The peacocks seemed to spend the nights down by the river. Possibly in the apple trees. I never went down to check. They probably would have heard me coming; it would have been inconclusive.
Anyway, I meant to tell you about the robot. What was I saying? Oh yeah, the metal. It had this sheen, iridescent–guess that’s what got me started on peacocks.
So the robot was made with tiny speakers all over it, and supposedly emitted all these subsonic sounds, like wind, leaves, and sounds insects make and only other insects can hear. So it could wander around the enclosures without spooking anything.
Guess it worked, because it used to walk around in this really, slow, calm way, and none of the animals minded. There’d be a deer grazing, a mother deer, with fawns, and she’d just look up, and just when I thought she’d spring away, she didn’t. Might not have spooked the animals, but it kind of spooked me.
I got used to it, the way you get used to things working a lot with an android. And then it started picking up other odd sounds on its speakers, sounds I could hear. Static, hums, high screechy whistles, and, once, when we were working together to re-contour some of the erosion breaks along the lake road, what I could have sworn was the “don’t expect to see the sunrise,” spoken with this accent like the scientists in the programs have, like someone who’s spoken Math all their life.
I dropped my shovel. The robot kept digging, at least until it noticed I’d stopped. Then it did that head-tilt triangulation thing, checking me out in infrared and echolocation and whatever else it’s got, which always looks to me like confusion, so I said, “What was that?”
It acted like it didn’t have a human language chipset, although I was sure those come standard. I started wondering if it wasn’t a stray signal, if it was a threat. If the robot harbored some glitch that approximated hate. The rest of the afternoon crawled.
Finally, it turned to me. “I have analyzed my utterance.” Its consonants, crickety; its vowels, river splash and burble.
It held its shovel like an ax. I expected it would bury me, or the pieces that had been me, in one of the retaining banks.
“95% chance of complete cloud cover, all day,” it said.
Pale and weak, I wake.
Another night of failure.
For a while, I said it wasn’t my fault. Nathaniel was too sensitive. Then guilt, that hollow sensation in your heart, in the invisible chamber where feelings reside, seeped in. I thought there would be an echo if someone knocked on me.
Nathaniel ran when he found me with Ben. I remember the devastation in his eyes, like he’d cracked inside. He didn’t come back. Eventually I was certain he was dead.
I had to apologise. I needed the doorway between the living and the dead. So I took to the streets.
The vamps live among the junkies and hookers. They don’t draw attention but everyone knows they’re there. Some go to turn, some for the thrill. Others go because the vamps stand one foot on either side of the doorway.
It’s hard to find one who will take you right to the edge. A death brings the cops. You need someone who doesn’t care.
I don’t want to turn. I just need to get closer.
I drink juice straight from the bottle. I wolf down stale danishes: sugar and carbs keep me going. Coffee would make me vibrate.
Outside, the sun is turning dark orange, sinking low. I leave the apartment. Last night’s suckhead only made me pass out. He wouldn’t risk it, but said there was someone who might. A new vamp, bereft of feeling.
The alley is a crack between two buildings. I take a deep breath and enter.
Water pools on the asphalt; moisture seeps down walls. A forgotten dumpster is wedged at the dead-end. It stinks of rotten food.
What do I say? The previous vamps knew what I wanted. Here I feel stupid. Noise, movement behind me; I turn.
Tall, big, the hood of the sweatshirt pulled well down over the face. I swallow.
‘What do you want?’ A low voice, rough with ill use.
‘I want the doorway.’
‘To … apologise.’
He pauses, nods, pushes me against the dumpster. My neck is already dotted with wounds. He drinks deep and quick.
I slip out of my body, see the doorway. I call ‘Nathaniel’, but there’s no answer. I call again, but no one comes.
I drop back into my flesh. He’s taking too much. I hit out, dislodge the hood.
Devastated blue eyes flash; my blood bubbles. Soon it is dark.
Well of course in my day there were no aliens, and if you started saying you’d seen one people would think you were crazy, but now there are all these Slugs and Thanatites and those blue monkey ones, and sometimes when I walk down the street to the drug store I half think I’m on another planet!
Some people don’t like the Slugs–you know, “Type 3 Barnardins” I think they call them? That’s because of the tentacles and the slimy trails and all that, but one of them goes to my church, and he sits right in back where he won’t bother anyone and he makes the best crumb cake I’ve ever tasted since my mother died, because there was a very good one at her wake. And some of them don’t like being called “Slugs,” but that’s what I call him and he never says anything about it, which is all he should do. I mean, that’s what they are.
But I do not like the Stalking Mantises. Their little husbands are all right, but the you know how big some of the females get, three and four meters sometimes! Well, the other day I was on the way back from laser bingo with Taylor-Anne when one of them stepped right on my walker and bent the leg of it!
“Watch where you’re going,” she said, in that crackly voice they have, and well, that just got me started. I took out my purse and started hitting her, and then the next thing you know we were rolling on the ground and having at it, just like during the bandwidth riots of ’09.
Oh, don’t look at me that way! How was I supposed to know she was their sacred whatever? Don’t blame the interstellar war on me. Besides, what’s one city more or less? I never did like Cleveland anyway.
Dragons at Dawn
by Jason Erik Lundberg
A kilometer outside the fortress of the Green Empress, a small white rabbit huddled naked against a dirty concrete shed cracked with age and bombardment, clutching in her small arms a smaller version of herself, her shivering baby, the only one left alive after the incessant aerial bombings of the Dragonflies over the past four weeks.
The skies were the ever-slate of the Land of Grey Dusk, but the Dragonflies’ explosive ordnance threw up smoke incarnadine and lavender. Overhead, the massive insects droned, searching out any remaining warrens or burrows not yet obliterated by their patrols. The rabbit squeezed her eyes shut and held her little one tight as she dared, her entire body ajitter, anticipating the descending whistle of the ball of light and noise that would destroy her completely.
But instead she heard, “Psst! Over here!”
She eased up her right eyelid and saw a young girl poking her head out of a doorway in the shed, a doorway the rabbit was certain had not been there before. Within was dimness, but the rabbit skittered over and leapt inside onto a dirt floor. The girl slammed the door and the rabbit laid eyes on the motley assortment gathered there in the faint light: a tortoise, a cat, and two person-shaped *things* with spears.
“We’re looking for the Green Empress,” the girl was saying. “Can you tell us how to find her?”
“Do you mean to kill her?” asked the rabbit.
“What? No! I just need her to send me back home. Why would you want to kill her?”
“She did the same to my lifemate and my dozens of children. To her we’re pests to be exterminated.” Her one remaining bunny shivered and wept silently in her arms.
“Is that so?” said the girl, her facial features set hard and angry. “Well then, I have yet one more thing to discuss with her.”
“And then afterward you will kill her?”
The girl bent down and gently touched the rabbit on the arm. “No. I don’t believe in killing. It wouldn’t bring back your family. But I will make her stop her extermination, and there will be recompense for the survivors, you can be assured of this.”
The rabbit said not in a word in reply, but held out her precious baby to the strange girl, who took her. The rabbit closed her eyes again to concentrate, and despite her exhaustion both physical and mental, she touched her forepaws to the dirt floor and began to dig.
(This piece was inspired visually by Lisa Snellings’ evocative eponymous painting, and aurally by Linkin Park’s “Krwlng (Mike Shinoda ft. Aaron Lewis).”)
01: Mini Buddha Jump Over the Wall
02: The World, Under
03: Androcles Again
04: Look Into My Eyes, You’re Under
05: Shiftless, Hopeless
06: Cricetinae’s Paroxysm
07: Wind and Harmony