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February 29, 2008

Leap Day

We had to get, like, I don't know, a million fucking klicks out past Jupiter's orbit for Leap. We didn't get to see anything the whole way, and it took, God, like a month and a half. Rinnie and me were going batshit by then, practically, because while it was a huge-ass ship, we were stowaways, and there were only like three places we could hide: hydroponics, cargo 2, and the morgue.

But after the Leap, we figured they'd have to just let us join the colony. Because what else were they going to do, shoot us out into space? Call our moms and and have them come get us in another fucking solar system?

It wasn't like Rinnie and me wanted to go into space so much as that I got Rinnie pregnant and we figured we should run away because her dad would fucking kill me when he found out. Not like, he'd be really pissed or something, but actually kill me, like with his hunting knife or just beat me down with a tire iron or something. And Rinnie wouldn't abort the baby, because she said that would be murder, and seriously, I had dreams sometimes that we aborted the baby and it came back and was this little fucking zombie child with its head all wrong. I was way, way more cool with stowing away on the Leap Ship than killing that baby.

"Hey, I think they're doing it," Rinnie said.

"Shut up. You don't know," I told her. "How do you know?"

"I feel something, like in my uterus."

"That's the baby, stupid," I said, but then I knew I was wrong, because I started feeling it in my uterus. Or, I don't know, my liver or something. It was like there was a little tiny drain in there, trying to suck me through. It felt like hell.

"I think I'm going to hurl," I said.

"Wait--" said Rinnie, and then suddenly the whole universe burst into stars and pieces, and there wasn't me or Rinnie any more, but we were both just tangled together like one person, tangled together with the baby, and the stars flew through us, and we stretched until time stopped and feeling stopped and we were the whole universe, Rinnie and the baby and me.

February 28, 2008

Can't Complain

Terrance's heart never knew what hit it. One second it was pumping steadily at 70 beats per minute, traveling at 80mph on the interstate. The next, it was panicking, 180 beats per minute and rising. The heart knew it shouldn't go this fast, but it was a sucker for the nerves that tickled it with adrenalin. All its life, the nerves had told it what to do and all its life the heart had obeyed them, even when it knew better. For a second, as the car swerved off the road, the heart
considered keeping its own beat. But the moment passed and then… nothing.

Stopping was such a strange feeling. Terrance's heart had never stopped before. Then came the cold and the drugs that made it forget and the nip of shears separating it from the rest of Terrance. The heart knew it should mourn for its lost body, but quite frankly, it was just too glad to be alive to care, and the guilt of abandoning Terrance would travel with it for the rest of its life.

Terrance's heart beats in a hole in your chest. You may keep it warm, you may feed it with your vessels and your blood, but the heart knows this isn't home.

Oh well.

It fends off the attack of your immune system, aided by all those drugs you take in the morning. You catch cold and can't drink, but hey, you're alive. You can't complain.

Terrance's heart is alive as well. It has a hole for a home and no busy-body nerves to tell it what
to do. Nerves can't be transplanted so Terrance's heart beats on its own, 70 per minute, rain or shine, exercise or rest. It feels like it's working in a vacuum. It can't communicate with the rest of your body. But it keeps its own rhythm and it's alive.

It can't complain.

February 27, 2008

Overheard in a Countryside Inn

"The moon," said the man with carrot-orange hair, "is the toenail of a god."


"Look at it. Thin and curved, pale off-white, grows broader and longer until it must be trimmed back again. It's a nail."

His drinking partner, a fellow local man of middle age, swigged from his pint of dirt-dark bitter and said, "Nah, it's more likely to be a pie."

"Made by the cloud-dwellers, I assume?" asked a peculiarly dressed stranger, who stood so close that they could smell the dust on him. He wore tanned cowhide over his body and, atop his head, a string-fastened cap and goggles.

When he received a murmured "Well, yes" in reply, he sighed and shook his head.

"It is neither of your assertions. It is a mystery. Which I intend to solve, by flying there in my latest invention."

"Ah," the local men said, looking at one another with bemused expressions.

"The cloud-dwellers died out long ago, before either of you were scrabbling around the marketplace. And they did not possess the technology for creating a permanent light fixture so high up."

"Aye," the bartender butted in, "a light fixture, like the candles on my wall. The sky is an upturned bowl, aviator-historian, and you'll smash into it with your flying contraption and create a great mess all over our fields."

"So you say."

The men looked at one another, across beer mugs and the sticky, stained counter. Fights had come of smaller disagreements. But they shared shrugs rather than fists -- the moon was too far away to be of consequence while there was still beer coming from the taps, and each privately felt the truth of his own judgement without any great need for validation through violence.

"A drink for you, sir?" the bartender asked the aviator-historian, and by the time he had made up his mind which bottled beverage he would like, the other two men were discussing the particulars of sheep-raising.

February 26, 2008

In a Lucid Moment

"Is plastic all right?" said the gangly high school girl at the end of the checkout conveyor, and all at once Derek realized that plastic was not all right, that plastic was one of the pieces of the suicidal petroleum dependency the humans had developed, and that he himself was in fact not human, that one of the things he was on Earth to do, having drawn his consciousness down into a fully human body from hundreds of light years away in order to warn and inform humanity, was to wean humans from their fossil fuel dependencies and usher them--propel them, really--into a more harmonious and energy-rich future.

His race were adept at these occupations of other life forms, but in some cases it was difficult to keep his own mind going instead of the occupied creature's mind, and in the human he had found himself drowned in sensation and emotion the moment he'd occupied. He was only surfacing enough to be lucid every few years. This could be disasterous, because between impending ecological disaster and the Nithing fleet ranging ever closer to Earth, the end of things was rushing toward the humans much more quickly than they realized. If they didn't have his help--

"Sir? Is plastic OK?'" said the girl, and Derek jerked back to himself from wherever he'd been woolgathering.

"Sorry," he said, smiling. "Long day."

The girl's hands hovered over the groceries. Derek's tub of peppermint ice cream was rolling in place, held there by the bag of potatoes. "So, the plastic?" said the girl.

"Oh--fine," Derek said. The girl began sorting the items into the bags with a sort of reckless competence. Derek reflected again that he ought to get those environmentally-friendly, reusable grocery bags, so as not to keep using up plastic unnecessarily. But it was OK. There was plenty of time for that.

February 25, 2008

Last Stop

Buzzing black flies careen into the dusty plate-glass window. Through it, I see him park his Harley by the ancient pipe-cactus at the side of the road. He opens the door. It jingles and a blast of hot, dry air circulates the aroma of coffee, frying burgers, and burnt bacon. Before the door closes I feel, more than hear, the thrum and warble of the thing over the bend, though there is a sound that carries above the tinny classic rock coming from the little speakers in the booths.

Marla, that’s what her nametag says, extends her lower lip and blows a lock of her curly raven hair out of her eyes. Green eyes. Green eyes clearly frustrated with the customers. She notices him in a second, sure as a kangaroo rat knows a plump cactus blossom has fallen to the desert floor. She leaves her station, coffee pot in hand, and greets him.

He clanks his dinged metal thermos on the counter. This guy isn’t here for science, or profit, not on that bike. Curiosity or art, maybe. But I don’t think so.

“Damn if I know where my next cup is coming from,” he says. “Better fill ‘er up.”

Her body language screams disappointment. Those green eyes search for something more. I think of all the last stop diners I’ve been to. All the signs that said “last gas for 200 miles” and I laugh, then stop myself.

I came for the thing that opened up round the bend. But I was heading away, out of town, when I stopped in and saw her.

I understand why she wants to go. She’s seen the interviews of prospectors and storytellers and their tales of beauty and wonder on the other side. Those that come back. The lucky few that do, show up in random places. Tuscaloosa. Perth. Johannesburg are the hot spots, lately. Those that aren’t mad, have been “touched”. I guess you can call it that. Touched with a bliss that is apparent and infectious even from a TV screen.

What is it about this guy? Is he a Prospector? A treasure seeker? A thrill chaser? Just another pilot of purple twilight doing it just because? I want to ask him, maybe convince him to take me along, but it will ruin their moment.

She walks with him outside. That whine and warble is louder now. The government men will be here soon and I don’t want to be around when they do. Being detained is not pleasant.

I watch them kiss goodbye. Why he doesn’t stay with her or take her with him, I don’t know. Guess I never will. Some people just have to drive.

He speeds off, trailing a cloud of dust. When the sound of his engine fades, I will go to her, or think of something witty to say if she comes to refill my coffee. There is nothing here for her now; soon there will be nothing for me.


February 22, 2008


The speakers in this station carry the same music as the speakers in all the other stations. The same androgynous voices sing breathy, nearly beatless, non-tunes, vocalizations that are always almost on the edge of words, but never resolve into any particular language. It's all algorithms and averages, and, like any other generated art, endless: you could stand on the platform for a week, a month, a lifetime, and never hear the same near-melody twice.

The music depresses Irene Montevideo, and the 8:17 rain doesn’t help. She retreats into the cushion-contoured shelter. Like most mornings, she’s careful to be the last one in, so she has to stand in the doorway. If she gets a little damp, she also gets a little view -- mostly the back of some warehouse-condo. This morning, however, there’s something extra: a teenage girl crouching down at the platform edge.

Irene suppresses the regular’s grin of superiority; the sogginess of the girl’s sweatshirt says she doesn’t know about the 8:17 rain. But she does know something Irene doesn’t, and hauls a metal plate up onto the platform from the other side of the edge.

It’s exactly the kind of thing that the posters on all the trains urge her to report. Irene wouldn't even have to talk; there are numbers she can dial, and drones will be dispatched. Something makes her finger pause on her phone’s send button, makes her watch a little longer. On the metal plate, a string of musical notes in a figure-eight -- the logo of the company behind the infinity-dirge. Maybe whatever the girl’s doing will shut off the speakers.

The girl pulls a round metal object out of her pocket, glittering and fringed with wire. She looks up, belatedly, and catches Irene watching her.

Irene catches her breath. The girl is tensed, ready to spring up and run, but Irene pushes her mouth into a smile and, when the girl still doesn’t unfreeze, bobs her head in a quick nod and looks away.

There’s movement and the girl is gone. But it’s happening already -- the tune falling into pattern, the refrains first catchy, then cloying; the vocalizations gathering into words, nonsense doggerel that takes all the likeliest rhymes.

It’s the most annoying thing Irene’s ever heard. She can’t get it out of her head for the rest of the day, and smiles the rest of the week.

February 21, 2008

The Toll

Here sit Judith and Clay Adams in a private room at Gobi Starport. There is no public waiting area; only children fly to the stars. The Trei, Earth's benefactors, say a certain flexibility they can not or will not explain is necessary for infraspace travel.

The Trei have visited Earth eight times now, at five year intervals. They bring riches. Efficient orbiting power generators, pollutivores, matter assemblers, all bring the Earth back from the brink of destruction.

Judith paces while Clay sits staring out the window at the cuboid spaceship. "He'll be fine," she mutters. "Healthy and wealthy and wise." Then she flings herself into the chair next to his and buries her face in her hands. "He's only nine! Couldn't they wait until he's a little older?" This scene, with variations, is playing out in twenty other waiting rooms.

One month ago the Trei transmitted a list of twenty-one names of children from Sicily and South Africa, from China and from Chile, from the US and the UK and the UAE. Each is an only child, each has two parents, each lived a life of doting privilege.

Each family is about to be destroyed.

The Trei have made their promises. The children will live for a thousand years, in absolute health, and will be surrounded by the wonders of the galaxy. But none will ever visit the Earth again.

Clay and Judith have not come to terms with their loss. Put simply, they grieve. He holds her and she holds him, both of them crying now and both trying to be stoic for the sake of their son who they will soon see for the last time.

And here it is, the time. A polite tap on the door, and there's Grace Bakunov, the facilitator. "He's on his way now," she says. A sober expression on her face, she adds, "Remember, excess emotion will just confuse him. He'll still know who you are, of course, but the Fidelity Chip has already been implanted and he's been imprinted on his Trei Master."

Standing, they await the approach of them son. Soon comes the measured tread of the Trei and the eager patter of young feet.

February 20, 2008

On The Stairs, She Realises

Follow the pieces of me down -- yes, yes, bare-footed and leaving toe- and heel-marks behind you like a carpet -- follow my steps, let your hand slide down my rail. Don't stop. Don't climb, don't reclaim the things you left behind.

"It is a long way down," she said quietly, lingering on a step engraved with sirens. "Such a long way."

Had Suriyen known it would take this long? Had he told her? She could not remember -- but that was the point. The spreading gaps in her past made truth of the tales sung by the mountain-dwellers about their magical staircase.

She still remembered Suriyen, and that meant she had descended not nearly far enough.

You're a feast of stories, my pale-ankled lady. The scandals of a court are variations on motifs -- but oh, they entertain!

I will devour the reports your lover-spy shouldn't have told you, I will help you keep him safe.

Her legs and feet ached, but she continued down. Here the steps were painted yellow and slick with moisture that ran down the side of the mountain. One bore wedge-shaped markings, indecipherable.

She had been ordered to do this. Though she could not remember why, she knew there had been an order, a secret journey from her bedroom to the top of the mountain, a threat followed quickly by a promise.

"If I am ordered," she said to the stairs, "then I must obey."

They did not respond. Of course they could not; metal had no mouths. "What is it like to be so silenced?"

So full of your life -- I am gorged, pale-ankled lady, crammed with you.

Ahead of her lay grass and tall trees, a stream, and a man standing beside the water. A broad, tall man, scar-faced and smiling, who called out to her.

It took a moment for her memory-stripped mind to process the words. The stairs had left her language, at least. "But so much else is missing."

"Come on!" the man shouted. "You're almost done! Four more steps, darling, and we can be together again!"

"But why is so much gone?" Tears ran down her face. She could not remember the reason -- just that she felt so empty, stripped of things she had cherished, and it hurt.

"You had to do it, it was for your own good, oh Iya, no!"

Her legs hurt with each step that she climbed, leaving the man -- Suriyen, her lover -- behind, re-learning her self.

Will you leave me something? You were delicious before I ate too much.

"I will carve mouths into you, stairs," she panted, almost collapsing onto a step as long and wide as a table.

And I will speak.

February 19, 2008


Billy settled into the lounger and opened another beer. Darlene was gone. "We used to have fun Fridays," he muttered. "Where is that bitch anyway? No note, no nothin'…" He trailed off. He hadn't hit her any harder than usual this morning. It wasn't like she couldn't remember how he liked his eggs. She just made them runny to spite him. She should've done the shopping today and there was no food. "I work all day, and she does nothin'." She was definitely going to get it when she did come home.

Of course the TV was on the fritz too, and there wasn't anything to do but drink. He took a swig and made a face. It sure wasn't whiskey.

Behind him, beady eyes watched from the baseboard, where two adjacent pieces had not been properly nailed. Or perhaps the nails had worked loose as the house settled. No matter, little feet would put the small opening to good use. They'd accepted the saucer of milk and the bargain. Billy finished his beer and the observer froze while the man belched at great length, then reached down and drew another out of the bucket. He popped it open, and the sudden hiss coincided exactly with the fall of the net over his head.

"Gahhh!!" he screamed, and grabbed wildly at his face, for the net felt nasty, like coarse spider web. He reached for the arms of the recliner to lever himself to his feet and get away from the horrid stuff, but the arms weren't there. In fact, the recliner wasn't there either. He was sprawled on his back on the floor, foot resting on a huge, dewy metal cylinder, and the net covered his head and upper torso.

They jerked him to his feet and hustled him off to the baseboard. Belatedly, he recognized the giant cylinder. "My beer!" he wailed out of the darkness.

Inside the walls, Billy stumbled between his captors, who he somehow could not get a good look at, dodging real cobwebs and projecting nails. A giant cockroach regarded him silently, then scuttled off towards the now-deserted living room and the enticing scent of beer. They walked a long way, perhaps as far as the kitchen, and then Billy was shoved into an empty cat-food can. The lid was hammered down tightly. It was dark, but he heard movement, and smelled something musky.

"Darlene?" he quavered.


The end

February 18, 2008

Fair Warning

We still haven't found the grave of Alexander, but we believe that the Ark of the Covenant lies guarded in an Ethiopian church, and we have three possibilities for the location of Atlantis. My colleagues and I spend a great deal of time and grant money just turning down back roads on hunches.

For example, I once stopped in a village for gas and coffee at a place where one rather smelled like the other. In the course of a long smoke, while we waited for the owner's cousin's son to come fix the gas pump (you have to be willing to smoke and wait long hours if you want to get far in this profession), the owner told me about a cup at his cousin's house, a cup no one must drink from.

"Most people die," he said between drags.

"They just drink from it and die?" I asked.

"Just die. Like that. But not everyone. Every now and then somebody drinks from it, again and again, and that person lives a long time, long enough to get sick of living."

"No really? Has it got poison in it? Why don't they just destroy it?"

"Can't. Old Joseph, when he brought it, he said, 'Take care of this.' Well, we give what is asked for, here, in this place."

I decided to test this.

"May... may I see it?"

He took me up to his cousin's house, where we were graciously shown into the garden, and where I saw the Grail in its little homemade shrine, set into the wall against the hillside.

Now, I have tenure and a reputation to keep up, and I did not want to violate my host's hospitality, so I waited a week before I came back to steal the Grail.

When I climbed into the night garden, the shrine stood empty, except for a polite note in a copperplate hand that read: "Old Joseph warned us that people would try to take this, even fight over it. So we leave it in the open, because we've learned that that is the best way we can protect it. If you don't want to die, please do us the courtesy of telling this story, but never say the name of our village or give any particulars that might help someone else find us. Thank you, and have a good night."

February 15, 2008


Tom is a 23 year old Biology student. Today, as he got off the bus, he
twisted his knee. He comes to you, his doctor, four hours later with a
knee that is evidently inflamed and painful. Tom blushes as he tells
you how stupid this accident was.

Oh, there's something else. As he was showering before coming to the
Hospital (never let a doctor examine you while sweaty), his knee
throbbed in the strangest way and when Tom looked, he could have sworn
he saw a couple of pixie hands pushing out from inside his knee,
trying to get out. However, Tom's pretty sure he imagined it.

Tom isn't allergic to any medication. Aspiration of his knee produces
a bloody liquid.

Please indicate which of the following is the cause of Tom's condition
(2 points)

1) Lesion of crossed anterior ligament

2) Lesion of his interior meniscus

3) Tom is pregnant of a pixie, a condition he most probably acquired
in a Biology field trip. A C-section of his knee is indicated, which
will result in a release of the impish child and immediate relief of

4) Tom was pregnant, but shoving a needle into his knee wasn't such a
good idea. We can now conclude Tom has had a knee abortion brought
about by Medical malpractice.

5) 1 and 3 are correct.

February 14, 2008

The Plague of Plagues Incident

In the early years, the passengers of the generation starship Open Waters had nothing but time on their hands. The ships systems were self-sufficient and fully functional. Traveling at two percent the speed of light, they were not arriving at their destination any time soon. The complete tools and knowledge of mankind were at their disposal, as well as all the works of art. Every film, every album, and every book had been uploaded to the ship’s network. But those things had no meaning or relevance for those born on the ship. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would make their own entertainment. The Designers had failed to take into account just how dangerous boredom could be.

It began with the Gen-4 in their biotech class. They were assigned the task of creating the genome of custom bacteria. They did their homework, but something about the work sparked a sadistic streak of creativity in some. Those children spent their free time making their creations fight one another for dominance of a Petri dish. Gen-2 and Gen-3 turned a blind eye to the games. Then one of the more precocious children discovered retroviruses and the plague fights began.

The viruses were impressively creative but mostly harmless. One plague turned girls, and only girls, bright pink. Another caused the infected to lose all their hair. One particularly popular virus mimicked the effects of Tourettes Syndrome. Each day, something new popped up in the ship’s populace and spread from family clade to family clade. Gen-4 found the plagues hilarious. The bald, sometimes pink, and uncontrollably swearing adults failed to see the humor in the outbreaks.

Gen-2 launched a crackdown. Sequencers were locked up. The genetics database was password protected and access only given to Gen-2 and Gen-3 adults. Agar became a controlled substance, harder to find than a bottle of whiskey from the ship’s stills. Possession of a petri dish was punishable by four weeks hard labor in the fertilizer plant.

The ship’s medical team created vaccines against the most embarrassing infections, and with time, the plague fights were forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until curious Gen-12 children found mentions of the debacle in the archives and decided to start their own plague fights. This time, things were not nearly so harmless…

--From Open Waters: A History of the Grand Failure by Mark Claude Tobin Speers-Grubin IX.

February 13, 2008


"Message coming in." The communications officer looked toward Captain Nels Okkerstrom. "They're transmitting the images now."

Not for the first time, Nels wished he were down on the planet instead of heading Earth's first interstellar skipship. "Transfer them to the AI," he said.

Nels had been twelve when scientists at CERN had sent their first experimental tachyon message. A millisecond later they had been inundated with responses nobody had been able to translate. Now, thirty years later, here was The Prometheus and her crew orbiting one of the sources of those messages.

Everyone on the bridge watched as images from below flitted across the computer's screen. Everyone on earth who was tuned in could see them, too, via quantum ansible. Cylindrical alien buildings, signs, scrolls, all the extant imagery of a dead civilization still transmitting to the stars.

Nels tore his gaze away from the screen. "Katya? How is the translation going?"

The computer expert glanced up from her own screen monitoring the AI's progress and spread her hands. With visual as well as digital information, the computer stood a good chance of being able to decode the signals. If not, computers all over Earth were viewing the same data. With luck, they'd soon know why this culture was extinct.

Nels ordered the ground team to return to the ship. He didn't want them spending the night just yet. There was no reason yet to brave whatever might lurk below. He paced the bridge.

Two hours later Katya Malinov leaned toward her monitor. "Got it, sir," she murmured.

"Put it up," he said, gesturing to the public address speakers. "We've all waited long enough." The communications officer flipped a switch.

"Extend the life of your sun."

Nels cocked his head. So this was the alien message, a warning. Was there some previously unknown danger to their solar system?

"You have won the extrasolar lottery!"

Captain and computer officer exchanged glances. Nels said, "Is that--?" and she said, "Um."

"Big sale on black holes!"

"Good god," said Nels. "It's spam." He drew his hand across his throat. "Cut it off."

"Sir," said an officer at the helm. "The Bohr is requesting permission to dock."

"Granted," said Nels. "Tell them we're--" The huge ship shuddered. The lights dimmed. "What the hell?"

"We lost power," said one officer and, "No, it was diverted," said another. The artificial gravity switched off. "It's still being diverted," said the computer officer. "To our communications array."

"Cut off the AI," yelled Nels, floating impotently in midair.

The gravity switched on, then off, then on. Air whistled out the vents.

"Satisfy your loved one," bellowed The Prometheus to the galaxy. "Debt consolidation is easy!"

February 12, 2008

Notes - 29/14/106

Name: Beeotter

Exterior description: A thin creature a metre long, with another metre's length in its forearm-thick tail. The whole body is covered in fur striped yellow and black. Its head is flat on the end of the body, with no discernable neck, and is dominated by a pair of black many-faceted eyes. A double pair of translucent brown-orange wings is its primary means of transportation, although the six stumpy legs suggest some motility when it has landed.

I saw the beeotter from afar, resting on the statue in the centre of the Square. I approached it cautiously. If I had learnt anything since my arrival in this place an unclear time ago, it was to never assume benevolence from its peculiar inhabitants.

Gravel crunched under my shoes; it was impossible to walk quietly in this corner of the world, when the crumbled remains of the buildings that stood around the Square lay thickly across the ground. As I approached the beeotter, a spindle-thin building fell and, seconds later, another sprouted up in its wake, like a stone flower growing at accelerated speeds.

When I reached less a metre's length from the statue, the beeotter leapt from its perch and, wings flapping, buried its sting in my thigh. It moved so quickly I had no time to react. I merely collapsed to the gravel, gasping in shock.

And I heard a voice.

It said: I am a clue.

The beeotter died, stuck into me. I awoke, agonised but with my mind afire.

It occurred to be that this was probably another of the world’s tricks, but I had not entirely given up on hope.

I did what a biologist does when faced with an unknown creature. I laid out my tools from the pack on my back and I dissected.

Interior description: Its innards are laid out in a mess of lines, circles, squares. They intersect, merge, divide--as I watch I see new roads form, old buildings fall. They are confusing. They are a map of this place. There is no exit, no way back into my old world. That door long ago crumbled. But there are places I might like to go.

I pulled the sting from my thigh, cleaned and bandaged the wound. Several days passed where I could walk only far enough to gather stone-fruits from the buildings surrounding the Square. In that time I worked hard to preserve the beeotter--plucking a hollow glass-fruit from the plants around the buildings, filling it with a mix of water and concentrates from my pack.

And then I began walking, holding my map out before me and choosing my path.

February 11, 2008


A sticky note fluttered to the desk. A moment later they all let go. Jen got out a new pack, copied each note carefully (except last week's pet-reconstruction appointment), and stuck them on the monitor. Just as she put the last one up, the first slipped off with an almost audible sigh.

"Argh!" She went into the kitchen to make some tea. She pulled a cookbook off the shelf to browse for supper. The pages scattered. The cover peeled apart.

That was it. She couldn't take anymore. She flopped down in front of the trivision.

"... mutant strain attacks glues, including those commonly used in products for the home but there is no cause for..." she switched off. Another damn plague. Antibiotic resistant this, mutated nano that.

"Why couldn't there be a GOOD plague," she moaned.

The food-prep unit harrumphed. "There was the sentient appliance revolution..." The back panel fell off with a clatter, followed by silence.

The phone rang. It was her brother.

"Hello, Norman."

"Are you okay? I saw a story about the plague on the newsfeed here at the spaceport."

"Worry about yourself," she said. "Isn't there glue in the shuttle?" Outside, a vehicle rose from the spaceport.

Her brother's voice was tinny in her ear. "Apparently not because they are not grounding our flight. Listen, I've got to go. They're letting us launch early. I'll cube when I get there."

"Why are you taking off early?"

"Dunno, bye."

The connection was gone, but she said goodbye anyway, watching two more departures clear the tops of the intervening buildings. It seemed like they were launching more flights today than usual. A lot more.

The framework of her chair chose that moment to return to its component materials. She was enveloped in a dense white cloud. When she stopped coughing, she was lying on a sack of upholstery fabric partly filled with sawdust. She staggered to her feet and dusted herself off.

There was more noise of things falling in the kitchen, then the overhead light went out with a small "pop." She was feeling her way toward the door when the food-prep unit called.

"Jen? I'm cold."

The end

February 8, 2008

Of the Third Sex, in a Park

You are a bearer, of the third sex, contributing no genetic material to the children you've carried. You live in a town that is mostly humans, hardly any of your People. Your last marriage ended when your husband was killed in a road accident, and your wife withdrew into herself and became a Silent, speaking to no one, looking at no one. All you have left of your husband is a poem he made for you out of braided fiber one long winter night. It isn't a very good poem, but it's wildly sexual, and you have always loved it.

Your four children are all gendered and don't like to spend time with you, because they think you can't possibly understand their lives. Three of them have adopted human ways, and the other is studying to be a god-caller, climbing to the tower in the ugly, human-built temple on the edge of town every morning to bellow to the heavens and bring luck, rain, money, healing, peace, victory, love.

Your skin isn't as green as it used to be; it's taken on a grayish tinge. Your fingers used to be very nimble, and you learned a little bit how to play the human instrument called the piano, although you needed to play with little pieces of felt stuck to the keys so they wouldn't hurt your fingers.

You are in love with a human, and you don't know what gender it is.

The human you are in love with sits on a bench in the park in a bulky coat with a herringbone pattern, cooing to the pigeons. Sometimes the human brings bread and tears off tiny pieces to throw to the birds, but usually not. It is a very old human, with a face as wrinkled as a male's retracted crest, and skin thin, almost translucent. Its face is transformed every morning with a beatific smile when you come down the path in the park, but it never speaks.

Today when the human smiles, you smile back, although your face was not made for that human expression. Without speaking, you sit on the bench with the human. Today it has brought bread, and it tears it in half and hands the larger half to you. For a time, you both feed the pigeons, who are greedy and ungrateful.

"What's that around your neck?" the human says, pointing to the poem. You bend forward to let the human look. You can tell from her voice now: she is a woman. And now that she is an old woman, she's a bearer, too.

February 7, 2008

On the Way to Elsewhere

Some evenings, when Martha went out walking along the gravel roads between the fields, she felt a ghost city growing solid in the cool air. As the fog gathered in the drainage ditches and creek beds, buildings massed in her peripheral vision, terraced, balconied and impossible.

Some nights, rain came down and swept the city from the night. Others, she walked and walked. Her calves grew sore while the buildings grew more present. After weeks her legs grew stronger, but the city remained a pressure at the edge of her vision.

As winter gave way to softer ground, heavy machinery leveled the fields behind plywood signs with the names of stores and franchise restaurants. Martha tried the new roads in every direction, slipped through the gates to trudge the churned earth. She walked on until it was too dark to see anything; the city’s inhabitants walked beside her, and she wouldn’t have known.

When the concrete and asphalt covered the fields, then sprouted a forest of upright girders, she saw the city less often, but more vividly. Once, she found herself in a market crowd between rows of booths hung with bright, unfamiliar objects -- but only for the time it took her to gasp in a shocked breath, and then it was only a row of dumpsters along the store-backs. Another time, she thought she saw a hand, beckoning her around a corner and she sprinted to find a food court full of plastic picnic tables.

After the stores opened, after the restaurants filled the air with smells of frying and bulk spices, she kept walking, even though she didn’t see -- didn’t sense -- anything for weeks.

Then, one fall evening, when it seemed she’d never walked for anything but the exercise, she went into an office supply store and pretended to look at multi-tabbed planners until she warmed up.

As she left, a clerk ran to her. “You forgot this,” he said, “Left it on the glass.”
He pointed to the copiers in a corner of the store.

It was a sheet of 11x17 paper, warm with machine-light, covered with streets and parks and buildings whose terraces she could see as if she remembered them. A map, clearly labeled in her own handwriting.

February 6, 2008

The Lady or the Tide

If I give it back to her, she will walk all the way down the shining valley to the sea. She will step into the water and never return, if I give it back.

She might not. But I think I know. I've heard the stories at closing time down the pub (no one tells them at the start of the night, before the dark and the rain). It might be modern times, we might park a Range Rover where my grandfather kept his cart, but I know—I'm not such a modern educated man that I can't feel this truth under my skin and hers—it's what drew me to her, after all.

And I will be left here, to mind our children until they mind themselves, mind themselves away to college and London no doubt, and I am left to grow old sitting in the same patch of sun my father sat in, pining and looking down the valley to the sea.

But if I never say anything, and I leave it hid in the thatch where I first put it, I will have kept a secret from her, my own wife, my heart outside myself.

I once thought to put it in a deposit box at the bank. People in the stories always leave things like this about to be found, it seems. I wanted to be wiser and safer. But the thatch seemed the right place. There is no explaining it, I suppose.

If I never say anything, I will know what she does not. It will be like the secrets some other men in here keep, about women in Oban or Glasgow. The wives who do not know make my heart ache. But then, some of the husbands don't know either: they make my heart ache too.

I couldn't have that kind of secret—how could I love anyone else but her? No house has been warmer, no children brighter eyed and sounder hearted. Sometimes with her, one glass of wine seems to last all summer.

She's away today with the children, up the coast, and I'm standing here, looking down the valley to the water, holding this sealskin in my hand, waiting for the sea and my own heart to return the answer.

February 5, 2008


Pg. 270.

Excerpt from the account of Raul Sanchez given to Father M. Sorenson. ( FN 2)

Translated from Spanish by D. Francis Leslie. PHD ( FN 3)

Ash Wednesday. 1983.

I had just come from church. Some of the old farmers asked for help with something that had been tearing up their fields. ( FN 4) Something had dug a huge pit right where they said; a tunnel about four feet around at the bottom. So I climbed down, and immediately realized something was there.

At first I thought I was looking at the hindquarters of a fat, giant mole. Then it turned and looked at me. Its face was a human face but was shriveled and purple. When I saw its teeth, which were jagged and triangular, like an old shark’s, I realized I was face to face with a demon from the first world. ( FN 5 ) I thought I was going to die. But I was wearing the Ash and the two brothers were protecting me. It tunneled into the earth and I never saw it again. ( FN 6)



(1) The name commonly associated with the untitled volumes of D. Francis Leslie’s accounts, transcriptions, and translations of unexplained biological and paranormal occurrences from around the globe. -DB

(2) Original footnote from D. Francis Leslie: These skeptical notes predate Sorenson’s account of The Green Man and related episodes in the now infamous town.

(3) PHD appears after D. Francis Leslie’s but confirmation of where this doctorate was obtained and of what discipline remains unconfirmed at the time of this printing. I located a degree in Veterinary medicine for one Franklyn Brahma, one of his suspected alias, from a school in Thailand. I’ve heard accounts of F Brahma traveling with some of the more reclusive crypto-botanists in China but was unable to find any documentation. -DB

(4) A Handwritten Note from Father Sorenson’s transcription read as follows: It is more likely Sanchez was investigating an animal of some sort that was tunneling under his fields of illicit crops. I am of the opinion this story was concocted to keep prying eyes and thieving competition out of the area.

(5) Original footnote from D. Francis Leslie: Despite the references to Mayan mythology and cosmology I doubt Father Sorensen believed Raul was a religious man.

(6) Original footnote from D. Francis Leslie: There are tales of strange creatures attacking livestock and even children. Finding out if these accounts are connected to Mr. Sanchez’s tale will require additional investigation.

February 4, 2008

A Man Walks Into A Bar

A hunchback says "it seems a fellow with eight arms walks into a bar and..."

The guy with the slits interrupts him. "You don't start a story like that. You don't say 'it seems,' you just start right in talking. Like 'A fellow with eight arms takes a head off the guy next to him at the bar.'"

"Yeah, Kelly said that," agrees the fellow with the long neck. "He oughta know how to tell a story."

"But that ain't what happened," the hunchback protests, "the other guy didn't have any heads at all, and..."

"No head?!" A really thin guy glides over from a nearby table. His head is the widest part of him, because of the nose, and his expression says he couldn't imagine having a smaller head, much less no head. "That meant he didn't have no nose. How did he smell?"

Slits starts to answer, and the hunchback says "Now look, whose joke is this?" but that is as far as he gets. Just then someone comes in the door. He has a whole bunch of arms and is holding some kind of weapon in each hand. He starts shooting (which is completely illegal) and all the raconteurs dive for the floor. Octopus Boy is tearing the place up. The light fixture suspended from the ceiling partially explodes and the remains start spinning lazily, shedding sparks. Most of the surviving patrons are on the floor, some dripping fluids, and the smell of oxygen acceptors is harsh in the air. Suddenly there's a shout from the back of the room:

"Finish the joke! The guy with no heads! What does he do?!" This elicits a brief volley from the heavily armed character in the doorway. When it ends, the hunchback quavers from underneath a table.

"He smells as bad as ever."

Another volley, and the shooter speaks for the first time: "Who am I? Chopped liver?!

A different voice from the back of the room. "And the guy who walks into the bar? What happens to him?"

O. B. pauses to slap himself in the forehead.

The hunchback answers. "You fellows really ain't heard this one? He rubs his head and says 'ow!'"

Octopus Boy throws up several of his arms in disgust and just walks back out on the street.

The end

February 1, 2008


     We're in a middling gallery, me with my pick and Paul his shovel. I've just pried a 'harbinger' out of the wall along with a number of one and two syllable words when the thumping starts. I take another swing, knocking a 'dross' and a 'kettle' away from what with a little luck will be a 'dissolution'. But the blows from below unsteady me and my pick smacks 'diss' to the ground.
     Paul grumbles. "Hardly worth picking up," he says, barely heard over the now incessant hammering.
     He leans his shovel against the mine's wall. "That's no test," he says. "I think they've got it in operation. Let's go see."
     We take the rickety elevator down to the lowest gallery, taking on two or three miners every level. Once there, we see three carts waiting to ascend. The others walk down the gallery toward the deafening roar, but Paul plucks my sleeve and points at the lead cart. He sifts through the vowels and consonants, locating a 'lorgnette' and a 'syncopate'. He puts his mouth next to my ear. "Not bad," he yells. "They might get this thing perfected, and then where will we be?"
     "It will be easier for you," I reply. "You know Japanese." There's not a machine yet can pick those symbols out of a wall.
     The machine's pickings are thin. This first cart is chockablock with single letters, nonsense strings, and pre- and suffixes. Word is, once this machine works more accurately, they'll challenge a miner to a race. Might be me; my percentage of polysyllables is more than satisfactory.
     I move to the second cart, and chuckle to see the words 'blow' and 'almighty' adjoining one another. Paul brushes past to inspect the third cart. Just as I spot 'rickety elevator' he laughs long and loud. "We have nothing to fear," he yells. "It doesn't even know how to spell."
     Looking to where he points, I see the word 'middling'. "That is a word," I say. Attached to it in front is "we're in a" and behind is "gallery". Something about it seems familiar.