Honour the Untouchable

Author : Julian Miles

“Master Osho. The candidates are assembled.”
My brush completes the stroke, leaving a perfect curve upon the paper. I place the brush down on its rest and look up at Matsushige.
“Thank you. I will attend momentarily.”
I examine my completed calligraphy. It is a summation of who we are, to hang in the anteroom of the great hall:

“In feudal Nihon, the place where you were born would define your worth in the eyes of society. We were the Burakumin, the ‘hamlet people’; the untouchables. We were only permitted to hold the most demeaning jobs. If we had the misfortune to also be classified as Eta (literally: ‘abundance of filth’), we could even be murdered with impunity, as we were only deemed to be worth one seventh of a ‘real’ human. That determination was made by a magistrate in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century we were blacklisted by employers. In the twenty-first, the blacklists were scrutinised by the parents of those we wanted to marry. Only the crime syndicates, the Yakuza, welcomed us. Despite protestations of equality, when the Rising Sun ascended to the stars, Burakumin were taken to run the environmental systems and other things that ‘nice’ people could never be expected to soil their hands with.”

I smile. It never pays to forget that kami play a long game.

“When the Gristplagues struck, those in the overdecks fell victim, their souls and bodies weakened by lives of labourless luxury. The remedies of our healers were useless. That was when Gusamin remembered Tsunetomo’s words in the Hagakure, about how the end of the samurai era had been heralded when the remedies for samurai ceased to work, yet those for women started to be effective on men. Gusamin rightly consigned the sexism to history, but sought out the long-unused ‘samurai-specific’ remedies. Those ancient arts worked for every soul in the underdecks, but only caused pain to those from the overdecks, without providing a cure.”

That had been the turning point.

“Gusamin worked with Grandmaster Osho to define what had occurred. The mission had to continue: taking us all to new worlds. So my predecessor stated that, by empirical proof of Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s own words, Burakumin had become the new Samurai. As we were self-determined, we would not shame that title. We would adopt the Ronin name and bring honour to it by fulfilling the mission. Overdeck and underdeck became the ‘Ship’, and we Ronin continue to lead a united people to the stars.”

In truth, we are all Ronin now.

Turning from the parchment, I stroll from my office and stand upon the balcony, looking down at the two hundred men and women gathered below.
“Today you start our future. To be Ronin is to be one of the manifest kami that keep the Ship on its journey. You will learn. You will train. You will bring pride to your families. There is no failure. You have made it here. All that remains is determining what role you can excel at. Standing among you could well be Osho the Fifteenth. Nothing is impossible.”
The upturned faces are hopeful, happy and strong. The survivors of the overdecks intermarried and the word ‘Eta’ has finally been consigned to its rightful place: an unacceptable insult that is fading from use.

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Water Work

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

She arranged to meet him at a seven thirty. He was fifteen minutes late, but she sat at the bar and watched him settle into the table and check his watch obsessively until almost eight before she walked over and seated herself.

He didn’t get up. “You’re late, I didn’t think you were coming.” Unapologetic. Strike one. He pulled his sleeve up to check his watch, even though he’d just checked his phone and knew exactly what time it was, just to make a point. Arrogant. Strike two.

“I was actually sitting at the bar, you said from my profile picture that I’d be the ‘most compelling beauty in any room’, I was curious as to whether you’d spot me.”

He laughed, reached across the table and placed his hand on hers. “You are, unmistakably, the most beautiful woman I’ve known.”

She withdrew her hand to reach for her water glass, took a sip and smiled. “But you don’t know me, do you?”

He waved to catch the eye of a nearby waiter before snapping his fingers and pointing to the table. “Yes, well, you don’t me either.” The waiter arrived, masking his distaste with commendable professionalism.

“I’m so sorry for the wait, would you like a cocktail, or perhaps some wine? Your waiter will—”

He was cut off abruptly. “Whisky rocks for me, and the lady will have a white wine—”

“I’ll have a gin martini, straight up, three olives.”  She smiled at the waiter and ignored the angry confusion on the man’s face.

The waiter risked a slight smile, “Right away madam”, before slipping away.

“I wasn’t sure if I would have to cancel,” the man started talking, “I’m in the middle of this massive deal–”

“It’s good that you didn’t.” She cut him off again.

He opened and closed his mouth before picking up where he left off. “I can’t talk about it, but we’re in a unique position where–”

“Why are businessmen so self absorbed?” She spoke over him effortlessly, silencing him in mid sentence without raising her voice.

He sat back in his seat, visibly annoyed.

“What are you–?”

“Maxwell Grenderson, thirty seven, born in Saint Paul, Minnesota before moving to New York at twenty two. Fast tracked to partner by way of taking photographs of the owner’s son screwing Julia Wells, the owner’s girlfriend, obtained ironically enough by hiding in her closet after almost getting caught screwing her yourself.”

Maxwell closed his mouth.

“Do you remember what I do for a living?” She steepled her fingers, watching him over well manicured nails.

“You said something about the water works.” No denials. Strike three.

“If you only listened as well as you talked.” She paused as the waiter returned, noiselessly sliding the drinks into vacant spaces on the table, and slipping away just as effortlessly. She picked up her glass and removed an olive from its skewer with her teeth, chewing it slowly as she watched him.

“You see Max, I have gigabytes of data on you, your friends, your family. I know everything you have read, researched, every minute of pornography that you’ve sat through. I know every dollar that’s travelled into or out of your accounts, and what you’ve done with it.”

She paused again, bit off a second olive and held it between her teeth, smiling around it as she held eye contact, then bit it neatly in two.

“The thing about people’s personalities when observed simply as bits, is you really don’t get a feel for them. You can know everything about someone and still not really know them. For that you have to spend time with them.”

She took another sip and placed the glass on the table, then placed her hands in her lap and leaned forward.

“What I said, Max, was that I was in wetwork. And if you had proved to be a better human being than your electronic signature suggested, then perhaps this would have ended differently. But…”

There were six swift whispers, barely audible above the ambient chatter as her weapon discharged under the table. His muscles tensed fully and completely before he could even gasp.

Pushing back from the table she rose to leave, and as she passed him she bent down, face to face. “The most beautiful woman in the room?” For a moment her face flickered and changed, and Julia Wells breathed through a smile. “None of you ever knew me,” and the face was gone, different now from that of his dinner date too. A moment later they both made their exit, each in their own way.

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Nomadic Reverie

Author : J. Henry Dixon

To them, I’m already space junk. The captain, the crew watching the broadcast, the two security guards strapping me into the deep suit.

“Mutiny,” the captain spat, “is the vilest form of treason. A special hell is waiting for men who betray their oaths and their people. The seriousness of this crime can’t be overstated, especially when everyday could be humanity’s last.”

He smiled knowing that his madness and bloodlust would, for now, continue to flourish. “Lieutenant Banks, you are sentenced to death by walk. You will serve 270 years, one decade for each crewmember you poisoned with lies.” I thought of my brothers. Their executions were swift, I had to witness each.

The medical officers checked the count of oxygen recyclers, sustenance injections, and health fluid levels assuring my existence out there. The innovations that made our survival possible would be my eternal prison. They didn’t add the mental health chips with thousands of books, vids, music, and pictures that walkers are allowed for some grasp at sanity. This luxury I don’t have. Just my thoughts. My rage.

The security officers clasped on my helmet and attached me to a cargo-pack four times my size that contained the bountiful stores of my life preservations. They nodded at the captain.

“Last words are not afforded to mutineers,” the captain said unceremoniously. He then worked the console. I was lifted by the robotic arm as crystalline inner doors closed separating me from what was left of humanity. The airlock alarm blared as the artificial gravity disappeared. I started to feel my unit mechanically twist towards the hatch. The last person I saw, and would ever see, was the captain. He sauntered out not bothering to watch his judgment come to fruition. I was locked into place. For one moment, I was entranced by the vista that I would enjoy for centuries.

Then a gentle force guided me away from the vessel, my home, into the blackness. It wasn’t eternity, but it was bad enough.

*

At a constant leisurely pace, I floated. Just emptiness and I waltzing down the coil forever. In all the time gazing at the infinite galaxies, I knew the ship would still be in sight. Probably just a few hundred kilometers away. I figured I’d been adrift for about seven days. The ship’s skip was scheduled for 12 days from my walk. I wished like Hell I could know for sure. If only I could just get a glimpse of that hunk of technology that housed the last of our species.

I hadn’t decided for sure when they first sent me walking. Honest. But I’ve made my choice now. It isn’t for revenge, though certainly there is a feeling of retributive joy. Of permanence and closure. I have never considered myself as the grandiose type. I’m a worker. An engineer. I like to see processes that achieve results. I believe people deserve to know truths. Decide fates with facts. When self determination is not possible nor allowed nor desired, life is a futile burden.

I gnaw my teeth hard through my cheek, through the fleshy insides of my mouth. Compared with what’s ahead of me, the pain is good and I finally retrieve my bloody prize. My teeth fish out the powerful transmitter. The receiver is connected to well-hidden explosives on the thirteen life function generators and backups. I take another look at limitlessness ahead. We had a good shot, but we aren’t survivors. Always runners. Every walk ends. I bite down hard.

I’ll have 270 years to wonder if it worked.

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White Heaven

Author : Ashley Spinelli

Brittney was crouched in the corner of her bedroom. Her mouth trembled. She couldn’t deal with the thought of not having it. She looked like she hadn’t shower in days. Brittney slowly got up from her crouched position and walked over to her desk. The clock read 5:45 p.m. Her stomach rumbled like a lions roar.

She went down to the kitchen to try to make some food. Her hands fidgeted with the knife that she was holding to make her sandwich. She realized she was too sick to eat, so she threw the sandwich out. The house phone rang.

“Hello?” she asked.

“I have it. Do you need it now?”

“Oh my god you have it? Yes. Yes please! I need it,” she exclaimed.

“Okay I’ll come by soon to drop it off,” he whispered into the phone.

“My address is 42 Smithson Street,” she said and then hung up the phone.

After she got off the phone, she became even more anxious. Her cold sweats got worse. Just think happy thoughts. She paced the room because she could no longer sit. This is what her life had come too. It was the drug she needed and nothing else.

Just the thought of it in her hand made her go crazy. Going on the computer didn’t help, neither did watching TV or calling up friends. This man was a savior. She would owe herself to him. He was the only person she could think about.

Her prayers were answered when the doorbell rang. It has to be him. She opened the door and there was a man, dressed in ripped blue jeans and a black t shirt.

“Brittney?” he asked.

“Yes that’s me,” she said.

“Here you go” He extended his arm and held out his hand. In it was the white heaven she’d been waiting for.

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I owe you big time,” she told him.

She took the phone with the white case out of his hand and closed the door. The cold sweats stopped, her hands stopped trembling and her blood pressure decreased. She headed back to her corner where she was perfectly okay.

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Sailors, Steeplejacks, and Scouring Men

Author : G. Grim

Jim could hear chanting over his headpiece. “Blessed Saint Elmo, who walks in the high places, defend us from being cast down into the darkness of the void…”

Bunch of superstitious crap. Didn’t they outlaw shamanic religion a few cycles back? It wasn’t like some dead Homeworlder was going to protect any of them if their tethers failed. And besides, if there really were gods none of them would have ended up here, sentenced to spend the rest of their lives scouring grit off the side of a remote observation float.

“Why here? Damned space dust gets everywhere,” he muttered.

“Buckle up and blast out, lads. Pels, quit with the praying. If you’re so scared of space, maybe you shouldn’t have defaulted on your loan.”

Pels finally shut up. Jim felt bad about it – it’s not like selling disposables pays enough for surgery – but he was glad not to have the chanting distracting him. Blast out was always the worst part. Miss your tethering window and you’d be stuck for ten hours holding on with one hand and scouring with the other. And if you fell off, it was a long, cold fall.

Too soon he was at the airlock. The foreman made a perfunctory check of his suit before pushing him out. It wasn’t like they were too concerned about losing him, and the suits were as expendable as the scouring men, but it’d be months before Homeworld would ship out a replacement for either. One… Two… NOW. As he drifted out, he reached for the frame and clipped his tether into place, nice and easy.

If he could just get through this shift, they’d be off for the next five rotations. The techs in their shiny new suits needed to recalibrate something outside the float, and they sure as supernovas weren’t going out while the scouring men were. They could be clipped onto their tethers while Jim had a break for once. Maybe even a hot meal. Maybe even a shower.

He scoured as he thought about getting all the way out of his suit, paying little attention to anything outside his own head. Then he heard Pels start up the chanting again. It was different, though. Faster. Urgent. He looked over and saw a chunk of debris floating towards him. He looked around him for a handhold and realized to his horror that he’d drifted away from the frame, leaving nothing but his tether holding him in place. He reached for the tether, pulling himself hand over hand to the frame as fast as the clunky suit would let him.

Too late. He ducked instinctively as the debris passed by him, but he couldn’t pull the tether out of the way. It was crushed briefly between debris and float, the vibration of metal on metal transmitted up the wire to his hands. And as the wanderer bounced away, Jim felt himself drifting, carried away from the float by his own momentum.

He reached out for something, anything, hands flailing in a desperate attempt to stop the endless fall. Then, just as the float passed out of his sight, his tether jerked. He looked back to see Pels, chanting in earnest as she pulled him back by his broken tether.

Jim grabbed the frame tight. He’d worked without a tether before. He could do it today, cold sweat notwithstanding. He nodded his thanks to Pels, and as he started scouring again, he whispered, “Blessed Saint Elmo, who walks in the high places, defend us from being cast down into the darkness of the void.”

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B-eye-onic

Author : Nicolas Frame

“How many people have you successfully implanted this in?”

The man chuckled. “I’m an engineer by trade,” He held the small robotic eye up between his fingers, examining it for imperfections. “Not a doctor.”

“How many?” Blane sat nervously on the makeshift operating table. The bright lamps all around were causing him to sweat.

“Two so far.” The man set the eye on a metal tray next to a scalpel and other painfully sharp looking tools. “One lived.”

“One lived?” Blane scoffed and stood up. “You said this was foolproof,” he hissed, “a simple procedure with just a few hours recovery time!”

“It is, my dear boy!” He clapped Blane on the back, grinning. “You’ll be perfectly fine.” The man shuffled to an unlit corner where a generator purred. “Please lie down on the table now, I’m getting your anesthetic.”

Blane rubbed his worried face. “Let me see it again.”

The engineer chuckled, walking back, needle in hand. “All right, but then we begin. After you pay there’s no refunds so…just relax.” He set the needle on the tray next to the tools and carefully picked the eye up raising it for Blane to see.

“It looks so…normal, almost real.” It did. The iris was even the same dark brown as Blane’s. “Can it really do everything you’ve said?”

“Trust me, this thing is solid. It’s loaded with three and a half exabytes of memory, full infrared and night vision capabilities, complex heads-up display, up to 70 times zoom, and of course picture and video taking features.” He gleamed at the eye. “It’s perfect, and it’s going to make me a fortune.”

“Alright. Let’s do it.” Blane tapped the ‘transfer funds’ button on his phone and settled down on the table. The needle stung as it entered his arm. Blane began feeling numb, but didn’t pass out as he expected. “Hey, doc. I-I’m not going out. Are you-are…you sure you gave me enough?”

“Oh you won’t be completely out during the procedure. But you shouldn’t feel any pain. Don’t worry, this isn’t my first rodeo. It’ll be over before you know it.” The man winked, grabbing two pair of forceps which he quickly clamped onto Blane’s eyelids, forcing his eye to remain open. “Your eyelids and, well, the whole general area might be a little sore afterwards. Not that it really matters.”

A scalpel and hook tool appeared in Blane’s vision, silhouetted by the bright lamps aimed on his face. He wanted to look away, but couldn’t with his eye forced open as it was. The hook tool plunged directly into his pupil, followed by the scalpel which began carving in quick saw-like motions around the edges of his eye. Blane flinched uncontrollably on the table, clenching his fists, though there was no pain. The vision in his left went black.

Blane strained his right eye to watch the procedure and wished he didn’t. The man plucked the left eye out, its optic nerve still attached and trailing behind it.

“Yuck!” The man slashed at the nerve a few times before it gave. “Ah, and there’s your brain. Exposed, unprotected, vulnerable…the smartest organ in your body. It’s funny that sometimes our brains make us make stupid decisions; like trusting people we really shouldn’t.”

Blane felt a clammy shiver run through his body.

“I am sorry to do this. I’m not even really an engineer, you know. But thanks for the funds…really, thank you.” Blane watched as the scalpel raised high in the air and closed his remaining eye as it came down hard through his exposed socket into his brain.

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