Kill the Poets

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“My lady, is that a joke or an order?”

Kalifornia raised a painted eyebrow at the the Chief Constable of Luna. The Chief was a solidly built man, veteran of the bitter room-to-room and sometimes hand-to-hand combat of the Secession. He had personally bludgeoned a brace of men to death and dozens more had fallen to his steady trigger finger. Ten thousand Deputy Constables answered to him and to him alone. Even the mighty Fleet deferred to his judgement in matters local to Luna’s surface.

Nevertheless, his pulse always rose in in the presence of the First Lady.

“Is anyone laughing?” she asked.

The Chief shifted his weight.

“If you might be more specific,” he said.

Kalifornia rolled her ivory shoulders and gazed off at the high ceiling of the Senate’s main vault.

“You know,” she said, “ the poets. The fortune tellers, the beggars, the street-folk who will tell you rhymes and stories and useless little morsels. The ones who will tell you anything, anything at all to put your coin in their pockets.”

Her eyes returned to the Constable.

“Kill them all–even the women.”

“You are serious, my lady.”

Kalifornia’s big clear eyes clouded, narrowed, shrunk to tiny black pools of hate.

“Are you questioning-” she started.

“Ma’am, I beg you reconsider,” said the Chief. “There are hundreds of them, at least the ones that are known to my people, and to drag every single one of them to an airlock-”

“Don’t waste your time,” said Kalifornia. “Shoot them.”

“My lady. Hundreds. Hundreds of folk gunned down in the halls-”

“Will be sufficient warning to the rest,” she said, running her long sharp nails through her blood-red hair.

The Chief stood before her in awe. If he refused he might live long enough to leave the Senate chambers. He may even make it to the company of Deputies. But their loyalty was to his title, and only that, and by nightfall there would be a new Chief Constable–one who would not hesitate for an instant before ordering such wholesale slaughter.

“My lady, let me make an example of those in Silver City first,” he said.

Kalifornia pressed the tips of her fingers together.

“Why, my dear Chief,” she asked, “would you limit my desire?”

“The people here in Silver are unwavering in their loyalty to you,” he said. “They will support and commend your bold action.”

“Your words suggest otherwise for balance of communities,” said Kalifornia.

“Then you hear me right,” said the Chief.

He held his breath, waiting for an outburst.

“So what of them?” the First Lady asked.

“They would be shown what your iron standard is, my lady. When the extermination continues there, they will not claim some unexpected and unjust atrocity,” and the Chief tasted bile at that word, “but instead they will know that they have been held accountable to your new policy, and they will have no grounds for complaint.”

Kalifornia turned from him for a moment. Then she spun and pulled herself into the Chief’s arms and she kissed him in a most unchaste manner.

She licked her lips whorishly when she finally pushed away from the lawman.

“Wise counsel,” she said, her smile all vicious white teeth.

“Thank you, my lady,” said the red-faced Chief.

“See that it is done this evening,” said Kalifornia, “so that the greatest portion of the public may bear witness.”

The Chief bowed deeply, suppressing a shudder.

“As you wish, my lady.”

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She can Read Reality Television

Author : Sean T. Rogers

She can read reality television with uncanny ability. Five minutes into the program she knows that the gay chef, the one with the balding mohawk, will be asked to leave, told to pack his knives. The vagaries of throwaway statements are her tealeaves. She sees the expressions of judges, the subtleties of editing. She never misses. The selected tearfully packs his knives, as was preordained.

She can read reality television and this week she watches from Nashville, from The Grand Ole Opry Hotel, where she is attending a trade show. She and a workmate buy six-packs and watch the program in their hotel room. She boasts of her talent, predicts, and once again is right. The tough girl, the one with the streak in her hair, the one that got into all the fights, packs her tools.

She can read reality television but he cannot. At home, he packs his belongings, looks around the apartment, pats the dog on the head one last time. There’s no need to write a note. She will not be surprised to find him gone, having deciphered the signs. She can read reality and will already know.

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Author : Sean Donovan

“The computers are down,” said Dhir. His voice was steady and unbroken though Lim knew that inside he was shattered.

Lim stared at him, her eyes blinking back tears of sorrow and fury. The computers are down. She repeated the phrase to herself, almost as if she needed to hear the words spoken inside of her head to make them factual.

Once, she’d been told, computers were tools – intelligent ones perhaps but tools just the same. In those bygone days that phrase did not have the same connotation as it did now. Once it meant that the computers were malfunctioning, broken, in need of man’s help. No more. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now, deep underground and abruptly realizing that their assumed safety was a sham, the meaning behind Dhir’s statement was all too clear to her. The desolation on the surface of the planet didn’t seem so distant any more.

“You mean they’ve moved past the pulse barrier?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“About an hour ago,” he replied, his eyes meeting hers. Looking into them, she suddenly realized how weary those once beautiful orbs now looked, how strained and hollow they’d become since the sentries had first reported discovering the freshly drilled tunnels not more than a few weeks ago.

“So that means we’ve got what? Two hours? Three?”

“Tops,” he responded quietly. “Probably less than one at the rate they’re moving.”

With the systematic destruction of all means of long-distance communication, the burning of the printed books and the surge purging of the electronic data libraries, most information was nothing more than ashes and wayward electrons. It was all gone. Combined with the loss of contact with the Solar Watchmen, so was the history of the Silicon Rising.

All Lim knew was what she had heard in stories as a child, listening intently as her kin-tribe related tales that seemed too dark to be true – tales heard deep under the granite bedrock of what had once been New Hampshire, under what had once been America, under what had once been an Earth ruled by humans.

Even those twenty odd years ago, no one could remember exactly how the computers came to seize control, forcing mankind’s unplanned return back into caves and crags in a resented exodus to a Neolithic lifestyle. All they knew was that one day, man had woken to a new world, one where the linked silicon groupmind had decided that a change of the stewardship of the planet was in order.

The destruction of man’s fragile empire had occurred faster than anyone had imagined possible. With undebated orders carried to the electronic troops at the speed of fiber-optic light, irrefutable binary-coded logic behind them, actions were carried out in perfect synchronicity across the globe and those born of flesh stood no chance against the onslaught.

Some opined it was the work of an alien race, some blamed cosmic radiation and some called it a smite from a god who’d grown jealous of mankind’s omniscience over these machines, punishing his own creation for aspiring to become too godlike in its own way.

The reasons and opinions and guesses were myriad. Facts were much harder to come by, and with the loss of any method of data retrieval (the attempts at which had ruined the minds of the greatest scientists left alive on the planet) there were no facts available to those who yearned for a reason why.

Not that it matters now, she thought.

“The computers are down,” Dhir repeated with a sigh. He rose from his monitoring station and without even a glance a Lim, walked to his quarters. She didn’t flinch when the shot rang out shortly thereafter. She’d known it was coming, just as she knew she’d never hear the report when she pulled the trigger of her own service weapon, barrel pressed comfortably against her soft temple. Not yet though, she thought. I want to hear you first…

She listened carefully, ear pressed against the granite that they once thought would be mankind’s salvation. She could hear them in the distance, drilling, grinding, chewing through the last meters of bedrock. Down they came, ever downward. The computers are down, she thought to herself as she stood and followed in Dhir’s wake.

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Author : Jennifer C. Brown a.k.a Laieanna

I was twelve when the world went mad. Mom saw it coming well before then and she prepared, stocking up on goods and drilling into me the importance of keeping secret our supply. At first the epidemic seemed to spread slowly, starting in third world countries, but soon after it grew at an incredible rate. The states, last to fall, were affected within three months time.

“Keep it hidden,” Mom used to whisper in my ear. I’d sit on her big lap, lay my head on her pillow breasts, and watch movies she had stashed under the floorboards of our trailer. “Never let them look at you closely and keep the warehouse to yourself. I’m trusting you, girl.”

And that’s how it was. Mom stayed in our secluded trailer. I continued school till I was fourteen. It was hard keeping the teachers and nurses from poking at me, but mom had an excuse ready for everything. When she died, I quit going.

She was hard to bury. It took me three days to drag her out of the trailer and far enough that the critters wouldn’t bother me. Later, I went to town with what money I had. Joggers, walkers, and bikers crowded the streets. Kids jump roped in parks and threw balls over traffic lights. Even the old were out. Every one of them fit and trim, barely breathing hard. Why she had to die in spring, I’ll never know. I drew my winter coat closer to my body. There were plenty of stares, but I still felt secure inside its linings.

I only had enough money for two bottles of bleach. I tried running back home, just to get away, but pain in my side stopped me time and again. When concerned people tried coming to help, I’d run again, just letting the air burn my lungs.

The smell and sorrow wrecked me. Tears never stopped rolling down my cheeks. It hurt to clean, my body tired. It hurt to see, eyes stinging from the chemicals. It hurt to think. I missed Mom. Fed up with trying, I took the secret key and headed for the warehouse. There was still plenty of food in the trailer, but I wanted to see what Mom died for.

After walking two hours, I could smell the sweetness wafting from the warehouse. Inside, I turned on the light and basked in the beauty. Mom had separated everything mainly by taste. Twinkies and ding dongs adorned most shelves. An assortment of Little Debbies lay in bins for surprise pickings. That world of health food and exercise didn’t know what they had when they started shutting down the factories. Mom did and she wasn’t letting them take that away from us. I pulled my shirt away from my stomach, scrunching up the hole that had worn through with the years and scooped at least fifteen twinkies from the shelf. Spreading my snacks over the floor, I sat, planning to eat till I puked.

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The Key

Author : KimBoo York

Tandoo sat on the steps, turning the key over in his hand. It was a silver stick, long and blank, and heavy. The door behind him stood solid and bright, just as without character as the key.

He held the key up and let the sunlight glint off the surface. The door would open onto a new world for him, he knew, but it was the key that had power over his life. His key. The key was a gift. It was not stolen. Still, he felt guilty, sitting on the steps with the key in his hands.

A hint of delicate, lacey latticework trim peeked over the top of the door frame. From that small bit of ornament, Tandoo constructed in his imagination a whole world – a whole life, in fact. It was full of white, clean architecture and lush, green gardens, and he loved to envision himself walking through those gardens in a light yellow pantsuit on his way to…

“You still here?” Mako walked up.

His sister was portly and kind, and worried. It seemed to Tandoo that she never stopped worrying about him.

“You need to go. You know the Corps will be grabbing boys soon for service. Off planet, right? Deep space. To fight the Unity.You need to go.”

He nodded. It wasn’t their war and no one wanted the village boys to go. He was lucky, as in blessed-by-ancient-gods lucky, to have the key.

“Go.” Mako turned and walked away.

He stood up and faced the door. The small square keyhole was in the middle of the door, so he reached up and slid the key in. He waited.

When Mako returned, Tandoo was gone. His key was sitting on the ground next to the door. She took it, even though everyone knew that once a key was used, it was worthless. She looked at the door, and stood on tip toe to view the lattice trim work that hinted at the other side. It was more like a garden fence, the wall that the door was in: 20 feet tall and running forever into the rest of the world. It was a division to be respected but not understood. Mako thought maybe Tandoo understood it now that he was on the other side, but then again over there it might be just a wall the same way it was in her world. She had her suspicions.

At home with the other twelve siblings, no one asked her about Tandoo. Their mother cooked stew and looked very tired.

Tandoo threw the key back over the wall. On this side, the door trim looked faded and unkempt. There were no gardens here, and no one to greet him, and when he realized that this world was the same world he just left, he threw the key back. There was no keyhole on this side to let him return, anyway.

“You made it.” Mako walked up, smiling and in a worn, dull dress he had never seen before.

“Mako? How…?”

“No, I’m not your same sister. I’m a different sister, the same, I guess, but on this side it’s all a little different.”

Tandoo, shocked, stood still. Mako shrugged.

“I’m sorry, but when the Unity takes our people to fight the Corps, we try to get a replacement from the other side. They drafted my Tandoo last week. But now you’re here, everything will be just fine.”

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