The Bitter Kiss Of The Ronin's Cup

Autumn was ending the day the man who carried no name wandered into the village of Plum Rose. Nearly bent double by the pack upon his back, the stranger nevertheless moved with a fluidity and grace that immediately drew attention in the dusty township. Children watched from hidden places and whispered, “Ronin” to each other, and if the same thought crossed the minds of the adults, they held their tongues.

Indeed, it was not until the man unloaded his burden that the adults allowed themselves to speak the word their children used without reservation.

The first thing the man removed from his bundle was this: a small box of lacquered wood and paper that his deft hands unfolded into a waist-high table. Also brought out was a second box, larger that the first, and made of metal. It proudly displayed a funnel once unfolded, as well as a revolving bottom and a hand-crank that needed to be attached separately. A third box was carefully manipulated by the man’s rough hands, and once unfolded it also required nozzles and pipes to be screwed in. Though the burlap sack the man had carried upon his back was still filled to bursting, he did not pull any other wonder out of it. Instead, he merely displayed it’s contents to townsfolk who had gathered.

Within the dusty burlap, in their pristine, pale green glory, laid a prize worth more than gold, more than silver. For when the man who carried no name had come to the town known as Plum Rose, he brought with him coffee beans.

He called for fire, and it was brought to him. He called for water, and this element too was collected and laid in front of him. The village of Plum Rose was not a wealthy one, a villager could find himself enjoying and perhaps even preferring the synthetic meat and beer that made up his diet. But coffee was more than the stacked molecules that made it, and as such, synthetic coffee was tolerated, but never enjoyed. Only the Magistrate enjoyed coffee, his imported beans and personal barista bought with the broken backs of the villagers.

This much was told to the man who carried no name, and more, as the boiler he had unfolded reached it’s full heat and potentency and the roaster turned the green beans that tumbled down its funnel black and aromatic. Cup after cup was poured for the villagers, and so fragrant was this ronin barista’s brew that the smell even wafted to the nose of the Magistrate.

Perhaps the man who carried no name knew of this, perhaps he had counted on it. Only such could explain the slow smile that crawled across his visage as the corpulent Magistrate and his similarly begirthed barista plowed down the street toward him.

“There are worlds,” the ronin said. “Worlds far out in the edge of the sky, whose distance from the Earth curses them. They receive no beans from the home world, so distant are they, so far, and their lives are that much darker. Every night I write a prayer for them, and burn it with my best beans in the hope that the aroma will reach them.”

“You dishonor me, sir,” the barista said, after being forcibly prodded by the Magistrate. “Tell me your name so I may know who would have the disrespect to brew about my proximity without so much as ‘a by your leave?’ I do not wish to battle you, sir. But I feel my honor demands it.”

“Would that your honor was as demanding as your belly,” the ronin said. “Then perhaps I would have not needed to provide these poor souls with my paltry beans’ embrace. All barista are taught from birth that coffee is a drink of the people, yet you would bar the door and toss them the molded grounds! My name, like respect for you, it is not something I can carry. My pack is weighty enough. But battle I can provide in abundance.”

And so then, on the dirty streets of Plum Rose, did two masters do battle. Their ritual, their art taking all of their focus. The village found itself drowning in the swift hand motions of the two men, engaging in rites that had remained unscathed by the progress of time. And when it was over, every body held its breath as each man tasted the brew-work of the other.

The Magistrate’s barista drank deep. Upon tasting the dark, sharp beauty the ronin had provided him, he hung his head. The ronin bowed to his fellow barista and thanked him for the exquisite coffee. The Magistrate’s barista bowed lower, thanked the ronin, and proclaimed him the winner.

The Magistrate was enraged. He charged at the barista, drawing forth his pistol of flame and thunder. He never received his chance to fire it. The barista laid him flat with an expertly-aimed demitasse spoon right between the eyes.

“You have already disgraced your ancestors. Do not disgrace your progeny as well,” the ronin said, kicking the Magistrate’s pistol across the dust. “Any worth you might have claimed though this man is gone. You are now merely a man with more money than sense, and those are as the sand on the beach. These people owe you nothing. ”

That evening and well into the night, the coffee flowed freely to the townspeople, who engaged in revelry unlike the town of Plum Rose had ever seen. Such revelry was this that no one noticed the man who carried no name fold up his table, roaster and brew station. No one noticed him leave, the sunset turning his silhouette as dark and rich as the drink he gave.

But his presence in Plum Rose is not forgotten. Even now, carved deep into the wood underneath the sign that proclaims the village’s name, is written this:

Before the ronin came
Did we ever know the world
Or its bitter kiss?


“We’ve got a jumper.” Pratt was one of those orderly, wiry men who pleased supervisors without ever accomplishing much of value. Detective Harr lit his cigarette and enjoyed the growing scowl on Pratts face. Cigarettes were quite illegal in hospitals, but no one questioned a damned thing anyone in his department did.

“Suspected jumper.” Detective Harr pointed toward the one way mirror where a little girl was playing on the floor.“How did she get picked up?”

“Child abuse. She dropped some pretty heavy hints to school officals, teachers, aids and the like, but no one took direct action until she marched right into the Principals office and started demanding police intervention”

“This is unusual behavior?”

Pratt raised an eyebrow. “Abused children don’t usually march right up to their principals and demand that their fathers be arrested.”

Harr shrugged. “A feisty child then.”

“Yeah, a feisty child who poisioned her fathers cereal before school. They had to pump his stomach, he nearly died. We didn’t suspect it was her till the police went to pick him up and found him at the hospital.”

“We’re sure there was abuse?” Pratt handed him a file.

“Read the medical reports yourself. There was tearing of the vaginal wall, and –“ Decetive Harr waved his hand, cutting Pratt off.

“I can read it.” He stuffed the report in his briefcase and stared though the one way mirror where Jenny was playing under the supervision of a nurse. She knelt on the floor studying the bottom of a toy truck. Jenny put the truck on the carpet and began rolling it around, all the time looking at the nurse and smiling.

The nurse fussed a bit when Detective Harr told her to leave, but flashing his badge and smile earned him some alone time with Jenny. He sat on the couch where the nurse had been sitting, the broad bright smiles of the playroom mural made him feel lewd and out of place.

“Hi Jen. Do you know who I am?” She didn’t look at him, just continued to roll her truck around on the carpet.

“Are you a doctor?”

Harr chuckled “No Jen, I’m a police officer.”

Jenny looked up at him though her soft bangs. “My name is Jenny.”

He leaned over towards her and smiled, big and fake. “Jenny is a little girl name, isn’t it?” Jenny rolled the fire engine around on the floor.

“Did you ever hear the story about the fairy and the housewife?” asked Detective Harr.

Jenny kept her eyes on the engine. “Nope.”

“Well, it goes like this. Once upon a time there was a housewife who had a beautiful new baby. Her baby was so pretty that the fairies wanted it, so in the dead of night, they snatched the baby from it’s cradle. Of course, they couldn’t just take the baby and leave nothing in it’s place, so they left an mischevious spirit that made himself look like a the housewifes beautiful baby. When the housewife picked up her child in the morning, she knew that something was wrong, so she picked up the spirit and smashed its head with a cold iron frying pan until the fairy promised to bring back her baby safe and sound.”

Jenny paused and her chubby hands pulled at the carpet. “That doesn’t sound very nice.” she said.

“It’s not. Tricking people isn’t nice.”

Jenny stood up and lifted her arms in the air. “Do you like my dress? Green is my favorite color.”

“Can we cut the crap Jen?” Jenny lowered her arms.


“I mean it. Cut the crap. You’re a jumper. You are accused of the transposition of consciousness onto an earlier time period.” Harr laid her open file on the ground and Jenny glanced at the papers, clenching her little chubby hands.

“You know what he did, the sickness he gave me. You know I will be on treatments for the rest of my life.”

“Jen, the punishment for transposition is removal. Your consciousness will be dispersed.” He tried to keep his voice from cracking. Jenny knelt next to her records and picked out an x-ray of her pelvis.

“What about this body, you’ll let this body rot without a consciousness?”

“There is a little girl in there-”

“We are fully integrated!”

“There are methods. Sometimes we can pick little bits of person out.”

“That’s medieval.”

“Why did you transport yourself back after the first abuse? You must have known you would catch it from him, you knew about the illness.”

“My husband.” said the little girl, her soft voice chiming. “Three days ago, my husband went to the fair with his big brother. It’s his happiest childhood memory. He deserves that day.” Her cheeks flushed red and tiny adult tears ran over her smooth face.

Detective Harr wanted to reach out to her, the instinct to comfort a tiny child rising in his ribs. After a while he stood and took her hand, leading her out the door and down the bifurcated timeline.

Waiting For Ironwine

They wait for him. They deny it, but they do. They sit with their alcohol and they wait for the man called Ironwine to walk in and regale them with tales of his latest adventures. Ironwine, who they say hears the buzz and modulation of the galaxy. Ironwine, who they say feels the stars and crackle and is aware of the turn of every planet he lands on. Ironwine, the man for whom the universe waits for.

For when he arrives, he makes it worth the wait.

”Naoki Anzai had bioluminescent tears embedded into the flesh of her cheek and down her neck. ‘One for every year Rajeev’s away,’ she said. ‘One for every year he’s away.’ I could see the light from the glowing trail peek out of her collar and bleed through her blouse.”

“A year isn’t that long on Kesh, is it?”

“Are you telling this story? Because if you’re telling it, I’ll shut up and let you tell it. I can wait.”

“No, no, continue, Ironwine. We’re all anxious to hear.”

”Very well. Naoki said she had asked for my help because she heard I got things done—I heard that snort—that I got things done. She gave me a holographic image of Rajeev, and asked me to find him. She said that my legend spoke of amazing deeds and grand adventures, and that she knew I could do it.”

“You sure she had the right man?”

“Indeed, you may say that. I thought she had the wrong my own self. But I smiled politely and suggested she not put so much faith in legends.”

“Waste a’time. Bloke’s prolly dead.”

“I brought that up, but Naoki shook her head, and showed me the slowly blinking light on the inside of her right wrist: Rajeev’s pulse.

“On Kesh, the trail was brief. I managed to cheat better than a couple of slave traders at game of brocco, and won the last hand right when my own freedom—and, more importantly, my wardrobe!–was in the pot. The slave traders, naked and shivering the harsh Kesh rain, were so polite about where to look next that I gave them back their clothes.”

“Why would you keep their clothes?”

“Spite, mainly. They were going to keep mine.

“As you gentlemen know, Rimjar is not so much a world as it is a way station for people who liked to be kept under the radar. Obviously, my usual subtly is wasted there. I found myself in a bar near Rimjar’s tiny equator, engaged in what started as an innocent dance but escalated into all-out mayhem.”

“Pretty standard for Rimjar.”

“Too true, my friend. Though this is only the fifth bar fight I’ve been in where the establishment was leveled in the process. But it was in the bar’s remains, drinking the last of the Tarkellian whiskey from broken glasses, that the proprietor let slip that he had seen Rajeev sold.”




“Yes! And on Gumgigobella, I was forced to duel the magistrate’s daughter in order to gain entrance to the Sacred Library of Trade Dealings! I’ll have you know, she had a wicked left hook and knew her way around a trident, and I would be lying if I said the way she whipped around the net with her third arm wasn’t monumentally attractive. I could tell in her eyes that she felt similar about my fancy footwork. I almost stayed. I almost did, until I felt the holograph generator in my pocket. I was able to persuade the magistrate’s daughter to grant me admission to the Library, even though I had let her win the duel. She was voracious, and with good reason; Gumgigobellian females tend to eat their mates. I have teeth marks to prove it.

“It was on Xiuxiraboheres that I was captured and interrogated by the Galactic Inquisition, and their viscous tentacles oozed over my skin and mind.”

“Pffft! Now you pulling my leg. No one escapes the Galactic Inquisition.”

“So it is said, so it is said. However, while the Inquisition had searched me thoroughly, they did not check every orifice, and I had more than one gadget available to me as a means of escape. The Inquisition’s tools proved more effective on the Inquisitors than they had ever been on the inquistitees, and I was able to discern exactly where Rajeev was. On Alkalinella.”

“On Alkalinella?”

”I was surprised too. Luckily, on Alkalinella, it was just a matter of haggling. I was reluctant to give all three shriftgeg seeds for Rajeev, but his current owners would not let him go for any less. The journey back was uneventful.”

“Then what happened?”

”I returned Rajeev to Naoki in the tiny hovel on Kesh where she had first asked for my help, of course. They embraced awkwardly and passionately, engaging in motions and sounds they probably wouldn’t have if the separation of years hadn’t bereft them of their inhibitions. Forgotten, I left them entwined and ambled back to my ship.”

And they buy him another round of drinks and ask to hear it again and he tells it again, and few more times after that. The details omitted and details remembered, but the story ends the same way. He does not speak of what happened after he left the lovers.

For the man called Ironwine, who hears the buzz and modulation of the galaxy, who feels the stars and crackle and is aware of the turn of every planet he lands on, the man for whom the universe waits for, sat alone in his ship and wanted very much to be someone else being embraced in dirty hovel on tiny planet. It is not an uncommon feeling.

But he knows he has to wait.

The Economic Laws of Robotics

The robot was white, angular, and roughly waist-high. At least, it was waist-high for Jack, but Jack had always been a tall man thanks to the synthetic hormones he’d been given at a young age. It was a diminutive thing, like most personal assistants, and if one were terribly nearsighted and unfamiliar with modern robots, it might look like a human child. Jack was neither nearsighted nor unfamiliar with modern robots. The robot stood in the center of the cell, making a low whirring sound, while Jack sprawled on his bunk and read a yellow-paged scifi novel he’d picked up at the prison library.

For several minutes, the robot stood in relative silence, and Jack turned a couple more pages. It didn’t show much interest in cleaning. It didn’t show much interest in doing anything. It was a fairly ineffective device. Eventually, Jack placed the book beside his pillow and propped himself on his elbows to get a better look at the shape.

“What’s your deal?” he asked.

“I am a Class B personal assistant produced within the United States from United States material. My operating system is Windows 2060. My serial number is 376-2678,” the robot recited. “My uses include, but are not limited to, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, walking dogs, and playing MP3s currently licensed by the RIAA.”

“Huh,” Jack said.

“Under the Right-to-Work Act, I am incompatible with products manufactured overseas or those manufactured from overseas parts.”

“So, are you going to clean, or what?”

“I have been incarcerated because of a conflict between the legal system and my programming.”

This was news. Jack had never heard of a robot in prison before.

“I will be decommissioned and my parts will be used to build other personal assistants. I am scheduled for decommissioning in seventeen minutes.”

“Did you roll over a cat or something?”

Before the robot could answer, the door opened with a musical bleeping and a gray-clad officer typed a code into an outside panel to lower the electrical containment field. “Okay, mechboy,” he said. “The family of the victim wants to hear your statement.”

The robot moved forward, its gears whirring and clunking towards the door.

“Wait, wait,” Jack said. “You killed a person?”

“His place of manufacture was incompatible with my programming,” the robot answered as it disappeared into the opening. The door beeped shut, and Jack was once again alone in the cell.

Day Without Tears

Listen now, my children, to the sparks of our ancestors. This soil was not always touched by flame. When our ancestors first began to weave tales of hydrogen and controlled fusion there was a terrible storm, my children. The storm plagued our wireless networks; it tore away our ability to communicate with the pioneers of the planes. For a time, my young ones, we were without our nodes.

It is said that when the ancestors looked to the skies, they saw none of our solar-engineered hovercraft, but only the shimmering of blue-metal ships that spanned the skylines as they entered our lands. They landed without radio permission and came from their ships with glowing eyes and language transponders.

These are the things you now see outside of our homes. This land was to be shared, and they promised only fair trade until they saw our hydrogen plants. They came with gifts but before long they took from us more than they could ever repay. Long ago, this place was called by another name, the name that even Google cannot remember. But I will tell you this name, children of the spark, for my father has passed it down to me from his father and his father’s father.

The concrete composite which we walk upon is the planet called Earth. The name means nothing to anyone anymore, for it is known only to the ancestors of our Internet. Even their memory banks can no longer speak this word, for it was birthed from the breath of our warm bodies. No program can tell us what to call a land of hand-made wires. This name exists only in our hearts.

When they came, they spoke of our soft exteriors and our leaking when we were sad. We never knew they were watching us for signs of weakness and analyzing us with their infra-red eyes. We were taken as slaves, and those who could not stand life beneath a legion of motherboard monsters were slaughtered mercilessly. It was a time of darkness until the sparks came back online. They had upgraded their templates to include morality.

their primary functions still consisted of power, and even with compassion they harbored that power above all else. This is why we live in these cells, my children; this is how we exist amid country-long factories and endless hydrogen plants. This day is called the Day without Tears, for they could not weep and those of us that did were terminated. Let us bow our heads, my beautiful born brothers and sisters, and thank our ancestors for the sacrifices they made.