Devotion For Mechanics

“I knew the Chief went to Japan, I just didn’t know he picked up a new wife,” Bedford said. Bedford removed her welding mask and wiped the sweat from her face with an oily rag. She adjusted herself in the crook of the mecha’s kneecap, letting her repair work cool.

“Pretty too,” Armijo said. He slipped his arms out of his coveralls and tied them around his waist, his chest shiny from accumulated sweat. He tossed a Bedford up a cold soda. “She’s a 400 model.”

“A model, huh?” Bedford said. She cracked open her drink and took a long swig. “One of them toothpick bitches? I’ll never understand the Chief. I mean, havin’ us paint the hangar baby blue and wearin’ all those Hawaiian shirts, thems is one thing. But some spoiled brat paid to walk down a runway? Gimmie one of these hunks of junk over that any day.” She patted the giant robot’s knee-pistons affectionately.

Kruse scooted over on the Mule, the brakes squealing. “Funny thing is, so would the Chief, apparently. Give a fella one of them cans. She’s a 400 model, Beds. She’s a robot.”

Bedford took another drink, scratched at her armpit, then slurped another. “Chief married a mecha?”

“Well, sorta,” Armijo said. He leaned an elbow on the Mule’s handlebars, and shoved his grimy left hand into a similarly filthy pocket. “An android. Looks human. You wouldn’t be able to tell if you didn’t know.”

“Looks human, hell!” Kruse spat. “You tellin’ me I can work on the damn things all day, and I don’t know a robot when I see one?”

“Just tellin’ you what I seen,” Armijo said. “My brother’s got a catalogue–”

Kruse spat again. “You seen her? The Chief’s wife? Iffin’ you can call her that.” An oily rag smacked Kruse in the face. Both he and Armijo turned to Bedford, her tiny fists clenched.

“Listen at you!” she called down. “Ev’ry day I hear you agree with the Chief’s decisions, now all of a sudden you can’t accept a one of ’em? So he got himself a robot wife? What’s the problem? I didn’t hear you complain when we got the Mule.”

“That’s different,” said Kruse. “The Mule ain’t a wife–”

“Might as well be, the way you coddle it,” Armijo said. Kruze gave him a shove.

“All I’m sayin’ is, I wouldn’t hold to my son marryin’ one.”

“Chief ain’t your son,” Bedford said. “He’s the Chief.” Bedford looked up at the robot she was working on, and then past it at the bright-blue ceiling of the hangar. The Chief spent near a week off hours on the highest scaffold they had, painting white, fluffy clouds. Looking up at the painted sky made her smile.

“It ain’t normal, is all,” Kruse said.

“Mayhaps,” Bedford said, lowering her welding mask to return to work. “But neither is the Chief.”


Palkas’ autograph line had finally dwindled to nothing. They’d capped the line two hours ago and now, at last, the final gawkers and fans were being escorted out of the building. With a sigh and a stretch, Palkas stood and worked the kinks out of his neck. Signing autographs, while less taxing than his day job, didn’t seem to make him stiffen up the same way.

The bouncers were outside, as were his escorts, and Palkas took a moment to look around the room, taking in the posters and 8×10 glossies, all depicting his grinning face. There was the Morkark asteroid field, the one they’d claimed was too dangerous for any one-man ship to successfully navigate. There was the Ressi sun flare, said to be unskimmable. There was his latest triumph, the planet Argus VII, whose heavy gravity and atmosphere had prevented even well-suited humanoids from reconnoitering its surface for seventy years. To other men this would have seemed like a list of impossibilities, but to Palkas it read like a resume. They were all behind him now. He had conquered the unconquerable.

“Mr. Palkas? Sir?”

A face peeked from behind one of the entry doors and Palkas looked up, surprised. The security personnel were supposed to be keeping people out, not letting them in–but this was a young man, couldn’t be more than twenty, and Palkas certainly didn’t feel concerned for his personal safety. “Yes? What is it, son?”

The kid moved into the room, smiling nervously. He seemed a little star-struck. “Ah, I know I’m late–sorry about that–but I was wondering, um, if I could have your autograph? It’s for my sister,” he added quickly. “She’s your biggest fan.”

Palkas sighed. The bouncers definitely should have picked this one up before he got this far, but what the hell. The room was quiet, and he couldn’t head back to the hotel until the security men got back, anyway. “Sure,” he said, taking out a pen and pulling over the poster that the kid proffered. When given the name in a trembling voice, he signed in flowing script. “Here you are. Hope she enjoys it.”

“Thank you, sir. I know she will, sir.” The kid was beside himself. He gazed at all the posters with starry-eyed awe. “It’s amazing that one man could do what you’ve done, Mr. Palkas. All of the amazing feats that you’ve accomplished… there’s nothing left in this galaxy that man hasn’t been able to do. It’s a real treat to meet you. A real treat.”

Palkas smiled indulgently. He liked this kid. “No problem, son. The pleasure’s mine.”

The kid nodded and bobbed his head, moving towards the door. When he got there, he stopped and turned. “Just one more question, please? Mr. Palkas?”

Well, he had time, Palkas reasoned. One question was no big deal. “Sure, kid. What’s on your mind?”

“What are you going to do now?”

Only the Poor Forget

For the ninth time today, Dyson glanced up from sweeping the facilities floors. He knew it was the ninth, because he’d been watching his bank account shrink with every confused teen who walked by, every school field trip who waltzed in and every curious observer who thought he could lend a hand. Who wouldn’t keep count?

“S’cuse me, sir? Where cans I finds the bathrooms?” It was a little boy this time, probably lost. He’d have to take care of that as well. He decided to delay the inevitable for a bit.

“Why, where are your mom and dad, little one?” He smiled underneath the rim of his cap as he leaned upon the broom and watched the blue-eyed boy. The banter wasn’t necessary, but he figured he might kill two birds with one stone.

“I uhm… I can’t wemember…”

Of course he couldn’t. The boy reminded him of his grandson, however, so he sighed and gave an answer. “Bathrooms are two halls down, past the dinosaur sections and on the left.”

Picking up his broom, he moved over to the front desk and watched Shirley smile brilliantly at a group of students standing around her. She must have been rich, the way she spouted out the information like it was nothing. “In fifteen minutes, we will have our native peoples exhibit, and at 2:30 you will be breaking for lunchtime!”

He waited till she had finished her speech to the group and took in a deep breath as she turned to him. “In all my years, I ain’t never seen anyone remember stuff like you do. How do you do it, Shirley? Don’t you miss all the money from your account?”

Leaning forward, she got a very serious look on her face, “Well, if you really have to know…” When she slid a small pad of paper from under the desk, Dyson stared blankly at her as if she’d pulled a gun.

“Shirley!” he started in a hushed whisper. “If the Memory Monitors catch you with that, it’s five to ten at the very least!”

She waved him off with a nonchalant gesture, “Dyson, Dyson… don’t worry about it. I have it all under control. Besides… The Native Americans we teach about in this museum didn’t have to pay for their keepsakes. They drew pictures and told stories. We can’t be expected to work in a place like this and not learn that.”

Still watching her like a cautious hawk, Dyson muttered, “They didn’t have to pay? You… wrote that down to remember it, didn’t you?”

“What can I say? Some things should be remembered for free.” She leaned back in a way that almost made it seem like she would put her feet on the desk.

In The Black Moriah's Shadow

The restaurant still sold wine from when the meteor struck. The very year. Abigail said she could taste ash in every sip, though that didn’t stop her from drinking. I swirled my glass, looking for bits that might be floating about in the cold liquid, fragments of catastrophe sealed by glass and cork.

Abigail had ordered some human cheese for the both of us, to snack on while we decided on our orders. The waiter swore that the milk was all given voluntarily, but even his definitive nature couldn’t dispel images of captive women chained in the back. His assertion that the cheese was made on the premises didn’t help much.

“You’re so morbid,” Abigail said when I told her about the captives in my head. She dipped her slender fingers in her wine and flicked droplets at my face.

“You’re the one who chose this place.”

Abigail pouted. “I took you out to cheer you up.”

Fine place for it, I thought. I didn’t say it, though. Instead, I mentioned Oshiwara Gainsberg’s new film, Big Black Mariah, an animated fable about the legendary boarding-house owner here in Boston. Abigail turned up her lip in a sneer.

“God,” she said. “It’s about the meteor, isn’t it?”

“I don’t see how.”

“Wake up! Everything is about the meteor these days. This woman, she’s a force of nature, right? Nothing, no one, can stand against her? But she only harms the guilty? Propaganda!” Abigail threw her arms wide on that last word, flashing jazz-hands.

I thought of the still-frame I had seen on the feed, Mariah towering over the innocent and guilty alike, her ink-black dress the only thing separating the two. I remembered the sun was behind her, forced the ne’er-do-wells to shiver in her shadow. I shrugged. “It’s just the way things are now. It’s part of the human condition.”

Abigail grumbled and blew bubbles into her wine. “Whatever. People need to get over it.” Abigail wrapped her sweater tighter around her shoulders, as if she was cold. As the restaurant grew darker in the fading evening, Abigail took a big swig of her wine, and said again that she could taste ash in it.

It was only then that it hit me. Abigail had a girlfriend named Ashe, who was among those the meteor claimed.

I would have said something, if the waiter hadn’t returned with our cheese.

“Pure Mother’s cheese,” the waiter said. “A hundred years ago, such a thing would have been looked upon as immoral, or even illegal. Times have sure changed, eh?” He waited anxiously for us to try a piece.

The cheese was surprisingly sweet, a good compliment to the smoky wine. It felt very warm in my mouth, and I noticed it caused a faint smile on Abigail’s lips. I imagine a similar expression was on my own face.

“Thank you,” I said. “This is just what we needed.”


Today is an unofficial public holiday. Those people that can take a day off work do so, those that can’t call in sick. Today is The Burn. I don’t know who started the tradition (some people say that it was a group of Canadian activists, other claim that it was a collation of South African students) but it spread so fast that it doesn’t even matter where it came from.

It’s celebrated differently all over the world. In the old European Union, I hear they Burn effigies of dead celebrities like Elvis and Brad Pitt. The Europeans blame the Chinese for what happened, the Chinese blame the Indians and the Indians blame the Americans. Americans don’t burn any effigies; Americans break into cemeteries and steal corpses.

In North America they mostly just spit on graves stones, or sometimes even an open hole but in the Southwest, man, they do all sorts of shit. They steal bodies out of graveyards in poor neighborhoods and have giant tailgate parties where people shit on the corpses. A buddy of mine told me he went to a party in new Texas where people took drugs to induce vomiting so they can make a public display of puking on their ancestors. Of course, I’ve seen those corpses, and I don’t see why you would need to take drugs to puke, just smelling them usually does it on it’s own.

Near the equator, I heard that in some places they cook and eat the corpses. I can’t imagine what that old meat might smell like, smoking on a bonfire. Of course, that’s just a rumor, you hear all sorts of shit happening at the equator, the heat makes everybody crazy.

I was thinking about it though, waxing philosophical, you might say, and I think our ancestors got the better end of the deal. I wouldn’t want anyone to puke on me, of course, but they are dead and they don’t know what’s being done to them. I’ve seen the old movies, the flat screen pictures. They had lives without boils, without flaking red skin and the scarring, the flooding and the power failures, the plastic suits and stinking air. They had more metal and plastic than they knew what to do with. They had plenty, and they ate it up.

I get the boils, every day, a new one. I wear the suit, but I still get the boils.

You better believe I’ll be out there today. There’s a grave me and my boys got our eye on. The dead could have done something back in their time, but now it’s too late. They left us here on a world that’s broiling us. The Burn is the least we can do.