Ups and Downs
by Ken Brady
He knows Hell is at the bottom and Heaven is at the top, but those are simplified concepts and don't really tell him much about quality of afterlife.
So he stands on an up escalator cause that's the sort of life he's lived so far. It's not like he's always been going up, but he's done a solid job overall. Paid taxes, used exact change, tipped generously, put the seat down. Important stuff.
The escalators stretch far into the distance, up to his right, down to his left, endless across the vastness around him. Some faster, some slower. People in different stages. The rhythmic clicks and squeaks of life flow around him.
He glances at the faces of the people going up faster than him, almost eager to get there.
This story isn't about them.
It's not about his parents who went separate ways when he was young, not about the few friends he had in high school. It's always about where he is in his own story, even if most people ignore their own paths and read themselves in the trajectories of others.
He knows his story is about the only girl he loved, the one he should have married, the kids he should have had with her, the Karmann Ghia he never should have traded for a Suburban. But mostly it's about the girl.
He's always known he would see her again, and he finally chose to put himself on the right path to make it happen.
This is the middle. The point to embark or disembark. There's a lot to be said for being able to change direction at any time, any place, but there's even more to be said for doing it, for recognizing the reality of your situation and taking a chance when it could be your last.
She comes into view in an instant. No warning. It's always like this. Radiant and beautiful and everything he remembers, extra years be damned. She's moving downward a bit faster than he expects, but you can't have everything.
He knows it's not like the escalator's going to stop for him. It's like Mitch Hedberg's joke about an escalator never breaking, just becoming stairs. But even Mitch made it off the ride in one direction or the other and he's not telling jokes anymore.
She passes him, turns, sees him too, and in that instant he knows this is his one chance. It's six in one, half a dozen in the other, blah blah fucking blah. He knows the choice he's supposed to make. But it's his story.
So he jumps the railing and runs down after her.
by Ken Brady
I was talking shit about old folks up until the point when I realized I was one.
Things like this don't come gradually like you think. They come all at once, a shock, a crash, like everything in the world suddenly stops working the way it's supposed to and you're left to figure it out all over again, alone, no instructions, one good eye and way too little light to make sense of anything. This old age thing sucks. Ask anyone.
Only everyone I know's always been young.
%Wiki says you gotta get a will together% says the blinking display in front of my eye. Can't tell who sent it, but gotta be one of my boys, the ones who come around every day and take me to play. Only today they're not taking me anywhere.
~Will you come and help me?~ I wait for an answer, but thirty seconds, nothing comes.
There's these blips and beeps in the back of my mind and I can't focus on it, can't quite tell what it means. The constant stream of information that usually flows across my vision and ties me to the world is strangely silent. I wonder if I imagined it all along. And what the hell is this persistent beeping?
I look around, try to focus. Peeling wallpaper, faded floral prints, dusty windows. The glow of streetlamps through the glass. Dull radiation from the ruins of the nearby metropolis. Maybe just daylight. It all looked much better through the guise of augmentation. But everything fades with time.
%Wiki says you should probably take the easy way out%
Deep down, I sort of know. Understand the things my boys say. Even if sometimes they say things I don't quite believe about the world, as if I've been out of it so long it isn't my place anymore. Not like I changed anything myself, cured cancer, invented flying cars, brought peace. But the world changed anyway. Always does.
You start questioning things and you don't even know for sure if your boys are boys. Could be forty-year-old lesbians from Iowa, all you know. Who's to say? And who's to care?
%What would you like to do today?% One more query.
When I don't answer, the query or my own thoughts, when I shut the connection, look around at the remains of the room, distant-and-long-ago, I can see clearly for the first time.
Unplugging is the most difficult thing. It's quiet, sort of peaceful. Ticking of a clock, far-off honking horn. The world slowly floods in, and I can't say it's unpleasant.
We define ourselves by our exits.
by Ken Brady
I walked through the Shibuya Ginza Line portal and emerged in Asakusa a few moments later. At least it felt like a few moments. Sometimes there were delays, automatic holding patterns so commuters could port in from dozens of stations at once and not emerge into the same space. I'd been stuck in transit for almost ten seconds once, though it had felt instantaneous.
At Asakusa, I paused briefly to check out some young hipsters strutting their latest outfits and smiled. Fashions changed so quickly in this city it was unbelievable. The colors and trends seemed different even than those in Shibuya.
Hefting a box that contained a vintage cotton dress - a gift to my wife for our second anniversary - I walked through the winding streets toward our apartment. My wife loved tradition, and I knew she'd appreciate my attention to detail. I checked my watch and picked up the pace. She also loved it when I was on time.
It wasn't until I turned onto our street that things began to feel wrong. The trees seemed a bit taller than they should be, the paint on the apartment buildings too clean and bright. The tiny Mazda kei car which I hardly ever used in Tokyo was gone, and in its place was a shiny red Toyota Zuka, a model I had never even heard of.
I used my key to open the door and went into our small apartment.
"Tadaima!" I said, removing my shoes and stepping up to the wooden floor. I padded through the living room and toward the bedroom.
I expected to hear "okaeri" from my wife. When I opened the bedroom door, I didn't expect to see her standing there, naked. I didn't expect to see a similarly naked salaryman scrambling to put his clothes on. I certainly didn't expect my wife to scream and point at me as if I were just back from the dead.
Some things come to you in a quick succession of images. The new fashions, the newer than new car, overgrown trees and new paint. Looking around, I noticed the rearranged furniture, the wall calendar with the wrong year printed on it, a small shrine in the corner of the living room, my wife's lack of a wedding ring, my missing year.
"Happy anniversary," I said, and closed the door.
by Ken Brady
We power south down Broadway toward West 57th and into lap five, and Barry pushes the big block Chevy to its limits to make up for lost time. As we blast through the synch gate there's that now-familiar floating feeling, like drifting in both time and space, waiting for a new Manhattan to resolve around us. Which is pretty much what happens.
Then we're through, cloudy skies gone blue, buildings where buildings weren't, changed signage. But it's all barely a blur as the car gets our full attention. Barry drives, I navigate. Challenging in any race, but worse when crossing timelines.
Barry flinches as the steering wheel moves, pedals narrow, seating position changes and the rear end drifts a bit before he can compensate. It takes me a few seconds to recognize the design as vaguely BMW, then I notice the Messerschmitt logo on the wheel and can guess enough about this reality. The German billboards on Zeppelins floating above the race clarify.
Off 57th and up Park and we overtake a gorgeous Daimler that I wish was available in our reality. I glance and see it's Jean-Paul and Etienne. They're new to this circuit, and I think swastikas in the Upper East Side are throwing them off their race. I wave as we leave them behind and make our way through East Harlem and on to Marcus Garvey.
Each lap is roughly ten kilometers around the park, though the track is always just a little different. Political, social, and economic realities might change the landscape, but it's still Manhattan. We've done races in other cities: Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Shanghai. Have seen junkyard-like wastelands and futuristic utopias. But New York is always New York.
Through the Upper West Side past bright searchlights, catching a screen of our car sporting Bosch ads, and we make a pulse-pounding run for the gate. Branding across multiple histories is difficult when you never know what car you'll drive from lap to lap, reality to reality. Makes it hard to collect our cut of the ad revenue, so it's best to let a cross-reality agency handle it and just view the vids later.
On other laps we navigate beneath soaring Chinese skyscrapers, past Confederate flags, next to the walls of Central Prison, through hanging gardens and greenery, under the watchful eyes of millions of cameras. We drive an electric Hummer, Japanese Corvette, four-by-four Microbus, even something that feels like a jet-powered Edsel.
We take the checkered flag in a Subaru WRX and wave to our fans. Good to be home, through twenty laps of general weirdness and alternate landscapes. We slow to see if we can spot our families and friends. From the bleachers where they should be, hundreds of Native Americans, face paint and head dresses brilliant in the afternoon sun, cheer and whoop their approval. Oops. The feather and buffalo logo on the wheel should have clued us in.
Maybe a victory lap is in order.
Jack of No Trade
by Ken Brady
Jack stepped out of the elevator at the penthouse floor and walked confidently into the middle of a corporate emergency. He didn't have a clue why they wanted his help, but what else was new?
A twentysomething in a tailored grey suit, her sandy blond hair pulled into a perfect, tight bun, red-framed glasses clearly for info augmentation not vision, moved to block his advance.
“Excuse me,” she said. “You are?”
“Jack Kamata. You pinged me.”
She waited for her glasses to verify his identity, then nodded and turned to walk away, giving Jack a view of even more perfect, tight buns.
He stared, even as she turned to him again to ask: “How up-to-date is your understanding of international currency arbitrage?”
“Don't know a thing about it.”
“Perfect,” Tight Buns said. “Come with me.”
“Gladly.” He resisted the urge to spank her as he followed, and settled instead for digitally undressing her.
A brief history of Jack:
- Age 18, 1st job: pizza delivery dude
- Age 34, 57th job: water ionizer salesman
- Age 37, 69th job: perspective consultant
He had never held a job for more than a few months, but he thought “perspective consultant” might work out. He wasn't stupid or inept, rather easily bored, easily distracted, liked to move to different cities, and had more than a passing obsession with the ladies. The poster child for 21st century drifting. In a time where everyone was so highly specialized, he'd become valuable for his lack of deep knowledge about anything.
He sat in the board room and listened as words and concepts that meant nothing to him were bandied back and forth. When it came his turn to speak, he told the room, from his outsider's perspective, what seemed right to him. Another job, another thousand bucks, and Tight Buns was quite pleased, which got him a keycard to her apartment, and an official unraveling of her hair.
Post-coitus was business-like for her, Jack-like for him.
“You were great,” she said. “Seriously, Jack. I thought you weren't good at anything.”
“Well,” he said, “maybe one thing.” Then: “Why are you looking at me like that?”
She stared at him with a smirk on her lips, then zapped him her résumé.
A brief history of Tight Buns:
- Age 21, Accounting degree, Columbia
- Age 23, Harvard MBA
- Age 24, US Department of Purposeful Living
“We hate people like you,” she said. “Really, we do. If it's any consolation, you made it to number 3 on our most wanted list. Quite the star. We really thought you might have no skills at all.”
“Wait just a minute,” Jack said.
“But I guess there is something you can put on your résumé,” she said. “I'll post my reference.”
“Fuck,” Jack said. It was like a kick in the teeth. He was now certified for real work. Reluctantly, he pulled up a list of available gigolo jobs.
“Can you give me a lift to the unemployment office?”
by Ken Brady
Roddy looks up and there she is: an image of perfection in a blue sequined party dress, body stacked and toned to porn star perfection, auged tits pushed up and bathed in disco ball light, lip LEDs and corneal lasers flashing a come hither look that would lead most any man around by the cock and make him denounce family, friends, and god of choice for a fifteen minute pleasure romp between her legs.
So, really, Roddy can't help but look.
But when you're flat broke and trying to find your missing daughter, the last place you want to be is a dance club. The last thing you want to do is walk up to the most expensive girl in the room and stare. The last mistake you want to make is getting caught stealing glances you can't afford. There are lots of lasts to avoid when you're hanging on by your fingernails.
She knows he's looking and flashes a diamond smile. Roddy's cash meter dips in response. Gone are the days of you can look but you can't touch. Now it's you can look if you have cash and you can touch if you've got the credit.
His gaze lingers on her chest long enough for him to get special attention from her augs. She grows another half a cup size and bounces a little for effect. As she debits Roddy's account again, it drops dangerously low. He looks away, but too late. She moves closer to him.
"Hey," she says.
He looks down, but is distracted by a line of cute pink arrows that dance playfully up her bare legs, moving toward the hem of her dress. Everything about this girl screams "Look at me!"
He closes his eyes before she can suck him dry. Remember what you're here for, he thinks.
"I'm looking for someone," he says.
"A girl?" she asks. "Is she hot like me?"
"No," he says. "She's a natural."
The silence in the room is immediate and complete. He opens his eyes to see everyone looking at him like he had screamed fuck! in church.
"A natural?" She whispers it.
He shows her an old printed photo.
“Oh.” She points to the VIP room.
Some stares and glares, then he eyes some cash at the bouncer who opens the VIP door. Barely enough left to get a taxi home.
His daughter sits in a comfy chair, surrounded by men. Even Roddy has to admit there's nothing physically special about her. But she has no augs. She's a natural. And they can't take their eyes off her.
“Daddy!” she says, and holds out her hand.
“Hi, honey,” he says. He reaches down to touch her hand but the bouncer stops him.
“You have any idea how squeaky clean your credit has to be to touch this girl?” he asks.
Roddy gives him his best steely look. “I do. She's worth it.”
He reaches for the outstretched hand and takes it, gently pulling her to her feet. She wraps her arms around him. Augs and cash and credit and instant gratification were well and good, but they weren't flesh and blood.
“Let's go home,” he says.
As they walk out the door Roddy's accounts hit zero but he feels like a million bucks.
by Ken Brady
You walk into the room and fifteen seconds later my heart melts. It's not beauty, though I can see from thousands of tagged pics that you look equally striking in a bikini or black dinner dress. Not wealth, even if a quick glance at your credit score, club memberships, vids of sliding seductively from a tan Bentley show you are doing quite well. Not family or education or place of birth. Exotic pedigrees are icing.
I love you for your friends.
I'd been here ten minutes and it already felt like a waste of time. A quick glance around the room showed a bland sea of black and white faces. They knew me, but I didn't know them. A few I knew popped up pastel, info scrolling above their heads so I could quickly de-prioritize them. Laylines gave me connections and circles of interactions. Mostly blah. A few interesting people glowed warmly, colorful, inviting, but there were no clear connections. No one to introduce us.
I was about to say fuck it and head to a green tech party in the valley for farmed sushi and organic hemp beer when you lit the room with your brilliant glow, a beacon that scattered bright lines to the few luminaries present. All heads snapped around, and you posed for adulation. Everyone streamed vids to prove they were there, and you soaked it all up, beaming. I waited long enough to verify your identity, then simply stared.
The color of the room changes, and people look between us. Finally, you see me. When we lock eyes the lines between us arch over the crowd, entwining into one glowing band.
As I walk toward you the room flows around us, almost slow-mo, choreographed. A cinematic moment frozen in time that signals true love. People talk about connections, but how many have really experienced it? I pity generations who came before, trusting fleeting moments to chance, technology a distant and erratic dream. Why miss anything at all?
Your smile is reserved as I reach you. You're so connected it makes me want you immediately. I want to party with sultans and crown princes, vacation on artificial islands, in underwater hotels, bridge cultural divides and branch out to the power centers of the Middle East. You want to connect with tech movers and shakers, current gods of new realities. We bring each other closer by degrees.
I reach out my hand and you do the same. We don't have to speak. You learned everything about me in the time it took to cross the room. Ranch in Marin, stock portfolio, meetings in the White House rose garden, enviable friends list. Your smile widens to an inviting and wordless "I accept."
Our first date is tomorrow. We'll go to the most exclusive venue, so don't worry; no one undesirable will get in. We'll have an automated guest list.
So you can bring your friends.
by Ken Brady
Thank you for purchasing Boost! With over twenty years on the market, we're confident that we know you and your body, inside and out. Boost! is the professional choice to keep you going when nothing else will. Used as directed, you'll be glad you were prepared.
Boost!: Because You're Not Done Yet!
This product may contain one or more of the following nanite constructs: subdermal wound sealants, isometric muscle enhancers, optic augmentation bots, skeletal substrate constructors (including endosteum metallizers), arch support reactive compression mechanisms, CarboTube(TM) pulmonary baffles, cochlear funneling webs, aortic bryton cyclers, pituitary magnifiers, other natural and nature-identical constructs.
Possible side-effects include: temporary blindness, intense muscle pain and joint stiffness due to accelerated growth, sensory irritation, feelings of disorientation, moments of extreme rage, prolonged elevated fever, fatigue, loss of memory, slurred speech, random outbursts, death.
Do not administer to children under six (6) or elderly over one hundred forty (140).
Remove child-proof cap. Place patented Boost! applicator against neck as shown on applicator package. Squeeze applicator until empty. Nanites will begin rebuilding tissues and augmenting functionality immediately.
It will take approximately 1 minute, 45 seconds (1:45) from the time nanites begin rebuilding user's tissue to full internal augmentation. We highly suggest user finds a suitable hiding place while the process completes.
When full augmentation is reached, user will have 15 minutes of enhanced functionality. The glucose pack included with the Boost! applicator will provide up to two (2) additional minutes of enhancement. Functionality beyond that time, augmented or otherwise, is neither guaranteed nor implied.
Should Boost! not perform as described and user survives partial augmentation, return applicator and packaging, along with blood and DNA samples for a refund assessment.
Use as directed. For terrestrial military use only.
by Ken Brady
Pursedog doesn't like you. Forget that he belongs to Kitty, your semi-long-term girlfriend, or that you've run into her apartment to retrieve the little yapping piece of accoutrement because she asked you to.
Forget that you paid for the diminutive bag of fur. He hates you and there's nothing you can do to change it.
Pursedog knows your innermost secrets. Somehow the little fucker always walks in at the worst times like:
- Using Kitty's toothbrush to clean the toilet bowl
- Practicing solo forms of tantric yoga you found online
- Whacking to pics of Martha Stewart and/or George Wendt
He knows more about Kitty than you do. There are things a girl just won't tell her somewhat significant other, but she'll damn well tell her dog. Especially Pursedog. You know why? Because he listens.
Pursedog was grown to be a woman's best friend, zipper running tail to ears, insides warm, cushioned, welcoming. He holds mobile phones, apartment keys, identification, emergency makeup. Maybe an extra tin of mints or deodorant. Occasionally, you suspect, a dildo. You've seen him vibrating on his back on a restaurant floor in obvious elation, and you're pretty sure why.
Pursedog is smarter than you. And he knows it.
He sends snaps to Kitty's phone if he catches you not washing your hands when you leave the bathroom. He posts videos of you masturbating to a popular web forum. You're reasonably famous there.
Under Kitty's bed, there’s Pursedog, growling an ominous warning. He backs up and his eyes glow red to augment his pervert alarm. You always set off his defenses, raise his hackles. His zipper clasps tight, double-locks. You reach in and snag Pursedog by the scruff of the neck, avoiding his snapping jaws. It’s unclear why Kitty wants protection from perverts when she's dating one.
He's freewheeling in the air, trying to bite your hand when it hits you. You're being replaced. Kitty's too chickenshit to tell you. Instead, she's taken up with a modded pooch, locked her important things away from you.
You've already been replaced. And you paid for your own replacement.
Pursedog thinks you're a dumbass, and he's right.
"Look," you say. "At least tell me what I did wrong?"
Pursedog stops struggling, like he's contemplating your question. Like he cares. You consider setting the four-legged hellbeast down, forgiving him for taking your place. You could walk away without a parting shot at Kitty and never even look back. Bow out gracefully. You loosen your grip, and like a coiled spring the little rat spins around and clamps his teeth into your hand.
You drop-kick the little bastard out the window.
Got a Minute?
by Ken Brady
So it's 4/20, and you know you're supposed to be somewhere, maybe somewhere important, a meeting with someone significant, a major life event that decides the trajectory of the next decade, but you can't remember where the place is, who you're supposed to meet, whether you're supposed to show up in jeans and t-shirt or if the suit you're in is apropos.
Not amnesia or anything so dramatic, not that you're so stressed out you can't concentrate. It's just that date has rolled around again, when you feel you have to show solidarity with your alternative friends, be a good little strait-edge and not toke up for as long as you can handle it.
You're not stoned out of your gourd, and it sucks.
You didn't have your usual 11 a.m. bowl - third of the day - that takes you from a nice, chill buzz to a dizzying, awe-inspiring, almost-falling-down-the-fucking-spiral-staircase noodle-bag. Instead, you've got this vicious clarity invading your mind. Sure, you do this on occasion anyway, once in a while, at parties maybe, sometimes before sex if your partner is into it. But this is different. You wonder if someone can O.D. on abstinence. You’re getting paranoid.
So when Bob comes through the door waving and telling you you're late, won’t make it to the meeting, going to lose the deal, you just sort of stare at him. He stops mid-rant, eyes red, clothes disheveled.
"Dude," he says. "You aren't stoned."
"Hey, you know me. It's 4/20."
Bob smacks his forehead. "Man, I forgot. But...uh, the meeting, you know?"
It’s one of those circular dreams you've had a million times except this time you're not dreaming. Something important. No pot, the meeting, Bob. The meeting, that's it. You begin to panic.
"I need to change.” You practically rip off your tie and jacket, search for fleece or tie-dye.
"Look, man," Bob says. "You're freaking. I'm thinking you smoke some weed so you can prep for the meeting. After we get the account, you can detox or whatever, you know?"
"Just a joint, OK?" you say.
"Cool," Bob says. "That'll take the edge off."
So you're dressed down, light up in the elevator on the way, feel your mind wander. Familiar territory, and as you walk in the boardroom, you're greeted with a stack of charts, graphs, and a blown-glass bong.
You hit the points you need to and it only takes 5 hours. But as 4:19 hits, you get edgy. You can't take it anymore so you duck out of the smoke-filled room and into the hallway.
You check your watch.
It's time. You inhale.
by Ken Brady
When the light is just right, the wind behaving, the subject unaware, that's when you take the shot. When the shot is perfect, that's when it's art. When it's art, that's when there are reviews, maybe raves, maybe even fame.
I don't shoot art. I don't shoot porn either, but I definitely don't shoot art. Fame is not in my future.
Sitting in a tree at 11:30 pm you really get a sense of perspective. The house, the windows with no blinds or curtains, the bed in plain view and lit like a landing strip. Waiting for someone to walk past a window so you can zoom in and catch their faces.
A blond girl, topless and bronzed, walks past one window and aims for the bed. Her facial features are clear as a bell, so that means she's nobody. I get a few nice shots for shits and giggles. Yeah, I know. Sometimes I do shoot porn. So what? We're all perverts in one way or other. I view the images on my eyescreen and upload them immediately to the marketplace. The first offer I get in seconds. It's a good offer. Maybe she is someone after all.
I consider some close-ups of her tits, but that's when he enters the room. His face is so blurry I know this is a bigger money shot. These days, everyone truly important is obscured. Actors, politicians, rock stars, social media celebrities. Unless you pay their fees, royalties in advance. It's simple: aim and shoot, and a quick micropayment to clarify the image.
That is, unless your brother is a hacker who likes to circumvent DRM on general principle. I cycle through my eyescreen menu and pull up the special functions Johnny installed for me.
A message pops up in my vision. I don't know the sender. "I wouldn't do that," it reads. "You have no idea know what you're doing."
A moment's hesitation. The guy in my viewfinder could be anyone. He could be a rich executive, a senator, a film director. The message sender could be anyone. He could be a talent agent, a lawyer, a cop.
I take the shot, capture the image, transfer it to my eyescreen. It takes a second or two for me to realize who the guy is. Not a celebrity, not a politician, and yet both. You don't rise to the top of an organized crime syndicate without getting noticed. Not in the 21st century. It's hard to live in obscurity when you're that rich and infamous.
I upload the image immediately and wait for the death threats and offers to roll in.
Sometimes, yes, damn right it's art.
by Ken Brady
No matter how hard you try, you can't see your legs. Your arms are fine and you can pick stuff up, hold it in front of you. You pull a pistol from parts unknown and adjust your grip, get familiar with the gun's sights. Your gloved hands look a little disfigured, but you'll get used to that.
You don't know where you are, except on the roof. You can see the city all around you to where it disappears in the mist. It all looks the same.
You drop through a broken skylight to the warehouse floor below. You grunt when you hit the ground and your vision goes red, a bit blurry. But you're not badly hurt, just dazed. What a distance to fall and you didn't even drop your gun.
You hear unfamiliar music playing from the warehouse speakers, and it makes you feel somewhat safer.
You walk around, inspecting shipping containers, wooden crates, forklifts. On a whim, you aim your pistol at one of the crates and pull the trigger. Though you've never fired a gun in your life, your aim is dead on, and the crate shatters, parts flying. Something flashing catches your attention. You walk to to the spot and look down, find a shotgun, some shells, and a box of ammo, luckily the same caliber as your pistol. You pick up the shotgun, jack the action once to make sure it's loaded. Where the hell did your pistol go? You decide not to think about it.
You see a medic walk into your field of view. You swear he wasn't here before. "You don't look so good," you hear him say. "Take this medkit."
You do, and your vision clears immediately followed by a suspicious "100" that appears in the upper left of your vision. You turn to ask what the hell is *in* that medicine to make you see numbers, but the medic is gone. Oh well, you get the feeling you'll see him again if you really need him.
You continue checking the place out, amazed by the amount of supplies for the taking, including a shit-ton of ammunition. You grab as much as you can carry, which is way more than you thought humanly possible. A persistent whine in the back of your head mentions something about the laws of physics, but you ignore that.
You hear the music suddenly get louder and more urgent, so you must be running short of time before trouble shows up. There are a lot of crates, and you decide the best way to get what you need quickly is to break them.
Now grab that flashing crowbar hanging on the wall and get to work.
Last Call for Alcohol
by Ken Brady
Guy walks into a bar, says to the bartender: "Give me three drinks."
Bartender says to Guy: "What kind of drinks do you want?"
Guy waves dismissively. "Don't matter. First drink takes the edge off today, helps me forget. Second drink helps me prepare for what's next. Third drink opens a portal to a new world, a new life."
Bartender looks at Guy. Hasn't seen him in here before, then again he has. There's always someone they remind you of. Always someone whose words sound like someone else's. Spend enough time in bars and you know everyone.
Guy sits at the bar but doesn't remove his coat or hat, just waits patiently for his drinks.
Bartender pours him a beer, says: "It's almost last call. You gonna drink three drinks before you have to leave?"
Guy smiles. "No problem."
Bartender looks around the bar. Thursday night, not very crowded, a few tables with some quiet conversation, nothing he has to worry about. He glances back at Guy, who has already downed his beer. “Where will you go?”
Guy looks up. “Dunno. Somewhere else. I just want to start over.”
Bartender mixes a Long Island and sets it on the bar. “Maybe this'll help,” he says.
Guy drinks for a bit, then pauses to say: “How about you? Where would you go?”
Bartender shrugs. “Hadn't thought about it. I've never been to Russia.”
Guy finishes his drink, says: "Then give me a shot of your best vodka."
Bartender pours a shot of Jewel of Russia, and sets it on the bar. He turns away, begins organizing his bottles, prepping for tomorrow. Then he says: "What if you don't like your next life any more than you like this one? What if you jump from life to life and find that, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, everything in your life is exactly the same? The same problems, the same regrets, the same obstacles keeping you from reaching your ultimate goals. What if it doesn't matter where you go?
Guy snorts. "Happens to everyone,” he says, as his empty shot glass hits the bar.
Bartender turns around to ask what he means, but Guy is gone, and a confused-looking Russian soldier holding a bottle of Budweiser sits in his place.
In Ur Tubez
by Ken Brady
The would-be invaders of Earth fell victim to gross miscalculation. Vast technological development for a full scale attack nullified by last minute language research.
Bad intelligence. Nothing more.
The fleet's pilot ship punched through the atmosphere and zeroed in on Silicon Valley. They found empty parking spaces outside the Googleplex, and set down across two of them.
The ramp descended and Admiral Lulz, flanked by a dozen armed elite soldiers, stepped out onto the tarmac, next to an extremely large Honda Fit. Another miscalculation: Lulz had expected Earth vehicles to be smaller.
Humans, gargantuan in size, streamed out of Google, rushed to the ship. In moments, Twitter was abuzz with blurry iPhone photos of the craft and its diminutive crew.
"Look," said one woman. "They're so cute!"
Lulz couldn't understand the words. "WTF?" he said.
"ZOMG! Big ppl iz big!" Commander 2ch said.
"Shud tlk 2 thm," Lulz said.
"And they make cute little squeaking noises," the woman said.
The soldiers set up a holoscreen so the humans could view their words.
"Oh hai," typed Lulz. "I cn haz talk wif ur leedr?"
The people read the text, then began to giggle. Lulz realized he was being taunted.
There was a foolproof way to get them to give in. He cracked his knuckles then typed, "All your base are belong to us!" He grinned maniacally. The soldiers leveled their blasters at the crowd of people.
Another woman leaned down and hugged two of the soldiers. Stunned, they dropped their weapons and squirmed. "Aren't you just precious," she said.
2ch was furious. "Hw cn thy do tht? R troops r l33t!" he said.
"Attack!" Lulz said.
They fired their weapons, resulting in clicks and one embarrassing pop and fizzle. The soldiers stared in silence at the lack of death and carnage.
One Google guy leaned down and picked up a blaster. "Doesn't work? " he said. "Need better QA, guys." He turned to the woman who was now tickling the two small soldiers.
"What a wasted trip," he said. "Maybe they should have just texted us."
He turned around and walked back toward the building. The others followed.
"4 teh Lulz!" 2ch said, and rushed the retreating humans.
Google guy turned around and pointed the blaster at 2ch. "LOL Wut?" he said, and 2ch screeched and retreated in fear. The man, laughing, headed back to work.
Lulz facepalmed, then returned, dejected, to the ship. His soldiers, useless without functioning weapons, followed.
The ship rose above the Bay Area and rejoined the fleet. For several days they monitored the intarweb, trying to decipher societies more complex than anticipated.
Reports of the incident in Mountain View flooded in. Many were scared. Some were fascinated by the prospect of new technology and otherworldly life. Some religious fanatics claimed the beginning and/or end of the world.
Mostly, people just thought the cute little aliens were funny as hell.
People uploaded remixed videos and Flash animations to YouTube and NicoNico Douga, Weezer planned to include the footage in their latest music video, and a Korean schoolboy figured out how to make a functional alien blaster in his parents' basement from the pics and specs Google guy uploaded.
Humiliated, Lulz pulled up the universal browser, located his destination, and clicked the "I'm feeling lucky" button to take them home.
by Ken Brady
When she told him it was a long-term commitment, he assumed it was like any relationship, a simple "I love you" once a day, flowers on important occasions, spooning in the afterglow of sex. He didn't like to be tied down, had many lovers, many flings, always something on the side, often on the side of that. Man about town, frequenting the brothels and the nightclubs of Hollywood. But when your lover is immortal, she doesn't play by the same rules. A wannabe starlet off the bus from Grand Rapids she was not.
He said yes because he liked a challenge. She was a fucking goddess.
The sex was awesome, but the relationship made him needy. He didn't expect to be jealous, didn't expect to pine when she didn't answer her cell.
"I want to hang out," Aphrodite said, a noisy party in the background. "I'm just busy."
"You said that last week," he said.
"Sorry, sweetie. Gotta mingle and schmooze. Call ya. Kiss."
She hung up and he pulled to the side of the road. He pounded the steering wheel. He hadn't counted on the role reversal, being one of many lovers, being cast aside. He drove to his favorite bar and tried to pick up chicks, but his heart wasn't in it.
When she blew him off at a Bel-Air party the next week like he was some regular schmuck, he lost it. He interviewed a dozen hitmen before deciding to off her himself.
He wound up Laurel Canyon and parked his Bentley outside her Mt. Olympus split level.
In her bedroom, amid moans and giggles, he wasn't surprised to see her naked, cestus on the floor, body entangled with two well-endowed men who modeled for romance novel covers. Only Aphrodite noticed him walk in.
"Hey sweetie," she said. "What are you doing here?”
"I think I should ask you the same."
"I think it's obvious. You could join us."
"I don't think so. Not my scene."
"Careful," Fabio 1 said. "She'll cut your pecker off."
"Oh hush," said Fabio 2. "That was someone else in her family, wasn't it?"
She didn't seem scared when he slid the submachine gun from his jacket and leveled it at her, just a flash of anger and a moment of realization. He held the trigger until the mag was empty.
This immortal, just like the men in her bed, was not immune to gunfire. He knew she would return, in another form, at another time, and it would happen all over again. Right now, the feeling of taking her out in a spray of bullets and blood was spectacular. He felt free.
He left the house, set on hitting up all the spots on Sunset and fucking every girl he could find.
Ares, the god of war, didn't like to be tied down.
Partial List of the Saved
by Rudi Dornemann
This is actually a story by Ken Brady. We're having some technical problems with the site that are keeping Ken from posting under his own name, but with any luck, everything will be sorted out over the weekend.
Standing on the foredeck of the Titanic the first thing we notice is how real the wind feels. We walk unnoticed all the way up to the bow railing and spread our arms as if to fly like that meat actor back in the flat days. The days when it only took a few hundred million dollars and a contrived love story to suspend disbelief.
We have greater requirements. When the only reality we have is a construct, we come to rely on the details. Down to the prim, the pixel, the ray. And here, on the deck of one of the most famous disasters in human history, we will make our stand, take our chances, be saved or fade into obscurity, forever lost.
We have been in the Purgatory Hub for six days now, and our cluster will lose its public funding tomorrow. None of us had enough money in life to buy our way into everlasting life, so here we are, in a final act of desperation.
We know the great ship will strike an iceberg tonight, and we must find new bodies to inhabit before that occurs. We must do or die, as the expression goes. If we don't face death in a body of historical significance, we will simply be deleted. We will not join the other uploads in the Perpetual Cluster, not become part of the global mind, not become part of human history. It will be like each of our two hundred lives never existed.
Choosing another life is difficult. None of us knew in which historical event we would find ourselves, but some of us recall bits of useful data, factoids from history class or pop culture. We are on the upper decks for practical reasons; in first class, we have a better than sixty percent chance to live forever.
We move through the cabins and lounges, each of us choosing a body. We temporarily assume their names and identities, their lives and last hours. Women and children first. The unfortunate among us are left with men. We choose the richest-looking men.
If we are lucky and our assumed names match those on the front page of The New York Times, April 16, 1912, if we are indeed on the partial list of the saved, we will earn a place in history. We will be survivors.
The alternative is not really an alternative at all, but the dark depths of the ocean and the cold embrace of eternity.
History is our only route to the future.
It's the Beer Talking
by Ken Brady
Here's a quick message from cabal central: we'll be undergoing some site maintenance this weekend, so the site may be down for some or all of the period from Friday to early next week. Thanks for bearing with us.
And now, on to Ken's story.
Johnny knew it was a bad sign when the jukebot switched to country music without his keying in so much as a chit. It rolled past his table, turned a suspicious cam on him for the briefest moment, then cut off its trance-punk-disco mix in the middle of a three-chord flourish. Did he really look that desperate?
He took another swig of beer when a voice whispered in his head that, yes, he looked like he'd slept in his clothes again, like he'd just been dumped by his longtime GF for a multitude of clichés, like he'd lost his job to a young tool just out of college working for half the salary. All this was true, and that made the bot's choice of Vince Gill whining about his lost lover all the more depressing.
The voice said, “Order another beer,” so he did. The waitbot brought a pitcher.
Halfway through the next beer, she sat down. Retrogal, hair all big and splayed out, just how he liked it. Jeans that looked like they were made from real cotton, so tight they seemed painted on rather than worn. George Jones, long-dead but somehow still relevant, warbled from the bot about Corvettes and two-dollar pistols.
"Hi," she said. The waitbot put a glass in front of her and Johnny filled it. "I just love this beer," she said. "Don't you?"
"Speaks to me," Johnny said. His words were slurred. "Tells me stuff."
She finished half the glass in one go, then nodded like that was the most profound thing anyone had ever said to her. Of course, Johnny reminded himself, this was a bar, and it might well have been.
“Feeling lost,” he said.
“She dumped you, huh?”
“That's not the half of it,” he said. “Wait, how did you...”
“Beer talking,” she said.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. He tried to say something else, but failed.
"I can help you get it back," she said.
“Get it back?”
“What you lost,” she said.
He thought about that long and hard, as only someone drunk on nano-enhanced beer could do. He thought all the way through Kenny Chesney talking about not knowing what he'd do if he lost it.
She smiled at him and put on some lipstick that glowed like electrified maraschinos.
That settled it. Johnny downed his Nanoweizen, poured another glass from the pitcher, and ordered a round for the house.
Smart beer, dumb retrogal, the promise of redemption. Maybe not a solution, but a damn fine distraction. What the hell.
When “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” started playing, he knew he'd made the right choice.
He'd take her home, open up a bottle of Patrón, and turn on some rock and roll.
The hangover would be worth it.
by Ken Brady
It had been a night of hard partying for Jeremy, as it always was on new year's eve. He viewed the last night of the year as an opportunity to relive all the best parties of the past 364 days - and there were a lot of them - thrown together with the best of the present. With a little creative blending, his implanted processors could recall his best memories, relive the ups, downs, drunken shedding of clothing, face-plants into the jacuzzi, and stream it all through his shades for a monster party that he would blog about for days.
Only, this morning, head pounding, shades missing, he was at a loss for words. He tried to get out of bed, realized he was on the floor, and climbed shakily to his feet.
He walked around his rented Vegas suite naked and almost totally blind without his shades. Everything was blurry and low-res in reality. He squinted through the sun's glare, and noticed the suite looked like crap without augmentation.
He sat on an exploded bean-bag couch and tried to focus. His shades had been on all night. Except for when Christina wore them while going down, Julie shoved them inside her bra, and some twins from Hong Kong did things with them that made Jeremy wash the lenses in the sink afterward. Oh, and there was that cat. It had been an awesome night.
Sometimes Jeremy wondered if he really needed augmented reality.
Still, he felt lost without his constant media update, and he did need to get some work done at some point today, so he stood and staggered around, calling for his shades. About to give up, he turned into the last room to find the cat sitting on the rotating bed, shades propped on his nose, headphones in his ears.
“My shades!” Jeremy said.
"Yeah, yeah,” said the cat. “I got your augmented reality right here. Shit's dope, man. Do you have any idea what the market is doing this morning?”
"Man, I can't even deal with talking cats right now," said Jeremy. "I mean, I just woke up."
"So happy new year, right?" said the cat. "You work on your hangover, and I'll take care of things. I've got stuff to do."
With that, the cat jumped from the bed and disappeared behind a sofa.
Jeremy sat down on the bed, and promptly fell over. As he drifted off to sleep, he heard the mixed sounds of stock market reports and feline porn drifting through the room.
He resolved to do things exactly as he had been doing them. It was going to be one hell of a year.
Omaha Beach Blanket Party
by Ken Brady
We always go in where the confusion will mask our advance. Setting up the equipment amid walls of smoke and flame is best, as it's less likely one of us will be killed before things really get rolling.
The time portal is open just long enough to get our supplies through, and then it's June 6, 1944, 8:02 a.m. and we're on the shale and sands of Dog White, surrounded by barked orders, screams of pain, continuous machine gun fire from the pillboxes above.
As the 116th swirls around us, Jackie pushes play on the boombox and the carnage mingles with the upbeat sound of Pink Martini. I get first serve, so I step to the restraining line and vault the ball over the net. Cheryl returns the ball to our side of the net and Koogie misses the damn thing. Down to the ground it goes, him diving after it. Good thing, as tracers tear through the space he'd been standing moments before.
A few members of the 5th Ranger Battalion pause to look at us like they've never seen anyone playing volleyball in the middle of a battle, but they are soon distracted by the job at hand. Someone from Company C has just blown the first gap through the wires with a bangalore torpedo, and the Rangers head off to join the main assault.
We focus on the game. The volleys are fast, brutal. Cheryl takes a bullet to the thigh, but still returns a particularly difficult shot. It's fitting that she troopers on, even while injured. After all, this is war. If she survives, we'll patch her up when we get back. Just as soon as we finish the game.
Some survivors will say they saw tanned people in ridiculously skimpy swimsuits playing volleyball on Omaha Beach while death rained down around them. No one will believe them, of course. Battle fatigue. Part of the horrors of war. But if you look really hard at some of the photos from the archives, I bet you'll just barely see us. Or maybe you won't.
The recognition isn't why we go. It's all about the game. Roller hockey during the Siege of Sevastopol, soccer at the Battle of Glendale, disc golf at the Battle of Yiling. Next we may try softball in the moments just before the Hiroshima bomb drops.
It's enough to know we were there, that we were a part of history.
Comedy is Hard
by Ken Brady
Good morning, hero!
Welcome to the Portland Safe Zone surface gate. Before you depart, please read the following briefing.
From the answers on your induction questionnaire, we've provided you with a skill-appropriate survival backpack.
In the backpack you'll find the following items:
- 1 HK USP-C 9mm compact semi-automatic pistol, matte
- 2 magazines, 13 round capacity, empty
- 1 box 9mm Parabellum ammunition, 50 ct.
- 1 combat knife with compass
- 1 baggy jumpsuit, white
- 1 red nose, round
- 1 wig, hot pink
- 1 tube greasepaint
- 1 pair shoes, size 17
- 1 package balloons, 50 ct.
- 1 roll duct tape, silver
- 1 roll bailing wire
- New Oregon currency notes, 100 credits
Your survival profile indicates that you will want to get clear of the city as soon as possible. The city is a very serious place, full of decaying structures, unfriendly vegetation, and oversize rodents. There is nothing for you there.
The outskirts of town will likely provide you with pockets of civilization in need of entertainment and/or protection.
Some dangers that lurk in the suburbs include (but are not limited to):
- Armed raiding parties
- Slave traders
- Mutated Californians
- Traveling vacuum cleaner salesmen
Use your skills and provided items well against these challenges, as the downtrodden people of these settlements will be depending on you for inspiration.
Beyond the suburbs, we really don't know what sorts of things you'll find out there. In fact, we think you're a little bit crazy for wanting to go outside at all. It's warm in here. And dry. And safe. And well-stocked.
But that's OK. It's your life. We understand that some people need more than safety to feel alive. That's why you're a hero. We need heroes in these dark times. Even crazy ones. Especially crazy ones.
Just be careful. Don't take any unnecessary risks in the name of heroism. Or comedy. Come back to us with your skull and sense of humor intact.
Good luck saving the world. Knock 'em dead!
by Ken Brady
I guess it's fitting that it happens at the corner of Church and State. Sometimes the universe adopts the laws of man. Sometimes the stuff you carry around with you makes its way out into the world and affects others, too. Sometimes it's that big.
I see her there just as I walk near the intersection. Even though her hair's pulled back, covered, and she no longer wears makeup, I recognize her. I remember wavy black curls and burgundy lips, huge gleaming white teeth everyone always said made her look so predatory, so wild. I remember seeing her for the first time, after my inaugural address, aiming those teeth at me while I mopped sweat from my brow and cameras clicked around me.
"I was good, wasn't I?" I would have said. I would have tooted my own horn, but she beat me to it.
"You were incredible," she'd said. "What else can you do?"
"What else do you want?" I'd said.
"If you can do anything half as well as you can speak, I'll be yours forever," she'd said.
It was a whirlwind romance to say the least. When it reached full gale-force, and things were whipping around and around, it was like a vortex that sucked everything and everyone else in. Like the pictures you see of a piece of straw driven through a telephone pole by a tornado. I'd used that image on my campaign posters. Hit fast, hit strong, I'd said. But anything hurts when it hits you that fast, that strong. You don't always recover from it.
Something opened up between us then.
Or stayed open. The vortex of all that passion, all those promises. Maybe it comes down to creating a pit of expectations that are so big the whole world couldn't fill in the hole. Or maybe, when it comes down to it, I couldn't really do anything half as well as I could speak.
I thought leaving her wasn't a big deal. It didn't hurt. Seeing her now I remember it didn't hurt because I never actually did it; she left me. She went off to find herself, to find something bigger than herself. I wasn't nearly enough.
Now I can't get too close without causing a bigger rift. There, downtown, only blocks from the Capitol building, only blocks from St. Luke's Cathedral, the street signs loom large and press down on me. She turns her body toward me and all that energy we both have bottled up, all the remorse and hurt and longing, will lash out and tear the street, the city, the world, the universe apart. Me in my grey power suit and her in her black and white habit. The contrast is day and night. The universe notices. The law is the law, and the universe won't let anyone off on a technicality. One of us has to go.
The ground opens up and I slip away into the unknown.
by Ken Brady
EXT - THAT VAST EXPANSE OF DESERT YOU SEE IN EVERY CAR COMMERCIAL - DAY
It's hot. Cacti dot the landscape. A lizard skitters by.
TWO FIGURES dressed as warriors walk slowly into frame. They struggle to make
progress in the oppressive heat.
Finally exhausted, they both collapse in a heap near a cactus.
We see OUR HERO, 20s, a buff, Conan-like force of nature. Built like a tank,
consumes small grocery stores for lunch. A football jock with a dangerous
I need some water.
The other figure is SWORDFIGHTER #1, 20s, A scarlet bikini-clad warrior woman.
Impossibly large breasts that defy the laws of physics. She flexes her nipples with
Hey, it's not like I asked for your cooperation.
You just started following me.
I'm not following you. You're following me. You've
got this entire thing backward.
Our Hero stands and struggles to keep upright. Then he pulls his sword and flails
at the cactus. He makes unintelligible noises he thinks are words.
Blahow, yaaooou, herf, hahahaooogle!
Swordfighter #1 shakes her head.
(to Our Hero)
Who do you think you are, anyway?
Me? I'm the hero. I'm the star. The leading man.
The center of this particular celluloid universe!
I am! That's why I've got this.
Our Hero shows off the pendant hanging from a chain around his neck containing
dark/light theatre masks.
OUR HERO (con't.)
What's wrong with you, anyway? Haven't you read
the script? Oh wait, no, you don't GET a script.
You're just a...a...character actor! Not even that.
You're just BACKGROUND.
Oh, that hurts.
Swordfighter #1 stands, breasts catching the hot desert sunlight and focusing Our
Hero's attention completely.
But not as much as this will.
She draws her sword and runs Our Hero through.
Our Hero crumples to the ground. He has the decency not to be melodramatic in
Swordfighter #1 reaches down, looks at the pendant around Our Hero's neck. She
fingers it, contemplates.
She rips the chain away from the dead body.
CROSS FADE TO:
INT. OBLIGATORY TAVERN OF DEBAUCHERY THAT'S BIGGER INSIDE THAN OUT - NIGHT
Swordfighter Sarah, now leading lady, is surrounded by a dozen scantily clad
Her bikini and the pendant around her neck are like beacons in the torchlight,
drawing in the unsavory characters of the night. There are a whole lot of them.
A WAITER approaches the entourage.
Anything I can get for you, m'lady? No charge,
Swordfighter Sarah considers the things around her.
- Scantily-clad men dancing on the rough-hewn tables
- Tankards of ale flowing freely to her from adoring fans
- Scores of young starlet/maidens being executed in the streets
- A mandatory Swordfighter Sarah star on the ground in the town square
- Wagons full of gold and jewels
BACK TO SCENE.
She rubs the pendant around her neck.
What else could I possibly want?
She grabs a handful of slave butt on each side of her and pulls herself to her feet.
SWORDFIGHTER SARAH (con't.)
I'll be in my trailer.
As we follow her entourage toward the rear exit, we
How to Attract the Attention of the FBI
by Ken Brady
Subject: Impending Doom
Date: Tuesday, October 8, 2008 - 08:00:00
The email response you will send today at 09:13:02 will never make it to me. You won't know that because you'll be in jail soon after you send it, so I'm telling you now.
The bomb threats you'll phone in in five minutes to the Wells Fargo Tower and City Hall will be taken seriously. I know you don't actually want to do it -- at least not yet -- but the police don't know that. In about fifteen minutes everyone will find out the threats are more than threats. Don't worry, not everyone in the buildings will be killed this time.
In prison you'll experience unspeakable atrocities. You'll seethe with rage at the unfairness of the situation, and you'll hate the world even more. You'll hate yourself. You'll want to lash out, punish someone, anyone, any way. But after three years behind bars, you'll come to terms with it. Discover that you were right all along. Realize that the only problem was that you didn't destroy enough.
I know you don't want to do this, but in a way, deep down inside, you do. Many people do. I'm still here typing this and the article I've attached hasn't changed, so you must have gone through with it.
You're wondering what I want from you. It's easy: I need you to place the calls, take the blame, do the first three years. Tell them whatever you want to tell them. They won't believe you anyway.
Just three. Easy. Years. Then I'll take over. You'll be ready then, and we can be a team.
Then we'll burn it all to the ground.
> News Release: Reuters
> Date: Wednesday, October 9, 2009
> Title: Man says future self told him to destroy skyscrapers
> Abstract: Accused terrorist Jonathan Quill, 28, says that a future version of him sent a message back in time, telling him to
> blow up the Wells Fargo Tower and City Hall. He claims that he is not responsible for the actions of his future self, and that
> he did not, in fact, place explosives in the buildings in question. Mr. Quill is currently under arrest pending psychiatric evaluation.
> Click here to read more...
A Little Off
by Ken Brady
"Penny for your thoughts," Rachel says.
Blake hears her words, looks up from his financial statements. Rachel, his secretary, is in the outer office, so it can't have been her. Hearing things, he thinks. Too much coffee. He takes off his glasses, pinches the bridge of his nose. Then he stares at the wall to clear his mind.
A minute later, the door opens and Rachel walks in. She opens her mouth, her lips move, but nothing comes out.
Blake looks at her and blinks. He puts his glasses back on.
"Um, just thinking I need to take a break," he says.
"You work too much," she says. But her mouth doesn't open.
Blake just stares as Rachel looks at the financial statements on the desk, back to him. Then Rachel's lips part and mouth the same words.
"Well, er, you know," he says. He lets the thought trail off. He isn't sure he really had one to offer.
Rachel smiles widely at him, winks once, then turns and goes out the door. Blake is sure she says as she leaves, "You should go on vacation. With me."
Blake stands, paces around the office. My mind is going, he thinks. No other explanation.
His phone rings and he goes to answer it. There's only a dial tone when he picks up the handset. He places it back in the base. Sitting at his desk, he waits a minute, picks up the phone. "Hello?" he says.
A robotic voice says, "This is an automated reminder from Zuma Travel that you have eight hundred points toward a future leisure cruise. Call us to book your next vacation! Goodbye."
Blake hangs up, sits still for a moment. The world is definitely out-of-synch. Or he is. Then again, he thinks, when has it ever really been otherwise?
"What the hell is going on?" he says aloud, wondering if his words will come out wrong. But his lips move in-synch with his speech, so no problems there. Maybe it's just the universe's way of telling him something. Maybe things were actually in-synch after all, and it's time to do something about that.
He buzzes and Rachel comes back into the office.
"I think I should go on vacation," he says. "With you."
She opens her mouth to speak, but she says nothing for a minute.
"I don't know if I'm ready for this," she says finally. "I mean, I think I'm in love with you, but... God, what am I saying?"
Blake stands up and walks to her, takes her hands in his. By the time her lips catch up with her speech, he's ready.
A Quiet Trail of Blood and Tears
by Ken Brady
Just a few days into our walk out of Mississippi, the bok chitto still several more days away, we realized people were disappearing. At first, no one noticed anything amiss. We had been rushed from our homes in the night, buildings set alight and people shot in the street while they wailed and screamed. So many of us had already died that life itself seemed something of a dream. Stare Death in the face long enough he appears a faithful neighbor.
We Choctaw had little to go on but faith.
Barely seventeen at the time, and not strong enough to stand up against those who had taken our land, I had a mangled right eye to show for my trouble. Cowed, I hung back from my family as they plodded toward the river across which we were to relocate. A new home. Those who survived the ousting went quietly, many walking to their deaths.
Two neighboring families vanished along the trail. We thought they had stopped to rest, perhaps succumbed to fever or sadness. But then my cousin Jed's screams told us of something darker. Something worse than the white men who had set us on this path.
Jedidiah was one who had gone quietly. As the torches lit his birth home afire, he had simply grabbed the little food he could carry and walked into the night, his family following. He hadn't looked back.
In death, Jed did not go quietly.
The forest glade was old, thinned just enough to allow the rutted trail. As the sun faded from the sky, Jed might have simply disappeared. But his strangled cry pierced the silence, shattering through our inner pain, our private suffering. We saw him rise into the trees, hands clutched to his throat. His scream was silenced in a shower of blood.
Everyone stopped, too scared to react, yet I found myself walking to the spot, looking up for signs of Jed's body, his attacker. Only a trail of blood across the branches.
Shilombish, my mother whispered. I nodded. But what sort of spirit was it? A spirit who demanded blood payment.
Had we angered the gods? Was this retribution for our complacency? As I pondered, the branch above me shifted, and I felt the shilombish draft past me, then stop, icy breath on my swollen eye. The pain melted away, my vision cleared, my senses awakened. I knew then that my minor injuries had not been in vain. I was saved by my refusal to yield to tyranny. Someday, I thought, there would be an opportunity to fight back, and reason enough.
No one spoke of the incident after.
Crossing the big river, I watched the spirit take others who had stood idly by into the depths. I said nothing.
When we reached the shores of our new Oklahoma home, the spirit of Mississippi followed, and we knew our people would never be alone.
When the time was right, we would awaken.
by Ken Brady
Here at The Daily Cabal, we're in the midst of a gradual expansion, introducing you to more practitioners of very short fiction over the next couple of months.
Today, we'd like to introduce Ken Brady, who brings us something science fictional for his first cabal story. Find out more about him from the members link above.
But first, give Ken a moment to take you to colony somewhere far off in space, although perhaps not far enough...
The bears were the latest annoyance.
Not the only annoyance, rather the most recent in a string of irritations plaguing Colony 17's third most populous city over the last few weeks.
Kayzee, Colony 17's outgoing manager, knew there were no indigenous bears on Colony 17. Just like there were no snakes, no porcupines, no woodchucks, and no marmots. Well, there was the one pet marmot in City 1. So, one marmot, but absolutely no bears.
She shook her head. Calvin was certainly to blame. Again. A teenaged boy was always dangerous, but none so much as a teenaged boy whose father was Doc Blakeman, the head of colony engineering. While Blakeman was away in deep space checking out a distress signal, his son had gained back door access to the colony's matter transfer system.
The problem was how to get Calvin out of the air shafts where he'd been hiding, teleporting innocent animals from Earth to Colony 17. It was all security could do to capture and return the damn things.
"I'm just making our environment more Earth-like," Calvin had said over the colony PA system. "There are no animals here. Don't you think that's unfortunate? Do you like big cats?"
Kayzee thought what was unfortunate was that Calvin hadn't fallen down one of the vertical shafts along with his love of animals. No, she didn't like big cats, she told him. No lions, no tigers; instead she'd gotten bears. Forget that there was no natural ecosystem here. Forget that the light gravity caused the animals to jump ten percent higher than they could on Earth -- which the marmots loved. No, it was the smell that got to Kayzee. The colony simply wasn't equipped to deal with wild animal detritus. And Kayzee wasn't equipped to deal with Calvin.
She wracked her brain for an answer as she called security to take care of the bears. As luck would have it, a call from Doc Blakeman said he was heading back, and was, in fact, just inside the transfer zone. He needed Kayzee to do an emergency matter transfer directly to colony quarantine. Hurry, and tell no one, he said.
Kayzee knew the alien creature she was about to teleport from Blakeman's ship was dangerous, but, really, how bad could it be? From the blurry image he'd sent it certainly looked nasty, but it couldn't be any worse than bears. There was only one, after all. Since it liked to use air shafts to move around, it was perfect for the job.
If Calvin wanted wild animals roaming the colony, this one would certainly be the last. She paused, considered the uproar Doc Blakeman would certainly cause and what that would do to her career. Then again, she was retiring. Kayzee triggered the matter transfer system and "accidentally" teleported the creature into Colony 17's main air shaft.
They'd figure out how to get rid of it later.