Plugs

A cold wind blew in off the desert. The walls of the bunker vibrated in sympathy, producing a low moaning at the limit of audibility. The wind never varied. Chalmers played the radio constantly to drown out the ghostly sound, but he could feel the vibration every time he touched anything that was anchored to the floor or walls.

Easy money, he’d thought, when he saw the job listing. Staff the outpost for a year. If anything needed to be replaced, like a battery or a memory block, replace it. There would be plenty of consumables and an almost infinite library of films and videos. He had never particularly needed company anyway. Discharged from the Guard and having no other prospects, he couldn’t say no.

Chalmers made coffee as hot as he could stand. He stood by the small circular window and stared at the blowing sand. The wind seemed to be whipping the sand past the window faster and faster, but the instruments consistently reported no change in wind velocity, no change in temperature. Chalmers shivered. He reheated the coffee and took a cautious sip. The trembling walls formed words. “We will blow you away, you cannot stay,” repeated again and again.

Chalmers woke with a start. He was at the hatch, fumbling with the controls. He had undone two of the 12 latches. And he had been, still was, whispering. “We will blow you away, you cannot stay.”

Chalmers put the table and chairs in front of the hatch and returned to bed, huddling under the blankets. It was hours until dawn, but he didn’t sleep at all.

One month. Chalmers had been in the outpost one month.. Under the relentless pressure of the wind the entire station was moaning. He had woken up again fumbling with the hatch, and had since rigged metal cables to seal it shut. There was no way he could undo them in his sleep.

The outpost was abandoned. The hatch was open and a meter of sand covered the floor of the facility. Chalmers had missed his weekly checkin and had not responded to queries over the radio, so a team had been sent.

They finally shoveled enough sand out to close and seal the hatch. Tegmen pulled off her helmet and rubbed her scalp vigorously.

“Oh God, that feels good!” She looked around. “This place is cozy. Killer video system. It would be a nice gig.”

Lambert cocked his head, listening. “The walls are shaking. Almost sounds like words.”

End

Spent all day working on a story. The high point was a fierce 20-minute tussle that netted me this:

“…came up from the south, boiling the dawn away and filling the sea with stars. Stephen ran up the street, fighting the urge to look over his shoulder. The weather minders had slipped up again, or this was a sending from…”

Fiction, a good start, but aside from that I got prepositions and pronouns, and “brinklayermanship.” WTF? Pardon my telegraphese. Maybe I am using the wrong bait.

No closer to springing Eloise, but I’ll eat well tonight. A balanced haul containing most of the word groups.

I’ve started dreaming about fishing. Last night I dreamed I was here, right here, but I lived in a white gazebo. A climbing rose covered one side, a Lady Banks, I think. Thornless, anyway. The gazebo stood by the pond, and I had the following hanging from a stout chain:

“The title’s a bit misleading, but the fragment is not without interest. On it, hand-written in 21st century English, is the following.”

I was casting my hook again and again, trying to catch the next part of the story, though Eloise was there, tugging on my arm, and begging me to come away with her.

Then I woke up. Today I caught nothing above one syllable. I could not wait to get to sleep, so of course I laid awake counting the croaks of the frogs, the calls of the whippoorwills, the gleams shining through the clouds, for what seemed like many hours.

When I finally slept I was again in the gazebo. This time, I’d caught a bunch of single words, in different fonts, even, but they pieced together into a narrative:

“Angela hated southern summers. She also hated living [missing] onion. Wished she could afford [missing] nice, even a radish. A few [missing] later, as she put away the last of the folded towels, she heard a loud [missing].”

OK, that looked better in my dream. These dream words don’t count anyway. Maybe I should use a net.

I’m going to miss my deadline. I have nothing like a fresh-caught story. No telling what the literaturists are doing to Eloise, or what she will do to me, when I finally get her out.

I’m going to try night fishing, even though I won’t be able to read my catch till morning.

The End

We knew your Ma, but that was in the old days. These days we couldn’t help you, no idea where she goes. She rose up past us, your Ma–least if you ask her, she did. Saved up to get rejuvenated when she was ninety or so, real class job: permanent tan, Tyler lips, Barbie platinum autogrow, the works. Me an’ Paolo’d been making do with worn-out whores for some time, so we figured for old time’s sake she might–but you don’t want to hear that, do ya? It’s yer Ma. Never mind. But she had a fine quality ass on that rejuve job, I’ll tell you that. Didn’t mind showing it, either.
What, not even stuff like that? You’re too easy to squick, I tell ya. Not like yer Ma.
Anyway, she got hired out a lot more after that rejuve: young-looking, classy, the kind of thing that makes us veteran shooters look shabby and cheap. We fell on hard times, me and Paolo, while she was pulling down the big jobs. You’d think she’d cut us in– subcontract, like, some of the time–but not yer Ma. No, she took one of those hovering apartments just outside the city limits, moved around all the time, started pretending like she didn’t know us, what gave her her start. One day her name came up, though, some guy whose boss she’d done for, and me an’ Paolo got the contract.
We went out there to the hovering apartments and tried to track her down, but by the time we found her spot, she’d already gotten wind of us. Did for Paolo with a grenade pellet to the throat, took two of my left legs off with a booby trap, so’s now I can barely hobble around. She oughta killed me, but she said “You shoulda stayed on the planet you came from” and just walked away. Left the apartment, all her stuff. Never seen her since.
Another thou note? That’s awfully generous of you. Now that you mention it, all of sudden a little more does come back to me. See, she had this tatooist she liked, always went to the same guy, and she was kind of a collector, your Ma. I’d bet you kilos to crap he knows where she is–she’s probably been in for new art.
No, none of my business what you want her for. ‘Cept I already heard rumor of it, so I guess I know even if it’s not any of my business.
Shoot her once for me too, will ya?

When Women’s Battle College went on Candlemas break, Dana Yamamoto went home to Japan. She took the Orient Express to the hydrofoil from Vladivostok, caught the Kyoto Limited, then shouldered her pack and walked through the blossoming streets to her mother’s high wooden house. When she entered the courtyard, the General chided her.

“I would have sent a chair,” she said.

“I know, Mother.”

“Well: welcome back,” said the General.

They sat in the spring silence and drank tea, looking out at the rock garden; Dana saw that her mother had raked it into a new pattern.

“What do you see in the sand, Mother?” Dana asked suddenly.

Her mother took a sip of tea, set down her cup, fastened her eyes on a river rock near the center of the waves of stone.

“Lives I could have saved,” General Yamamoto replied. “Wheels that turned too quickly.”

Dana put out a hand and found that her mother’s arm was living bone clothed in flesh, warm to the touch; somehow she had expected river stone.

“Mother!” She said. “I am studying with Dr Fujiwara. I will learn to save the lives, to slow the wheels.”

General Yamamoto looked at her with the kindest eyes she’d ever seen in her mother, and did not tell her that she too had studied hard for the same end.

Instead she said, “I know, Daughter.”

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