Let Him Dangle

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

It’s a strange thing, knowing exactly when you’re going to die. Luther had become accustomed to the idea; the arrest, the charge of treason. He knew it was a death sentence the moment they’d kicked down his door. He was surprised only at how easily he faced the imminence of his demise.

At least he’d made a difference, challenged the status quo and been heard. That they were killing him just crossed the ‘t’ of his righteousness.

A squat camera droid regarded him dully from outside his cell, the red ‘recording’ light glowing softly on its head.

The droid perked up suddenly, hoisting another camera off its body to cover the approach of three people from down the cell block.

Luther closed his eyes and let the rumble of booted feet reach him through the floor; felt rather than heard the figures stop outside his cell and only moved when the flood of fresh air signaled the opening of the cell door.

“Luther King, prisoner nine two zero seven seven six, charged with the spreading of propaganda deemed treasonous by the Government of the People and having been found guilty in a court of law, the time has come to carry out your sentence.” Two helmeted soldiers flanked the doorway as the Emissary of the Government looked down at him, letting his words echo in the small room.

“Doesn’t matter if you kill me, someone else will take my place.” Luther returned the icy stare, belief and strength of purpose calming his nerves.

“Oh, quite the contrary, I think that when we kill you, we’ll find a marked reduction in the number of people who are willing to take your place.” His thin lips parted from wide white teeth, forming the ghost of a smile.

“You think you’re all so clever, but for all your eyes and ears you can’t see the people rising up beneath you. I’ve infected dozens with the truth, and you can’t stop that truth from spreading like wild fire.”

“Actually, Luther, you’ve inflicted your lies upon exactly twenty two people in the forty seven days since you first spoke out,” he paused for a moment, enjoying the subtle changes in posture his words compelled, “you see, we knew the moment you broke the law. Twenty one days is the optimum period prior to arrest. If we’d simply killed you, as we once would have done, no one would understand why you died; your death would have held no value for us. In twenty one days you’ve shared your ideas enough for them to remember, but not enough to understand. Enough to notice your departure, but not so many as to tip the scale. They’ll know exactly why you’ve died, Luther, and just how dangerous your ideas can be.”

“You can’t believe people will see my punishment as fair, you can’t expect them to take your side. You lose, you kill me and you lose. You’re just making me a martyr to the cause.” Luther’s voice was cracking noticeably, this wasn’t right, what was being said couldn’t be true.

“You don’t seem to understand Luther. We intend to take you out to the gallows where you will swing by the neck until you are dead. Right now people are clearing their dinner tables and tuning in to watch the show. Our killing you has nothing to do with punishment Luther, it’s entirely a matter of deterrence.” The Emissary smiled. “Your death itself is of little consequence Luther, it’s the ceremony of your death, the ceremony of your death will punctuate our point quite nicely.”

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

It was always slightly embarrassing for me to watch Jarima try to pick up a guy.

She had a bodybuilder’s physique. She had a wide rubbery mouth and a strong jaw. She had bright red hair kept short. A little spray of freckles danced across the bridge of her wide nose.

She laughed like a horse and chewed with her mouth open.

She was an orphan and had learned to fight from an early age. She protected her little brother and her little sister in the orphanage until they were taken away and adopted by separate families. She never saw them again and since she was older, no one adopted her. She told me once that they didn’t actually tell her that they were in an orphanage until they had been there for two weeks. She laughed when she told me that story.

She made it to being a teenager through several rapes and numerous beatings.

She made it through being a teenager by killing boys who tried to rape and beat her.

During battle, she was as good as most of us and better than some.

We picked her up outside the courthouse. She’d gotten off in three previous murder trials with a self-defense clause but it was clear that the next time she was on trial for murder, she’d go down. It was only a matter of time in her neighbourhood before some thick-headed boy would think she was an easy target, ignore the rumours, and try to get it on.

We gave her the pitch. Money, interstellar travel and violence. She leapt at the chance.

We’re a company of private mercenaries. We look for a certain type of person in police records and give them the chance to make money with us. Lots of violence. Some months are better than others.

So now we were on leave in a backwater bar in Southern New Nelson.

She never went as far as to wear a dress but she was wearing some badly applied makeup. Coupled with how much courage she’d had to drink, she made a messy picture. She asked me to wish her luck before she sauntered away from me after a deep breath.

I’ve seen Jarima stare down warlords until they break and spill their secrets. I’ve seen this woman kill with her bare hands. I’ve seen her take bullets and hardly wince until the mission was completed. I’ve seen her lose friends and keep going without looking back.

I covered my eyes with my hands as she walked up to the guy at the end of the bar.

I was waiting for his polite rebuke followed by her angry response. I was waiting for his insolent reply and then the sound of his arm breaking and perhaps some shattering glass before going in as backup and peacekeeper.

It was always slightly embarrassing for me to watch Jarima try to pick up a guy.

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The Mad Man

Author : Todd Keisling, featured writer

Colt was a block from his apartment when the curfew alarms went off. The firing klaxon startled him, and he dropped his smokes. Heart pounding, he retrieved them and ducked into a nearby alley.

It wasn’t long before the first patrol sped by, its rifles poised and searchlights tracking the darkened streets ahead.

He curled up beside a dumpster, flipped his collar and tried to keep warm. The smokes helped. He scolded himself for losing track of time. The bookstore down by the square had enticed him yet again. It wasn’t until the owner, Mr. Drabury, pulled the shades that he realized what time it was. Drabury told him the local alarm was damaged in a riot a couple of days prior.

Gunshots echoed from somewhere farther down the street. Colt wasn’t alone in breaking the curfew.

More shots. Then again, he supposed, maybe he was.

After the hum of the patrol’s engine grew distant, Colt rose to his feet, lifted the lid of the dumpster and climbed in. The smell was horrid and he fought the urge to retch. The feeling of nausea passed after a few minutes, and he reminded himself that spending the night there was safer than trying to dodge the patrols for that last, crucial city block.

Not that it mattered. The master locks in his apartment promptly engaged at curfew. All of his neighbors were safe inside their homes, spending time with their families and worshiping Channel Zero for the required two hours.

Colt reached into his pocket and pulled out the FM transmitter. He affixed it to his ear and thumbed the dial in search of the right frequency. Suddenly his head was filled with the rants of the self-proclaimed Mad Man.

Authorities were still trying to track him down. Rumors circulated that he never transmitted from the same location, and never with the same encryption. After the collapse of the nationwide radio network twenty years ago upon federal implementation of the FCSA and SmartCam installations, the “Mad Man” set up a single broadcast. He brought back the music of the previous century, before it was “tainted by lack of creativity.” He preached, he hounded, he ridiculed the Network and the Government and the apathy created by both.

Colt liked him. He took a drag from his cigarette and lifted up the lid to exhale the smoke.

The Mad Man screeched in his ear.

“–and what do they do for ya, people? You sit at home at night, after you’ve worked yer ass off for the man all damn day, and they expect you to watch this so-called ‘Channel Zero’. They say you’re doing the country a favor. Well I say you’re spying for the man. You’re spyin’ on yer fellow countrymen. It’s sick. It’s disgusting. And if you agree with it, then you’re no fuckin’ different.”

Colt bit his cheeks and fought back laughter. He wanted to cheer on the Mad Man, but the dumpster was already vibrating from a nearby patrol.

“And speaking of spying, people, did any of you catch the broadcast over a Network secure channel a few hours ago? They say there was a murder on Grid Four. Guy knifed to death right there while everybody wat–”

A series of pops erupted in the background. The Mad Man gasped.

“Looks like my cover’s up, ladies and gentlemen. ‘Till next time, I bid you all adieu—and wake the fuck up!.”

The frequency went dead. Colt sighed, finished his cigarette and put it out against the wall of the dumpster. He wrapped his arms around himself, positioned himself as comfortably as possible amid the bags of rotting garbage, and closed his eyes.

Without the voice of the Mad Man in his ears, it would be a very long night.

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Author : Michael Varian Daly

Paln gently cupped the small green vegetable in the attachment designed for its harvesting. The steel segmented orb closed – a soft ‘snick’ – cutting the stem. Paln carefully placed the hard round vegetable among its brethren in the bin strapped to his midsection…and felt Pleasure.

“Brussels sprout,” he sub-vocalized. He knew what they were, the perfect conditions for growing them, but he would never eat one, had no concept of what a ‘brussles’ was, nor cared.

His universe contracted, focused totally upon the next small green vegetable. Cupping. ‘Snick’. Bin. Pleasure.

Internal sensors told him the bin was At Capacity, though Paln knew that already. That made him feel Satisfaction. He stopped harvesting, smelling the rich loam of the field. He could analyze the chemical components to the millionth part, but organic senses came first.

Paln was the perfect blend of the organic and the cybernetic. He looked around at his Pod Brothers, felt Connection. They were all Type 26 General Purpose Agricultural Mandriods. He was officially PLN-161697434, but the Mother/Master/Ruler who hatched his brood from the uterine replicator had called him Paln, his first moment of Pleasure.

He put the full bin on the field cart, retrieved an empty one. He was still human enough to sense the beauty of the day. The sun. The fields. The easy sloshing of the nutrient tank on his Feeder nozzle. The quiet hum of the vaporizer on his Bleeder nozzle. His Brothers harvesting. The grace of the dark skinned, yellow eyed, Mother/ Master/Ruler upon her horse, overseeing their work. The Fear/Awe of seeing her shambok, long hard leather hanging lazily from her saddle horn, the Symbol of Overseeing.

Tonight, when Paln was reclining in his cradle, the Bleeder-Feeder tubes hooked up, toxins draining, body healing, he would dream of the day, sun, fields, smells, sounds.

He would dream of Selt’s funeral. The Pod gathered at dusk. Selt’s body on the field cart. Mother/Master/Rulers down from The House, bearing torches. The yellow eyed one anointing Selt’s forehead with oil. The prayers as the black bag was…

Niniskil sat up with a start, breathless and sweaty. That chingado dream again!

She glanced around to find her Sisters, saw Rhea on one side, Tzisoc on the other, both still out cold. She quickly looked between her legs, sighed with relief. At least she had detached the bioform phallus before she passed out. It had been a serious Bacchanal. But after ten months on deep space patrol, they’d earned it.

She crawled out of bed, went to the window, looked outside.

The gorgeous vista of Sylph looked back at her as if designed to be perfect, which, of course, it was, from its core outward. Nothing, but jeweled archipelagos strung across warm azure seas without predators, skies painted with wispy clouds, all under the multicolored rings that crowned this princess of worlds.

A few yards away, just up from the white beach, a group of Sisters rested upon loungers in glistening nakedness, while a tall, lean Harlequin, a Mandroid pleasure server, offered them cold drinks.

She drew back, light suddenly like daggers in her skull.

“Ugh!” she grunted. That was definitely a Past Life dream. Too much detail…that yellow eyed Sister!

“Chingos!” she spat. What Sister wants to remember an Incarnation as a AgroDriod? But there it was. Time to see the Priestesses of Eriskegal for Regression Therapy. But not today.

She crawled back into bed. “The Wheel Turns,” she muttered, snuggling close to Rhea.

Drifting off, she thought, “Be extra nice to the servants today.”

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Physical Therapy

Author : Grady Hendrix

Danny Leeds really wanted to punch his wife in the mouth. Over the last two years she had managed to cast their relationship as one where he was constantly the oppressor and she was eternally the victim. If he said anything she didn’t like, it was an attack. If he told her something she was doing that bothered him, she wound up crying in the bathroom. Christ! All he was doing was trying to communicate, but now he was at the end of his rope. He was a nice guy, but if she wanted abuse, he’d give her abuse.

He made an appointment with his doctor, sat down and explained the situation. His physical results were all on file from last time so this was mostly a psychiatric evaluation.

“You really want to do this, Danny?” his doctor asked.

“Absolutely. I’ve thought about it calmly and I think it’s the only solution.”

“Okay, but I can’t sign you up for anything in the face. And I can’t write you a prescription for kicking. Once she’s down, she’s down and you need to back off.”

“I understand, doc. I don’t want to hurt her, I just want her to know how much pain I’m feeling inside. I can’t seem to communicate it to her with words, so this is all I can think of.”

His doctor wrote out the prescription, filed a copy with the local police and Danny went home.

He stopped off at the gym to limber up first. The last time he’d had a physical therapy/psychiatric prescription he’d stressed his rotator cuff and he didn’t want to be back at the doctor’s first thing in the morning. Once he’d worked up a good sweat, he showered off, got dressed and went home. As soon as he walked in the door his wife shot him.

“Huh – ?” he said, stupidly, looking down at the hole in his chest.

“I’ve got a prescription,” his wife said, waving the piece of paper. Sure she did – Danny recognized the signature.

“Dr. Harris,” he gasped. “That hack.”

Danny slid down the wall and sat in a pile of his own blood.

“Don’t undermine my therapy,” his wife said.

Danny coughed up a gout of black blood and died before he could tell her that, once again, she was completely misinterpreting what he was saying and making him feel really, really bad and that maybe she should think about how the problems in their relationship might be partially her fault.

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Pocket Change

Author : B.York, Staff Writer

Kale made a habit of playing only in his backyard. The public display of toying with small action figures in the park or at a friends house made Kale a shy boy indeed. Instead, he would enjoy the comfort of solitary imagination in his backyard. The young boy, only eleven in age, could play with plastic soldiers from sunrise until the dusk of the evening. Though even in his wildest dreams he could never fulfill the true desire to have his imaginings come true.

One day in the fall, Kale took to digging in the back yard. He dug mounds for his action figures to battle upon and pits for them to die in. Kale made very deep pits for the figures to die in to make it that much more dramatic. It was only with this digging that Kale found the hole that day.

The hole was a thing not so much larger than his head and black with no light penetrating. Kale looked at it, he poked at it and the darkness within the hole swallowed his finger until he pulled it back. It was a peculiar thing this hole. He had decided that he would see just how deep the hole would go. He sacrificed an action figure to the depths of the hole and nothing happened. Kale covered up the hole and went inside.

The next day, Kale woke up and went outside to play but not before his mother gave him some purified water to stay hydrated in the intense heat outside. He quickly made his way to the hole which was still there beneath the dirt. Kale was not willing to sacrifice any more figures to the hole so he decided to take something from the house instead. Yes, his father’s electronic measuring tape would do nicely. He sunk the measuring end into the hole and eventually ran out of tape! Shrugging, the young boy dropped the rest of the electronic tool into the hole and waited. Nothing happened so Kale covered up the hole and went inside.

When Kale woke up his vitamins and morning supplements were fed to him through the bio-water he drank before ever leaving his room. His mother made him wear the anti-irradiation overcoat and sent him out back to play. Kale uncovered the hole and began to ponder about what to put inside it today. He’d assumed that whatever he had put in it the day before had not worked to its desired effect. Today Kale went inside and retrieved a toy of his meant to play 1.2 million songs from the 21st Century. He slipped it easily into the hole and waited. Nothing happened and so like before, Kale went back inside.

The very next day Kale’s meditation was ending and he told his mother he’d be going outside. Everything he needed was already injected through nano-machines into his body. The boy went outside and took to using a displacer wand to move the dirt from the hole without ever touching it. Today, Kale decided, he would truly experiment with what the hole meant. Sifting through the junk in their metallic recycling console, he’d found an old relic of his grandfather’s belongings from after the war. Taking the object out back he dropped it into the hole and waited for a long while. Nothing occurred so Kale had the event recorded in his brain then went inside.

His mouth tasted like ash and his lungs filled with soot and dirt. The boy opened his eyes to the same landscape he’d fallen asleep in yesterday. The sounds of bombs going off in the distance couldn’t wake him after all that he’d heard and witnessed in his life. He had no parents to ask to play, no brothers or sisters alive to help him through the day. He coughed heavily and stood up, stumbling through the black smoke with the smell of decay and the heat of radiation about him. His foot hit something. Staring down, the boys pained eyes could make out what looked to be a hole but one blacker than any he’d ever seen. An object as pristine as the sky had been once laid next to the hole. It appeared to be a shiny metallic object; one with a handle and a barrel and even a trigger. It had been polished and kept well and for some reason it filled the boy with a sense of familiarity.

He reached down, gripping it by the handle and noting a small parchment slipped just under the trigger. He unfolded it and read what seemed to be ancient calligraphy, yet in astonishing clear English, “Reload, Please”.

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