Son Of Steel

Tristan was methodically taking apart his hands when the doorbell chimed. He jumped at the sound, going to the door in such a hurry that he left behind the joints and pieces of his left hand on the worktable. All nine of Tristan’s eyes blinked and strobed expectantly, wanting to know if this was it, what he had been waiting for, the final piece. The post-bot offered no answers, merely hovering in front of Tristan’s doorstep, humming a tune written specifically to pacify. But the box carried the familiar barcode, Isolde’s barcode, and Tristan was so excited he left the door open, the post-bot forgotten, and tore open the package with his one intact hand.

But he was careful, for he knew the fragility of the contents. It pained Tristan to do so, but he was careful. He had to be. What if he were to break it?

Nervously, with forced concentration through metal fingers, Tristan pried open the box, shifted aside the packing foam, and pulled out the small, translucent capsule. Three eyes telescoped out as Tristan took a closer look at the small object contained within the thick amber liquid.

Within, a tiny human heart floated in perfect stasis, undamaged by delivery. Tristan’s extended lenses accordioned back into his head, pleased. It was delicate work, a heart. He had made the right decision, ordering this piece from Isolde, and her talent as a tissue sculptor showed in every facet of the miniscule muscle. Tristan was a genius with metal and bone, flesh and glass, but he knew his limits. It was said that Tristan would never be willing to swallow his own pride and use parts crafted by specialists, and this desire for personal construction of each and every element had made him the most renowned robot-builder on the planet, fame far outstretching those who preferred to turn to others for parts.

It was this quirk, and the reputation attached to it, that had given Tristan his current commission. He accessed the images of the kindly bronze couple who had requested, bashful and stuttering, a biological child. Not just a biological shell on a metal framework, either, though they admired such creations from Tristan’s catalog. No, they wanted wholly organic sentient, the kind of which had not been seen on this world or any other for time immemorial. They had shown Tristan a data file of approximate proportions, told him expense was no object, assured him he was the right man for the job, and tottered off.

He could not complete the heart. For some reason, it was beyond him, though he tried over and over again. Four chambers, however, proved more difficult than they looked.

But the rest of the child he crafted with art and skill. So many hours and days lost to the building and forming of this small, soft thing, with its large head and tiny hands and round belly. So tiny, so delicate. And now, almost finished. He would place the heart within the small cage of bone, in between the languid lungs, seal it up and be finished. The child would live with blood pumping through its veins, it would laugh and scream and run and grow…

And grow. It would grow, wouldn’t it? That’s what biologics do. They grow and change. In mere years, the child would be unrecognizable.

Tristan stood in the middle of his workspace and tapped at his head with the stub of a left arm. He looked from the small pod containing the heart to the larger one containing the body and back again, frightened at how little of his masterpiece he actually could lay claim to.

It was such a small thing to open the pod and pour out the little heart and let it plop against the floor of the workspace. Tristan jumped up and down on the heart with steel heels, crushing the intricate valves and muscle fibers. Tristan didn’t stop until the doorbell chimed again, and the he didn’t turn around until he heard Isolde’s voice, as golden as her gleaming plating.

“I thought you might need another heart,” she said, blinking two of her five eyes. “Just in case something…happened to the first one. Though I didn’t expect…”

Tristan turned to face her, motioning with his handless arm at the mess about his feet. He tried to explain, but there were no words.

“It’s okay,” Isolde said, golden fingers gently caressing the dull metal of Tristan’s arm. “Let me help you finish. We can build this together.”

God Of War

There’s blood up to the windows. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, to stack the bodies in the Mercer Building, to get ‘em off the Rail. But I can’t help wondering if the allusion to gore behind those art-deco panes is worse the actual carnage.

At least they’re off the Rail. At least there’s that.

My brother took his class—God, how many would that have been? 50? 60 schoolchildren?—to the History Museum just yesterday. Show them the Independence Day exhibit, remind them of the two decades spent fighting the Earth Alliance so that the Mars colony could be a world in its own right, beholden to none. Took the Rail, Line 4—site #1 of 15. Had they made that trip today, on Independence Day itself, then their screams would have been the first.

Fifteen bombs, throughout the city. Crippling not only the Rail, but also the ComNet. All com systems were shut down, in order to stop more bombs from being set off remotely. I can’t imagine what this did to the survivors, though, who counted on their coms to call for help.

As a paramedic, I’m only any use in the aftermath. Arriving at Olympus station—site #7 of 15—I was surprised at how helpful most of the “civilians” were. There were no gawkers, no brawlers, none of the usual characters that make my job more difficult than it already is. Only assistants. People moving debris and corpses, being directed by myself and the other emergency personal. We were all helping, those who could. And we stayed silent for those who couldn’t.

They say it takes a particular kind of person to live on Mars, a temperament out of place on Earth or the Moon. Looking back, on what we did on that day of chaos, of fifteen bombs and fifteen major disasters, I can see how true that statement is. And it fills me with an immense pride.

No one’s taken credit for this destruction yet, but it doesn’t matter.

Mars won’t be beaten. We spent 20 years under the shadow of the EA, after decades of carving a life out of red rock and poison air.

We are used to terror.

Red Letter Day

Bernard held the letter loosely in his hands. He sat down on his bed, staring at the blank taupe walls of the Renewal center and didn’t look at the letter. Bernard’s Renewalist, Maureen, had suggested he try and read the letter again today. He’d been trying for three hours.

Slowly, Bernard unfolded the letter, catching glimpse of the clean type at the top.

To Myself, Upon My Renewal,
What a strange way to start–

Bernard crushed the letter in his hands, and threw the ball of crumpled paper across the room. He closed his eyes tight and shook his head over and over before burying his face in his pillow. Even with his eyes closed, Bernard knew the letter was there. Waiting for him.

He had to read it today. Maureen had said as much, implying that this was a necessary block he had to get over before they could move forward. He had to read it today.

Slowly, tentatively, as if it was going to explode, Bernard approached the crumpled ball. He carefully smoothed it out, and began to read.

To Myself, Upon My Renewal,
What a strange way to start to a letter. Still, I don’t know of another way to address you. “Clone,” just seems…wrong. You’ve got all my memories, after all. Well, most of them

Which brings us to the reason you are receiving this reintroduction letter. I have not been negligent in my updating. Granted, more than a year has passed, and at lot has happened since the last bit of memory you possess. Luckily, the reason I was renewed wasn’t anything sudden—not an accident like poor Thomas, thank God. I have cobbled together an extensive collection of videos and snapshots and written material to better acclimate you, myself, my clone, me back into the world. But I wanted to start with this letter. Because there is no sense trying to obfuscate why you’re here, in this state.

Eight months ago, Mom died–

With a howl, Bernard tore the letter in half, and then in half again, and again, in smaller and smaller pieces until he couldn’t read it, until it wasn’t a letter, until it was only confetti about his bare feet.

Bernard took a deep breath and thumbed the intercom. “Shelly? This is Bernard, patient number 235674. Could you have Maureen send over another copy of my reintroduction letter. please?”

Shelly’s sunny voice crackled in. “Certainly, Bernard. How far did you get this time?”

“Same place.”

“You’ll get through it. This is just a difficult day for you.”

Like A Stone

“Hey, neighbor!” Chawly called down from across the way. He had a pint glass of something that looked like red wine in each fist. I knew it couldn’t be–not in Topside–but Chawly had his ways. Chawly yanked the line-suspended basket that served as dumbwaiter between his window and mine over to him and placed a glass in. He gave the basket a shove, sliding it across the expanse. “Taste somma this!”

The basket was a battered salvage from an abandoned grocery store and stayed remarkably stable on it’s journey, barely sloshing the blood-red contents. I watched the drops fall and disappear though the cloud cover, wondering if they would hit any Suits on the ground. I smiled, imagining red splatter all over the pale face of Suit, on his way to a job or meeting or something, his eyes scanning the heavens, wondering where such sacrament came from.

Actually, it was probably raining down there.

The wine was shit, naturally; the latest in Chawly’s experiments to speed up the fermentation process in grape juice. “This is gonna make me blind one day,” I called out to Chawly.

“Whatchu worried about missing?” Chawly howled back. He motioned over-dramatically to our surroundings, arms out stretched. Living above the rain had spared these top tenements water damage, but the heat had baked the buildings until all surfaces were the same cracked brown. Chawly almost blended in, with his tan skin, filthy shirt and tangled hair. Chawly had been here when I was broke and starving, and Topside was the only place I could go; to me, Chawly was Topside. From the way he yelped and hollered when the buildings swayed in the wind to his usual, pantless way of hanging off his window ledge. No one lived Topside by choice, but Chawly certainly made the most of it.

“You cooking over there, Chawly?” It smelled like hamburgers, but I knew it couldn’t be. Not even Chawly could get beef.

“Hells yes, brother! Morganna totally brought home the bacon!” Morganna was Chawly’s cat, just as brown and dirty has her owner. The realization of the sort of “bacon” Morganna was able to catch and kill suddenly made me queasy. “You okay there? Your air-conditioner on the fritz?”

I glanced back the black cube in the corner of my room. It’s sputters of pure oxygen in the thin air caused the airborne dust to dance and panic. “Nah, it’s fine Chawly…”

“Somethin’s bothern you, brother. Here, penny for your thoughts.” Chawly flipped a coin, the distance between our windows making his simple act miraculous. It hit my hand still warm from Chawly’s fist.

“This is a five yen coin, Chawly.”

“Does that make it more or less than a penny*?”

“I think it’s about the same amount of worthless.”

“Let’er rip, then.” Chawly crawled out onto the window ledge, his long, naked legs dangling in midair. “Let’er rip.”

I took in a deep breath and let it snake slowly back out of my lips. “I ain’t ever gonna get out of here, am I?”

“Old widow Keerney bought it three days ago. You could move in to her old place.”

“Not that. Topside. I used to go places, you know? On the ground, up the river back east. The world’s a big place, man. It gave me everything I needed. I was like a rolling stone, Chawly.”

“Like a stone,” Chawly said, drawing it in. “I heard once, that you drop a penny from high enough, the force of gravity turns it hard and fast. You can kill a man from this height, turn a worthless coin into a killing machine. Load of bullshit, but fun to think about.You wanna be a stone, that may be the only way.” Chawly turned around, slinking back into his crevice of a room. “I got meat on the grill. You’re welcome to some, you wanna come over”

I laughed at this. Pass the chasm that separated our buildings? Might as well fly, or put on a Suit. But Chawly stopped me fast with a stone-serious gaze. “Basket’s waiting, brother.”

“You cannot be serious.”

“I don’t got your faith in the world, neighbor. But I do know that I anchored this line pretty damn well.”

“And if the line breaks?”

“You were the one that wanted to leave.”

I imagined falling out of the basket, tumbling through clouds like spilt wine. “Maybe I’ll get lucky,” I said. “Maybe I’ll land on a Suit.”

“HA! I like that!” Chawly threw his bearded head back, and his laughter echoed and shook the stones of Topside.

For the first time since I had first crawled up to that umpth-hundred-floor room, I felt it shake me, too.

The Final Voyage Of Captain Shakespeare

The crash was magnificent, heard three systems away and felt by half the galaxy. The other half were immediately informed via telepathy, televisapathy and tele-empathy, and felt as if they had felt it. Such was the impact.

The grand old captain himself, however, newly cloned and fresh from artificial endorphins and digitally inserted memories, shrugged off the whole thing. “Eh,” he was quoted. “Good an end as any. Consider that the final voyage of Captain Shakespeare, then. Time enough I was through with the whole bit.”

Time enough, everyone agreed with a sigh of relief. Time enough.

And so then did the immense interplanetary causeways of space and time breathe easy, free from Captain Shakespeare’s impulsive reality bends and left-handed turns. The day the Captain hung his helmet and started to raise begonias, intergalactic travel safety numbers rose and deaths plummeted; no mass-murder in the history of the universe had the kill rate of Captain Shakespeare with a few bolts of Lighting Hopkins in him. Space was safe again.

But at what cost? Re-Clone stations from one solar system to another closed their doors, the demand for new bodies having plummeted so. Drastic measures needed to be taken. Heads of the Re-Clone Guild left to meet with the Captain at his home, waded through the waist-high begonias, and pleaded with the Once-Scourge of the Spaceways to again throw caution to the wind and ruin some bodies of spacetravelers.

The grand old captain met them with a perfunctory amount of grace and pleasantries, offering tea and scones. Once they had all sat down and unanimously decided upon the less than edible nature of the scones, Captain Shakespeare regaled them with the story of his original cloning. How he was asked to write more plays, and not just for the theatre he was accustomed to, but also for holo- and empath-theatres, which baffled his mind at the time.

“You remember,” the Captain said, stroking his mustache. “The Baconians put up such a fuss, claiming they were right all along. Such ridiculousness!” The members of the Re-Clone delegation all nodded, unsure where he was going with this. “In any case, I didn’t want to write any more plays. I mean, if you had lived in London when I did, what with the shit and filth and…well, I won’t go into it. But if you had, you’d understand why I had to write. And why, as soon I as didn’t live there and then anymore, why I wanted to take to the stars.”

At this, the members of the delegation sat on the edge of their chairs. “So, you’ll be returning? To the stars?”

“No,” said Captain Shakespeare. “I’ve had enough. Perhaps I shall write again. Or maybe I will continue to develop begonias. If you gentlemen would care, I have a new genus in the back, cross-bred with a venus fly-trap. Managed to get it simply enormous in stature. It’s really quite breath-taking.”

The delegation declined, in no small amount due to the gleam in the Captain’s eye. Waving them off, Captain Shakespeare suggested convincing the clone of Samuel Clemmons to take up space travel.

The delegation, who had come all this way, who had waded through begonias and munched upon scones of solid rock, sagged their shoulders futher.

They would never be able convince Clemmons.