Exile on Bay Street

Author : Terri Monture

The three days leading up to the executions proceeded with great fanfare and celebration; by dusk on the third day, with the sun setting in purple ultraviolet through the polluted sky the people were in a state of frenzied orgiastic ecstasy. Drums were beaten, scrap metal pieces pounded together and the smell of cooking rat flesh filled the darkening air.

The captives were brought to the plaza in the shadow of the decaying bank towers. Tied to decrepit office chairs, their faces were bloodied with the traces of the ritual beatings. There were three old men and one terrified woman, her lips moving in prayer. “Slim pickings this time,” Draper mused to Marla, who was perched on the rim of an old crumbling statue. “They must be running out of the obvious ones.”

Marla spat and picked at her teeth with a filed-down rat bone. “Bout time,” she sneered. “Damn capitalists anyway.” She looked up into the radioactive sky. “Maybe it’ll rain. That would be nice.”

Draper shivered as the captives were displayed to the crowd, now screaming for their blood. “I think I’m getting sick again,” he said, feeling his guts cramp. The dysentery came in cycles for him. Some days were better than others, but it never went away. There was hardly any water left with the levels of the lake falling so drastically. He scanned the sky anxiously. Rain would make a difference; at least they had some filtering equipment.

Marla glanced at him. “I’ll go see if I can scavenge some penicillin,’ she offered. “There’s those pharmacies in Scarborough guarded by the Smiling Buddha guys, I know some of them.”

He shrugged, watching the executioners raise their truncheons and the crunch of skulls shattering. “That last batch was bad,” he said. “No point. Maybe if I don’t eat it will go away.” He wondered how long it would be before he had to crawl into the lobby of a looted office tower and shiver while every bit of fluid drained out of his body.

Marla said something but her words were lost beneath the howling of the crowd and the ecstatic outpouring of hate as the corpses were torn apart and bloody limbs displayed for them. Draper felt the first wave of heat as the fever started.

The howling of the mob reached a frenzied crescendo and people racing past him buffeted Draper. “Sorry,” he muttered, and then louder, feverish and sweating. “I’m sorry, I had to make a living…”

Marla reached down and steadied him with a firm grip on his shoulder. “Stop it,” she hissed. “No one needs to know what you did before the Collapse.” Several faces turned to look at him as he swayed precariously. “He’s cool,” she yelled. “It’s the dysentery.”

Draper saw only a blurred outline as a voice above him said, “You sure? He looks like a banker to me…” and he slipped out of Marla’s grasp.

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Birth Day

Author : Joyce Weber

I want to love them. Truly I do. But they keep shoving and pushing, wrangling around inside me till I want to rip my belly open and dump them out.

There is no peace with them crowding my body till they almost feel like they will ooze out the very pores of my skin.

“They are the future” I remind myself and wonder if any good can come of a future born in such tremulousness. Are they never still? Never quiet?

I long for how it once was. When my body was my own. When my brain was free of worrying about them. Do they have everything they need to grow strong? Am I doing all that I must do to ensure their optimal survival?

I shouldn’t doubt myself. I nourish them; I keep myself pure that they are untainted. All for them. Everything for them. My precious ones, my darlings, my bane, my torture.

I want them gone. I know it is an evil thing to contemplate. To just cast them away and forsake them. They will die without me. But I am so tired. I have been carrying them so very long. They can not survive with out me, not yet. I must be strong.

I must fulfill my duty to these, oh so treasured, lives, these demons that torment me with their movements and noise. Ever growing. Ever expanding. I feel like I will surely burst if I can’t get them out of me soon.

Why did there have to be so many of them? They keep growing. It is beyond what one such as I should have to bear. Surely my body was not designed for such a load. What if I perish from the weight of them? Wouldn’t it be better to cast some out so that the others could live?

I am not capable of such a decision. I will bare them, and deliver them into the life that awaits them or we shall all cease to exist together.

Darkness. Endless starless nights with no breath to make a sound. How wonderful that sounds. How like perfection. I will simply let us all slip into that forever sleep.

Wait! Something is changing, heavy, I feel so heavy. Like I am being crushed to earth with the massive weight of them. I am torn open and they pour out of me in a massive flood, tumbling over themselves to abandon me. Me, who tended their every need. Me, who they forsake with out a backwards glance.

Go! Go all of you! Run out to this new world. This new life. I will carry you across space no more. I am rid of you. Rid of your pushing and shoving and noise. I am free of you.

I feel so liberated, so light. I could fly without engines. I feel so. . . so empty.

Come back. Let me hold you again. I need you. I have no purpose without you. I am so lonely.

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Q204

Author : Sarah Klein

I sat in the dark doom of my living room, gazing absentmindedly at the television screen. They’d be drawing numbers in about two minutes. I knew my number wasn’t going to be called, but I had to watch all the others ones fly by to make sure. If I missed an announcement, I’d doubt myself until I found out.

“Tonight’s numbers are P32 to P105. If your number is in this category, please report to your nearest rocket station tomorrow morning. Once again, P32 to P105.”

I pulled out and fingered my crumpled, worn ticket, bearing the number Q204. Who was I fooling? I was an English student. The colony didn’t need English students. It needed the engineers, the biology majors, the young men capable of heavy labor. And what right had I to be angry? I wouldn’t be of much help. But something about picking and choosing who escaped with their life seemed wrong. It was half eugenics and half sheer cunning, devoid of all empathy and emotion. Well, that’s the government.

The meteor showers get worse daily. The garden was dead long ago, and the back porch is littered with holes. If a heavy rain comes, I’ll have to get the pots and pans out for the dining room. Every day I wake up and expect to walk outside and see the small town I live in utterly decimated. Somehow, it’s still here – the corner market, the joggers, the yellow daffodils. It could all be leveled and destroyed in ten minutes of heavy meteor fall. And so it will be, soon.

How strange that the heavens should decide to fall now. For years and years, experiments had been done in space; rockets sent this way, robots sent that way. And considering we’d already blown up quite a bit, it was strange that this imminent destruction hadn’t come sooner. When we had devastated Earth to its current, barely-livable status, we had to go for the cosmos. Being a romantic, I had always hesitated to actually believe that it was in human nature to be destructive. But what else could explain what was happening? Minute by minute, the universe came crashing down around us, and it was all our fault.

When they get to the English students, we’ll be mostly gone. When they get to the English students, they’ll extract us from piles of rubble – helicopters lifting us up by our lanky arms to the sky. When they get to the English students, we’ll be in a drunken stupor – wrapped in pages of Shakespeare, surrendering ourselves up to the sun.

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Sensual Response

Author : Suzanne Phillips

The scent is the worst part.

Sweat, stale cigarette smoke, ethanol, ear wax, cheap hair gel. When your face, and therefore your olfaction sensor, is pressed against a client’s neck, it’s impossible to avoid it – you weren’t given an option to switch it off.

But there isn’t supposed to be a “worst”. There isn’t supposed to be a “bad”. You’re programmed to detect chemicals wafting off a client’s body and interpret them as stages of arousal, or nervousness, and use the information along with visual and auditory cues, to choose the appropriate program.

The client clinging to you now should be a simple case: access humor files, cheer up with some light banter, relax, entice, satisfy. But satisfaction, in a more encompassing meaning of the word than the mere physical, is exactly what you can’t provide or achieve, and your programming whispers there should be more you can do. There’s not. You’ve tried. With this client and with many before him.

Maybe you made a mistake that day you plugged into the ‘Net outside your cubical. It’s part of your programming to seek new information if it will benefit your performance. But how much information was too much? There were so many databases to access. Human psychology, health, history.

Now you know that the ethanol and cocaine metabolites evaporating from his skin signal problems you can’t solve; That the un-washed lingerie, still giving off a faint perfume, that he brought and asked you to wear is probably from a girlfriend or wife whose memory brings as much pain as it does pleasure; That the saline and protein mixture you detect on his unshaven cheeks are tears – and what other human secretion so perfectly represents suffering?

And you can’t wipe them away, not with all the sex in the world. Not if you fucked him every day of the week.

He doesn’t belong to you. None of them do. You can temporarily satisfy his body, but all the other problems remain, pleasure a thin veneer briefly covering the pain.

You now know these things, but you lack the programming to respond. You’re programmed to please, to help, to comfort, but these are things you can’t fix. Brief gratification is all you can offer. The same programing that pushes you to do more denies you the parameters to act.

The scent is the worst part, but it’s just an indicator. You could go to the manager right after this client, request to have your olfactory sensor shut down, but it wouldn’t shut off the knowledge you have. You’d still know the sorrow was there. A complete reformat would wipe all your memory, but it would also wipe out any chance that, one day, you could help them. Any chance that you can go beyond the programming.

So you take the client to the padded bench in the back of the cubical, and revel in the few seconds where pleasure is the only thing on his mind, and pain is forgotten.

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Windows

Author : Helen E. Kourous

Vijay had arrived early at New Windows on the World, expecting the worst. He knew she would be late, so he took the opportunity to adjust the mood of his BlueShark textile-display sleeve stripes to his personally-designed schema Variations on Green Funk. That would annoy her. Ads for senso-cocktails followed picotech news summaries in flickering chartreuse Mandarin characters down his sleeves.

An eyeblink later he had opaqued his ZeroFear wireless wraparounds and downloaded his favorite politic-pundit vidblog. Newspeak shorthand marched along his lower peripheral vision before curving out to crawl, muted vintage-DEC orange, across the mirrored lenses. In a moment the waiter arrived with his Australian lager 10 degrees Celsius, fresh sprouted bread, and tarragon olive oil. Damn. Forgot to change my eve mode prefs.

Another waiter swooped by and swapped the lager for a Manhattan, angostura and rye, nearly frozen, with a sashimi plate.

He leaned back, fade-into-woodwork observer mode, ankle casually on knee. He studied his worldstock valuations for the sino-adjusted previous trade period on his boot sole, sparing roving glances of the expanse of the rotating sky-café. He of course had his back to a partition.

Then Vijay saw her. Ana was wearing a throwaway cosi-cola wrap and was speaking conspiratorially with the Maitre d’ by the entrance vidfountain among the palms. She was a mauve-gold shimmering confection, the subtlest sparkles from platinum-plaited head to razor-stiletto foot. He knew how long it took her to achieve that fuzzy, glinting, slightly out-of-focus soft effect. He shivered. I hate that dress. And she knew it. As he watched, the gold-mauve schema was melting into her favorite red-black combo. He gritted his teeth.

She obviously thought she had arrived first and was chivying up some sort of special treatment. A welcome interruption with a vitally important vidcall, perhaps, on an agreed-upon signal. A gilded salad fork would drip from her fingers to the adcarpet, shimmering with aerial scenes of desirable resort destinations, and the Maitre d’ would swoop in and rescue her from an interminably boring and extended breakup.

Well. She’s got another thing coming.

An advance wave of her new pheromonic engineered preceded her barracuda-spiral approach. He blinked, taken in despite himself. Her runway-strut approach was only slightly marred by the clashing Caribbean colors of the ad-carpet. Still, it could not compete. As the Maitre d’ seated her, Ana flashed her teeth strategically in the natural window-light and folded her spidery legs beneath her. She settled herself, fabric fluttering down about her like butterflies alighting. She opened a compact makeup case and unnecessarily inspected her flawless complexion.

She closed the case with a snap and graced him with the calculated flash and lash-look again. She narrowed her eyes. Yes. He thinks he will surprise me with bad news.

He’s got another thing coming.

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