On October 1234 OC., Mr. Woe’s leg presented itself at the Newstalk
Police Station to denounce Mr. Woe for alleged mistreatment of an
extremity and improper walk without wages, resulting in two lost toes
due to frostbite.

Mr Woe, who was himself along for the ride, dismissed the accusations
as “fabulations” and told the police that “he was damned if his leg
was going to tell him what to do”.

Mr Woe is a professional mountain climber, internationally known for
his speed, as well as for his disregard for the safety of
his Sherpas and body-parts. The limb reported that it was only after
being forced to keep going without food and half-frozen on Mr. Woe’s last
climb to the Everest, that it decided to breach its lifelong contract
with William Woe.

At the close of this edition, the Court had not yet called a date for
the hearing, although sources claim the State prosecutor may decide to
bring a case against Mr. Woe.

“A leg has rights,” the state prosecutor allegedly said in a private
family gathering on Monday, while massaging a sore toe.

Leg’s attorneys have said that the Leg doesn’t plan to settle outside
of court and that it wants to bring Mr. Woe to justice. They’ve also
informed this reporter that they are in the middle of
negotiations with Mr. Woe’s Sherpas in the hopes of agreeing on the terms of a
joint law-suit against Mr. Woe.

Most folk, Normal or Weyrd, are law-abiding. But there’s a market for everything: some tables demand the tenderest of flesh. It was a particular taste indulged in by the very few, a leftover from the past. Someone had to source and butcher that flesh.

Kinderfresser. All those fairytales and it turns out my father was the monster.

He got sloppy and didn’t take the hunt far enough from home. Grigor lasted precisely how long you think a child killer would in prison. The people he’d been supplying just faded into the background without trace, and the flow of child disappearances seemed to stop for a long, long time – at least, those connected to Brisneyland’s Weyrd.

Now, though, something was changing and there was a new product out there. Not child flesh, but something almost as bad. Wine made from children’s tears.

‘How many kids now?’ I asked.

‘About forty in the last few months.’

They were being sucked dry of all the tears they might ever cry, taking their ability to feel joy, compassion, pain, their ability to care, and ultimately their lives. Those tears were bottled and offered for sale very quietly by someone who disappeared too easily. All we had were stories from Weyrd who’d heard it from a friend of a friend – and a lot of missing children.

‘I’ll seek what I can find about that house,’ said Bella.

‘Houses generally don’t get registered under “super villain”.’

I was exhausted. I’d been awake for a long time.

‘Bela, I have to sleep. I’ve got nothing left.’

He nodded and rose, then he pushed me towards my bedroom. I lay down and felt him pulling my shoes off. There was a gentle kiss in the middle of my forehead and I thought I heard the front door snick shut, but wasn’t sure.

The knocking woke me. I felt sick and groggy. Swearing about Ziggi and drivers in general, I stumbled to the door.
There was a distinct lack of Ziggi. Lizzie’s mother stood there, pale and shaky against the late afternoon.

‘Mel. What?’ I managed. She looked at me with desperate hope and I just knew I was going to disappoint her.

‘Is Lizzie here? She said she was coming over to read with you.’

Little bugger.

Her voice rose, seeing my blank expression. ‘Is Lizzie here?!’

As scams go, this one was lousy. But only one person had to fall for it for it to work.
“Hello, this is Arthur Gentry from the European National Lottery Foundation,” I said when she picked up. “Is Mr. Thomas Geiger in?”
She said the usual thing.
“That’s terrible. I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said. Actually, I wasn’t. Sometimes Geiger wasn’t dead, and on those calls I just hung up. Angry dead men unnerved me.
“I’m sorry to disturb you at a time like this,” I said, “But I may have some very good news for you. Did Mr. Geiger tell you about the European National Lottery Foundation ticket he purchased on July third? No? Then, perhaps you can find the ticket? I’ll wait.”
When she finally gave up forty minutes later, I resumed the patter. I assured her that if she could supply proper identification, she could still get her prize, after some legal costs.
“… I know,” I said at the end. “I don’t understand it either, but gold bullion is what the lawyers said.” Wait, and … laugh. “So, overnighted today, all right? OK, then. Yup. Buh-bye.”
I hung up, then took out the pocket universe hopper and chose the next universe in the sequence, at two hours behind the one I was in. The hopper could create any time shift I wanted between two universes, but two hours was about the most I could manage without getting violently ill.
I already knew what the new universe would be like: all the others. Very little changes from one version of reality to the next. That’s why I was working the same scam over and over, in universe after universe. Pretty soon I would have enough to set me up for life.
I jumped.
The jump left me with the usual harsh, queasy feeling, and I was taken by surprise when someone slapped the hopper out of my hand from behind. Then he spun me around and kneed me in the stomach. I collapsed, wheezing, as he picked up the hopper and put it in his pocket. The funny thing was, he had a bulge of the exact same shape and size in his other pocket.
He was old, maybe late sixties, but built like a side of beef. “Mr. Geiger?” I finally managed to gasp. But if he already had a hopper, that meant he was going to take the hopper he’d just gotten from me and hop back in time to give it to himself–
“I want to talk to you,” he said, “about my wife.” And he leaned over me like a falling piano.

Note: This story, while it stands alone, belongs to the Anan Muss series.

Anan Muss was careful.  While he still made mistakes (after all, a legion of King Ash’s slitters once sliced arc-blades at his head on every quantum-entanglement port),  Anan’s caution merely meant that it took longer to do simple tasks–as if his brain had rocketed to light-speed, slowing down his relative time.  Washing, ironing, and folding laundry usually cost him a weekend, even with robots. Cleaning his apartment required a week’s vacation.

Love was trickier.  In college he’d taken his time to talk intimately and walk around the hanging orchid gardens with girls he found interesting.  It took him a month to ask women out to the aquarium theater, another month to kiss beneath bridges by the canals, and a year later to fall helplessly in love.  The year after that might have been marriage, he supposed, but women rarely waited long enough for him to ask them out.

Luckily, the second-generation AI ladies appeared in Japan.  All the shy lads wanted one.  By design, quantities were low, demand high.  One would have cost his year’s accounting salary.

So Anan mail-ordered one of those borderline real phonies made in China.  His fingers trembled as he unwrapped her.  Her skin–a soft, off-ivory–accentuated her raven-black hair.  His heart wanted to gallop away, but he reined it in.  She accepted his hand and stepped out of the box, “Am I not beautiful?”

Caught off-guard, yet ever poetic, Anan sought the right words:  “Yes…. I mean, no…. I mean, you are beautiful.”

“Love me, and I will be whomever you want.”

“Being yourself is enough although contents may settle, like cereal in a box.”

“And you will be whomever I want you to be.”

“Sure.  Within the limits of my present brain pattern.”

She laid plans of their future together.  He said he hoped she would have patient understanding, be someone he could share words with, someone who’d sharpen him gently, someone who would challenge and accept challenge.  “That’s exactly who I am,” she said, mentioning her unparalleled poetic sensibility.

As he painted her a porcelain love poem, he spoke of this inane idea he’d had of dating women virtually–not for love per se, but to understand women better.

He handed her his poem:

Laxity in

love milks

the black

swell of

twisted minutes

into hours

She shattered the porcelain and stalked away.  “I have no time for words.”

“She’s right.”  Anan sifted through the broken chips.  “It’s not much of a love poem.”

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