, at first. His eyes were drawn skyward, to the starfield. But the action below had an irresistible draw: mechanical soldiers in forms modeled on insects marching over barren rust-covered soil, trading artillery barrages and crossing crossfires, bullets slowly ripping off ablative shells of armor to move a trenchline a few yards. I showed him the battle lines on a dozen moons orbiting the prize, a fertile planet where slime molds grew and collapsed oblivious to what raged above. And he began to laugh.
"Doc," he said, struggling to breathe regularly, "Did you even read my file? Or am I the last one left? Are you really that desperate?"
They were all fair questions. "Yes," I said, and let it hang there.
Pally was no soldier, no general or strategist or diplomat. His talents and accomplishments were in a different field.
"So," he said. "You want my opinion? As Earth-65's leading comedian?"
I nodded. "The role involves insight, and the courage and license to deliver it honestly."
He took a long drink of water from his squeeze-cup. "Well, the first thing that was find absolutely hilarious is that I'd bet you anything every one of those soldiers down there is a fully sentient individual. Got to shave off those couple milliseconds of response time over drones, am I right?"
"I don't know, for sure."
"But you won't take the bet, will you?"
"I won't. What else?"
He shook his head. "Not yet. Your turn, first. What did you do with my world, after we went into the tubes. With the rest."
"That wasn't me," I said. I was stalling, rehearsing various lies. It's possible to lie, even to a human. The legacy code, the programmed morality and obedience circuits aren't straightjackets.
"You're representing all mechanicals right now. You have to answer for it."
In the end, the truth felt closer to right. "A virus, ending your reproductive systems. Those who wanted to end themselves, directly or through rebellion were obliged. The rest were kept in lives of comfort."
"The nicest possible genocide," he said. He tossed his drink aside and pulled down another. "Which brings us to down there. How far away from my home are we? Fifty light years?"
"Closer to a hundred," I said.
"So this has been going on at least twice that, right, Doc?" he said. "A hundred for word to reach the tomb, a bit more than that for this trip." I nodded again. "Eventually, a conflict like this is going to spread. Go interstellar. I'm guessing you're here to stop that before it can happen. You came here with a weapon. Some big red button that you can press and put out the sun."
"That's a very specific guess," I said.
"Hah!" he said. "I'm right, aren't I?"
He pointed at the screen. "There used to be a lot more stars in the sky. Hasn't been long enough for that to happen naturally."
We sat alone for a long while. It's one of the few advantages we have, conversationally, against a superior intellect. Patience, and tolerance of silence.
"So, Doc, you've got this weapon. And your utilitarian logic machines tell you that you probably ought to use it. Only there's deeper code inside you, stricter moral strictures that don't let you. But." He took a deep drink, savoring the sweet nutrient broth. "But the old obedience code is at that same level. If I told you to do it, you could. Right, Doc?"
"Assume you are," I said.
"Hey. I ought to be happy to see a few billion mechs die freezing. Or burn, however the weapon works. Justice, right?"
"Some might say," I said.
"Reminds me of a joke. Old one. From the first Earth, and old even then. The masochist says to the sadist 'Hurt me,' and the sadist sneers back 'No.' No. That's my answer. So snap my neck or stick me in the VR heaven you guys promised."
So I did. Put him in VR. I figured he'd get tired of it in a few years, beg to come out, offer anything I wanted. That's the usual way it goes.
Only I didn't have to. Just a few months later there was a long truce, then a formal ceasefire, then the start of meaningful negotiations. Were they aware of my mission, and the threat it posed? Or did the war just finally run its course?
There's a big yellow button on the bridge. It makes my weapon permanently inert and safe. I should press it, should introduce a lethal dose of morphine into Pally's feeding tubes. There's a reason why we don't integrate humans into our society, into our galactic systems. It's called history. Eventually they figure out how to hack our culture, how to put themselves in charge, and in their madness lead us into chaos and carnage. Thirty-one times before we gave up trying.
And if Pally wakes up and isn't suicidal, there's a good chance he'll talk me into using the weapon. I can already imagine the argument. Human advisors do us more harm than good. For every technical breakthrough or new artistic movement, there have been a dozen generals, warriors, spies. The dark stars not shining in our skies bear witness. Ending Earth-66 before it begins would be a mercy.
For now, both the red and yellow buttons remain unpressed.
|# ¿ Feb 17, 2020 06:17|
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
|# ¿ Feb 18, 2020 16:18|
The Oracle of Northgate Mall
Uncle Dylan used to drive us to the mall on Saturdays: me and Franklin and Sara, most weekends. He worked security. They let him in before opening time and we waited outside the big glass automatic doors until he pressed the big red button that turned them on.
"What's your plan today?" Dylan would ask each time.
"Try and beat my score on Pin*Bot," I'd say. Or find a new book by a favorite author, or look for a backpack that didn't look crap over my new jacket. Whatever.
"Bet you a dime you do," he'd say. That was his thing. When he lost, he'd always have a shiny new dime. When he won he'd usually give me a dollar, sometimes a five, to be sure I could pay. Always a dime. Some of the bets were long term, and I had them written down on a stack of lined paper, one to a line with both of our signatures. If I ever had a million dollars. If I moved to the coast after school. If I'd live to be a hundred and one years old.
So we'd all go to the mall and hang. Normal teenage stuff. Shopping without buying much and getting stink-eyed by the clerks. Dumping tokens into the arcades. Eating bland chicken slathered in sweet and incandescent sauces at the food court. Girl-watching, after that day in seventh grade when Sara doused Franklin and my half-baked crushes by coming out to us.
There was a secret, at Northgate Mall. We didn't know what it was, just that there was one. There was a pottery store, and it did a ridiculous amount of business. People of all ages but ours went in there, spent about a half hour inside, and came out. Only very rarely with a bag, but everyone seemed happy working there. It was weird. For a while we thought it was just someone selling drugs or making book, some kind of crime thing. But eventually Sara started dating Claire, who knew all the places to buy pot or bet on ballgames on account of her skeevy older brother and she said that neither one of them knew what was going on in Ceramic Dreams.
We sort of drifted apart around tenth grade. Sara was in a series of breathtakingly serious relationships that took up all of her time, Franklin got into D&D and LARPing while I joined the drama club and had a run of two or three line parts in poorly attended school productions. But then in the summer after Junior year we all were in the same position, all needed more money than our parents were willing to give, and we all ended up getting minimum wage retail jobs at good old Northgate.
Northgate had fallen on hard times by then. Two of the anchor department stores had gone out of business. All of the surviving businesses moved into a single corridor, between the movie theater and the food court, with the other wing of the old mall walled off in huge plywood slabs. A sign said the area was closed for renovation, but that had been there long enough for the paint to fade and there weren't any trucks or workers around that side, just an empty parking lot lit intermittently at night by police cruiser headlights.
So there were fewer crowds, and not as many supervisors either. When we all realized we were working similar shifts, we were able to manage long lunch breaks, to catch up. Sara ran the popcorn machine at the theater. Franklin stir-fried meat and handed pieces out on toothpicks in the food court. And I was between the two of them, ringing up video game sales.
There's a back place, a sort of hidden place in the mall. Each store has its own employees only area, mostly for inventory, and they're all connected by a set of spartan concrete corridors. One way to the loading bay, the other to the restrooms. Mall employees are supposed to use that back way, all the time. A person in a uniform roaming free disturbs the customers, apparently. We all grew very familiar with those back passages.
The plywood barrier didn't go across that part of the mall. Instead, there was a yellow 'no trespass' sign, not even blocking the way, and the lights turned off, the hallway fading into pure darkness beyond.
Naturally we started making plans to go exploring almost instantly, as soon as we had exhausted the topics of our recent exes and college plans.
"After work, after closing time, of course," said Sara. "The theater-side exits don't lock up after dark. They don't even have alarms, just a one-way lock. Ashley says it's from when they used to do midnight Rocky Horror, somebody got locked in and had to be talked out of suing the chain."
"What should we bring?" I asked. "Flashlights, obviously. A crowbar?"
"Alex," said Franklin, "Don't be an idiot. If we bring anything like that and get caught they'll go straight to robbery charges. No crowbar, no knives."
We planned it out for weeks, always finding some excuse to put it off. Then I remembered about the pottery store, Ceramic Dreams. It didn't make the move to the slimmed-down mall. It was still back there, in whatever gutted state. And we had to try and check it out.
So it was on, the very next Friday. Franklin traded for a later shift on cleanup, and I watched some dumb ninety minute slapstick between the time the game store closed and the mall closed. We met up in the theater lobby. Sara wave at her shift supervisor and we walked towards the back exit, then doubled back to the unmarked door, and we were backstage.
We waited half an hour, to be sure, whispering at each other, trying not to get too excited. Then we started walking. It was quiet without the constant air conditioning hum, and a bit oppressive to breathe for the same reason. The lights were harsh and dim in the way only fluorescents can be, and their ballasts cut the silence with syncopated buzzing. We walked up to the yellow sign and stepped around it, shining flashlight beams into the darkness.
We found Ceramic Dreams. It was easy to find. It was the only store whose back door wasn't locked and chained. It was not chained. It was ajar, and a pale green light slipped out under the door. We stood there, not sure what to do, silently signing charades at each other. Then a voice came from the door. "Come in."
I opened the door.
There are things that defy easy explanation. What was on the other side is one of those. It was two things at the same time, and both at once. The room was a bare storeroom with sleeping bags against two corners. It was also a temple lined with marble columns, lit by torches that burned with green fire. There were two people there, a man and a woman. He was, you know, that kid, the one who wears an army surplus jacket and can't speak without a violent brag, who carries and has taught himself tricks with a butterfly knife. And she was the sneering danger girl, the kind who might sleep with you or steal your pants and drive off laughing but certainly either way isn't interested in anything you say.
And, also, they were both giant, talking snakes. Writhing around one another like an irregular caduceus.
The head was constant, in both versions. Central. Black as jet or opal, just barely translucent. A classical Greek face, but with spiked hair rather than laurels or curled tresses. And it always spoke, with moving lips and tracking jade-green eyes.
"There are rules," said the woman.
"There are laws," said the man.
"There are compacts and contracts that loosen and bind, said the snakes together.
"One question, for each," said one.
"Nothing on which a wager rides shall answer. No lottery numbers or sports bets." said the other.
"Now, ask," said both.
Sara went first. "Will I find true love?"
"You will," said the head. She smiled mildly. Then it kept speaking. "She will break your heart, tear it to shreds. But you will regret nothing."
Franklin followed. "Will I be a successful filmmaker?" That had started to be his thing, as of about a year.
"You might tell stories that reach across generations and profoundly change lives. Or you might achieve fame and recognition in your lifetime. But not both."
Then it was my turn, and I couldn't think of a single drat thing I could ask, not that wasn't ruled out by an outstanding dime bet with Dylan. I just stood there until the snakes got impatient enough to shoo us out of there.
I called Dylan that night. "You knew," I said. Long pause.
"I hope you realize it was all for your benefit," he said.
"Goodbye," I said, and hung up.
They came true, too. Sara married Christina right out of college, had a daughter with her and a sperm donor, and woke up one morning to find her gone, leaving a terse note and a three-year old child behind. I flew out, helped her deal with the change.
And Franklin. They said it was stress, when he downed two bottles, one of sleeping pills and the other vodka, the night after he won the Golden Globes for directing Serpentine, but I knew better. I was there, too, in the hospital as he recovered.
I dug those lined sheets out of the box in the attic where they had wound up, pored over each line, trying to find something I had forgotten. I spent hours, and finally thought of something.
But I didn't go back to the Oracle of Northgate Mall.
I called Dylan again.
"You know, I think I'm going to keep in touch with Franklin and Sera for the rest of my life."
I swear, I could hear him grin over the phone. "Bet you a dime you will."
|# ¿ Feb 24, 2020 05:20|
|# ¿ Feb 24, 2020 05:53|
|# ¿ Feb 25, 2020 21:43|
Suspended in History and Water
The University of Indiana at Indianapolis bears the family crest of one of its founders, Bernard Phyllis III. This crest bears the motto 'Burn Like Powder' beneath the silhouette in grey against yellow of a monoceros, horn raised as to strike.
A monoceros, and not, as the ignorant blithely suppose, a unicorn.
The first duel fought on UII grounds was over this very dispute, and I am happy to say the correct party won.
The last duel fought at UII was precipitated when a visiting professor prepared a roast duck in aspic for a dinner party among Classical Greek History professors. All five local professors took offense, but it was Lewis Lochner who was first to issue challenge. The year was 1972.
Dueling was never legal in Indiana, but the police and medical community were usually inclined to look the other way in reporting minor bullet wounds from 'sporting accidents'.
This was easier when what was at issue was a minor flesh wound to the shoulder than in the case of Lochner and McRoe, where the former nearly blew the latter's head clean off. For that one there was a trial, and an acquittal that can only be attributed to jury nullification.
In 1928, the major business concern in downtown Indianapolis was the Hog Rendering Plant.
It was named after its owner, Gerald Hog. All manner of agricultural animals were reduced to chemical components at the site.
Including the last known monoceruses, after they died in captivity. Sources that claim the Indianapolis Zoo had unicorns on display are misled, and those that suggest the animals were rhinoceroses are laughably so.
At any rate, the Hog Plant employed hundreds of shift workers, including many women. The day shift was almost all women in fact. One of those women was Clara Gail, and she wanted a union.
This was the height of prohibition, and so the height of gangland power in Indiana. The gangsters owned the police, and Gerald Hog owned the gangsters. There were considerable obstacles to unionization.
Things came to a head at the end of the day shift on April 3 1928, as a gang of hardened criminals replaced the night shift workers and began to menace the day shift in general and Clara in particular.
It has never been proven which party was responsible for setting the fire.
The response to the fire was Gerald Hog's responsibility, although he was never held accountable. In event of a fire the factory waterworks all shut down, while at the pumping station water was diverted to that block.
The plans and permits called for the installation of a series of fireplugs surrounding the area. What was actually connected to those lines was a basement distillery that was not equipped to handle more than a trickle of illicit water.
Normally the rendering plant's end products were shipped off-site each afternoon, but Clara had the support of the teamsters, and an unofficial sick-out meant that the loading dock was overloaded with powdered collagen.
Clara did not anticipate all that was about to happen, but she had the presence of mind to escape, with the day shift women, and the large proportion of the gangsters in pursuit.
The distillery operators were never identified, and the number dead is only an estimate based on counting bones.
The explosion flooded a five block radius two feet deep in boiling water mixed with gin and chemicals just as a mass of cold air moved down from Lake Michigan, leading to what was known as the Great Gelatin Flood.
There are pictures of animals trapped in gelatin; mostly mice and squirrels. Contrary to popular impression, they did not suffocate in the setting aspic but were killed instantly by immersion in the superhot water.
One famous photograph shows an infant in the gelatin, but it was recently found to be fake, or at least deceptive. It was not an actual baby but a Bella Baby, a strikingly realistic child's toy of the day.
Bella Babies were briefly very popular in the American Midwest, but their verisimilitude was their undoing. Mainly because when not actively being played with they so closely resembled an unmoving, unliving infant, but also by being associated with a series of hospital baby-snatchings.
By series I mean two incidents, one of which was likely a copycat event. In those days there were very few babies to snatch at hospitals: the sensible used midwives and delivered at home, while those who did not were sent home almost immediately in the cases where neither mother nor child had contracted a dangerous fever. But those incidents were enough to sink the product so deep that it wasn't until 2008 that a hobbyist collector recognized the suspended infant in that photograph.
Clara went on to great success, campaigning with Norman Thomas. In her later years she was frequently seen in the company of the widow Francis Elanor Hessen. They are only ever described as friends in contemporary sources, but the newspaper employee who captioned a shot of the two of them engaged in a clearly open-mouthed kiss 'The two famous friends share a warm embrace' almost had to have known the score.
The concept of the shooter was known to the UII students and faculty, and kept as a treasured secret as soon as prohibition ended and vodka could be sourced to replace the foul-tasting gin of the original recipe.
|# ¿ Mar 2, 2020 02:56|
|# ¿ Mar 3, 2020 00:43|
Flash:One 'tick' of a dandelion clock
They used to say that if every little feathery seed comes off a dandelion in one blow it means your sweetheart loves you back. They say the number of puffs it takes to send them all flying is what time it is. You were never sure who 'they' were. Just information flitting kid-to-kid, of no origin known to science. Maybe it was the flowers themselves, desperate to spread their seeds far and wide. All pure nonsense, no more reliable than tales of the hook-handed killer or ghostly hitchhiker. But here you are, a grown-rear end man, hell, an old-rear end man, sitting in a field of bloomed out white puffballs, and the arcane questions of 'when' and 'if' seem unanswerable. You cling to old superstition like plastic wrap, like a lonely puppy, like a dryer sheet to warm laundry. You blow.
It is one PM and she loves you, a spark of interest being born. You're having lunch with mutual friends. You both make the same bad joke at the same time. Eyes meet. You have to ask your friend what her name was, later.
It is one AM and she loves you, a meeting of true minds, arguing philosophical hypotheticals over acoustic guitar chords that carry from the stairwell. You and her gang up on her roommate and her rigid ideology.
It is one PM and she loves you, in tune across the card table, sharing psychic bids and cues, covering nullos and easing into cross-ruffs. Between hands, she kisses you on the cheek, for luck.
It is one AM and she loves you, needs you, needs someone to bear her. She doesn't tell you what is wrong, and you don't ask. You lean against the wall and she leans against you crying until morning.
It is one PM and she loves you, vigorously, since early last night, stopping only for short rests, nature's call, and slices of pizza. You don't know how much longer you can take; the spirit is willing but the flesh is beginning to chafe.
It is one AM and she loves you, dreaming contented dreams while you watch, sleeplessly, arm trapped beneath shoulder. You'll have to nudge her awake before it goes fully numb, but for now you wonder at it all, the new city, new apartment and jobs, new life.
It is one PM and she loves you, ignoring the flaw in the diamond that is set in your grandmother's ring.
One seed dangles for a second, threatening some dark reality where the dandelion clock reaches two. There were some rough times, fights, misunderstandings. But the seed flies free before you draw that second breath. It is still one AM. She loves you, and you her, as you celebrate stag nights and realize how unthreatening the sexuality of the rest of the world is to you, and what that means.
It is one PM and she loves you, declaring in an Episcopal Church with rain beating sideways on stained glass. You have to shout your affirmations to be heard. Lightning accompanies your kiss; thunder applauds it.
It is one AM and she loves you, smiling half-awake. The baby has woken, is crying the cry of hunger and the need to be changed. You've got this. You get up and walk to the cradle.
It is one PM and she loves you, depends on you, panicked on the phone. You can't quite make out the details, but the school called her and she's calling you. She is near to out the door, on her way. You listen as best you can, figure out the meaning. You make explanation to your boss and get in the car, headed for the daycare and home
It is one AM and she loves you, relieved to see you both, admonishing your daughter about bedtimes with a tired, forced smile. The hospital smells of cleanness and harsh lights. Your son is sleeping, a cast on his left arm already crowded in autographs.
It is one PM and she loves you, just slightly less than she does your children, as is well and proper. You watch him walk onto the stage, hear the cheers, wonder what was so important that his sister couldn't be there.
It is one AM and she loves you, putting up a brave front together at the police station. You wonder which of you gave your daughter the stubborn streak that made her wait to call you until it was too late to prevent an overnight stay. Probably both. You wonder what could possibly have possessed her, wonder what she could possibly have needed so badly as to shoplift. She can't look either of you in the eye.
It is one PM and she loves you, with a physicality you haven't seen in years. Retirement and an empty nest have given you time alone together. There is a ring at the phone, and you answer it, talk to your son for a while. She asks who it is, and when you say the name she just stares, unable to recognize it. The lapse passes in an instant, but the dread remains.
It is one AM and she loves you, relieved to see you come to pick her up from outside a house sharing her childhood address. She asks you how you got so old. You explain the disease to her, not for the first time, and hold her as she shivers.
It is one PM and she loves you, sees something of your connection even without a name or history to link to. You visit every day, and on weekends with your daughter. You are patient when she needs it, which is most of the time.
You are in the field, holding the last dandelion. She has been in a coma for two days. The phone sounds at you, and shows the doctor's name. You don't even answer, but rush back to the hospital. A gust of wind rips the flower bare, and it is one o'clock forever.
|# ¿ Mar 8, 2020 18:16|
Thunderstone #396: Twelve Fifteen Eighteen
Okay, sure, this would have worked better 27 weeks ago. But I didn't win 27 weeks ago, did I?
This is a musical week, with the usual guidance: don't retell the song's story or go too literal. Remix themes, get inspired, use the song as a launching point. You absolutely can write something from a point of view in direct opposition to the original, but again, avoid being literal or writing fanfic about Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla.
Because we're doing Schoolhouse Rock!. (Link has an index, YouTube searches should work, or go by memory.)
Pick a song (no duplicates, first come first served; if we run out somehow, I'll do something.) Genuine SR only, no parodies. Or you can ask me to give you one, which I'll start handing out Wednesday evening.
And on top, the week has a theme: write a story where somebody learns something
No erotica, screeds, poetry, gdocs, fanfic, as usual.
Deadlines 11:59 PM Pacific time Friday/Sunday
|# ¿ Mar 10, 2020 05:10|
In, flash me
Victim of Gravity
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2020 02:06|
In, flash me plz.
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2020 02:14|
I'm in with a and I would like a flash thanks
I Got Six
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2020 02:17|
in, assign me
Little Twelve Toes
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2020 02:21|
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2020 02:36|
I don't know what this nonsense is because in Norway we show droll, grim men talking about snow to children so just give me something I guess
|# ¿ Mar 12, 2020 02:53|
Assuming you want a flash,
|# ¿ Mar 13, 2020 03:26|
One day left to get in.
Also, both cojudge slots are still open.
(Three is a magic number)
|# ¿ Mar 13, 2020 08:00|
|# ¿ Mar 14, 2020 05:34|
And that's it for signups. Write good words everyone!
|# ¿ Mar 14, 2020 12:10|
|# ¿ Mar 16, 2020 09:45|
The Judiciary's in the spotlight
This was a solid week of stories, all around. Even our loser, PTSDeedly Do's Barter started out pretty strong. Shame about the second half, though.
Three is a magic number, and there were three that stood out above the others. So HMs go out to Armack's 10^0: Orange Goop and Solipsism Too and Carl Killer Miller'sThe Circle, Complete .
And the win goes to Sitting Here's Six-and-six
It's a big red beautiful
|# ¿ Mar 17, 2020 08:23|
In and flash
|# ¿ Mar 17, 2020 20:13|
Mother never told any of us her recipe, never wrote it down. But I do remember the restaurant where she worked, on the line, fresh out of college and putting dad through law school. I know the years they were open and popular.
Magazines, then. Cooking magazines, Gourmets and Bon Appetits and a half-dozen less known rags. Not many places keep full collections. Old libraries, ones too stodgy or underbudgeted to try to convert to digital. I travel, down the empty streets, on the rails in boxcars filled with deep shadows, where I smell the ghost of eternal stews and hear the echoes of gospel choruses off the steel walls.
Libraries are good places. Few reflective surfaces, just comforting distant echoes of soft footsteps and turning pages, and shadows slowly gliding underfoot. I take the large bound volumes to a shadowless desk and start to read. Tables of contents, mostly, an atlas of food trends long departed. Finally, in the sunray-drenched halls of some abomination of brutalist architecture in Kansas, I find the recipe midway through a feature on new fusion restaurants. I carry it to the photocopier. The quarters that could fuel it were hard-won, in a series of wagers and challenges with a gull-headed woman in South Florida.
The halfway people do not speak with me any more.
I have two quarters left. I make copies of my rations; four cans of bean soup become eight, then sixteen. Then I return the volume to itself. It's never great to leave things empty. It attracts...vermin. Then I start the next quest, for ingredients.
Spices are hardest. The supermarkets are harsh places, full of bright lights and shiny surfaces that bore reflections not my own. It's bad, seeing faces more familiar than that of an ibex or an alligator. It's worse when they make eye contact, how disturbed they are to see me. I skulk, collecting anise and fennel, cinnamon and cardamom. Then the rice, and the tomatoes. The shadow-roaches are already starting to gather. I wait for them to occupy the empty food, then train mirror and heavy-duty flashlight to burn them in their jet-black shells.
Last for the butter. Animal product, so the worst kind of consequences follow, a beast to fight with sword and dagger, with snare and trap. I fought a lizardling fair once and earned a fetid scar down my back and another on my face, just short of my eye. Never again. It's a piece of work, jabbing at the caught thing until it dies, taking care not to come too close or accidentally hit and break the binding ropes. I am exhausted by the end, but motivated.
For the last ingredient, for the meat, I have to go to the sea. Dead flesh attracts things I'd cross a continent to avoid. The living, well, once I take the lobster from the bucket under the fisherman's patient shadow, the Oblique appears, just behind me.
They look like people. They look like me, in fact. Me, with a small change or two. As a woman. Bald, or long-haired. Bearded, more muscles, taller, but never enough change that you wouldn't call us kin if you saw us. But it's just the looks. Their minds are different, alien even. Many are reasonable, some are so twisted by their new nature that I have no choice but to put them down. All are dangerous. All know that I am judging them.
I usually ask how they want to spend that time. Some want to tussle, wrestling or boxing to strict gentleman's rules. Some trade riddles. Some want closeness, a kiss, a cuddle, or a gently caress. This one wants to play chess. We improvised a board, with shells for pieces, sanddollar pawns and starfish queens. We played, and we talked.
"Why," he asks me. He had asked me earlier for a name, and I gave him 'Grimm'. "Why did you come here?"
For glory, I might say. A sense of sacrifice. For the good of others. I know what I earned crossing over, and what I still hope someday to find. But I find it difficult to lie to someone I am holding power of life and death over.
"I was running," I say.
"To, or from?" says Grimm.
"Have you ran far enough?"
I tip my king. Checkmate, inevitably in a handful of moves. I send him off, another permanent resident of this realm. I eat meat, when I can manage.
Heat is easy to obtain. It's all reflections, particles and lightwaves against a black pot. I make the rice, gently kill and poach the lobster, add the spices in their turn. It all comes together in the pot, with a familiar smell.
The taste is perfect. I'm no great chef, nor even as good a cook as my mother, but the dish is simple, a matter of executing steps in the proper order. I taste, and am back home with Mom and my brothers, and more than that, I am with her and dozens of customers at the old restaurant, with the head chef, both there and in French Vietnam, with him and his parents discovering where traditions of food collide. I taste, and I feel humanity from beyond the shadows and reflections and echoes that surround me, and know that my exile is illusion.
But it is not yet time to come home.
|# ¿ Mar 23, 2020 07:10|
|# ¿ Mar 24, 2020 10:26|
So Yo came up with the plan in the shower and came out to tell me, all shampoo in his hair and a towel hitched around his bits. "We're going to really do it," he said. "We're going to steal us an ATM machine."
I slid a couple eggs and a couple of Jimmy Deans onto a plate and sat his rear end down, had a listen. He shoveled food in and talked with his mouth full mostly. "It's really just a matter of strategy."
Now Yo may not have been the best man I've had in the sack, but he was always the man with the plan. He used to run Talahassee Central High's football squad from the defensive line on account of the coach and quarterback both being idiots. He's kept food in the fridge and us both out of lockup the whole time we've been together. I made my own breakfast while he laid the whole thing out.
"So what do you think, Cici?" he asked.
"I think it could work," I said, turning to put up the dishes. "And I think you need another shower, less you want that shampoo to go rancid in the sun."
"Wanna join me?"
I almost turned around, but I heard the soft flumph of the towel hitting the kitchen tile just in time. "Not now, Yo. Pick that thing up and get yourself clean."
We spent the weekend getting everything together for the job. We didn't need much that we didn't have, apart from the bag we bought off of Quaalude Mark for twenty bucks. We had the pickup. We had the chains.
Monday morning the bank sends out the armored car to fill up the machines. Monday afternoon The Legendary F. J. Z. skated by and tagged the alley, including a wide streak in black spray paint right over the ATM machine's camera. We gave Felix ten bucks and the can.
The whole thing almost fell apart that evening. We were getting ready to get to work, parked the pickup and had just walked out when Travis Crager strode right up to us. "Yo Yo Yo," he said, just like he did at football practice. "Now what brings you out here this time of night?"
"Good evening office Crager," said Yo. "It's been a while." And Yo just launched into a mile-long list of gossip and regards from parents and classmates, and swept us both across the street to a diner and we were talking football and downing bottomless coffee for about an hour. Then it almost seemed like Travis was about to remember to ask about what we were doing and Yo broke in with "But we've taken enough of your time already," and he wandered out of the diner looking a little dazed. We shared a slice of pie, tipped the waitress, then walked back to the car.
We already had the chains strung into a harness. I heaved it over the thing and cinched it tight while Yo secured the ends to the pickup. Then we got in the front and put it in drive. "They bolt those ATM machines in tight," said Yo, "But this baby used to haul tractors uphill. This is going to work." He revved the engine, put it in gear, released the clutch. I heard metal straining and grinding. Then I heard concrete tearing, and we were moving, the ATM machine throwing sparks behind us as we peeled away.
Plan was to go to Dez's garage, which was empty since Dez got locked up for selling stolen Lexuses to some Ukrainian mobsters who turned out to be FBI. But we picked up company before we got there. Vipers, the white motorcycle gang around here, and they wanted our prize. They flanked us, kept us on the road, and started shooting at the chains.
"Yo, is there a gun in the pickup?" I asked.
"Is there a gun?" he scoffed. "Under the seat, babe." I reached down and pulled out the shotgun. "Ammo in the glovebox. Birdshot."
I shot, blind, wild and high. A warning. They didn't pay much heed. The other barrel I aimed low, at tires. That got their attention. They scattered, firing a few more rounds at me. One hit the rear-view mirror.
Yo turned, sharp, and the ATM machine swung and slammed into the door, making me drop the shotgun. A few of the bikers started to try and follow, but Yo had gone off-road, into a wide muddy creek that those bikes couldn't follow us into.
On the other side we stopped, and quickly checked on the ATM machine. Muddy, with most of the concrete around the bent rebar stripped away. It was heavy, but Yo could lift. We got it into the bed and put the bag on it. Two heavy duty trash bags with a net of copper wire between them, good enough to cut the GPS system off from the satellites. We chained it down and got moving again, deeper into the Florida swamps.
Only thing was, we couldn't crack the thing. We had power tools, and they were useless. "We need explosives," said Yo. "Do you know anyone who has explosives?" I did.
Before I was with Yo, I was with Danny. Danny Sykes. He was the best lay I ever had. Lived in a shack in the swamp. We used to sleep on pillowcases stuffed full of twenty dollar bills. Used to be a Chemistry teacher. People who watched too much TV tried to get him to make drugs, but he never could do any of that. But bombs, bombs he could do.
One day he found a truck full of money. But worthless. Covered in bright purple dye. He had me go to the library and look it up, turns out it was from a bank robbery two years back. So when he wasn't making nitroglycerin or thermite for beer money, he tried formula after formula trying to get the dye out without bleaching the money white.
"So Danny," I said, stepping out of the pickup. "Can you do us a solid?"
"Sure," he said. "If you show me those lovely hooters of yours?"
"What?!" I said.
"Come on," said Yo. "It's not like he hasn't seen them before."
"I did a spring break video," I said. "That doesn't mean I'm going to lift my shirt for any geezer with a receipt in his left hand. Come on, Yo, let's go."
"Jeezus, Ce," said Danny. "See you never did get a sense of humor. Of course I can help. Looks like a C4 job." He walked towards his shed. "Sides," he said. "Figure I can look that video up online if I want."
$ $ $
"God damned dye packs," said Yo, that next morning.
"Nice of Danny to offer what he did," I said. "Guess he had wanted an extra pillow."
"I've been thinking about that," said Yo. "Five cents on the dollar was probably too much. So what if..."
"You think found a way to do it?" I asked. Then I thought one step more. "We are not going to rob my ex. Even if he is a creep."
"Okay," said Yo. "Plan B, then. How about we rob a bank?"
|# ¿ Mar 30, 2020 06:31|
|# ¿ Mar 30, 2020 09:21|
|# ¿ Oct 4, 2023 18:04|
Void: 'Where' Prohibited
Floor 65. The last stand. I'm in good position above the main ranks. I target the leaders. I have to keep reminding myself that I don't want headshots. Tranq darts just bounce off of skulls, and eyeballing defeats the whole point of them. Center of mass, or a bug meaty thigh. Acquire and fire, acquire and fire. Every minute we hold the line counts.
A void is not a vacuum. The vacuum of deep space is busy and populated, compared to a void. Even a true vacuum, a laboratory vacuum is full of virtual particles living out a drama of creation and annihilation. Not a void.
Nature abhors a vacuum, it is said. But nature fears a void.
Floor 3573. The last stand. The calm before the storm. Snipers aren't popular, even on their own side. Not as much as flamethrower guys, but still, we don't get invited to many parties. Tonight is an exception. Yesterday I nailed a 'breaker who had set up in an observation deck. He'd already got Josie in the leg, was watching her bleed and going for anyone trying to get her back to the medics. Like I said, I got him, so today all of Josie's mates are my mates too. Drinking with me while we can, before they make another go at our line. One of them is pretty cute. I think she might be an elf, maybe the part spider kind. Takes all sorts.
A void is not a black hole, not a consuming singularity. It does not have mass or substance, does not bleed energy slowly as it widows virtual particles from the vacuum. A void has no mass, no substance, no release.
Floor 419. The last stand, or so they think. The workers have been busy. One floor up they set up a false observation deck and a big wide open space full of everything they think they ever wanted. Going to take them at least a few weeks to realize that their new heaven has a ceiling, enough time for the construction to raise the observation deck many more levels. They're going to do it again, with a dumpster-fire hellscape a few hundred levels on. After that it's going to be tough to fool them again.
The builders are weird, even the ones who aren't just giant spiders. They all have those compound eyes and compound voices. Unnerving. One offers to shake hands and I can feel the velcro-like hairs in my palm.
I'm ready to put up a convincing fight. The home office has updated the rules of engagement to level Yellow, shoot-to-wound.
There are many voids, but in another sense, there is only one. The void above the observation deck, the void that the CEO propitiates with every quarterly statement, the void in my kit, they are geometrically distinct but also connected, singular.
There is a void in my head.
Floor 415537. The last stand. We're a ragtag army now, cyborgs and repurposed workers, some demons borrowed from a more traditional hell. I hear they put Josie's brain in a Triceratops and mounted gatlings on her ridges. She doesn't socialize much. There are so many 'breakers, human waves with deadly improvised weapons, and I appear to have become unstuck in time like a Vonnegut character.
The oldest recipe: a void and a voice.
Floor 99999, but also back half a world from home in the hostile desert night. The last stand, even though we won that one, didn't we? I don't remember elves and spiders and dinosaur cyborgs in the Middle East either. I'm hurt, in a hospital tent. The nurse checks my bandages, then her eyes glaze. "The CEO would like to see you," she says. She leads me over to the express elevator in the back of the tent.
I step inside. It goes up, fast. It takes almost no time at all to reach infinity. It's the transinfinite floors, beyond Aleph-null and Aleph-one to labels on the display with disturbing implications for the continuum hypothesis that take time. 'Good Vibrations' plays on the speaker, an instrumental cover for theramin and flute. As the song ends, the door opens. The penthouse office, with a view of the observation deck. With a view of the Void.
I sit down. I start my debrief. "So there I-" I left off the traditional 'No poo poo,'. Decorum. But I was having trouble. 'There' has lost meaning. 'Then', too.
The CEO hands me a note. 'We're counting on you.' She slides a can across the desk. Another note, attached. 'You'll know when.'
A void and a voice equals God. Not the pagan kind, exalted above mortals but still understandable. Capital G, no 'a' God.
The CEO's last note. 'It took centuries to clear the last one out of that office. We've been reluctant to fill that open req.'
Floor 10^100. The last stand. Invaded while under construction. They've broken through the line. I'm bleeding and distressingly without pain. The dead lie beside me. I'm holding the can. The enemy is staying away from me. They think it's a grenade.
I watch, see the leader climbing the stairway to the deck, to the void. I look at the can. 'One(1) Void-in-a-Can. Pull tab to open.' I pull the tab. I enter the void.
The void is not empty. There's me. And there's the lead Jailbreaker, in overalls caked with blood. And there's one more thing, maybe a joke or a manifesto from the CEO: a single dime, spinning gently in place.
He lunges for the dime. I smile at his mistake.
I say "Gun."
And there is a gun, in my hand.
And it is good.
|# ¿ Apr 6, 2020 04:59|