“What I want to know, really, is where we are.” Lee was aggravated, partly at himself, for following Jason’s directions, and partly at Jason, for being a dick.
“Where we are my friend, is in grave danger.”
Lee looked around. “We are in grave danger in a toy store?”
“This is just the evidence of the danger Lee, not the danger itself.” Jason was in one of his moods. He had probably stopped taking his medication again. Lee tried to think patient thoughts.
“Jason, we are late to the party. Lets ask for directions and get going.”
“No, there is something I need to show you.”
“What? Jason, did you mean to take me here to this toy store? You told me you were lost!”
“No, YOU were lost Lee, I have always known the way.”
“No. You told me you had a shortcut and then you said you were lost. You lied to me!”
“This is important.”
“It is important to me that you tell me where the fuck we are.”
Jason pointed above Lee’s head. There was a yellow digital banner that read in shining digital letters: NJ Toy Emporium, Largest on the East Coast.
“We are in New Jersey.” Jason said.
“I can see that.” Lee wondered how many of their mutual friends he would upset if he punched Jason in the eye.
“I have to show you something.” Jason began running wildly into the maze of giant displays. Lee followed him, despairing.
Jason sprung from behind a pyramid of boxes. “What, exactly, is THIS!” He was holding a grotesque orange globular oozing toy. Lee had seen the nasty things before on DTV.
Lee sighed. “It’s a Bubbit.”
“And what exactly is a Bubbit?”
“Jason, this is stupid.”
Jason glared menacingly at his friend. Lee shook his head and read the package. “A Bubbit is a “˜Interactive Puppet for Aggressive Play! Bubbits will change shape to entertain and amaze! Scare your friends and learn new ways to beat the Bubbit Blue.”
“Beat the Bubbit Blue.” Repeated Jason reverently. “It’s a training device.”
“For ages four to ten?”
“Lee, the situation is dire. We are clearly preparing for Epic Hegemonic Warfare.”
Lee realized that there was no way of getting out of this argument but through it. “Jason, that’s impossible. Other than peacekeeping police actions by the UN there are no military conflicts. The world’s nations have finally done with it. Jason, this is the greatest time of peace since humanity came down from the trees.”
“And you don’t find that suspicious.”
“No Jason, I don’t. People want peace and besides, even if we tried to fight we are all so economically interdependent that it wouldn’t be feasible.”
Jason smiled then, his terrible glinting smile. “Oh Lee, then you finally see it.”
Lee shrugged. “See what?” Jason grabbed Lee’s shoulders and shook him.
“Lee! Do you mean that you can see all that but you can’t see to the next level? The very next logical conclusion!” People were staring.
“Keep your voice down.” Jason grabbed Lee by the elbow and started pulling.
“Do you remember when Ziggy-Stiggy changed voices?”
“I remember a time when my friend Jason wasn’t a lunatic.”
“It was a corporate takeover. Ziggy-Stiggy was popular and totally non-violent. The creator of Ziggy-Stiggy refused to voice the part after the government ruled that the hostile takeover of Ziggy Inc by Brascow was legit. Brascow is highly subsidized by the government, a pawn of the executive branch itself. And what was the first thing that happened to Ziggy-Stiggy when he changed hands?”
“I don’t know, what?”
“He started hunting mushroom people. What does that tell you?”
Lee rolled his eyes. “That the government is preparing us for war?”
“Not us, the children.”
“Why the children?”
“Because something is coming, from very far away. Far enough that the children today will be the ones fighting it.”
“Jason, if that’s true, then we are the last generation that will have peace. If you are right, shouldn’t we enjoy this while we can?”
“You just want to go to the party.”
“Yes. I want to go to the party. Because the aliens are coming.”
Radiation Levels: Acceptable. “Okay, lads, we’re good. Let’s not mosh this up, right?” Lars, encased in a plastisteel suit, stepped his near-weightless form through the breached opening of the hull. The three stripes indicative of a mission commander on his right bicep stood out against the off-white hue of his shell. He glanced back at the three others behind him; his accompaniment on this rubbish of a mission.
The Mir space station had been a pillar of international space relations for decades. It was the meeting place for any mission consisting of combined efforts from more than fifteen countries. Now it was a decayed shell of an old empire. Science couldn’t explain the stationâ€™s rapid decay in the recent years past, only that a hull breach had killed the remaining officers, and put to rest a monument of space-exploration. Rumors would still persist that the ghosts of the crew haunted the wreckage, and the reasons why it hadn’t yet been salvaged after fifteen years.
Lars could feel the chill running up his spine as he hooked up the feed-line to the wreckage. He waved his squad in, taking the time to tug his own floating form inside. The dank, bleak interior washed over him. The luminescent-application on his arm glowed like a night-light, illuminating a floating beverage package, and a few loose wires. The rest of the corridors remained encased in shadow.
“Commander, I’m getting an infrared read off this puppy.” The American, Dotson was always scared of naked space missions.
Lars rolled his eyes and just spoke into the com, “Are you sure ’bout that, private? We are in a vacuum. Best to check your readings, again.”
Dotson pulled himself up closer to Lars, “No, not heat sir… I’m picking up a fluctuating, moving cold.” The scanner he held was showing the appropriate readings.
Lars would rub his chin, but that bulky suit made his common tics impossible. “Hm, take Rustokov and Feugo with you to the core room, I’ll check the science panels around here.”
Private Dotson nodded and was off with the others, three glowing bulbs of arm-light floating down a corridor into the depths of darkness. Lars was left alone. That’s how he preferred to operate, though the hair standing up on the back of his neck was telling him that man should not tread here. The astromarine commander saw a panel up ahead on the right, and began his trek towards it. A low rumble came from around him. The hull seemed to still be collapsing slowly, even after the initial wreckage and ten years of dormancy. “Lads, keep your coms on the ready, I want us out of here in 15, Command Out.” Better safe than sorry, he thought.
Tapping the panel to life, Commander Lars Gallows floated in the center of a tunnel, watching the green menu of a boot-up system.
>>>Mir Core System Reboot
>>>System Functioning at 32%
>>>Enter Authorization Key…
Usually his crew wasn’t this quiet. But Lars was too transfixed to notice they hadn’t come back with anything and were sure to have reached the core room by now. Entering an old military key, the screen came to life with documentation of science research and files damaged from the system shock. His brows came together. He’d hardly realized now that the emergency lights had flickered out.
>>>Science File 0042: We’ve discovered an anomoly on tbrrrrrr zzzzz##%%$^^&. The readings are faulty, we will check them again tomorrow.
The feed-line silently became unlatched, and his craft floated off towards Earth. Lars’ crew had gone missing, and Lars was soon to follow.
>>>Science Files 0101: We’ve been fooled! We have to get out of here! It’s all around us, it seeps in through the hulls and tries to make us kill one-another. We’re staring out into a .. a ghost. My God… it haunts existence. We hav—ddhhfffffggggg@@@###$$$ FILE ERROR
“Private! Dotson! Get your arses back here, on the double, lads. We’re aborting this mission!” There was no answer, only the hull creaking again. Lars looked down the corridor, and was horrified. Space was creeping in, the blackness from it was seeping down the corridor towards him. His eyes could only widen in horror, as the truth became abundantly clear to him, and the world would go on… blissfully ignorant.
They are not awake.
They have been asleep for days, years. They lie sprawled across train platforms, clutching cellphones, notebooks, and mp3 players. Their hearts barely beat, drowsy with decreased metabolism. Their fingernails have grown long, curling under. They are pristine white from lack of use.
Dr. Sarah Rosencrantz had not expected this result.
Now, bored and alone in a city of sleep, Sarah walked down empty streets where the streetlights changed indifferently with an echoing thud. She no longer bleached her hair. In the summer, she often went without clothing, her skin gleaming white as she stood on Wall Street, knee-deep in a sea of business-suited bodies that inhaled and exhaled like the tide.
She continued her research, though she wasn’t sure why.
The generators continued to run. Water continued to flow. Everything was computerized, fueled by reserves that would last a hundred years. Worst-case scenario, they had said, pointing at color-coded maps as they stockpiled.
In a grocery store, a woman slept in the produce aisle, her hand folded around the blackened pit of a peach.
Trees continued to grow, and, unpruned, they arched over the sidewalks, nudging cement with timid roots. Sarah pondered, sometimes, what would happen when she died, when everyone died. The machines would remain awake, grumbling, until they too ran empty and the power ceased.
I95, streetlights blinking off one by one over the rusted carcasses of automobiles.
This war will destroy everyone, she had said when summoned to testify before the UN. She had meant to stop it. But not like this.
â€œOh my God. Peter, you didnâ€™t.â€
Peter smirked at his wifeâ€™s gaping stare. â€œYou bet I did,â€ he told her smugly. â€œNothingâ€™s too good for our anniversary.â€
â€œIt looks fabulous.â€ Beatriceâ€™s eyes shone as she ran a finger over the plastic wrap, feeling the smooth depression her movement caused. She giggled a little. â€œBut I donâ€™t even know how to cook synmeat. What are we going to do with it? Look at it?â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry,â€ Peter reassured her. â€œThe guy who sold it to me told me how to do it.â€ His smile increased its girth; he couldnâ€™t hide the secret any longer. â€œAnd itâ€™s not synmeat.â€
Beatrice looked at him oddly. â€œThen what is it?â€
Beatrice gasped, eyes wide now with horror. â€œPeterâ€¦ you could get arrested for that!â€ she hissed, grabbing the mushy package from him and glancing wildly around the room as if PETA enforcers were going to burst through the walls at any moment. â€œI didnâ€™t even know you could get real meat anymore!â€
â€œHoney, calm down.â€ Peter frowned. Heâ€™d expected his wife to be pleased. â€œA guy at the office tipped me off. I swear itâ€™s untraceable. Just look at it! Real beef! This might be the only chance we have in our lives to get some.â€
Beatrice seemed unconvinced. â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦ isnâ€™t it sort ofâ€¦ barbaric?â€
â€œDarling. Stop believing all the crap the government tells us. People were meant to eat real meat. Itâ€™s the way we were made. If we ate like this every day, we wouldnâ€™t have to get protein injections anymore, thatâ€™s for sure!â€ Peter was getting more upset. â€œCome on, I went through a lot to get this, okay? Itâ€™s our anniversary, and the thing is already dead. We might as well make the most of it.â€
Beatrice agreed in the interest of matrimonial bliss. She watched nervously as Peter cooked the beef, searing it as heâ€™d been instructed, and worried about whether their neighbors would pick up on the smell. Peter eventually made her set the table to keep her from getting in the way.
At last the meal was served, and Peter bit into it with gusto. Beatrice followed suit more hesitantly and both chewed for a few moments in silence.
â€œItâ€™s sort ofâ€¦ stringy,â€ Peter said at last, swallowing a bite with some difficulty. His expression of joy had faded into an uncomfortable frown. â€œYou can really tell itâ€™s, ah, real.â€
â€œMmmâ€¦ yes, you can.â€ Beatrice swallowed her own forkful with an expression of bliss. She opened her eyes as the rich taste settled into her senses and looked at her husband with an expression of true love and devotion. â€œThis is the best present youâ€™ve ever given me.â€
Her hands were starting to look like lobster claws. She said she wasnâ€™t going to go all the way, and wiggled the smaller claw to show it was still opposable. She said she liked the little teeth, though, and squeezed my arm too hard. She laughed at the little indentions in my arm. She almost fell off her chair.
The cappuccino machine hissed behind her. She liked coming to this place because it still had one of the old cappuccino machines. It was a relic, now. But things used to be built to last, and so this hunk of brass and copper still spewed out caffeine and foamed milk. She liked it because it was shiny and noisy. She used to do an impersonation of the machine, bouncing on the bed, hissing and squealing.
We donâ€™t sleep together anymore. Not since she rolled over on me and I caught the business end of one of her new back-spines. I still have the scar.
She started tapping her claws on her forehead. The clack of chitin on chitin made me feel visibly uncomfortable, and she saw that. She stopped, and reached out with her claws at me. I didnâ€™t want to recoil, but I did anyway.
She used to tickle me. She used to run her fingertips down my face. She used rub my stomach for good luck. I looked at the way the track lighting glinted off her enhanced brow-bumps and sickly noticed how similar it was to the glint off the cappuccino machine.
â€œThings used to be built to last,â€ I mumbled. She heard me anyway. Small tears slid down her face. They were falling much to fast, not having pores to slow their descent. I reached out to wipe her tears away, an instinctual motion. She was still soft around the eyes. They were still her eyes.
That’s when I knew things would be okay.
No one really found out how. In 2009 there were no more than twenty super-powered heroes trying their best to save the world, spread out thin as they were. They were always so busy. The Blaster stayed in the US, fighting off organized crime, while Sister Scion dug into corruption of Scotland Yard. They barely had time for talking, let alone anything or anyone else. It was said that most of them had never met, but…what can be said? There’s something very sexy about superpowers.
“Kade, honey? Are you coming to bed? I’m wearing that new slip-on you bought me.” A soft, sultry voice slinked downstairs to the man in boxers illuminated by the computer screenâ€™s eerie blue glow.
“Oh, you know I will! Just have to finish this…” Click. Kade, otherwise known as The Blaster, sat up and smirked. He placed his hands behind his head as he imagined the fun the two of them would have tonight. Nothing was more passionate than a relationship between two super-humans; Time Magazine had said so.
Kade hurried upstairs, his mischievous grin wide. Sister Scion was in for a whole different shade of trouble tonight. He kicked down the door to the bedroom and it crashed to the floor with a loud bang, leaving him posing in what remained of the frame. “The Blaster is here! Have no fear!”
“Cheesy as ever, Mr. Blaster.â€ The woman in bed was fair-skinned, with long black hair tied behind her in a ponytail. Sister Scion slender figure, usually encased in a silver and black outfit, was now laced up in black and red, hugging her succulent curves to the pleasure of her lover. â€œGet over here and let me show you some moves.”
Kade sprang towards the bed while trying clumsily to tug away his remaining clothes. “And what moves are those?”
“The kind that don’t involve you accidentally blasting a hole in Yankee Stadium, genius. You need to watch where you point your arms while you’re-”
“Yeah, I get the hint. So uh… you ready to get into… formation?”
Scion rolled her eyes and reached over, grabbing her male companion by the back of the neck and tugging him into a heated kiss. It was a spark, then strong, and then as she pulled back suddenly, it faded. “Mm… going to make me fly?”
“Well, you can do that yourself, sweetie. I was speaking more about mundane positions.”
She blinked, “Wow, that’s new. You mean… no…flying, or space-sex?”
He shook his head, staring her down, “Nope, I heard that normal people do it in missionary. It’s where you lay down on your back and…” He waggled both eyebrows at her in suggestion.
She bit her lip, “I don’t know, Kade, sounds kind of… well, boring. Can’t we do the one where we have it while falling from the atmosphere?”
“Oh, come on! It’ll be different. It’ll be like… like we were teenagers or something.” His eyes pleaded as his body edged closer, that superhero physique pressing up against her warm skin.
“Errrr… okay fine. But I swear, Kade, if you put a hole in our house I’m gonna kill you!” Her eyes narrowed as she pulled him on top of her. Kade reached over and turned the lights off.
There was rustling and in the dark, Kade whispered, “You know, maybe if you’re up for it, we can invite Femme Fire next time…” It was promptly followed by the loud slap.
“Kade! That was not what I meant when I said she was hot!”