Plugs

Although this masquerades as a short story, it actually crams the known universe down your neural network.  Each pixel barrages your retina in photons arrayed to convey a trillion trillion trillion bits of information.  Glimpsing the first letter of this story has made you want to invest a month’s credits into our bank account, but hey, at least we’re honest.

After reading this far, you have the knowledge of three races from the Milky Way’s more intelligent arthropods stored in your brain.  How many of your friends can boast that?  (Shortly, all of them.  You will convince them to look at the first letters of this story, and they will soon sink a month’s credits in our accounts.)

All you have to know about your new knowledge is how to access it.  At present, this technology is limited to Random Access Memory—that is, it may require green tea on your Great Aunt Betsy’s veranda or a quiet afternoon of clinking dominoes at a local café, but it will all surface sooner or later, whether you want it to or not.

In clinical trials, 98.9 % of those about to be crushed by pillow-rock monsters on the planet Xartan are able to recall the necessary escape data to skedaddle with little more than a mild concussion or internal hemorrhaging.  Disappointingly, in the same trials, only 3.4% were able to retrieve data on man-eating orchids, lying in wait just the other side of the cliff face–a problem our programmers are working on as we transmit this data to you).

Next year around this time, you will act on a compulsive whim to purchase The All-New Complete Guide to Complete Guides, 2.0–updated to prevent your desire to buy our competitors’ viral Complete Guides so that you don’t go into bankruptcy buying alternate guides.  Those that do have a 27.6% probability of becoming schizophrenic, hydrophobic, and apoplectic.

That’s it!  The last of the data is loaded.  Enjoy you new life to the best of your ability.

(From The Knowledge: An A-To-Zed Of That City We Almost Know)

It will probably be dusk by the time you turn onto Day Street. The brick house-fronts will be darkening with approaching evening; between the chimney-stacks, the blue is draining out of the sky. The lawns are converging, with the brickwork and the trees, into a mass of indistinct purplish-gray. Out of that dusk, the legs of lawn furniture gleam fitfully; the white fences holding in the back yards; the curtains in the windows. The pavement, stretching before you down the street and trailing perpendicular paths up to the stoops, luminesces faintly under your feet like a phosphorescent wake.

The air is soft along Day Street. Past your ears float breezes, and the sound of voices talking; not out here, on the sidewalk empty except for one walker, but coming from somewhere very close, just over a white fence, just around the corner.

As you pass the house, a light comes on behind the translucent curtains. There is a movement of shadows in the window; a barely audible clatter of silver, a muted murmur of conversation. Up and down the street, just like in Magritte’s painting The Empire of Lights, the streetlamps are flickering on.

Above the roofline, the chimneys and the satellite dishes have been reduced to silhouettes. Above them, in a band of limpid blue, one bright star is coming out in the west. Very high up, a curve of light has pooled, like a rim of salt along the edge of the world.

A person could stand here for quite some time, looking at the streetlights, the sky. But it is possible that it may be time to lower your eyes, to move on down the street. It is possible that you have someplace you need to be.

The air you move through down Day Street is grey and gentle, cool and faint, suspended between the darkness and day. The pavement is an auroreal glow beneath your feet. In the darkened houses, all down the street, the lights are beginning to come on in the windows. The silver is starting to clink.

In the dew-laden grass, the flowers yawn. The wind is bright and silent: clear, cool, clean-smelling, as the air is just before dawn. Seeping upward from somewhere behind the houses, behind the one bright eastern star, the sky is beginning to turn blue. As you pass beneath them, following the pale line of the madrugal pavement, the long row of streetlamps, one by one, begin to flicker out.

Every few weeks I checked the mail, because we didn’t use the shortwave, and who knows? There might be something some day.

And this time, there was something: a bible-sized envelope stuffed with pictures. George was in the garage, working on the backup generator, so I took them into the kitchen, poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat down to look them over.

They were just of people, with no explanations or labels except the date printed on each one. They were all recent pictures: everyone in them was still alive.

People in a walk-in freezer among hanging corpses of cows and pigs. People watching a movie. Half a dozen people having a dance in a ballroom the size of an airplane hangar. Someone waving from the cockpit of a twin-engine plane. People playing monopoly. People kissing. Children on a playground. A whole series of shots of people playing at a water park that apparently someone had started back up for the occasion.

Of the few tens of thousands of people left in the world, as far as I could tell, most wanted to join others and rebuild. George and I had kept to ourselves for years and years, and we liked our lonely house out at the end of a lonely road with our well water and George’s lonely job fixing cell phone towers. We hadn’t had neighbors or cable or an Internet connection before the End, so we didn’t miss them when they were gone: we just expanded my garden into a tiny vegetable farm, erected a small barn so we could start keeping goats, filled the basement with chest freezers, and hooked up two big generators that we powered from a gasoline delivery trucks we kept down the road at the turnaround, so we wouldn’t have to look at it every day.

George came in from the garage, looking grim and satisfied, and went straight to the refrigerator for a glass of lemonade. He noticed the photos as he was pouring.

“What’re those?” he said.

“People.”

“What do they want with us?”

I shrugged and pushed the photos toward him. “Everything, I guess. What do you think?”

He looked the top few photos over carefully, then flipped through the rest to see if they were the same kind of thing. Then he tossed the whole pile into the “to burn” garbage can. “We already have everything we need,” he said, and headed back out to the garage.

I went over to look at the tiny, flat faces shining on the glossy photo paper atop the “to burn” pile. For a long moment I scanned their faces, looking for reasons, for why this all happened, for any reason we had to all come together now that it was over, even if we didn’t want to.

I didn’t pick the pictures back up. Instead I turned and went back out into the corn patch to weed. Half an hour later, I think I’d forgotten about the pictures completely.

We’re changing things up a bit this week, giving you updates on cabalists you haven’t seen here in a while mixed with some microfiction pieces that are even more micro than our usual fiction. To read yesterday’s story, just click “previous story” further down this page.

Where are they: Alex Dally McFarlane

This entry isn’t so much a “where are they now” as a “where are they?” Alex has been traveling the world for more than a year now, and we hope she’ll return to Cabal eventually. In the meantime, you can follow her travelblogging , or check out the poetry and short stories that have continued to appear.

Archive for the ‘Ken Brady’ Category

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Friday, May 2nd, 2014

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