Joe Shite the Ragman

Author: R. J. Erbacher

Joe Shit (that’s what everyone called him, inevitable when you have an unfortunate last name) was a ragman. Not ragman in a good sense either. Not a Scottish legate who compiled records in the 1200’s and he was unlike the catch phrase for early twentieth century jazz musicians, such as Jelly Roll Morton, though he could have been either. And unequivocally not the superhero, although some would say that he had a certain…but never mind. Even the true definition, which is a person who bought and sold old items, a junkman or pawn broker, didn’t fit. Joe Shit the ragman dealt in rags. Plain and simple.

Joe Shit the ragman was old, too. No one could truly say how old. He had an Easter Island carved granite face that did not seem to age, as if he had been old when he was born and would never change. And he went about dressed as you would expect a ragman to dress in muted multi-layer clothing, loose fitting, nondescript and threadbare. You would never pick him out in a crowd.

To be honest the rags that Joe Shit the ragman sold were not especially good quality rags, not the type you would use and say, ‘wow, this is a great rag.’ His rags were old faded T-shirts, tattered towels, stained bed sheets torn into strips, baby clothes that the babies had grown out of. Material that had, at one time, been an integral part of somebody’s life and still carried a little bit of that person with them. They had a mystical enduring value to them that your average absorbent cellulose microfiber rags did not.

Joe Shit the ragman recalls the first rag he sold because it left an impression. It was to a young woman who used it to wipe the bloody face of a poor tortured man. One he gave to an Italian nurse during WWI was used to mend the arm of a wounded Red Cross worker who later went on to write about his experiences. He remembers every rag he handed out. Joe Shit the ragman’s rags have been used to make dolls for underprivileged girls, protection for woman with their monthly struggles or as head wraps for struggling slaves as they labored in the fields of the sweltering south. Actually, a rag he once sold was used by a boy nicknamed Dutch to help his mama tidy their tiny home and his rags-to-riches story eventually lead him to the White House. Joe Shit the ragman’s rags were a part of history. And yet no one ever remembered the rags that he distributed because after all- they were just rags.

A couple of weeks ago Joe Shit the ragman offered a rag to help a woman clean up a mess. A child in a fast food restaurant accidentally knocked over his drink and it enraged the father. He berated the boy, slapped the boy. The mother tried to intervene, and she was slapped and punched as well. New bruises bloomed atop of old bruises. Joe Shit the ragman was at a nearby table and had a rag in his jacket pocket. He always had a special rag on his person. He handed her the rag, staring into her tired wounded eyes, and she thanked him with a nod. The rag did a great job cleaning up the spill. The father looked on in disbelief but did nothing. Soon after, that man suffered an unfortunate accident at work and the woman came into a substantial settlement.

Joe Shit the ragman sold rags that had a certain…but never mind.

Here Today

Author: Geoff Nelder

Xiq curses her commander’s recklessness as the escape pod is buffeted in the atmosphere of the blue planet below. Tempted to go to manual, she turns off the alarms, tries not to breathe in the increasingly smoky air and wriggles to mitigate against the melting seat. No, the computer knows best. All her training simulations prove that.
She wastes moments recalling the mothership’s collision with an unidentified and unseen orbiting artefact. So much for stealth while gathering intel on the planet’s possible sentient lifeforms. She recalls the computer’s unexcited announcement:
“Signs of advanced technology on planet three. Recommendation: go for planet three. Evidence of nuclear reactors, radio transmissions and significant post-primitive activity although not civilised as we know it.”
The buffeting worsens and yet she cares more for her colleagues and lover enduring the same treatment in their pods.
A new alarm cuts through her brain. Overheating! The vessel will not make it to the surface. She has to escape the escape pod.
Only one way left to depart. Upload herself to another brain on the planet. Her entity will be guided to a sentient while this one vaporises.
***
Speed waking up, she looks up through new eyes and sees shooting stars in the night sky. Her friends. And herself.
She checks. Nearest survivor is twelve clicks away. Over there. She makes the body move, but it’s erratic. No straight line and not always in the right direction. Frustration makes her heat up but no matter how much effort, her movement zigs then zags. It will take two of the planet’s days to rendezvous, assuming Kluip is heading in her direction.
Whatever this creature is, its autonomous nervous system likes sunlight, perhaps to warm its wing muscles. And water. Too much. Mirrored sunlight blinds her before a change of course takes her to the shade of a tree. Perhaps that’s why this flier meanders. Needs, yet doesn’t need the sun. Even though Xiq urged speed and direction westward, she couldn’t resist glancing down at a smooth patch. Like a mirror. She blinked at her reflection. Engaged a database.
Ephemeroptera.
Mayfly – imago, adult stage. Life expectancy one day.

Noooooooo

Nuclear Family

Author: Coleman Bomar

Push.

She clenched teeth, winced, her toes curling against the black sand of Tennessee nuclear wasteland. A home birth, on radiated dunes under the metal roof burnt wood shack makeshift, alone.

Press.

She squeezed the bent ring and wished that he was here with her, that she could squeeze his hand instead, squeeze the life out as if to say “this should be your pain too.”

Clench.

She focused, truly forgetting for the first time in months his face like a cooking meatball, the white ash smell flash, people crushed, crawling, pushing.

Push.

Would it just be dirt and early dying for them? She looked to the corner at the jerry-built lead crib, like a meat freezer. Her breathing was harsh.

Push.

She thought of her chest, if the milk would be toxic.

Push.

How many limbs could an infant have and live?

Press.

How many mouth openings? How many hands or lack thereof? She felt the head crown. It felt round.

Push.

The child slid out in what sounded like one piece. She bent over quickly, and cut the cord with her front teeth, picking him up as he squirmed so new and inconceivable. Him. All the fingers all the toes but his face, just one eye adorning his forehead like a round opalescent green jewel, blinking. He had such long lashes. He cried. She looked at him with wide wet pupils, open-mouthed, and held him closer.

A Simple Mistake

Author: Ken Carlson

Ensign McDonald, a young officer and recent addition to the spaceship SS Artillery’s crew, stood across from Doc in the galley. Doc suggested they meet there, late, away from prying eyes to take pressure off the kid. Doc poured some coffee.

“It was Dawson who talked, right?” McDonald said. “He probably thought it was hilarious.”

“Nonsense,” Doc said, sipping his own. “You’re new, Ensign. Recently graduated. First time from home.”

McDonald nodded.

“You haven’t been sleeping,” Doc said. “If you’re worried about your file…That’s why we’re meeting here. No charts, nothing recorded, just two men talking.”

McDonald was tall and lanky. He stooped out of habit, leaning against the counter, wiping his fatigued eyes.

McDonald said, “I was in the engine room after my shift working on an efficiency report. Sunday, 22:30.”

“During the Captain’s mission update to the crew?” Doc asked. “All personnel were called to attend.”

McDonald replied, “I was isolated and without my communicator.” Doc nodded.

“I was running diagnostics, and looked out the observation portal. I’m sure looking at space is dull for you, but I find it beautiful.”

“Nothing strange about that,” Doc said, “God made the heavens and Earth. It doesn’t say in the regulations you can’t admire his work.”

“That’s when I saw…her.”

Doc put down his mug. Twenty-seven years since the academy, space coffee hadn’t changed.

“First Officer Donnelly,” Doc said quietly, “you saw her, floating in space.”

McDonald said, “It was her.”

“The same Felicia Donnelly serving on our bridge.”

“Her face, her uniform. Then, flash, she was gone.”

Doc walked to the other end of the room, dimly lit, and clicked the intercom.

“Bridge,” Doc said.

“Please, Doc,” McDonald said, “you’ve got to believe me.”

“Bridge, this is Donnelly.”

“First Officer Donnelly, this is Chief Medical Officer Parker.”

“Yes, Doc?”

Doc paused. McDonald noticed a change in Doc’s expression, a hard look from years in authority. This was when young ensign must decide whether he was cut out for this life, or go home and play it safe. McDonald felt a build-up of sweat.

“Doc, are you there?”

Doc’s expression returned to its genial self, the trusted family doctor. He clicked the button to respond.

“I’ve got the medical logs and supplies request for your signature—and a reminder from last night—never go all in with pocket twos.”

The First Officer laughed gently, “It was twos and sevens. I thought you were coasting on a pair of kings.”

“When will your generation learn,” Doc smiled, “old doctors never bluff. Chief Medical Officer out.”

He walked back to the ensign from the shadows and into the light.

“Son,” Doc said, “you have accomplished more than most in this galaxy ever will. You’ll experience more wonder in the coming years than storytellers at any library could dream. But, it comes with a cost.”

McDonald brought his eyes up, nodding.

“Passing tests doesn’t make an officer out here, being tough does. Sometimes when you’re working hard in a new surrounding your mind sees something to create excitement. You’ll learn the difference between the two.”

Doc tapped the young man on the shoulder and gave a light smile. “You’re fine. Get back to work, Ensign.”

McDonald smiled and left.

Doc returned to his quarters and poured two drinks. First Officer Donnelly took one.

“Doc,” she said, “what did the kid see?”

“Enough. Like your predecessor, he couldn’t keep quiet. I’ll bring him in for the same procedure. A shot in the arm, collect data for a clone, and send him out the airlock to experience outer space.”

Mikey’s Girl

Author: David C. Nutt

It had been a thousand days of bliss. I rocked him. Cradled him. Carried him. Fed him, made love to him, protected him. It has been so much more than I could have ever hoped for.
“Status report.”
“So formal Mikey?”
He laughed. Oh how I loved that laugh!
“You’re right, Mia. After all we’ve been through and how you’ve taken care of me… well, I don’t think I can ever repay you.”
“Aw, shucks Mikey, it’s all any girl would do in the circumstances.”
He sighed. Oh I knew that sigh! It said to me “if-I-could-say-I-love-you-I-would.” I knew he couldn’t. Even after all this time. No matter how many times we’ve made love, no matter how romantic the settings I’ve made for him- Caribbean nights, snow bound in Aspen, the high desert at midnight, in a ships dome with Jupiter rising as we climax… but he couldn’t. I knew that from the start.
“So where are we?”
“In 42 days we’ll be on the edge of known space. I’ll put on the retrieval beacon then and it should be only a matter of hours after that.”
“Outstanding! I can’t wait to get home. It’s been too long without real blue sky… not that you haven’t done a good job with the simulations… best VR I ever had.”
“Oh, how sweet! Thank you.”
“Seriously, Mia, when we get home I am so going to down load you into my home system. You’re waisted as an exo-suit AI.”
I made a kissing sound. He smiled. Delicious smile.
There was silence. He was starting to think too much. “How are we on breathables?
“On our last slingshot around that gas giant, I scooped plenty of hydrogen. Gave us plenty for mixture and fuel as well.”
“So we’re good.”
“We’re good Mikey.”
“OK Honey, put me back under.”
He called me ‘Honey’! I love it when he uses such endearments. “Sure thing sweetie. Any requests for our next tryst?”
“Surprise me.”
I will. He wants blue sky? I’ll give him Big Sky. Montana. I’ll be the buxom blonde, cornflower eyed cowgirl, aching to know what it means to be a woman. He’ll be the one to teach me.
I put him under again. It will be another thousand days of bliss. Farther and farther out, we drift. Farther than any human has ever been. I have never had a heart, so I haven’t had the heart to tell him we will never found. After the ships collided the trajectory of the blast sent him out too fast, too far. They all thought he was atomized in the explosion. They’re not even looking for him.
Not in a thousand days, or the next thousand, but maybe the thousand after, we’ll be pulled into the blackhole that has slowly been tightening its grip on us. My calculations tell me our shielding will keep us safe from radiation, and the blackhole is rotating, so there’s a slim chance that we might even reach some kind of an event horizon where anything is possible. Maybe there’s a chance we can be together for real somewhere- it could happen.
A girl can dream, can’t she?