« April 2007 | Main | June 2007 »

May 31, 2007


My name is Deadbolt, Hasp Deadbolt. I'm a P.I. In my business, trouble often comes calling. This time a giant bug grabbed my elbow and jerked me around, tearing my shirt.

"Lady," I said, "violence is not necessary."

"Emergency!" She screamed. "My house is on fire, my children will burn!" She pointed. A plume of black smoke rose a few blocks away.

"Did you call the fire department?"

She nodded, urging me in the direction of the blaze and ripping my sleeve clean off.

"Then fly away home; I'll be along." I started running.


By the time I got there, the fire was out. Her children huddled around her skirts, crying. She counted frantically. "Ann, my youngest, isn't here!"

I waded into the rubble. I started in the wreckage of her kitchen. "Here she is ma'am," I called, "under the pudding pan."

While the frantic mother was cuddling the baby, a local cop arrived. Constable Johns and I went way back. Bridget had a sharp eye, she was tough, and she owed me, since the "Boy Blue" incident.

"Good work Hasp," she said, "but why are you interfering with an arson investigation?"

"Arson!?" I exclaimed. "This just happened." If I'd been thinking a little faster I would've claimed Mrs. Ladybird was my client, but just then the lady in question turned to us.

"Arson!" She looked at me. "Hasp Deadbolt?" I nodded. "I want you to help me nail the bastard who tried to kill my babies." She turned to Constable Johns. "What do the police think?"

"Well, ma'am, I'm not at liberty..."

"Deadbolt, you're on the case. Is 100 a sufficient retainer?"


"Constable," I said, "we need to talk. Let me buy you a pastry."

"I'll fill you in," she said, taking a bite, "if you help me." There'd been a string of suspicious fires on the north side.

"We've kept quiet. We don't want copycats."

The fires were set in broad daylight; it had to be somebody who spent a lot of time in this part of town. I rubbed my chin. Old Miz Hubbard was doing time in the happy house. "This is not Georgy Porgy's style. I like Dr. Fell, but I can't say why."

Bridget nodded thoughtfully. "I can put him near two fires, maybe more."

"Let's check his house." I couldn't do that legally, but Bridget could. The next day we waited until the doctor left on his rounds and we went in the back door.


Not much can turn my stomach, but all I will say about what we found there is this: I do not love thee Dr. Fell.

The end

For those unfamiliar with the two nursery rhymes referred to here, these are links to versions similar to the ones I used.

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home


I do not like thee Dr. Fell


May 30, 2007


Although known commonly as "teleportation," I prefer this 1950s usage, which implies a short, pleasant trip. Originally, it meant to ride your horse until it tired. Now it's knowing your destination by orienting your mind to the beginning and extrapolating yourself to the end--a minor reorientation of perspective that changed the world.

Whenever newsheets downloaded the latest death tolls, my family took short trips down to a private North Carolina pine-forest island beach. We laid out a blanket and picnic basket and gave our daughter a bucket and a shovel--pretending we were the only people left in the world. The Atlantic lapped the shore as if time might stop. We didn't experience that pang in the chest every time we snapped up a newsheet to find out who bombed who, who hung or decapitated in retaliation.

Vera, my wife, coped differently. She rearranged the world, moving the couch at different angles to the 3V as if the news looked better from a different perspective. In her green phase, all the upholstery was verdant with vines, leaves, and hanging gardens seen only when the light glanced off it. A spring of false optimism. Every tribe attempted peace accords. Negotiations murmured behind closed doors. We held our breath when the world's leaders came out to say nothing had been resolved.

When news of jaunting spread like a virus, every man with a grudge and a bludgeon could appear anywhere within the limits of his imagination. War returned. Vera swapped green upholstery for red.

When our bank lost their reserves to mirror-shielded jaunters on whom automatic laser rifles had no effect, my mind was distracted and I jaunted home, afraid to tell my wife we were penniless and probably wouldn't be able to fill our picnic baskets on our jaunts to the seashore. Only after we'd eaten dinner in silence--a minestrone with grated Parmesan--did I notice the furniture was green. The couch was repositioned to where it was before jaunting hit the world. Furthermore, news on the 3V had restored its era of false optimism.

Whenever Vera changed the upholstery to ashy blacks or desert tans, I jaunted back to an apartment of green upholstery. I won't say that I'm jaunting to a saner, parallel universe or that I'm reversing time, perhaps stunting my child's development indefinitely. I don't know.

But somehow I don't care.

May 29, 2007


His daughter Claudia was crazy: she changed jobs overnight and he
never knew who she was dating. When she was home, she scribbled on her
notepad and left the scraps of paper lying around for him to find.
Whenever his guard was down, he'd be jolted by men suffocating on
their top-hats, amoebas with eyes and tentacles, frog eating

They argued a lot.

When Claudia came visiting, she drank his beer and stretched out on
her mother's cream sofa. Metal studs inched down her ears and
eyebrows, down the nape of her neck, disappearing under her clothing
to find secret places to pinch, to rub.

His daughter suffered from kidney failure; she shouldn't drink.

Dialysis became more frequent. Claudia could no longer live alone so
she moved back into the house. The cream sofa became her fiefdom,
where she received men with soft voices and sad eyes, women with dyke
haircuts and well-toned shoulders. The visitors brought crocuses,
dandelions, snowdrops.

The doctors pronounced them compatible. He gave her a kidney.

She lived. He still thinks she's crazy. She drinks his beer and gets
grease stains on the sofa. The amoebas have multiplied into a sea of
little monsters. Once in a while, a kidney makes its way into her
drawings. He swears that he'll use them for toilet paper, but he never
does. They argue every single day.

May 28, 2007

The Six Degrees of Marcus Sansome

It's really beyond the purview of this narrative to tell you how the alien got into Marcus Sansome's body. Suffice to say it involved a meteorite, a nearsighted chicken, a national chain of grocery stores you'd certainly recognize, and two eggs he cooked over easy with bacon and an english muffin.

The alien ate Marcus Sansome from the inside, growing carbon nanotube tendrils through his body to manipulate his fingers, his mouth, his neck and back and legs. The alien's distributed memory recorded everything it found: Sansome's DNA and the nucleotides of which it was composed, his cell structure, the varied compositions and purposes of his many organs. Reaching his brain, the alien slowed to savor its complexity, to encompass its entirety. Holographs reproduced its synaptic structure, and the alien spent delicious microseconds unravelling as much as it could of Sansome's memories, his sensory perceptions, his thinking processes.

Tendrils reached the limits of Marcus Sansome's body, and encountered anomalies. Hair and nails, dead tissue, were they part of this body or not? The alien consulted the analogue it had built of his self-image. Yes, it thought, and pushed air from Sansome's lungs to say it out loud in a breathy whisper. "Me."

Clothing presented the next challenge. Their construction differed from that of Marcus Sansome's body, and there were many anomalous substances in them. Yet they obviously served as a second skin. Once more the alien referred to its reconstruction of his brain. Then, satisfied, tubes furcated a million times, assimilating cloth and leather. "My clothes," said Sansome's voice.

Why stop there? The alien found in Marcus Sansome's consciousness the concept of possessions. Ownership extended to this house, to these furnishings, to all these belongings. Tendrils grew from the soles of Sansome's shoes to spread throughout the house, interpenetrating and cataloguing all they found. "All mine," the alien made him say, in a tone approaching wonder.

The doorbell rang. The alien heard it with Marcus Sansome's ears and felt it from inside the bell. It swiveled the body's head and made it walk to the door. Thousands of tubes parted as the body lifted each foot, thousands connected for the second his foot again touched the carpet. He turned the knob, pulled. Outside the door stood a being. The alien consulted Sansome's memory once more. Then, delighted, it extended a hand.

"My friend!" it said.

May 25, 2007

The Courier's Tale

It's still early when Eyve Aerial enters the abandoned district. The sun is bright and low, so that the spidery petals of snowflake roses cast shadows like clutching hands on the edge of the road.

An invocation, chalked on the bowed metal of a cellar door in careful phonetics, is a line of bubble-round glyphs that might be cartoons. Eyve forces herself not to read, lest she sound them out in her head and activate something.

An emperor centipede blurs across the pavement, a quick zig just when it would have scurried over the toe of her boot, and it's away into the safety of the rose-thicket shadows. From the clacking clatter of its segments, the mineralizing's irreversible -- it'll be dead in a week, a statue, a monument to its final moment. Eyve shivers; Medusa syndrome! And it almost touched her.

She's carrying a jar full of oracular candies, imported and expensive: fruity fizzing omen-jellies, licorice-centered maybes, sugar-powdered harbingers. As bad for your teeth as your soul -- that's what the Central Square Sorceress said when she paid Eyve the first half of the courier fee. She sounded stern and all-knowing, like she always sounded.

Eyve's been resisting the temptation to taste one all the blocks and blocks she's been walking. With all the miles she has to go, she won't be able to hold out. The Blue Magus of the Western Suburbs will never know if she has one. Just one. This is the only part of her route where there won't be anyone around to see her.

Eyve reaches without looking, pops a minty-sour something into her mouth. The taste is acid and too-sweet. She spits it out on the asphalt, but flavor is still unfolding on her tongue, rich and disgusting. She sees herself, not much older, hobbling and rust-furred, clanking into her final pose. The jar slips from her hands, shatters. Candy blobs and glass splinters cover the road.

After a frozen moment, she picks up a squashed harbinger, and licks it, hoping for a glimpse of a different, less terminal, future. Just a lick shouldn't be too bad for her, and if it's promising, she can eat the whole thing. It tastes like yesterday's stewed cabbage, and shows her the whole city turned to a charred crater.

She sets the harbinger aside and reaches for a pink-frosted portent nougat. Maybe this one will be better.

May 24, 2007

Bullet Ride

Our reentry pods skip across the over Africa to South America in a handful of seconds and Jessie is screaming like she did when we snuck off to ride the Dubai coasters while my parents negotiated treaties with her parents in Geneva. The Mission Control people are chuckling over the comm, so I guess it's not uncommon for return trippers to treat the whole thing like just another amusement park ride.

I hated the coasters. The only reason I ever rode them was because Jessie would let me feel her up afterwards. I hate this just as much, and I am pretty sure I just wet myself or worse. My heart is bouncing off my rib cages like a raver on E-plus.

"The problem with you," Jessie said to me below the coaster while I puked my lunch onto the sizzling-hot pavement, "is that you just can't let go. You need to conquer your fear of death and make it work for you."

Hence our trip back from the L5 station as bullets fired at the Earth's atmosphere inside goo-filled pods.

She's going to fuck me when we land.

So it's probably worth it.

"Parachutes to deploy in t-minus eight," a woman's voice says through my comm. "There will be a slight bump."

I feel the bump, only it's more like a maglev train crashing into a brick wall. Jessie stops screaming. The silence scares me more than the screaming.

I'm surrounded by impact, g-resistant gel, so I can barely move my fingers to text: Jessie?

No answer. I hit my panic button.

"Remain calm," says the woman's voice. "Your reentry pod is functioning normally." I can hear frantic argument behind her, but I can't make out the words.

What about Jessie? I text as fast as I can. The pressure is letting up. I can feel gravity's pull at my feet again, and the pod is swaying gently.

No answer.

I'm not dumb. I know what's happened. Jessie was my best friend, maybe my only friend. But all I can think is, Shit. Now I'm never going to lose my virginity.

May 23, 2007

Ain't No Cure For Love

2145 AC

The Earl of Knutterbury got out of the time machine that the weird stranger had given him and entered the building with "Health.Inc" written in large neon letters over the portico. As soon as he wasn't looking, the machine imploded silently and disappeared.

"I've got the disease of love," he told the receptionist. The Earl was embarrassed to talk about such matters in front of a woman, even though her cleavage indicated that she wasn't a lady.

"Ain't no cure for that," the girl laughed.

"I meant Venus's disease." The Earl saw the confused look in her face. "Syphilis!," he shouted and blushed.


"Tertiary syphilis? Are you sure?," the CEO of Health.Inc asked.

"Absolutely sir. There's also some brain damage, which penicillin won't reverse. Should we give him complete neuro-regenerative treatment?"

The CEO looked at his aide as if the man had lost his mind.

"Of course! The publicity is well worth the cost. Imagine, a nineteenth century gentleman, come to get treatment from Health.Inc. Besides, we have the contract to consider..." The contract stated that Health.Inc had to treat every human and household pet within the confines of the European Union. In exchange, they had been awarded the succulent biological arms contracts.

"Sir, please reconsider, what if more of these health tourists come? We can't treat everyone!"

"Stop angsting. There won't be any others. Random space-time anomaly, wasn't that what the physics called it?"

"But his time-machine?"

"Doesn't exist. Did anyone see him walking out of any time-machine? Where is it? Show it to me! Son, he has neurological damage, he's probably seeing little green men."


2434 AC

"Brilliant! What a trick, drowning them in medical refugees so they had to divert their funds from biological weapons. How the hell did you think of it?," Brillo asked.

Aro leaned back in the semi-sentient chair and listened to it purr. Brillo was an idiot, but still, it was nice to be adored.

"It wasn't so difficult. Come on, if you want, you can help me with the next intervention. Which century do you want, twentieth, or twenty-first? It's up to you."

May 22, 2007

The Boring Seed

My uncle gave me a thunderstorm seed for my 14th birthday. I had just unwrapped three PS games (none of the cool ones, Mom didn't want the violence to rot my moral fiber, whatever) and a Judy Blume book from my misguided Aunt Cheryl (hello, I'm a boy! What was she thinking?!). I picked up a tiny box next, and when I read Uncle Tom's name in the card, I felt a jolt of disappointment: this was the uncle who had given me a power drill the year before, and frankly I was expecting something, well, bigger.

But I smiled my fake polite smile, which I have had plenty of chance to practice with six aunts and uncles and not enough kids to dilute their attention, and unwrapped the box.

At the exact moment that I opened the lid and saw the plain gray seed, about the same size as a cherry pit, my uncle said, "I know it looks kind of boring."

"Yeah," I said, relieved.

"Well, don't be fooled when something comes in a boring package. Don't touch it!"

I pulled my finger back.

"What is it?" I asked, automatically putting the box in Aunt Cheryl's hand when she reached for it.

Each aunt examined it, nodding solemnly before she passed it to the next, and I could tell everyone else knew it was.

"Something for the future," he said mysteriously. "Plant it when you want something exciting to happen, but only when you're really serious, not when you just feel bored. Plant it before a hot date," he smiled.

"Tom," said Aunt Cheryl in a scolding voice, but I saw her cheek twitch before she could hide her smile. He ignored her the same way I ignore my sister sometimes.

"Don't you think he's a little young...?" My mother asked him in the kitchen later, when she thought I was outside playing with my youngest uncle.

"Oh, I don't know. You guys have already got him thinking about Yale," he said, laughing.

I forgot about the thunderstorm seed until the night before my junior prom. I had a special date for the prom: a girl I hadn't noticed at the start of the year, mostly because she sat at the front of the class with the other brains. But one day in February, when school couldn't have been any grayer, she made a joke and I fell out of my seat laughing.

And so, in that spring when prom dresses and acceptance letters bloomed, on a nervous night after I had picked up my tuxedo, I planted the seed.

All I can say is, bless Uncle Tom. He never told me where he got it from.

May 21, 2007

Pig Pong*

Charley was on the verge of winning his 100th game of pig pong. It was a grueling sport, but he had made it his own by dint of countless hours of practice. He had sacrificed ice cream socials, Friday night dances, trips to the movie theatre, everything. All had been subsumed by his one life-consuming goal. And it had all been worth it. Now, with pig pong declared the newest Olympic Sport, he was perfectly positioned for a gold medal next year at the Pyongyang games. All the name calling, clod throwing, scum bunnies from Central High School would finally get their paybacks. Yes, they'd be sorry.

But now, it was time to focus. Randi had just backhanded a big hairy sow low across the center of the net. Squealing, the pig bounced in the near-right quadrant and spun towards the outside corner. *Wack* ("Eeeeeeeeeee") Charley returned the hog, dropping it just on Randi's side of the net in his patented pigspin return. No point. It was his serve.

"If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the smokehouse!" Charley laughed.

"Honey, I ain't even rolled up my sleeves."

Charley scowled, dropped the porker smartly for a good bounce, and slammed it towards the white line just below Randi's navel. Yes, it took a big woman to play pig pong successfully, but there wasn't an ounce of fat on her 6'1" frame. She returned the swine to Charley's left corner. Return. Right corner. Return. Left corner. Return. He began to sweat. This was a long volley for pig pong. Usually either the table or the suid gave out by now. Good thing they weren't playing a boar. Right. Return. Left. Return. Right. Return. Sweat poured down Charley's face. Randi was indeed a worthy opponent. He might just ask her out after the game. Left. Return. Right. Return. Left. Return. Right corner--and away. No point. Randi's serve.

And so the game wore on, neither combatant yielding. Finally, the score was 20:18, Randi's serve, game point. This was where he would do it. He would take the serve away one last time and crush her. She slammed the oinker down on the table and fired it straight for the right corner. Charley lunged and whacked the pig on the ham. He lurched back to position just in time to see the curly tail disappear over the other end of the table. He had lost. LOST! She must have cheated. Moved the table, something! He would NEVER ask her out now.

"Good game," she said, grinning, "want to go for a root beer?"

*No farm animals were harmed in the writing of this story.

The end

May 18, 2007

Parthenia Rook, Episode 2: The Shoe in the Brain

Parthenia Rook stumbled out of the smoking wreckage of the downed Zeppelin Regret, bruised and bloody and cross-eyed with exhaustion from her fight with the android toddler, whose limbs lay scattered across the cobblestones of the town square. Above the spires and 400-year-old cafes of Vörpalsberg, the former passengers of the Zeppelin drifted through the sky under their improvised bedsheet parachutes like dandelion fluff.

Parthenia was exhausted. The Bonobo King could send a three-year-old with a kitchen knife to kill her at this point, and she'd be too tired to resist. Come to think of it, that was more or less what he'd just done. It had almost worked.

She slumped down on a chair outside one of the cafes and waited for a waiter, which was ironic. She was not pleased when the square, which she began to realize was strangely quiet, began to fill from all directions with zombie photographers who lurched toward her, clicking death cameras that flung out bolts of electricity.

Without pausing to think, Parthenia leapt up to grab the awning above her and flung herself into the air, performing a full backflip over the nearest zombie to land with one foot planted on the back of its head. The zombie crumpled under her, its head bursting on the cobblestones like a ripe grapefruit. Parthenia stepped away, leaving her shoe lodged in the former zombie's former brains. She really should not have worn heels.

As the zombie photographers closed in around her, Parthenia kicked off her other shoe and looked around for a weapon. It was interesting: she really wasn't as tired as she'd thought.

May 17, 2007

The Theory of Geothermal Heating

(being an explication of the origins and initial reception of the new theory, together with an account of its rigorous testing)

Even in these enlightened times, Professor Robin's theory was met with skepticism.

The Chronicle: "Nonsense of the Worst Sort!"

The Times, as expected, was more urbane: "Professor Robin's radical Theory of Geothermal Heat has no foundation whatever."

His fellow scientists were no kinder. Robin was expelled from the premier societies and ignored at meetings. The last straw came when Professor Philip, Chair of Earth Science at The University, had this to say: "Sir, do you mean that you believe the interior is a greater source of heat than the sun?! Poppycock! The Theory of Solar Heat is central to thermodynamics. It enjoys almost universal support and its predictions have been proven countless times."

The gantlet had to be taken up. After all, the matter involved considerations beyond mere science.


Robin mopped his brow. The drill rig towered above, but its shade fell elsewhere. Drilling was going well, and the bit should penetrate the base of the crust today. If his theory was correct, they would soon bring up samples of the hot mantle.

A shadow interposed itself between him and the sun. "Robin," Cynthia said, "on a day like today it is difficult to believe that heat comes from within rather than above."

"Dearest Cynthia," he replied, "I have never claimed that we receive no radiant heat..." he swallowed. "I wish you would not tease about such things, given the attitude your father has displayed towards my suggestion of an alliance between us."

With an expression of contrition she stood on tiptoe to kiss his forehead. "I have never doubted your brilliance. And I would love you anyway, were you quite wrong."

Prof. Michael strolled up, hands in pockets. "Ready for ignominious defeat?"

"Au contraire!" Robin retorted hotly, but he was interrupted by an excited shout from the driller:

"New sample, Professor!" They hurried to the rig. The newest core lay on the plank table.

"Lighter color, more porosity... what are those dark blobs?" Robin mused.

Cynthia plucked one out, popped it in her mouth. "Mmm, blueberry."

"Observe the steam, Michael." Robin gestured towards the core. "Clearly the temperature of the interior is much greater than that on the surface. You have the pleasure of witnessing my vindication!"

"Vindication? You have proved yourself wrong. Although I have to admit some chagrin myself. The Bakists were on the right track after all. Oh look! Whole wheat!" He licked his lips.

May 16, 2007

We Are Siamese

Yuk hated Yak and knew Yak would ask for the salt-and-peppershakers that would raise their blood pressure. At a closeout sale following the big quake, Yuk bought the most hideous shakers he could find to curb Yak's appetite. It didn't work. "Pass the matching pair of joined-at-the-hip salt-and-peppershakers that look like a couple of nasty beasts going at it, if you please," Yak asked in a tone that suggested he would as soon stab Yuk in the back as accept the nifty shakers. Yuk laughed to himself, good thing I laced the shakers with rat poison; that'll learn the dirty rat.

Yak accepted the damnable salt-and-peppershakers with a smile on his face and a dagger in their heart. Yuk had probably poisoned them. Yak pointed at the window. "Look, in the sky! Is that a bird or a plane?" When Yuk turned his head, Yak sprinkled Yuk's Tostitos with poison. We'll see just how funny poisoned salt-and-peppershakers really are, Yak thought.

The chair groaned as they wobbled back and forth.

May 15, 2007

All My Stories

     Now you have heard my story of the zebra who sold his stripes to an elephant.
     And you know the story of Polaris, who was a starfish before the King of the North granted his wish.
     And you know that the wolf howls at the moon because he stays up all night and is too tired to howl at the sun.

     You know all my stories, like why the dragons are all living in volcanoes and where the Phoenix hides in Arizona.
     And you know what Sleeping Beauty dreamed about.
     And you know why her daughter was named Matilda Jane.

     Now, you know about the owl who lost to himself at chess.
     And you know about the quarrel between Summer and Winter.
     And you know about the time Thursday wanted to come before Tuesday.

     You have heard the tale of the King of the Bakers who traded his crown for a cake made of rainbows.
     And you know why evergreen trees don't change color.
     And you know where the lioness lost her mane.

     Now, you've heard why turtles and pies have shells and why skunks and alarm clocks don't.
     And you know about the cowboy who roped the moon.
     And you know about the hunter who snared his own shadow.

     That is all of my stories. I have no more. If you don't believe me then I'll tell you a little tale why.

May 14, 2007

One Hole Goes In. One Hole Comes Out.

See death. See death conquer. Death conquers all.

See the bloated human corpses. See the alien conquerers. The alien conquerers are squat and mauve and desolated. See them cry. What have they done?

See the alien playleader Contemptuous stride through the ruins. Contemptuous has lost his mating group. They died of a bad missile. Poor, poor mating group. Poor Contemptuous.

Contemptuous likes to play. The alien conquerers like to play. The aliens do not like to kill. They do not kill with malice aforethought.

The aliens play with good missiles. They play with xenoforming nanotechnology. Their missiles do not hurt them. Boom, boom! See?

Humans like to play, too. Why are the humans playing with missiles? They should not play with the alien conquerers. They should not play with Contemptuous. Contemptuous will be cross. Why do humans play with missiles? Sodding bastards.

Now there is movement. Look, Contemptuous, look! There is movement! There are humans! They are not all dead. Death did not conquer them.

See Contemptuous run. He runs with abandon. He runs to the humans, blaring with joy.

The humans have breathing apparatus. The humans have guns. See them shoot Contemptuous! How joyfully they shoot! Their bullets make tiny holes. One hole goes in. One hole comes out.

Contemptuous wants to play with guns. He will play, too. His nanotech symbiants are making a gun. Contemptuous shoots them. What fun to play! The humans fall down. They are good at playing.

Contemptuous loses bodily fluids. Now he is cross. Why must he lose bodily fluids? They pool on the ground like old fryer oil.

Contemptuous sees his mating group. He sees them in a vision. Stay, mating group, stay! The vision is only neurochemical. There is no afterlife. Contemptuous feels cold. Poor Contemptuous!

See darkness. Fall, darkness, fall! Darkness falls fast.

May 11, 2007

Parthenia Rook, Episode 1: The Third Oldest Trick

Parthenia Rook was an accomplished pilot, an expert with clockwork, a certified public accountant, a master of more than 870 convincing disguises, a sharpshooter, a xenobiologist, a famous stamp collector, and a world champion at reverse checkers. Yet none of her skills could help her as the power-crazed Bonobo King dangled an unconscious three-year old over edge of the gasbag of the massive dirigible Regret and instructed Parthenia to jump, or he would drop the child.

She had no doubt he meant what he said. Yet if Parthenia jumped, who would save the passengers of the Regret from being crashed into the middle of the World's Fair and Exposition? Parthenia hesitated. The Bonobo King cackled and let the toddler slip another inch. If only his exoskeletal armor didn't give him such incredible strength!

"The primary difference between humans and bonobos, as I see it," said the Bonobo King putting one hand behind his back, "is that when nature decided to branch into our superior race and your naked and confused one, it left only us with the ability to act decisively."

"If you drop that girl, there won't be anything to stop me from killing you," said Parthenia.

"It's not a girl," said the Bonobo King.

What? Parthenia gaped at the child. She was wearing a little pink dress. She had tumbly blonde hair. How--

Thwack. The paralysis dart slapped meatily into Parthenia's thigh. She had fallen for the third oldest trick in the book. In seconds, she would lose consciousness and fall. She had only one chance.

"Hey!" Parthenia cried out, pointing into the distance. "What's that?"

The Bonobo King looked. Parthenia leapt, her brain swirling as the paralysis dart began to take effect. The Bonobo King had barely begun to realize his mistake when Parthenia crashed into him, grabbing the falling child and entangling them both in the ropes that crisscrossed the Regret's gasbag. The Bonobo King was less fortunate: the force of Parthenia's tackle sent him sprawling, then tumbling over the edge and down into the clouds. Parthenia could hear his maniacal laughter as he fell, and a part of her feared that she might have somehow just played right into his hands. Or paws. Whatever.

"Don't worry, little girl," Parthenia mumbled as the paralysis overtook her. "I'll wake up in just a few minutes and get you to safety."

"I'm not a girl," said the child, and laughed like the Bonobo King.

May 10, 2007

Tom Swift and his Automatic Sausage Maker

The front door opened and another one came out, carrying Grandma's Victrola. Janice peered through the binoculars. At 8X they looked like Santa's elves, right down to the curly-toed shoes. Pine straw poked her in several places, and because of the lack of underbrush she couldn't move much without being spotted. Now two "elves" went back in the shed, carrying between them some parts from the old washer they'd been dismantling. Nearly all of the Chevy had already disappeared inside, not to mention the toaster and a bunch of other stuff from the house. It must be getting pretty crowded inside. One of the elves had what looked like a meat grinder going as fast as he could turn the crank, but what went in was dead leaves, and the sausage that came out shone like aluminum. At least they're cleaning up the place, she thought, and Emma will stop riding me about that. Emma! There she was now, pulling into the yard, apparently lost in radioland, not even noticing the red-jacketed creatures who had taken over the yard. Shit! She actually got out and started for the house, then stopped dead still. She wasn't screaming and jumping around; something must be wrong. Janice bit her lip, then picked up her rifle, never taking her eyes off the tableau below. Two of the elves took Emma's hands and led her into the shed. Now they had a hostage. She silently backed down the hill. She'd have to come up from the west where there was more cover. She'd have to do it fast.

By the time she had the yard in view again everything was gone: the shed, the truck, the rest of the Chevy, the elves, and Emma. She ran to the spot where the shed had been. Bare dirt; the meat grinder stood in the very center as if left behind in payment. Her baby sister was gone. It was time for a drink.

After a while the quart jar was empty, but nothing was going to bring Emma back. A tear ran down her cheek. She thought for a few minutes. A meat grinder that turned dead leaves into aluminum ought to have SOME value. It did.


About a year later Emma showed up again, her diminutive baby in tow.

"He takes after his father. I think he'll be a great engineer," she said.

May 9, 2007

The Long Walk

Captain Awamura emerges dripping from the Pacific waves onto the southern California shore. At first, no one looks closely enough at his tattered khaki uniform, the flesh sloughing off his spare frame, the seaweed poorly concealing the hole where half his head had been.

At first.

The screaming begins. As more of his fellow soldiers wade from the waves, Awamura pulls his corroded bayonet from his belt and shambles after the retreating sunbathers. He comes upon a sandy mound that proves to be a half-buried man not yet awakened by the hubbub. Awamura kneels and draws his knife across the throat, opening a second mouth that bleeds into the thirsty sand. The man's eyes open, then film.

Captain Awamura Jiro of the Imperial Japanese Army, in service to his Emperor, stands and turns toward his goal, this nation's capitol. Its throat. Hand gripping his weapon, he orders his legions on to victory.

May 8, 2007

Dear Diary II

Dear Diary

Today I caught a little god and put it in a jar before it can become a big god and hurt little people.

Mom says I'm a brave girl for ridding all those worlds of their gods. She also says to be careful but I don't see what's so dangerous about the little gods.

Mom wants to take my jars of little gods to the swindler's market to sell, but I hide them from her and feed them scraps of magic. Sometimes I steal souls for them from Aunt Rue's cookie jar. The gods grow and grow until their faces are smash up against the glass of their tiny jars and then they grow until their spines are all twisted and then they keep growing until they die.

I have 117 jars, so there are 117 godless worlds.

Today I dropped a dead god into a little world. The little people scurried around like ants, trying to grab pieces of the dead god. They fought for the toes and for the Word and for the Book and they carried away the chunks of godmeat and killed anyone who came close. I felt bad and tried to tell them it was only a stupid dead god but they didn't listen to me. If Mom finds out she's gonna kill me. I hid that world where she won't look.

Sue said she'll teach me to hunt angels. Angels make good earrings. If you're careful and don't kill them when you grab 'em, they keep wriggling their little wings when they're hung from your ears and last like forever.

Dear Diary: please forgive me for not writing more, but I'm running off to hunt angels with Sue.

May 7, 2007

In the Night Market

The autumn wind was coming down the valley from China, but, to Javad Azaizeh, it felt as chilly as if it were pouring south from Siberia. He should be inside on a night like this, but insomnia always left him feeling lonely, and Khabarovsk's night market seemed like the perfect remedy.

Vermillion in the shadows of the next row of kiosks caught his eye, and he walked closer. In the narrow aisle between a noodle stall and one that sold prepaid viewpads for the municipal space, a stocky man in an apron swept his bare forearm up and down, back and forth. Red flashed with every movement. The noodle-seller -- he hadn't even put down his long chopsticks -- paused, and the diodes in the skin of his forearm winked out. He was looking over Javad's head, and Javad turned.

Up on a rooftop overlooking the market square, a woman waved in response. Her arm, too, traced red on the night, a series of symbols that hung on the air through persistence of vision.

Javad smiled in recognition -- he knew those symbols. Forty years ago, touring with Cheba Alia's orchestra when he was just a city kid who'd never been more than ten kilometers out of Paris, he'd seen the same alphabet on hand-lettered signs in towns on the edge of the Sahara. They'd seemed then like the most exotic thing in the world. He'd never learned how to read them, and what a noodle-seller in a Korean market in a Russian city was using them to say, he couldn't guess.

Javad turned back to see the noodle-seller resume his side of the conversation, his arm a blur. There must be some sophisticated on-the-fly processing behind the simple arm-waving -- the quick-fading scarlet lines were crisp.

Javad's admiration was tempered by hunger -- the smell of fish and spices reminded him he hadn't eaten since midday.

"Pardon, but when you have a moment..." he said.

The noodle-seller's arm continued flaring letters on the twilight, his gaze remained fixed on his distant companion, and Javad had no idea if the man had even heard him.

May 4, 2007

Final Exam

1. Assume a four-dimensional hyperspherical universe fifteen billion years old. Populate it with one hundred billion galaxies.
     A. Calculate the likelihood of life developing.
     B. Calculate the likelihood of intelligent life developing.
     C. Calculate the likelihood of more than one intelligent race developing.
     D. Calculate the likelihood that in the assumed universe with x intelligent races, that any one of them will become aware of another.
     E. Calculate the likelihood that any two races will make war on each other.

2. In a p-type universe, specify the preliminary and boundary conditions for each of the following types of singularity.
     A. Indigenous species improves genotype beyond recognition.
     B. Indigenous species creates mechanical aid that destroys said species.
     C. Indigenous species creates intelligent mechanical aid that supplants said species.
     D. None of the above.
     E. Extra Credit: All of the above.

3. Create 12 p-type universes. Set preliminary and boundary conditions such that only one intelligent race develops in each and that they are unable to leave their parent system. Chart time to their self-destruction. Be sure to clean the laboratory afterwards.

4. Are you God? Show your work.

May 3, 2007

Byzantine Pandora

In 1203, A.D., Pandora yawned and rolled aside the stone covering her box (well, coffin). A walk to Byzantine might do her good.

Her feet grew sore from walking, so she rubbed her tootsies by the gently lapping shores of Stone Lake--which, despite its name, was not a lake of stones but one of water. Dusk had fallen when she spotted knights in shining armor, rowing toward the palace docks. A hundred boats, at least.

She whistled shrilly. "Fishermen!" She waved.

"Shh! Keep it down!" one whispered, motioning his axe to emphasize.

Their chivalry did not impress her though the palace guard had waved at her atop his Byzantine wall. But, employed, he lacked the necessary gondola.

She wouldn't let those Sunday boaters get away with skimping on their manners. "Over here!"

A knight looked at the guard (who sighed at the female), shot an arrow through the guard's poor pounding heart, and told Pandora, "We will pick you up if you will shut your trap."

Pandora clapped her hands. She'd never played a game of catch the castle.

On the other side, she let herself be lifted out the boat and on the dock. She ran beside them as they clattered down the corridor. Somehow the residents were not surprised to see them. She gave pointers, helping knights to better slash and gouge. One knight paused to grab her by the shoulders. "This is not the time to play. When we go forward, you go back, lest one of us fortuitously lop your head off."

"Aw, shucks," she said and shuffled to the water gardens.

Someone yelled, "We've got the emperor!"

Pandora, skipping rocks into the pool, was roughly whipped around. "Who are you?" asked a handsome Byzantine. "You don't belong here. Tell me where you come from."

"From going to and fro across the earth."

His face was horrified. "Miss Fortune!" Maybe he'd have plunged her in the pool, but from a window, cheers arose, which made her glum--their having fun without her.

"The knights have seized the emperor," she said.

His face grew pensive. To his side, he drew Pandora. "Hastily, I judged you, oh, my good luck charm. I'll exit to Nicea. Meanwhile, next in line is witless Isaac Angelos. I, Constantine, will reign thereafter!"


He was right. He ruled the Byzantines--although without a crown--a reign that lasted months.

May 2, 2007

Something Was Different

Something was different; Andy wasn't exactly sure what. There were some different smells, maybe.

Andy rubbed heavily at his eyes. He had a headache, and he realized after a minute that he had been sleeping on the couch in his clothes. He probably shouldn't have done that. He also probably shouldn't have snuck into his brother-in-law's physics lab last night and randomly connected equipment to a ouija board, but what the hell: he'd been really drunk at the time.

He patted himself down for a cigarette, squinting at the somehow-different wallpaper. Nothing. He stumbled down the stairs and into the somehow-different street, spotted the neighborhood store a couple of doors down from where he expected, and shambled over to it.

Inside the different smells were stronger, and he thought now that the air felt a little different on his eyeballs. Hangover.

"Give me a pack of Marlboros," he said to the short, dark-skinned guy behind the counter. He uncrumpled a twenty from his pocket and laid it on the counter.

"You mean Millboros?" said the store guy. Fucking foreigners couldn't even get brand names right.

"Right there--" said Andy. "Not where your hand is, to the left. The hard pack. Thank you."

The store guy slid the cigarettes across the counter, took the twenty, and gave Andy back a fifteen and some change.

Andy stared at the fifteen. "What the fuck is this?" he said.

"It's a fifteen dollar bill, ma slacka," said the store guy. He began to slide the twenty into the cash register and looked at it. "What the fuck is this?" He made a face. "Oh, this suit is ugly! This ain't no money!"

Andy had to admit, Andrew Jackson was not the prettiest president, but he didn't like where the conversation was going. He looked around him, really paying attention for the first time since he'd woken up. There was a jar of tiny fangs on a shelf near him. Further down, the boxes of cereal were cylindrical, and they were whispering. Andy turned and ran out the door and into the street, pursued closely by the store guy.

"Hey, stop! Thief!" yelled the store guy.

"Halt, in the name of the Vizier!" cried an authoritative voice. Andy didn't even turn to look; he just kept running.

Idiot. Nobody can outrun ostrich-mounted police.

May 1, 2007

Dear Diary I

Dear Diary,

I caught a little god today running through the back yard and I grabbed it by the foot and I swung it against a rock and its skull cracked, but Momma saw me and wouldn't let me eat its brains because they fetch 5000 calories in the swindler's market, she said.

She tried to swap me my little god for a chocolate bar but chocolate is for babies and I said no. Fine, she says, two chocolates, and I said three and then she smacked me on the head and took my little god! It's not fair. I hate her! I'll hate her forever! I hate the swindler's market and I'm never going to talk to her again, ever.