She wakes in the tank.

That is not supposed to happen, and she knows it while it is happening, that it is wrong, that she is wrong. There is a whispering in her ears: repetitive, soothing. Language. She turns her head to see where the whispering originates, but sees nothing.

No one notices: the technician is one of those who sleep or read or jack off on duty, isn’t even at his station, and so she goes safely back to sleep without being known.

She is brought out on schedule, when she was fully cooked, fully formed, something like a sixteen-year old human female, while in actuality being something else entirely.

Days of examinations follow. She has not been taught modesty or fear, and feels neither while standing naked in front of a dozen strangers, being poked and prodded and measured and appreciated. She feels cold from time to time. One of the medtechs notices goose bumps rising and comments on it for the log, but does not adjust the room’s ambient temperature.

Placed in a nondescript room — bed and dressing-table with mirror and chair and a half-bath with no door — she sits without knowing what to do. Eventually she falls asleep, sitting in the chair.

When she wakes it is to the sound of a medtech chiding her for not sleeping on the bed. “Stupid. You’ll have a crick in your neck.” She has brought clothes: a plain, dark green jumpsuit and soft shoes with a rubber sole. “Get dressed. You have training.”

Training is a classroom with a teacher. There are others, in jumpsuits like hers. Some of the jumpsuits are orange, but most are green. The difference is never explained. The teacher is dressed normally.

She is being taught behavior. The first day, she learns how to serve tea. One classmate in an orange jumpsuit spills the tea repeatedly and is sent out of the room. No one seems angry or upset, but the ejected classmate does not reappear.

She is returned to her room exhausted and knows now to sleep on the bed. The next morning the same tech wakes her. “Shower and change into a clean suit.” The tech points to the closet, where several jumpsuits identical to the one she now wears hang.

This day is like the last, with a different lesson. No one is removed this day, or the next.

The classes go on, the lessons grow more complex. She learns more behavior, interpersonal behavior, intimate behavior. She learns skill and technique. She is not taught shame or joy. Only one more student is removed over the entire course: the teacher tells the tech who comes to retrieve the errant student, “this one’s frigid”.

At the end of the course a man comes in, flanked by attendants, and he smiles and declaims a short and practiced speech about pride of accomplishment. They have taught her how to read a man too well: the visitor’s insincerity is ill-hidden.

They are given new clothes to replace the jumpsuits. They are more delicate, less practical. She is colder than before. She is shown to her new quarters, which are gaudy and cloying.

She receives her first client, and she is perfect in every gesture and expression. He smells of wealth and self-loathing, and the encounter is perfunctory. She smiles emptily and intones soft pleasantries and he is fooled.

Two days later she receives her second client. He is large and boorish, and she is made uneasy by a look in his eye she does not recognize. There are gaps in her training, she understands: some of what she must know she must learn in practice.

He is rough in ways she has not experienced before, but she does not balk. She has not been taught fear or dignity. She is uncomfortable but undamaged. He seems pleased, and promises to return. Afterwards she returns to the classroom to ask the teacher for instruction, but finds the room empty. A passing tech says, “The teacher’s gone. You know everything you need to know.” When she asks specifically about the violence of her recent client, the tech grins. “Takes all kinds. Improvise.”

She returns to her new quarters and showers; she notes light bruising on her arms and neck, thighs and waist. She sleeps soundly.

Her third client is a woman who is uncertain of something, but will not say what, and leaves without completion. She is worried that she has failed in some inscrutable way, but when the tech wakes her the next morning, no rebuke is forthcoming.

The next night the second client — the ruffian — returns. He has brought disciplinary paraphernalia. She prepares to improvise.

He begins as before, but quickly grows rougher than she had expected. She cries out in pain, but it seems only to encourage him to further exertions. She feels she understands. She reaches up to hold his face between her palms, and twists as hard as she can until she hears a loud cracking sound from his neck. He falls limp on top of her.

It takes an even greater exertion to push his deadweight off. She has not been taught guilt. She goes to the shower.

When she emerges two techs are waiting. They motion for her to follow. She understands that she is being removed.

She is returned to the same laboratory where she was first removed from the tank. She is stripped of her clothing and stands again while being poked and prodded. She feels cold. They ask her questions, and she gives factual answers that seem somehow unsatisfactory and worrisome. The same questions are asked in different ways, using different phrasing, but she gives the same answers each time.

The man who gave the speech at the end of training appears. He speaks to the techs in hushed tones. He eyes her with ill-concealed disappointment.

She is given an injection and told to lie down on the examination table. She complies. She feels warm, finally, and goes to sleep.

Fantasy Drabble #286 “The Calm Before”

The unearthly noise came from all sides, now. The sun was fully set and a darkness had come to smother the Keep and all the souls within. Even the Prince, on the battlements, began to feel its smothering influence.

“More of them than expected.”

“It would seem so, My Lord,” the wizard agreed, nodding. “But your Highness’ walls are strong, and we are protected by mighty magic. Not only mine, but that of my predecessors.”

“With men,” the Prince said, “At least one knows the worst to come is death or enslavement. I don’t relish the thought of being devoured.”

SF Drabble #358 “Believability”

“What the hell is that? What is that?”

“What do you think it is, just run!”

It towered over the office park buildings, even the six-story one with all the doctor’s offices. They were cut off from the parking lot, so they ran into the woods, towards the highway. From behind them came the various sounds of destruction.

“Is it alien? It looks alien. Holy mother of God…”

Carl was on his phone. “Hello, 911? There’s a huge monster robot, and it’s attacking Fenton Office Suites. No, this is not a prank!"” He put down the phone. “They hung up.”

SF Drabble #357 “Emergency Landing”

I feel really terrible, and I’ve started coughing up blood. So that’s a pretty good indication that the pile is leaking.

We came down hard.

Before the radio gave out I got some garbled chatter from Callisto that they’d heard my S.O.S., but I don’t know if that means they were sending someone. I don’t know how long it would take if they are: too many variables.

I don’t really even know if it matters at this point. There’s a lot of blood coming up, and if the crash site is too hot, they might not even bother to land.

Fantasy Drabble #285 “Jilted”

“This one? This human is your choice?”

She squeezed his hand as they stood before the Elder. “Yes, My Lord, he is for me. I am sure of it, as I am sure of mountain and sky.”

The Elder snorted, and then shrugged. “So be it. The Declaration is made. Is there a challenge?”

There was furtive whispering among the assembled elves, and many eyes came to rest on Irewond, who fumed in silence.

“No? Then let my blessing and the blessing of the Tribe be upon this union, for all time.”

Irewond held his tongue, but threw no flowers.

SF Drabble #356 “Survivor”

I’m not sure of anything anymore. They keep telling me my name, but it just sounds wrong. Maybe because their mouths aren’t built to speak Standard.

There’s a wall that’s not a wall. I think they’re on the other side of it, watching. They don’t seem to be scared of me. Sometimes one will come in and show me images that hang in mid-air. Images of people, of Earth. Maybe to jog my memory? If so, it hasn’t worked.

I feel a nagging sensation of dread, as if something terrible has happened and I just don’t remember what it is.

Zombie Drabble #359 “Who Buries The Gravediggers”

The backhoe ran out of fuel, and we went back to spade and shovel. We worked all day, and the row of corpses didn’t seem to shrink: the orderlies were bringing them out faster than we could get them in the ground and covered and spoken over.

I don’t know at what point I noticed José was sick. By late morning he was so bad I sent him in to see one of the doctors. The three of us remaining went back to digging. Around dusk they brought José back out and added him unceremoniously to the row of corpses.

Fantasy Drabble #284 “Will”

He knew he had found the cave: the map was unambiguous. It was difficult to reach, a traverse of hundreds of yards of broken, rocky ground no idle passerby would choose to attempt. Good reason to believe the treasure would remain within.

Yet he still could not bring himself to cross the threshold of shadow. A nagging dread, an irrational doubt; they held him in place there in the quiet sunlight. It had to be a spell, cast by a long-dead wizard, laid as a defense against looters.

He stepped forward. The dread increased. Another step. Terror. He took another.

SF Drabble #355 “Factbook”

If you leave the spaceport during the day, and are reasonably fit, you can walk into town. With gravity a little lighter than Earth-norm and the weather always temperate, you’ll find it a comfortable enough hike. At night, mostly because of the ringflies, you should probably hire a roller or spend the night in the capsule hotel.

The ringfly is one of Mekram’s native predators, and it is deceptively named: their wingspans can grow to as wide as ten feet tip to tip, and they’ve been known to swoop down and carry off unsuspecting tourists, who are never seen again.

SF Drabble #354 “No Reservations”

The diner had fallen silent. The hostess turned around, looked up, and almost jumped out of her skin.

The alien said, “I would like to eat at your establishment.” It held up a debit card between three furry fingers. “I have local currency.”

“Umm… okay.” She led the creature to an empty booth, and handed him a menu. She asked, “Can you read? English, I mean?”

“Unfortunately no. If it is read aloud my Ident disc will translate. It might be more convenient for your kitchen to prepare a tasting menu.”

“Okay. Umm… let me see if we do that…”

Fantasy Drabble #283 “Joely”

I loved you that first day you walked into class. I loved you the four months you went out with the greaseball senior who thought he was sliced bread and picked on me. I loved you that semester of college you thought you were a lesbian. I loved you when you moved to Portland. I loved you when you married Rick. Rick. I loved you when you got breast cancer and Rick fucked off because he couldn’t handle it. It was always you.

This spell didn’t work. I’ll find one that does. I will bring you back, I swear it.

SF Drabble #353 “Deep Blue”

They were five thousand meters down, well into the zone where no light from the planet’s primary would reach them, settling quietly further and further into the blackness.

“Anything?” Carter whispered.

“Contact to port stern, about to come up alongside.” An immense shape appeared at the edge of their lights, moving forward, away from them. “Male, from the color. A big one.”

Carter wondered aloud, “Will he talk?”

The air-breathers, the ones living on the islands, had said the sea-dwellers were inscrutable and shy. “He knows we’re here. Morris?” Reed turned to the scientist in the third seat. “You’re on.”