Growing Pains

The locksmith knelt down to examine the mangled keyhole in Exetor’s office door. He turned his head and raised a brow at the man seated behind the desk, who was typing with twelve fingers and paying little attention to the tradesman. “So uh, how did this happen?”

A grumble came from the broad-shouldered man at the desk, “I was in a hurry, all right? Haven’t you ever broken something while in a hurry?” Exetor said before reading the words ‘Bionic Locksmith’ on the back of the tradesman’s uniform. “Oh… I guess you haven’t.”

Exetor felt weird in his office, talking to thirteen people on the transmitter in his brain and watching his door being fixed. The scene was a bit awkward with silence, so he sat up and decided to be nice for once. “So, are you natural born or implanted?”

“Excuse me?” The locksmith turned his head with a look of surprise on his face and annoyance at being distracted from his job.

“I mean, are you born or implant? Not a hard question… wait, you’re not one of those liberal bionics, are ya?”

Even though Exetor was digging himself into a bigger hole, the man just toyed with the rim of his hat and went back to examining the lock. “Born with it.”

“Ah, that’s cool. I’m an implant myself. Yes, these babies cost me a pretty credit.” He held up his hands, wiggling all twelve fingers. The glint in Exetor’s eyes changed constantly with the numerous moods he was forced into due to the numerous conversations, but he kept a smile for the locksmith. “The transmitter and the language translator were both in-grown after the process.”

“Yeah, well, you do something long enough…” The locksmith started, as his eyes narrowed to better see inside the lock.

Exetor interrupted again, “That’s what they say, isn’t it? Do something long enough and it adjusts for you? I’m surprised the nano-people haven’t made it into an ad campaign.” He rubbed his chin, considering the money one would make from such an endeavor. His guest remained silent. The locksmith was beginning to regret working for the big wigs.

“You know, man… I hear that if a bionic nympho goes at it long enough, her thing starts to-“

“Whoa!” The tradesman had heard enough and set a solid glare with huge pupils towards Exetor as a look of disgust etched itself across his features. “Look, buddy. I’m here to see if I can fix the door and get you a new key. I don’t need to hear your theories about sex and bionics.”

The businessman frowned then shrugged and went back to rapid typing. His eyes already transfixed on the business going by at alarming speeds displayed on the screen.

With a sigh, the man at the door stood back up and started putting away his tools; he put on a pair of shades. “I’ll grow a key for you by tomorrow. It’ll be my ring finger so it’ll cost you a bit more.”

Where The Heart Is

Tomasine Acero folded her hands on her desk, and then opened them in a manner that she hoped would suggest both an understanding on her part and an acceptance of the inevitability of fate. “You have to understand their point of view,” she said. “They are trying to sell a house. You are saying that you want to rent it before you buy, well, that makes them uncomfortable.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smar were not calmed by Acero’s hand motions, Mrs. Smar in particular. “Uncomfortable? We’ve been living in a damn Honvar ever since the Caern came! All our clothes are in plastic bags…there wasn’t any time to pack.”

“I understand,” Acero said.

“I don’t think you do,” Mr. Smar said, gripping his wife’s shoulders tightly. “We just want a house in our old colony. And we need it before our Ellroy starts school. We don’t want to uproot the poor guy, not after the raid.”

“He saw what happened to our neighbors,” Mrs. Smar said, her eyes on the floor. “He saw it before we did. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have made it out in time. But my poor boy, having to see…those pieces flying, and all that blood. We need this house, Ms. Acero.”

“And I understand that.” Acero had her fingertips down on the desk, supporting the palms. Hands like sheltering structures. “But you aren’t the only one from your colony looking for houses that survived the raid to come back to. And the seller, he wants proof that you aren’t going to rent for a year and be on your way.”

“You want proof?” Mr. Smar almost leapt out of his chair. “Go by my house. Go by the burned-out crater that used to be where my family lived. Go and see the charred and mutilated body parts that used to be old Mr. Fufferds and his wife. Maybe they can cut those bits down from the trees while they’re at it. We survived a raid, Ms. Acero. My own father couldn’t even say that. I think we’ve suffered enough.”

Acero found herself involuntarily self-hugging. She shook away the image of some kindly retired couple strung about a yard, and the alien mind that considered such a dismemberment amusing. She placed her palms together. It was time to project strength and resolve. “What the seller is asking for is some sort of deposit. Your Honvar, maybe?”

“Can’t do it,” Mr. Smar said. “Our ship’s our livelihood.”

“Well, in that case, how about your boy? You could give the seller him.”

“I’m not selling my son into slavery,” Mrs. Smar said.

“He wouldn’t be a slave,” Acero said. Hands open again, fingers apart, bent out at the wrist. Imply trust. “He would be an indentured servant. Only until the seller is convinced of your intent to buy. He’d still be able to attend his old school, see his old friends, only his time outside of school would belong to the seller.”

“Is there any other option?”

“Not unless you want a colony further out, Mrs. Smar. But I wouldn’t suggest it. The further out you go, the closer you are to Caern worlds…” Acero massaged her temple, looked to the left, and projected pure, unadulterated concern. “..,.I just wouldn’t want anything more to happen to you.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smar looked at each other and then simultaneously turned around in their chairs to watch their six year-old son play through the window to the lobby,

“Where do we sign?”

Revolution of the Meek

We know its flimsy façade, we know it’s a broken promise waiting.

They said that if we kept working, someday we could make enough to send our kids to college, never mind the dying, the slaughter in the world. Remember the holocaust, they said, but forget the horror of today. Love the planet, but buy a car that guzzles foul gas. Study hard, get a good job, spend your cash on trinkets and drugs. They want us to live with success and debt, hand in unlovable hand.

The thing that still gets me is that no one noticed. It was a hunch that no matter how obvious we were, the fact that we were middle class, well-dressed white people would keep us safe. It was racist, and oligarchic and it delighted and disgusted me that it worked. We looked like we were doing what we were supposed to. We studied hard, politics, chemistry, biology, psychology, physics, film, sociology, philosophy, and computer science. We studied hard. We learned how the world works, and now we plan to change it.

We can build a hundred different kinds of bombs. We can genetically engineer a bacterium that could give everyone colds for weeks. We can send you a virus in the mail. We could break your servers. You cannot find us by your profiles, we come from different faiths, we are poor and wealthy, we are students, union workers, and businessmen. We could kill billions.

You are lucky. We are not as brainwashed as you wanted us to be. We will use the power we have to recreate the system through the frequency of sound, through the meter of light. We will alter the status quo; we are moving slick and sweet over your mega-conglomerate. We will be the underground and the mass consumer appeal. In every dot of perceivable digital light, we will be sending our message right to the brains of your friends, your children and your pets. You can’t hide, we are the mainstream.

This is the Revolution of the Meek, stay tuned.

TW

Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on Io, I thought I would sail about a little and see the most distant reaches of space.

Despite the limitations of technology, the endlessness that spread before our ship pulled me with a unique gravity. The bounty itself was naught. In retrospect, it was a meaningless and futile obsession, but the captain persisted. I followed, as I was wont to do given the limited quarters of the starship, and it never occurred to me that the quest was impossible. After all, I longed for nothing but the sight of stars through the viewscreen, so I was content to drift along in the wake of his unwavering determination.

TW was regarded as the most feared man in the seemingly endless reaches of the solar system, and despite the minimal reward I was compelled by the captain’s inexplicable, unwavering persistence to pursue the ghost of the pale ship through the asteroid belt, through the orbits of nine planets, and through the gentle and burning licks of solar flares.

“He’s out there,” the captain said. “He’s out there.”

TW had claimed innumerable victims, and even in my green and formless years the myths had flickered across television screens as the magnetic residue of a legend. I must admit that I was infatuated with the concept. When the captain himself raised the bounty my interest was piqued, and the lot of us were incited to impossible action.

“Have you sighted the ship?” he broadcast over all frequencies, but the replies were foreboding or outright prohibitive.

In my quarters, I dreamed of the solar system stretching out before me like an arm that never reached a hand. Doubtless, he dreamed of whiteness streaking the dark of space.

“He’s out there,” he said. “He’s still out there.”

Months passed like days, occupied by the dreariness of daily duty and the shadow of passion that the captain cast upon us. I kept a log of activities, though it was surely tedious by the standards of occupied worlds.

“He’s out there,” the captain said. “He’s still out there.” Despite the protests of the senior staff, he continued. Our transmissions were denied by ships which busied themselves with far more likely prospects.

Behind me, Io was a frozen world. I watched the great shroud of space roll on as it rolled five thousand years ago, and I followed orders and monitored the empty radio broadcasts. Space collapsed into distance and the blackness of the signal screen revealed no blips of existence.

“He’s out there,” the man said. “He’s still out there.”

Walltalkers

Turnstyle aimed carefully, took into account the drift from the barely oscillating fan, and hit his brother Alphonse in the back of the head with a cigarette butt.

“Quit that,” Ingram said. Watching this is why she never liked being at Turnstyle’s place, but it beat staying at school.

“Why? He ain’t gonna notice. Fucking walltalker.” Turnstyle lit another cigarette and offered one to Ingram. She shook her head violently. “I think I still got some nanites left from the other night. I know for a fact there’s soy sauce in the kitchen.”

“Not on your life. My stomach still hasn’t recovered from the cooking oil wine you made last time.” Ingram started absent-mindedly picking at the exposed foam that blistered through a hole in the sofa.

“That was good shit,” Turnstyle said. “Good shit. You’re crazy. We could go see if we could find Al’s Roulette stash.”

“Oh, hell no!” Ingram said. “You do know why they call it ‘Roulette’ right? ‘Cause every time you take it there’s a chance your brain’s gonna explode! You wanna be a walltalker?”

“Maybe. Least Al’s never bored.” Turnstyle looked at his brother releasing a steady stream of words toward the wallpaper. Alphonse’s voice was barely above a whisper, and his face was blank. But he never stopped talking.

“I invented Roulette,” Turnstyle said, abruptly.

“Fuck off.”

“No, seriously. Somebody had to turn grandpa’s stroke medicine into a rec drug. Why couldn’t it have been me? You’re saying I don’t see the entertainment value of something that connects your neurons in new ways?”

“First off, you don’t even know what a neuron is–”

“Do too!”

“Secondly, if you had, you could afford some proper alcohol, and you wouldn’t have to reprogram the decontamination nanites.”

“Well, yeah…but…” Turnstyle scrunched down into the sofa. He took what was left of his cigarette and flicked it–still lit–at Alphonse. He missed by a good three feet.

“Was that lit? You’re going to burn the walls down, you are. What would your Pa say, you did that?”

“Same thing he always says: ‘Fuck! Why aren’t you in school?’ ” Tunrstyle stared at his 14-year-old older brother, who was staring at the wall. “Goddamn walltalker.”

“Ah, don’t be like that. Go get your soy sauce.”

“You sure?”

“Why not?” Ingram said. “Nothing else to do.”

Writer's Block

“Space-faring monkies with a mirror fetish?”

“Yup. In The Day Ambrosia Paled by Kinstev Ramod, chapter six.”

“Damn. Okay, uhh… how about ice cream that turns your teeth green and carries a rare strand of the bubonic plague? Unleashed on a modern colony?”

“As a government experiment: Fire Warden by Jack Strapley. As a mad scientist’s coup de grace: On Being Trembleton by Emilia d’Oernga. With a time travel sub-plot: Terra Infirma by Marguerite Bloc. Sorry, Glenn. It’s all been done.”

Glenn groaned and leaned back in his chair, running his hand through the long part of his hair and pulling it out over his eyes, staring at the brown strands in frustration. “Damn it all! How am I supposed to write if there aren’t any original ideas?”

“Hey, come on, Glenn.” Neil grimaced at his friend in sympathy. “You’re just not thinking outside the box. Look, I know it’s tough, but there’s got to be something you can do that’s not already in here.” He gestured at the Central Database terminal he’d been using, the letters on the keyboard nearly worn off from the fruitless searches he’d made.

Neil’s words were encouraging, but his tone was not—it’d been months since Glenn had come up with his last viable story idea, and he still remembered the celebration they’d had. Now their fridge was bare, and there wasn’t a drop of alcohol in the house. Neil let out a long sigh. “Look… maybe you need a rest, yeah? Let’s go out for a while. We’ll go to the club, see Jeannie and the guys, and just relax. I bet it’d help. What do you say?”

Glenn made a noise of frustration and sat up straight again. “No. No! We’re almost out of cash. What good is going out going to do? That’ll just make things worse. I have to think of something, and fast!”

Neil sighed and turned back to the terminal. “Glenn, we’ve been at this for hours. You’re gonna make yourself sick.”

“No. No, I’ve got one.” Glenn turned sharply, his face lighting up as his eyes latched onto Neil. He paused dramatically. “How about… a guy with writer’s block trying to figure out what to put in a story?”

Neil groaned loudly and threw a stylus at Glenn. “Do I even have to answer? I think it’d break the database if I tried a search on that. Billions of billions of hits.”

Glenn chuckled. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Geez. I just wish that for once I could write something without caring that someone else already did it.”

“Wouldn’t sell.”

“Yeah, I know. I know.”

The two men stared in silence for a moment, Glenn at the ceiling, Neil at the screen that was nothing more than one massive search field.

“Neil?”

“Yeah?”

“How about a story about a writer who hacks into the Central Database and erases the old records so that editors will think his story is original?”

“You know,” Neil said with a slow grin, “I don’t think that one’s been done yet.”