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August 29, 2008

Wooden Ships

David’s Geiger counter went click, click, click. The melted copper dome had once been part of a fancy church brought over brick by brick from Europe. Once upon a time it had stood next door to what was once David’s favorite Deli, an odd but welcome sight among the suburban sprawl.

It had been six months since it all happened, and supplies in the bomb shelter were running low. David had donned one of the suits and went scavenging. If he ran into soldiers from the other side he was done for, if he stayed put, they were all done for anyway.

The counter clicked away at every ruined building. David pointed the counter at the mass of vines snaking over the rubble where the pet store once stood. And the clicking stopped. David walked over and found a man reclining in reclining in the sun, having a smoke and a snack. He could tell from his coat he was from the other side.

David expected an attack and thought maybe he should attack first. The man noticed David and smiled. Why didn’t he have suit on, David thought.

Everything was gone and nothing mattered anymore. Still David was curious and hadn’t heard any news since it all happened.

“Is there something you could tell me please,” he asked. “Who won?”

The man shrugged. He motioned for David to take off his suit. David didn’t comply.

“Don’t trust me, check your counter,” the man said.

David did. It was all clear. He reluctantly took off his helmet.

“I’m out of supplies. I need to find some food,” David said.

The man pointed to the vines spread around the rubble. Ripe dark purple berries hung from under their green triangular leaves.

“They keep us all alive,” the man said. His tongue was stained purple.

“Us all?” David asked.

“Come,” the man said.

They followed the vines away from the rubble- a line of green snaking through cindered remains of trees and burnt out strip malls. They led into a settlement, bustling with people.

Dozens upon dozens of vines converged into one giant vine, thick as a hundred trees, reaching up into the sky, like from Jack in the beanstalk. The massive vine reached as high as David remembered the highest planes used to fly.

Where the vines thickened and combined at the base of the main stalk were organic pods that looked like the hulls of wooden sailing ships without masts or sails. People walked into them. The vines rustled and moved the wooden-ship-pods up the stalk, slowly, then faster as they climbed higher in the sky.

“Where do they go? Up into space?” David asked.

“I don’t know,” the man said. “Somewhere far away, I bet. Where we might laugh again.”

David radioed the shelter to reported his find.

“Come in alpha-bravo. Uh, I’ve found a settlement of sort. Um, there are vines. With berries. You can eat them. The vines seem to take away the radiation like a houseplant sucking cee-oh-two.”

“You’re crazy, gamma-delta,” the shelter radioed back. “You’ve got radiation sickness. Come back at once.”

“No. This is real. You should all come.”

The radio went dead.

“Come, if you’d like,” the man said. “You’ve told your friends. Its all you can do. Or stay. We are leaving, you don’t need us.”

“Guess I’ll set a course and go,” David said.

He tried the shelter again, then took off his suit and climbed in the nearest ship.


* inspired by the song, with the same name, by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young *

August 28, 2008

A Winter Walk

When another hour passed without word, and the automatic voice that answered for his lawyer still repeated the generic message that meant it either didn't recognize the caller or it did, but didn't have any news he'd want to hear, Javad Azaizeh decided to go out for a walk. He wrapped the scarf around his neck, turned up the collar of his jacket, and pulled on his warmest hat. It would be ironic to have made it unscathed through half a Kharbarovsk winter only to catch a cold just when he might be back in front of crowds who wanted to hear his voice.

Javad's ears popped as he door of his building shut behind him. The light, filtered by the blue plastic of the snow tunnel walls, was twilight-colored and noon-bright.

A scrap of paper, scuttled along by the wind, stayed just ahead of his feet. Midway through the second block, words appeared, lines in Korean script. A menu, to judge by the pictures of bulgogi and bibimbap -- smart paper, a page set for a local frequency, that had come loose of wherever it had been posted originally. Another three steps, and the menu faded to a flyer for the jewelry store Javad was passing, then to a teaser for that day's Tikhookyeanskaya Zvyezda. For a few seconds, under the concrete arch of a bike lane, the scrap showed nothing but crawl-scrolling gray-pink snow.

He followed the page, even when the tunnel wind took it off his usual route. Flickering false-3D ads melted into handwritten daily special lists, which morphed into tables of apartment dwellers meant to accompany banks of buzzer-buttons. Javad forgot the courtroom in Brussels, the message he hadn't gotten. When he passed a school where a chorus must have been practicing, a few staves of whatever the folk song they sang sketched themselves across the wrinkled, dirt-smeared paper, and, before he could catch himself, he hummed the first notes.

He felt the vocal lock tighten in his throat. The lawyer must not have been successful; Javad still didn't own the performance copyright to his own voice.

Wincing with shame more than pain, he leaned against the wall, feeling the chill of hard-packed snow through the plastic. He took thin breaths and let the paper continue tumble and change without him.

There'd be a message now, one telling him about the fine he'd just incurred.

August 27, 2008

Oh My

Here at The Daily Cabal, we're in the midst of a gradual expansion, introducing you to more practitioners of very short fiction over the next couple of months.

Today, we'd like to introduce Ken Brady, who brings us something science fictional for his first cabal story. Find out more about him from the members link above.

But first, give Ken a moment to take you to colony somewhere far off in space, although perhaps not far enough...

The bears were the latest annoyance.

Not the only annoyance, rather the most recent in a string of irritations plaguing Colony 17's third most populous city over the last few weeks.

Kayzee, Colony 17's outgoing manager, knew there were no indigenous bears on Colony 17. Just like there were no snakes, no porcupines, no woodchucks, and no marmots. Well, there was the one pet marmot in City 1. So, one marmot, but absolutely no bears.

She shook her head. Calvin was certainly to blame. Again. A teenaged boy was always dangerous, but none so much as a teenaged boy whose father was Doc Blakeman, the head of colony engineering. While Blakeman was away in deep space checking out a distress signal, his son had gained back door access to the colony's matter transfer system.

The problem was how to get Calvin out of the air shafts where he'd been hiding, teleporting innocent animals from Earth to Colony 17. It was all security could do to capture and return the damn things.

"I'm just making our environment more Earth-like," Calvin had said over the colony PA system. "There are no animals here. Don't you think that's unfortunate? Do you like big cats?"

Kayzee thought what was unfortunate was that Calvin hadn't fallen down one of the vertical shafts along with his love of animals. No, she didn't like big cats, she told him. No lions, no tigers; instead she'd gotten bears. Forget that there was no natural ecosystem here. Forget that the light gravity caused the animals to jump ten percent higher than they could on Earth -- which the marmots loved. No, it was the smell that got to Kayzee. The colony simply wasn't equipped to deal with wild animal detritus. And Kayzee wasn't equipped to deal with Calvin.

She wracked her brain for an answer as she called security to take care of the bears. As luck would have it, a call from Doc Blakeman said he was heading back, and was, in fact, just inside the transfer zone. He needed Kayzee to do an emergency matter transfer directly to colony quarantine. Hurry, and tell no one, he said.

Kayzee knew the alien creature she was about to teleport from Blakeman's ship was dangerous, but, really, how bad could it be? From the blurry image he'd sent it certainly looked nasty, but it couldn't be any worse than bears. There was only one, after all. Since it liked to use air shafts to move around, it was perfect for the job.

If Calvin wanted wild animals roaming the colony, this one would certainly be the last. She paused, considered the uproar Doc Blakeman would certainly cause and what that would do to her career. Then again, she was retiring. Kayzee triggered the matter transfer system and "accidentally" teleported the creature into Colony 17's main air shaft.

They'd figure out how to get rid of it later.

August 26, 2008

Little Bird

‘Lookee,’ I gab to me fella. ‘She works and all.’

Runi go and spec the little silver bird, lifts a wing and her workings are in there, clicking away. Be feeling her shiver in his fat paw, shiver like a frightened little animal eager to dart into windstream and safety.

‘Junken,’ he gab. He drop her to the workbench, a little rough. ‘Junken and dross.’

He gone, the screen slamming and the tall grass shaking in the wake of his gyro. His gab is oft false. I know that he gone for sheet-cheatin, and more’n one sheila in his life.

Not much love left for him. I hurt and just want to howl like a bab, tear off me gear and bleed out in the bath like the Romans of old. Twist me wed-ring, over and over, just want to rip it off me finger but show me a sheila who hasn’t held some hope, somewhere in her heart, that her bad fella can change.

He left his tellingphone, and I spec it. I know all Runi’s dud mates, and com-lines are in there that I don’t reck. Don’t need me smarties as to know I’ve lost me fella.

I tink with the sparrow, I tink her a clever little mind, tink her a tongue as sharp as Runi claims mine to be. I spec her hopping along me arm all excited and chirrup, and a-perch on me finger I let her drink from a toxic brew.

I open the screen and off she fly, her silver wingspan all pretty flash, me sparrow carving through air. She’ll find Runi now, and she will be the last little bird to ever kiss him.

August 25, 2008

Through Weakness, Strength

A. Template for the Crrrazy-Bar-and-Grill Story

At the Crrrazy Bar and Grill, where everybody loves you and your worst quirks, Joe Schmuck cradled a foaming mug of Schlitz, sitting in his regular black leather barstool. The stool’s panoramic view allowed him first glance at whatever otherworldly creatures would slime inside Uhura’s [insert more Irish sounding name because they’re so crrrazy and they likes they booze]. The balding bartender wiped down the counter as in sashays his fiery red-headed daughter, whom Joe secretly pines after--the superfluous love interest that is never quite requited so that readers return, story after story, wondering when those two crrrazy kids will hook up. They’ll almost make out, but then she’s beeped out to LaGrange point 2.5 to settle the alien dispute raging there.

In [walked, zapped, sizzled, slithered] a(n) [extra-dimensional being, time traveler, cockatrice, the oafish two-headed were-snake] with a mean thirst for stouts--only Joe didn’t know it was a(n) [extra-dimensional being, time traveler, cockatrice, the oafish two-headed were-snake] until he/she/it did something dastardly, putting the whole universe in peril!

But thank God for Joe and the dipsomaniacs at the Crrrazy Bar and Grill, who come together when they’re needed most. [Insert corny gag at the end to release tension through a forgettable denouement.]

B. Questions for Popular Templates

Is it enough to kick over a man’s many-storied sandcastle, laugh, and walk away? Isn’t the gesture like the hole left from a foot passing through walls of sand?

What is a template, but the framework that satisfies many, not unlike eating a pound of chocolate in one sitting? Is it that the few are displeased that many are happy with little, or that the few are displeased with much?

What drunken misfit wouldn’t want to guzzle a beer-sticky oak floor where misfits fit in? What lover wants the chase to end: Isn’t that what leads to boredom, musty motel rooms, and expensive divorce lawyers? Isn’t it fulfilling when the clumsy two-headed oaf saves the universe precisely because of his unfortunate birthmark as it gives hope to the rest of us misfits?

C. Pop Will Eat Itself

Socrates’ fame inflated like a latex balloon by his popping other balloons with questions lathed to pinpricks. But what foundation did he ever smooth with a trowel? Can an ecology of pincushions and wrecking balls exist alone?

The snake consumes its tale.

Or does it? Is Frankenstein any less for creating a monster that seeks to destroy him as much as the creator seeks to destroy the created?

August 22, 2008

The Onierographer

She'd only just arrived. Translucent like illuminated smoke, the curves of buildings loomed over her, but she felt more comforted than claustrophobic and, realizing something wasn't right about that response, she fell awake.

The laminated prompt card still lay on her blanket.

One of the researchers was right there, making a show of reading something off a display in the corner. As if he couldn't have done that from control room.

She pre-empted what she knew he was going to say.

"I'll pack first thing in the morning," she said, and tugged at an electrode on her scalp.

"It happens this way with some people. A lot early, then nothing." He sounded sympathetic, but she knew he got paid by the page his subjects produced, and must be secretly relieved to get someone new into this room, someone who might dream more productively.

"I was there. On a street. Somewhere in the ammonite city."

He didn't even look up from his clipboard. "Did you see any inhabitants? Get a sense of what any of the buildings were? Were you in the inner or outer whorl?"

"I didn't..." she said. "I'm sorry." Her eye lingered on the spiral as she handed him the prompt card.

"We'll mail your last check." He pulled something from the pocket of his lab coat. "Here," he said, "for a free copy, when the book comes out."

The coupon showed the cover: More Dream Realms Revealed: A LucidTravel Guide.

She shivered awake.

The directory, Dr. Current-Waves-Tendril flushed disappointment pinks and purples from the tips of his upper limbs. "How much did you give them?"

Red-Sand-Hiding stretched on the sleeping shelf, brushed life-support barnacles from her mantle.

"Not enough," she said, "We're still a prime destination." She could feel frustration brightening her face. "Publication date's pushed back a little, that's all."

Within a year, they'd be overrun; mobs of dream tourists, gawking without inhibition, would wander the inner and outer whorl, the upper and lower spirals.

"The others haven't done much better," said the director, and Red-Sand-Hiding saw two-thirds of the shelves were empty. "They can sustain the dream, but not the dream within it. We'll have to try the next plan soon."

She loosened her limbs in agreement. Somewhere, she knew, behind walls that swirled like ink, were pens of sharks, hungry, restless, ready to turn the streets of ammonite city to nightmare for a season.

August 21, 2008

Sound in Space

The Scrabble-playing lawyer, Senshu, (every colony ship should have one—it's amazing how many skills someone like that brings to a new planet) said he'd been fighting with the head chef at the time. What about? Asked the judge. A dictionary entry, the lawyer replied.

The head chef, Montague, said, yeah, that's where he was, too, and anyway while it was certainly his 10-inch steel Martian-made the murderer used, he shouldn't be a suspect, because he'd have had better sense than to use one of his own knives. And anyway he'd have cleaned it afterward. Not like the prep cook. Why didn't they ask her?

Of course I did it, said the prep cook. I'm crazy. Got a card says it. And she pulled out, not a standard colonial Form F-120 (a.k.a. “Crazy-page”), but a dirty napkin with numbers written on it. The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation, pending charges. But she was one of those get-to-the-bottom-of-it type judges. Jupiter just bristles with them. Anyone wanting quick verdicts should leave the solar system.

I got called up after the prep cook. I told them that I was where the log book said I was, on the bridge, doing the trajectory numbers like a good little subnavigator. Anyway, Jared, I'm sorry, “the deceased,” and I were pretty much finished by the time we came aboard. No, no hard feelings. I started seeing Monty—the head chef—about 1020 hours into flight.

Monty's ex Sarah, who'd never liked me, said she thought I'd taken a break from the bridge about the time she'd heard Jared's life-support hit the landing dock.

At about 0600 hours? Asked the judge.

Yes, she said, and pointed out she'd already testified to that.

The landing dock on the outside of the ship?

Yes, she said, that's where landing docks usually are. Otherwise other ships can't land, y'know.

The judge ignored her sarcasm, and charged her.

August 20, 2008

He Had a Void in His Chest

He had a void in his chest. It wasn't a hole, like the kind of thing a shotgun would make. It was very dark, and it only barely had edges, and it seemed to make you bend toward it, and it made a low sound like water running over something electrical, and frightened me nearly to death.

He, the homeless man, sat stiff against a tree, his legs crabbed back and his arms splayed out and his throat exposed and quivering with wiry black hairs. A boy--he can't have been more than five or six--threw a pine cone at a passing rollerblader on the bike path, but near the path the pine cone veered as though it were being swung on a string ... veered toward the man with the void, slowed down, rolled across the ground, sped up, skittered over the dry, sandy earth, leapt into the hole, and was gone. The noise, the water running over something electrical noise, went up in pitch just a tiny bit.

I turned, and there were people wandering toward us through the park, a pair of lovers whose held hands were losing their grip, a man in an expensive suit who had forgotten his laptop case on a park bench, a pair of girls dangling Barbie dolls ... all staring at the void.

My shoes started scraping against the dirt. I was sliding toward it.

"Go away," said the man with the void. "Far as you can get."

I shuffled backward, my treacherous feet nearly sliding out from under me, moving toward the void.

"What is it? What's in there?" I said. But he shook his head, and shuddered, and suddenly he folded in on himself and the void was much larger, a gap in the ground that was beginning to swallow the tree. I ran, pushed through the people, out into the traffic that all seemed to be veering now toward the park. I ran for the river, where there were oceangoing ships. I imagined the ocean roaring in, pouring into the relentless gap, the earth collapsing in on itself like the man had done.

But I didn't understand, because when I turned to look, fearing I would see the void already engulfing the park, instead there was a light in that direction, a brilliant light that shone like a new star.

August 19, 2008

The Lioness in her Abdomen

If the single remaining mural from her palace is to be believed, the first queen of Umer was born with a metal cage in place of her abdomen. At the bottom of the cage curled a tiny brown kitten.

As Eshi grew from babe to girl, the kitten became a miniature lioness with a long tail and sharp claws. The lioness never outgrew its cage; throughout Eshi’s life, as depicted in the mural, the cage gave it ample space to pace and curl.

The second panel of the mural shows all sorts of people gathered around the girl -- old and young, bearded and bare-breasted, modestly dressed and clean-shaven -- examining the cage and the feline. Their confusion is painted clearly on their faces.

The girl silently bore it.

When she became queen, and the people of Umer gathered at her bare feet in obeisance, she cast those people in the second panel out from the city walls and did not let them return. Words engraved at the base of the mural record her words to them: “The lioness is a part of me, like a heart, and I will not have you prod her like a beast at market.”

Eshi ruled for two decades, and the lioness prowled and purred in her abdomen.

In none of the panels is the lioness shown eating. Perhaps it took scraps of meat from the table like a pet. Perhaps, as one historian has inferred from the way it licks the bars of its cage in three of the eight panels, it gained its sustenance in a more unusual manner. Eshi is shown eating twice: putting flatbread and beans into her mouth like a regular person.

The intricacies of the connection between woman and lioness were never understood, although its importance to their wellbeing was illustrated on the day that Eshi went hunting with some of her relatives and friends, when her drunken sister misfired and her arrow pierced the lioness.

As the lioness’ blood pumped from its body, Eshi clutched her abdomen and moaned in pain. Physicians rushed to her side but found no wound except that in the lioness.

They could only watch as the lioness bled out and their queen died with it.

According to some historians a textual fragment contradicts the mural, saying that Eshi died from an arrow through a vital organ. According to others, the two versions of the tale are in very close agreement.

August 18, 2008

Quota System

I always knew Mr. Stajewski was an alien. For one thing, he never seemed to leave his store. When he closed up, he locked the door from the inside. He gave Jen the evil eye when he caught her shoplifting. Two weeks later the cops arrested her and she ended up in juvie. He caught two robbers last year, disarmed them, and he wasn't even armed.

So we broke in. Dumb, right? All I can say is, Donny said I wouldn't go even if he jimmied the lock, and I said he wouldn't dare jimmy the lock even though I would totally go, so there we were, sneaking through the darkened store, both scared out of our freaking minds. Light was on upstairs. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the stairs. I was looking right at Mr. Stajewski and he was dancing. I don't mean he was practicing his moves, I mean all 12 of his arms were moving rhythmically as his body jiggled creepily. I don't know which of us made a noise, but he suddenly wheeled around.

"Oh shit!" he hissed, and bounded across the room. He grabbed us and lifted as both up in the air. "What am I going to do with you boys?"

"Let us go?" I asked weakly. "We won't tell."

"And no one would believe us anyway," Donny added. It smelled like one of us had wet his pants, and I had no idea who.

It was really hard to read Mr. S's facial expressions now; he hardly even had a face anymore, so I didn't know what our chances were.

"Sorry boys," he said. "No one knows you're here, and I can't let you go. Luckily, I still have two more slots this year before I meet my quota. I hope you both want to travel." With one hand he flicked a switch on some kind of weird machine mounted on the wall. A glowing ball of something appeared in the middle of the room. Mr. S shifted his grip on me, and the last thing I heard him say was "advice to travelers: never miss an opportunity to relieve yourself." He threw Donny into the glowing ball and then he threw me right after him.


I'm still having trouble getting used to the faces, but the extra arms don't bother me. In fact, I'm seeing this girl, and they come in real handy. No pun intended.

The end

August 15, 2008

A Series of Notes Stuck on the Refrigerator of a Small Universe-Hopping Cooperative

Check the pocket universe Thur/Fri. Life yet?

Return bracelet, remember gun!!

(crossed out) Mammoth, Pachyceph., Velocir.
(circled heavily) Cynognathus

Archimedes Sat 9:15
Cromwell - lunch
Secret blood cult? Jerry, Djeri? Call again

WW bread
Rat poison
all the batteries they have


(a little cartoon of a two-headed girl pushing a button and saying "Oh yes I will!")

Suze: Went to meet w/ teleport guy. If not back by next death cycle, pls call androids. Love you! - Piker

August 14, 2008

Contributor Bios

Contributor Bios:

Matthew Locke: Matthew Locke is an out-of-sequence merchant seaman from the late 1700s. He has adapted to life in the 22C, and enjoys flushing toilets and the VR-net. His story has been chronicled in the novel A Wrong Turn.

Preston Thomas: Preston is on death-row for the violent assassination of Jebediah Clinton. In a rare plea bargain he faces full acquittal if he can win either a Hugo or a Nebula within two years. This is his first published piece.

Rebekah Ladd: Rebekah is the brain-damaged host to a group-mind based on Titan. In the Ladd vs Dept of Creativity decision, it was deemed that:
i) after her near-fatal accident, the gestalt had increased her quality of life from a vegetative state to that of a promising young author
ii) that proceeds from Ladd’s works would not leave Earth and not contribute to the Titan Civil War
iii) that, while she was fit to be a high-profile writer, she was no longer fit to be a single mother. Custody of her children was awarded to the State.
Rebekah is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest and graduated from the 2109 Clarion West class.

Irwin Calloway: Irwin is a sentient Macaw, with glorious blue and green plumage.
His hind-brain was crafted of genetic material sourced from the legendary 20C singer Cab Calloway. He has on occasion successfully channelled his famous ancestor for private parties, séances, and once on the nationally syndicated Top Of The Day! variety show. This is his first published work.

Paeonia Obovata: A reference on the now defunct and archived Wikipedia, it was a page originally dedicated to a herbaceous plant. Paeonia Obovata appears to have evolved into an artificial intelligence, and the page updates itself daily, typically in the form of a serialised novel, a short story or an editorial piece. The Friends of Wikipedia submit these stories on its behalf, and these works have appeared in Future Strange #19, Strange Horizons (neuro-link here) and in Antarctica Fantastica #7

August 13, 2008

Now Mosquitos Live There

I'd only been gone for two days and already the mosquitoes had taken over. I'd had to come back because of the rain: all the boxes I'd left out for the Box People had turned half to mush and now had to be broken down for the Pulp People instead. I strode into the boxes at dusk, unaware of the new owners at first, slashing with my knife and trampling the cardboard. The Pulp People would like that.

There were touches, pinpricks on my legs. The drenched tangle of grass, product of the recent antidrought, was alive with mosquitoes.

"When did you move in?" I shouted, sweeping at them with my hands. "I just left!"

"It looked like you were going away forever," one of the mosquitoes began, but another cut her off.

"We don't need to explain anything to him," she said.

Well, I assume it was another. You can never tell who's talking, with mosquitoes. They're all Mosquito.

I fought my way through their dodging hordes, slashing at the boxes, dancing the dance that scares the mosquitoes off for a moment at a time. People passing by on the Pirate's Road stared. One carriage of Box People slowed, looked long and longingly at the boxes, and then drove away.

"I'm killing you," I said, because I had swatted at least two dozen already.

"We're drinking your blood and using it to make babies who will drink more of your blood," said Mosquito. "It all evens out."

They continued to feed. I continued to kill and slash and trample.

When I left, there had been many, many boxes left over. I'd known from the day I moved in that that place wasn't home, so I'd saved boxes. There were boxes with the names of people I hadn't lived with for years, boxes in which things had been shipped that were now broken and discarded. It was bad enough to have to throw them away once, but now I had to come back to be reminded again of things that were gone. Yet I was growing numb.

As I finished the boxes, the bats began to swoop in, diving and spiraling and snatching the mosquitoes out of the air. I grinned as I stomped the last of the soggy cardboard.

"They're just doing the same as we are," said Mosquito. "Eating what they're made to eat. Their way just suits you better!"

I was still grinning as I stepped clear of the pulped boxes and slapped my legs, killing two last mosquitoes. It did suit me.

I left for home.

August 12, 2008

Welcome to the Future!


You have stepped from your rightful place and time into this rude world of the here and now. It is my duty and solemn pleasure to introduce to you the rudiments of life as it is now lived.

First, a word on why you are here. These men of the future are consumed with making. They are crafters of the first water, but users of a most inferior kind. Their automobiles smash one into another with abandon; their airplanes, with all the sky in which to fly, do the same; and their neglect of the world in which they live bids fair to bring it crashing down around their ankles.

More to the point, they build machines that hurtle them back in time at will. Haply, due to some quirk of nature, the traveler finds his mental essence exchanged with some denizen of the past while his respective bodies remain bound to his own time. When he returns, if he returns, the exchange is reversed.

Sometimes the he is a she but most often not. Women prefer to remain rooted to their own bodies.

If he dies in the past he does not return to reclaim his present body. If he chooses to remain in the past, he does not return. If the machinery he needs loses its connection to your host, he does not return. In that case you will be awakened from your imposed sleep, be given citizenship papers, and be turned out on the street with a copy of this book.

Therefore, welcome! Make of the future what you will, and beware the sudden drowsiness that presages your being taken by some resident of the even more distant future.

Coffee will help.


August 11, 2008

Sticks without Stones

This is not a sequel or prequel but pairs with the stand-alone, "Stones without Sticks."

The stick was once known fondly by its parent as a limb... until a biped severed it from its parent, stripped it naked, and hobbled on the stick up the mountainside. Despite the biped’s initial cruelty, the stick grew fond of the biped as its palms wore groves into the stick’s flesh. Before being held in the sleeping embrace of the biped’s flabby yet warm limb, the stick had not experienced true love.

Sadly, the relationship was one-sided. In spite of enduring long hours of pressure and pain because of its devotion to the biped, the stick broke unexpectedly and was, without a teary goodbye, discarded for another. “Oh, I see,” said the stick, “love me and leave me, will you?” But the biped neither answered nor returned.

The stick lay quietly for many moons, too upset for words, until another biped stepped on the stick, and it snapped:

“Why don’t you watch where you put your oafish feet? You think you can traipse through this neck of the woods and not notice upon whom you’re stepping? You don’t see trees uproot themselves and stomp on your fingers.”

The biped pretended not to hear and strolled on through the stick’s home.

A stone came rolling along. The stick, still nettled by its busted-up life, yelled at the stone to help out a fellow inanimate object. It showed no interest in the stick’s plight. Burned again, the stick thought, by a stone this time; it doesn’t get any worse than this.

The sun came and went. Rains came and went. Snows came and went. The stick lay still, nursing its wounds, when a black ant showed interest. Finally, the stick hoped, it would be loved for itself.

But no, the ant was a termite and it hollowed out the stick and laid eggs in it that wiggled and lunched on the stick’s innards. The pain was as excruciating as it had heard the biped complain that kidney stones were, but the stick felt too hollow to be hurt again.

Or so it thought.

On the last day of its life, a biped spotted the stick, put it over its knee, and broke it in two, then, carrying it back to its lair, built an altar encircled by stone, and set the stick on fire. Perhaps the stick ought to have been bitter about the flames charring its flesh, but it couldn’t help noticing the biped’s worshipful and submissive posture.

August 8, 2008

Dreams of a Thousand

Inevitably, I was getting sleepy. I stared at the alarm clock's oversized blue numbers, bleary-eyed. The numbers went in and out of focus.

"Big," I murmured. "Big."

"What?" Jean said thickly, rolling over toward me. She put her hand on my shoulder. "Did you say something, babes?"

"Shh, go to sleep," I said.

"You dreaming about Mike again?"

"I wasn't asleep," I said.

"You always dream about him, huh?"

"Don't worry about it," I told her. "I'm just trying to fall asleep."

"If my brother was dead, I'd want to dream about him," she said. "You're lucky." She was starting to wake up. Jean had a thing for long conversations at night when I was trying to get to sleep. Not that I didn't like them myself, it's just ... I was trying to get to sleep. I should just get to sleep.

"He wasn't a really nice brother, you know."

"Neither were you, babes," she said. "That doesn't mean you don't miss him."

"I'm really worn out, Jeanie. Can we talk about it tomorrow?" I yawned.

"Sure, babes," she said, and rolled back away. I lay there listening to her breathing slow down, thinking about Mike.

"Big," I whispered, too quiet for even Jean to hear. The blue digits on the clock blended into a little stream, a waterfall. I was tumbling down, down, gently, sliding into sleep ...

Then I was in the dream, looking up. A thousand Mikes towered over me, holding a thousand newspapers, his wide faces split in a thousand grins. "I guess it's my turn to be big tonight," he said.

I buzzed my tiny wings, lifting into the air and dodging away, trying to get used to the compound eyes again.

August 7, 2008

Kansas City Time

"Look here." His stubby finger poked the map on her knee. "This is old KC. There's the shuttlecock. One of these buildings must be the Nelson."

She blew stray hairs out of her face and gazed doubtfully at the crumbling ruins. "We have a problem Bil. KC wasn't wrecked till the teens. In the city we're looking for, the Nelson hadn't even been built. Your numbers were wrong." At this rate, they'd blow through their grant money and find nothing worth a dissertation. No degree, no tenure.

"Well, let's try again," Natale said. "Use my coordinates. Your numbers seem to be off by at least a century." Bil keyed in their destination and pushed "go." Everything outside dissolved into a sparkling mist.


Something was vibrating her rhythmically, like a giant heartbeat. "Ohhh." Natale hurt all over, especially the small of her back, where Bil's head had apparently ended up. They had not landed well. She sat up and looked outside. A low marsh fronted a quiet sea. "Crap! I'll never get my Ph.D. now."

"We have more things to worry about. For instance, lunch."

"Your lunch?! We're sinking into Jurassic mud!"

"Cretaceous. I'm not worried about eating lunch." The time machine was shaking harder now and a huge carnosaur, all teeth from this perspective, was bearing down on them at a dead run. Bil scrambled to the controls, punched go. Outside, the monster dissolved in mist.


"What coordinates?" Natale asked. "We've been heading the wrong way -- deeper into the past."

"I didn't have time to set any. We were about to be eaten."

"Sh*t, Bil!" She opened her mouth, closed it. Only thing to do now was wait—would they reenter spacetime at all? With no endpoint set, their battered vessel hurtled back to time's beginning. When next the mist cleared they appeared to be floating in space, with one brilliant "star" so close it showed a disk. Nothing else could be seen. Air whistled out through cracks the time machine had picked up on its journey.

"Where are we?" Natale asked fearfully. "Where is the Earth?"

Bill was trembling. "If my guess is right, it's right there." He nodded at the "star." "We need to get out of here." He started entering the coordinates for their initial point of departure. Before he finished, the "star" underwent a sudden transition.


The end

August 6, 2008

The Diplomat Teaches Oneness

The Diplomat and I sat with some thieves in their hot, stuffy cave. They watched us, unable to believe that we were who we said we were: the Gaia diplomat and his novice, traveling alone, and carrying or wearing all that we owned—clothes and begging bowls. Their eyes said, “how can you make us rich?”

We sat there while they tried to take our measure. At least there was a cat. That's another good animal from Gaia. It let me scratch its ears, having already taken my measure.

I hadn't wanted to go with the thieves, when there was still time to choose. The Diplomat had said, “they are part of us, we are part of them, we are all one with everything else,” adding, “whether we like it or not.”

Sometimes I thought the Diplomat was a naïve idiot.

“Rathand will take you some place while we talk it over,” said somebody who thought he was the Chief Thief.

So we sat outside in the cold, blessed air. Rathand let us sit against a big tree. He sat down facing us, his sword across his lap.

In the middle of asking Rathand about his family, the Diplomat paused as though he were listening. Then he stood up.

“We will be going now,” he said. “Though I would have liked to hear about your mother. Please don't use your sword, it would be bad for you.”

Rathand looked down at his blade in surprise, then lowered it.

“You could come with us,” offered the Diplomat.

Rathand stayed, however, when we walked straight into the brush.

“I hope that boy is all right,” said the Diplomat when the shouting started far off, “but he had to make up his own mind. They were going to kill us, you see. Hang our bodies by the road to frighten people.”

I stared at him.

“I have had practice not fearing death,” he went on. “But I'm busy, and besides, you are here. So I thought we should leave.”

“How did you know what they were going to do?”

He looked at me, blinked, and grinned. “Haven't you been listening? We are one with all creatures. When you know that, it is easy to hear what you are thinking in your other heads.”

Many footsteps later, though, he admitted he had preferred listening as the cat.

August 5, 2008

Women Watching from the Shore

The waves coming in on the gravel shore were sewn through with dragons, pencil-sized, silver, each spinning a froth droplet in its fore-claws.

Two women sat side by side on one of the memorial benches and watched the prison moon rise over the breakers. One in a corduroy coat, the other curled into herself, only a thin shawl against the wind.

A samovar cart jingled and sloshed from the direction of the pier.

"Do you have a least-brass?" said the woman in the heavy coat. The other woman placed a coin on the ones already in her palm.

Two paper cups of tea; three small cookies, an afterthought, dropped in the hand of the woman in the shawl.

Thirty years before, these women were not friends. The woman in the shawl used to run a shop on the ground floor of the building where the other woman lived. She extended credit to her neighbors. She overcharged on a random basis, knowing they'd never complain.

The moon lifts; the sky darkens; colony lights flicker into view. Coldgate. Artemis II. Shandren. They'll wait, like they do whenever they happen to walk out at the right time on a cloudless, full moon night. It happens more often than chance would allow.

The tea is harsh. Some of the dragons needle out from the water to snatch wind-blown crumbs from the cookies and tumble them in place of their froth-orbs.

Seventeen years ago, the woman in the coat was taken away and charged with crimes against the ruling pattern. She protested, but there was evidence from an anonymous witness, and she went up for nine years, and came back to find the woman in the shawl had taken over her shop in her absence. A gift from the patterners, although she never explained, and the other never asked. (The patterners pay; they do not give.)

The paper-edges of the cups soak a little further through with every sip.

There it was: Hsieu's Bridge. They rose together from the bench. The woman in the shawl held her breath a moment, as if expecting the other woman to make some statement, but the other woman remained silent. Whatever truce lay between them in the place where forgiveness would never be, it would last another month, at least.

The women continued their walk up the beach. The woman in the shawl leaned into her companion's corduroy arm.

August 4, 2008

California Dreaming

Since they closed down the interstate, eighteen wheelers have rumbled by our trailer, making the shades shake and the dishes clatter. Every damn one headed to New York.

Each time another whooshed by, my teeth rattled with the windows. Unless Pa had duct-taped them a coupla winters ago. He hadn’t but the front. We cuss him out cause he’s not here no more. He whored on Ma, hooked up with an eighteen-wheeler, and high-tailed it to Californication. We hated that state then. Now we’re glad to see it passing.

When we was little runts, Ma bought Jeb and me slingshots with Pa’s rare child supports. We graduated to BB guns last year. That’s when we started hitting the broad side of the barn. One morning in nothing but our longjohns, we crawled into the ditch. A trucker whooshed down the hill with his window down and head stuck out, serenading the cows with Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” He couldn’t sing worth two hoots, so we popped the sucker. His brakes squealed like hogs in a slaughterhouse. He swerved a little cause our road is twisty. He hopped out, cussing and waving his shotgun. Jeb and I took off for the cornfield, but the cows had mowed it down. We was sitting ducks. I still got lead in my hide.

So we got four cheap .22s--cheap cause everbody’s heading for the highlands, unloading what they can.

Last night Jeb and I guarded both sides of the highway, behind tall cornstalks--rifles lined up and loaded. A driver can’t be in two places at once, we figured. We sited a punk-rocking trucker and pop-pop-pop! We only hit a couple or five tires, but the trucker must have been wet behind the ears cause he over-corrected, jack-knifed and dumped his cargo.

Jeb and I looked at each other. Since half of California was to fall into the Pacific anyways, rich dudes from New York bought up truckloads of California rocks to build a barrier against from the rising Atlantic. Jeb and I--for the price of our .22s--were as rich as New Yorkers, building our own barrier outside town.

That’s why we slicked the road with used motor oil and so many jack-knifed trucks lie along the roadside. Jeb ain’t sure whether we’ll get enough to make a difference. I say it’s worth a shot. Another truck’s coming over the hill, Jeb. No, Sheriff, we don’t know the time, except how late it is. We’re hoping Pa drops in.

August 1, 2008

The Child and the Raspberry: A Prairie Fable

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In a house near the prairie town of Anntown there lived a small child who liked to pick raspberries from the plants growing around the house.

The family cultivated the fruits with wires and careful grooming and nets to keep the birds away. The child, still too small to do more than pull weeds from the soil when directed by an adult, spent some time each day wandering through the plants and plucking the fattest raspberries from the green branches. This was permitted, provided the child ate every one for lunch. But each day, the child took too many, and one of the adults took the rest for pudding and scolded the child, saying, “You should not be so greedy!”

The next day, the child had forgotten the words and again plucked too many fat, red berries to eat.

On one of these days, the child found a particularly large raspberry lying on the soil near one of the plants. This raspberry was so large that it covered over half of the child’s palm. Imagine how many sweet mouthfuls it would provide! Crying out in excitement, the child picked it up and examined it. No other raspberry had ever grown so large on the green branches!

Then the child saw another raspberry on the ground, equally large, and grabbed at it, imagining how delicious lunch would be.

But the child’s small fingers only splashed against water, over and over.

The second raspberry was a reflection, the child realised.

And while the child had fumbled in the water for a raspberry that didn’t exist, a bird had snatched the real one and flown away. If only the child had not been so greedy, lunch that day would have been more than four un-exceptional berries.