Friday, September 7, 2012

If It Comes in a Can, It Must Be Good

"Bampton, you still up there? Don't make me pour those faeries down your throat. Again."

A breeze caught the tuft of Bampton's hair that even when slicked with hair product managed to stick upright. He fiddled with the flat tin on his desk and the clothespin beside it.

"Bampton, I'd better see your shadow racing across the yard. If I get another note from the school that you're late, no more Quidditch practice with your friends for a month."

Bampton sighed. His mother did not understand. She thought he didn't want to eat the faeries because he was subscribing to that vegan literature the goody two shoes was spreading at school. He figured they were already dead, so it wasn't carnivore-ism. He just hated the smell.

He pinched the clothespin over his nose and peeled back the tin's lid. A dozen faeries lie side by side. The faces blue. They stank just like a rotten walrus washed up on the beach. Even through the clothespin. He scrunched his eyes shut and poured the faeries into his mouth. They were soft, gooey things, and he hated the texture. His eyes popped open as he floated and bumped his knees against the bottom of the table. The novelty of flying still held a little magic. He grinned as he grasped the edges of his window to fling himself into the sky.

Time to fly to school.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Book Lover's Wife

Edward cringed at the squeak of the opening cellar door and the accompanying dry rasping scratches of his wife's footsteps. Her soulweight, for it could be nothing else since she weighed so little, made the wooden makeshift stairs creak.

He set down his collector's edition of the Fellowship of the Ring and turned to catch her flouncing the last few steps toward him.

"Is my little dove hiding from me?" She reached out with a hand, blackened from the smudged newsprint. Other parts, especially the photo of him and her that had been run in the obituary molded just a little off center over her left breast, weren't as smudged.

He rubbed his forehead to keep the migraine away. Whether it was some allergy he'd developed to newsprint or just her fiery temper, he didn't know. But, it would be better not to answer her question. "Were you looking for me?"

She tiptoed to look over his shoulder. "Books. Should I be jealous?"

She didn't wait for an answer, but pulled him from the bench. Her newspaper dreadlocks brushed against him. He'd managed to capture her body so well, but it turned out hair was something that couldn't be rendered from the cut out stories of the serial killing. He missed the texture of her mid-shoulder blonde strands.

She raised an eyebrow and licked a lip in the way that he'd found so attractive when they had met on the blind date. But after marriage it had disappeared. Until he'd raised her. The newspaper had kindled a passion horny teenaged boys yearned for in their dreams. Unfortunately, dreams skimmed over inconvenient facts.

"I need a man to fill my bed." The dark empty pits of her eyes crinkled. "And other things."

He squirmed to escape her arms. Passion led to only one thing. Papercuts. "I can't."

"But, I need you."

He grabbed his copy of the Fellowship of the Rings and held it between them like a shield. The sacrifice had been difficult to contemplate before she'd descended the stairs, but her presence made the decision easy.

"The book is useless to me," she said.

"Not useless." He tried to stifle the jealousy from his voice but knew he'd failed. She'd never read the book, but had loved Viggo Mortensen on the silver screen. "I can make another one, like you." Aragorn had been his favorite character in the books, but he wouldn't think of the man the same after molding him into life.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Bill squinted against the glare of the magelight that lit his path towards Billy's bedroom. His son's scream caught and died away when Bill pushed the door open.

Billy's face, red and puffy, indicated he'd cried for a while before becoming worked up enough to scream. Bill was the king's mage and his son should understand illusions. Not get worked up over things that went bump in the night. He tried to hide the annoyance he felt. It wouldn't calm the boy if he let it show.

"What's wrong?"

Billy leaned over the side of the bed and pointed underneath. "Something's down there."

Bill sat on the edge of his son's bed and stroked his fingers through the child's hair. Waiting for the child to calm. He was going to be too awake after this to fall back to sleep. He'd already begun to think about the pyrotechnics the king had asked for tomorrow's battle.

Once Billy's shaking stopped, Bill took his hand. "Look, there isn't anything under the bed."

"No, I'm not getting off the bed."

"I'll be here. I'll be with you." Bill tugged at the boy's arm, but the boy dug his feet into the boards holding the side of the bed. He was getting too heavy to lift.

"It's hiding."

"Look." Bill took a deep breath, stopping himself from what he was going to say. "I'm sorry." He pointed under the bed. "It's not what is down here that matters. But what is in your mind."


Bill sighed. It was too early to teach the boy his heritage. Instead, he dipped his fingers into his bag of specially prepared powder and breathed on it, creating illusory bugs that scattered over the bed. Large bulbous things lit like jack-o'-lanterns with circles and triangles and other shapes swirling on their sides.

Billy's eyes grew wide and he crept towards one of the bugs. "What is it?"

"A bedbug. They eat monsters." He smiled at his son and ruffled the boy's hair. "Now go to sleep."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Management: Travelling

Yes, I haven't updated in a while. I've been traveling. In Scalzi fashion, here is a view from my hotel window.
I'm currently in Mumbai (one of the parts of India that is not having power problems) and enjoying monsoon season. Yes, there are cows in the foreground of that camp.

I hope you all are good and I'll see you in several weeks.

Have fun!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Assassin Franks

I snapped my mustard arm into a sharp, two-fingered salute. The strictures of protocol better keep the emotion out of my eyes. Couldn't appear weak before Colonel Wiener. He spun on his heels to leave me pondering my death sentence. Blasted war.

The grill was one of those fancy chrome death chambers. Four separate gas dials sprayed enough methane to crisp a soldier in under two minutes. Too bad I was going to have a close encounters with that beast. Kamikaze, my bun. But, I knew better than to disobey a direct order.

I vaulted the white picket fence. My shoulder slammed into a rose bush. It's thorn skewered my casing, moist meat tumbling through the hole. Fortunately, the corps had embedded the special seasoning at the other end.

Stumbling forward, I saw myself reflected off the grill. The man with his implements of death had his back to me. Good thing. He'd never see it coming.

One of the kids -- a lumbering giant, no wonder we were losing the war -- grabbed me. His pudgy fingers were almost as wide as my waist. How could we lose to these jokers? I laid there. Played dead.

He shook me. No, don't let the weakened casing split.

I survived the boy's torture. I wouldn't reveal my orders. Even better, he brought me to the hulk manning the death chamber. The man wore one of those girly aprons. They didn't deserve to live.

"Where did you find that?" the man asked.

The boy pointed with his other hand. "Over there."

"Don't look so good."

He'd seen the poison injected below my casing. I twitched. I'd come too far to fail my orders. I twisted a ketchup leg up and over the bruise where the poison lie.

"Why did you put all that ketchup on the dog. It's not even cooked yet. Here, give it to me." The man tossed me at the grill. My skin sizzled against the grate.

Mission accomplished.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Kada almost stepped on Jag's tail as she raced for the door. The ferry always ran on time and if she didn't hurry, she would miss her normal boat and the next one wouldn't come for another hour. She shook her head chagrined at the concept of being late, especially on a day when heads would roll. She'd need to hurry. She could sell her sweat-stained clothes as a hard worker, but the clock ticked.

Jag meowed. The cat balanced forepaws on the rim of his food bowl and stared at her. The bowl was empty.

She would regret this, but she couldn't start out the day this way. She dropped her purse, notebook case, and coffee thermos, the cylinder tipping and rolling underneath the hutch. Jag's tail twitched with pleasure as he began to purr. She had to let enough people down today and she couldn't do anything to help that, but at least she could make Jag happy.

The thermos had wedged itself against the wall beyond her grasp and she knelt on the floor, stretching her arm to reach for it. Her skirt ripped. She'd caught the edge of the seam on her heel. Maybe, no one would notice at the office. She didn't have time to change. Or to get the recalcitrant thermos. Fortunately, no one would expect her to be in a good mood either.

Her heels clacked against the concrete. The heat never abated in the rainforest and humidity dripped from the leaves of an açia. Over the tree's crown, she saw the tip of the ferry's smokestack. She would make it.

All the seats inside had been taken. She walked onto the ferry's front deck, smelling the sewage dumped into the river, avoiding the eyes of those who had come here to get a seat. She slumped against the wood slats of the bench not caring whether the sweat running down her torso would evaporate before she arrived at the offices in Manaus. She caught the eyes of those sitting around her, they stared, but quickly looked away. Then, in ones and twos they retreated to stand within the ferry's interior.

She might as well get used to this. Laying off half the division would make her a pariah. She understood the business need. Their division bled money and headquarters insisted they focus on the profitable work. She had managed to save half the division, but her team wouldn't see that as a win. You couldn't give everyone jobs for life even if the French socialists thought that would work. Jobs for life wouldn't really be for life since the whole company would go down in losses. No, unfortunately she and the company had no choice.


She looked for the voice. She'd thought she was the only one on the deck.

"You have choices."

The voice came from a coiled Honduras Milk Snake. The red and white scales of the albino's tail curled over the bars protecting the passengers from accidentally falling into the river. It had two heads.

She blinked, closing her eyes tight, keeping them shut for a few seconds. The heat and the run must have made her hallucinate.

"Just because you can't see them, doesn't mean they're not there."

She opened her eyes. It hadn't helped. Two forked tongues slithered into the air. Snakes did not talk. "Don't exist," Kada said.

The snake dropped to the floor of the ferry and slithered until it climbed the bench next to the door. "Of course choices exist. You don't have to fire people."

It could not know about that. She glanced at the door, and then at the snake, uncomfortable at how close it was to the door.

"I won't hurt you."

"Snakes don't talk."

"You don't listen to the old tales." A clear thin membrane dropped over the snake's eyes, and she suspected they saw her clearly the entire time. "Not everything can be easily explained. I don't matter. Think about the truth of my words."

"I don't have choices."


How had she gotten herself in this position of having to explain why she must lay off half her division to a snake? It must be the stress of everything. She was taking her own fears about how this afternoon would go and extrapolating it onto the snake. "I'm just a middle manager. I did my best. I saved half of them."

"You have choices." The forked neck twisted until the heads changed position. "Instead of firing them, quit. The chaos will result in everyone keeping their jobs for another week or two."

Impossible. The snake understood business. International conglomerates would take weeks before they got someone in the country to take care of business. "That doesn't buy anything."

"It buys time. You need that to start your own company and hire the best talent. That will leave them with half the division. No one loses a job."

She had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. She leaned back in the seat and let the river's wind blow in her face. Maybe, today wouldn't be so bad. She turned back to look at the snake, but it had disappeared.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Left Behind

The world isn't always a fun place.

Beth and I played at crowned jacks. Her skin was puffed around the ring finger to bulge over her wedding band as her finger played with the kingpiece, a wadded piece aluminum sparkling with an aura of potential movement. She let the flickers glimmer as they showed all possible positions where her piece could move and when she finally let go, it moved into a throwaway position.

I moved my counter in an attack, the aluminum collapsing to the table, the sparkle of the power joining my counterpiece, leaving her queenpiece weakened. Long ago she'd shared my hunger. That competitive drive to win. Everything had changed.

I took no thrill in the ease with which I marched towards victory. I glanced at her, seeing the same pain as she glanced away, neither of us willing to speak of the memory of our daughter.

The daughter who'd left two days ago. The daughter who every time I saw her I still remembered her baby flesh, mottled, red, just as I'd first seen her when the midwife brought her to me. It was hard to let go.

My aluminum tokens chased Beth's queenpiece across the board. Inevitable. I won.

Beth reset the pieces in the opening patterns. The game would continue, neither of us speaking of anything of importance, letting us ponder our memories.

I'd stood on the porch when our daughter left. The silver-green of the pine needles behind her. She pointed at them, telling me that strength was earned not given.

She hadn't listened to any of my words. She had believed that one could learn to live and receive support from others. Instead, she took the meaning of the tree that we had loved as it grew ramrod straight as a cattail stem. Unlike, most twisted pines. We'd planted it in a shielded location where it grew straight not twisted into geriatric postures. But when it grew above the height of our house, the wind had caught it's heavy boughs and knocked the top two thirds of it to the ground.

Beth coughed.

Maybe she was right. Instead of trying to win, I grabbed any old piece and moved it. The game wouldn't end. Our daughter wasn't coming home.

No. I tilted the game board onto its side. One must eventually learn when one is lost. Beth twitched. Searching out pieces of aluminum, moving them over the table.

I left her, without a final glance and traipsed into the yard. My hands pressed against the rotted flank of the twisted pine. The tree reminded me of my daughter. The memories weren't enough. I wished she would come home.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Explosions wake me. I rollover, convincing myself it's thunder.

Louisa pinches hard. "Your job."

I stumble down the stairs, taking it personally, hating the bitterness between us since Janice's birth, but this silliness of checking downstairs is pointless. We no longer live in Amsterdam's De Wallen. The suburbs are safe.

A click pings against teak flooring. Something skitters. A bug? It flies through my hand. Pain blossoms. It's torn my plam, exposing bone.

The flesh throbs with a sunflower seed wedged within. It pops, roots uncurling.

I grab a meat tenderizer and hammer until it pops.

Seeds ping the window.

I'm traveling in Sweden this week. I'll blame jetlag for the reason I don't have a fresh flash written. Instead, I'm recycling a drabble I posted to Lily Childs' Friday Prediction. This was the winning entry that week and was a reprise of my The Flower Apocalypse's Seeds, set in the same world but with different characters. Lily Childs has retired from her Friday Prediction, but it has been continued at Phil Ambler's place, check it out.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fish Stories

The rod jerked in Nori's hands. His fingers squeezed the grip more from the ingrained reflexes of years at sea than the expectation of catching anything in the sacred waters of Sagami Bay.

The fish -- for it could be nothing else -- fought against the line. It zigged in staccato bursts, stubborn as the man who held the far end of the line in his crinkled hands. He looped the line over an oarlock and watched the line's tension. The line dipped as the fish must have redoubled its path to create slack. He unwrapped the line and pulled in the slack, bringing the fish closer. The morning sun rose high in the sky, finally reaching its zenith at the same moment a silver fin splashed in the water.

With one hand holding the secured line to keep it from slipping, he leaned over the side of the boat and grabbed the line close to the fish. The water boiled with the fish's thrashing movement. He lifted and a fist hit him. He flung the tangled mess of rope and string and an arm to the keel side of the boat and backed away to balance himself on the walls of the prow.

The fish had the fist-sized black markings over silver of a Masu salmon, but a man-shaped torso stuck out of the mouth, a Hakata doll. But it was no doll. The fish thing flapped against the bottom of the boat until it righted itself, its hands levering the torso into the air. Nori shrugged, amused at the priest's secrets. It wasn't as fearsome as he thought when he had flung it into the boat.

The hook had caught over the edge of a fin and the string looped around it many times, ending in a knot that constricted the scales underneath. It dragged itself towards the gunwale.

"I wouldn't do that," Nori said.

The fish turned, its body bent, its hands flopping too short to reach the knots or the hook over its fin. "Why not?"

"Because being stuck in the boat isn't your problem. You won't escape my line."

"My brothers will unwedge this." He jerked a hand to indicate the hook on his fin.

"And will they come so near my boat?"

"Release me."

Nori lowered himself from the lip of the boat's prow. He unwrapped the loops of the line from the oarlock and tied it to a cross bar instead. He settled his oars into the oarlocks. Waves expanded from where his oars dipped into Sagami Bay's smooth waters. "Why should I release you?"

"I will grant you a wish."

"An old man has no need for wishes." A wise man knew where wishes led. Nori wouldn't have considered himself wise, but age sometimes sufficed.

"A man needs food. I can provide an everlasting larder."

"The villagers leave me food." He hadn't been fishing because of need, but rather because that's what his body did when it was on the water and that's where he felt most calm and centered. Now, that he had the creature, whatever it was, he felt a great curiosity.

His back twinged. He released the oars and moved his arms in a slow circle, gasping at the inflamed spot behind his shoulder blade. An old injury that had never healed.

"I can heal your pain."

"Why should I compete with young men?" He smiled. The creature's offer was tempting. But the stories were not ones he wanted to live. "These creaks are a part of me."

The fish ran a hand through its hair. "Is there nothing you desire?"


It tottered on a combination of arms and fins to stare into Nori's eyes. "You've never seen one such as I."


"I can tell tales of my origins."

The oars slapped like feathers against the water. He leaned forward. "Now that is interesting."

"You'll release me?"

He grabbed the oars again, settling into the rhythm. "No; but, I promise not to cook you if your story satisfies."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Blood Magic Makes the World Go Round

I fly in my Merlin2000 carpet, one of the full-bodied sleek outfits lacking a retractable bubble because these models have higher efficiency. I'm trying to assuage my guilt, but even the Merlin2000 requires the blood from three cows for my short jaunt home from the dragonport. It shouldn't matter next to the blood required for my intercontinental flight, but it does because this blood was spilled solely for me. If only fighting global warming could be done from the comfort of home.

The crystal ball in the dash crackles as a connection blooms into full image. My wife. "What's wrong?" I reach out, touch the crystal ball, feel the strong jaw behind it. Her eyes dart, evading, either hiding a lie or scared. I have a bad feeling that I don't want to know more. "I'm almost home, honey."

The crystal ball flickers. My wife disappears. Pain explodes from my fingertips and I jerk my hand from the dash, dripping blood.

"Almost home. How sweet." The face that appears in the crystal has thick scars folded over themselves into ridges that lined the man's cheeks. A sure sign of a blood priest. "My acolytes broke your house's defenses. Have your wife. You'll land if you want to see her again."

The Merlin2000 had too many blind spots. I twist until I see the black shadow of a carpet descending towards me. I punch the accelerator, dripping with blood for my fingers into the intake valve, feeding my own blood magic to Merlin, and it leaps forward.

No match for the blood priest's carpet.

The bubble's roof dents with the impact of the priest's car. I crash into the ground, digging a furrow like the scars on the man's cheek. I roll from the car, blood on my forehead where I hit the dashboard.

Dragonspies hover above me, but the four-winged cameras smaller than my finger won't save me.

The blood priest approaches. A ball of hair in his hand. "You will retract your findings."

I close my eyes. The priest was a global warming denier. The institute had predicted this would happen and had offered their bodyguards. I couldn't accept them and the additional magic and therefore warmth they'd require. "Never."

"Your wife will die. You shall see pain." He lowered the ball of hair before me, it wasn't a ball but an intricate four chambered model of the heart with the curls of hair creating aorta and veins. "You know what this is."

My heart beats rapidly. I feel it like one does in the first hours of waking when it's thick and languorous and almost heard. Yet, here it's raging fast and the heart in his hand beats in time with my own.

He squeezes it tight. The world darkens. A high-pitched yell of terror is the only sense I notice beyond the pain that suffuses me. I realize the yell is my own.

"You will recant."


"I warned you." The blood priest signals his minions through his crystalwatch.

My wife dies. Her lifeforce a blinding volcano of energy. Love binds the last minutes of her soul and then it's gone. My heart no longer hurts physically, only with loss. I look up, the bloodpriest flayed by our love.

Bloodpriests were blinded by their own scriptures. Blood magic might make the world go round, but love magic couldn't be trumped.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Garden Secretary for Chicago's 732nd District

Outside, snowdust swirls. Gramps says it's nothing like the real thing. I wouldn't know and it's hard to think Gramps had it worse than me. I seen the old flatties with their bumper crop of kids throwing snowballs and making snowmen. Can't do any of that fun stuff with the snowdust. But, the snowdust, or sulfate aerosol as the whitecoats like to call it, still keeps things from growing out there.

Growings what I've got to do. Been doing for too many hours. I shake my fingers waiting for McMahon's Blister and Callus Dissolver to work its magic. Waving my hands, I get the stink in my nose, almost as bad as the snowdust plains. Finally, I can get back to work.

Auggies flicker. I've got the overlays set to old-style green phosphor LEDs over an opaque background and S10's avatar appears with the words to the left announcing his return, swiveling his bucket-shaped head and old-time antenna. Figures S10 wouldn't return until my three-hour shift was nearly over.

S10's recharging bay is across the street in the bottom of a skyscraper. On my way, I detour past the Amazon pneumatic tube, selecting one of S10's favorite designer oils on my auggies. The can, still warm from the printers, rattles as the tube discharges my purchase.

"About time you returned." I drop S10's oil on his shelf.

One of those fake yellow smileys glows on S10's stomach display. "You missed me."

I roll my eyes. Of course, I miss him. "Lot's for you to do." I wave my hands at the skyscraper gardens growing on the sides of the buildings surrounding us. Even from this vantage point, it's obvious the leaves droop. Even with all the overtime I've been putting in, I haven't managed to maintain what S10 can achieve.

"Of course, of course."

"Your substitute AI was worthless." They always are.

"You don't begrudge me my vacation." S10 draws two pouting eyebrows over the eyes and lets the smile fade. "Contract says --"

I never could express my feelings. The robot won't be the first one to notice. I glance over my shoulders just to make sure no one is watching me. And lean over and kiss S10's helmet. "I know what the contract says. Time to get to work."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dragonspy Rags

On the threshold to her mother's house, Rebekah swatted at the dragonspies, four-winged magical creatures relaying a constant feed into the ether. Clearing as many of them as possible from around her, she pushed the door open, getting her armload of groceries in the door, and let the door slam behind her.

Her mother's disembodied voice -- recorded incantations -- murmured in the foyer, igniting a flash of St. Elmo's lightning, jolts tickling Rebekah's skin. Even though the tickling sensation died, the musty smell only got worse. The house needed a good airing.

"Rebekah, that you? You better not have let any of those bloody spies in my house."

"Mom." She placed the groceries on the floor so she could hang her shawl. "Dragonspies won't live through your door trap."

Mother emerged from her workroom, fists on her hips, a dusting of fairy dust giving her black locks a gray cast. She approached. Her eyes narrowed. Between thumb and forefinger she grabbed a dragonspy out of Rebekah's hair. The magic had fled from the creature leaving a dry corpse that turned to dust between her fingers.

"My supplies?"

"Yes, mother." Rebekah hefted the bag of groceries and rolled her eyes. "I'm too old to be running all your errands. You need to get out."

"I'm not letting those bloody spies know anything about me. Besides. Did you see what they captured about you. Come here." Mother led the way back to her workroom. A magepaper sprawled over the top of her worktable. The back of Rebekah's head showed in a full-page spread, her lips puckered as she leaned forward towards a boy. "Who is it that?"

"Mother, he's just a friend." She placed the groceries on a bench. "If you didn't subscribe to those rags, there'd be fewer of your hated dragonspies out there."

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gremlins in the Machine

Two scant figures, not much taller than ten-year-olds, scampered outside Hallervord's Druckerei. If one had paid them attention, one would have noticed the stubble on their chins, the wizened crevices scarring their cheeks, and the bulbous bloodshot nose that drooped over their mouth like the belly of a pregnant lady. But those who walked past the print shop gave the figures no mind.

The passersby had lost their sense of wonder to the daily toll of everyday. Instead of remembering tales of Robin Goodfellow or the fantastic fairytales their nurse maids had used to try to encourage good behavior, they let the soft chatter of work carry on dead conversations. The few who did look around, like a man winking at a lady clutching the bag holding her new ballgown, didn't notice the youths.

Those who passed didn't realize they were older than the wind nor did they notice them creep into an alley. Pukje, that merry wanderer of the night, climbed onto the shoulders of Hob, his head just peeking over the edge of the windowsill. Inside Hallervord's Druckerei, dull brown light shone through windows smeared with ink and dust that provided no more than a hint of the tympan stretched taut beneath platen filled with lead, tin, and antimony alloyed type.

Pukje felt a whisper of power from the press. A whisper of the words stealing his natural immortality transferring it to the wooden words on dead paper. Pukje leaned backwards, falling away from the sill when his foot slipped off Hob's back.

"Is this the right place?" Hob asked.

"Don't matter." Pukje sidled towards a side door. His fingers trembled and he magicked an iron key into existence. Sweat ran down his brow and even his nose had paled to a dull gray.

"Course it matters. If they aren't publishing the brothers' lies, it's not going to save Titania."

"Hob, you're so naïve. It doesn't matter whether this druckerei is the right one or not. If we do find the right one, Wilhelm will just find another printer willing to accept his coin."

"But each printed copy --"

"I know," Pukje said. "Shut up. We're wasting time."

The side door creaked open. A gentleman emerged wearing a ruffled shirt that rolled over the edges of his unbuttoned overcoat, squeezed tight over his frail bones. He withdrew a pipe from his pocket and orange flames lit the tobacco. The door thumped behind him.

Pukje balanced on his tip toes. "Herr Hallervord --"

Hob thumped Pukje knocking him off his tip toes and stumbling over a stack of wooden pallets. His foot got stuck.

Hob whispered, "You'll scare him. We're not supposed to know his name."

"Scare me?" Hallervord's voice rumbled. "Well, I'll say. You don't look quite natural. Since when did Robin Goodfellow and," Hallervord stared hard at Hob, but shook his head, "and whoever you might be start caring about pesky mortals?"

Pukje preened, his thumbs tucked underneath his suspenders, and without looking, yanked his foot out of the pallets.

"We are not merry wanderers," Hob said. "We're just two children who need to get inside. Could you open the door and most importantly invite us in."

"You look a little older than children."

"Never mind that. We've just got an odd disease. We're really good workers."

"I don't need more laborers."

Pukje took two long steps towards Hob and jumped on his back, climbing onto his shoulders and then balancing there, blowing a handful of dust into Hallervord's face. "You could replace two of your workers with us and we'll work for free."

Hob backed away from the man, causing Pukje to teeter and roll to the ground. Hob shook his head at his brother. "Stop that. The dust will hurt him."

"So. If Titania dies, I don't care about any mortal."

"He hasn't opened the door yet."

The pipe slipped out of Hallervord's hands. His heart froze, the last twitch of his hand opening the door a crack.

"See. I told you not to use the dust. His heart is too old to experience wonder."

"But, I got the door open."

Hob tentatively extended a finger towards the open door but jerked it back and shouted with pain. "We haven't been invited in yet."

A boy came to the door. His fingers twitching. "Who's out there? Herr Hallervord?"

Pukje kicked the old man. A wiggle of the fingers sent the dead druckerei owner rolling into a corner of the alley where wisps of fog hid the body.

"If you wouldn't mind, could you invite us wee folk in?"

"I suppose it couldn't hurt. Come on in. You haven't seen Herr Hallervord have you?"

As soon as the boy said the words of invitation, Pukje and Hob streaked past him, towards the printing press. They swung on the windlass, cutting the lines, releasing the weights and leading the platen crashed against the table and break the tray underneath.

Too bad youth no longer believed. Or, perhaps that is a good thing for Titania.

Hob grabbed a pamphlet, twisting in his grasp, squinting at the typeface. "This is no fairy tale."

"I told you we'd have to break all the presses." Pukje wiped the dust off his clothes. "We should head to the next one. We're going to have a busy night."

Friday, April 27, 2012


Sergeant Hesam took three deep breaths. He had his routines, his rituals, and Cadet Weber had accompanied him on enough missions that he shouldn't worry about the cadet, but he stared into the man's eyes, taking the measure of the man. The two of them were as prepared as their Essie training could achieve.

Releasing the safety on his semiautomatic, he fired a single round into the door mechanism, angled down so no one would be hit inside. In his peripheral vision, faces turned to stare in the direction of the gun's retort. Gunfire wouldn't have garnered attention a few years ago, but the Essies had made progress. Jews and Palestinians living side by side without violence. Except for some outbreaks. Memories resurfacing. That's why he was here. They'd have ten minutes before the Silwan district security forces arrived.

He kicked down the door and entered with Weber covering him. Inside, a phosphor flicker caught his eye, Al-Saquor, the Saudi Arabian national football team. "Rooms clear." No physicals. But, someone was here if the flatscreen had been left on.

A clutter of test tubes stood on the coffee table beside stacks of bio-computing journals. The gear might've one day been a sign of ecoterrorists, but half the houses in the district worked in the bio-computing sector these days, seemed like everyone brought work home.

The ground floor checked out clean.

Weber led the way up the stairs. At the top of the landing, two men huddled against the far wall. He moved to the side, shouting, "UN Peacekeepers. Keep your hands in the air and move back."

Hesam leapt the final two stairs and checked out the side bedrooms, to verify they were empty. Their intelligence had rung true, but he'd learned the hard way not to trust virtual chatter. The good cells found ways to unhook completely from electronic surveillance. The man with his hands in the air would be Jacob Mendelsohn, an American with shoulder-length blond hair like a footballer, uncommonly athletic for a Memories International operative.

The man rolling on the floor in a virtual simulator would be Muhannad, the man who owned this house. His full head helmet and integrated experience blocked all knowledge of his surroundings. His body thrashed in response to his reliving of the day his son died at the hands of an Israeli settler. His leg hit a table, jarring a scalpel balanced across a petri dish, causing it to fall to the floor.

"Disable the sim," said Weber.

Jacob nodded. Sweat dripped from his brow as he crouched over Muhannad. He palmed a cylinder lying on the floor and stood up. "I've depressed the trigger to my suicide belt. You shoot, it'll go off."

Jacob was about Hesam's age, but it seemed Americans took a lot longer to mature. Careful to avoid any sudden movements, Hesam set his rifle on the floor and palmed the EMP pistol in his belt, no larger than a derringer and fully hidden within his fist. "Suicide won't solve anything."

"You took his memories. He deserves to remember. The people deserve to remember. You've made them forget, but maybe this will shock them into remembering what you've taken."

"We only do what's needed," said Hesam.

"Then you'll let me continue in peace. Let him remember."

"That won't bring anything but more pain."

"Every man has a right to their memories. Their pain."

Hesam fired his pistol. The electromagnetic pulse disabled the electronics in Jacob's trigger. Evidently expecting a physical bullet, the man had released the trigger, but not before the EMP waves disabled the trigger.

Covered by Weber, Hesam placed cuffs on Jacob. Something rustled behind him. Too late, he turned. Pain erupted in his calf and he fell to the floor, releasing Jacob.

Weber shot Jacob and the man collapsed.

Yet, Jacob hadn't attacked him. Glancing at his leg, a scalpel had punctured his calf. Hesam cursed. The EMP blast must have disabled the virtual simulator and Muhannad must have attacked in the confusion. Hesam must secure the area. Ignoring his pain, he rolled over and tackled Muhannad, pinning the man to the ground.

Weber aimed at Muhannad. His shot would be true.

"No. Do not fire, cadet."

"He attacked. It's within our rules of engagement."

Hesam released a pull tab of muscle relaxants into Muhannad. Enough to keep the man from moving for twelve hours, but it would leave the mind clear and able to recall everything. Even virtual simulations.

"There has been enough death. We are peacekeepers. Not soldiers."

Hesam slipped a PKMZeta forgetting pill into Muhannad's mouth. The man twitched. His eyes glazed, but not enough to hide what he would see. The man must relive his memories, so the pill could destroy the neural pathways that had been created within the man's mind and so he'd forget his son's death.

The EMP blast had drained the batteries on the virtual simulator. Hesam grabbed a battery pack from his pack and slammed it into the cartridge. He slid the full helmet simulator over Muhannad's head.

He waited for the memories to play out. For the memories to be taken away. He understood Memories International, but didn't peace trump memory? Regardless, he'd have to live with another death on his conscience.

Leaving Muhannad's house, Hesam and Weber donned their blue helmets. They nodded at the wary eyes of the Silwan security forces that swarmed past them and moved into Muhannad's house.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gears and Levers Anthology

I have a short story in the Gears and Levers Anthology edited by Phyllis Irene Radford. I'm looking forward to reading the other stories in the anthology.

My contribution is "A Time of Autumn", a story set in an alternate oriental world with balloons and clockwork ancestors. I wrote this story when the call came out because the call for submissions for the anthology was looking for worldly steampunk (African, Asian, Arctic, Western, etc.) and I enjoy the idea of creating worlds and this seemed like a fun fit.

You can find the anthology on:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Meng Xiang Zu – Dreamtime Tribe

Lightning flickered in the edges of Xiaolou's peripheral vision, remnants of dreamtime. Physical nerves, subverted during the months she'd spent in dreamtime, flared as her brain relinquished the hold of the virtual signals. Pain her top-of-the-line gear–platinum-core neural adapter, bio-salts nutritional system, and muscle maintenance chair–should have eliminated. Her head throbbed. She wanted her money back.

She waited. The lightning cleared, but the room remained dark, no blinking LEDs from her hardware, no sullen light from the eco-bulbs, no photons whatsoever. The darkness was accompanied by a lack of sound as if the virtual gear had burned out her physical senses. But no, that was false. Her hands caressed the faux leather of her chair, the restraining chains falling loose, clacking against the chrome supports. No juice. No electricity.

She sighed.

Muqin, her mother and a member of the moonlight tribe, spared no expense, which explained her gear. But also, explained the lack of energy. Muqin's overspending crimped Xiaolou's style.

She wasn't a helpless invalid in realtime unlike most of her contemporaries. The rubber of the maintenance chair's full-bodysuit snapped as she extricated herself. She felt her way from the parlor where Muqin kept Xiaolou's well-used chair and Muqin's own seldom used chair to the kitchen and public room. She found a candle and matches.

Visual sensory input helped shunt her migraine into a mere annoyance. Their rare-earth teak table drowned beneath a sea of boutique bags, recycled cellophane draped out the tops of each of them like an over-spenders seaweed. She'd never understand why Muqin wasted money on all these goods. Dreamtime provided everything one desired.

It was all good to have fended for oneself in realtime, but Muqin was known for month-long splurges before heading home. Xiaolou could not afford to wait for Muqin to arrive and discover the bounced facilities bill.

No. Xiaolou needed back in dreamtime. She needed to shepherd her realms before the wolves, other participants, detected her absence and acquired her creations, mutating them into their own needs. She'd require months to undo the damage if she didn't get back.

Outside, a full moon filtered through clouds. It didn't have the same effect as it did in virtuality, the moon was small, shriveled, and the light barely enough to provide more than a brighter spot in the clouds. She flicked a wrist at one of the streetlamp kiosks, but the low-power e-ink display blinked that she had no cash. Resigned, she made do with the dim light of the moon and the spill of waste light from people living in outer apartments.

She stopped under the awning of a dreamtime café. Over its white-washed walls, a thick bundle of cables fed up from the ground. The cables were joined by a second pair threaded from the café's roof and satellite feed. Satellites provided a horrible lag when joining national dreamtime networks, but they were the highest bandwidth option for overseas operations. Dreamtime cafés, appealing to the largest clientele possible, usually stocked both types of uplinks.

The door's kiosk blinked red when she tried to enter and refused her credit.

Unlike most of the dream tribe, she knew her history, knew that in the beginning, people had thought all bits should be free. Opensource collectives had provided software for free. Dozens of companies provided free web-based e-mail and storage. But, IP laws changed all of that. Capitalists smelled gold in them thar virtual hills.

She stared at the satellite dish. She sighed. Laggy connections stole the fun from dreamtime. Although she could concoct a raw shunt into her neural cortex from the satellite, without nutritional and muscle maintenance systems she'd really feel the withdrawal next time.

She shrugged and shimmied up the twisted bundle of cables to the roof. She wedged herself into a position where she wouldn't fall and patched herself into dreamtime. A girl had to feed her addiction.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fiction Rave: The Dragons of Trinity County

I don't swoon at dragons. They had their day as the hot creature on the genre shelf. These days vampires, zombies, pirates have all had their time in the sun recently, but some still enjoy their dragons. Reptiles that can be larger than houses, breathe fire, and if you're lucky allow you to fly them. I want more in my fiction than a pretty reptilian face. Peter S. Beagle's Trinity County, CA (subtitled, You'll Want to Come Again, and We'll Be Glad to See You!) delivers. While never explicitly mentioning dragons (they're just the big D), they're an invasive species that has taken over wild California hills in Peter S. Beagle's story.

This classic pairing of the grizzled old timer whose been patrolling the hills for years and the newbie, know it all woman fresh out of the academy combine to have great voices that make it a pleasure to read. Moreover, the background of life in the forgotten hills, replete with marijuana and methamphetamines, provide a gorgeous backdrop.

The story took first place in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Galaxy Medicine Show magazine's 2010 reader awards. The magazine is made to winners of their reader awards available for free, Trinity County, CA is highly recommended.

Friday, April 13, 2012


While Sanchez checked them out of the Hotel la Colombe, Philip waited in Timbuktu's sand-filled streets. The sand got in everything, even the bread, and if the peace of their first few nights in town before the occupation by the Tuareg rebels had held, the sand would've ranked as his number one annoyance with Timbuktu. He looked forward to seeing the dried-mud streets from a plane even if it meant trekking to the airport and breathing wind-whipped grains one last time.

As Sanchez approached, Philip's phone buzzed with a text message from Compagnie Arrienne du Mali. He unlocked his phone, but his fledgling French wasn't sufficient to pick up more then it was about their flight based on the flight numbers. He hoped it was a message reminding them of the flight times, but he didn't see any times. He held his phone out to Sanchez. "CAM airline just sent me a message."

"Flights canceled."

Philip pulled on his shirt's collar to release the sand sticking to his sweaty skin. "When are we rescheduled?"

"Doesn't say."

"Told you we should never have scheduled a flight on Friday the 13th."

"Don't be superstitious." Sanchez rolled his eyes. As head of the antiquities department, he had always taken his role seriously, never espousing anything but pragmatic science. "Wait here. I'll see if I can get rooms for another night."

Sanchez intercepted the desk clerk on his way to the single car parked in the hotel's lot. They stood too far away and besides, Philip wouldn't have understood more than the occasional word, but he did understand the way Sanchez flapped his arms. His lectures were renowned within the department. When he got passionate about a subject, his whole body moved. After a few exchanges, he collapsed into himself, looking defeated. He removed a phone from a pocket and jotted a note on the touchscreen.

The clerk climbed into his car and drove out of the parking lot, raising a cloud of dust that choked Philip as the car passed.

"With all the unrest, and travel advisories keeping tourists away, they're closing the hotel."

They were homeless, maybe for different reasons than the men huddled around heating grates in downtown Philadelphia. But at least the homeless in Philip's hometown wouldn't be buried by sand after a single night. "What will we do?"

"The clerk gave me the name of a local marabout who he said lends his rooms out to travelers in need."

"A phone number?"

"Just an address."

Philip struggled to pull the luggage down the streets to the marabout's house. Rolling luggage wasn't designed for sand, and within two blocks Philip's shirt was soaked with sweat. Ghosts of children distracted him, peeking from behind mud walls. And the moment he looked away from the road, his luggage's wheels caught on a pebble and he had to yank to free the luggage. He felt like an outsider.

The marabout's house was built from mud bricks. Two poles holding the bricks in place extended from the wall with dillapidated flags flapping over the door. Sanchez knocked.

When the door opened, exposing cool shadows, Sanchez entered, motioning Philip to remain on the threshold. Once inside, Sanchez spoke French with a man hidden in the shadows. His words were chopped and harsh and Sanchez's slow and the careful enunciation hinted that the marabout's French was poor.

Sanchez ushered Philip and the luggage into the room. Philip barely had space to pull everything in between the two of them and the marabout who'd opened a wooden chest and was pawing through the drawers.

He turned to them with two cords threaded through small leather pouches so they looked like a necklace. He spoke words, rubbing his fingers over the pouches, not the lilting rhythms of French but one of the half-dozen languages spoken in Timbuktu.

Philip raised an eyebrow and turned to Sanchez. "What's this?"

"Quiet. He was insistent that we follow their customs if we stay. We don't have any choice so we better not offend him."

Philip shrugged, he wasn't the one tied up in believing science was the only answer. He accepted the totem from the marabout and hung it around his neck, tucking it under his sweaty shirt.

They stowed the luggage in an empty room, and used a bowl to freshen up, changing into non-sweaty clothes before the marabout beckoned them to evening prayers. He led them to Sankore Mosque and Philip fretted at the freshening since all it had managed to accomplish was dirtying a second pair of clothes.

By the time they returned to the marabout's house, the light had disappeared and without electronic lights inside, they prepared for the night. Sanchez discarded his totem over the back of his luggage before lying on a mattress pushed against a wall.

"Didn't the marabout tell us to wear the totems at all times?"

"Philip, it's just superstition. Give it up."

At least the hotel had had air-conditioning, the marabout's rooms smelled of stale sweat, which wasn't surprising given the heat. Philip struggled to sleep, but couldn't get comfortable. Especially, when Sanchez began snoring within fifteen minutes.

Philip blinked. A ghost shimmered over Sanchez, the body crouching down to smother the man on the bed. Sanchez began to shake.

When Philip stood, he discovered the room was filled with a dozen ghosts. Their ghost-flesh was icy. Although his body could pass through the ghosts, he found it difficult, flinching from the psychic chills they induced. His hand closed on the totem around his neck. It was warm to his touch. He grabbed it, moving forward, the ghosts avoiding the pouch.

Philip found the totem Sanchez had discarded and draped it over Sanchez's neck. The ghosts faded.

Sanchez started. His hand moving to the totem. "What's this?"

"We may not understand superstitions, but what we don't understand might exist. Sleep now." At least one of them might as well.

Friday, April 6, 2012


"Your Majesty, the pin refuses."

Jeörg's hands trembled on the rim of his war board. Purple markers for his own knights drowned in a sea of red enemies. They had understood his own vulnerabilities and marched to the point where their forces converged like a noose around Jeörg's over-gorged castle, filled with refugees. Piles of ash signified where his knights had lost. With so few men remaining, he could not lead them to a win. He needed the mirror's gamble.

"He must. The life of the one sacrificed for the many."

"Your Majesty, he cannot be forced."

"Do not lecture us." Jeörg swallowed. His captain meant the best and would mourn his own soldiers soon. "You must convince the pin."

Sweat poured down the captain's brow. "He will not listen. Manic. He talks over me. Demands your audience."

Jeörg pounded his war board, lifting ash into the air. "You have not removed his tongue."

The captain's mouth opened and closed before he retreated a step. "No use, your Majesty. A man can make noise without a tongue."

"Find his family, find his loves."

"Majesty, he has none."

The ermine mantle on Jeörg's shoulders grew heavy. The pin must make the choice to sacrifice of his own volition. He must find the core value the pin believed that was worth more than the pin's life. One's family was an easy value, but not the only one.

He pondered possibilities on his route to the Mirror's Gallery. Loyalty to King, loyalty to beauty, desires for wealth. Although, the last would be hard, no time for the pin to savor them before the sacrifice. In the end, it would depend on what Jeörg found inside the man. He had never been enough of a planner, his knights had learned that lesson the hard way.

The Mirror's Gallery was a nightmare. The pin sat propped against a column, his head slumped, his shoulders slumped, his arms leading to pools of blood beside his slit wrists. Each of the mirrors propped on easel's caught a mixture of the pin's blood along with the fragment of the future they caught in their frame.

Without the pin, they could not force the future favorable to his knights surprise tactic. The odds were innumerable, only one of the hundred mirrors depicted success.

Jeörg strode forward, his mantle billowing in his wake, to kick the knife from the pin's grasp. It was a soldier's knife. He turned on his captain. "What have you done?"

The captain gripped his hilt with a mailed fist. "A calculated gamble."

"But, why would he do this?" Weakness washed over Jeörg and he braced himself against the mirror showing the only favorable outcome. The image in it, flickered, welcomed him. "Suicide is sure defeat. No one understands what happens to the pin once they merge with the mirror and secure the future."

"I convinced him it was eternal pain."

"Why?" This was madness. "When the mirrors were constructed, they were keyed to the pin. Only he could secure our future. Why would you deny us?"

"You are wrong." The captain no longer addressed his liege with the proper honorific. "Along with a drop of the pin's blood, a speck of your hair was added to the mirror's tincture. The mirrors are keyed to you as well."

"I see." Jeörg's mouth was dry.

"You must sacrifice for the land, for --"

"Shut up. We understand." Jeörg confronted the mirror. He had been too easy on his knights, hoping to inculcate loyalty through example. Too easy on the Kingdom, allowing every refugee into the castle's walls even though it weakened them. He understood who would be king in his absence. The captain would not have it any easier. This sacrifice, a last noble example, would not be forgotten, would provide his people hope. Or so he prayed as he knelt before the mirror and leaned his body into its surface to pin the future.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Traveling to Stockholm

I will be in Sweden and Germany for the next two weeks. Due to traveling this weekend, there will not be a #FridayFlash posted because I won't have the opportunity to respond or read other flashes this week. There may be a post next Friday depending on how the traveling goes.

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Flower Apocalypse's Seeds

Seeds rained from the sky, arriving like a storm front, plopping into pregnant earth, and ricocheting from the mage-enforced bricks of Desmond and Marsh's hideout. The two sprawled on the earth facing the door, while death rained down.

Beyond Marsh's bulk, a slender seed, the size of a thumbnail, squeezed beneath the door. Yellow streaks over the black hull caught Desmond's eye. It jerked. It sought blood.

Marsh dropped his pudgy hand and caught the seed in his palm. His hand buzzed. A burst of smoke escaped his hand as the smell of burnt skin filled the room. Sweat beaded Marsh's brow as he repeated words of power and the buzz ended. His hand opening to expose the seed's shattered dust. Outside, the pitter patter splash of seeds seeking earth and blood died into silence.

"Now?" Desmond asked.

"Wait." Another shower of seeds passed over them in response to Marsh's words. "Now." He opened the hideout's door.

Shoots of green grew from the earth, scattershot from the apocalypse. Ignoring the snake-like shoots slithering towards the sky, ignoring the unfolding leaves and tendrils snaking out at the scent of blood, ignoring the memories of those who had died, Desmond sheared the stalk at its base. The leaves became dry and brittle and shattered by the time it crashed to the floor of the earth.

The two moved in tandem, covering the fields around the house, eliminating every stalk. Desmond's muscles burned, but he ignored the pain. He must not allow the seeds to flower.

Too late.

Marsh yelled. Blood spurting from his gut. A wisp of smoke rose from the muzzle of a flower. Marsh waved his hands menacingly to keep the vine's attention.

Desmond crawled forward. He kept his face against the furrowed ground, hoping the musky earth would hide his blood scent. His legs cramped, but he knew if he rose to his feet the flower would turn on him. Would fire. He continued through the pain.

When he neared five feet away, the vine shuddered, leaves and flower twisting in a slow arc. It sought blood that even pressed against the earth could no longer be disguised. The flower clicked as seeds moved into the chamber. He pushed off with his feet leaping for the base of the vine.

A shot fired into the ground behind him. The flower ricocheting and momentarily pointing into the sky.

Desmond's shears caught the vine, pressed it forward but the fibrous bark caught the teeth of his shears and turned the blades until they slipped from his hands. The flower tracked downwards, aiming at Desmond.

He grabbed the back of the vine, the flower struggling against him, tendrils poking into his skin. He bit down on flower's stem and milk poured into his mouth. He coughed the milk up, and hacked at the vine with his shears. The vine died, fibrous shards scattered around Desmond.

He looked for other vines, but nothing towered over the furrows of the field. Marsh had already fallen. He moved to the man's side, his instructor at the mage school, before the flowers had come. Glass eyes stared from Marsh's face, the life already gone. He moved his fingers through Marsh's hair to give the man dignity in death.

Darkness glinted from the vine that had shot Marsh. Desmond rolled for his shears. He stared into a glass woman, moonlight reflecting off of her edges. She munched on the flower head of the vine.

Keeping the shears between them, the points glinting, Desmond approached the glass woman. Her eyes caught the moonlight in a pool that watched as Desmond neared. She crouched as if ready to run. Desmond lowered the shears.

"Who are you?"

She grabbed his shears and threw them with an impossible strength. They flew through the air and disappeared over the other side of the hideout.

"Why did you do that?"

She didn't answer. Desmond's mother had told fireside tales of the glass fae, but they were tales. Supposedly, the creatures had disappeared at the end of the first age. He suspected her lack of answer meant that the distance that separated their species had confused their tongues. Wary, he backed away from her, moving towards the hideout.

The glass woman pointed at the flower. "Need." Her face was gaunt, sharp panes of glass as if the bones underneath protruded. "Hunger."

Desmond shook his head. These creatures must be planting these things. "No." He pointed at Marsh. "The flowers kill us."

She nodded as if with understanding. Her hands harvested the remainder of the flower before she turned. Without a glance back, she loped over the hills, her feet leaving small indentations in the earth.

Seeds stopped raining after that day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kibera Slum

Login denied.

Juma slammed his hands against the keyboard. He couldn't access the throwaway twitter account he'd just created two minutes ago. Any account he used to post about the Kibera slum, became disabled. After creating the fourth account, he was convinced something was deleting his messages.

His editor had refused the story, had said no one cared about the slums whether they were empty, dirty, or aliens for that matter. It didn't matter. Juma no longer lived in the slums, but his mom did, and he wasn't unusual in that regard. But, even his editor's reach didn't extend to Nairobi's Internet café with HTTPS connection encryption. Only the Communications Commission had sufficient computational capacity to intercept his attempts to break this story. He wasn't paranoid, his friend Panya had bragged about their capabilities after her interview with them.

Juma's neck itched. The story was big. Maybe he'd keep his job after dropping it on his editor's desk instead of the stories he'd been tasked to complete: some throwaway text to accompany a photo shoot on Nairobi's parks, a character piece on a hero -- at least in his editor's eyes -- who fed pigeons, and another story on high gas prices. He headed towards the Communications Commission.

"No visitors," said a security guard in the commission's foyer.

"I'm expected."

The guard crossed his arms.

If the Communications Commission hadn't been well-known for secrecy, the guard's actions would've confirmed Juma's hunch. He didn't need confirmation. He needed dirt. Thankfully, Panya had a public facebook profile, and he found her phone number. The guard watched as Juma flicked through screens on his smart phone.

"Panya, it's Juma." He hoped she'd remember him. "I've got that report you wanted."

"I can take it to Director Panya."

Bingo. Juma knew the guard would eavesdrop. Juma raised both hands, palms open to show he had nothing on him. "Report is human courier only."

"Doesn't matter. No visitors."

"My, my Juma. Been a long time. What have you gotten yourself into this time? Nevermind, doubt you can answer in front of security. I'll be down." The connection ended.

He hoped to distract the guard by making coffee from a kiosk, but the man followed him like a fat dove who suspected Juma had a slice of bread.

If it wasn't for the way Panya's face lit when she saw him, Juma would've never recognized her. She cleaned up well. Behind her, trailed a lackey with a briefcase clutched in his hands.

"We need somewhere private," said Juma.

"No visitors."

Juma rolled his eyes. "Well, if the commission's security policy encourages public discussions, I suppose that will do." Juma had hoped to irk the guard, but got no reaction.

"I know a bar down the street." Panya held up a hand to preempt Juma's protest. "We can vouch for its privacy."

After delivering a round of Kilimanjaro Lagers, the barman lowered a white noise shield over their booth.

"I wanted a private talk. Not a committee," said Juma.

"Usian's my assistant. He knows everything anyway."

Juma trusted Panya by herself, but a colleague might force her hand. "I'd rather we were alone."

"You're wasting my time. It's been a long time since college. I don't owe you anything."

Usian opened a laptop and began typing.

Juma took a breath that whistled through his teeth as he exhaled slowly. He had no other leads. "You know how I joined the paper." Panya nodded. He told her how someone had eavesdropped on his connections.

"So. Why would the commission care about your tweets?"

"Something is wrong. Kibera slum is empty."

"So? Who cares?"

"Mother lives there." Juma couldn't afford two rents on a journalist's salary, and his mother had refused his invitation to stay on his couch. She claimed outside Kibera became too impersonal.

"Sorry to hear about that."

"Isn't it time you explained what the government has done with the slum inhabitants. The Commission is involved in a cover-up. Aren't they?"

"Crazy idea."

"Look at this." Usian spoke for the first time. He spun his laptop around and it showed an aerial photograph of a patchwork of corrugated steel, rust striping the panels brown. "Live satellite feed of Kibera."

Viewed from overhead the inhabitants weren't more than dark hair and swinging arms. They moved in groups converging on a train with women's eyes painted on the top of each car as if the train stared into his soul. Cold eyes.

"Something is strange. Everyone's converging on the train."

Usian slammed the lap top shut.

"Novelty," said Panya. "I'm sorry about your mother, but you see, there is no conspiracy. Usian, we've wasted enough time."

Juma finished his lager, and then nursed Panya's half empty. They hadn't revealed anything. Yet, he wasn't imagining things. He had a nose for real stories. After finishing the beers, he stared at a photo on the bar's wall. If he squinted, they looked like the eyes on the traincars' roofs. People shouldn't have streamed towards that train. He left a tip.

The slums weren't far from downtown. Empty, his voice rang as he called out. No one answered.

A banshee howled. Juma didn't believe in ghosts, so he headed towards the sound. He found the train. A line of cars squealed as the wheels moved along the tracks. A car's doors were open, incandescents illuminating clean white surfaces. A man stood at the door's threshold. He was more metal than man. Juma might not believe in ghosts, but the military used androids.

"You're not from the slums. Your specimen is not desired."


"Upload. Singularity. You will be missed."

"You have my mother. She is missed."

"So sorry. Time to go."

A pack of Aibo robotic dogs leapt from the train car. They converged on Juma, knocking him to the ground as the train squealed, accelerating to leave the park. Thankful the dogs had no teeth, Juma nodded to himself, they might run, but he'd find a way to expose this story.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Breaking Up

Java Café's avatar–appearing as a taller, svelte version of Vanessa and looking more like a sister because of the flawless skin tone and perfect facial symmetry–materialized when Vanessa disabled her privacy settings. Virtual environments could perfect reality in most things, but failed with coffee in Vanessa's opinion. Sure, it captured the taste, but without the juice it was too much of a tease. Her fingers were pudgy topped with chewed fingernails, a good sign Stanton had been messing with her avatar. She sighed. He meant the best, but he didn't understand how Lucia and Tiffany would react.

Lucia materialized with a grande cappuccino. "Oh girlfriend, are you still with that monster."

"Stanton wants the best for me."

Lucia's fingers twirled a ringlet, a coruscating luminescence flowing from scalp to ends. Lucia could afford the latest styles, but Vanessa knew Stanton was right. One should invest in their future.

"Listen to me, girlfriend. He gets off on controlling you. You don't need a man like that."

"He knows how to actualize our lives. A few subtle hints can change your life. So, I got too busy to go to the gym yesterday. A pudgy avatar will help me remember, encourage me to make it a priority tonight. It's good reinforcement."

Tiffany appeared with coffee as dark as her eyes. "Sorry, I'm late. I just inked a new deal and the lawyer routines identified a few red flags I needed to negotiate out of the agreement. I wish they'd do something about boilerplate with screw clauses."

"Majors, this time?" Lucia asked.

"It's indie. But, that's where the action is these days. You'll die when you hear this. They've got rights to Sorrentino's likeness."

"For real?" Lucia and Vanessa chorused.

"And I'm playing his partner." Her eyes grew dreamy as she slammed half her coffee.

"Oh girlfriend, that's wonderful."

"Well, I'm interrupting. What were you talking about when I arrived?"

"Nothing," said Vanessa.

"Girlfriend, it isn't nothing." Lucia turned to Tiffany. "Look at what Stanton's done to her."

Tiffany tut-tutted. "That skin tone doesn't go with your hair and you don't weigh that much. It's an avatar, wear what you want, but at least look good. I know this place that's good with avatars. They work all the indies."

"I couldn't."

"They'd comp me."

"It's not the money." Vanessa loved her friends. Even when they were difficult, they meant well.

"It's Stanton," said Lucia.

"That creep? Don't let him play you."

"Cut it out. You think you know him, but we've got everything planned and --"

"Look," said Tiffany. "He's lying to you. I've got proof."

"You've been spying on my Stanton."

"Hey. What are friends for." Tiffany snapped her fingers.

Stanton entered the Java Café. He had a Louis Vuitton designed avatar and Vanessa straightened in her chair feeling her legs extend and the chair become more comfortable against her back. Obviously, Tiffany had called him, but Stanton glanced around the room not noticing Vanessa or her girlfriends.

Tiffany snapped her fingers a second time. She must have security controls over this virtuality. That contract had been good. "Lucia cut that out. It's all designer-wear laced with pheromones. You're almost as bad as Miss tied-around-his-fingers."

"What did you do to my Stanton?"

"Froze him. It won't hurt --"

"You did what? Unfreeze him, now!"

"I was trying to say, freezing someone's avatar doesn't hurt anyone. You need to see this, and understand what he's doing to you." Tiffany turned to Lucia. "Look at Vanessa's legs and her wrists."

"They're longer and thinner."

"Exactly. Stanton's trying to make Vanessa dependent so that she only feels strong and secure in his presence."

"That's a lie. I'm sure there is a rational explanation and if you released Stanton, he'd tell you."

"Calm down, Vanessa. I'll release him as soon as you've seen this." Tiffany palmed a neuro-scanner and ran it over Stanton's avatar. She returned to her friends and tossed her scanner onto the table. It cast a three-dimensional holo of Stanton's timeline. She flicked a finger over the time and various images scrolled past including bondage scene with Vanessa tied up.

"Hey, that's private."

"TMI," said Lucia.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to show that. Look here." Tiffany stabbed a finger at a portion of the timeline that was blacked out. "Black market privacy mods. He's worried someone's going to snoop."

"He has good cause."

"Not me," said Tiffany. "You. This wasn't a time he was doing anything with you, look at the timeline. Were you with him at that time?"

She hadn't been with him. Vanessa accessed her memory journal and found a memory surprised that it had taken him so long to go to the market on what he'd told her was a simple errand. "I'm sure there is a good explanation." Vanessa's voice hitched and tears pooled in the corner of her eyes before the avatar's emotional override blanked her face.

Blowing the hair out of her eyes, Tiffany pushed a datachip across the table. "Use this on Stanton."

"What is it?"

"Custom programming. He'll see you the way you are."

"It won't hurt him?"

"Not a bit. Trust me. Lucia and I want only the best for you. Don't we, Lucia?"


The two woman at the table had been Vanessa's best friends since forever. Stanton was always on her about how he knew what was best. But, he also wanted her to stay away from these two, and it wasn't like she was going to hurt him, she was just going to let him see her the way she was. There couldn't be any harm in that. She pocketed the datachip.


Lucia waited until Vanessa's avatar disappeared and then enabled a custom privacy shield shared solely with Tiffany. "What was on the datachip."

"Sometimes the best lies are mostly truth. Stanton's going to see her the way he makes her look."

"OMG, girlfriend."

"Exactly. It'll crush Vanessa's heart when he breaks up with her, but at least she has us."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Driving Code

"What do you mean no residential address?" Aldo hated coders who thought keeping the important bits in wetwear meant job security. He'd need to remind them at his Monday morning team meeting that if his job was subject to off by one errors, so was their job.

"I shouldn't even be showing you this." Laura locked her screen.

"I can't believe the --" Aldo had enough ingrained years to catch himself from swearing at the last moment, at least when talking to HR wonks. "Look, the market is going to eat us alive tomorrow if we don't get this fixed tonight before Anonymous gets whiff of our blood. It's not just my job, it's yours too."

"After the 2015 Yahoo! Legislation, my hands are tied."

Aldo slammed a chair out of his way and it ricocheted down the alley between cubicles until it caught on an ethernet cable and crashed onto its back. Just because some Yahoo! boss showed up on the doorstep of one of his direct reports and squeezed fifteen shots into the poor schlock, it didn't mean there weren't times you were supposed to overlook the law. He had control of his emotions. Aldo stepped over the fallen chair.

His workspace had the team's spreadsheet opened with the row containing Bill's phone number highlighted, but he hadn't answered the phone when Aldo called. He ran his finger down the column of FindMyPhone passwords. Good thing the company issued corporate phones. It'd left the team no choice but to provide Aldo their passwords.

A flag representing Bill's phone moved along Highway 80 away from their offices. Catching Bill would take hours. Aldo looked at the code, but it wasn't just that it was Hungarian notation, it had two layers of macros that resulted in the code looking like something encrypted. Aldo shrugged and grabbed his car's fob.

The team might think he was past his prime, but Aldo had hacked his Audi to disable the speed governors and cleverly inject false position data into the DMV's database spew so they wouldn't send a speeding ticket based on logged data. He engaged the automated driver, and gave Bill's current position. He'd update it when he got closer.


Tailing Bill hadn't been enough to get him to pull over. Aldo had needed to pull in front of Bill and slow down like some LA police chase until Billy took notice and pulled over to the side of the road.

"Hey, bossman. Didn't see you. Must be serious stink to get you chasing my tail."

"Your code has gone haywire. It's the financial transactions routine. It's stripping money off the foreign exchange."

"No biggie."

"Losing us cash each time it goes through. If Anonymous gets wind of this, it'll fund their operations for a good six months."

Bill shrugged. "Nothing I can do. IT regs don't let code junkies through the VPN."

"I've got VPN on the dash. Get in the Audi."

Once Bill had pulled up the code, made a one character change and committed it and pushed it out to the production servers, Aldo grabbed his sleeve before he could disappear out of the car. "I want to see that it works this time."

"Hold your pants." Numbers spun on the real-time display and Bill flicked his finger at several numbers. "See that, bossman. It's working."

For the first time in hours Aldo took a deep breath. He would have a job tomorrow. Bill was about to slam the door shut. "Wait. Where do you live, if you're all the way out here and not home yet."

Bill scraped his foot on the rocks on the shoulder. "Couldn't afford a house, so the car is all I got. Put it on autodrive and get out of the congestion charging zone and drive all night. Anything else, bossman."

"No, no." Aldo started to plan how he'd pitch this to the VP. He'd find the angle where he'd appear to be the hero. He pulled the door shut and ordered the computer to call an extended management meeting for tomorrow morning.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Neurosynaptic Spider

I hated war. I hated the stench of battery acid staining the desert. I hated the neurosynaptic spider that crawled out from behind the wreckage of a battle bot. I grabbed the spider, slapping peace jelly on its receptors so the bristling rockets beneath its carapace wouldn't fire. I spun like a man throwing a discus. The neurosynaptic chip was a good aerodynamic and the spider floated out of sight. I logged the battle bot as a casualty.

"Peacekeeper, your report is due."

I hated my commanding officer. He wasn't any better than the flea-bitten bureaucrat who'd proposed using robots to fight proxy wars. I figured it was better than my fighting on the front lines, but jotting hashmarks for casualties was a brain killer. As well as my calves. "The bots no longer stand still. They chase all over the place. I've only tallied half the valley. Whoever is programming these things needs to teach them not to run."

"Whining won't speed the report. Get cracking." The radio crackled out.

The smoking remains of a three-story tall leg towered over me, the torso shredded by rockets. Second-generation tech no longer won wars. I counted the casualty, this one might lose them the war even if I didn't mark another loss against them.

Something flickered, I didn't get a good enough glance to tell what it was. I hated the war. I might not be fighting, but I'd heard too many stories of peacekeepers letting their guard down. I might not be the enemy, but the robots didn't seem to care.

A squad of neurosynaptic dragonflies divebombed me when I came around the corner. Behind them, I saw the jerky motion of a spider. The carapace oozed jelly. I should've known it would find friends.

I buzzed the command and control center, but no one answered my hail. Bullets strafed my position. One of the barbs cut through my battle armor. My arm exploded with pain. "Stage two. Stage two! Someone get me out of here."

I rolled across the sand and found an iron scrap I could use as a bat. I swatted the first dragonfly that followed me. It sputtered in the sand. I slapped more jelly on it, but this time instead of letting it escape, I connected a wire to its micro-USB port. I downloaded a standard interrupt pattern and the helicopter blades spun up ready to defend me. Who was I kidding, one droid wouldn't save me.

"Peacekeeper, follow standard operating procedures."

Dragonfly bodies spun to point in my direction. They had heard the radio. I ripped the swatch from my wrist and threw it at them. It hopped across the desert as they fired at it.

I wished they would outfit us with weapons, but that wouldn't have made us look like peacekeepers. Instead, I was supposed to use this jelly and my tally log against these creatures.

The interrupt pattern blocked the dragonflies as they flew closer. I watched it fly, timing my swing outside its pattern to temporarily stunned another bot into the sand. My hands flew repeating the interrupt procedure.

Iron tapped against the hard bone of my neck and I rolled over finding myself face-to-face with the spider. It pricked my skin and the spider's joint hissed as something hot and stinging shot into my bloodstream. I rammed my head forward pinning the thing into the sand.

I rolled away and trailed the USB cable connected to the second dragonfly. I was wired and I used its weapons to fire on the spider. The other creatures pulled back, all except the two dragonflies that were mine now. I suppose I was an army of three.

The maps I'd downloaded from headquarters before heading into the desert showed a cave up ahead. It wouldn't be long before the next proxy war, and I might be able to upgrade some of my own fighters. Free agency seemed like a good plan. Much better than working for my boss who evidently didn't care much about my life. I was going to like working for myself. And maybe, I wouldn't hate war after all.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Soul Deals

The years leave a stain, whether it's the liver spots on Alin's skin or the coal soot layered over the cathedral's stones. Even with the sun shining through the low-hanging clouds like a pale dandelion gone to seed, even with the dearth of men due to conscription for the church's holy wars, even with all the villagers voices raised in a throaty disharmony, her skin itched and she wished she was home in her rough-thatched lean-to on the barrow plains. She shook her head, not ready to give up so easily. She needed a youth and had delayed too long already, trying to convince herself she could be self-sufficient, remembering the mentor who had coerced her apprenticeship. When she first learned the ways of harvesting the deathwalkers, she'd promised herself she wouldn't force servitude, but age warped a person. Here she lurked, waiting to harvest her own apprentice.

The cathedral's bone bells announced the end of services. Alin stretched the shawl over her shoulders, retreating into an alley's darkness, her fingers casting id -- not her own, but that of the harvested deathwalkers -- to weave a glamour ball into reality. Villagers spewed from the maw of the great cathedral's doors. Their eyes flickered and skipped past Alin's alley.

The boy, Tavian, straggled with a handful of other young children. Alin nodded at the way the others abandoned him, leaving a separation between them. She knew his father had been drafted and Tavian had received no notice of life nor death since the spring thaw took his father. But their real fear came from what the summer rotting months had brought his mother. The Black Death. Orphaned, the church would see he was assigned guardians. But the losses would fester.

She prayed the crust over his emotional wounds would be weak, would allow her to poke through, would not require coercing. She played the glamour ball into the square. Only Tavian would see it.

"Yes, my lifewalker. Yes, take hold of destiny." The others slipped past him. His guardians neglected to watch for him. She drew the glamour ball towards herself, and the boy followed.

His hands trapped the ball. He squeaked. "Where did you come from?"

"Tavian --"

"How do you know my name?" He twitched as if trying to retreat, but the glamour had him.

She promised herself using power to coerce him to stay wasn't breaking her promises. She would leave him to make the decision, but she needed the id's power to get this chance to make him the offer. "Not important. Your mother is dead. Your father is dead."

The boy gulped.

Alin used more of the id and wove a miniature image of the battlefield, men strewn across it like rocks on a moor. Tavian's father lay on his back with his hands clutching at the spear wound. The illusion crowded out the reality of the alley. The boy loomed over the body. "Your life is dead. But it doesn't have to be."

"No... no."

She blinked. She needed strength. He wasn't refusing this opportunity, she hadn't even made her offer, but rather he denied the truth. A finality he'd already accepted.

"The soul dies, but it leaves behind the id."

"You... you're a souleater."

"Not the words I like to use. We do not eat souls, but release the essence. Otherwise, your folks will wander the earth as deathwalkers, cursed with an id unwilling to leave, haunted by the echoes their senses leaves them, jealous of the life you live. They will shamble beyond the villages walls, drawn by the cathedral's life force."

"My parents --"

"Only their id remains."

"I want to see them."

He wouldn't enjoy discovering their deathwalking shell. "I can take you to them, but first, you must agree to owe me service."

He would make a strong apprentice. His life id was strong. She was using his emotions, but she hadn't coerced his response with magic. She tried to convince herself that was what mattered. Her hand was warm on his back and fed on his id as she led him toward the barrows.

Friday, January 27, 2012


The icons behind Yuri's overlapping text editor windows -- windows containing lines of code so small his boss swore it would drive a sane man blind -- shimmered losing their form of folders and documents to become gravestones still maintaining their grid pattern over a background landscape of the peninsula's oak covered hills. Yuri glanced at the vodka bottle, but it was only a third gone. He blinked. The graves remained.

He shook his head. The old Romany soothsayer had claimed he'd die this week. She was a fake. They had no power and she was just annoyed that Yuri's LAN party had kept her awake all weekend.

Hell, maybe the problem was he hadn't had enough yet. He poured himself a shot, and for good measure poured another one, because you didn't have a problem if you never drank alone. He kicked the cubicle wall to shoot his chair into the aisle. Yuri looked left and right, but no one walked down the aisle next to his cube anymore. It made no sense to him.

Since the QA team couldn't leave until he'd committed his features, he headed towards the QA bullpen. The drop was due today. Sure, some bugs they could check from home, but a half dozen regressions required on-site testing. He couldn't afford this nonsense. But, the bullpen was empty. They had to be here.

He looked at his feet, the same feet that thundered on the wooden floors of the flamenco lounge where his dance instructor tut-tutted him. Dancers were supposed be light on their feet, but he was ex-military. They must've heard him coming. Of course, that made no sense, wouldn't they have wanted a shot.

The lead QA had a parrot whose legs dangled over the edge of the desk and the birds beak was wide open. Yuri shrugged and poured the shot down its throat. The bird was the company's mascot, and he supposed giving it a drink would be good luck for the build. He stalked back to his cubicle.

Even after another drink, he still had gravestones on his screen. He ran a process checker, but it came up clear. He snooped the packets on the network, but nothing there either.

"Hey, when you going to check-in?" the lead QA asked.

Yuri poured a shot, but when he swiveled his chair, there was no one there. He stood and saw the lead QA hurrying away. Yuri rolled his eyes and slammed the shot down. He'd tried.

Only one more change and he'd have everything finished that product had wanted. Yuri supposed he should ignore the graves on the edge of the screen, and he pulled up the code again. Fat fingers dancing over the keyboard, creating line after line of code.

The graves shook and pixelated zombies crawled out from underneath them, and began to push the windows around his screen. His keyboard stopped working. Yuri looked at the vodka bottle and decided to take a swig.

The alarm on his smartphone vibrated. He needed to depart for his flamenco lesson if he was to arrive on time. But, he razzed the others when they checked in code that wasn't tested properly. How could he test his changes when the windows on the screen wouldn't sit still.

"You done yet?" This time the lead QA didn't run away.

"I'm trying." Yuri shrugged. "Look at my display." When Yuri turned back to his desk, the icons were the normal folders and documents. "Stay right there."

With the lead QA over his shoulder, Yuri finished the final callbacks and revised the unit tests. The build ran smoothly and every unit test completed. Yuri slugged the lead QA's shoulder. "Your job now. I'm out of here." He glanced at the time. He'd miss warm-ups, but he could still make the lesson.

"Better be no bugs."

This code would be clean. He ran down the stairs, elevators were for wimps, and slid into the front seat of his Mustang.

The engine roared when he slammed the gas pedal. He was thrust back against the seat. His window blackened and Yuri couldn't see a thing in front of him. And then pixelated gravestones appeared in front of him. Zombies crawled across his windshield until the glass shattered and Yuri was thrown forward to roll across the nose of his car and onto the concrete.

Yuri's blood spilled across the concrete. The sun grew dim. A man with a face of bone stood over him, dressed in a trenchcoat.

Yuri croaked, "Why?"

The teeth in the bones face parted and Yuri supposed it was the closest they could come to a smile. "Thought you'd like the gimmick."

"But, it's not my time. She has no power."

Death shook his head. "They always say that."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Color War

Race riots flow. Race riots fan hatred. Red reaches round. Always violent. No mistake blood bleeds its deep hue.

Navy bears night's promise, knows old Chinese proverb. Her skin as smooth as any geisha's, concealing how deep the wounds touch. Her tongue flows over her enemy in thick flowing saliva.

Orange and peach and lemons may be sunset's pastels, but they pale and fail. We will forget them.

Whites are most prevalent. They claim purity and that the god's favor is twisted into their fibers. But, they fall stained when the spin cycle ends and they are discarded.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blow the House Down


The blast of Moons' sneeze shook the craftman house's ceiling until the cracks in the corners gave out and the godchild's windy spew whistled over the peeling paint and into the night. The roof settled, creating at least a temporary seal.

"For god's sake, Cassandra, get those windows open." Tybalt ran for the kitchen before Moons sneezed again. On the counter, take-out food containers towered like toy miniatures modeling a three-story housing development. Tybalt shoved them aside. The pills had to be here.

Moons wheezed swallowing an impossible amount of air. Tybalt slammed his hands against the latch on the window, but the pressure from the outside jammed the lock. He grabbed a pot and whacked at the latch, but it didn't work. The house creaked; Cassandra must've failed to open the other windows. With regret he looked at the pot and then at the window and shrugged. Glass tinkled when he threw the pot. Shards of glass shivered themselves into his coat, riding the wind vacuumed by Moons' lungs.

He needed those pills. He pulled the kitchen drawers and dumped them on the floor, watching for the manila yellow bottle.

"Honey, did you check the fridge?"

Tybalt knew the god pills didn't need refrigeration and therefore the refrigerator seemed like an awful bad place to keep them. But, he had looked everywhere else, and the pills had to be in the kitchen, so he opened the door, and there on the shelf right in front stood the pills.

He grabbed the bottle and ran into the other room twisting the childproof lock, but it stuck. It made no sense to use a childproof lock when the god-babies could get at the bills by twisting the bottle in half. Greedy big Pharma companies and their screwups just made his life difficult. It wouldn't be a surprise if Pharma had a personal vendetta against Tybalt.

Moons' wheeze continued, but it grew thin and the boy twitched like he did prior to expelling his sneeze.

"House won't last another sneeze."

"I know," snapped Tybalt. "Lid's jammed."

Cassandra ran to help. He stood, balancing on the cap, as she held the bottle and he tried to twirl, getting his weight and the twisting right. He fell forward and knocked down a lamp, which had amazingly managed to stay upright in the last sneeze.

"You got it." Cassandra grabbed a pill and ran to Moons' side. His mouth gaped open and she threw the pill in. He coughed and the pill ended up on the floor. He backslapped Cassandra and she flew through the air, hitting a bookcase. Books fell across the room.

"Pill itches."

"Moons, baby. You got to take the pill."

The limp FDA had waived the normal trials when big Pharma proved children were born immortal, were born gods, but only for a few moments before the immortality drained away. But their pill, promised to change all that. They argued that everyone should have the chance at godhood. They didn't have time for tests since all those kids would lose their opportunity. Stupid pills left allergic reactions.

"No pill. Liquid." Moons' face twisted as if he understood that he wasn't supposed to sneeze and was trying to keep it back.

"We don't have anymore."

Moons fist was still dappled like a baby's flesh, but it was bigger around then Tybalt's thigh. Moons grabbed him like a rattle and shook him in the air.

Cassandra must have recovered from her flight. She held a glass of water. "Moons, set your Pa down, now."

Tybalt wobbled. Cassandra grabbed the pill and ground it against the side of the glass. Tybalt prayed it would work.

Their godchild gargled. Tybalt relaxed when the nose stopped twitching.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rave: Michael Grist's Gristly Diamonds

I'll apologize for the groaner of a pun. You guessed it, I'm one of those kids from high school you couldn't take anywhere because I'd find the puns and everyone would groan. I hope that won't turn you off Michael Grist's Bone Diamonds. The story isn't for the squeamish, and I think that's why I like it.

I've rarely seen the horrors of a society so quickly captured as that done in the bone diamonds. It's set in ancient Egypt-like world where Pharaoh's rule and their "Olympic" games involve chopping off the legs of those who've annoyed the Pharaoh, placing them in an arena, and flooding it with water. A single pole stands in the center of the arena where the unlucky athletes struggle to be king of the pole.

This scene along with the others makes it obvious that one doesn't want to cross the Pharaoh. Unfortunately, life in this ancient world isn't easy and the protagonist finds it difficult to thread a life that won't kill him. I like how the crucible of this world pushes him to do things I wouldn't accept as moral, but I understand why he does them.

If this whets your appetite, you can find the story published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.