Forty Days

“She likes the rain,” Ms. Jones explained to her neighbor when the woman called in a panic, yelling that Xue had spent the last six hours sprawled across the top of the house ‘looking like a half-drowned corpse.’ She scowled at the shrill, busybody voice, but saved her choice words for the sound of the dial tone after Mrs. Hatter had been disconnected. The social workers had warned her that the transition would be difficult for Xue, but no one could have cautioned her about the Hatters.

The entire country had seen the news reports of the commune raid, but it had been reduced to late night talk show jokes in a matter of days, and within two weeks, it was forgotten. The commune leaders were sent to jail, which Ms. Jones’ pastor described as a light punishment for the crime of playing God.

In the first few weeks, Ms. Jones had become aware of the whispers that stopped when she drew near to the groups of ladies assembled to collect their biological children from the church’s after-school care program. She’d learned to ignore them, eyes forward as she swept through the handful of women to the corner where Xue played by herself. After she gathered the abnormally small child into her arms she always made it a point to walk past the other mothers with her posture straight, her jaw clenched, and her eyes narrow. It had taken Ms. Jones less than a month to become fiercely proud of her foster daughter. The condescending glances only strengthened her conviction.

Such a pity, the ladies gossiped. The girl’s barely human. Can you imagine? And with no husband to help. She should have just gotten a pet.

After Ms. Jones replaced the phone on its cradle, she left through the front door and walked to the sidewalk, shielding her eyes from the downpour and scanning the roof for Xue. Sure enough, the girl was stretched across the mottled shingles. Ms. Jones didn’t bother calling her name. She strode to the ladder and climbed eleven feet before stepping over the edge of the ranch house roof.

“Xue?” Ms. Jones said softly. The girl shuddered, sending droplets of rain in every direction. “Don’t you think it’s time to come inside, honey?”

Xue turned, her dark, unblinking eyes meeting Ms. Jones’ blue ones. Her nose twitched, but she offered no response to the question.

“It’s cold out here,” she said. “You must be freezing.”

“I’m not cold.”

Ms. Jones shrugged as she took a seat beside her foster daughter. “I am,” she said.

“That’s because you don’t have fur.”

Ms. Jones had no argument. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the clouds scrolling over the horizon.

“No one’s making you stay out here,” Xue said. Her voice was cool, sullen, and seemed old for her eleven years.

Again. Ms. Jones shrugged. “It’ll stop raining eventually,” she said.


“And the colder I get, the better the hot chocolate will taste when I go back inside.”

Xue’s whiskers trembled. “You have hot chocolate?” she asked.

“And marshmallows,” Ms. Jones said.

The girl considered this for a long minute. “Maybe in a little bit.”

“No hurry.” Ms. Jones brushed away the lines that rain had traced through the thin fur of her daughter’s forehead. “It’ll be there whenever you’re ready.”

The Sky is Full of Diamonds

Jupiter pulled on her wrist, dragging her behind the shed. It was right after evening prayer, and the sky was turning bright orange and deep purple. He kissed her like he had seen his parents do, putting his tongue in her mouth, wiggling it around. She backed away from him, giggling.

“Can I do it?” he said, holding out his hands, palms up in front of her.

“I don’t know.” she said.

“Please Katie? Don’t you like me?”

“I like you.” Katie pulled his hands down onto her tiny breasts and he massaged them though her wool dress. It felt warm when he touched her like that; so different from when she touched herself.

Jupiter smelled like boy sweat and river water. He fumbled with the buttons at her waist. She let him unbutton her, and he slid his hands up on her slender ribs, on her small breasts. His fingers found her nipples, and he pressed her against the shed, grinding his hips on her thigh. He squeezed her nipples tight between his fingers, and she clenched her teeth, letting out a sharp whistle of breath. Jupiter mistook this for encouragement, and he twisted them, hard, and she cried out. Just a little, but she cried out, and then Jupiter’s uncle came running round the corner with a lantern.

Jupiter got six lashes, but they were going to exile her. They didn’t need girls around that would tempt good boys to the devil. They lashed Jupiter outside of the courthouse, in front of the terrible small cell where they put her. As they lashed him, the people in the village came by to throw rotting fruit at her between the bars, and call her horrible names. Her brother came by and called her a slut and spat on her. Her mother and father watched her from far away. Her aunt came by and said that her parents were happy, because now the village would let them have another child, one that wasn’t a slut and a whore and one that would be a god fearing child who would be with them when they all went to heaven.

At night, the guards came by with knives, and they showed her what would happen to her after exile. They would shoot her up into the blue sky, past the blue out into the black, and then the metal men would take her out of the pod, and she would be their whore. They showed her what they would do, thrusting with the knives into the air. The robots were made of knives, they said, and they would cut her from the inside out. That’s what they did with girls.

Once, someone had been exiled who had been possessed by evil spirits. When they sent the pod up in the air, it burst into flames partway up, exploding like fireworks, bits of plastic and flesh raining down from the sky. Katie prayed all night that she would explode, that God would hear her, even though she was a whore, and that he would kill her rather than let her die with the robot men.

In the morning, the same men took her out of the prison and bundled her into the pod. As they closed the door, Katie saw her mother in the crowd, crying. They had always held each other when they were feeling low, and Katie wanted nothing else than to have her head in her mothers lap, her mothers fingers in her hair. Katie cried out for her mother, and the door sealed shut.

The pod rocked so hard that Katie threw up and knocked her head against the cushioned sides. The pod was so small, she couldn’t move inside it, and the sides became terribly hot, and then suddenly so cold that frost formed on the inside walls.

Then, after a long time, the pod stopped. There was a hiss and then the door to the pod slowly swung open. Kneeling on the other side of the pod was a bald woman in what look liked tight blue underclothes. The woman reached out to Katie.

“It’s alright.” said the woman. “No one here is going to hurt you.”

Katie cringed. “Are you a robot?” she asked, her fingers pressing into her thin arms.

“That’s complicated sweetheart. I’ve got a cybernetic net over my brain and there are a few cameras in my body, but I’m mostly meat, so no, I’m not a robot.”

“Are the men out there robots?”

“No robot men on this ship little one, though there are robots in the universe, but they aren’t likely to hurt you.”

Katie shivered. The bald woman sat back on her haunches.

“Thirty-eight years ago the people on our planet launched me into space, just like you were launched. They though they were sending me to slave traders, because that is what their grandparents did. But things have changed here in space, and slave trade is outlawed in this sector. I set up an organization to collect the girls, and it’s mostly girls, that our people exile. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I have to tell you, there are bigger things than on that planet down there, and some of them are wonderful and some of them are scary, but not one person coming off our home world hasn’t been able to handle it. You can’t go back, and you can’t stay in the pod. Why don’t you come out and we can get you something to eat.” The bald woman held out her arms, palms upward.

Katie reached her hands out of the pod. “I’m Katie.”

No Regret

“We’re sorry, but the tissue damage is irreparable. It’s spreading. You’ll start to feel the pain in a few days, then, nothing at all.” The silence in the room gave way to a gentle sigh from Russ, whose eyes looked up at the Doc with longing.

“Doc, what’s my time?” he barely choked out.

“Honestly, Russell you have about a week, maybe two.”

Russ’ girlfriend just looked up, concerned, but Russ didn’t seem phased by the time he came to ask about the only alternative safe enough to use this day and age. “Can they prep the machine before that? I mean they’ll be able to clock me in, right Doc?”

Checking his clipboard, the doctor made a few hums and clicks as if he were prescribing medicine for a cold. A sense of nonchalance hung about him before his brows rose, “Well, we do have an opening in about five days. Early morning, though. That won’t be a problem for you will it?”

“Five days?” The patient nodded as he mulled it over before looking to the corner seat where his girlfriend was. “Honey, we got anything going on Saturday morning?”

“Uhm… you got that job interview in the afternoon.” Her words showed the most concern out of anyone in the room.

“Shit, you’re right. Wait, I can probably make it back before then, right?” Hopeful eyes glanced to the doctor who already started to yawn at the whole situation.

“Yeah, Russell, I think everything will be okay. Now I wrote down what probably caused the long-term effects, and the guys at the machine lab will be able to tell you some ways to fix it all up.” The Doc checked his watch as he handed him a note card. “Russell, I have other patients today, so just give me a call last week and let me know things are fine and I’ll bill you for this in a couple of days.”

Smirking as he glanced over the card, Russ shook his head, “Right, right… but Doc, c’mon! I can understand the smoking but… caffeine? Alcohol? This is going to be tough convincing me to quit this.”

Shrugging, the doctor opened the door to exit, “Hey, I don’t make the laws of time, I just tell you what you got to fix to live, Russell. See you around.”


“Are you sure?”

Lena bit her lip and nodded. “Yes. Very sure.” Her voice was quiet but strong. She needed this.

The counselor nodded, looking down at her clipboard as she checked off items. “All right. I’ve noted your reasoning. The records will be sealed, of course, after the procedure is finished; if you look them up you’ll know you had something performed, but of course you won’t remember what. That would be counterproductive, wouldn’t it?” She gave Lena a lukewarm smile which Lena didn’t return. She didn’t feel much like smiling. The counselor looked back at her sheet. “You passed the psych screening, so now we just need you to isolate the memories you’d like us to modify. Make sure you take your time and get your story straight. I’ll give you the forms.”

Lena took the binder from the counselor with pale, cold hands. A part of her was aghast at the idea of changing her own memories–it felt like self-mutilation. She knew her parents could never find out what she’d done, however, and there was no way to lie to them with her memories intact. They’d use the serum on her, and if she remembered her wrongdoing, Lena would be forced to capitulate.

With a firm and steady hand, Lena wrote her directives and specifics into the binder, recording what would be her new memory of the last six months. “Here,” she said in only a matter of minutes. “I’m ready.”

“Are you sure?” the counselor asked. “That didn’t take long. Make certain you’ve written down everything we need to change.”

“It’s only one thing,” Lena said softly. “It was a miscarriage. That’s all. That’s the only thing I want different.”

The counselor regarded Lena for a moment, then nodded slowly. “All right.” She took the binder and stood, beckoning Lena towards the operating room. “Right this way.”

The Nightmare Sword

Sunset Lake made Mike nervous, which was something that hadn’t happened since he came home from the war. Sunset Lake was a nice place; lots of natural light, pretty gardens and a big dining room with stretched white tablecloths. Still, all the old people made Mike feel uneasy. Cosmetically, they all looked like teenagers, but they were rotting inside. The cosmetics industry was far ahead of internal medicine. Everyone looked young in their graves.

Mike was happy to be in Melody’s office. Melody was the head nurse of Sunset Lake, and she actually looked all of her forty some years

“You’re a veteran,” said Melody, looking at the computer pad that was displaying Mikes’ resume. Melody was stocky, with large arms and an ample bosom. She had layers of silver chains under her blue smock.

“Yes. Ma’am.” said Mike.

“Well, I don’t want you to worry. I had a cousin that was in the war. Noatter what most people think, I blame the government for what happened, not our boys in space.”

“It’s good to hear that Ma’am’” said Mike, but really, it wasn’t. Mike never expected a homecoming parade, he just wanted to forget the whole thing, scrub that part of his life off his record, so people would stop talking to him about it.

Melody sat down, and leaned across her desk. “Mike, I like your resume and you seem very honest. I’d like you to help me protect our guests.”

“Ma’am, I’m glad for the offer. I just want to know what kind of threats you think your guests are facing. It’s a nice neighborhood here, do you really get a lot of thefts?”

“Thefts aren’t the problem Mike. Most of the people here don’t bring too many personal possessions, and most of their children keep anything that is of value. I need you to protect the people in this facility.”

“Are they in danger? Do they fight?”

“No Mike, most of them, it takes all their effort just to walk.” She crossed her arms tight around her body. “When I first started working here, I noticed some young men hanging around the building. At first, I thought they were children or grandchildren of some of the patients here, but when any of my employees would ask for ID, they would always have “Left it at home” and they would beat it. After one of my staff caught a boy in with Mrs. Lansing, touching her on her breast, we instituted an ID scan on entry to the facility and I set nurses to watch the women’s dorms very carefully. I always had someone in eyesight of all the doorways of every room, and there were random spot-checks.

I blame myself for what happened. I was sexist. I just didn’t imagine. . . Mr. Walsing started telling me that his legs were hurting, and he told me to get his Sword. He said ninjas were attacking him at night. Mr. Walsing has never handled a sword in his life. He was an investment banker before he retired. He just kept asking for a sword, to keep away the nightmares. I had them do a medical exam on him today, and I found out that he has been physically abused. They’ve hacked our system and were coming in here and since they couldn’t get to the women. . .” She stopped speaking for a moment and looked out the window, blinking her eyes.

“That’s terrible.” said Mike, feeling awkward.

They were silent the rest of the way to Mr. Walsings room. When they entered, Mike saw a slender purple haired teenager sleeping on the bed. His smooth pale skin was blanketed with soft sunlight streaming through the light yellow curtains of his room.

Melody lowered her voice. “Mr. Walsing was an engineer. He’s got these beautiful holos of the ships he designed in flight. Maybe you even rode in a few of them. These boys came in here and they hurt him. I don’t know what I am going to say to his family.”

“What about the police?”

Melody shook her head. “We can’t afford them. In this neighborhood, their rates are too high and if we default on a payment, it could be worse for us than the kids.”

Mr. Walsing’s black lashed fluttered and his eyes opened. They were a wet green color, like a forest after it’s rained. “Whose there?” he asked softly, squinting at the doorway.

Mike walked closer, so Mr. Walsing could see his face. “Good afternoon Mr. Walsing. My name is Mike. I am your sword. I am here to keep the nightmares away.”


There was a time when food could be remembered; a time when you could lick your lips and recall the sweet sting of dehydrated packaged delights. Too bad those days don’t exist anymore. Days like that leave you when the thirst takes over.

Travel has just about stopped by now. No one comes off-planet because there is no source of sustenance to be had. I am smarter than that. Perhaps there were fewer of them, but the lack of competition made it easier to capture what you needed.

Watching, I remind myself that I cannot afford the luxuries of stress or frustration. Those things could cause a leak, and I won’t have it. The temperature in my craft is well below what it should be. They say the thirst holds itself at bay for longer when it’s frigid. My breath attests to the fact that I have taken this rumor to heart.

As my cold eyes watch the dead space I know that whatever is left of my soul is out there beyond my reach. The cold, hollow truth lay bare before me while I stand vigilant near the radar. There is nothing left inside, above the saturation percentage. I can measure it by the time that passes between when I swallow and when the glands ache as they thirst for more.

Well above the dying planet I can witness the small blots of what isn’t land. Sometimes I muse to myself how they still exist or why I haven’t drawn closer. They would kill me if they saw me, but in the end they would do exactly as I have done. They would do the same, because there is no other way. Clouds will not gather over a dusty rock and let redemption fall down from the gray mass.

A beep, and my eyes stop wandering. They are now fixed upon the red screen, watching the tiny dot edge closer like an insect to a web. My God, I can feel it rising within me, wanting me to feast. I must wait, however. I must prepare.

One on board? Two on board? It doesn’t matter now. I’ve locked onto them and I prepare the grappler. If not for the emptiness, I could hear their screams. Their horror at being pulled in while the oxygen ceases to flow in their vessel. It must be maddening.

On one side of the device, I observe a gallon-sized capsule stained a dark brown. This is my sin. On the other side, I can see a flask with a dusty, cloudy, but ultimately empty interior. It smells of metal, and it tastes of hydrogen. This is my salvation.

I hear the grappler pulling home, and I hear it lock in before the ship becomes silent again. It’s silent as the inside of their pod. They need not worry anymore. What is left of them will be my salvation. What is left of them will slake my thirst. I power up the machine and I wait for the doors to open into their vessel. Ounce by ounce, pint by pint, the future is on its way.