I’m Just Sayin’

Let the revolution begin

The stupid people
Have elected their stupid hero
To do all the stupid things
That will satisfy their stupid egos

Last two times the idiots rose up
They burned the libraries
Of Alexandretta and Europe
Just to prove that stupid was victorious
Now the information age is gonna crash
Due to the ignoramus virus
Let the revolution begin
Before its too late

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Terrorists?

Call me Ishmael
call me Mohammed
Call me the son
of the wind
And the sand
I am the boogeyman
Used to scare your children
Since the dark ages
I’ve been the dark one
Looming around the corner
And now I am your neighbor

Call me rebel
Call me cowboy
Call me salt of the earth
my forefathers bled for
I roam the fringes
Shadow of a predator
What y’all call civilization
I call Domestication
Try and break me
Come on now

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The Purple Ninja Chp. 2

Dragons Breath

They crawl from oceans, to paint the caves/
But I’m working all weekend, I need to get paid.
– Conor Oberst

Chase

Heat radiating off the steam engine between her legs kept her warm, as the Purple Ninja weaved through traffic on her bike. A violet knit scarf covered her nose and mouth, the ends trailing in the wind off her shoulders. Traffic was thick and unpredictable as the bars let out, so she had to be extraordinarily observant as she slid between vehicles. Unfortunately she did not have time for delays of any type.

20131212-001718.jpgImage by Corboin

Pursuit was dogged. A small fleet of private drone’s owned by a bounty hunter known as Dragon, were hot on her scarf streamers. Flying just a few yards above traffic, the slight, grey, unmanned vehicles darted across the sky, seeking her biosignature, anomalous movements, anything that might enable them to identify a target.

1 of the automatons caught sight of her. Then they all did. In formation, they dove towards her position. She feigned right then cut hard left between a the front end of a taxi and the rear of an SUV. Horns blared. Unfazed, they went left. In the middle of the intersection, They surrounded her. A chorus of car horns wailed in protest; of the traffic blockage, not her plight. She spun a full 360 seeking egress. There was none. Each drone took a road, hovering between her and the approach. The primary hung above, a spotlight from its underbelly highlighting her.

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Libertaria Chp 2

Opening Night

The thermostat read 90º, which would be fine if not for the 80% humidity making it feel like they were standing in an open air sauna, fully dressed, surrounded by fat people. The fact that it was 7pm and still this hot only made the situation more irritating. Jake mopped his forehead with the sleeve of his blue sports coat, took a breath, and continued to eye the crowd as they filtered through the gate. Straightening his black top hat, he ran his fingers across his freshly trimmed beard, down the front of his bloused shirt, finally resting his thumbs in the empty belt loops of his loose fitting black, leather pants. He looked down briefly to be sure his alligator shoes retained their polish, then returned to counting ticket sales.

20131205-002224.jpgHamilton V Burr

It had taken surprisingly little convincing to get the Valero Brothers, owners of the largest refuse removal company in town, to support his plan. They provided land, and the money for a security detail, lighting, and seating. But just for the first event. Either he showed a profit right out of the gate, or they were done. And if he did not repay their ‘investment’, well, he was probably done. From the looks of the turnout, that was not going to be a problem.

A large open field, zoned for warehousing that had never been built, was held by a company that the Valero’s were associated with. On either side of the field, a set of rented metal bleachers, 5 rows high, seating 20 each row, had been placed. In front of each set stood a transparent, bulletproof, wall, 10 feet high and 22 feet long. Racks of lights on extendable aluminum tripods 12 feet high, encircled the field, shining their light towards the center. Groups of teenage mexican boys hurriedly worked around the bases, securing the tripods to the ground with wires.

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The Purple Ninja, Chp. 1

An Example Must Be Made
Stephan Jensen, candidate for the United States Senate,
vice-President of his father’s lumber company, and fair-haired
bearer of the square jaw, stepped onto the platform at exactly 1:35PM. The crowd, group really, there were maybe 100 of them gathered on the grassy spot known to a few as Eakins Oval, applauded for exactly 30 seconds. He smoothed his red tie exactly once. He licked his lips twice, took a half step forward, laid both palms evenly on the podium, and spoke in a low, calm voice. “My friends and fellow citizens, our nation has come to a cross roads and we must decide which path to follow. Some say the way I offer is too difficult. That we should take an easier path. That those who are strong should be required to ease the burden of the weak.”

20131123-150901.jpgBy Tonnis

In the trees, to the north east of the parking lot, a magnifying glass secured, unobtrusively, to the side of a branch, was just starting to catch the afternoon sun in its lens.

Jensen continued methodically,”Behind me stand monuments for 2 of America’s great cultural heroes, fact and fiction.” He did not mention the art museum they adorned, filling the entire background, “George Washington as General of ragtag rebel forces fighting the most powerful military of his time, and Rocky Balboa feeling victorious just training for a title shot which even he did not believe he could win, the odds were so long.” Here Candidate Jensen stood a little straighter,raised his palms to include the group, and raised his volume, just a little.

The sunlight, those waves being cast through the magnifying glass, narrowed and intensified, focused onto a narrow rope laying on the ground. The far end had been staked to the ground with a silver mountain climber’s spike, currently hidden beneath a small pile of leaves. The near end tied to a 1 foot wide, 6 foot long, green and brown, rubber band. The ends of the giant rubber band, in turn, had been staked high on the trunk of 2 trees just a foot in front and to either side, creating a triangular shape, or more specifically, a slingshot. A red balloon sat in its cradle.

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The Libertarian Confederation of America, Chp. 1

Prologue: A House Divided

Render unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s, and unto God that which is God’s.
– Matthew 22:21

In the year 2024, upon the election of California Senator Juanita Rosario of the Green Party to the office of President of the United States, old political divides came to a head. The largely agrarian states in the southern and central region, that held to an individualist philosophy, felt they could no longer support the planned society philosophy of the industrial and academic regions to the north, and west. Under the leadership of Governor Archibald Humphrey of the Republic of Texas, these states declared themselves in secession and formed The Libertarian Confederation of America.

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President Rosario had a different perspective on Lincoln’s famous quote, “A house divided can not stand.” She decided it was best to allow a negotiated, peaceful separation rather than fighting a second civil war to force unwilling citizenship. Borders were negotiated, bureaucracies generated, treaties signed, and a new nation was born. Citizens were given a year to move to their preferred society. A great migration, in both directions, took place as people made hasty decisions based on fear and/or hope of great changes that would come in the new societies of unchallenged ideologues.

With the removal of anti-federalist agenda from national politics, the United States pursued a far more liberal, progressive policy. The military was reduced to a defensive posture, insurance and education became universal programs, welfare became a permanent WPA type program and heavy regulations were introduced on economic and energy related industries. In a few short years, similarly governed regions of Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, chose to join the remade republic. While a few of the more laissez faire, bank haven, island nations, chose to seek membership in the new, like-minded confederation. The nations of the European Union, fearing lack of influence in the new landscape, voted to approve a constitution for the EU, formalizing the economic alliance as a nation with a central senate elected by state governments.

At the end of Transition Year, the Confederation, under now President Humphrey, shut its borders and declared a 5 year isolationist foreign policy to develop domestically. With that period coming to an end, the first creaky bureaucratic doors have begun to open. Interest is high not only in the corporate world, but also among the US government’s defense establishment, the media and the public at large. Everyone wants to know what the Prodigal Child has been doing.

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Ain’t a Handle

“…so then, he scoops one big hairy arm under me, sticks his thumb in my pussy, 2 fingers up my ass, sticks his other hand under my back, and picks me up like my taint is a goddamn handle.” She paused to shuffle her spearmint chewing gum, long since flavorless, from 1 side of her mouth to the other. “Then he shoves his face in my tits and starts rubbing it around,” as a visual aid, she shoved her cleavage out and shook her own head. First she brushed her bottle-red hair back from her shoulders to better accentuate the gold and black spotted, low cut, sleeveless ‘top’ that clung to her pale, mottled flesh. Her long, slender nose waggled, just a little at the tip, as her head shook inside her own, imaginary breasts.

20131109-220920.jpgMary Read by DeBelle

“Now I told you already how hairy he was, and he had that big scraggly beard, well this was just scratching the hell out of my nipples. So I squealed, just a little. He musta thought that was encouragement, cause next thing I know, he’s biting my tit. Can you believe that shit? He bit my tit!

“Well there are some things I do not do. So I push him back and slap his hairy face. Only thing is, I’m still hanging there in mid air with his hand up my hooch. Son of a bitch drops me. Bam!” She slams her hand on the desk, demonstrating the impact. “Right on the hard wood floors. Thought I broke my fuckin’ ass.

“Does he apologize? No he starts cursing at me in Russian or Latonian, or some shit, for slapping him. He’s standing there, holding his cheek and yelling, like I could hurt him. But he don’t know that his finger has shit all over it from being up my ass all that time. If he had asked, I’d have told him I had to go the bathroom, but he’s all Carpe Diem all the time.

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Drone Wars 1: H@(k3d

Mommy, where do drones go when they die?
Nowhere, Edgar, machines don’t have souls.

20130629-162121.jpg

Edgar

sipped at his perfectly-too-hot-mocha while leaning on the window
counter, pretended to read the newspaper, and checked out the same
brunette working the veggie food truck on the sidewalk he’d been
not asking out for 3 months. He paused in his stalker behavior to
admire himself in the window reflection. He ran his short, fat
fingers through the mop of curly brown hair on the round head which
sat atop his squat 5’10” frame, turned his head sideways once,
started to feel a little bit positive and then noticed 2 teenage
girls giggling further back in the reflection. Against his own
better judgement, he looked over his shoulder at them, and they
lost it, gales of laughter filled the coffee shop. Edgar just
smiled and nodded his head, then turned back to his paper.

He was about to return to checking out veggie girl, when he noticed the
headline, all the rest was immediately forgotten; Drones on Patrol.
He had to read the article twice, and then confirmed it with a
search on his mobile, before he would accept it as truth. Drones of
all types had been popping up for years, and not just in security
fields. Mail drones, transport drones, fire drones, assembly
drones, you name it there was a drone doing what used to be some
breadwinner’s job. The coffee shop even had a bidet drone, in the
men’s room. Demand was high for machines that would do everything
for us for free and without complaint. Edgar had never liked it,
but had come to accept it as it had creeped up, 1 profession and
convenience at a time. But this, this was just insane. He scanned
the article quickly, again: Per the Attorney General, effective
immediately, all police patrol duties nationwide would be
transferred to drones…Arrests and investigations would still be
done by humans, but the blue and white drones will ticket, detain
and search, utilizing state of the art body scanner and weapon
hardware…resistance or vandalism would be treated as any assault
on an officer…for the benefit of the security of all patriotic,
law abiding Americans. Drone cops will be pulling guns on
citizens and ordering them to submit to a search! This is fuckin’
crazy! 3 days, that’s all we’ve got. What the hell can we possibly
do? This is beyond any simple protest hack, we need to actually do
something to prevent this. They’ll have the entire country under
the thumb of a mindless, soulless army.

Edgar realized that he had been mumbling to himself out-loud because people were staring. He just nodded awkwardly at them, scooped up his stuff,and stumbled out the door in a 225 pound chubby blur of horizontal stripes and blue jeans. Heather will know what to
do.

Heather’s

place was his favorite. It
smelled like strawberries and chocolate, and she hung a
kaleidoscope of sheer cloths from the ceiling that made the light
soft and cheerful. Edgar smiled every time he entered. The floor
was dusty hardwood, if you could find it between pillows and
oddments, and assorted dropped papers and objects. She would boast
about her mother referring to her as a “heathercain”, considering
the inherent chaos in her character a mark of pride. He stood in
the doorway he had opened with the key she gave him and called out
to her while knocking, “Heather? Hello? Heather? It’s me. Edgar.
You’re- friend, Edgar. Hello?”
Even with the key, he could not accept the idea he was welcome. He heard her before seeing her. The staccato rhythm of her feat on the ceiling as she skipped the hallway. He could hear the echoes of her singing as she reached the top of the spiral, black iron stairwell. The lilting high notes of her voice brought him the rest of the way into the house, locking the door behind. As she bounced down the stairs, 1 foot then the other, he could hear the tiny bells on her sash ringing and see the edge of her tie dyed sarong as she floated into view. Her smile made his heart warm and large, as she paused by the rail so her
guest could look at her. Chestnut hair was pulled back into a bun,
except for a few strands on either side framing her slender face
and long, narrow, hooked nose. She smiled so sweetly, it didn’t
bother Edgar at all that she was missing 2 teeth on the bottom left
and 1 above them. “Hi, Eddie. Good morning.” Her speaking voice
reminded most people of a kazoo, but it was music to him.

“Hi.” He exhaled.

She came into the living room and dropped onto the flower print couch, “Are you going to come in and sit or just stand there like a moron?”
He shook his head and looked around “Um, I was going
to go with moron for a few more minutes if you don’t mind.”

“Whatever makes you happy. Is that an actual newspaper?”
“Yes, actually, that’s what brought me here this early.”
“You found the last print newspaper?”
“Seriously, look at today’s headline.”

He thrust it towards her. She took the paper, read the headline, sat
up, “What the-?” She kept reading. Edgar opened her laptop laying
on the coffee table, the regular laptop not the encrypted jaun, and
he began pulling up other articles to answer the questions he knew
she would have, because they were his questions too. It would be 20
minutes before they had silently digested enough data to start
discussing. And then they just started talking in a rushed tumble
of excitement/anger/enthusiasm/hostility yet somehow they were able
to hear each other as well.
“I can’t believe they’re doing this.”
“I know! Such blatant fascist crap.”
“Do they really think they can
just roll over us with their automatons of death and we’ll do
nothing?”
“This is totally typical of the civil rights crushing,
misogynistic, patriarchal, fear-mongering, military-industrial
banking complex that runs this national corporation we call a
country!”
“Yeah!”
They both started laughing at that and then just sat there for a moment. Finally, she got up and headed for the kitchen, “I need coffee, how about you?”
“Sure I could use a 3rd cup.” She looked at him across the room, through the cloth draped,wooden window frame that separated the rooms.
“3 days isn’t much time to stage a significant protest, they played this well. We’ll have to work fast.”
“Protest my ass.” Edgar stood up, throwing some
imaginary object on the ground in defiance, causing his belly to
vibrate “We been protesting and pranking and messing with people
for decades, and what do we got? Hmm? A reputation, that’s what.
Anonymous wears stupid masks and jacks up websites.” Heather
found the air-quotes confusing “Big deal. Name a single thing we
wanted the corporate state to stop doing that they actually
stopped? Can you?”
Making her way back into the living room, she waved a finger admonishingly, “Well, We did stop a few internet security laws form getting passed.”
“That didn’t come back later as something else? When did that happen?” She sighed and slumped into the couch. Edgar was finding it difficult to keep his angry political anarchist focus while looking at her.
She seemed unaware of his distraction, “I don’t know, I guess your right. But its a long war on an existential battlefield. You can’t expect instant gratification.”
He sighed at that, “Well, that may be true, I don’t know. What I do know is that they are really building these things
now. Not just the police drones. While millions are unemployed,
they clean our homes and build our products, hell they even do our
learning for us,” he waved dramatically at the computer. “We are
entirely dependent on them and now they will police us, too? It’s
gone too far. We must make our stand now, before its too late.”

“What do you want to do, big man?”
Edgar attempted to stand up a little straighter, “For starters I want you to call me that more often. In fact, I think that should be my nick name from now o-“
“Edgar!” He deflated, visibly, and joined her on the couch, “I
don’t know. I was hoping you would have an idea.”
“Me? ” She sat forward at this, “Is it my turn to defeat the evil empire? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was Friday already. Let me see what I have in my little black book of heroic schemes…”
“Okay, okay. I get it. But seriously, if someone’s going to do something about the menace of drones its going to be us. Right? I mean, ya know, ‘We are Anonymous’ and all that.”
“Yes, well, that sounds all cool and shit, but we still have the whole ‘what’ and ‘how’ details.”
“Indeed.” Edgar leaned forward, scooped some weed off the table,
and packed into the bowl. Heather went into the back into the
kitchen and poured 2 cups of coffee. The rich smell of dark
columbian beans filled the apartment.
“Let’s think it through logically. The problem is the drones. The drones are running on an AI. They all have independent power sources and hard drives, making it difficult to attack them all at once.”
Edgar exhaled “But they are networked.”
Sitting back down, she set the coffees on the table, put her feet up, folded her hands behind her head, and stared at the ceiling. “They are networked for communications.Which could be a vulnerability.”
Edgar passed the bowl to her and asked, “What would happen if they couldn’t communicate?”
Heather got the lighter lit and then held the bowl by her mouth while she explained, “They would just carry out last coding. Which would
probably mean that most drones would only have minor disruptions.”
“Hmmm.”
“Hmmm.” Heather dropped the bowl and lighter onto the table
and jumped up, “Oh! Oh! I know, we could use the network to carry a
shut down code that released at a prearranged time.”
“Like a trojan virus time bomb!”
“Exactly!”
“Can you write that code?”
She passed back, and let the smoke roll out her mouth as she spoke, “Hell, most of it is written already. I can take pieces of several
different viruses, worms, and trojan horses and just add some code
for the time delay element. I should be able to do that in less
than 48 hours. Is Oscar busy?”
“No he’s free.”

Oscar

was the nickname they had given to the Independent SuperComputer for Anarchist’s Revolution, or ISCAR. Their group, which included about 8 computer geeks altogether, had built it in Heather’s basement by networking together several smaller machines they had built. Not only was its hardware faster and more complex than anything on the market, but the operating system was entirely of their own design. Any connections made to the internet were routed and re-routed through so many random servers per second that tracing them was impossible and even then such a cyber enemy would be facing an unknown coding languageon unfamiliar hardware.
Heather sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee, interfacing with Oscar via blue tooth. It had been 36 hours and she was almost done with the code. All that was left was figuring out how to insert it into the government communications network that the drones run on. Breaking into a lab and hooking up a USB drive like some old movie was not going to cut it. “Maybe we could give them a gift, like the real Trojan horse.” Heather suggested.
Edgar laughed, “Yeah we could push a big wooden drone up
to city hall in the middle of the night, and when they bring it
inside the next morning, poof, out pops a computer virus.” They
both laughed for several minutes. The kind of laugh when your
exhausted and worried and overworked and really anything is funny
because you’re just about at you’re breaking point. Finally running
out of giggles, she sighed and looked at him, “We really should
have figured this part out before you did all that work.”
“No, no we’ll come up with something. Everything is hackable. Right?” Edgar looked to her for support through bleary eyes.
“That’s right. And we’re hackers.” She offered her “My Little Kitty” coffee mug in toast. He clinked her mug with his Calvin and Hobbes mug, “Good hackers, too.”
“Well, bad hackers, but good at it.”
“We’re on the side of good, I think. It’s those control freak technocrats with their soulless drones who are the bad guys.”
“Yeah!” She shook her fist at the invisible enemy. “Yeah!” “And we’re going to stop them, because we’re good guys.” She added in a fit of a redundant enthusiasm.
“That’s right.”
“Like heroes, and shit.”
“That’s us in a nutshell.”
“Just as soon as we figure out how.”
Sigh, “Yes.”
“So,” Heather returned to her logic mode, “we have a bunch of
independent machines, connected by a closed, secure comm network,
and we want to feed a message into that network from outside,
without detection. How can that be done?”
“We need a machine that has access. We need to grab a machine, inject our message into its hard drive so that it will then send it into the network at the next update.”
“You want to kidnap a police drone?” She looked at
him like he had suggested going to the moon.
“Why a police drone? Can’t it be a cleaning drone or something? Aren’t they on the same comm network?”
“Are they?”
“I think so. And even if they aren’t, if millions of drones go offline at once, that sort of weakness in a system might cause them to pause on bringing cop drones online.”
“Maybe we should grab an industrial drone, so if your wrong and the
networks are separate it will still shut down something serious.”
“I don’t know, if all the rich people’s cleaning drones suddenly
shut down and inconvenienced them it might get more of a result
than 1 company’s products offline for a week.”
“Good point.” She reached for her coffee and then almost knocked it over spinning around and grabbing his arm, “Oh, oh, oh! I got it! It’s so obvious! The transport drones. Public, private, whatever, they all
tap into the same NavNet for road updates and whatnot.”
“Which also connects to everyone’s personal maps and calendars and all that crap. And, and! You know what else? They all feed into the same
satellite network. That’ll shut down the whole country in minutes!”

“Yeah! And then they’ll really know we’re the good guys.” Her
sarcasm was hardly subtle, but Edgar didn’t care.
“Nobody’s going to be thanking us, but if we tear this automated society away from the handful of people who control it now and return it to the people, it’ll be a good thing.”
“The Anti-Populist Revolution?”
“Indeed. Alright, You’ve still got more coding to do. I’ll call the
crew together and figure out how to grab and interface with a
transport drone. But we wont actually grab anything yet. We need to
have everything ready and do it 1, 2, 3.”
“Yes, sir, Captain Big Man.” She grinned at him over her shoulder as he walked upstairs to make phone calls.

Drones,

even transport drones, are not easy to capture, as it turns out. There were 5 of them on the crew: Edgar, Heather, Johnny Thumbs, Stevie Cartwright, Ellen 3 Nipples, and Kevin the Dog. Johnny was the security hacker.He could cut into a CCTV and set it on a loop in seconds without the suggestion of footprints. Standing about 5’6″, balding except for a band of brown hair around the back, he got his nickname in high school. He’d put his thumbs into 1 of those chinese finger traps after drinking several Long Island Ice Tea’s and was unable to escape the rest of the night. His friends laughed and laughed as he jumped around in the middle of the room jerking his thumbs away
from each other and screaming, “My thumbs! My thumbs!” Stevie knew
robots, he used to build them for the military before he saw the
results of his work during the Saudi civil war. That’s where he met
Ellen who was programming the robots he built. She grew up with
Heather and Johnny. It was Johnny who gave her nickname. They were
a strange looking couple. He a 6′ tall Mexican and her a tiny,
blonde Jewish girl barely reaching 4’5″. Kevin the Dog was a
chocolate lab they found abandoned a week after leaving the
military and coming home, named after a friend lost to the most
recent war.
Edgar and Ellen waited outside the Red Shoe Inn under the flickering yellow parking lot lights just after sundown, watching traffic pass by, waiting for a taxi. The Inn wasn’t an inn at all, just a bar Ellen liked to visit with her friends. The exterior, a 1 story, square, cement building, with a stucco exterior and a few trees scattered about the lot recklessly, was entirely unremarkable. Inside was an entirely different story she preferred keeping separate from her daytime life. It was early still, so there were few patrons or employees present, still she was nervous. “I don’t understand why we are using a place I
frequent, and during normal traffic hours. Shouldn’t we be doing
this at, like 4am, in the middle of nowhere.”
“We’re hiding in plain sight. There is nothing suspicious about us being here, now, because you do ‘frequent’ this place” he made those air quotes that annoyed her so much, “and these are normal hours. As long as you do your job once we get in the cab, there is no reason for the law to ever look twice at us.”
“I’ll do my job,” She did not like being challenged on her skill set, “you just do yours.”
At that moment an auto-cab responded to Edgar’s wild, vigorous waving and pulled up alongside them. Shaped like an arrowhead, the narrow front compartment housed the robot hardware sitting over the electric
engine. Slightly to the fore of the engine sits the single front
wheel. The wider, rear compartment of this vehicle holds 2
passengers, which rest over, inside, and partially forward of the 2
rear wheels. The entire silver exterior is covered in alternating
sensors; half being solar power collectors, the other half being
proximity sensors. The rear door slid out of their way, and they
slid into the firm, pleather, bucket seat. The robot’s head spun
about and faced them. Edgar was surprised, as he was every time, to
hear it’s blaring, foreign tones, “Hello, how are you doing? Where
would you like to be going today?”
Edgar leaned over to Ellen, “Why do you suppose they all sound Indian?”
The robot corrected him, “My accent is Pakistani, in point of fact. My fellow transport drones’ interfaces and I are sharing this particular dialect because the person who invented this design was Pakistani. It is the voice of her son which you are hearing. Where would you like to be going?”
“Um, Penn’s Landing, please.”
“Very well. I will be taking you there immediately.” The door slid shut with a hiss, the lock clicked into place, the head spun around on its robot neck, whoosh, the vehicle leaned slightly, and they turned a long slow arc out of the lot and onto the road. The electric engine made barely a hum.
Ellen pulled her laptop out of her bag, popped it open, and fired
up her interface program. The vehicle slowed and stopped in the
middle of the road. “Okay, well that’s sort of good.”
“Just relax.”
Lights and whirring sounds began to emanate from the front of the
cab. “There is being an error in our navigation systems. Please
forgive us. We will return to being on our way very soon.”
Edgar tried to reassure the mechanism, “It’s alright, um, cabbie, we have everything under control.”
“This vehicle is not equipped with a manual override”
Ellen laughed, “It is now.”
A few seconds later, the vehicle began to move again. She steered them down severalblocks and into an alleyway. The rest of the crew were already there, waiting, bicycles leaning against the wall between the
dumpster and the back door of the old, closed public library that
used be there. The dumpster served the retail warehouse across the
street. Kevin the Dog had already found someone’s leftover lunch
that hadn’t quite made it into the dumpster and was enjoying
himself immensely. Johnny was sitting on the ground, squat legs
crossed, tablet on his lap jacked into a portable hard-drive, he
had already interfaced with every security camera on their route
and looped the recording so that they never appeared on any of it.
Since they were spending so much time in this alley, he was
rerunning last night’s security show of a bum MMF 3-some. They
rolled up, came to a stop. The doors opened. Ellen took a moment to
smile at her man and then returned to her monitor. Edgar never took
his eyes off, appearing far less relaxed than she.
“Error. Attempting system override.” The drone continued its efforts to
reassert control.
“Ellen?”
“The drone is fighting me. Don’t worry, I can take a simple trans-bot.”
“Well can you turn off the annoying audio.”
“No she cannot.” a clear, deep, NE Caucasian American accent came from the front of the vehicle.
“Did the robot’s voice just change?” Edgar looked at Ellen. The robot head spun around and looked at both of them. It spoke again in the new voice.
“By interfacing with this vehicle’s hard drive you have potentially
violated section 1703 and 3205 of the corporate espionage code
and/or section 3728 of the anti-terrorism code. You will be
detained and authorities contacted. That is all.” The doors closed
and locked again.
“Ellen?”
“It isn’t sending any message to anybody. Just give me a minute on the rest.” The seats began to tingle. The tingle began as a tickle and became more intense as seconds passed.
“Ellen?”
“Its trying to electrocute us, but I’m preventing it from sending enough power through at any 1 time. So its building the charge up slowly. Which is really, very clever for such a simple machine. You have to be impressed with the level of problem solving skills for an AI at this lev-”
“Ellen!”
“Oh all right. Hang on. We’ll be out soon. Surprised you can feel it
anyway.”
“Was that a fat joke? Did you just make a fat joke while
we are being electrocuted?”
“Oh its just a mild charge. And besides, there’s always time for fat jokes.” She turned to look at him, “You know if you would just go cycling with me every other day, like I ask, there wouldn’t be any fat jokes.”
“Ellen! could we discuss your projected body image issues some other time.”
“I do not project. You know that’s like the kid who says people pick on him because they’re jealous. You know who they grow up to be? Lex
Luthor.”
“Could you please focus?”
“I can do better than that.” She pushed the enter button and the lights all turned off. The doors unlocked and opened. An audible hiss poured out of its electrodes and then it just became quiet. “Now, on to the actual job we’re here for.”
Edgar jumped out as soon as the doors slid aside. Heather helped Ellen gather up her equipment.
Stevie reached under the front wheel well, pressed a few buttons, and the entire plastic body rose a foot off the chaises, providing easier access to the engine and mainframe. He turned to the group, “Alright, it’s going to take a few minutes for me to gain access to the central
processor, link into this drone’s comm center, and then access the
main network. So get your stuff ready in the meantime because we
wont have a lot of time to screw around once I do.” Stevie grabbed
his tablet and bag of tools and ducked under the vehicle. Edgar
joined Johnny watching the security cams. In addition to looping
the footage on them, he was also keeping an eye on nearby cameras
to see if anybody was coming. The girls, reluctantly joined them.

“Wow, that is a fascinating smell you’ve discovered.”
“I didn’t discover it, it existed as an indigenous specious before I arrived. Don’t turn me into the nasal Columbus.”
“Nasal Columbus?”
“It could be a thing.”
“I think you’re hypothesis may be flawed.”
“I defy you to demonstrate their cannot be a corollary to Columbus for odors.”
“How would this symbolic corollary go about exploiting the odors?
Or sailing off in search of the route around the round odor world,
for that matter?”
“I think you’re being a bit literal. The core
point is that-”
“Ready!” Stevie rolled out from beneath the
vehicle.
“Oh thank god.” Both girls said at the same time. The boys
looked at each other and shrugged. Edgar rolled over and up onto
his knees, then stood up and ran over to the vehicle. Heather and
Ellen were already there getting the laptop set up and plugged into
the cord Stevie had left extending out from underneath. The other
end of the cord plugged directly into the robot’s central
processor. Heather sat down and began to open her interface
software. She skipped passed all the primary files and systems,
knowing the security protocols would be too severe for her to
overcome swiftly. She wound her way deep into the bowels of the
system, found the most minor of systems, barely protected and
slipped inside. That code let her piggy back into another system,
and another, and an hour later she was into a system that needed
constant updates, the traffic reports. She found the code that the
auto-transport and the network used to recognize each other, and
added a simple goto command, sending it in search of the ANY1 file
when given the proper password. Then she downloaded the trojan
virus into the memory files labeled as ANY1. The next time,
according to the plan, when the network gave its password so it
could provide the vehicle with the normal updates, the virus file
would also upload and activate to the network and then spread to
every other computer being updated. Then she added some more data
to convince the vehicle it had spent all this time in a grocery
store parking lot waiting for them to return, rather than in an
alley being hacked. After they disconnected, Edgar and Ellen got
back in the vehicle an she piloted it to the grocery store. Every
one else left on their bikes, with Johnny remaining so he could
properly cover their tracks. In the parking lot, she returned
control to the vehicle. It appeared to have no memory of the
events.
“Welcome back. Was you shopping successful?”
“Um, yes, we are having everything shipped to our home though because we have somewhere to be tonight. Could you drop us off at our friends house on 4th and Patterson?”
“Of course, sir.”

Headlines

the next morning would have been
awesome for Edgar and his crew, if there had been any. It turned
out that Heather had been right about all of the drones being on
the same comm network. Not just the vehicles, all of them. When the
update went out at 4am every drone in the western world received
the same trojan time virus. At 8am EST they all shut down. Every
machine with an AI based on the drones and connected to the comm
network had received the shutdown order and obeyed. Transports,
security, media, labor devices, comm tech, banking tech, market
trading tech, military tech, all just became dormant. You couldn’t
order a cup of coffee or flush a toilet, if it was automated and
received network updates. Which they all were. People panicked.
Product sat in warehouses, dirty dishes sat in sinks, dust remained
on shelves, traffic did not rush, phones would not auto dial,
television could not blather, the world of automated services fell
silent. After discovering his mobile devices and television and
networked laptop were all dead, Edgar rolled out of bed and
shuffled over to the window. He smiled to see people milling around
on foot, talking to each other, and looking around lost. They were
confused and angry, sure, but at least they were interacting with
each other. There was not a single vehicle on the street or in the
air. The street cameras all had their lights off. He turned to grab
his phone and call Heather, then stopped himself and laughed.
Even I am trained like some Pavlovian dog. Ah well, I can
break it. It’ll certainly be worth it. We did it! We really did it!
We didn’t just harass Big Brother, we actually scored a
victory!
He knew they would fix it eventually, but he
was going to enjoy this in the meantime.
He reached into his nightstand, pulled out the pre-packed bowl of weed and a lighter, took a long slow victory pull, enjoying the warm skunky flavor as it filled his throat and lungs, and then let it slowly pour out of his mouth and nose like an overweight, Caucasian, green dragon.
“Ah, yes, Ja-provide. To victory and freedom, and… stuff.”
Setting the pipe down, he headed for the shower. Turning it on, he
put his hand in to adjust the temp, “They all laughed when I asked
for a manual shower. Whose laughing now? Bwa-bwa-bwahahaha. Okay,
its probably weird that I’m talking to myself about the shower
controls.”
By the time he got out of the shower, the television had
turned itself on and was broadcasting an emergency text message on
all channels while playing the most irritating buzzing sound. The
text read simply, “Emergency: Automated Systems have been disabled
by national enemies. Devices with manual controls can be enabled by
plugging in a keyboard and typing #0101#. More info to follow as
available. This message will repeat until device is turned off.
Emergency: Automat-” He turned it off and sat on the edge of the
bed, smiled slightly to himself. I’m a national enemy?
Cool. What happened to enemy of the state? Man works hard, does a
job well, still can’t get the proper recognition.

He quickly got dressed, grabbed some cold pizza from the fridge, and
headed out the door for Heather’s place. He took his phone but left
it off for now. Even if they do get it back up soon, he didn’t want
to be back on the grid right away. When he arrived, Kevin the Dog
was laying on his favorite spot, the boys were playing video games
in the main room, and the girls were drinking Mai Ties in the
kitchen. He closed the door behind him and shouted, “Fellow rebels,
I promised you victory and victory we have achieved!” As he held
his fists up in triumph his belly rolls shook, as if cheering him
on. They all paused, looked at him, mumbled something that sounded
like, “yeah” and then returned to what they were doing. “Aww,
c’mon, you’ve got to be more enthusiastic than that, we just shut
down the network. We achieved our goal, more than our goal, we
struck a serious blow last night.”
Stevie turned his head slightly, but never actually took his eyes off the monitor, “It was cool and all, but let’s not get it twisted, they already have it back up,less then 5 hours.”
“Where? What? The emergency single runs on its link because its an emergency single, kept separate, and it took 5 hours to get that running. What else have they fixed?”
“I see traffic.”
“Manual override vehicles. The manual control world is
reasserting itself. That was our point, right? Lack of human,
civilian control is dangerous. Lack of individual control of that
individual’s life is dangerous. That societal control is an
illusion to justify tyranny. With all of this down, simply by
attacking the NavNet, we have shown how deeply the government
machine has infected every part of our lives. My electronic tooth
brush wouldn’t work this morning. Why is my tooth brush on the
net?”
Ellen clucked her teeth, “They’re going to respond Edgar.
They wont just let this lay.”
“Against who? With what? We are Anonymous, and they are offline.” As if on cue, grey shapes flew past the windows, rattling the frames. They all rushed towards the unknown object, jumping onto the couch and yanking the flimsy drapes aside. Outside, floating above every building and on every street corner, was a grey, 3 sided, drone bearing the markings of the US Army. A row of lights and sensors lined each of the 2′ long edges, and in the center of each face, in the middle of the
official seal, there was a portal for tools to extend from the
interior.
“Well,” Edgar mused, “I don’t think they’re on the same
network as the civilian stuff.”
Stevie laughed, “No, I’d say not, but at least they don’t know who we are.”
“Why do you think that?”
Johnny pulled himself away from the window and headed back to the game. “We’re still free.”
“For now. But not having come after us yet isn’t the same as not having our ID. They just may not have gotten to us.”
“Way to be an optimist.”
“I’m just being a realist. Right now they are just trying to maintain order. Give them 48 hours to get a grip on things, then they’ll focus on looking for us.”
Heather walked into the kitchen, “Well, then, maybe we
shouldn’t give them that 48 hours.”
Edgar perked up, “Now that is an interesting idea.”

Colonel Neva

marched down the corridor of the Pentagon to the offices of the Assistant Director of the National Security Agency, per his orders. They had interrupted a software update to his cybernetic systems to demand his immediate presence, which was unusual in itself. As was the request to meet with the NSA, a liaison office that mostly stood empty as he understood it. He wasn’t concerned about missing
anything substantive in the update, but the unusual nature of the
request had him curious. Colonel Alan Francis Neva was the first,
and currently only, cybernetic soldier in the US Army. After taking
severe damage during the battle for Riyadh, they had decided to
experiment on him by replacing body parts with technology. It seems
the military organ donor card is more comprehensive. Now his right
arm, left leg, spleen, left lung, right eye, and the cerebellum,
which is the back part of the brain controlling voluntary movement
and balance, are all robotic. Plus they also took the time to add a
thin layer of bullet proof armor beneath his skin at the chest and
head. Which was nice but very uncomfortable in the cold. Col. Neva
entered the plain, grey, square office with only a metal folding
table in the middle around which stood 2 male officers and 1 plain
clothes asian male, and 1 plain clothes african female, and shut
the door behind him.
He faced the General, a caucasian man, 6′ tall, probably 70 years old but in excellent health, and saluted. The general returned the salute, “At ease, Colonel. I’m General Aiken, This is Colonel North,” He gestured to the thin, cross eyed officer to his left, whose face was pock marked with acne scars and pile of grey hair appeared to have landed on his head by accident.
“And these 2 are from the NSA. You can call them Agent Jane and
Agent Joe.” From the look on their faces, it was clear he had just
invented those monikers. At 5’11”, Jane was tall and slender, her
hair cut to short, tight, reddish curls that seemed to match the
red line in the frame of her narrow black eyeglasses, and the thin
red stripe that ran down the sleeve of her black jacket and the
side of her matching black skirt, cut just slightly up the back.
Joe, on the other hand, was a short, 5’5″, squat, man with a
traditional side part and loud, plaid tie, dark blue suit. They
nodded to Neva, he nodded back. Agent Jane spoke first, “Now that
we’re all friends, let’s get down to business. In the light of what
happened today, we have a lot of work to do.”
Neva looked around, confused, “Excuse me, I’ve been in update cycle since 4am. What happened today?”
“Oh. General, do you want to brief you man?”
“Colonel, some time last night a computer virus was launched
against the civilian NavNet which, short version, resulted in
crashing all the automated devices in America that connect to the
primary network for updates every morning.”
“The civilian network only?”
“Exactly. Which is devastating, but also means we are the
only organization capable of providing security services for this
country.”
“What about Posse Comitatus?”
Agent Joe chimed in, “The PATRIOT ACT of 2001 and the NDAA of 2012 allow for emergencies. Which this qualifies, I think. Riots and unrest have already started. Not mention our foreign enemies mobilizations. But that’s not why you are here, we have the National Guard handling local security.”
“You want me to pursue the terrorists.”
Agent Jane jumped back in, “That’s right. This committee is a task force set up by the anti-terrorism committees in congress. They told us to do something and we are putting you in charge of the investigation.”

Colonel North took a step towards him, “Not only are you super
cyber guy, but you also have experience running investigations for
CID before the war.”
“Of course. I wont let you down. What do we have on the enemy so far?”
“Not a lot.” Agent Joe waved him towards
the table, we he could now see was actually a monitor displaying a
map, “We do know it originated in Philadelphia, and we have this
list of hackers living in Philly.”

The Choice

Janice

Janice Chan stood in the bathroom staring at the tab, three tabs actually, all lined up on the counter along the sink. She looked at herself in the mirror. Half her chestnut hair was pulled up into a bun at the back of her head, the other half hung randomly around her long, thin cocoa face. Narrow, angular Japanese eyes flowed into a long, slender Jewish nose gently arcing over full, African lips. “Pure breed mutts” is how her mother used to refer to their family lineage.

Her slender hand went to her forehead at that thought, Mother? Oh my god, am I really going to be a Mother? She adjusted her Hello Kitty pajamas and looked into her own eyes in the mirror, the reflection of the tabs glaring up at her like neon beer signs advertising UNPROTECTED SEX. She could hear her Mother’s voice in the back of her head, “Would a condom really have been such a big deal? And where is Mr. Round Pecks now?” Oh hell, I’m going to have tell him, too. Damn spontaneous fling, now we’re the fucking Brady Bunch. What if he wants to raise it? In the 3 weeks we hung out I never even saw him read. Do I want to raise it? Do I not? I wonder how that new thing, The Procedure, really works?

Tommy

Tom Finnegan unlocked the back door to Finnegan’s Pub, stepped inside, entered the alarm code on the worn, faded pad, then turned and walked down the hall in the dark to where the light switches were. Carefully avoiding the dip at step 5 and the ripple at step 13. Even in the dark, he could navigate flawlessly this building he’d known since his father had opened when Tommy could barely walk. An audible click, a hum of power flowing threw old knob and circuit lines, and the antiquated florescent lights slowly powered up. The entire property had been built in the 1970s and never remolded. White Formica covered the bar, and the tables, neon beer signs decorated the walls, a coin operated flip jukebox sat in the corner, and the hardwood floors clashed with the tone of the wood paneled walls. Behind the bar hung autographed pictures of local minor league sports heroes and politicians, and the coup de gras: A picture of Frank Sinatra that Grandpa Joe had gotten on a trip to Vegas.

Everyday Tommy would open up and revel in the fact that all of this was his now. Then he would flirt with the waitresses as they arrived, get the place ready to open, and head home till the evening shift started. After taking a nap, he’d work out, go to his wood-shop and build something poorly, then its off to Father Avery’s soup kitchen to volunteer for 2 hours. Every day this was his routine. Every night he would go to the bar, do the ordering and/or books, then help out behind the bar, and usually pick up a female customer before the night was over. At 30 years old, Tommy thought his life was perfect.

No Love, No Marriage

Janice tried to put yesterday’s revelations out of her mind all day, to little effect. She wasn’t going to do anything about it during a Monday shift, but you couldn’t tell that to her brain. No matter how hard she tried concentrating on researching and cataloguing arcane legal documents, her mind drifted off to those test results. Which, in turn, sent her mind spinning onto the job implications of her new situation. She had started as an intern, then got hired directly out of graduate school 3 years ago, promoted a year ago, she had figured another year or 2 before she became a department head with this or another firm. If she took 6 months off, followed by a dramatic decrease in overtime, that would alter her career path severely. Not that she didn’t enjoy her current position, but permanently?

She sat on the train, heading home when the disembodied voice announced the approach of Peterboro Station, Mr. Round Pecks’ bar was just a block away. She sighed and stood. This is another decision I’m sure to regret.

As soon as Janice entered the bar, she was squinting against the florescent lights reflecting off the formica. I can’t believe I let those girls bring me in here. I can’t believe I slept with the guy responsible for this visual crime. Looking around there was only 1 table occupied and a couple sitting at the bar. The waitress and the barmaid sat at the opposite end from the customers, under the tv, playing with their smartphones and ignoring each other. Everyone in the bar appeared to have shopped at the same t-shirts and sweatpants warehouse.

“Can I help you, honey?” The barmaid hollered from her stool around her chewing gum, a strand of orange hair caught in the corner of her mouth, unnoticed. Her white t-shirt had sleeves and was emblazoned with the emblem of Finnegan’s, an empty mug on its side.

Janice hated cute nicknames, especially from people she didn’t know. She approached the bar, set her brown leather, faux Giani Bernini bag with the label facing out. “Yes, honey, I’m looking for you’re boss. Mr. Thomas Finnegan.”

The 2 women looked at each other and smirked, “Well, sweetheart, Tommy ain’t my boss, he’s my brother. And if you need to see him cuz he made you call him daddy, forget it, he’s probably moved on to some other slut already.” The waitress giggled.

Janice’s anger at being called a slut was only intensified by the fact the description of the situation was brutally accurate and clearly a regular occurrence. A truth she did not want to dwell upon. “The help doesn’t need to know my reasons. Is he around or not?”

“He’ll be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you have a seat. Would you like us to help you with a beer or something?” She had particularly malevolent look in her eye when she said help.

“No, I’m fine. Let him know Janice is here when he arrives.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

An hour later Tommy walked in the front door of his bar, grinning his big boyish grin. The place was half full of regulars now, a few of whom were already drunk. Janice had been sitting at a table in the back, getting work done on her laptop, but found herself increasingly distracted by people-watching. A woman stumbled in at 5:45 already plastered, stumbling and calling for whiskey, dressed in a white skirt and rainbow striped tube top, she barley managed to make it to the stool upright. Her drinking partner, a balding man in wrinkled grey flesh, just laughed and then fell off his own stool, then laughed some more. Janice sat in stunned silence watching the parade of human self deprecation.

Tommy’s sister gave him a nod in Janice’s direction, he turned, saw her, paused for moment, then the light bulb clearly came on as he remembered her, and with a broad grin he headed towards her table.

“Hi, Janet, right? How are you?”

“Janice. I’m fine. How are you?”

He didn’t seem to realize she had corrected him on the name. “Me? I’m always great. Life is good ya’ know.”

“I’m glad you feel that way. We need to talk. Why don’t you sit down.”

“Wow, normally when a girl says that to me she wants to break up. But we’re not together, so, what’s up?’

“Sit, please.”

Confused by abnormality, he sat down quietly. Janice sat across from him, and leaned forward, folding her slender hands in the center. He responded by mirroring her actions, his thick torso casting a dark shadow across the pale, cracked white formica tabletop, as his thick, calloused fingers interlocked just a few inches away from hers. Janice found herself very aware of the warmth of his body. She was a little disturbed with herself for the involuntary response under the circumstance, but she chose to just ignore it and move on.

“Listen, Tom, here’s the thing,-”

“Tommy.”

“What?”

“People call me Tommy, not Tom.”

“Right, Tommy, I want you to understand I’m just here to inform you. You don’t need to do anything or be anywhere, or anything. I don’t even know what I’m doing yet, I just thought it was right to tell you what was happening.”

Tommy still hadn’t come within the vicinity of a clue, “Janice, what are you talking about?”

She realized she had never said the word out loud. In fact she had never even said it in her thoughts. “I’m- well, Tommy, I’m, that is we- no I am, pregnant. You’re the father, biologically.”

The news knocked him back in his chair like an Ewok log trap swinging down from a tree and hitting a Clone trooper off his sky sled on Endor. Just moving along, then- BAM! Cute, little, helpless looking, creature just nocked you on your ass. It took him a moment to speak, she just sat quietly and let him gather his thoughts.

“I uh, I guess, I don’t want to be rude but my first question is how do you know its-”

“Because it has to be yours, Tom, there is no other option. It’s not like I’ve been using my vagina to gather semen samples from around the city.”

“Of course, of course. I didn’t mean- I just- I wasn’t- Well, alright then. I guess,” The he drew himself up, squared his shoulders, took her hands in his and declared, “let’s get married!”

She yanked her hands and body back as far as the booth would allow, “Married? Are you insane or just incredibly stupid? Even if I do decide to keep it, which is a real possibility, there is no way in hell I’m marrying you. I barely know you. And you just learned my proper name! Let me repeat, you don’t need to do anything, I just thought it was right to tell you.”

“Of course it was right to tell me, its my baby, too. I wont pretend I’m not relieved about the marriage idea, but I want to be a father to my baby. Doing nothing is not an option.”

“I haven’t decided I’m having it yet, either. I just found out this weekend. I need time to process this myself, and decide what comes next.”

“What? Listen, first of all, abortion is a sin. Second, with that new thing, The Procedure, its totally unnecessary. So why would you?”

“Don’t go getting all preachy with me, Tommy Fornicator. I’m going to do what seems best for all involved. What that is? I don’t know, yet. The Procedure supposedly allows fetus to be removed and grown in an incubator starting at 10 weeks. Which I’m already passed. Now, the jury is still out on how viable that is, but even so, there’s more to consider than just the technical aspects.”

“Such as?”

“I’m supposed to do what? Start a little version of me, then tear it out of my body before its done, dump it into a lab to be grown, and then let whomever take it from there?”

“Its not like adoption was just invented. Besides, in this case, it would be me adopting the child.”

“You’re going to raise a kid as a single dad?”

“Sure. Why not? This bar paid for the raising of me and my brother and 2 sisters.”

“I don’t know, we’re talking about a baby I’m carrying.”

“Not if you use The Procedure.”

“Not if I abort it, either.”

“So you don’t want the kid, but you don’t want someone else to raise the kid either, so the kid has to die?”

“There is no kid, yet, its just a blob.”

“A blob that’s going to be a person. A blob that god says its a sin to kill. And don’t forget it’s half me. Now back in the old days, when it was all about your body, I’d shut up and accept that I don’t get to be the decider. But now, it doesn’t have to stay in your body. They say The Procedure is no worse, no more difficult for you, than any of the other stuff your Gyno does. So why not let me adopt the fetus?”

“I don’t know, dammit! I don’t know! I just found out about all of this. I haven’t decided if or what I want for me. But I’ll keep your opinion in mind, I promise.”

“Will you at least promise to tell me before you finalize any decision?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Well, let me know if you need anything in the meantime. I have a full kitchen and my cousin is doctor.”

“What kind of doctor?”

“Ummm, a foot doctor I think, but he still had to go to med school and study everything.”

“I think I’ll stick with my O-B.”

The Choice

3 weeks later Janice and Tommy drove up to the New World Clinic on the corner of Jackson and Glendale. A squat, octagonal building occupying most of the block painted bright pink and yellow, with a red, brick sidewalk leading up to the automatic sliding glass doors set opposite the corner on the diagonal. In the grass lawn stood a short, wide sign announcing their name with the slogan, “Preserving the Image of God”. Janice cringed a little reading the sign while waiting for him to parallel park. She knew it was well intentioned, but somehow it offended her secularist, evidence based view of the universe to suggest that the creator of all things looked like humans. She had to admit it pleased her ego somehow.

He stepped out of the black Grand Prix and hurried around to get her door, but she had already let herself out and onto the sidewalk. He tried to reach for her hand, but she demurred this attempt as well. Side by side they walked towards the doors in silence. Janice dressed in a long black, sleeveless dress and Tommy in jeans and bright yellow golf shirt. He adjusted his baseball cap, and reached to push the door open for her when it automatically swooshed open in reaction to their body heat being viewed by unseen detectors.

She smiled at him, “Thank you, anyway.”

“Even the machines wont let me be chivalrous.” She giggled politely.

Inside the building it was alabaster on ivory, the only color was a pink path painted on the floor leading straight back and around the corner to the right. Tommy and Janice dutifully followed the road laid out for them in silence. The hallway unbroken by other sight or sound, her shoes clickety clacketing with each and every step. The end seemed to get further away the more they walked like some cheap horror movie. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. When they finally turned the corner, Tommy was sweating like it was on a pump. They both paused at the entrance to the seating area.

It looked like Barbie had vomited on Sponge Bob and then a blind person had been allowed to finger paint with it. Yellow’s, oranges, and pinks laid down and twisted around each other in bizarre plaid/argyle/tie-dye and then stretched across the chairs, couches, and walls of the room. The floor and ceiling were the same alabaster of the hallway, which only served to enhance the technicolor sensory assault.

In the middle of the far wall a 4×4 opening was cut for the paper pusher squad to access their public. A bright orange counter beckoned the couple. Janice took a breath and they began the slow march across the room. They stood at the counter and looked at the staff, expecting a reaction from their presence. The pair of overweight, curly haired, muumuu wearing bureaucrats offered no such politeness, instead continuing their gossip session regarding the activities of someone named Peter and his “friend” Greg.

Tom cleared his throat, “Excuse me, ladies.”

The face over the muumuu on the left looked at them, “What?”

“We’d like to get some service.”

She sighed a tremendous sigh and shuffled her girth up and over towards them. Leaning in and breathing heavy from the effort she intoned, “Welcome to the New World Clinic, where we work to preserve God’s image. This brochure lists our services, and numbers you can call for anonymous consults, all services require a minimum of 24 hours before an appointment can be scheduled. Is there anything else I can help with you with today?”

Several times Janice attempted to interrupt her, but there was no stopping the preprogrammed litany. When she stopped to breath, heavily, Janice said, “We have an appointment with a Doctor Hu.”

This appeared to annoy the mound of woman greatly, “Well why didn’t you say so in the first place? What’s the name?”

“Chan, Janice and Finnegan, Tom.”

“So that’s Mr. And Mrs. Finnegan?” She began paging through her book.

“Did I say that? No. I think would have said that if that’s what I meant, don’t you?”

“Excuse me ma’am.”

“Ma’am?”

At this point Tom decided it was best to redirect the conversation, “Excuse me, perhaps you 2 beautiful ladies could compete for my affections another time? If we could perhaps just move this along?”

That caused both of them turn and look at him with eyes of fire, as he intended, ending the tete e tete. The clerk-hemoth gave another sigh and returned to her book, “Yes, I see you here, Finnegan and Chan 2:15. Have a seat, fill out this form, and we’ll call you when the Doctor is ready.”

After 15 interminable minutes sitting in the splatterific waiting room, not speaking to each other, their names were finally called. She was already 5 steps toward the door by the time he was on his feet, scrambling to catch up with her.

The Procedure

Dressed like a green ninja, Tommy sat on a stool to Janice’s right, holding her hand as she lay on her back on a cold, metal examination table. She stared at the blank, ivory ceiling and tried not to think about the fact her legs were spread and strapped into harnesses with her vagina exposed to a doctor she had never before met. He, Dr. Hu, was hunched over so his head and arms were beneath the sheet draped over her knees as he held a black plastic sphere against her pink nether and made technical adjustments.

“Ah yes, very nice.” The Doctor’s voice could be heard from beneath the sheet.

Tommy did not like that at all, “Excuse me?”

“Oh, no, no.” The small, round head of the doctor popped up from under the sheet. Green mask and hat covered most of his features so that only his bright, narrow eyes could be seen. “I was referring to the data I’m receiving. It’s coming through clearly. The specimen is a healthy 20 week old female with all the parts it should have in all the right places.”

Janice choked back a tear at hearing that news. Tommy turned to her, “Honey, if you want to change your mind, or take more time, now is the time to say.”

Dr. Hu poked his head back up, “Now would actually be the last time.”

“No. I’m sure. Let’s do this.”

“Okie Dokie. Nurse, administer the dose of anesthetic.” With that his head dove back under the sheet and returned to operating the plastic sphere. Janice tried to hold still as she felt it pressing against her vagina. The nurse, a old African-American woman dressed in hospital greens, squeezed her right hand as she released a syringe full of drugs into her veins. Then the Doctor pressed some buttons, a section opened, and a slender, plastic cone extended inside her. She could feel each dry, skinny, plastic section slipping a centimeter into her, expand, then the next section, then the next. Then she passed out.

After

When she awoke, Janice lay in a bed, her legs flat and together. She wore a blue cloth apron, and was covered by a white sheet. The doctor and Tom were both gone and she felt as if her innards had been scraped by a dull, flat, metal bar. As the burning inside her vagina registered, the last vestiges of cloudiness from the anesthesia quickly dissipated. Sitting up triggered a spasm of super-cramps erupting across her abdomen. She almost fell off the table curling into the fetal position.

A few minutes of sobbing later, she stood/fell onto her feet and looked around the room. A standard looking hospital room; white everything, chair by the bed, sink, locked cabinets, and her clothes in neat pile on the end of the counter. Janice started towards the pile but found herself restrained by medical tubing and wires connected to her arms and chest. She fell back onto the mattress and stared at the ceiling. She laid her hands on her stomach and touched the strange emptiness though she had never felt the child’s presence. Every bit of logic told her she made the right decision, but even so, Janice had never felt such loss as that of a suddenly empty uterus.

“I am no longer pregnant, I did not give birth, my fetus continues to grow. What am I?”

Found Treasures

This was originally written for a short story contest invoving NPR and the Paris Review. Unfortunatly, I missed the deadline so I gave it a quick rewrite and here it is. The premise of the contest was the protaganist finds somehting and isn’t going to give it back, less than 600 words. This version goes over the word count.

From a distance he looked like a scarecrow that had lost its way and was standing on a city corner for some reason. Slender body, long arms and legs, dangling, he leaned up against the green pole signifying a bus/trolley stop. His thin brown hair hung loosely in a variety of lengths over his face. The cheap, tuxedo-like outfit he wore sort fit his body in that it was neither too short nor too long. He took a deep breath and let it out slow.

Tom was tired. Not just in need of sleep, although that was certainly true, but he was soul weary. The kind of tired that you feel in the marrow of your bones and the tendons that bind your joints. The kind of tired the comes from a long day of work followed by another long day of work followed by several more, preceded by a long weekend with your in-laws. Today was Friday. The TGIF-ist of all Friday’s he could ever remember. He stood at the trolley stop on the corner of 36th and Lancaster, just swaying back and forth, barely holding his 5’11” frame erect, listening to Bob jam on his earbuds, and waiting, like he did every weekday, at this exact time.

The clackety-clack of metal wheels on metal tracks disturbed him from his reverie. Looking left, he saw the stained, off-white, rectangular tube slowly sliding towards his corner causing the other denizens of the stop to begin scrambling for position. All sense of line protocol vanished, elderly women and men with canes and walkers sprang to life in a curb side battle royal to gain first access to the few remaining seats. Tom stood back and waited. The trolley bypassed them all and stopped directly in front of him. He stepped on first, dropped his token in the slot and flashed the driver his boyish smile. She smiled a toothy grin and winked back at him with her wandering eye. He headed towards the back looking for his wife.

Shelly sat in the “good seats,” the last row on the left before the back doors. Nobody behind the handicap seat in front mean leg room for them. There was an empty seat next to her today. He walked right up and plopped into it with a sigh. She looked almost as tired as he felt. Her red hair had been tied up in bun, but that now hung loosely on her neck. Her puffy eyes, half closed, followed here hand as she absently brushed crumbs from a recently finished muffin the faux Catholic School outfit the restaurant called a uniform. She leaned her head on his shoulder and matched his sigh.

“How was work baby?” He muttered.

“I served food to old men who stared at my butt and gave me money. How about you?”

“The same.” She gave a half hearted giggle. She held a MFA in music and worked as a waitress. He held a BA in English and worked as a bartender in a gay bar. They had been married 2 years.

The person in front of them stood and left. Something fell against Tom’s foot. He turned to tell the person, but he was out the door and gone already. Shelly reached down and picked it up. She pulled back the bag it was in and gasped, smiled at Tom, eyes wide. He looked at the object in her hands.

At first it just looked like a package of fresh baked brownies. Nice, but whose going to eat bus brownies? Then he looked closer and smiled, too. These brownies had a distinct green color.

“This weekend just got a whole lot brighter.” He laughed.

“Do you think we should?” clearly wanting him to say yes.

“Ja provide, who are we to argue?”

“I can’t argue with that.” She giggled. “We should call Angie and Bob.”

“Eric and Janet, too.” He nodded

Shelly sniffed the package once and smiled before she stuffed it back into the bag. They held hands, and felt their skeletons lighten at the prospect of good times. Tom began hum the tune to “Celebrate”. Shelly reached up and pulled the cord for their stop. They practically bounced off the trolley into the weekend.

 

Fire, Blood, and Pain on Mars

Victor

At 25km high and 264km in diameter, Olympus Mons is the largest mountain in the solar system and the second largest in the known galaxy after 4Vesta. After the humans of Earth had dropped a hydrogen bomb into this, and several other, volcano the resulting cloud of ash fertilized the soil and thickened the atmosphere enough to melt the ice caps and start an environmental cycle. By seeding the planet with flora, fungae, sea life, and assorted bacteria, it took less than a decade to get the red planet prepped for humans and other animals. A timeline significantly accelerated by Kentauran terraforming technology.

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None of this impressed Victor as he flew towards the northern escarpment. His immediate superior, known as Arthur to the humans, waited impatiently for a report on his recent mission. A report Victor had no idea how he was going to present without losing everything he’d built for himself. It was supposed to be a simple recon, instead it had devolved into a complete disaster.

As he closed on the ridge line, Victor tucked his wings and dove for the row of cave entrances along the face of the escarpment. Slowly allowing his wings to extend and turn up, the air currents pulled his slender, red body in a long, slow arc directly into the open rock mouth of the largest cave, Southern Passage. “Slow Down!” Someone yelled at him as he shot down the artificially smoothed tunnel. Tiny adjustments in the position of his wing tip or the slightest degree change in their angle allowed him to weave through the traffic of Kentauran buearacrats and families cluttering the air of the passageway.

Southern Passage served as the main thoroughfare for the municipal region in the central southern escarpment. Every municipal region in every Kentauran settlement on every world was laid out exactly the same. Throughout the universe, the consistency of the bureacratic mind is a truth as unyielding as the laws of thermodynamics. Victor confidently flew down the main passage, broke right at the 3rd intersection, then curved in a long slow downward parabola as he slowed to a stop before the last door on the left. On the door, in Kentauran glyphs, it read simply, “Native Relations”. As it does on this door on every foreign world. Behind everyone of those doors, on everyone of those worlds, is the Kentauran intelligence service.

Victor scanned his eye in the security check, opened the door and flew in. Several important looking Kentauran he had never seen before were hovering in the middle of the room with Arthur. He knew they were important because they looked at Victor like they were calculating who was supposed to kiss whose ass. This was his first time in Arthur’s office on Mars. Typical of their species architecture, it was a half sphere narrowing at the top, walls smooth as glass from the process which hollows out the rock by heating it within a curved field till it becomes magma and flows out. the floor of the room remains a pool of lava, keeping the temperature closer to life on their home world. A number of steel bars hunts from the crest of the dome, for the Kentauran to hang from when they needed to relax. Along the rock face to Victor’s right were a bank of communication terminals. On the opposite face hung large, digital maps of Mars, Earth, and the solar system. In the middle of the room, the flock of Kentauran just stared at him.

In the high frequency Kentauran vocal range, Arthur introduced him, “Friends, this is my agent on the ground, code name Victor. Victor, this is, well, these are my friends, they are here for an update on operations.”

“Hello”Victor coasted forward and up, bringing his eyes even with these individuals to whom he was sort of being introduced. He joined the circle so that there were now 6 of them, with practiced ease they adjusted their wing beat pattern so that those opposite in the ring beat their wings in unison, and then the next pair clockwise did the same, and so on. In this way the group was able to share the effort of generating the required current for them all to float upon, a skill every child on Kentaurus was taught.

The oldest member of the group spoke first, his skin darkened and lined with age. Deep grooves in complex, rolling patterns flowed across the thick, deep maroon flesh. The bright ochre eyes held the memories and experiences of 300 years, and the quivering tone of his voice revealed the accompanying exhaustion. “I understand all did not go as planned.”

Victor sank slightly, he looked to Arthur who simply nodded, “No sir, we, the human deputy and I, were attempting a simple observe and report of the renegade operation known as “the Czar”. The human Mayor did not want us to engage unless it involved rescuing their missing Sheriff. But we discovered the Sheriff had been killed, and then were discovered ourselves. We had to fight our way out.”

Arthur spoke up, “And the human?”

“He made it out alive, mostly. I returned him to their hospital before coming here. But sir, respectfully, the important thing is here is the rogue operation. We vastly underestimated it. I sincerely doubt it began here on Mars.”

Deputy Frank

Deputy Frank Vigo knew he was in a hospital from the grey/white walls and sheets and floors, and the grey/white smell of antiseptic. He was not sure, however, what hospital this was, or how he got here. Reaching to rub the sleep from his eyes with his left hand, he felt resistance pulling on his flesh. Confused, he held up his arm and stared at the tubes sticking out of it without comprehension. Noise at the foot of his bed caused him to look and discover a group of people standing there.

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“Madam Mayor?” as if he wasn’t sure if she was really there. Alicia Evens, 1st elected Mayor of Tholus County, Mars. Her mocha skin holding a pale green hue in the fluorescent hospital lights, she stood at the foot of his bed, looking as concerned as a Jewish mother on the first day of camp.

“Deputy, How are you?”

“I’ve felt better. Where am I?”

“You’re in the medical center in Tholus City. Victor brought you here.”

The Doctor chimed in as he and the others began moving about the bed, poking and prodding Frank, “Just in time, too. Another hour or so, even I might not have been able to save you.”

“Good thing you were here.”

“No kidding.”

Alicia rolled here eyes and cleared her throat, “Deputy, I’m sorry to be blunt, but do you remember anything from your investigation?”

“M-my? Oh yes, the Czar.”

“Yes, the Czar. Did he, they, do this to you?”

“Oh yeah. Well, sort of, yes.”

“Deputy!”

“What? Dag! I just regained consciousness for god sake. Can I have a minute?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. It’s just that I sent you out with orders not to engage, and you came back looking like you might have engaged.”

“Yes, we engaged a little. It turns out Sheriff Tomes is dead. His body is probably dumped in the Labyrinth. And the Czar, as far as they are concerned, is the law in the area around the old arboretum. Apparently they don’t like outside law enforcement coming around.”

“Wait, wait, go back to the beginning. How do the Sheriff die?”

“Actually, that’s not the beginning. You have to start when Victor and I left your office a month ago…”

To be continued…

Maria

Joseph turned off the television and tossed the remote aside. He sat there on the bed, looking at the blank screen for a few moments, I haven’t watched TV for years, and still there’s not a single thing on. How is that possible? Shaking his head, he slid off the plush bed and walked over to the window. The storm-darkened sky caused the window to reflect his own distorted image back at him. A tangle of matted, salt-pepper hair hung about his head to his ears where a tangle of salt-pepper beard took over hanging down to his mid chest. Only sparse tendrils of hair covered the rest of his pale flesh, even his groin only held a few random strands of grey. After years on the street, wearing most of his wardrobe most of the time, his hands and face were the only parts of his body darkened by the sun. They weren’t tanned, more of a browned, and beaten. Even beneath all that hair, even in the rippled image of the window, deep ravines could be seen cut into his face by time and life. He felt alien amongst the plush giddiness of the yellow and white hotel suite.

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Do Not Enter

Joseph looked around the hotel room, checking to see if he left anything behind. Where’s my picture? Oh, right, Maria has it. He gave one last look, wishing he could just stay here, and headed for the door. The hallway was comfortably lit by rows of lights running across the top of the walls, all pointed towards a series of convex mirrors down the middle of the ceiling. A warm yellow light cascaded down onto the floor and walls. Not a soul was in the hallway besides Joseph.

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Joseph

There was very little he could do about the fact that he was alone, in the rain, with the wind smacking him in the face like an angry woman, repeatedly. His entire wardrobe, 3 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, and 2 jackets, were currently on his body which made the experience somewhat less spirit killing. However, he had lost his hat to an angry dog several days ago leaving him with no cover for his head at all. He had attempted to protect himself with his upraised hands at first, but the sheer futility of that gesture quickly became apparent and he surrendered. Now he just stood on the corner, watching empty buses ride by, as nature mocked him for not being a successful capitalist.

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