Sally Stardust's Cosmic Celebration ™

I think I was about eight years old when I decided I was going to be a scientist.

When you’re eight, this sounds like the perfect career. I could see myself in a starched white lab coat surrounded by petri dishes and beakers as I looked into an antique microscope all day, and then, at night, charting the courses of stars. One wall of my laboratory would be made up of test tubes and jars, elements carefully isolated and waiting to be combined to dazzling effect. Another would be made of large cages, where impossibly white guinea-rats ran through complicated mazes as their brains sparked with the static of miniature electrodes. The third wall would be for very thick and very heavy books. Actual books, made out of paper and whatever the covers of books were made out of. I had read them a hundred times each. I had even memorized a few. Then, the last wall, my favorite because it had won me three Nobel prizes, was nothing but a green chalkboard covered with equations so complicated that I was the only one who could ever understand them.

This is what a great scientist I was when I was eight: the lab had four walls, and I hadn’t bothered to leave room for the door. Hopefully, one of those Nobel prizes was for a teleporter.

My father encouraged this insanity, and gave me this purple holographic projector that hung the same edufeed over my room every night, over and over. “Sally Stardust’s Cosmic Celebration,” it was called, and Sally Stardust was this bouncy cartoon girl who talked you through the feed with outdated slang and jokes about shopping. Fortunately, there was an option to do away with Sally, so I deleted her, junked the “stellar jewelry kit!!” and stuck her bioluminescent star stickers above my brother’s crib. Without Sally, the air beneath my ceiling flickered with suns and planets, and the facts were read in a hypnotic monotone by some lonely old man.

So I suppose the whole thing was that guy’s fault. Or maybe Hasbro’s fault, for hiring him to do the voice-over on what was really an ill-conceived toy to begin with, but either way, without that grape-colored contraption and its apathetic barrage of facts I might have never realized, on my ninth birthday, that my ninth birthday couldn’t possibly exist.

Here’s how it works: the Earth is revolving around the Sun, and our year is based on where we are in that orbit. So people have this idea that if you stand in a certain spot at a certain time on a certain day for two years in a row, you’re cosmically standing in the same place both times. This is wrong. Really, the sun’s moving around something too, and that something is moving around something and everything is rushing outwards, faster than cars, faster than airplanes, faster than rockets. I was millions of miles away from the place I was born in, but my mother apparently hadn’t heard Sally Stardust’s opinion on the matter, and after a relatively pointless screaming match I ran into my room and slammed my door shut. I wrote a bunch of random letters and pluses and minuses signs on a sheet of paper and pretended that I had worked out the secret of the universe, but after an hour or so I got tired of that. I gave the paper to my mother and told her that I had discovered a new equation that proved her right.

I think I was ten when I figured out that you have to be good at math to do science. After that, I painted Sally Stardust’s Cosmic Celebration a dark shade of blue and gave it to my brother. He was about four, I think. Age doesn’t mean much once you realize that you’re counting an imaginary thing.

Personal Taste

“I’d like one Sephiroth, please.”

The voice of the timid, mousy-haired girl in front of the counter matched her appearance. Maggie sighed as she looked up from her paper. “Do you have an appointment?”

“Ah, no. Was I supposed to?” The shy girl looked uncomfortable and wrung her hands.

“For most of ‘em, no, but Sephiroth is one of our most popular models. We’ve got ten of them operational, and you still need to book a week in advance.” Maggie shook her head. “So sorry, kid, no can do. You need some suggestions? I’ve got the Final Fantasy section of the catalog here,” she offered, pulling out a well-worn and dog-eared magazine that held some of the brothel’s most popular products.

“Oh, no thank you,” said the girl, blushing. “I can pick another one on my own.” She chewed her lip for a moment, then spoke up again timidly. “Do you have, ah, a Spike?”

“Spiegel? You’re in luck, kid. He’s very popular too, but one of our regulars cancelled today. I’ll get him set up in a room for you.” Maggie tapped some numbers into her computer. “Need anything else? Lube, toys, handcuffs, lingerie?”

The girl’s face turned even redder. “Oh… oh, no thank you. I don’t need anything like that. But, ah…” She bit her lip again. “Could I also have… a Vicious?”

Maggie squinted down at the girl over the counter. “A Spike and a Vicious?” She eyed the girl’s slender frame. “They’re both pretty big, sweetheart. Are you sure you want them both on the same day? You might be sore afterwards.”

“Oh, no! No, not like that.” The girl’s eyes widened. “I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t want to… to have them both,” she explained. “I just want them… ah… together.” A small, anticipatory smile spread over her pink lips.

Maggie’s eyebrows rose up into her bangs. It seemed she’d overestimated this girl’s naïveté. “Yaoi fan, huh?” The girl blushed and nodded, grinning wider, and Maggie backspaced over the information on her screen. “You should’ve said something. You’ll need a special chip for that. Those subroutines don’t come standard.”

Maggie reached over into the drawer and pulled out two chips wrapped in plastic, handing them across the counter to the girl. “You just give those to the handler when you get to the room and she’ll install them, okay?”

“Okay,” the girl repeated, nodding. She handed over her credit card and Maggie swiped it through.

“You’re all set, sweetheart,” Maggie told the girl, handing back the card. “You have fun now, you hear?”

The girl’s eyes positively sparkled with anticipation. “Oh, don’t worry. I will.”

Old Man's Moon

Jesse McVeigh had lived long enough to remember a time before the wall was erected, way back before the seawall was necessary to keep back the waters of the Sea of Tranquility from encroaching on the borders of the city of Artemis. Old Jesse McVeigh will tell you about those days, if you ask him. He’ll do it if you don’t, too.

Jesse sits on a rocking chair on the porch of the Armstrong Inn, where his son is the proprietor. Sometimes he’ll sit with the old man, but more often than not he can’t spare the time. He’s heard all of the stories, anyway, he’ll say. Jesse McVeigh, like the moon, has no new stories.

Some stories are too old, even for Jesse. Ask about his life on Earth, for example, and Jesse McVeigh will rub the sleeve that covers the barcode tattooed on his right arm and change the subject.

Jesse McVeigh’s granddaughter, who happens to share his name, dreams of space and visiting Earth. Her father gave her a telescope, and she shows her grandfather the barren fields and jagged canyons of the old planet through the lenses, proudly reciting the names of each one. But old Jesse McVeigh only sees the trenches in which he and his brother hid from the iron colossuses. And he sees the grave of his brother, which he was forced to leave unmarked. Jesse McVeigh smiles and acts impressed with his granddaughter’s memory, but he does not look at Earth for very long.

Sometimes friends of Jesse McVeigh will sit with him. They will not talk about their barcodes, or who they were before the moon. They will talk about the chill in the air off the Sea of Tranquility, how the fish and crab harvest will be affected. They will talk of the hotel business, of recipes for beef stew and jing char siu bau and doro alicha, of pains in new places. They will talk about when Artemis was smaller, of sons and daughters and grandchildren, of the possibilities of moving to warmer New Houston. These topics are as old as the wall itself.

Once once in awhile, a young person will bring up terra-forming Earth back to how it was before the war. That the moon cannot continue to hold the human race, that they were running out of room as it was. That going back to Earth is rapidly becoming the only option. And Jesse McVeigh and his friends will scoff. But they know the truth, that the wall on the edge of the Sea of Tranquility exists to keep the city from drowning the water just as much as it keeps the water from drowning the city. That someday, there will not be enough room. The walls will not be enough.

Jesse McVeigh will not be among those that return. He will stay on the moon, stare into its blue sky, and try very hard to put the Earth behind him.


Moresheck was one of the brutish, ham handed psychics that roamed the twisting urban alleys of the north face of Mars. All his rapes were consensual. All his fights were fatal. He was a free citizen bound only by his ability to pay for damages, but no one ever got far enough to charge him. Getting close to Moresheck meant getting lost in a personal hell.

He was thirteen when he had been manually altered, sold by his parents to the Corporation that ran Mars, pumped full of steroids and a cloud of little machines that created a complex cocktails of enzymes designed to produce emotional reactions in a projected subject. Years later the practice had been outlawed but by that time Moresheck had twisted enough minds to get himself made into a free citizen. Even the government Pods couldn’t touch a freeman. He wore yellow to appear dangerous and sleek, but it was the brain cocktail that really made people quiver. Moresheck wandered the streets invading minds, thrashing around in higher consciousness like a mad bull in a shop of Venetian glass.

Sleeping was the dangerous time for Moresheck; it was only then that people could hurt him. Moresheck stole pills so that he could stay awake for a few weeks before collapsing. When he did sleep, he crashed in empty apartments and in the deserted Martian sewers, where streams of mud slugged slowly under the planet.

Moresheck first saw the dark man outside the sewer one morning, just sitting, watching the sky and smoking as if he didn’t see the giant brute emerging from the sewers. Moresheck thought about taking his cigars, smoking was illegal and cigars were a hard item to find, but for some reason Moresheck just passed him by. Two days later, the dark man was outside a shop where Moresheck had convinced the employees to fit him for new clothes. Afterwards, he tried to remember the dark mans face and realized he could not. Not one detail. Moresheck began to grow worried. What if he was becoming schizoid? It happened, sometimes, to psychics, especially powerful ones. Maybe the dark man was his mind playing tricks.

After that, he saw the dark man more often, standing on buildings looking down, at cafes and hubs and transport docks. As much as Moresheck hated the figure of that dark man, he was for the first time since he was a child, afraid to approach someone. What if the dark man has the power to hurt him, or worse, what if the dark man wasn’t real, what if he would dissolve when Moresheck got too close?

Moresheck felt a heated pressure growing inside his body and he needed to blow it off, to relax again. Moresheck headed to his favorite little spot, one he saved for special occasions, the one with the girl with the small hands. Moresheck thought of her as his girl, his alone, the one who would love him and wait for him. Her mind was so soft, she would say whatever he wanted, however he wanted. An hour with her, and he could forget about the dark man.

The dark man was waiting in the street outside the girl’s place, hands jammed in his pockets. Moresheck tried to memorize his features, repeat them back to himself but they drained out as quickly as he said them.

“I think you’ve done enough.” Said the dark man, reaching into his coat. Moresheck concentrated. If the man was real, he would bend to Moresheck’s will. The man just stood there as the brutes face puffed red.

“I pay for all my damages.” Said Moresheck, shaking his head.

“I’m not with the Pods.” Said the dark man as he reached into his coat. “I don’t care about your crimes.”

“You are not real, dark man. You can’t hurt me.”

Moresheck ejected the little chemical compounds, the little bugs that changed the minds of his victims. The man pulled his hand out of his coat. Moresheck was surprised to see that it wasn’t a flash gun. It was a tissue. The man blew his nose.

“Buddha’s belly, Moresheck, your ejaculate makes my head hurt.”

“Fear me.” Said Moresheck, trying to inject strength into his voice. It was flat. He spit on the ground and scratched his hands, releasing more of his cocktail into the air. The mans nose bled, but there was no fear in his face.

“You’ve been all over this city, raping whatever moves, taking what’s not yours, splitting minds, making madness. It’s over, you are done.”

Moresheck roared with the temper of a thirteen year old boy defied, red faced, he rushed at the man in the long black coat, screaming. The man cut his own hand with an unfolded pocket knife, and splattered the blood on Moresheck s face. The blood boiled on Moresheck s skin, like acid on plastic, bubbling and warping. Moresheck launched himself at the dark man, wrapping his huge fingers around his throat. The man struggled, smearing his bloody hands over Moreshecks melting skin. Moresheck roared in pain, and then his eyes rolled back into his head, his body convulsing, a cloud of metallic dust blowing out his nose and mouth. Moresheck collapsed and the dark man rolled the giant off of him and stood, shaking his bloodied hand on the red dirt, which sputtered and fumed at the with the touch of the acidic droplets.

The dark man rubbed his throat where the prints of Moreshecks fingers were bruising his skin and clutched his hand, waiting to feel relief.

Street Smarts

“Open this door. Right now. I mean it! Open the damn door!” Herbert kicked the car door in frustration. “Honey, will you please tell the car to open the door?” he asked through clenched teeth.

Herbert’s wife, Alice, peered up at him through the driver’s side glass from her seat on the passenger’s side. “I don’t think she will, darling,” she told her husband. “I think she’s upset about something.”

“She? This is not a she. This is my car. I bought and paid for it. Its purpose is to take me where I want to go, not get us lost in the middle of nowhere and then refuse to let me back in!”

“Step away from the car.” The mechanical female voice somehow managed to sound annoyed even through its programmed sugary sweetness.

“Honey, can’t you at least try to empathize with her?” Alice pleaded. “I think she’s trying to tell us something.”

“I don’t care what the car is trying to tell us!” Herbert shouted, thoroughly exasperated. “The only thing I want my car to tell me is which direction I am driving and what the weather is!”

“Caution! Your oil is low,” the car told him caustically. Alice pouted from inside.

“Herbert, we bought a smart car for a reason. She has feelings too. Maybe you aren’t taking care of her properly,” Alice said pointedly.

“I’ve gone in for all the scheduled maintenance,” Herbert protested, wondering why he felt on the defensive against both his wife and his car.

“Warning! A seatbelt is undone,” the car seemed to growl, and Alice crossed her slim arms across her chest.

“See, Herbert? She is trying to tell us that she feels unsafe. It’s not right of you to ignore her concerns.”

“Concerns?” Herbert nearly exploded, but with clenched fists, he managed to calm down. Deep breaths, he told himself. Deep breaths. “All right,” he said at last, through clenched teeth. “All right. Car. If I promise to bring you in to the dealer as soon as we get home for a check-up and hot wax, will you please open this door?”

The car rumbled suspiciously. “And an oil change,” Alice prompted.

“And an oil change,” Herbert agreed, trying very hard not to scream.
The car hesitated for a moment more, then grudgingly unlocked the driver’s side door. Herbert stomped in and closed it, settling into his seat with a disgruntled air.

“There, sweetie. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Alice cooed. Herbert couldn’t tell whether she was talking to him or his car.

“Damn it,” Herbert muttered to himself as he started the car. “That’s it. To hell with cars. Next midlife crisis, I’m buying a dog.”

Civic Duty

It was Friday evening and Lucas was getting ready to perform his duty. He’d already tugged off his leather loafers to put on a pair of combat boots. He’d disheveled his black hair in front of the bathroom mirror and traded his pinstripe jacket for an old worn t-shirt and army fatigue vest. After arranging these things, he looked himself over in the full body mirror and decided whether or not he would be afraid of himself.

Lucas ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup and drank some iced tea. He figured he could make use of the empty tea bottle as a Molotov cocktail if need be, and he chuckled at the thought. It was funny to him how he came to think of this as humorous. The rest of the world never seemed to get the joke.

8:00 pm rolled around and he heard the phone ring in the kitchen. He wiped off his mouth after finishing the soup and went to pick up the line. “Hello, Merryweather residence. Lucas speaking.” Lucas listened as the reminder that his Friday night was ruined berated him through the receiver.

“Look, I already told you,” Lucas continued as he went to tap the opened letter on the counter as if he’d somehow forgotten why he was dressed like this. “I have Riot Duty today. I told you this last week. No, we can’t play poker. No, I can’t get out of this. You know how much they fine people for skipping out on Event Assignments.”

He went on to explain that he barely knew what he would be rioting for. The protest itself didn’t matter: it was the violence at the end.. Lucas was frustrated, but the government was strict when it came to people who didn’t show up for their civic duty. Civilization had to move forward, after all.

“Yeah, I know it sucks. Hey, listen, I have to get going. Tell the guys I’m sorry and that I’ll catch them next week.” He held the phone between his ear and shoulder as he loosened his belt to let the fatigued pants slump around his waist into a more comfortable position.

“Hah, right. Very funny. The police haven’t won in over two years, so this is probably something they secretly want.” When Lucas refastened his belt, he glanced at the watch on his wrist. “Look, I’m gonna be late. Later, man.” He hung up the phone and grabbed the ice tea bottle from the counter.

Lucas never asked questions when it came to his civic duty. In the past, he’d been called in to riot, and called in to be a witness at assassinations. It was the responsibility of a citizen to do his part for the country. Looking into the bottle, he scrunched his nose as he walked towards the door. He needed to stop and get gas.