Order in the Court

The judge pounded his gavel three times on the sound block. “Next case!”

The bailiff stood at attention. “Sol versus Robert J. Walsh. Case Number 28769-807.61. Mr. Walsh was clocked doing 121,546 kilometers per hour within the ecliptic.”

The judge scanned the arrest report on his monitor. Without looking at the defendant he asked, “How do you plead, Mr. Walsh?”

“Not guilty, your Honor. I was beyond the orbit of Saturn. There’s no traffic out there. There’s over a million kilometers of empty space between ships. I don’t see why there should be a speed limit beyond the asteroid belt. It’s ridiculous.”

“Maybe so, Mr. Walsh. But the speed limit extends to the Kepler Belt. The law is very specific.”

“Then it’s a dumb law.”

Visibly angered, the judge pounded his gavel once again. “I’ve heard enough. I find you guilty of violating Solar System Statute 2375.329 for exceeding the beaconed speed limit, and for reckless flying within the ecliptic.” The Judge turned back to the monitor. “I see that this is your third offence, Mr. Walsh. Therefore, I have more options in sentencing. This time, you will perform system service. And, since you appear to enjoy traversing the solar system, you are ordered to tow an ice comet, not smaller that 100,000 metric tones, which contains at least 50% of its mass in the form of water-ice, to the Deimos colony in Mars orbit. You have to tow the comet by yourself, Mr. Walsh. You cannot use your father’s credits to hire a towing company. You have six months to deliver the comet, so I suggest that you start hunting for your snowball right away. Try looking in the asteroid belt, or the rings of Saturn. You are dismissed Mr. Walsh. And I recommend you obey the speed beacons in the future.”

The defendant jumped to his feet. “What! Are you nuts? Tow a comet to Mars? Do you know who I am? I’m not an ice-jockey. I have three college degrees, including a PhD in Political Science. This sentence is ridiculous. You’re ridiculous. The damn speed limit is ridiculous.”

The judge pointed the business end of his gavel toward the defendant. “Make that 200,000 metric tones, Mr. Walsh. And if you don’t like the law, run for congress when you get back from Mars and change it. Now, if you don’t want to be towing ice cubes the rest of your life, I suggest you get the hell out of my courtroom.”

The judge pounded his gavel three times on the sound block. “Next case!”

A Room of One’s Own

“It’s a transition period,” Meryl says, but everyone knows that once you’re in, it’s nearly impossible to get out. It’s a matter of logistics, really. We’re a three-person, which means that each of us gets about five waking hours per day. Take travel time into account, and we each have four hours to work, assuming that we never eat. That’s barely enough to pay maintenance, let alone save up for a new place.

Meryl was forty-seven when she moved into the body. Kate and I think it was some sort of cancer, because she’s always cluttering up the rules list with health-nut commandments like “don’t eat artificial sweetener” and “don’t sit near the smoking section.” Kate was hit by a bus when she was twenty four, and my body died of a good old-fashioned heart attack at the ripe age of seventy three.

We’ve been sharing the body for three years, which has been more than enough time to get on each other’s nerves. Kate’s always dressing us in terrible fad fashions, and once when Meryl stepped in she found a silver hoop in our navel. Meryl writes ad copy for an herbal health supplement line, and I swear, she’s going to give us carpal tunnel with all of that typing.

When one person’s in the body, the rest of us sit around in the lobby, which really isn’t a lobby at all. We can’t see out, since only the person in control can use the senses. Sometimes we tell jokes, or talk about our lives before the body. Usually, though, we gossip about whoever’s in the cockpit. It’s just girl talk, though. No bad blood.

The only time we’re all in the lobby together is the weekly meeting, Tuesday night after we’ve left the body to sleep. It lasts about an hour, before we get tired as well, and we use that time to talk about group expenses and time management. This week, we resolved to eat more tofu (Meryl’s still upset about our failed attempt at vegetarianism), get our hair highlighted (but nothing too extreme, we warned Kate) and buy lottery tickets. It’s up to almost $400 million this week, which would be enough to buy us each a supermodel. A girl’s gotta have some space to herself, and it doesn’t hurt anyone if that space was in a swimsuit magazine.

Damage Control

“This is a disaster,” said Herman Goodrich. His magnetic chair glided away from the table and bobbed gently as he threw his excessive weight into it, then it obediently slid back into place. Goodrich wiped a glaze of sweat from his forehead and reached for a donut before opening his console. Around the conference table, the other members of the Department of Media Relations waited for their leader to continue, but he did not. Instead, Goodrich focused his attention on the document projected into the air before him. The silence was palpable.

“Sir?” Dugan, the second-year intern, was the only one with the courage to break it. Goodrich looked up crossly.

“Did I give you permission to speak?” he snapped.

“No, sir.”

“Then don’t. Have we suppressed the medical report?” Goodrich continued. The question was directed to Kimley, who nodded. “And the man’s family?”

“Bribed,” Kimley said, “But the ER footage is still on the net. We can’t cover up the shooting itself.”

“Would anyone care to explain to me why the Prime Minister’s ray gun was set to lethal?”

“It wasn’t, sir,” said Kimley. “The man had a pacemaker. It malfunctioned at the livestock-stun setting.”

Goodrich nodded. “A true hunting accident,” he said with some relief.

“CNN wants to interview the victim,” Kimley continued.

“Well, tell them he’s recovering. It’ll blow over.”

“Sir,” said Dugan, again interrupting.

“I told you-“

“Sir, an interview might help us in this situation.”

“You know how the Prime Minister is with interviews.”

“I mean with the victim.”


“The victim’s dead, Dugan,” Kimley said.

“They don’t know that. I’ve been researching the automated decoys that the Secret Service uses during the Prime Minister’s transports, and-“

“You want CNN to interview a decoy?”

“It would only take a couple of hours to make a cast of the victim’s face, and we have the Prime Minister’s phone logs for voice modulation. We’d be controlling every response.”

Herman Goodrich considered this, frowning slightly.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Kimley said after a pause.

“Fine,” said Goodrich as he pushed the magnetic chair from the table. “Set it up. I want a test video in five hours.”

As she pneumatic door slid shut behind the department head, Kimley smiled at Dugan. “You’re going to be good at this,” he said.

Sweet Dreams

Originally, Karen went along with the idea because she was certain her roommate wouldn’t come through with the goods. True, Jill had befriended (“befriended.” Chrissy giggled, her fingers hanging in mock quotation marks) a number of important people in the university’s psychology program, but the idea of sleep aids seemed like the idea of affixing electrodes to the testicles of rats. Sure, rat-zappers had some historical clinical purpose, but what decent university would still have something like that around?

Staring at the crudely-pressed blue oval in her hand, Karen could have sworn she felt a distinct shudder pass through her non-existent rodent genitalia. The three girls sat cross-legged on their respective beds, and only Jill seemed entirely comfortable.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Chrissy asked. Their third dorm-mate wore her yellow hair in the conservative braids of a Europan farm girl, and she was prone to fits of irrational giggling. Karen was counting on her to back out.

“The human brain is programmed to sleep,” Jill said with the unwavering confidence of a first-year student who’d never read conflicting e-texts.

“Not anymore,” Chrissy argued.

“Of course it is. It’s primal. Way deep. You know, in that Freud thing. Your brain has years of sleep to catch up on. No implant can cover that.”

Karen said nothing, and Chrissy made a quiet sound that should have been the beginning of a chuckle but died somewhere in her throat.

“It’s totally safe,” Jill continued. “Your unconscious mind’s been storing up images for your whole life, and once you’re out,” she waved her flattened palm in a gesture that was not at all reassuring, “they’ll all spill over and you’ll dream. Like a movie all about yourself. And they go, like, an hour per minute because your eyes move so fast.”

“How do we know to wake up?” Karen finally asked. This stopped Jill for an instant.

“I don’t know. We just do. That’s how it works.”

“What if we don’t?”

“We do,” she said forcefully, and threw her hand to her mouth to down the pill without the assistance of water. She smiled, as if daring the other two to follow suit, and Karen and Chrissy locked eyes and nodded before placing their pills on their tongues. “Sweet dreams,” said Jill.

“Sweet dreams,” Karen repeated.


Courtney was the leader: a petite woman in a well-tailored business suit and Italian leather shoes. Her straight blond hair was cropped at her chin and her blue eyes burned with determination behind silver-framed glasses. She walked with purpose, her heels clicking against the tile of the lobby, and she carried her bomb in an alligator briefcase.

Mike was first backup. He took the time to chain his silver bicycle to the rack in front of the office building, but he left his helmet unsecured in the metal basket. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of Chinatown Oakleys and his red hair was a clumsy masterpiece. He flashed a grin at the receptionist and unfolded his delivery papers with a wholly unnecessary flourish. He carried his bomb against his hip in a blue and red canvas messenger bag.

Adam had a different job. He walked down the sidewalk in an oasis of sound, his ears covered by headphones that were far too large to be missed, even in the tangled jungle of his dark brown curls. The headset cord trailed down his arm to connect with a large black boom box. The cuffs of Adam’s jeans were frayed and torn from weeks of slipping between his Timberlands and the asphalt, and his hands were buried deep in the pockets of a nylon jacket bearing the name of his high school’s football team. The apartment building’s doorman didn’t stop him as he walked to the elevator. Adam carried his bomb in a black Jansport book bag, which he wore slung over one shoulder.

“Report,” Courtney said when the elevator door closed and left her on the thirty-forth floor. Her voice was dissected and scrambled and thrown to the satellites by the small plastic headset attached to her ear.

“Here,” Mike said, kneeling on the roof of a building two blocks away.

“Here,” Adam said as he set up his bomb in a windowless, empty apartment.

“Target lock?” she asked. She tested the positioning of her bomb with a pocket laser pointer, and a red dot appeared on the concrete face of the tunnel entrance over the stuttering stream of cars that would begin the deluge of rush hour.

“Lock,” said Mike, and another dot met her own

“I’m good,” said Adam. A low beep spilled from Courtney’s earphone, but it quickly dissipated.


The bombs were left in position and the three reconvened at a bar near the tunnel to begin countdown. Adam placed the stereo on the table between the three, then ejected a compact disc and fiddled with the archaic FM dial while Courtney ordered a wine for herself and draft beers for the others.

“Four fifty nine,” Courtney said, and Mike reached for the bucket of pretzels. The wall shimmered and gave way to numbers. 81.2 FM.

Courtney took a sip of her wine and watched from the window of the bar as the wall above the tunnel entrance went white. The flood of cars outside of the tunnel had fallen still, caught in the tension of endless traffic. Pedestrians halted, startled by the light.

The speakers exploded into sound.

“Yes!” Mike cheered as the theme song began. Adam offered his hand and high-fives were exchanged as the bombs went off and the wall above the tunnel proudly displayed a white boat, topped by a smiling man. Adam’s stereo continued, and a chorus of cheerful voices promised to deliver ‘the tale of a fateful trip’ to every person with a radio.

“Finally,” Courtney said with a smile as the opening of Gilligan’s Island hung in thirty-foot shapes before them. “We can watch something that isn’t political.”