Plugs

As he died, Albert’s only regret was that he would soon be the subject of this ridiculous story.

Limp scratched at a fleabite and watched the skid approach. New Brain Malaria had given him his name and left him with little control over his facial muscles so that, even in the noon heat, he drooled precious moisture.

For a second, he hoped the skid wasn’t in-city and that he could kill the driver and keep the spoils for himself, but the glint of nanobots told him otherwise. Chief would be angry if he wasn’t offered this prize.

Yet, Limp hesitated. The Hum threatened against harming this stranger. He was caught between angering the Hum, the voice of the Gods, and Chief.

“They live under the orb that protects them from UV radiation,” he told the Hum. “Their crops have water, their children have medicine. Why should I risk my life for one of them?”

The Hum responded by dumping a barrage of information into Limp’s brain. They tabulated the geopolitical importance of the stranger and showed Limp decision algorithms, courses of action, predictions of market response and civil unrest. Limp didn’t understand any of it. That’s the way it was with the Hum, too little information or too much and no sense to any of it. He was the only person he knew who heard the Hum, but at times like this, listening to a jumbled mess, he wished the mysterious Hum would learn to use some grammar.

“They have everything and we have nothing,” he thought.

He swung from side to side, the signal to the Chief, and he felt the skin of his back tickle as the men took their positions, sitting discreetly at the only cafe of the shantytown, gambling with lamb bones on the dirt, peeing against the lone tree.

The Hum told him exactly where every one of them was. He felt his skin react to each one of the men in a different way. The trap was sprung, the visitor was as good as dead.

As the skid approached, he saw the driver’s pink eyes and wished he could undo his betrayal. The Hum would never forgive him for killing their protege.

But what was done, was done. He stayed in the same spot, muttering to himself, playing the part of malaria victim. If he did his job well, maybe Chief would let him keep some of the nano, something that would help Limp understand the Hum a little better.

End

For another story set in the same future, check out “Godtouched”

After the funeral you find the box in your father’s desk.  Gun-metal gray with rounded off corners, one long hinge holding on the lid, and a small dent in the front, as if it had been thrown across the room at something.  On top is a faded piece of paper, held on by yellowing cellophane tape, with the single word, ‘QUESTIONS,’ enscribed on it in neat handwriting.

You pick up the box.  It’s surprisingly heavy, but you can lift it.  The lid won’t open, but you think you can hear faint noises coming from inside it.  You hold it up to your ear and hear muffled voices: “Where were you last night?”  “Who is she?” “Don’t you still love me?”

You put the box back in the desk.  What you really want is a box called ‘ANSWERS’.

Only the bulkhead now between Marcie and what remained of the rest of the crew, which had expanded to fill three quarters of the ship, and it oozing under doors, through vents, and through the tiniest holes.

Seventeen people she’d worked with for months, amalgamated as a malignant mass, a composite entity retaining no visible trace of humanity, its exterior a palimpsest of colors that shifted and transformed ceaselessly: vermilion, gold, a myriad shades of green and blue.

Why had Lon drunk the liquid they’d found in the stoppered flask? Yes, the characters they’d decoded had referred to a miracle cure, yes, he was facing a painful death from the infection he’d picked up on the abandoned station and yes, Federation mediine could do nothing for him, so perhaps he’d thought he had nothing to lose. Well.

The bulkhead creaked, forcing her back to the present, as a voice vibrated through the decking, calling her name.

*

She wrung her hands, stared wildly around the hold. Spacesuits: no; escape pod: ditto. She had nothing to work with, nothing, nada, zilch, etc. Suddenly her eye was drawn to the probability generator. How could she have forgotten? Dangerous, yes, but she’d nothing to lose either. She raced to the machine, removed the lock they had bolted down over the control panel. The bulkhead screamed and polychromatic gel flowed out around it and dripped in globs onto the floor. The scent of lemons mingled with chocolate (or was it burnt roast?). She grabbed the probability dial and gave it a strong twist. Wheels spun and clacked, lights flashed, and peripheral vision overwhelmed her sight. It was more distracting than being blind. She couldn’t actually see anything, but she couldn’t ignore anything either.

A moment later she could see again. She could see, but for some reason, she could not take a step. She looked down, then, at the glistening multicolored sausage that had been her legs; at the squirming polyps that were ballooning from her flesh like chewing gum bubbles, separating, and drifting away, tendrils waving au revoir, on the stiffening breeze; and at the roots that her fused limbs were sending out through the quivering ground at ever-increasing speed. She shook her head, smiled, and extended her arms, which burst into bud. She stood at the center of a rapidly Marcifying plain. It was going to be a good day.

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