Live With It

Author : N. R. Crowningshield

Vanessa let the shower water flow over her hand. The old pipes moaned and shrieked as the shower head spewed into the white pedestal tub. The temperature of the of liquid changed from cool to warm to hot. Steam pillowed out of the tub.

Gingerly, she stepped into the hot shower and pulled the curtain closed. The warm water blanketed her body in a warm sheen. Her auburn hair clung to her neck and shoulders. Inhaling steam she let out a sigh of relief.

“Sunshine Scent,” Vanessa read out loud to herself. She flipped the cap open and picked up a citrus essence with a light touch of honey. Squeezing out the bright pink shampoo into her palm, she brought her hair to a thick lather. Vanessa closed her eyes and submerged her head in the water. Creamy pink bubbles ran down her body and swirled at her feet. Wringing her hair clean of the soap, she brought her head out of the water and wiped her eyes clear. Steven was standing in the tub.

“Steven!” Vanessa shrieked. “We talked about this. We had an agreement!” She covered breasts and womanhood as best she could.

“I’m sorry. I just… I dunno.” Steven looked down at his feet. He wore red sneakers and blue jeans as he always did.

“I need you to respect my privacy if you want this to work.”

“What about when I needed you?” Steven snapped.

Vanessa expression darkened. She stepped out of the tub, and attempting to keep herself covered, she wrapped a seafoam green towel around her torso.

“What’s bothering you?” Vanessa questioned as she reached in the tub and silenced the shower. She grabbed a matching towel and wrapped her hair in a makeshift hat.

“Why were those kids so mean to me?”

“It’s because you’re different.” Vanessa made her way into the adjacent bedroom. She took a seat on her bed and patted the mattress. “Come take a seat.”

“Is it because I’m albino?” Steven appeared, sitting on the bed beside her. He watched his feet as he bounced his heels off the side of the bed frame.

“Unfortunately, yes. Kids have a hard time looking at what matters on the inside. They can’t get past the surface.”

Steven stopped his feet and looked Vanessa in the eyes. “Why didn’t you stop them?”

“Believe me buddy, if I could go back and do it again, I would have.” Vanessa’s eyes filled with tears. A single drop streamed down her cheek. Steven reached a hand up and failed to dry her face. His hand went through her cheek. She felt nothing and wiped the tear for him.

“Alright, I’m heading off to work. Behave yourself. We’ll finish up your physics lesson tonight.” Vanessa sat on the bench in living room. She slid on a pair of black heels over her nylon covered feet.

“Okay. Can we play a game or two of chess after you eat?” Steven blurted in excitement.

“Absolutely.” Vanessa smiled as she watched Steven’s quiet celebration.

The apparition of Steven walked through the living room wall into Vanessa’s bedroom. She knew he would watch her pull out of the driveway as he always did.

She reached for the front door. Before turning the brass door knob, she paused as she always did. There on the white door written in marker read, “Live with it.” Underneath her hand writing a news article was taped in place. In bold print, “TEACHER TO BLAME FOR STEVEN ST. CLAIR SCHOOL SHOOTINGS.”

Vanessa took in a deep breath and stepped through the door.

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Croute du Monde

Author : Steve Buttner

Few dishes satisfy like a classic croute du monde. A melange of shatteringly crisp technological flakes, floating in a richly flavored, savory slurry of organics, all a foil to the spirited kick and bright acidic finish of the hydrocarbon-rich rocky solids, croute du monde deservedly rests among the ranks of culinary legend.

Unfortunately, for most of us croute remains just that – a legend. Preparing a croute is a fussy process. A bit of a crapshoot. Most attempts result in either a bland, lackluster mush, or a desiccated metallic husk, radioactive and utterly devoid of those delicate organic aromatics that signify a croute’s pungent depth.

I set out to create a foolproof method to take the guesswork out of preparing croute, rethinking the standard approach. I began by carefully choosing a medium-size rocky world orbiting its star at a distance conducive to water in the liquid state. I showered the world with comets until the surface was thoroughly wet. Then I sprinkled the globe with ground organics, from an altitude sufficient to ensure light and even distribution over the entire watery surface. I set the world’s radiation flux on medium to encourage good flavor evolution, and awaited the outcome.

Results were disheartening. Tasters complained of bland flavor marred by a dull texture completely lacking croute’s signature technological snap. Not inedible, but not worthy of the moniker of “croute”.

For my second test, I prepped another medium-sized world, but this time I set the globe’s radiation flux to high for the first several million orbits, hoping thereby to jumpstart the broiling process, encouraging the organics to cook out and evolve more rapidly into a broad spectrum of flavors and textures, including, I hoped, those all-important technological flakes. Then I reset the flux to medium, and set back to wait for the results.

The outcome was even worse this time. At some point in the cooking process, quickly and unpredictably, the technological crust had overevolved and burned the croute. The one taster I could convince to try it found the croute to be charred, harsh and inedible, with no detectable organic bouquet.

My hybrid cooking method was obviously effective at encouraging the development of technological texture. But it was equally obvious that precise timing would be vital to the success of my croute. I needed an indicator. A fellow test cook helped me to come up with a cool trick.

As the organics of a world cook and evolve technology, flakes begin to spatter off. So, after choosing a third medium-sized world, I placed a smaller globe in orbit around it. This satellite would catch some of the spatters, affording me warning that the croute was nearly done.

My colleague advised me to place another medium-size rocky world in an orbit adjacent to the world I was cooking. The arrival of technological flakes on this second world would tell me the croute was fully cooked, and needed to be served immediately to avoid burning.

Finally, a croute worth waiting for! Peeling the croute from the world, a rich, earthy aroma, with its distinctive yet subtle notes engulfed me. My tasters raved about the lush, complex texture, crispy bits of technology floating in a thick sauce of organics coating the rocky solids, the bold flavor of the sauce complementing without overpowering the zesty undertone of the crust.

By following this method, you too can prepare croute du monde worthy of the name.

For added pizzaz, slather your croute on a thick slice of pan metano – see page 27,356 of the Breads book for the recipe.

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Meeting of the Minds

Author : S T Xavier

The old man looks up from the notepad sitting in front of him at the table. “Is this all of us? I can never remember anymore.”

The teenager sighs loudly. “Geeze, gramps. Must be so hard counting to ‘four’ at your age.” With a smirk, he turns to the child and winks as he finishes, “I really hope I don’t end up like you when I’m old.”

The child chuckles while the adult across from him sighs. “If you’re done making fun of yourself, can we get this over with?”

The teenager shrugs. “Why? Got something important to take care of?”

The adult looks back at the teenager, allowing a rude smile to cross his face. “Yeah. Your mom.”

The old man laughs while the teenager and the child look at each other sadly. The child turns back to the adult and shakes his head. “That was stupid. I can’t believe I’m still going to make jokes like that. Besides, it doesn’t make any sense. We have the same mom.”

The old man rolls his eyes. “I can’t believe I don’t remember being so young and cynical without a sense of humor. That’s just sad. I guess I’ll remember now, at least. So, what’s on the agenda today?”

The child picks up a tablet in front of him and scrolls to a picture of a young girl, showing it to the other three. “Susie Thompkins.”

The teenager wrinkles his nose. “Ew. Not in a million years. She’s such a skank, always hanging out with those three trashy blondes and that dumb football jock. I’ll be surprised if she even finishes high school.”

The adult grins and turns to the old man. “Hey pops. Remember the night of the five-year high school reunion?”

The old man thinks for a second before a smile slowly crosses his face. “Heh. I’ll bet that hotel manager always knocked on the bathroom doors from that point on!”

Smiling, the adult turned to the child with a nod. “Susie’s a wonderful woman, and we’ve had a few good times over the years. I wish I’d known her sooner. So, yes, you have my vote.”

The teenager shrugs. “Whatever. I guess she’s alright, just has trashy friends. Go ahead. Maybe things will change if you go after her then.”

The old man nods and marks on the notepad in front of him. “That’s agreed then. Yes for Susie. Anyone else have anything?”

The adult nods. “I’m thinking of taking this accounting job to…”

The child makes a sound like he’s throwing up. “I hate accounting!”

The teenager looks over with one eyebrow. “Yeah. Numbers suck. What’s the deal?”

The adult sighs. “Money’s tight, and I might lose the house.”

The old man looks at the teenager and child. After a few seconds of silence, the three of them shake their heads and the old man turns back. “I don’t need the house. And they’re right… numbers suck. Don’t do it.”

The teenager smirks. “Pull that guitar out and go play on the corner for some money. I’d rather sleep on the corner than be an accountant!” The child nods emphatically along with the sentiment.

The adult looks up at the sky for a minute, then nods and looks back at the group. “Ok. Thanks for the thoughts. I guess I was too comfortable with what I have and needed to remember that I don’t really need these things. I won’t do it.”

The child looks back at his tablet, tapping to start a game. “Smart thinking. For us, I mean. You should be embarrassed.”

The adult takes the notepad from the old man, rips out a page, then balls it up and throws it at the child. “You mean *you* should be embarrassed, you little turd.”

The teenager rolls his eyes. “You’re just embarrassing yourself, now. Are you proud of that?”

Taking his notepad back, the old man shakes his head. “Are we done here? I need to get back before the nurses hand out meds.”

The adult nods, then stops and thinks. “I guess you’re right. I don’t need the house. Go figure. But yes, I think we’re done, unless I have anything else?” He looks at the teenager as he says this.

The teenager shrugs and stands up from the table. “Whatever. My stuff can wait another six months for the next meeting.” The adult stands and starts to say something, but the teenager continues, “And yes, I know, no drugs. I’m not interested anyway. Not like pops over there is.”

The old man slowly rises, grabbing the cane at his side. “When you’re my age and have to deal with this bad hip, you’ll change your mind!”

The child grabs his tablet and drops from the chair. “Cool. See me all later!” Thinking about what he’s going to say to Susie, he heads to his own time travel pad while the later versions of him walk to theirs.

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Hot Rain and Stale Cigarettes

Author : Steven M. Sloan

There is something out there stalking me. I can’t see it; but I know that it is there. I’ve been in the bush for nearly a month since the crash, and it’s been here all along, behind me all the way. I just can’t shake it. And now I am completely alone.

Capt. Richards died in the crash. He had seemed oddly puzzled about a power loss right before we went in. Well . . . can’t ask him about it now. The others disappeared one by one.

Harrison, the scientist, was the first to go. Curious to a fault, he wandered off the trail after quietly remarking, “How interesting,” and was never heard from again. His disappearance might have been laughable, if it hadn’t been so disquieting. Ya know – curiosity, the cat, and all o’that.

Lt. McNamara got it next. About two weeks ago he was there when we all went to sleep. But when the camp awoke, no trace of him remained.

Then Rasmussen, the engineer, fell to malign misfortune or malignant Fate. That was 3 or 4 days ago, maybe. I think I’m losing track of time. I had plotted a course for the coast and was breaking trail. At a certain point I paused to remark something trivial & negative about this blazing hot Hell-hole of leafless sticks in which we were marooned. I had done so more out of a need to stop and rest, rather than to impart any meaningful information to Rasmussen. But all of that was immediately forgotten in the aftermath of my far grimmer discovery. One minute he was there, & the next he was not. Just plain gone. And he was right behind me when it must have happened. The heat & quiet were intense. Yet, I’d heard not a sound & sensed no movement whatever. Talk about eerie. A thing like that can really make a guy twitchy.

I’m a big-city boy from down-town Milwaukee & I don’t know much about “spoor,” or tracking game. But I am learning what it feels like being tracked. For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. And it’s starting to look like it just might come to that if I can’t – “for the life of me.” I am afraid all of the time now, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

This morning I saw something move, just at the corner of my eye. I am being taunted, toyed with, and I don’t like it at all. Not. At. All. God I wish it would just finish me off & have done with it. All this waiting around is really getting to me. But then maybe that’s the point.

The food concentrate ran out days & days ago. Since then I’ve had my fill of adrenaline & fear, of hot rain & stale cigarettes. And I’ve seen nothing that I could get a shot at, including that murdering bastard. Why won’t it just finish me?

God I’m tired. Does this world even have a God? Does the thing that’s following me?

Finally! It’s time to put this tablet down & pick up a gun. I can hear it coming for me now

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HR

Author : Rick Tobin

The short walk from the trees near the campus to the administration building winded him. The air was too thin for Linet. Once inside the conference room, Linet pushed the tall paperwork pile forward on the bare meeting table. He turned in his steel-backed chair to address the clicking of high heels on granite from the hallway. He gazed at Constance Hurley, a twenty-something dish-water blonde wearing a simple gray sweater and black slacks. She glared back through her horned-rim glasses. The thin, tawny-skinned senior sat upright, facing the human resources supervisor.

“You must be the one o’clock. You’re early. This just isn’t done. One o’clock means just that. I don’t particularly care for your type interrupting my lunch hour.” She huffed about, circling around the table to sit opposite the candidate.

“Is this how you always work with intruders, Miss Hurley?”

“When I said ‘type’, I meant manipulators. You think this early stuff is supposed to impress me? And when you land a job you never show on time, but you leave early. Huh?” She pointed her right index finger at him. She pushed aside the pen near the stack of forms and began scanning them. “You oldies should be rounded up and gassed.”

“Really?” Linet replied, pointing back at the mountain of documents. “Is all of this necessary?” Linet stared at her perusal of his work.

“Listen, buster, you either want to be here or you don’t. I wouldn’t have figured you for a candidate.” She looked him up and down. “Not like that. And you can’t be serious about these answers.”

“Like what?”

“Well, to be blunt, your age. And look at that bald head and those hideous clothes. Who dressed you, a funeral director? You didn’t answer the questions about ethnicity. If only you were Inuit. I still have a slot for one.”

Linet leaned back, smiling, revealing his lack of teeth. “It stated clearly those answers were voluntary. Do you mind if I ask your age and your dress size?”

Constance bellowed in shock. “How dare you? I could have you disqualified. But you’re a relic, no doubt. What could you possibly know about high tech? With my luck you’re an illegal. I need these I-9 forms completed. Are you an illegal alien?”

“Would that matter? Do I have to complete them all?”

“In triplicate. And I warn you, one lie…one falsehood, canard or exaggeration and you’ll be taken from your cubicle to the parking lot and terminated. Is that clear?”

“Wonderful. You are perfect.” He opened his jacket and extracted a gold cigarette case and a matching gold lighter. Even as his antagonist rose to protest he lighted the pencil-thin tube and blew a perfect circle of neon blue smoke around her.

“You can’t do that in here. I’ll have you arrested…I’ll” But that was the last word from Miss Hurley. The blue halo burst open like a burgeoning oyster shell and then wrapped tightly around her until she and the smoke disappeared in a black flash.

A buzzing sound rose at the side of Linet’s head. “Good, and keep her caged,” he commanded. “She’ll be perfect for our torture squads. We’ve worn out the teams we built from our last visit here during their Inquisition. I’m sure our enemies will agree to anything after an hour with her kind, and the other HR beasts we’ve captured. Keep the crew away from them on the flight home. Remember our leader’s motto, “An hour with a bureaucrat is a dreadful torture.”

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The Play’s The Thing

Author : Bob Newbell

“To be or not to be.”

“Well, continue,” said the red, starfish-like alien to his compatriot.

“I don’t understand the line,” replied the tall being with twenty spindly tentacles. “What does ‘not to be’ mean?”

“Hamlet is considering life versus death.”

“Death?”

“It’s an irreversible loss of metabolic function resulting in the dissolution of the organism. All humans experience it. Let’s continue.”

The lanky green extraterrestrial got back into character. “To be, or not to be–that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous– What are slings and arrows?”

The red alien threw up two of his five limbs in exasperation. “They’re primitive human weapons. Shakespeare is using them as a metaphor for the suffering Hamlet is experiencing due to his situation. Now we really need to continue. Remember: We will be performing the play for a human audience. They will understand even if the words and concepts seem incomprehensible to us.”

The would-be thespian fluttered his tentacles, his people’s equivalent to a nod of the head, and resumed his lines.

“…The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to– Say, what does–”

“They lose consciousness! They call it ‘sleep’! Keep going!”

“Wait, why do they lose consciousness? Is it some kind of illness?”

“No, they spend about one-third of their lives asleep. Now we’ve only got a few more days to rehearse this before–”

“One-third of their lives?! Unconscious?! No wonder they took so long to become an interstellar species. That, and the fact that they have way too few arms.”

The red alien glared at his companion.

“…a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and–”

The tentacled alien said nothing but looked at the theatrical producer.

“It’s a muscular organ that pumps blood,” he said angrily.

“Okay,” replied the actor. “So ‘heart-ache’ means Hamlet is experiencing myocardial ischemia, right? Should I clutch my thorax when I say that line?”

The producer gripped the datapad which contained the Bard’s words with such fury that the device seemed on the verge of snapping in two. “He’s sad. That’s what ‘heart-ache’ means. Humans regard their blood-pumping organ as the seat of their emotions. Don’t try to understand it. Just keep reading.”

“… end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream.” The actor fell silent.

The starfish trembled. “Don’t ask it.”

“But I just–”

“It doesn’t matter!”

“But–”

The producer hurled the datapad to the floor. “Don’t you even think of doing it!”

The tentacled being remained silent. His stellate-arm associate calmly crawled over to where he had thrown the datapad and picked it up.

“Alright,” said the producer, “let’s pick up from where we left off.”

“Okay. But what’s a ‘dream’?”

Shortly thereafter, the actor finally understood what unconsciousness was.

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