Hoist That Rag

“New life!” came the call throughout “God’s Hammer,” from starboard to port, from aft to fore. It echoed through the corridors and ricocheted off the trophy skulls that decorated them. The men and women who crewed “God’s Hammer” sharpened their knives and painted their bodies in preparation.

“New life! Hoist the rag! Hoist the rag! New life!”

The ceremony was an auspicious one, for it was a member of the Captain’s harem who had given birth, and so then did this child bear the blue paint of “Captain’s Heir.” The Captain cradled the baby girl throughout the ceremony, surrounded by his favorite male and female concubines. Only when his joy became too great did he leave his throne on the bridge, and dance around the glowing engine core with the rest of the crew.

And if any of the crew were concerned with the existence of a new mouth and a new belly, they found their minds changed by the obvious joy in the Captain, brought on by his new heir.

All save one.

The first mate, whose purchase on the Captain’s throne was now lost due to this new heir, brandished his knife with a heavy fist and a bloody eye. He screamed with rage as he charged the Captain and his daughter, with intent to end them both.

And he clean would have, but for the eyes of the crew, who saw this. And but for the hands of the crew, who caught his arms and held him fast. And but for the hearts of the crew, each one of which still kept beat in the Captain’s palm.

The slave who was to be sacrificed was led by its neck back to the bowels of the ship, for the first mate was now lain upon the table in his stead. The chaplain, girded with the remnant of sacrifices past, called out to the gods, offering this old life so that a new life may prosper.

The heir was bathed in the blood of the first mate, which mixed with the blue paint to turn a royal purple. His body was deftly segmented by the chaplain, and each of the crew came toward the still-warm meat and sliced off a piece with their recently sharpened knives. Each piece was swallowed, and so then did crew become stronger.

The heir was wiped down, and the gore-encrusted rag was displayed proudly on the hull of the ship, proclaiming to all of the new life upon “God’s Hammer.”

And other ships did look upon the banner with awe and with envy. “New life,” they whispered. “New life.”

Kaleidoscope

TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-124. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Car Salesman.

It was an ordinary day of waking up, drinking coffee, and making his way to the lot again but Conner was glad that every day had its predictability. New Fords meant New Mustangs with all their pretty little colors and displays, and he never ceased to enjoy selling them.

Conner was happily married, and enjoyed life with his son, Parker. He was a quiet man who lived a quiet life; a mediocre life that would leave him dead from heart disease at the age of 55.

Destiny: .01%

TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-273. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Assassin.

Gunshots were not his cup of tea, but ever since Conner had graduated from being an apprentice to actually doing the hits himself he hadn’t had much time for tea at all. This particular day, while he’s thinking about what it might be like to settle down with a wife while blood dripped from a gunshot wound to his side, he was on the brink of completing another mission.

Mr. Davis was an enigma in the eyes of all systems, and right now his one redeeming quality was shooting the fuck out of the newly-elected President of Unified Territories and the change that would ensue would be as important to him as the huge pay-off. Unfortunately, Conner would die of that wound before he could report his near-success.

Destiny: 9.05%

TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-5890. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Chemist.

Early days were no stranger to Doctor Conner Davis, who labored heavily over limitless lines of formula and code to decipher what the cure would be. Humanity was fading fast from the plague spreading through each and every citizen and time was running short for the underground lab he kept in Bismarck.

Dr. Davis had lost everything in his study for a cure including any hope of a relationship. He’d lost care of personal gain and took sight of what really mattered. Life mattered. His eyes saw the necessary means to create a cure and he might be able to save more than just his sanity by finding one soon. Doctor Conner Davis died of an aneurysm at 98.

Destiny: 45.39%

TURN THE SCOPE. Earth-1. Subject: Davis, Conner. Occupation: Unknown.

Conner Davis lived every day as if it were his last. He took everything as it came to him and never took any of it for granted. He never wrote a book, never saved a nation, never killed a villain or moved a mountain. Mr. Davis was going to Sydney and he was getting married to the love of his life.

Mr. Davis never knew happiness outside of how he felt for other people. Material possessions never occurred to Conner to mean anything. He lived, and he loved with the best of his ability and compromised nothing. Conner Davis dies tomorrow.

Destiny: 100%

TURN THE SCOPE.

Wanted

“‘Wanted: Breast donors. 34 C or D cup, O negative or AB, Caucasian. Non-smokers preferred. $500 USD plus expenses. Absolutely NO BINDING.’ What the hell is this?” Ryan waved the classified ads in Race’s face. “Donors for plastic surgery? How much demand can there possibly be for that?”

Race shrugged and looked up from his copy of the Daily Times. Jobs were scarce and getting scarcer, which is why he and Ryan had hit upon the idea of going through the city papers in search of paid medical tests. “Enough that they’ve got an ad for it.”

“No, but I mean, seriously,” Ryan protested. “I can understand wanting blood or tissue donations for, I dunno, mangled faces or something, but breasts? How many people, like, lose their breasts in a car accident? Isn’t that sort of a weird thing to be reconstructing?”

Race snickered and looked back at his paper, combing the pages for something that didn’t actually require them to have diseases beforehand. “I doubt any of those ads are for accident victims.”

“You mean augmentation? But that’s illegal. How can they advertise something like that in the public paper? Won’t the doctors get arrested?” Ryan looked back and the ad and chuckled. “Though that does explain why they only want Caucasians.”

“Just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean they don’t do it. I bet half the tests we sign up for aren’t exactly legal either, but who’s going to stop them? We need money and rich people’s kids need a cure for cancer.”

“I guess,” Ryan agreed. He frowned at the ad for a few moments more before adding, “But $500? That’s it? What woman in her right mind would give up her breasts for only five hundred dollars?”

“Plus expenses,” Race reminded him without looking up.

“Expenses? Expenses for what? Never being able to get a date again? Christ.”

“For the medications and after-care, and the cosmetic surgery on their chests afterwards.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. No girl is going to cut off her breasts for five hundred dollars, no matter how much ‘after care’ there is.” Ryan snorted and turned the page.

“People who didn’t want them in the first place won’t mind losing them. Might even be a good opportunity.” Race’s voice was casual, a quiet musing as he frowned and reread one of the ads he’d circled as a possibility.

“Wait. You mean…” Ryan put the paper down completely, frowning at Race. “Trannies? That’s way more illegal than cosmetic surgery.” His face showed that he was more than a little uncomfortable at the idea.

“All the more reason for them to connect with rich women who want bigger boobs. The government isn’t going to break in and stop it; that’d be like enforcing prohibition. It’s a good way for everyone involved to get what they want while giving the law a good excuse to look the other way. How about lymphoma preventatives?” Race asked. “It’s long-term, so the pay’s good. You have a history on your mom’s side, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, sounds good,” Ryan answered, distracted. He was still frowning. “How do you know so much about this breast transplant shit?” he asked Race, squinting at his friend.

Race didn’t look up. He just smirked.

“How do you think I got rid of mine?”

Steganography

The feeds are not for the news. The feeds are the distraction, the feeds are the facade. The news is contained within them, invisible to the naked eye, downloading itself as cookies, slipped into meta tags. Sometimes, Anna wondered who controlled the news, who encoded it so carefully before covertly disseminating it to a throbbing public that would never be able to read it.

“Six civilians reported dead after recent bombing,” the scrolling headline told her as she slapped a post-it above the monitor.

It is a crime to open up your computer. Computers come fully assembled: white cubes with no seams, glowing power button and white cord.

You had to buy a saw, the kind used for cutting pipes. It was a tedious process. When Anna was thirteen, it took her five hours to get through the half-inch of white plastic and the quarter-inch of metal beneath it.

She was disappointed at the interior, which consisted of shiny green boards pricked with bits of copper. It was too mundane to be forbidden, she thought. She resented the laws for tricking her into wasting her time.

The newsfarms were self-contained as well. The boy who lived down the street told her that the buildings were empty, operated by machines. Machines made the feedsites, and machines maintained them. That was why they had no doors.

“How do we know they’re telling the truth?” she asked, squinting at the windowless building.

“Machines can’t lie. They don’t even know what lies are.”

In the cafe, Anna inserted a small black cartridge and cut off the auditory alarm with a few keystrokes. The computer could recognize “malicious code.”

She glanced up to the innocent-looking post-it note attached to the top of the monitor. The usercamera was the first line of offense, and it was the first one to be neutralized. Now, it was busy converting the image of the yellow paper to digits, which were stored and immediately printed by the DHS for deployment. Their enemy is the color of dandilions, she thought, smirking at their waste of yellow ink. The front of the square said 10.12.01.

Judith had been a few years older than Anna, and lived in the apartment beside her. Judith’s apartment was sealed like a newsfarm, and, though there was a door, Anna had never seen it open. Eerie blue light flickered from the inch between wood and tile.

The first and last time she saw Judith was a week before she graduated from high school. Anna answered the door at three am, mostly because her mother told her not to answer the door at three am, and Judith shoved a box into Anna’s arms. “This is for you,” she whispered breathlessly before turning and running down the hallway in a mess of curly hair and toffee-colored skin. The police arrived three minutes later.

Confident that the computer’s safeguards had been bypassed, Anna opened the program on the disk and stared at the black window for a second before filling it with white letters and numbers. Another window opened, and the guts of the feedsite spilled out into black and white as numbers and letters. Anna hit print, then eject, then yanked the cord out of the wall and replugged it. Pocketing the disk, she looked at the startup screen. “Shit!” she said, loudly enough for the clerk to hear. He glanced up. “It turned itself off,” she explained.

“Do you need-” he started, then the phone rang, exactly on schedule. “One second,” he said, and picked up the receiver.

Anna grabbed the stack of seventeen freshly-printed pages and exited while his back was turned.

Sitting in the diner, drinking her fourth cup of coffee, Anna worked over the pages with a ballpoint pen. Eighty three people had died, not six. Their names were half-assembled as letters trapped in little blue circles of ink.

“You shouldn’t do puzzles in pen,” The waiter said, refilling her coffee. “What if you want to erase something?”

“I don’t like erasing things,” she responded without looking up. He walked back behind the counter and she circled another letter, frowning.

Left

The girl with the tangled hair sat on the cliff face overlooking the ocean, and dangled her feet into the expanse. A ragged doll made of socks and cast-offs sat beside her. Every so often, the girl would adjust the doll’s slumping posture.

She saw the man’s strange ship land, but she didn’t recognize it anymore than she recognized him. So she stayed where she was, watching for signs from the sea. She didn’t even turn to look at him when he crouched next to her.

“Hello,” he said. “Whatcha doing?”

“I am waiting.” she said. She motioned to the doll. “And so is Petunia.”

“Waiting?” said the strange man. “I know a bit about that. What are you two waiting for?”

“Mommy and Daddy. They put me there,” she pointed to a steel hatchway embedded in the earth. Her eyes never left the water. “They told me not to come out until they came back for me, but Petunia got bored, so we came out. We go back in for peanut butter, but only sometimes. We used to have a house up here, but I don’t know where it went.”

“How long ago did they leave?”

The girl counted on her fingers, though kept her eyes straight ahead. “Four.”

“Days?”

“No,” she said. “The other one. Months”

“I don’t think they’re coming back,” the man said. “I’ve been all over this entire planet. You’re the first survivor I’ve found.”

The girl with the tangled hair turned away from the ocean to look at the strange man, confusion all over her face. “Of course they’re coming back,” she said. “Why would they leave me?”

Gold Fish

When Goldie opened her eyes and saw the colorful fish swimming outside the curved window, she screamed, loud and high. The big Ohma waddled over and picked her up in its fuzzy, globular arms, hugging the little girl close to its warm soft body. Goldie shoved the Ohma away and wiped at her tears.

“Stupid Ohma.” She said “You’re not what I want.” Goldie went to the kitchen, where Ammee was spinning on its circular base. Green tentacles reached into the storage unit and on the high counter, making food for Goldie. When she came close Ammee started whistling a little tune.

“I’m hungry!” Goldie clutched her stomach and fell on the floor.“ You take too long. You’re killing me!”

Ammee uncurled a tentacle towards the little girl, offering her a peeled carrot.

“I hate carrots! How many times to I have to teach you!” Goldie kicked Ammees silver base, and it squealed. Goldie kicked Ammee again, and the base flipped over, food flying from the ends of the tentacles. Goldie giggled; Ammee had never been so funny. She kicked a tentacle, and it turned a dark blue. The Ammee twittered and Goldie kicked the base again, but it didn’t change colors there. Goldie opened one of the drawers and picked out a bunch of forks. Goldie scratched the tentacles till they turned blue. Some of them spilled out blue water on the floor. She giggled, watching the Ammee trying to right itself with all its tentacles deflated. Dumb Ammee.

With the Ammee on the floor Goldie could eat whatever she wanted. Goldie went into the cold box and picked out the ice chocolates and ate the whole box. The Ammee was still squeaking on the floor, spilling its blue water everywhere.

“Mom will punish you when she gets back.” Warned Ammee. “She’ll punish you for the mess.”

It seemed like she couldn’t tear up the silver shiny bits on Ammee, only the squishy tentacles. Ohma was all squish. Goldie wondered if Ohma was pink inside. Goldie picked up her forks and started to scream. Screaming and crying always got the Ohma out of her closet. The Ohma trundled over to Goldie and picked her up, humming a little tune. Goldie squealed with delight and stuck the forks in its soft fur. The Ohma made a weird low noise. It tumbled backward and Goldie bounced on its stomach, squealing. She kept sticking the forks in it till she ran out and then she went back to the kitchen. Her stomach hurt, and her throat felt like it had food stuck in it.

“Ammee, make me medicine.” she kicked Ammees tentacles, but it didn’t move. Goldie felt like somebody was sitting on her heart.

“Get up!” she pushed the base back onto the floor, but the wet tentacles kept pulling it over. Goldie tried to pile all the tentacles together, but the floor was wet and she slipped, falling on her bottom. Goldie cried. She screamed her loudest, but Ohma didn’t waddle through the door. Goldie crawled across the floor, her bottom and face wet, her tummy hurting, and found Ohma where she had left her, flat like a giant mattress. Goldie crawled on top on the Ohma and pulled a limp, furry arm over her like a blanket.