Plugs

The chicken settled into the in basket on my desk for lack of a better seat. He was clearly uncomfortable.

“I gather you’re here about your kind being killed for us to eat?” I said.

“Oh,” the chicken said. “So that part’s true. But–”

“Let me explain. When we kill a chicken–and by ‘we’ I mean some anonymous worker way off in a processing plant somewhere–we make most of the parts of that chicken into food. For instance, we might roast the whole chicken together–”

“After a decent funeral, I hope? No, I’m kidding. Sorry: nervous habit.”

I cleared my throat. The conversation was uncomfortable, but the chicken was more diplomatic than I’d been led to expect. “So we might roast the whole chicken, or we might use the breast meat in strips in one place and the wings in another … are you sure you’re all right?”

The chicken was scratching at the papers beneath him now, his feathers looking a little ruffled. “Honestly?” he said. “You aren’t quite the barbaric kind of creature I was expecting, but in a way this is worse. Your talk is pretty cold-blooded, for a mammal.”

“Well, unless we’re going to live on apples and tree nuts, we have to kill _something_, right?”

“But here we are, having a conversation … are you saying you’d just as soon eat me as talk with me? How do you justify that?”

“Listen, I’d love to see better treatment of your people while you’re alive, but it’s not as though you contemplate your impending doom the way a human would. And chickens don’t actually talk.”

“But … _I_ can talk! Clearly your idea that chickens can’t talk is erroneous in some way.”

“You’re fictional. I don’t eat fictional chickens.”

“Uh … oh,” said the chicken. He spontaneously let out a kind of “buGAW!” noise, then looked embarrassed. “So that’s how it is?”

“That’s how it is.”

“This didn’t come out the way I was hoping.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll just let myself out, then.”

“Sounds good.” I smiled perfunctorily, and he flapped down to the floor. “Oh, and would you send in the Amazon rain forest on your way out? Thanks.”

Ken Brady

Warning: this story contains explicit violence towards a child. If the subject matter disturbs you, or if you just don’t feel like reading this kind of thing now, you should probably move on. Check out our archives: there’s lots of stories in there that you might like.


Limp crept into camp. He hoped to get good night’s sleep before having to face Chief. He thought of the nano in his secret pocket, enough to buy a house, and leaned on the branch he carried for balance. He’d been away for three days and he’d lost the crutch. His mother wouldn’t be happy.

“Patrice, is that you? Where have you been, you idiot boy?” Only his mother called him Patrice.

He tried to look as tired and bruised as he felt, but she came at him at full speed and slapped him before he could talk.

“You better have something for Chief, boy. He’s been looking for you everywhere and he’s not happy. What are you hiding? Where is it?”

Limp produced a couple of computer chips, a vial of penicillin and some nano. Finally, his mother was satisfied and stopped hitting him.

The boy got up and hopped to his tent, but was intercepted by Chief himself. Limp was prepared. He threw the rest of the nano at Chief’s feet. Chief looked doubtful. It was more than could be expected from three days of scavenging, but he kicked Limp a couple of times for good measure. Limp sighed and took the wad of compressed nano out of his secret pocket.

“That’ll teach you to keep things from me!” Chief threw Limp a worthless chit.

Limp washed the blood off his face and examined his body for broken bones. The lead residue under his skin protected him from the worst of the sun’s radiation, but it also gave him a molted color that kept most of the bruises from showing. He blessed the missionaries for geneering his ancestors to survive in the Waste.

He thought of the skid he’d stolen from one of them. It was worth more than all the nano in Chief’s coffers and he didn’t plan on handing it over to him. It had taken two days of digging, but Limp had made sure it was buried deep.


This story is part of the Children of the Waste series. You can check out a longer story set in the same world at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2007/20070115/godtouched-f.shtml

A new voice joins the Cabal today, one whose stories are powerful if (and perhaps because) they’re often more than a little unsettling. So please welcome Angela Slatter as she takes us on a dark road trip…


The dead girl sits in the passenger seat, watching me. Her face is etched with spider-web petichia and her eyes are jelly-red.

My hands are pale and tight at ten and two.

“I’m so sorry, Rachel,” I say. I really mean it, not just because I’m in big trouble.

“I cannot believe,’ she spits between blood-stained teeth, “that you slept with my husband.”

“It was an accident.”

“What, you slipped and fell on it?” It’s amazing the volume the dead can reach. I feel a trickle from my ear. My fingers come away red.

“I’m sorry,’ I whimper.

“Sandy, if you say that again, I’m going to kill you.” She deflates. “My own sister.”

“I’m – not going to say it again.” In front of us the headlights gallop, illuminating the bitumen and the piles of banked-up snow. I should have put the chains on.

“How long?”

“Only a few months.” It was more like eighteen, but least said …

“He decided he wanted to be with you so much that he strangled me?”

“Well, maybe he just liked someone who didn’t spend all her time in front of the mirror.”

“You could do with a bit more time in front of the mirror.” Recognising the truth, her retort lacks sting.

“There was no need for him to kill you. I really am sorry about that.”

“I appreciate you avenging my death,” she admitted.

Walter hadn’t realised that family comes first. He called me to help get rid of Rachel’s body. He dropped her into the boot and leaned over to brush hair away from her face. That’s when I hit him with the claw-hammer. Seven times. He slumped in on top of her.

Rachel is still talking. “It’s almost enough for me to forgive you.”

She reaches out. I flinch. Her hand passes through mine like needles of ice. I reef the wheel hard to the left.
The car fishtails, skids, ricochets around the bend and slams into a parked police car with an ear-shattering crash.

I hit my head on the steering wheel, see dark stars. I turn to Rachel, to see if she’s okay.

She smiles, fading away. “Almost.”

There’s the ‘pop’ of the trunk and I see the lid rising in the rear-view mirror. Two pissed-off cops clamber out the undamaged side of their vehicle.

I let the darkness flood over me. I’m not going anywhere.

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