Plugs

Note: This story, while it stands alone, belongs to the Anan Muss series.

Anan Muss was careful, but not so careful he didn’t make mistakes (after all, a legion of King Ash’s slitters once sliced arc-blades at his head on every quantum-entanglement port).   Anan’s caution primarily meant it took longer to do simple tasks–as if his brain had rocketed to light-speed, slowing down his relative time.  Washing, ironing, and folding laundry usually cost him a weekend, even with robots. Cleaning his apartment required a week’s vacation.

Love was trickier.  He took his time in courtship:  a month to muster the courage to ask women to the aquarium theater, to talk intimately and walk the hanging orchid gardens, yet another month to kiss beneath bridges by the canals, and a year later to fall helplessly in love.  The year after that might have been marriage, he supposed, but women rarely waited long enough for him to ask them out.

Luckily, the second-generation AI ladies appeared in Japan.  All the shy lads wanted one.  By design, quantities were low, demand high.  One would have cost his year’s accounting salary.

So Anan mail-ordered one of those borderline real phonies made in China.  His fingers trembled as he unwrapped her.  Her skin–a soft, off-ivory–accentuated her raven-black hair.  His heart wanted to gallop away, but he reined it in.  She accepted his hand and stepped out of the box, “Am I not beautiful?”

Caught off-guard, yet ever poetic, Anan sought the right words:  “Yes…. I mean, no…. I mean, you are beautiful.”

“Love me, and I will be whomever you want.”

“Being yourself is enough although contents may settle, like cereal in a box.”

“And you will be whomever I want you to be.”

“Sure.  Within the limits of my present brain pattern.”

She laid plans of their future together.  He said he hoped she would have patient understanding, be someone he could share words with, someone who’d sharpen him gently, someone who would challenge and accept challenge.  “That’s exactly who I am,” she said, mentioning her unparalleled poetic sensibility.

As he painted her a porcelain love poem, he spoke of this inane idea he’d had of dating women virtually–not for love per se, but to understand women better.

He handed her his poem:

Laxity in

love milks

the black


swell of

twisted minutes

into hours

She shattered the porcelain and stalked away.  “I have no time for words.”

“She’s right.”  Anan sifted through the broken chips.  “It’s not much of a love poem.”

Note: This story, while it stands alone, belongs to the Anan Muss series.

Anan Muss was careful.  While he still made mistakes (after all, a legion of King Ash’s slitters once sliced arc-blades at his head on every quantum-entanglement port),  Anan’s caution merely meant that it took longer to do simple tasks–as if his brain had rocketed to light-speed, slowing down time.  Washing, ironing, and folding laundry usually cost him a weekend, even with robots. Cleaning his apartment required a week’s vacation.

Love was trickier.  In college he’d taken his time to talk intimately and walk around the hanging orchid gardens with girls he found interesting.  It took him a month to ask women out to the aquarium theater, another month to kiss underneath bridges by the canals, and a year later to fall helplessly in love.  The year after that might have been marriage, he supposed, but women rarely waited long enough for him to ask them out.

Luckily, the second-generation AI ladies appeared in Japan.  All the shy lads wanted one.  By design, quantities were low, demand high.  One would have cost his year’s accounting salary.

So Anan mail-ordered one of those borderline real phonies made in China.  His fingers trembled as he unwrapped her.  Her skin–a soft, off-ivory–accentuated her raven-black hair.  His heart wanted to gallop away, but he reined it in.  She accepted his hand and stepped out of the box, “Am I not beautiful?”

Caught off-guard, yet ever poetic, Anan sought the right word:  “Yes.”

“Love me, and I will be whomever you want.”

Anan explained he wanted her to be herself.

As if he had said nothing, she added, “You will be whomever I want you to be.”

He said he’d try to accommodate any odd request within the limits of his brain pattern.

She laid plans of their future together.  He said he hoped she would have patient understanding, be someone he could share words with, someone who’d sharpen him gently, someone who would challenge and accept challenge.  “That’s exactly who I am,” she said, mentioning her unparalleled poetic sensibility.

As he painted her a porcelain love poem, he spoke of this inane idea he’d had of dating women virtually–not for love per se, but to understand women better.

He handed her his poem:

Laxity in

love milks

the black


swell of

twisted minutes

into hours

She shattered the porcelain and stalked away.  “I have no time for words.”

They say Our Lady of the Sands first showed herself on a seashore. The people there venerated her, and prayed to her for fair winds. She was kind to them, and when the storms came, she stood on the point in the rain-lashed darkness and shed her light over the sea to guide lost fishermen home.

Then something happened. Maybe she was displaced by another Lady, arrived in the traders’ ships, or maybe by an usurper risen from the sea. Whatever it was, Our Lady of the Sands fled inland — away from the fishing coasts, across the farmlands, over the corrugated goat-bleating mountains — and inward to the desert.

Once Our Lady was peaceful. Now she has gone bad. She brings sandstorms, and the people fear her.

The oasis folk will tell you this story — though you may be surprised by the calm in their faces. After all, the oasis people lead modern lives, with their date farms and their televisions. They keep up the shrines, but if you ask them what Our Lady really does, they will probably shrug. Sand in the air conditioner? A hard time starting the truck?

The caravan merchants have more to say. They maintain their traditions, even if today they drive ATVs instead of camels, and they will tell you the warnings and tales. Watch for Our Lady’s shadow: a threatening figure on the horizon, a woman veiled in curtains of flying dust. She tails behind her the simoom, the haboob, the khamsin. Once folded inside, you will never find your way out.

In the end, of course, if you wanted the real story about Our Lady, you would have to go to the nomads. It’s too bad they are such a private people. For the stories they tell about Our Lady are different again. They too center on sandstorms, yes, and on someone lost as the terrible wind whips up, the dust rising to choke off sound, light, breath.

But at the end of their stories, sometimes the lost person is found again. What they recount is always the same. A sense of being caught up in arms, clutched, for a few minutes or endless hours, to a blowing heart. A seeking, as of reaching back toward a home where they have never been. And in their noses an unfamiliar tang: the strange, salty, lost smell of the sea.

Route: Portland, OR to Denver, CO

A. Portland, Oregon


1. Grand adventure is calling!

2. Slide your ass out of bed.

3. Drink a Stumptown or three.

4. Clear IPAs from your head.

5. Gas up the Subie wagon!

6. Put on your old Birks!

7. You’re in Oregon camo.

8. (In the city that works.)

9. Avoid roads with bored cops.

10. (You don’t want to go down.)

11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!

12. Head straight south out of town.

637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):

B. San Francisco, California

1. Cross your choice of big bridges.

2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!

3. Go up and go down.

4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!

5. Go up and go down.

6. Get lost and then again!

7. Do E with a homeless dude.

8. He’ll become your best friend!

9. Good luck finding parking.

10. (Though it helps some to pray.)

11. Kick the homeless dude out.

12. And head south to L.A.

381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):

C. Los Angeles, California

1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!

2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!

3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!

4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!

5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.

6. Never trust a valet.

7. Careful snorting while driving.

8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!

9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.

10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!

11. Avoid being on a reality show.

12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.

792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):

D. Albuquerque, New Mexico

1. Take that left turn.

2. (You know that you want to!)

3. Make fun of the town’s name.

4. Just where no one can hear you.

5. It’s a good place for business.

6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).

7. But they drive like they have

8. Nowhere special to go.

9. So just drink some peyote.

10. View the great color fountain!

11. See hot air balloon fiestas.

12. Then head on up the mountain!

449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):

E. Denver, Colorado

1. Celebrate that you’re here!

2. Your adventure is done.

3. Drink beer and get stoned.

4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!

5. It’s the Mile High City.

6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!

7. Reflect on your adventure.

8. All the places you’ve been!

9. You’ve had traffic and parking.

10. Yes, at times you were vexed.

11. But it’s your destination!

12. Where will you go next?

Auto Draft

by Rudi Dornemann

Auto Draft

by Rudi Dornemann