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July 31, 2009

Jack of No Trade

Jack stepped out of the elevator at the penthouse floor and walked confidently into the middle of a corporate emergency. He didn't have a clue why they wanted his help, but what else was new?

A twentysomething in a tailored grey suit, her sandy blond hair pulled into a perfect, tight bun, red-framed glasses clearly for info augmentation not vision, moved to block his advance.

“Excuse me,” she said. “You are?”

“Jack Kamata. You pinged me.”

She waited for her glasses to verify his identity, then nodded and turned to walk away, giving Jack a view of even more perfect, tight buns.

He stared, even as she turned to him again to ask: “How up-to-date is your understanding of international currency arbitrage?”

“Don't know a thing about it.”

“Perfect,” Tight Buns said. “Come with me.”

“Gladly.” He resisted the urge to spank her as he followed, and settled instead for digitally undressing her.

A brief history of Jack:

- Age 18, 1st job: pizza delivery dude
- Age 34, 57th job: water ionizer salesman
- Age 37, 69th job: perspective consultant

He had never held a job for more than a few months, but he thought “perspective consultant” might work out. He wasn't stupid or inept, rather easily bored, easily distracted, liked to move to different cities, and had more than a passing obsession with the ladies. The poster child for 21st century drifting. In a time where everyone was so highly specialized, he'd become valuable for his lack of deep knowledge about anything.

He sat in the board room and listened as words and concepts that meant nothing to him were bandied back and forth. When it came his turn to speak, he told the room, from his outsider's perspective, what seemed right to him. Another job, another thousand bucks, and Tight Buns was quite pleased, which got him a keycard to her apartment, and an official unraveling of her hair.

Post-coitus was business-like for her, Jack-like for him.

“You were great,” she said. “Seriously, Jack. I thought you weren't good at anything.”

“Well,” he said, “maybe one thing.” Then: “Why are you looking at me like that?”

She stared at him with a smirk on her lips, then zapped him her résumé.

A brief history of Tight Buns:

- Age 21, Accounting degree, Columbia
- Age 23, Harvard MBA
- Age 24, US Department of Purposeful Living

“We hate people like you,” she said. “Really, we do. If it's any consolation, you made it to number 3 on our most wanted list. Quite the star. We really thought you might have no skills at all.”

“Wait just a minute,” Jack said.

“But I guess there is something you can put on your résumé,” she said. “I'll post my reference.”

“Fuck,” Jack said. It was like a kick in the teeth. He was now certified for real work. Reluctantly, he pulled up a list of available gigolo jobs.

“Can you give me a lift to the unemployment office?”

July 30, 2009

Bad Hair Day

‘Shoulda worn a better hat,’ says my sister.

‘Yes, thank you,’ I reply, a little testily. ‘Hindsight is twenty-twenty.’

‘Hey, don’t get cranky with me. I did not do this.’ She makes a sweeping gesture with her hand.

Stones as far as the eye can see, big and small. Stone statues, that is.

‘It could have been worse,’ I venture.

‘How precisely?’

I think about it. ‘I’m not entirely sure, but most things can be worse.’

She surveys the damage and sighs. ‘I guess it could have been a parade or something. Something televised – now that would have made this worse.’

I’m kinda touched that she’s being a bit more supportive than usual. The sisterly solidarity doesn’t last though, and she blurts, ‘But honestly, how did this happen??’

‘You said it yourself – hat failure. I wanted a walk in the park,’ I say. ‘It was a beautiful day – how often do I get to Central Park? How often do I get anywhere? Getting hunted by heroes puts a bit of a blip in a social life. Anyway, I didn’t realise how windy it was.’

‘You know, every time you want a social life, we have to change address – and it’s not just cities, is it? It’s countries and continents. And what is it with you and parks, anyway? Can’t you be like a normal monster? You know, skulking in caves? The whole hiding thing a bit too hard for you?’

‘Easy for you, Stheno, you weren’t ever human. You don’t know what it was like. You don’t know what I lost.’ I go to kick at a rock at my feet, realise it used to be a Chihuahua and stop.

‘And why can’t you go out at night?’

‘A park’s not the same a night. Honestly, what have you got for brains?’

We look at the people I turned to stone. ‘Well, we all have to shift again – Euryale isn’t going to be happy. She’s still pissed about Stockholm in 1908.’

‘Hey, Stockholm, we got away with – the Millesgården looks amazing.’

‘You’re paying for the move this time. We’d better go via a bookstore and pick up a new atlas, maybe some Lonely Planet guides. Try and find a new city.’

‘Oh, somewhere with a nice park –‘


‘Okay! Okay!’

July 29, 2009

Working it out of his system

Marty was aware that sleeping with Mrs Korlowski was unethical. For one she was a client. For another he was her marriage counselor. He should be punished, he knew. Should lose his business, his marriage, should be shunned publicly for this. Yes, he told Mrs Korlowski, he had been a very bad boy and deserved to be punished. Still, for all his contrition, he completely failed to appreciate the irony of discovering that Mr Korlowski had been speaking literally when he complained that his wife was a soul-sucking monster.

July 28, 2009

What They Don't Tell You

1. You will be expected to renounce all worldly possessions, familial ties, and social connections so as to maximize your teaching performance at the School.

2. You will be expected to wear the assigned teacher's uniform, eat the prescribed teacher's diet, and sleep in the teacher's wing of the School dormitories. Your head will be shaved each Sunday evening by the School barber.

3. You will be expected to deliver thorough and incisive comments on every student composition, no matter the length of the assignment, the number of students in the class, or number of classes you teach.

4. You will be expected to pleasantly endure the loss of your privacy thanks to the ubiquity of scunts, wiretapping, keystroke-tracking software, and an over-vigilant security guard named Ted.

5. You will be expected to self-install a minimum of twelve nanny arphids that analyze marking decisions, pedagogical preparation and delivery, lesson plan productivity, and sexual attraction to your colleagues.

6. You will be expected to give, via telepresence, three or more simultaneous extra tuition lessons per term to students falling below the established minimum quota for excellence. Teachers who fail to meet their Excellence Quota for two consecutive terms will be subject to Retirement.

7. You will be expected to downlink a minimum of five workshop improvement courses per term during your sleep cycle, and mentally transmit your progress to the Dean of Teacher Upgrading upon completion the following morning.

8. You will be expected to feel grateful for your cloistered employment and constant comparison to the progress of your more capable colleagues, including robots and administrative staff. Consultation of the Educational Ranking board is mandatory before entering your sleep cycle each night.

9. You will be expected to fear the loss of your job, the downscaling of pay, the withdrawal of course knowledge, the lowering of governmental status points, and the placement of your name on the educational blacklist.

10. You will be expected to love the School with all your heart, until the day you die from exhaustion or are Retired with prejudice.

Creative Commons License

July 27, 2009

Home ranges and habits of mid-Atlantic weresnails

In this study we identified weresnails in human form on the basis of two criteria: giant slime trails in their dwellings and nascent eye stalks on the days preceding a full moon. We followed human-form weresnails and used a modified tranquilizer gun to implant tracking devices on their shells at the onset of gastrothropy.


Gordon hurried home, dodging snow mounded where the plows had left it. He did love Elaine, desperately, but he had sworn never to bring a child into the world. He was afraid that his fear of what his curse would do to any offspring must have looked a lot like rejection. She didn't know, and how could he explain now, when it was too late?

Elaine had cooked a wonderful meal: clam chowder, a green salad, and a spry young California Merlot with an unexpected kick. Then she told him.

"I felt sick this morning.".

"I'm so sorry!" he replied, wondering at her odd expression. "You certainly shouldn't have cooked for me when you didn't feel well. You're feeling better?"

"For now. I don't know what will happen in the morning."

She finally had had to simply tell him. Then he gave her that look, and he ran.


The shell of the first subject shattered when struck by the tracking device. The tranquilizer gun had to be further modified before successful implantation was possible. Ultimately, time and location data for three subjects were successfully collected for three lunar cycles (fig. 1). Figure 2 shows movements of all three subjects, superimposed on a high-resolution digital elevation model.


Gordon could not sit still. He walked, trying to believe his son or daughter would be normal. After all, the gastrothrope gene was recessive, so unless Rachel had snail blood, their children would look fully human. He pulled out his cell phone.


"Rachel, listen. I was just so shocked, but I want..." Then Gordon paused, bathed in moonlight.

"Me too, and.... This morning you looked...terrified. You don't feel that way now, do you? Gordon? Gordon?"

His cell phone shattered on the sidewalk as Gordon underwent a transformation made excruciating by the salty meltwater covering the ground.


Unfortunately, aggressive salt distribution by county road crews resulted in destruction of the three remaining experimental subjects. The study will resume, with new subjects, after the last frost date in the spring.

The end

July 24, 2009


"So have you decided yet?" Becca asked. "What you're doing Friday?"

"Oh, God knows. Last-minute house party with the boys, probably." Selwyn rubbed absently at her temples. "At least if the apocalypse comes there'll be plenty of gin in the house. You're invited, of course."

"Thank you,” said Becca.

"And you? First Night again?"

Becca snorted. "Once was enough, thanks," she said. "Especially this year, with freezing rain as a bonus!"

"You think it'll still be coming down on Friday?"

"It's been two weeks, hasn’t it?" said Becca. She nodded toward the window. "Does it look to you like it's planning to let up by then?"

Selwyn considered the thick, cottony light filtering through the glass. "Not likely," she admitted.

Becca watched her rise and walk to the window, watched her face shade into silhouette. Behind it, runnels of rain made bright worms on the pane.

"Do you think," Becca said, quietly, "that everything's really going to blow up?"

The shadowed face was silent. "Depends what you mean by that," it said at last.

"You know what I mean. Everything really stopping working. Lights going out all over the world."

"A technological apocalypse,” Selwyn said, slowly, “seems to me unlikely." She paused. "What people do, of course, that’s more unpredictable.”

“There’s all kinds of doomsday predictions going round,” said Becca. “I’ve never felt so medieval.” She hesitated. "I could almost believe, at moments, that it really is going to end.”

"Do you really think that will happen?" Selwyn asked in her low voice.

"I don't know," said Becca. "I – you know I wouldn't, ordinarily. But this is such a strange time. What if something really is coming that will change the world? Again?"

"A singularity," said Selwyn. "You can't see it coming, but before and after it, history is different."

"Yes, like that," said Becca. She shuddered a little. “You think you’re in the real world, and then something impossible happens. And you say, Oh! The world was like that, all along."

Selwyn came over to her, touched her gently on the head. "Don't kill yourself over this. You'll find out in three days what the end of the story is."

“I guess we will,” said Becca. Her hand closed and opened upon the desk. "Stay a little longer, please."

Selwyn leaned one hip on the edge of the desk, and stroked Becca's hair again. They stayed there together some time, in silence, looking out at the rain.

July 23, 2009

Hypocrite Écrivain, Hypocrite Lecteur: a Letter to the Editors of DailyCabal.com

Note: This fictional creative-nonfiction comments on the underlying aspect in the Anan Muss series [click this link].

Dear editors,

Since its christening, I have faithfully read your zine. Its vessel has at times thrust itself into amazing worlds and has at times scraped its barnacled hull through narrow wormholes. SF Poet Anan Muss, however, has shipwrecked and should no longer captain your masthead (or even swab the decks).

His themes tend to be Darwinist variations on the idealistically fit who are actually unfit because of their idealistic naïveté, which causes them to be buffeted by the supposedly unfit (according to standards humanity claims to uphold) but who are truly fit because they obey an unspoken social Darwinism. While the themes should disturb the blithe and, indeed, deserve to be heard, it appears the poet himself does not abide by his implicit ideals: All have worth and ought to be treated as such.

Last year, I paid to attend a benefit for the SF Poet Society because Anan, a man of self-purportedly high principle, was the guest of horror--pardon, honor--teleported in from Jac-Sun V. He spent the late afternoon swilling a dozen Chardonnay and swallowing more than his share of salmon. Many tried to discuss literature, to stroke his ego discussing his work. He actually glared when I brought up his thematic disposition. He had eyes and words only for a third-rate poetess a third his age. One might surmise where he spent that night.

I do hope you’ll take a billy club and knock that man between his lustful, blue-speckled eyes.

Humbly yours,

Nobody the Poet


Dear Nobody,

Thank you for writing. My first reaction is “That’s not me.” But how many times have we gazed in the mirror--especially as we age--and been deluged in a self agnosia?

I could make excuses: Dionysia dissed me again, and I desired revenge (but that’s petty and not me). You or whoever else appeared sycophantic (but that’s egotistical since we all start somewhere). My only hope lies--hope springs--in misperception:

1) It wasn’t me you saw, or

2) you saw me but my mind was elsewhere (if we trust your version, we cannot but be disappointed in any writer who claims objectivity, to see all angles, to peer into the hearts of all characters with equanimity), or

3) my identity was mistranslated through quantum entanglement--maybe the distance between a good person and a bad takes very little leap (a quantum leap, if you will--another perennial concern).

You do realize your perspective is hopelessly idealistic: Most would merely blink after getting kicked in the teeth by someone bigger than they. That is why I thanked you. People should hold more mirrors and, using their senses, stand up to their own standards.

Bless you, dear poet of incorporeality. Let’s pray the slitters made his death excruciating.


July 22, 2009

Tucker's Galleria Part Two

TUCKER’S GALLERIA – New Acquisitions
(catalog continues)

4. Potted Plants, A Trio (Artist: Jess Irwin)
Plants in terracotta pots, $153,000

Working in a faux bonsai style, Irwin presents us with immaculate cuttings from Ygdrassil, the Bodhi tree, and the Chankiri from the Cambodean killing fields. While not strictly bonsai, the artist has moulded miniature versions of these infamous trees into the timeless style. There are some responsibilities attached to the ownership of this installation as follows:

Incorrect trimming of Ygdrassil the World-Tree could result in various natural calamities, while destruction of the plant could possibly trigger either Ragnarok or a similarly destructive world-event.

The cutting from the Bodhi tree also needs some care. If the plant is butchered or neglected, specific knowledge will become forever lost to humanity. If the plant dies, a new Dark Ages will ensue.

The Chankiri must remain part of the set. It is only the influence of the other two cuttings that keep its malevolent nature in check. Previous owners have reported disturbing visions when sleeping in the same room as the plant.

For these reasons, it is a requirement that the purchaser be skilled in the arts of bonsai, or at the very least have a college-level accreditation in horticulture.

5. Chuck’s Diner (artist: Chuck McKenzie, under licence from NecroWares)
Reanimated homo sapiens x 5, kitchen appliances, furniture and fittings. $98,500.

This new installation from up-and-coming necrotiste McKenzie is a delicious exercise in irony. The reanimated corpses of former NecroWares employees continue to fulfil their contracts in this fully functional diner. The undead staff retain enough functionality to prepare and serve meals, maintain the equipment, operate the till, and can (albeit with some difficulty) engage in smalltalk.

The installation can be shipped holus bolus and reassembled in any location world-wide, though local laws may prevent you from running this as a business concern. Our legal department advises you to check with your local health inspectors, and to ascertain that your labour laws allow the undead to hold jobs that could be filled by the living.

6. Lyn Battersby (artist: Lyn Battersby)
The artist herself, the use of a neurotechnician, $67,000

What with the imminent tragic death of her husband in this very gallery, conceptual artist Lyn Battersby has pledged her own memories to this collection. She will take on a completely new identity, as determined by the purchaser.

The memories she is erasing are as follows:
a) Knowledge of all family and friends.
b) All memories related to her husband, Lee Battersby.
c) All skill-sets acquired since the age of 16.
d) All popular media ever experienced, including books, movies, and TV.

Purchasers must agree to be a party to the documentary crew filming Lyn’s amazing journey.

July 21, 2009

Things You See, People You See

"You should take those off," Ophelia told me for the hundredth time as we walked to the cafe. She liked to ride me about my vidglasses every week or so.

A simulated herd of some kind of bird-like dinosaurs leaped over our heads and charged across the street, threading their way through the backed-up traffic. Ornithomimus? I eye-moused one of them to get a pop-up. Sinornithomimus dongi, it turned out. Never heard of them.

"They're educational," I said. "They make things more interesting."

"You know what's interesting?" she said. "Real life, that's what's interesting!"

I nodded and thumbed the advanced features control in my pocket until I got to the simulated mods menu. I eye-selected Ophelia and eye-clicked her clothes off. After a second, her eyes narrowed.

"What are you looking at?" she said, snatching at the glasses. I jerked my head away.

"None of your business!"

A passing businessman frowned at me.

"If you're tarting me up again, that's just it, you hear me?" Ophelia said.

I popped up the menu again and switched the option to "naughty schoolgirl," one of the presets. Ophelia was a little on the scrawny side, but she still had the stuff to fill out a naughty schoolgirl costume.

"OK, I put you back to normal," I said, mostly not staring.

"You better," she said. We got to the café and walked in, got swallowed up by the stuffy dark coffee-stained air, and waited for a table behind a huge, tall guy. All of a sudden, I saw her: that girl Magdalena Birch, leaning over a tiny table and laughing with her mousy friend Lisa or Lisolette or whatever her name was.

"Gotcha!" Ophelia shouted, taking advantage of my stop-and-gape moment to grab at my vidglasses. I flinched away, accidentally knocking the glasses off and into a potted plant.

"Now look what you made me do," I muttered, not looking, feeling in the plant for my glasses.

"Who're you talking to?" the huge, tall guy said. I didn't answer. The huge, tall guy stepped closer, right through where my glasses had been projecting Ophelia. "There's nobody there, dorkwad. Don't come in here if you're going to talk to your imaginary friends the whole time."

I found the glasses, pulled them out, wiped the dirt away. One lens was cracked. The error light was blinking.

Great, Ophelia, I thought. Now are you happy?

July 20, 2009

The Transdimensional Traveler’s Guide to Which Alternative Reality is Which in 10 Easy Questions

For each question there may be more than one correct answer.

1. Elvis:
.....talk-show host

2. Largest living rodent:
.....Uraguayan Mega-Pacarana (Josephoartigasia monesi)
.....Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris)
.....Giant Rat of Sumatra (Spelaeomys watsoni)
.....Himalayan Marmot (Marmota himalayanu)

3. Steampunk:
.....Subgenre of science fiction and/or fantasy
.....Fashion trend/subculture
.....Religious denomination
.....Political party
.....Saturday morning cartoon show

4. Abraham Lincoln:
.....Tragic exile
.....Beloved four-term president
.....The Napoleon of Canada

5. Our reptilian overlords:
.....Have our best interests at heart
.....Tyrants who must be overthrown!
.....Find all rodents delicious, except the Himalayan marmot

6. Tallahassee:
.....Capital of Florida, one of the United States of America
.....Capital of Florida, one of the Confederate States of America
.....Capital of Seminolian Republic

7. Stop sign:
.....The number of sides depends on complex astrological factors

8. Coriolis force in the Northern Hemisphere:
.....What is this “clock” of which you speak, how is it wise, and can it be persuaded to share its wisdom with us?

9. Fabled lost continent of myth and legend:

10. The molemen:

.....Really not so bad, once you get to know them
.....Mere lackeys of those reptilian tyrants
.....Great admirers of the Canadian Napoleon, who, according to whisperings of the clocks, shall one day return from the mist-shrouded isles of Lemuria to free us all from scaly bondage

July 17, 2009

The Greeter

Welcome to Heaven, Mister Jones. Please don’t try to move around just yet. It can be disorienting at first, especially among those who were recently decapitated. Oh, dear, I shouldn’t have said that.

Yes, here’s your head, squarely on your shoulders. Like new, yes? I could add just a bit of blood on your robe for effect, if you like. We do that for martyrs, you know - stigmata in the hands, burned stumps, and the like - but now we’re pretty easygoing about it, even if you did lose your head in a bizarre sausage factory accident.

If you’ll come through here we’ll get your kitted out with wings and a halo. S’not required, but we do like to look authentic for those passing through: dreamers, trippers, and of course everybody who’s going to Hell. The Big Guy’s funny that way.

No, I doubt you’ll meet him. Excuse me, Him. He’s just buried under believers these days. You understand, even if we did reset the bar a few decades ago. Didn’t you hear? Only Episcopalians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and the odd Catholic these days. They all want to be next to Him. I don’t think we’ve seen more than a divine pinkie for a century. Excuse me, Pinkie. Heh, my little joke.

You were an atheist? Well, that can’t be right. Maybe you had a deathbed conversion? Oh, yes, ‘sausage factory accident’. Hmm, maybe somebody converted you after you died, like those folks in Utah do. I wouldn’t worry your wobbly head about it; I mean, you are here now and that’s what matters.

An efficiency expert? No, I think I’d have heard if we’d ever had one of those here. Sounds unpleasant.

My job? Well, it’s soft of unofficial greeter. Nobody appointed me, if that’s what you’re asking. I mean, we tried that whole military organization, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, and so on. We just got a little more touchie-feelie the past couple thousand years.

No need to get snotty about it. You wouldn’t even be here if we were more efficient. I’d like to see you do better.

July 16, 2009

The World Engine

Cutler's fingers twitched and he dropped the omniphone. A modform grabbed the phone and tossed it into Cutler's lap, from which it skittered onto the floor. Cutler didn't move. The modform grimaced, picked up the phone again, and pressed it into Cutler's hand. Before he could say a thing, the creature was gone.

"Why don't you get that fixed?" the clerk asked.

Cutler rolled his eyes.

"I was on Arctuis when they started up the world engine."

The clerk paled and put his hands up. Didn't want to hear it? Too bad.

"When the morphogenetic wave swept through the lab I saw my colleagues, my wife, two of my three children, become parts of the machine. My daughter was incorporated in the effluent monitoring apparatus. I recognized her shoes. She was one of the lucky ones. Her mind was instantly destroyed. Dawson, the lead investigator, was still conscious three weeks later when they finally managed to shut the thing down. By that time nearly two thirds of the planetary mass had been converted to living tissue, but no breathable atmosphere had been created. The air supply to the lab was intact. Dawson pleaded with me to break the seal and release him, but I could do nothing."

The clerk interrupted, though he looked like he was about to lose his lunch. "I thought he couldn't talk. That his mouth was..."

"He blinked his eyes," Cutler snapped. "He used Morse code, we all had to learn it back in those days."

"So what happened to you? You survived. Why not have your body rebuilt, or replaced?"

"Can't. Why? Who the hell knows? No one could figure out why the half of me they found was still alive, 20 days after the planet went crazy. So I'm the only guy in a powerchair in the freaking hundred planets. I'm the only guy they can't regenerate or even graft prosthetics to. I'm the only guy who doesn't respond to rejuvenation or life extension treatment. Some guys have all the luck, eh?"

"But the world-f*ck," the clerk whispered, "that was at least 80 standard years ago. How old were you when it happened? You look ... young."

"Yeah, well, what happened to me, it ain't all bad. I read minds too." The clerk's knuckles turned white where he gripped the edge of the counter.


Kid needed to get a grip. He'd even believed that Morse-code crap.

The end

July 15, 2009

Attention Whores

Roddy looks up and there she is: an image of perfection in a blue sequined party dress, body stacked and toned to porn star perfection, auged tits pushed up and bathed in disco ball light, lip LEDs and corneal lasers flashing a come hither look that would lead most any man around by the cock and make him denounce family, friends, and god of choice for a fifteen minute pleasure romp between her legs.

So, really, Roddy can't help but look.

But when you're flat broke and trying to find your missing daughter, the last place you want to be is a dance club. The last thing you want to do is walk up to the most expensive girl in the room and stare. The last mistake you want to make is getting caught stealing glances you can't afford. There are lots of lasts to avoid when you're hanging on by your fingernails.

She knows he's looking and flashes a diamond smile. Roddy's cash meter dips in response. Gone are the days of you can look but you can't touch. Now it's you can look if you have cash and you can touch if you've got the credit.

His gaze lingers on her chest long enough for him to get special attention from her augs. She grows another half a cup size and bounces a little for effect. As she debits Roddy's account again, it drops dangerously low. He looks away, but too late. She moves closer to him.

"Hey," she says.

He looks down, but is distracted by a line of cute pink arrows that dance playfully up her bare legs, moving toward the hem of her dress. Everything about this girl screams "Look at me!"

He closes his eyes before she can suck him dry. Remember what you're here for, he thinks.

"I'm looking for someone," he says.

"A girl?" she asks. "Is she hot like me?"

"No," he says. "She's a natural."

The silence in the room is immediate and complete. He opens his eyes to see everyone looking at him like he had screamed fuck! in church.

"A natural?" She whispers it.

"My daughter."

He shows her an old printed photo.

“Oh.” She points to the VIP room.

Some stares and glares, then he eyes some cash at the bouncer who opens the VIP door. Barely enough left to get a taxi home.

His daughter sits in a comfy chair, surrounded by men. Even Roddy has to admit there's nothing physically special about her. But she has no augs. She's a natural. And they can't take their eyes off her.

“Daddy!” she says, and holds out her hand.

“Hi, honey,” he says. He reaches down to touch her hand but the bouncer stops him.

“You have any idea how squeaky clean your credit has to be to touch this girl?” he asks.

Roddy gives him his best steely look. “I do. She's worth it.”

He reaches for the outstretched hand and takes it, gently pulling her to her feet. She wraps her arms around him. Augs and cash and credit and instant gratification were well and good, but they weren't flesh and blood.

“Let's go home,” he says.

As they walk out the door Roddy's accounts hit zero but he feels like a million bucks.

July 14, 2009

Brisneyland by Night – Part Five

My heart thumped. No. Wrong neighbourhood. Wrong kind of kid.

‘Have you checked the tree?’ Lizzie liked to hide in the hollow of the jacaranda tree in my backyard. She had comic books in sealed plastic bags, a blanket, a couple of dolls there. Her mother and I pretended we didn’t know about it – every kid needs a secret place.

‘First place I looked. Not with her friends either.’ She shook her head, trying not to cry. ‘I don’t want to overreact ...’ she said, but I knew that’s exactly what she wanted to do, like any mother. She wanted to scream until her baby came back; she wanted to kill the person who’d caused her this tearing fear.

‘Did you see anyone? Any strange cars?’

She shakes her head, stops. ‘A big gold Mercedes drove past a couple of times when I was in the garden. But ...’

‘Did you get a number plate? Any of it?

‘WKD1 – I noticed it coz it was weird.’

She had no idea how weird. ‘Call the cops, better to be safe than sorry. I’ll go for a drive,’ I said, eying the gypsy cab as it pulled up out the front of my place.

She nodded and the movement of her head was enough to spill the tears over. I pushed her away. ‘You’ve got my mobile – call if you hear anything.’

I climbed into the cab, wishing I’d had time for a call shower to at least trick me into feeling alert.

‘We’ve got a problem, Ziggi.’

‘Just one?’

‘Kid next door’s gone missing.’

‘You think ...?’

‘Don’t know. Wrong suburb, wrong area, wrong kind of home, but who wants to risk it?’ I tried to catch my breath. ‘Got anyone who can check a licence plate for me?’

‘Of course, I got friends at Transport. Cost ya, though.’

‘It’s only money.’ I gave him the tag and waited, staring out the window while he made the call.

‘You’re not gonna be happy,’ Ziggi interrupted my thoughts and tugged hard on the wheel, turning us around sharply.

‘Won’t be the first time. Where are we going?’

‘Ascot. You said there wasn’t anything there.’

‘I said I couldn’t see anything. There’s overground and there’s underground, Ziggi. Burrows, cellars, caves, tunnels, larders. Aw, jeez.’

I leaned against the upholstery and closed my eyes, hoping the afternoon traffic wouldn’t bring us to a standstill.

July 13, 2009


Four centuries after Colnel Braithwaite discovered Shangri-La, the bottom fell out of the Yeti market. Their furs were so prevalent and the creatures themselves so rare that anything new was too expensive to afford, and anything old was worthless.

This disaster was the final breaking point for the community that had grown up in the beautiful valley hidden among the Himalayan peaks. At first, of course, all had been well. There had been the celebrations at the valley's discovery, then the joys of immortality brought about by the fountain at it's heart, then the marriages, and children, and endless bounty.

But then had come the Sherpa uprising, and the quarrel between Braithwaite and Elkin, his old corporal, and Elkin's settlement to the north, and then there had been the fracturing loyalties of Braithwaite's sons, until he found he could barely walk more than a stone's throw from his tent door before coming to someone else's territory.

And so then had come the treatises and the chopping down of trees to form jagged barriers, and the carefully negotiated neutral grounds, for trade and hunting. And then the damn Yetis had gone and died out on him. Couldn't even trust the wildlife of this thrice-damned valley to copulate properly.

War was the only option.

With the fountain's waters there were few deaths. At least one inhabitant did, however, consider it--Braithwaite's great grandson, Charles. He looked out over the valley and saw none of the green he had been told of, none of the trees. Only the criss-crossing of stockade and trench.

It seemed too much like cowardice to simply die though--a soldier's mentality still persisted in the Colonel's descendants. Instead Charles tactically retreated into the steep mountain slopes that defined the periphery of his world.

After three months of gnawing the bones of mountain goats, he stumbled over a cave that became a tunnel, that led deep through the rock until he gazed upon a new landscape. Charles saw snow--white and glistening; saw clouds below, stretching out, and saw through them a land he could never have dreamed of. He saw a land of silver and green, bright and beautiful. A land lush with life, and yet, when he strained his ears, all he heard at this height was a few birds, the crunch of snow beneath his feet. And it looked for all the world, like paradise.

July 10, 2009

Bats on Fire

Dusk’s last light was almost gone and the evening sky’s rich blues were on the verge of black. Michaela sat on the cliff top listening to the waves crash against the rocks below- her eyes on the sky, peeled for a sign of the bats that didn’t come.

“I knew I’d find you here,” Francois said.

He was right. After everything, he still knew her better than anyone.

“Did you see them tonight?” he asked.

Bats are true creatures of love, Michaela thought. They live in vast colonies and go by feel, navigating not by sight or reason but by what feels right to the senses. Nothing more. Nothing less. The same had brought her to this town. That and her job for the rockstar. The need for a stable life for her son was why she stayed, that and the warrants waiting for her in New York along with all the drama and empty people.

When the job dried up and the rockstar moved on, it was the bats that kept her here. They felt right. Despite the daily struggles to keep Bennett in school and healthy and fed they were always there. Then along came Francois.

“No, didn’t see them,” Michaela said.

“Maybe they’re full or feel the coming storm.”

She’s met Francois at a show one of the rockstar’s protégés was putting on. They talked all night. He didn’t judge her about all the New York drama she was running from. In the days and weeks and months that followed they talked every night. He brought her groceries and helped with what bills he could. He was kind to Bennett even took him to the aquarium for his birthday to see all the fishes he was so fascinated with. Bennett was thrilled to see his first real shark.

The night they first kissed Michaela dreamed the bats from the cliffs were on fire- beautiful golden flames that did not consume them. Every night since then she had dreamed of them spiraling out of their seaside caves into the night, their wild flaming patterns streaking across the sky.

Their love was real. Genuine emotion in every word, every touch. She could not imagine a life without him and he said neither could he. Then the rockstar called. Wanted to hire her. Just like the old days, but back in New York. So why wouldn’t Francois help her. He always wanted to live in New York. Catch was she had to get there and set up on her own. Francois could hire a lawyer, pay all the bills, protect her from the drama and make her troubles go away. Why wouldn’t he? If he loved me unconditionally, he would, she thought.

What you don’t own, owns you, he had said. These things are for you to face. If I make these things disappear, something else will rear its head at you even stronger to get you to listen to get you to face what you aren’t.

Ever since then she hadn’t dreamt of the bats. Not on fire. Not at all.

He didn’t understand what love was and she didn’t think that would change tonight. She looked into the night sky hoping for a sign the bats might come after all.


July 9, 2009

End of the Line: A Puzzle

Note: This story is a game of skill. Can you help Thad and Elizabeth solve it?

"Which door should we open? Help me think."

"I have no idea..." Thad let himself sag against the wall. Even with the support, he could feel himself trembling with fatigue and fear.

"Which one?" she murmured, studying the doors; back turned toward him, hands on hips. "Hell," she said, "there's a clue here somewhere. I'm positive. There has to be."

"Elizabeth," he began. "What..." His voice came out rasping and thin. It shocked him.

"This clue," he said, groping for steadiness. "Explain this, please. What exactly are you looking for? How will you know it when you see it?"

"It's obvious, I'd think," she said. Turning to face him, she seemed to loom, then suddenly recede. Expect disoriention, he thought, you're dehydrated.

"We've been kidnapped by parties unknown -- my vote's still for aliens, by the way. Held, then dropped into this... labyrinth, or whatever it is. Inched our way through. Tackled games of skill, of wit... and learned that, incidentally, our captors aren't above penalizing us for a wrong guess -- "

"Exploding thresholds," he muttered. "Weight-dropped arches, and that napalm thing --"

"Horrid stuff, yes. It's clear they'd let us die here, and want us to know it. ...That brings us to these doors."

"Exactly." Which stood before them now in a neat row. Heavy, simple, solid. Identical, except for their color. The smooth surface of the first shone with a green luster; the second, white; the third, a warm gold.

Eyes throbbing, head pounding; dehydration and low blood sugar were taking him down. "Why don't you just pick one?" he said, feeling despair wash through him. "Hand on knob, shove it open. It'll blow us up or it won't. That's better than waiting here to starve to death!"

Elizabeth scowled. "With due respect, Thad, no. Help me think this through instead. I can find the clue --"

"There is no clue, Elizabeth!"

"Everything can be understood if you look closely. We can find the key. Help me think! It's here if we look hard enough... They can manipulate everything in our environment, Thad. Examine everything. Where would an alien put the pattern? How would they hide the key?"

It's here somewhere. Think like an alien. Everything can be understood....

White, green, gold. How would a master manipulator hide the clue?...

Impossible. Thad closed his eyes. Elizabeth stood, silent, still staring at the doors.

Which is the right door? If you can find it, post your answer in the comments. But don't explain how you solved the puzzle: let others test their wits.

July 8, 2009

I Wouldn't Mention It If I Were You

You know what I liked most about being a liason to the aliens of the Third Expedition? Screwing with their minds.

Sure, there were always other human functionaries around who would've make my ass into an umbrella holder if they'd caught me at it, but that just added to the fun, and anyway they couldn't speak ?'!a, so they never knew exactly what I was saying. As for me, I speak ?'!a like a native. If you learn enough languages when you're a kid, after a while learning another one is like finding your underpants after an orgy: inconvenient, time-consuming, and sometimes sticky, but almost always doable.

This one time we were driving past the Washington Monument and I said to the aliens, "See that obelisk? It was built to the exact reported size of George Washington's phallus." (They double checked their information repositories here to make sure they weren't misunderstanding. You should've seen the expression on their tentacles.) "I'm not going to go into details, but ... listen, ever heard the phrase 'father of our country'? George Washington. Honest to God truth. But people don't usually like to talk about this stuff in polite society. I wouldn't mention it if I were you."

Or last month, when we kept seeing people walking dogs. "You can tell whether the human owns the dog or the dog owns the human by who's choosing the direction they go in. See that little brown dog over there? One tug and they're on a side street. The human's definitely the pet there. The dogs keep them in little plastic rooms lined with newspaper at night. But people get touchy if you get the owner wrong. I wouldn't mention it if I were you."

So now that I've been kidnapped and am being brought back to their home planet in preparation for what sounds like a bitch of an invasion, of course I'm as scared as a man with a incontinent seagull on his new hat--but I also have all kinds of new possibilities. And who knows? Maybe I can even bend things a little in our favor.

"Hey," I say. "Did I ever tell you what happened to the last batch of aliens that visited earth? It was a pretty distressing situation: I wouldn't mention it if I were you. But here's the thing: you know how we've only got one moon now?" …

July 7, 2009

The Courtship of Joe the Wrench

(Being a sequel to Neostalgia.)

Joe's association with the Ballet Mechanique brought him steadily closer to respectability.

The first hint came soon after he began helping out with dancer maintenance, when his name appeared in the program. Since "Joe the Wrench" was deemed unsuitable for the opera-and-ballet crowd, it was his full name, Josephus Wren, that appeared.

Then he had to wear a hat whenever entering or exiting the building. Not the soot-stained, crumple-rimmed bowler he wore around his own shop, but a crisp top hat. This he doffed as soon as he entered the ballet’s backstage workroom -- after asking permission of Miss Linn, who sat in the corner, snipping choreography into long rolls of player-paper.

But the biggest impetus toward respectability was Eona Bellinghew, the mechaninque's human prima. Joe watched from the wings, entranced by the grace in her every motion, so sinuous, so smooth compared to the lines of automatons who mimicked and accompanied her. He began leaving his crisp hat on, started wearing white shirts, and even managed to keep one or two free of axle-grease. He rebuilt the gears of half the troupe and there was talk of his becoming a partner in the theater. He created a bouquet of mechanical roses and -- with Miss Linn’s help -- made them bud and bloom in their own miniature dance.

Of her many suitors, Joe was the one Eona selected to accompany her to the Grand Duke's ball. At first, he was dazzled by his proximity to her, and she shone more brightly even than she did on stage. Soon, however, he saw that the curve of her arm, the turning of her head, even her smile, all these were not the originals the automatons followed, but echoes of their mechanical movements.

In the workroom the next day, peevish and dispirited in his battered hat, he fidgeted with an en pointe ratchet that wouldn't lock and his muttered "grind it!" came out louder than he'd expected. Miss Linn's embarrassed turn of the head Joe recognized at once. This was the genuine, original gesture. His heart bloomed like a mechanical rose.

The opera-and-ballet crowd still prefers the Mechanique, but, over the last few months, many of the more discerning aficionados of the dance have come to prefer the Theater Linn-Wren. No, the shows aren't as lavish, but there's a passionate imagination at work that's been missing from the Mechanique for some time.

July 6, 2009

Tucker's Galleria Part One

TUCKER’S GALLERIA – New Acquisitions

1. Pound of Flesh (Artist: Simon Petrie)
Cloned flesh, sheet plastic, hatchet, $16,000

This installation is the latest work of Petrie, a rising star in the New Vat Movement. A perfect cubic meter of living flesh, vat-grown from a sample provided from the artist’s body. A hatchet rests atop the cube, deliberately blunted. When a piece of the flesh is severed, it will regrow over the next week or so. The taste of the meat is randomised, and when cooked will resemble:

a) chicken
b) squid
c) beef
d) human.

The creature feels all pain, has internal organs including a perfectly formed mouth and lungs, and is guaranteed to live for at least six months from activation.

2. Coy Psychopomp, Waiting. (Artist: Gillian Polack)
Acrylic on linen with metallic leaf, 152 x 92 cm, $7,500

A woman kneels in the foreground of this piece, and what little light surrounds her is swiftly devoured by a darkness unending. The psychopomp herself presents an almost pathetic figure, a woman with black hollows in place of eyes, her dress a ragged mess of stitched animal skins.

Rumours that a casual viewing of this painting can lead to suicidal ideation are largely exaggerated. For your safety and the comfort of other patrons, however, this painting is isolated in one of our viewing rooms.

3. Lee Battersby (Artist: Lee Battersby)
Oil on canvas, 255 x 300 cm, $103,500

This painting is complete, but for the last brush-stroke. The artist assures us that, on the application of this finishing touch, he will in fact die from a severe aneurysm. At this moment, his spirit will become permanently attached to the painting, which already contains everything he has considered necessary for his afterlife as a self-portait. The purchaser of this painting will become his power of attorney, and as per Crown v. Macklin it will be necessary to treat the Lee Battersby painting as a legal entity in perpetuity.

Catalog continues....

July 3, 2009

A Night on the Town

Let us walk among the menagerie. Let us peruse its delights. See this one here, the way the flesh peels back, the exposed musculature, the sinew flexing, the streaks of fat glistening. Have you ever seen such a thing? Have you ever beheld such a thing?

And this other, this female. Such colors, such beautiful staining beneath the skin. All the colors of decay - green and black and purple and white. Like a rainbow of death she is, amongst them all. They approach her, they back away, they are uncertain. They fear her purple teeth.

And the song of this one, growing louder with each sip he takes. What fluid can cause such a display, all colors and sound? See how its mouth flays the flesh even as it sings, each increasing exertion on its part causing ever more damage. Yet it carries on oblivious as its blood pools around its feet, warning the others away.

Let us walk among the menagerie. Let us lick them, taste their salt and their heat. Look how they arch at the touch. They love it, you know. For just a little while. But our fluids will scar them, will etch them. We are like sculptors, and they like clay.

See this one, the small one. It is deadly. Like a viper, like a cuckoo. Do not let it touch your eggs with its oh-so-white hands. It looks like porcelain but its heart is dullest stone.

And this one, it has edges. Oh, how they bite at you. Posions so bitter you they will bottle your blood when you are gone.

They are dangerous, yes, these creatures, though we have such power of them. You laugh, I see you behind your mask. Oh yes I see you. And they see you too. For in observing we too are observed. Even as we seek a dish to serve, so too do they. Do not forget the rules of the menagerie. Always remember that beneath our clay, our silk, our layers of wax and pus, we are animals too. And one must always feed the animals, lest the animal feed on you.

July 2, 2009

Heaven Is a Place where Nothing Ever Happens

The bar was packed. Everyone was there. The band on the carousel dais played my favorite Talking Heads song, the name of which escapes me (it goes bop-bop, bopbopbop--but then a lot of songs here do). And me, I was sandwiched between my two favorite people, Julius and Endiku--arms slung over shoulders, beer from mugs sloshed on sandals, bodies swayed, voices bellowed at the top of our lungs yet somehow still in tune. To be perfectly honest, my two favorite people are usually whomever I’m sandwiched between. Also, to be perfectly honest, my favorite song is usually whatever’s playing. The ambrosia, however delectable, tasted flat. It needed more hops. I’d been hesitant to complain to the management.

During the bridge, the lyrics of which we never seem to know though Endiku kept singing off-key anyway (which the walls of heaven somehow resonate into a kind of harmony), Homer dashed to my side. “Did you hear?” Before I could shake my head, Homer had babbled on breathlessly, “Sure-footed Mercury said that knobby-kneed Pandora entered heaven with a Bowie knife, then vanished after he spoke to her.”

Julius and I guffawed. Long-winded Homer was forever making up stories. “Yeah, right,” I managed after catching my breath. With the back of my hand, I wiped away tears of laughter.

Endiku, off in his own world, catching sight of my tears, wrapped both arms around me. “Everything’s fine now, David: We’re in heaven.”

“You guys, burn me up.” Short-tempered Homer stormed off to find a more appreciative audience.

Time is difficult to measure in a place like this, but it couldn’t have been long before our corporeal forms began to rise, pirouette, and swirl about the hall like--well--Lincoln Logs in a toilet, getting faster and faster until our bodies slammed against the walls and tapestries that dematerialized as soon as we struck, our bones snapping on impact.

And then I was ordering another ambrosia, arms slung over the shoulders of my two favorite people. “Now be honest with me, fellas,” I asked the guys concentrating hard on not holding my sibilance for too long. “What’s the last interesting thing that’s happened up here?”

Endiku gave me a funny look. “You think nothing interesting happens because you already know so much.”

“Damn straight.”

July 1, 2009


Karina recognized the cul-de-sac, even though the sand was deeper in the front yards and the dunes had moved in closer behind the circle of houses. She knew her Aunt's house, the only yellow brick one on the street, a stump just visible where the tire-swing tree had been.

The house's sonics still worked, and the neighborhood kids snatched up some of the bigger spiders and less poisonous scorpions that scurried out the windows and doors Karina had opened. Their parents didn't get anywhere near as close, just talked in little knots several driveways away. Something else Karina remembered: this trial period to assess a new arrival. She couldn't be the first returnee from the cities, but had no idea if that would grant her quicker acceptance.

She heard chanting that first night. Next morning, she saw they'd captured a royal monitor, penned it in a dry kiddy pool under sections of cyclone fence weighted in place with picnic tables. She couldn't get a good look down into the shadows, and stumbled back when it hissed and lunged at the fencing.

The headwoman of the subdivision watched from the picnic shelter. "It's for an oracle," she said, "to tell us how neighborly you are."

This was new to Karina.

The second night, she watched from a distance as they fed it a goat carcass, drugged, apparently, and pulled back the fence to let the children glue beads and rhinestones all over the lizard's hide. After the neighbors went home, she watched it, glinting in the moonlight and moaning a low dinosaur sound that might have been drug reaction or indigestion. Even back home, with the walls tuned to white noise, the sound bled through.

She couldn't sleep. Coming here was supposed to get her away from having to make choices.

She got up near dawn, heaved a couple of picnic tables aside, and hauled the monitor out of the pool. The body was like a German Shepherd gone limp, the decorated skin rasped her arms, and she tripped over the tail as she staggered up and down the dunes. She couldn't hear the noise anymore, just felt it in her chest and belly. She left the lizard a quarter mile out.

The headwoman and a few other neighbors were waiting when she came back, and lifted their mugs of root-coffee in salute as she trudged past.

"Good omens!" called the headwoman.