Saturday, February 27, 2010

Don't Give Your Heart Away

"Your one-month anniversary present," said Boudy.

"A card?" Anastasia's lip curled.

"Open it."

The logo inside was unfamiliar: a knife piercing a red heart. "Congratulations," the card read, "on your new immortality."

Anastasia raised a sculpted brow.

"I wanted to do something special," said Boudy in a rush. "It's quantum, I think. You'll never be hurt again. Go on; try it."

Anastasia experimentally pressed a fork against her hand. Boudy's flesh dimpled. She pressed harder, and drops of blood appeared on Boudy's hand. Anastasia smiled into Boudy's watering eyes.

She slammed her hand onto the stovetop and listened to Boudy's screams.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Memento Mori, or The City of Hungry Ghosts

In the offices, they sat beside steaming mugs that slowly cooled and stared at computer screens, remembering e-mails, meetings, deadlines. One by one, the monitors flickered and went dark.

Outside, silent customers stood arrayed around a hot dog vendor, holding sausages, remembering chili, relish, and crisp warm bread. A man on a bench threw a handful of crumbs and remembered pigeons.

Black-clad men and women in red sat at tables, remembering wine, remembering romance. Waiters brought champagne in melting ice. They pocketed large tips.

Nobody went outside the city, where the soil piled haphazardly, and memories lay buried beyond recall.

Echo and Narcissus



“My name is Chet!”

Chet… chet… et…

Chet scrambled back toward the small cave in the cliff-side. “You gotta try this, Drac. It’s awesome.”

Dracula fiddled with a carabiner and didn’t meet Chet’s eyes. “I cannot,” he said at last.

“What? C’mon, dude; you climbed up here. I know you’re not chicken.”

“No. I am not able. It is… it is like the mirrors. I have no soul. I have no reflection, for there is nothing to come back to me. There is only me.”

“Oh,” said Chet. “So what is it that’s calling me from out there?”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Couple of Chem Postdocs Cooked It Up as a Prank.

The heavy door was thick with ice, ambient moisture freezing solid even in the filtered air of the underground facility.

“I thought we were already in the deep freeze?” said Aito.

“No one goes in there,” said Manuel. “It’s as close to zero K as an entire planet’s annual energy output can keep it. The stuff in there makes dioxygen difluoride look like argon. Don’t touch that!

Aito drew his thickly-gloved hand back. “What?”

“We shouldn’t even be standing this close. If you destabilize it… have you ever been inside an erupting volcano?”

“…but Luna is dead.”

“It will be.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Always Follow Safety Protocols

“Now, amateur gardeners sometimes like to try out the fancy-sounding names in their seed catalogs,” said the gray-haired old woman on the television screen. “But more exotic plants have different soil and sun requirements. They don’t always work out in their new homes. Most of them end up bad- tempered. No, you’re better off sticking with down-home varieties, and of course taking adequate protective measures.”

There was a thump from outside, and the set went dead. A roar went up from the greenhouse. Ted leapt to the window. “Crap!” he shouted. “Get the axes, Margie! Containment breach on the zucchini!”

Fulfilling the Requirements

“This is futile,” said Catastrophe, the Glass Blade. It hung from its scabbard on the saddlebow, since the prince could hardly be expected to wear it just now.

Prince Ailu, perched somewhat precariously on his saddle, licked a paw and preened his whiskers. “I don’t see what’s so hard about this. I’m a prince, the third of three sons, bearing a magic sword and laboring under a terrible curse. I’m a natural choice for the quest. Princess Lazica is as good as rescued.”

“The Dark Lord would likely be more concerned if his sworn foe had opposable thumbs,” said Catastrophe.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anti Up

Steve was born to play cards.

Everyone has their gifts, of course. The great tinkerers build and destroy. The great lovers inflame and soothe. The great orators rise to lead. But Steve was born to the cards, and they danced in his fingers like live things.

When the Destroyer came, its swarms flitting to swallow stars, the tinkerers argued about weaponry. The lovers clung to their latest conquests as the orators goaded Earth's armies into a hopeless stand.

The Destroyer found Steve waiting among the ice dwarfs.

"Let's talk wagers," said Steve, and his cards rippled in the cold light.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wordless into the Night

In the place that was no place, away from the light that was not light, a man wandered. He came to... call it a station, and met the Warden. The Warden wanted.

The man dumped his satchel. He had words, spiky words and dusty words; words that snarled and snapped; clockwork words rattling with lopsided precision.

It was not enough.

Behind him, two shining... call them people - rocketed past, away from the dark place. They were laughing.

The man questioned. As the door slammed in his face, new words were etched in his mind.

It is something you are, not something you do. Look harder.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Warden

He had words in his head. He had worlds in his head. They arced in white-hot streams, constellations of words, galaxies of unfettered thought, fueled by the very levinfire of Creation itself.

It was a struggle to keep them all inside, but he dared not loose them, lest they fade and die. In the end, he passed wordless into the night.

His nephew had just discovered the light of his own words. Grasping his pencil in stubby fingers, he sat and began to write.

The words leapt onto the page, free at last to leave their embryonic state and grow...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Hewlett settled into the ragged armchair. The flickering log in the fireplace concealed more than it illuminated. The house creaked and groaned around him.

Something moved in the dark. Hewlett almost screamed. Shuffling feet and a low panting reassured him. She'd mentioned pets, right? A dog.

A wet tongue lapped at his hand. He scratched absently. Something was... not right. The shape of the head under his fingers was... wrong. He looked down.

Emaciated under lank, greasy hair, the naked man rolled watery eyes up at Hewlett. The man's lips shone wetly as his mouth widened in an idiot grin.


There was a roar that shook the blast shields. The line moved forward.

"Just let me at 'em," said the thin-faced man ahead of Kapp. He adjusted his conical metal helmet. "These guys are chaff. I'm armor-piercing."

Kapp leaned over and peered ahead. The massive cannon stretched up and out, poking its barrel through a port in the dome. The next man clambered into the chamber, ushered by the General himself. Coordinates were called. The cannon creaked as it was adjusted.

"Let me at 'em," the man repeated. "I'm ready. Ready."

Kapp closed his eyes as the hammer came down.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Street Cred

Virj sidestepped the attack ads as he and Jue walked. They were both in SC-QuikChan, and they dared each other to try the stunts and achievements that flashed on the low walls and overhangs.

On the bridge across the highway, traffic roaring below, Jue froze. “Holy shit! Five megacreds.”

“It’s BS. A spoof.”

“I just ran it. Legit.”

“What’s the stunt?” Virj twiddled his fingers to adjust his channel.


Virj’s brow furrowed. “Who gets paid after that? It’s gotta be a spoof.”

“Dunno,” said Jue. He flicked out more commands. “Holy shit.”


Jue swallowed. “Thirty-two payouts to date.”

Saturday, February 13, 2010


It started with the shivering vagrant. Carson didn't really need his jacket. Nor his shirt and pants. Then there was an old man, looking so sad with his soup. Carson gave the man his teeth and ordered him a burger. Carson's thighbone repaired a broken scooter. He gave his eyes to a camera, his veins for shoelaces, his soft rear to a hard bus-stop bench.

Carson was almost gone by the end of the block. Everyone needed something. The last dregs hauled themselves to the corner and fell over, facing the sun. "Thank you," said Carson.

Then he was gone.

Everything Flows

The fountain was a marvel, carefully constructed to pour a sheet of water so smooth it looked solid.

"It reminds me of my past," Selah told Tyrwin. "I thought the wall in front of me was unbreakable, but now I see how easily I passed through."

Tyrwin looked up and shrugged. "Coulda told you that," he said. "Did, even."

"Come," Selah said, laughing. "The ambassador is waiting, and we must give him our answer." Selah stood and brushed her skirts.

Tyrwin leapt to his feet. "Meet you there, Princess," he said, and dove into the cobblestones. They rippled behind him.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Biological Niche

Staying late. The building was a lot more… empty after eight. Something made a scuttling noise in the darkness. Derek resolutely turned back to his spreadsheet and met two bulbous eyes staring into his own.



There was a thump, and Steve from Accounting fell onto his desk. “You scared me,” said Steve, rolling upright.

“What are you doing?”

“Foraging.” Steve flexed his hands, displaying the gecko-like pads at the tips. “I think I’m getting the hang of these. Soon I’ll be fully adapted, and I won’t even have to show up for work anymore. Cool, huh?”

Derek stared.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Backseat Driver

Dan struggled to control the car as the dark van barreled past in the other lane. They must have been pushing a hundred miles per hour, at least.

Shannon clucked her tongue, glaring at the rapidly disappearing vehicle. “Asshole.”

Dan’s knuckles were white. He’d caught a glimpse in the window as the van had flown past. He’d seen the hairy, ape-like arms, knotted with muscle, reaching out from the darkness in the rear. A half-dozen hands tipped in claws that gripped the steering wheel, the gearshift… and clamped over the mouth and arms of the terrified woman in the chair.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Rattle-clank. Rattle-clank.

I watched the old robot make its slow way up the path. Every morning and every evening it was the same thing. The poor little spud wasn’t made right, and one leg dragged. After months of this, I caught his attention as he passed by. “Look,” I said, “I’m mostly a hobbyist, but I could easily fix that leg for you. No charge.”

The robot’s eyes flickered. “No. Thank you.” It started to trundle away.

“Wait! Why not?”

It turned back. “I can see the hand of my maker in me. I would rather have that than perfection.”

The Force That Drives the Piston

Zwi dangled a larger stick, several inches long. Unlike the tufts of grass, it didn’t burst alight just from proximity to the seething red hole. Zwi twitched it back and forth. It worked for cats, right?

White-hot claws darted out and snatched the twig from his hands. It seared to ash. The claw receded back into the metal container, which glowed just that little bit brighter.

“Zwi!” snapped his father from the front of the cart. “Stop teasing the engine!”

“Sorry, Pa.” Zwi scrambled away, casting a glance back at the clattering mechanism… and the pulsing canister at its core.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Usurper Bowl

“A rough situation for Richard III. He’s called a time-out.”

“That’s right, Ron. With Emperor Tenmu’s squad as strong as it is, there’s not a lot of options. He’s tried passing twenty times this quarter, but every time Napoleon has swatted it out of the air.”

“He’s got more reach than you’d expect, Ted.”

“That he does, Ron.”

“And they’re off again! Mary is striking deep. There’s the pass. It’s… it’s good! Ooh, and she goes down under Stephen and Edward IV.”

“Look at those crowns fly, Ron. Gonna be some dents to hammer out tonight.”

“That’s for sure, Ted.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Our Closest Relative

The hairy creature squirmed in his hands. "Wait! Wait, please! Don't you recognize me?"

Ekee peered at the baboon, nostrils flaring. The scent was familiar...

"You knew me when we were young. We played together under the fig trees in the fruiting season."

"Ah!" said Ekee. His dark fur settled, shrinking his apparent size. "Yes, I see now."

The baboon wriggled, but Ekee's grip was iron. "Please! Do you hate me so much?"

"No," said Ekee. "I remember you fondly. I bear you no ill will." He patted the baboon on the head. "But I'm hungry."

His jaws clamped down.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Guest Lecturer

OMG people. I forgot Wisest Stone Day and no one reminded me! Now I'm in for it. He's never gonna shut up about this one.


Taku consulted the shiny paper map. “I think the Philosophy Department is that way,” he said, pointing over his shoulder.

The Wisest Stone stood beside the sidewalk, out of place without a coat of garish paint portraying the school’s mascot. “What is the point? They talk and talk, endlessly, and yet they never take any actions to bring about change in the world. What value is someone who always criticizes and never accomplishes?”

Taku folded the map away. “You are much as they are.”

The Wisest Stone was silent for a moment. “True. But the difference is: I am right.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Surgical Techniques 101

“I’m sure you’re all anxious to begin,” said Dr. Cottingen. “I, myself, am a bit less eager.” He paused for the laughter. “I assure you, however, I shan’t delay any longer than necessary. First I want to review the proper tool layout…”

The familiar rhythm of the patter lulled him. He always got nervous before a demonstration.

“…now, as I make the first incision, note carefully the location. You won’t have my scars to guide in your own operating theaters!” The laughter came again, weaker this time, as Cottingen carefully slit his own abdomen.

Still hurts, he thought. Every time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Wear My Sunglasses at Night

The guy at the meat counter was hassling some ghoul ahead of me. I tried not to look.

“Pleez… just hambone… for soup…”

“Yeah? You run out of corpses in the cemetery? My mom is buried there, you creep.”

I don’t get involved. I’m three, four generations back. Just a little pale, pronounced canines. I like steak tartare. I know some of the other thin-blood vamps play hardcore, all blinged out with capes and coffins. Not me.

The ghoul gave up after a while. They’ve got butcher shops in Bonetown.

I smile at the butcher. I don’t open my lips.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Killing Jar

Their sneakers shuffled on the aging wood. “You asked where I got ‘em,” said Elias, brandishing the mayonnaise jar. “They live in here. It’s where I’d live, if I was a spider.” He pointed to a crevice between the stairs. “There’s one in there. Go get her.”

Billy stepped forward. Elias’ smile was wide and thin-lipped. Billy swallowed and unscrewed his own jar.

“Be careful,” Elias said. “She’s poisonous.”

Billy thought he could see movement. Upstairs, there was a thump. Both boys looked up. Strands of web drifted down, rope-thick, and something bulky and angular dragged onto the landing overhead…

Monday, February 1, 2010

All in the Presentation

“No, Mister Nichols. I think it’s time you left.”

Mac didn’t glance around. He knew the patrons were shuffling around behind him. He’d heard the soft clicks as they disengaged from their stations.

“I’d rather go out the front way,” he said.

The bartender’s face didn’t move. “I’m sure you would.”

Mac lashed out with his other fist. He winced at the impact. You had to be perfect, or else the drama-circuits wouldn’t register and the damned things would just ignore the blow.

“Damned robots,” he muttered, as the barkeep went down. “I’m sticking to meatspace cases from now on.”