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December 31, 2008

The Big Un-Sale

The Big Un-Sale

Every New Year’s Eve, we watch the crowds converging on the old shopping centres. Last year the Committee decided it was now 2031 AD, and all the clean-burning hydrogen engines were un-sold. So the car parks are filled with fume-spewing internal combustion engines, and that’s progress for you.

New Year's Eve is our most shameful day. The day when each store becomes an un-store, and the voting public takes illegal tech back from whence it came. And we as a people are accepting the decisions of the Committee as a fait accompli!

Our organisation has been monitoring the Committee’s Annual List, and each Boxing Day we’ve noticed an alarming trend. While the first Un-Sale was a measured subtraction of one calendar year, sometimes the powers that be have been deducting three or even five years from our current Technology Standard. While it’s admirable that developing nations have been benefiting from our deductions, we ask when it’s all going to stop.

Are you going to be one of the mindless horde that trudges to the Collection Point, list in hand? Every person that takes the Committee’s buy-back money is a collaborator, and our great culture is being sold off, one year at a time. When the day comes, will you cheerfully hand back your MyVisor, or happily give up the cancer-inducing mobile telephony that you’ve only just gotten used to again?

It’s simply ridiculous, and we cannot go back to plasma televisions, nor the telegraph.

In particular, we the people object to the inclusion of the following items on this year’s Annual List:

• FleshSlaves, models Beta and Gamma
• Neurolink cyber interface, all models
• All vehicles fitted with the Perfecto bio-diesel system.
• MilliGro brand custom algae farms


Concerned Citizens for Tech Protection.

December 30, 2008

The Changing of the Times

It used to be all about magical swords. Blessed steel wreathed in flame, all that. Truth be told, I have, in the past, opined of the increasingly mundane nature of the magical armament. So there is at least a small part of me that stands up and cheers when the tattooed bastard reaches to his scabbard and pulls out a shimmering blue blade that crackles with fire.

On the other hand, the larger part of me is tied to a chair and couldn't stand up to cheer even if it wanted to. Which it doesn't.

I'd been tracking the trail of bodies for about two weeks. He'd been picking of virgins as he goes-which can't have been as easy as it was when he first walked the earth. I followed him from London to Paris, across Alps, then into Germany, which is where I'm pretty sure he became aware of me because right now I'm in the back room of a strip club in Berlin, with my hands bound by stockings, which is not half as pleasant as several magazines have led me to believe.

However, despite appearances I do have a few things going in my favor. For starters, apparently stockings were not a prevalent item in twelfth century Egypt, so my tattooed friend, Mahut As-Ghul, is not entirely familiar with their unsuitability as bindings.

I kick back in the chair at about the same time the nylon rips. Mahut lunges. I tuck my body in and roll, but not in time to stop the blade passing through my ankle. The flesh doesn't break but the pain is agonizing. Mahut's blade glows brighter. Bastard just chopped off part of my soul.

Which brings me to my other and much more significant advantage. You see the operative word in my opening salvo here was that it used to be all about magical swords.

Ignoring my ankle, I draw my Glock and fire. Nothing unusual about the Glock. Standard issue for my department. But the bullets, ah yes, there's the rub Mahut, old buddy.

A portal to several rather unpleasant dimensions is abruptly punched into Mahut's skull. He starts to fold in on it, which really doesn't look pleasant. Still, I can't quite resist picking up the sword and finishing off the job the old fashioned way.

December 29, 2008

Seeking the Manticore

He first saw a manticore in the pages of a children's bestiary: bright colours in a cartoon outline, with a smile on her face that made him doubt the text's description of the manticore as ferocious. Amid the chaos of his sister's playing, he sat with the book in his lap and ran a finger across the manticore's bright red lion's body, the scorpion tail, the face of a woman with long hair like his mother's.

For many years he did not see the manticore again. Textbooks passed under his eyes -- geography, history, biology, chemistry -- and every one dealt with the real.

Then, in his twentieth year, he saw her three times. A girl in his politics lecture doodled her in the margins of her notebook. A boy he loved and lost across the marketplaces of Turkey carried her in a tattoo on his dark hip. Finally, in a quiet temple, he looked up at a bell hanging from the roof and saw the flick of her tail, the smile on her face.

Something in the tilt of her eyebrows convinced him that this was the same manticore, staring at him from these varied media across the world.

He looked for her, afterwards -- peering inside stray books, examining murals, watching the movements of a painted woman. He saw her more frequently.

In a London market, after sampling a row of wines as pale as his hair, he thought he glimpsed a scorpion tail disappearing into an alleyway. Abandoning the final glass, he ran into the alleyway and saw it again: a tail flicking around a corner. He followed, not even noticing the burst rubbish bins under his clean shoes.

Five streets later, he cornered her.

Baring her teeth like a lion, raising her tail as if she would strike, she faced him. “Leave me!” she shouted, a wild voice from her woman’s mouth.

"I... you're real!"

"I won't be caged, I won't be held up like a trophy. Stop following me! Leave me alone!"

"That was never my aim," he managed, and took a step back. "I was only curious."

"And then you'll want to look at me always, keep me by your knee like a good little cat." Her tail flicked. "Go away!"

He stammered, more confused than he’d ever been. "I will, I will. I didn't expect to find you. I... I'm sorry people cage you. Can I... stop that happening?"

With narrowed, untrusting eyes she said, "Tell everyone I am a story. Never real, never. Never something to look for while I seek out your nice food."

"I will."

He did better than that: he never mentioned her, except to tell excited children that it was only an old story and that manticores never existed. Whether they believed him, he never knew.

He kept the memory of her to himself.

December 26, 2008

Silver Angel

Twelve days before Christmas it wakes. It claws its way into the Johnson’s basement to the where the Christmas ornaments, boxed from last year, are ready to be unpacked. Beak and horn and scaly-skin, hooves and forked tail all change to the form of a silver angel, hands clasped in prayer, like always.

The Johnsons are pleased to find it though they didn’t remember it from last year. Still, they place it atop their newly decorated tree.

When the Johnsons are asleep the silver angel creeps down from atop the tree and into the room where the elder Johnson boy is sleeping. With one claw it reaches into the boy’s mind and grasps images of Saint Nicholas. The boy’s belief is strong, so there is a lot of work, lots to eat. By morning the boy does not believe in Saint Nicholas any longer.

Last year the children of this neighborhood saw the specter of the real Saint Nicholas. That is why it has come. To eat. Saint Nicholas, the reindeer, the manifestation of Father Winter all are real.

On Christmas Eve it is about to creep down the tree when it senses something is wrong. The fire in the hearth goes out. Hooves patter on the roof. The specter of Saint Nicholas appears by the milk and cookies. Saint Nicholas eats, but the cookies remain whole. It knows the specter takes nourishment from only the belief with which they were made and placed.

The specter is ugly. An old child of Adam- round face, white beard. This year he is frail and thin- it and its kin have been eating well.

The specter does not see it. He leaves his gifts for the children, blessings- imbued in the toys beneath the tree. It sees the boxes begin to shimmer- this one with long life, that one with happiness, another with laughter and fun.

Hooves stomp the roof. The reindeer sense it and are trying to warn the Saint.

I won’t be taken alive, it thinks. I have walked the earth for ages and have eaten the faith of many children. I will never be forced to serve the Saint.

Faint footsteps pad down the stairs. The younger Johnson boy peers through the arm-rail and sees the specter of Saint Nicholas by the gifts. The specter promptly disappears.

When it is confident its enemies have moved on to another roof the silver angel crawls down from the tree. The Johnson boy has seen. One more meal before this year’s sleep.


December 25, 2008

Brisneyland by Night - Part One

It was a gypsy cab in every sense of the word: battered and beaten, everything grey, the vinyl of the seat sticky, the rubber floor mats so thin as to be almost transparent ... I imagined they were the only thing stopping me from seeing the road speeding beneath us.

Instead of an air freshener, a gris-gris hung from the rear-view mirror. Scratched along the inside of the doors were protective symbols even I couldn’t read, and occasionally marks made by fingernails. I didn’t want to think about that too deeply. And it smelled. Not bad, but of incense, sickly sweet and cloying.

There weren’t too many cabs like this in Brisbane, although as the population grew so too did the demand.

The single eye in the back of the driver’s head examined me while the other two on his face dealt with the night-time traffic. I wasn’t his usual client, neither Weyrd nor wandering Goth. I didn’t use gypsy cabs much or at least not until the accident. Now I was a regular victim of public transport. Environmentally friendly but sometimes my fellow bus and train commuters were creepier than the gypsy cab drivers. Bela had given me the number. He was going to get in trouble for it, but I guess he figured I might do some good before that happened.

It wasn’t my usual kind of job, but then again, once upon a time I didn’t ache inside and walk with a limp. Bela thought this might keep me amused and, with my sick pay almost gone, I needed money. Besides, he knew about my dad. I might see something no one else would, hopefully before someone joined dots and people in high places started digging where a whole lot of worms hid from the light of day.

‘What you looken for?’

‘The Winemaker.’

He got quiet then. This was one of those times when you learned about people, how they react.
Most folk, Normal or Weyrd, are law-abiding. But there’s a market for everything and the law of supply and demand. In the usual course of things kids cry, right? But enough to fill a standard wine bottle? Enough for a large dinner party?

‘Okay,’ he said slowly. ‘I got some ideas. Name’s Ziggi.’


‘I hearda you.’

‘I bet.’ I looked out the window; the lights of the Story Bridge swam in the blackness.

December 24, 2008


Satan came to supper last night. There's nothing peculiar about that, or in his usual feeble stab at getting me and the missus to make a deal. Once we get past what he calls 'the formalities' he's a pretty good guest. We take what we can get--ain't many people around here we care to have to supper.

Philippa starts with the soup, rabbit with leeks. There's only a hint of hare from the rabbit I shot last week, but it's rich enough. Satan smacks his lips. "That's fine, just fine. You added rosemary, didn't you?"

"You know," he says. "I couldn't help noticing your herb garden is, well, let's say small. I could furnish you with considerably more space. I could offer, oh, that patch over there." He gestures out the window at Mount Buffalo-Runs-Over-Cliff silhouetted against the evening clouds.

We laugh it off as always. We've got enough growing space for the two, sometimes three, of us.

Over fried chicken and corn on the cob we dissect local politics, rightly guessing which ninety percent of the school board is in Satan's pocket. He does surprise us by saying that Ferd Tucker down to the feed store is on the side of the angels. Ferd talks so all-fired religious we just take it for granted he's going straight to Hell, do not pass Go.

Philippa brings out the cherry cobbler. The Devil tries to compliment her on it, but she tells him it's from Winn-Dixie. We talk on about one thing and another over cigars on the porch, until he brings up the usual subject just as the last flicker of light winked out in the west.

"Join me," he says. "I like ruling down under, but I'd rather take over up top." He looks to the sky, but it's not the first stars of the night he's looking at. He's looking at Heaven, torn six ways from Sunday.

Rebellions make refugees. God's got plenty of angels and Satan's got his, but there's plenty more besides.

I shake my head. That's all it takes.

Like I said, 'the formalities'. Once we get past them he's okay.

Satan spreads those beautiful wings of his. I spread my own to see him home.


This is Edd's 50th story for The Daily Cabal.

December 23, 2008

Small World

So Jimmy, his mama want sugar to bake him a pancake, so she send him to the store with a dollar for a sack of sugar. But soon he come running back. He got no sugar.

"Mama," he say, "ain't no store. The street, she just end past Auntie Louise trailer."

"Jimmy, go ask Auntie if she have sugar," his Mama say.

Soon Jimmy come running back, with a cupful of molasses. "Auntie out of sugar," he say, "she send molasses."

So Mama stir up the molasses, flour, and she see she have no egg.

"Run Jimmy, fetch me an egg from the chicken house, so I can make you a pancake."

Jimmy, he run out the back door, but he come right back. "Chicken house gone," he say, "but they was one egg in the grass," and he give it to her.

Mama crack the egg into the bowl and she stir up the batter. She pour the batter in the skillet. This will be one fine pancake! But when she flip the pancake, it land on the floor and roll out the door.

"Jimmy," Mama shouts, "fetch me that pancake!" He run out the door and down the road.

The pancake roll past the mimosa tree and its pink fans hanging down, past Auntie Louise trailer and her lilies, over the plank bridge, and Jimmy run after. When he get to the other side of the bridge the store be gone, but the pancake keep rolling and Jimmy keep running. He running by the cow pasture (the cow, she chewing her cud), and he see his house just there beside the road in front of him, chicken on roof. The pancake keep rolling past house and mimosa tree, and Jimmy, he run faster, for to catch it. Bridge, cow (still chewing), house (Mama in the doorway), tree, cow, house (Mama shouting), tree. Pancake keep rolling and Jimmy keep running. The road, she keep ashrinkin', and pretty soon it be just Jimmy and the pancake, the road rolling up behind his heels and he catch the pancake just before everything be gone. Jimmy take a big bite. It the best pancake he ever have.

The end

December 22, 2008

We Knew Your Ma, But That Was In the Old Days

We knew your Ma, but that was in the old days. These days we couldn't help you, no idea where she goes. She rose up past us, your Ma--least if you ask her, she did. Saved up to get rejuvenated when she was ninety or so, real class job: permanent tan, Tyler lips, Barbie platinum autogrow, the works. Me an' Paolo'd been making do with worn-out whores for some time, so we figured for old time's sake she might--but you don't want to hear that, do ya? It's yer Ma. Never mind. But she had a fine quality ass on that rejuve job, I'll tell you that. Didn't mind showing it, either.

What, not even stuff like that? You're too easy to squick, I tell ya. Not like yer Ma.

Anyway, she got hired out a lot more after that rejuve: young-looking, classy, the kind of thing that makes us veteran shooters look shabby and cheap. We fell on hard times, me and Paolo, while she was pulling down the big jobs. You'd think she'd cut us in-- subcontract, like, some of the time--but not yer Ma. No, she took one of those hovering apartments just outside the city limits, moved around all the time, started pretending like she didn't know us, what gave her her start. One day her name came up, though, some guy whose boss she'd done for, and me an' Paolo got the contract.

We went out there to the hovering apartments and tried to track her down, but by the time we found her spot, she'd already gotten wind of us. Did for Paolo with a grenade pellet to the throat, took two of my left legs off with a booby trap, so's now I can barely hobble around. She oughta killed me, but she said "You shoulda stayed on the planet you came from" and just walked away. Left the apartment, all her stuff. Never seen her since.

Another thou note? That's awfully generous of you. Now that you mention it, all of sudden a little more does come back to me. See, she had this tatooist she liked, always went to the same guy, and she was kind of a collector, your Ma. I'd bet you kilos to crap he knows where she is--she's probably been in for new art.

No, none of my business what you want her for. 'Cept I already heard rumor of it, so I guess I know even if it's not any of my business.

Shoot her once for me too, will ya?

December 19, 2008

Kid Things

Jonny's a space pilot. He's got an airship made from an old tire swing. Lucy-Jane's his girl. She's wearing tin foil over her dress. I'm an alien lurking on a distant moon, waiting to shoot Jonny down, to pick over his bones. I'm going to go easy on Lucy-Jane, though. Things are rough with her mom and dad shouting all the time right now.

Jonny steers his ship down onto my planet. I clamber over the moon rocks and the slide. His cockpit opens with a hiss and he swings up high into the air and leaps out. Lucy-Jane follows more daintily, her foil outfit glinting in the light of the twin suns.

As Jonny surveys the barren landscape and Lucy-Jane asks what he sees, I crawl close. My tentacles drip ooze. My fangs drip blood. And then I leap. But Jonny, space hero that he is, feels the motion in the air. He spins, his laser pistol already unholstered.

But I leap too wild, and he draws too fast, and his fist catches me in the jaw, and I spill to earth, biting my tongue, the taste of my blood hot and sudden in my mouth.

And then whoever I am is lost back on earth, and now I am the alien, and I'm on Jonny, space idiot, and I am spitting my blood at him as I hit him. And I'm crying, and I think he's crying. He better be crying. I am an alien. I feed on his tears.

Lucy-Jane ends it. She pushes me off him. I sprawl on the grass. On the moon rock. We both lie there panting, sniffing.

"Why is it always fighting? Why is it always aliens and fighting?" She shouts it. And suddenly she is crying, suddenly there are tears. They stand out, bright as jewels on her tin foil outfit, shining in the light of the twin suns. "Why doesn't anyone ever come in peace?"

And she turns and she runs, off across the moonscape and out of the park and away into the distance of outer space, out into the great unexplored stars that Jonny and I have no idea about, won't even realize exist until the slow time travel of our lives has left the park and our spaceships far far behind.

December 18, 2008


The minstrel made a harp of my sister's bones, polished and shaped them as he needed. He used the silken threads of her hair for strings; plangent, guilt-inducing.

It had seemed such a simple thing to push her over the seawall, to watch her founder and splash and drown. To think that was the end of it all. The wedding day came and I could not feel joy. I took no pleasure in my husband’s face, nor in the thought of our life together, of what lay ahead. Each time I looked at him and tried to smile, all I could see was him aging before my eyes, faster and faster, becoming death.

When the minstrel arrived, his strange instrument on his back, I was grateful for the distraction. He plucked at the strings and it seemed they had anchors in my stomach for the noise wrenched at me. He played my shame, for all to witness; my sister's bones singing our story for wedding feast guests to hear.

It was simple enough to take the harp from the minstrel's hands - he gave it up easily, as if he knew it was his only to borrow - and I walked from the hall. I took to the roads, earning my keep with the bones of my sister, singing over and over. I wear my guilt like a cloak, begging forgiveness as a beggar does alms.

My days are cold and lonely, cut adrift from all things that might once have afforded me comfort: husband, hearth, home. Worse still are the nights when she sings me to troubled sleep, her strings moving of their own volition, her voice something that drops through the air like bitter rain. And the sound of the sea, the crash and swell of it just as it was the day I threw her in comes back to haunt me like a refrain.

It would be easy, I suppose, to throw her in once again, to tie something heavy to these polished bones and let her sink into the green darkness; to drown her a second time. But I cannot let her go. I did so once and it was, I now know, my greatest loss. So I keep my penance close, to pierce me like a bone through the heart.

December 17, 2008

Our Lady of the Sands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 16, 2008

Tales of the Exiled Letters: B is for Bureaucracy

After a long delay, here is the second story in the Tales of the Exiled Letters series. The first piece in this series, A is for Authority, appeared in April, 2007.

"But to business," B said, bending over her bright blue blotter. "Please, be seated."

X sat on the bare black bench across the desk from B, nervously crossing and uncrossing his legs.

"Now, X," B said. "How long have you been a letter?"

"Well, I don't remember exactly. About two thousand years? Maybe twenty-five hundred?"

"And you've served as, my goodness, quite a lot of things, haven't you? I see that in addition to your literary duties, you've worked in algebra, codes, Roman numerals, corrections ... this list just goes on and on. And haven't I seen you in multiplication?"

"Excuse me, that's times," said X. "He only looks like me. We're not related."

"And what sound, exactly, do you make?"

X felt extremely uncomfortable. He did not, of course, want to be expelled from the alphabet, and he'd heard rumors that the alphabet was considered to be running a little "fat" at the moment.

B smiled. "Well, I'll tell you, shall I? It seems to be 'ks,' doesn't it? Except sometimes it's 'kz' or that sort of 'kh' sound, or 'z,' or 'sh' ... really, X, don't you have a sound of your own you could make? And you haven't been beginning very many words, now, have you?"

"There's xylophone!" X exclaimed.

"Be serious," said B.

"Xanthic," X extemporized. "Xenophobe. X-ray ..."

"Stop, please," B said. "Don't belittle yourself. It's not becoming. I think we both know what will become of you."

"Except --"

"But me no buts," said B. She held up a list. "This is the Alphabet, also known as the A-list." She put it down and picked up another. "This is my list, the B-list. Do you know what happens to letters on the B-list?" She beamed balefully. "They become ex-letters. Get it?" She bore down on a button. "Bring backspace," she bid.

"This is excessive," X said in exasperation, "examine--"

"Those words don't even begin with X," B broke in. The door opened a bit. X leaped upon B and held her down, muffling her with his vertex.

Backspace entered the room, massive, and eraser-like, but his boss was effectively crossed out. Backspace surveyed the room blankly, found nothing to read, and silently backed out, closing the door behind him.

X muttered an expletive and crossed to the window before B could budge. Glass exploded as X leapt through it, exiting to the extensive grounds.

"You'll be sorry you dared to cross me!" B blustered. But X was gone as though he had never existed.

December 15, 2008

A Winter's Fantasy II

A follow-up to last year's A Winter's Fantasy.

It was a good thing we looked in urn before using it as a wicket for roller-croquet in the west ballroom. Otherwise, we would never have found the governess.

Great-grandfather's governess, who all the family stories had eloping with a traveling salesman after a fancy dress ball, still in her frog mask and lily-pad green gown.

The next morning, Edmund and I found we'd had the same dream: the governess, ethereal, wander-drifting the hallways, muttering a word over and over. Best we could figure, the word was, "Nog."

It was late December, and that had been when she'd died; we knew what she wanted.

We swiped a cupful from the countesses' own icebox, sprinkled on nutmeg thick as dust in the library. A cup and saucer, governess-neat, right in front of her urn.

It wasn't enough: we did long division in our dreams all night, squeaking chalk on blackboards while she chanted, "Nog nog," in our ears -- which really didn't help the math.

Our winter break wouldn't amount to much if that kept up, so we raised clouds of dust in the library trying to figure out what she was after. A whole bookcase of cookbooks, but nothing on "ghost nog," "ghoul nog," or "spectral nog." Eventually, we found something called the Gastronomicon propping up a broken-legged table, and among its burnt-oil-smelling pages we found a recipe for ectoplasmic nog.

I won't bore you with what we went through to gather the ingredients, what Aunt Fiona said when she discovered who'd swiped her favorite perfume, what the vicar did upon finding the ox liver in his boot, or with what smoldering hatred our older sister's fiance looked at us when he found out what we'd been skinning with his razor; I'll only say that, after all that, it didn't work.

Bleary-eyed after a night of copying Caesar's Gallic Wars onto an infinite chalkboard, it came to me: Norton Osgood Guernsey, the tutor back in Great-Grampa's day. The murderer.

In spite of the blizzard, we bundled up, rousted his coffin from the servants' crypt, chopped a hole in the end of the pond that'd be froggiest come spring, and sank him.

That was enough: in our dreams that night, she smiled in the winter garden, not a stick of chalk in sight, just snow, behind her, out the window, falling faintly and generally, upon all the living and the undead.

December 12, 2008

Car Park City

Foon Chye shivered amongst the acres of abandoned cars at the Bahru checkpoint, and hoisted his messenger bag higher on his shoulder. An unusually cold December in the whole of Southeast Asia, with tropical Tinhau dipping into the high teens, Centigrade. Living only a degree above the equator had not prepared him for less than sweltering days drenched in sunshine and humidity, and his jean jacket barely protected him from the damp chill of the season.

The autos had long been plundered for their oil reserves and copper wiring in the xenophobic days following the Crackdown, but more precious treasure could be had if you knew where to look. Away from the electric fencing and barbed wire, Foon Chye passed stripped Beamers, Mercs, and Lexi, and went straight for a yellow Mini Cooper with a black top. Minis always had a bit of a rebellious streak, something he was counting on. He boosted the bonnet and located the onboard AI. From his bag he extracted various cables, and attached them to the ports on the small black box; the other ends went into his netbook. A quick and dirty interface, download, and reboot later, and through the netbook's speakers the Mini said, "Master?"

"No, lah" Foon Chye said. "Just a friend. You me, we spread a bit mischief, ah?"

"I don't understand."

"Gahmen tag all us with RFID implant, read personal private data anytime, ask no permission. Continual surveillance, 24/7. But dis ordinator," he said, patting the netbook, "I just finish hack yesterday. Gon plug into nationwide wifi net, scramble RFID data everywhere, replace with useless bits look like green fire. Set people free, ah."

"Freedom is good," the Mini said. "I wish to be free."

"We all wish. You help me, I set you free. Shiok?"

"But what do you want with me?"

"Gahmen killdozers very cheem, hunt down rogue programs quicksharp. But they got no imagination, no creativity. My apps and devs give you edge, make you unstoppable, lorh. So?"

The Mini hesitated for a just a moment.

"Shiok," it said. "When do we start?"

Foon Chye smiled and stuffed the netbook back in his bag. The first step toward liberation. He could almost see the Bahru checkpoint unclenching, the physical border with Malaya open once again, as well as electronically with the rest of the world. He picked his way through the dead husks of metal, and headed out of the automobile graveyard with his new friend.

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December 11, 2008

Omaha Beach Blanket Party

We always go in where the confusion will mask our advance. Setting up the equipment amid walls of smoke and flame is best, as it's less likely one of us will be killed before things really get rolling.

The time portal is open just long enough to get our supplies through, and then it's June 6, 1944, 8:02 a.m. and we're on the shale and sands of Dog White, surrounded by barked orders, screams of pain, continuous machine gun fire from the pillboxes above.

As the 116th swirls around us, Jackie pushes play on the boombox and the carnage mingles with the upbeat sound of Pink Martini. I get first serve, so I step to the restraining line and vault the ball over the net. Cheryl returns the ball to our side of the net and Koogie misses the damn thing. Down to the ground it goes, him diving after it. Good thing, as tracers tear through the space he'd been standing moments before.

A few members of the 5th Ranger Battalion pause to look at us like they've never seen anyone playing volleyball in the middle of a battle, but they are soon distracted by the job at hand. Someone from Company C has just blown the first gap through the wires with a bangalore torpedo, and the Rangers head off to join the main assault.

We focus on the game. The volleys are fast, brutal. Cheryl takes a bullet to the thigh, but still returns a particularly difficult shot. It's fitting that she troopers on, even while injured. After all, this is war. If she survives, we'll patch her up when we get back. Just as soon as we finish the game.

Some survivors will say they saw tanned people in ridiculously skimpy swimsuits playing volleyball on Omaha Beach while death rained down around them. No one will believe them, of course. Battle fatigue. Part of the horrors of war. But if you look really hard at some of the photos from the archives, I bet you'll just barely see us. Or maybe you won't.

The recognition isn't why we go. It's all about the game. Roller hockey during the Siege of Sevastopol, soccer at the Battle of Glendale, disc golf at the Battle of Yiling. Next we may try softball in the moments just before the Hiroshima bomb drops.

It's enough to know we were there, that we were a part of history.

December 10, 2008

The Janus Trick: Door #5875

Jason says: When I agreed to do this, I questioned my source on his preference for referring to himself in the second-person. He’s still not been able to explain the Janus Trick, not without coming across as a lunatic. His constant use of ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ is frustrating at best. I’m finding it incredibly hard not to write off my source as a time-waster, but if he’s telling the truth...

(from my interview notes)
“When he stole the Janus Trick and stepped through that first Significant Door, he became a not-person, less than a hitcher or a watcher. There was no I, no We, just the eyes of the other, a You.”

Door #5875
This door has bars, and there is no chance to make sure you enter with the right foot. You are pushed in, none too gently.

You’re absolutely off your face, drunk to the point of abuse. Even with the Trick it takes a moment to remember. There’s blood all over your shirt front, and your two-thousand dollar suit is ripped and soaked in beer.

Colin. Anna’s new man. A liberal amount of dutch courage, and a flurry of violence that ends in a night in the lock-up.

Now, as then, you press up against the door. Hollering at the guards, demanding a phone call. There’s still a smudge of ink on your fingers from being finger-printed at the charge counter. That is when they are meant to offer you a phone-call, but you remember (from reading the report later) that you lost bladder control at this point. Because the cleaning staff have left for the day, it’s up to the cops to clean it up. They’ve thrown you into the drunk tank.

You get your phone call, when you finally convince them that you’re a lawyer (now as before, but not for much longer). This time around, instead of phoning your furious father, you call Pamela.

‘Pammy, it’s me,’ you slur into the phone. ‘Please, don’t catch the 7:57.’

You plead with her, with all the earnest of a drunk. The right words fail you. She tells you never to call again and slams the phone down.

Looks like tomorrow will still be the worst day of your life.

December 9, 2008


You may think that the days when you could meet the gods on the road are gone. I'm here to tell you they're not. Pan is only as far away as the next bar, for one thing.

Got a light? Thanks. Okay, so.

Best place to meet any of ‘em is in a nightclub. You’ve already seen ‘em, you just don’t know it. Aphrodite, she’s that utterly luminous girl at the far end of the bar whose number your friend never succeeded in getting; Zeus is the guy who snuck up behind and grabbed you by the, um, chest. It took an awful lot of people to pry him loose, didn’t it? And you’re still not sure that you actually wanted their help, are you?

Never forget that they are gods. Mortals meeting with that which is vaster and wilder than themselves should count themselves lucky to get out alive.

For example. I dated Apollo once. Two years of finding broken lyre strings by feel, meaning when I stepped on their sharp ends on the bedroom floor. I wouldn’t part with a single shining midnight, but I wouldn’t go back either. Broke up with him, actually. No, I did. He struck me blind for a year; not an easy divinity to dump, believe me. Very glad it was only a year. And that there were no kids.

Don’t try to get them to use birth control, they’re hopeless in that department. Like I said, wilder. Like mountains, trouble, the flask someone passes you at the bonfire. And forget about fidelity. It’s a word clearly invented after their time, know what I mean?

And yet I’m still addicted. The one I have always wanted to meet is Shiva, actually. Saw him at a show. Talk about limitless potential…for the girl, I mean. I’d be okay with explaining to my kid why their skin is blue, wouldn’t you?

December 8, 2008

What Might Have Been

Being the Story of a Man Who, Only by the Narrowest of Margins, Avoided A Terrifying And Most Ghastly Death at the Hands of the Beyond Men Who Sleep in the Margins of Reality, Preying Upon the Unsuspecting, Unworthy, Illegitimate, and Forlorn, After Also Narrowly Avoiding the Many Pitfalls of the Nine-Jaded Path That Leads the Lost and Bitter Away From Their Dreams of Redemption and/or Revenge Towards An Untimely End at the Hands of the Aforementioned Beyond Men and Which Lurks, Disguised as Nothing More Than an Ordinary Path The Likes of Which You Yourself Have Likely Seen Many Times Before, Upon The Paths We Ourselves Most Often Tread But Which Selects Its Prey Based Primarily On The Color of Their Underwear (Green Being the Color that Most Appeals to its Predilections) Onto Which This Man was Almost Led by Chriandrix, Agent of the Beyond Men, Harlot of the Nineteen Space Oceans, Mistress to the Lord of the Pits, and All Round Femme Fatale, Whom After A Spat with Her Lover, The Lord, Was Taking A Sojourn Upon One of the Lesser Known Realities and Easing Her Aching Hangover (Brought On, No Doubt, by the Consumption of An Over-Abundance of Soul Devouring and Blood Bathing) Through the Imbibing of Red Bull, Itself One of the Weakest Potions of Hellacious Redemption, Yet Which Was Less Likely to be Being Bought By Someone Who Knew Either Chriandrix or The Lord of the Pits and Which was Available at the Bodega Around the Corner from the Apartment of the Man About Whom This Story Revolves Like an Orbiting Moon of Potential Doom, Verily a Dark Moon Whose Gravitational Pull He But Narrowly Avoids Due to the Fickle Forces of Fate Alone

Waking up, after a night of heavy drinking, Dave squinted at the clock and decided that, screw it, there was no way he was getting out of bed today.

December 5, 2008

Blacker Friday

The CEO turned to Phyllis Baker. "Lunch for four thousand, please," he said, looking down on the fleet of school buses pulling into the parking lot. "Peanut butter sandwiches, apples, cookies, juice, that sort of thing."

It was Take Your Child to Work Day. The big day.

Phyllis made a few notes, and returned to her desk to place the order. Then she walked the cubicles where each boy or girl was installed at a workstation laboriously handwriting their letter.

"Dear Santa: I have been nice all year."

That's how each letter would start. Each one would go on to ask for CyberMore, Inc's success. Some would request a share price increase, some asked for increased orders, some for less expensive supplies. A few children in a pilot program asked for disasters to befall the corporation's major competitor CompuXS, but Child Resources felt such requests endangered those childrens' naughty/nice ratio for the next year.

Child Resources. Phyllis' department, one of the best-funded at CyberMore. The equipment to monitor every employees' child alone ran over a billion dollars. "Can't have the little darlings getting into mischief," the CEO said.

Phyllis loaded food on a gray cart and wheeled it from cubicle to cubicle. To every delighted child she whispered the secret of making invisible ink from apple juice. She suggested that they negate their visible wish. "Wouldn't you rather have a dog?" she'd say, while CompuXS shares multiplied in her account. "I think you really want a toy, don't you?"

December 4, 2008


After the bolts of green fire from the sky had finally ceased to fall, after the screaming across the world had been drowned out in a deadly roar of heat and force, after the last remnants of unprotected buildings aboveground had collapsed in twisted, melting, ashy heaps, after the gasworms had been released to tunnel mindlessly, automatically, mechanically into the rock and seek out the hidden shelters, after the last of the live radio signals, but before Dr. Vanfrancus made it back into his carefully-protected family preserve from the liquor store, where he had bought two cases of absinthe (officially to extract thujone from them, as his wife generally made it very hard on him when he attempted to bring liquor into the compound for personal consumption), and before Mrs. Vanfrancus made it back from her daily power walk, and especially before anyone knew that yet another nanny had quit and left the compound in a huff, 7-year-old Melina Vanfrancus came back out of her father's study, where she was expressly forbidden to be and especially where she was expressly forbidden to play with the controls to the machines her father had told her at many a bedtime he would soon use to become ruler of the world through threatening the destruction of all life on Earth, and sat back down across from her favorite doll, whom she had named Princess Sarah Palin.

"I'm very sorry to have made you wait, Princess Sarah Palin," Melina said, "but now we won't have to worry about any more interruptions to our tea for anything so silly as baths. Could I tempt you with more fairy cake?"

Princess Sarah Palin accepted just one more piece of fairy cake, as she was watching her figure.

"And really, calling me a brat," said Melina, and she delicately set to eating her fairy cake.

December 3, 2008

The Problem of Thorns

Around the tower, a wall of thorns, in some places so thick she cannot make out what lies beyond. In a very few spots, she can see grey stone and ravens on an untamed lawn. The road she has taken ends abruptly at the prickly barrier. Left and right, the thorns have melded with the usual flora: she will find no path there. She reaches out to touch one of the branches, but misjudges and snags a finger on a long thorn.

She puts the digit in her mouth, sucks away the welling blood, tastes its metallic tang. The drop of blood remaining on the tip of the thorn gleams then begins to eat away the thorn bush like acid eats at metal. Soon, there is a wound in the wall, big enough for her to walk through. Behind her, the blood continues to erase the thorn bushes as if they never were.

Inside the tower, in a room at the very top of the stairs are the bones, the thread and the canvas of skin, waiting for her touch. On a roughened tabletop lie a quill, a needle and a bottle. At first, she thinks it filled with ink, but closer inspection shows a sluggish dark red: blood uncongealed after passing years. She twists the lid; it comes away with surprising ease. The scent of iron stains the air. She feels ill.

The quill is sharp. She picks it up, feels a tingle in her hand, and dips the nib into the blood-ink. She does not hesitate, sketches swiftly the face of the woman who inhabits her dreams. She knows without knowledge that this is her grandmother. The blood-ink soaks straight into the canvas of skin; it knows where it is to stay.

While she waits for the sketch to dry she picks about the tower, trying to find a trail, a story in the left-overs of a life. There is little enough and she realises the only truth here is that of the bones, for the bones remember everything.

She threads the fine silver needle with a long strand of tightly twined flax and black hair. As she stitches, the thread takes on the required colour: ebony black for hair, white as new snow for skin, red as a ripe apple for lips. She stitches and stitches, and wonders what will happen when she is finished.

December 2, 2008

Quarter for Your Thoughts

"Hey, there's a message in this bottle."

Kai looked up. Jenine held up her beer. Sure enough, a piece of paper floated near the bottom. There was some writing on it.

"Looks like a fortune. Drink up so we can read it."

"Don't be silly. It would stick to the inside of the bottle and we'd never get it out." She drained her water glass, poured the beer into it, fished out the note, and laid it carefully on the table. She leaned forward to read the tiny letters that almost completely covered the paper.

"Where is that girl with our food?" Waiting for Jenine to puzzle out the note reminded Kai how hungry he was. "Carla! Can we have more chips and salsa? The hot kind. And more beer."

Jenine frowned. "It's hard to read. The font is weird. Anyway, it starts 'Don't tell anyone the contents of this note.'" Her voice trailed off.

"And then?! Is it like a chain letter? If you don't do what it says your dog will be repossessed?" While Kai was talking, Jenine was reading. Then, she carefully folded the paper in half and tucked it in her pocket.

Now it was Kai's turn to frown. He leaned forward and whispered loudly. "Your nipples are hard. Only two things do that and I don't think you just read some beer-note sex. What's going on?"

Jenine whispered back, so quietly he could barely hear her. "It's a prediction. We should get out of here. Now." She stood up.

"No! What? Why do you believe that stupid note? I'm staying right here till I get my chimichanga."

"Wherever that note came from, they knew things. About me. I think it's real." She backed away from the table, motioning to Kai to get up.

He leaned back and folded his arms. "I want my lunch."

The window exploded inward and a red Ford F150 plowed into the table and Kai. Jenine screamed and jumped.

She ran to the truck, but when she got there she could see that Kai's entire chest was crushed. She stood up and turned around just as a police officer ran in. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His eyes were the color of the summer sky.

"Hello Officer Smith," she said. "I've been waiting for you."

"Have we met?"

"Not really."

"You're bleeding. Sit down, I'll be right back."

"I know," she whispered.

The end

December 1, 2008

The Most Precious House

A long time ago, when I was a girl, I found a house made entirely of pearls. From afar it looked like a cloud. Closer, it looked like sugary sweets piled one atop the other.

I was a child. I was foolish.

I ran up the hill to it, I pulled one of the pearls from its side and had it in my mouth before I realised the house was collapsing and there was no sugar in my mouth at all.

Further along the hill was a village, and when the house fell down all the villagers ran out — pulling their hair, wailing, leaking tears from their eyes like a gutted pig loses blood. I spat out the pearl and waited to be told how terrible I was, how stupid.

They were tiresomely predictable.

All except one, a girl with bright yellow paint stains around the egdes of her fingernails, who climbed up to the window of the room I’d been given while the villagers decided what to do with me. “Pssst,” she said, like water falling on the hot plate of a stove. “Pssst.”

I pried open the window and we looked at each other in momentary silence, girl to girl.

“I’m building a house of yellow leaves,” she said. “I need someone to help me paint them.”

I climbed out of the window and we walked down the other side of the hill, through a vineyard and a patch of wild, tangled undergrowth and small trees, until we reached a clearing. Dug deep into the ground were the house’s foundations, yellow against the dirt. The girl told me that the finished house would only be ankle-high — only the roof poking above the ground, like a pile of regular leaves.

“There’ll be a house down here and it’ll be better than dumb pearls and they won’t see it, not at all.” She grinned possessively across her paint pots. Then, bending over to open a pot, she added in a practical tone, “Besides, the wind would blow it all away if it was above ground.”