Never On Sunday

from a story idea given Theodore Sturgeon by Robert A. Heinlein

I put a bullet in Jeremy Newkirk on a bright, breezy Sunday morning during breakfast. The man just refused to see reason, and was out yet again in the front yard with that old gas mower as if he didn't have neighbors trying to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and bowl of cereal.

My Gramps, he was a cop, an actual policeman who'd been part of the protest crackdowns after the Peace And Order law. He always had the best stories. I inherited his old service revolver when he died. It's the gun I learned to shoot with, and I'm really good with it, and I dropped Newkirk from my own front porch, one round to the forehead. I don't think the idiot ever even saw me. Which is a shame.

He dropped to the side. The mower continued on without him to clank to a stop against one of the metal posts of the chain-link fence between our yards. I took the time to walk around and shut off the mower before returning to my breakfast.

Now, knowing me, knowing what I do, and how much money I make, you might well ask: why don't I just move? After all, I can afford a much bigger place, some swanky place with a name architect up in the hills where the neighbors could mow all day and I'd never hear it. I guess the answer is: I like it here. And from a financial standpoint, my money's performing better where it is than if it were sunk into real estate. We'll move eventually, but for now? I like the house, I like the neighborhood, I like my breakfast nook.

Newkirk's official assessment at close of business Friday: $42,750 North American Dollars, payable to the widow. To put that into perspective, the base assessment — the amount of money it costs to take a life, before extenuating or aggravating factors are taken into account — for a man his age is $75,000 NAD.

I had the money, of course: I'd gotten a sizable bump at work that spring, on top of the Christmas bonus last year, and my portfolio had been performing beyond even my expectations. I wrote an e-check for $43k — they throw on an extra $250 for simple trespassing — and had my phone in my hand when the Assessor rang my doorbell eight hours later. I 'swiped' my phone over his pad, they both 'dinged', and went I back to powerstreaming "Top Whore".

Now, I wasn't afraid of retribution: my assessment is in the millions. Newkirk's friends were all under-educated low-income people, hourly types, Casual druggies and not-so-casual drinkers. Most of them probably had a lower assessment than Jeremy did; I know from neighborhood gossip that at least one of them was so lowly-assessed that after his accounts in arrears were deducted, he was under bounty. I didn't hear about it until after the bounty was collected, unfortunately, which is a shame. It would have been an easy five grand.

In other words, nobody was going to pay good money to avenge Jeremy Newkirk. So when the doorbell ran again, about half an hour later, I answered it without a thought.

Melanie Newkirk, with a pistol, stood on the porch; she apparently hadn't thought it through.

I'd laid the service pistol on the coffee table and forgotten to pick it up when I went to answer the door. A bit silly of me, I admit. Gramps had carried it on him until the day he died: he hadn't approved of the privatized justice system. He'd called it ''the goddamn wild west all over again'. Old folks always have the hardest time with change. Anyway, I probably should have kept the handgun stuck in my belt, but that makes me nervous. I also probably should have looked through the peephole. In my defense, it's a really nice neighborhood.

She'd listen to reason. "Listen, Melanie, I know you're upset, but you've got a nice check coming to you, and anyway, you can't afford to pay—"

She shot me in the knee.

I went down, in excruciating pain, trying to hold my shattered kneecap together with the palm of my hand.

Melanie stared down at me. She wasn't even pointing the gun anymore as I pulled myself back away from the door, towards the kitchen. She watched me without coming in. "The thing is, Rick, I talked to the Assessor for about an hour. Nice guy. He looked you up for me, in the rolls. Turns out it's part of the service."

I cried out, in an increasing panic. "It'll be millions, Melanie, don't be stupid."

"To kill you? Sure. Two and a half million, I think he said." She opened her purse, dropped her handgun in. "But to kneecap you? Only fifty grand. And because it's the day-of, that's considered an extenuating circumstance — I'm bereaved, after all — and they knock twenty percent off, so it's only forty grand. I come out three grand ahead. I figure I'll take a nice vacation."

I was having a hard time concentrating on what she was saying through the pain, but it started to sink in that she wasn't going to kill me. I remember fixating on the blood spatter on the front door and how I was probably going to have to repaint.

She turned and left.

I called it in, and the Assessor — a different one — came, along with the ambulance. Turns out she was right: I have full medical, so the assumption is my knee would get rebuilt immediately, and since I sit behind a desk all day, having temporarily limited mobility doesn't count for that much. What's left is personal pain and suffering: forty grand.

So I'm out three thousand NAD, and my knee aches when it's gonna rain, but nobody in the neighborhood runs their mower on Sunday morning, even now.

I guess I can't complain.

Bright Stars Gone To Black

Her ship is only a ship in the loosest sense. It is a vessel, certainly, but there is no metal, no composite alloy heated and pounded into hull-shape; there is no engine, no tank filled with reaction mass; there are no sensors or telescopes or radio dishes. The ship exists around her — an extension of her will, energy that was once matter and will be again for a time — to protect her from the mild inconvenience of hard vacuum.

She has been sailing for what seems like an eternity, perhaps a million years: everywhere is so far apart now. Were she still a primitive she would be dead already, starved or frozen amidst the long, slow, heat-death of the universe.

Behind her is a pitch-black nothing, and ahead of her is a faint blue glow, the only thing of value left in the cosmos. There are people fighting for control of it, to stave off the end for a few years. Some are like her, some are primitives with the misfortune to have evolved orbiting the last generation of stars. None will long survive the fading of that final glow.

It is a disc of dust, falling at relativistic speeds into a point-mass that has already devoured a galaxy.

She approaches as the battle unfolds. Parabolas of light slice through the dust and either strike their targets or not; either way, each one is a death sentence for the sender. Armadas cobbled together from dead planets and coated in armor from disassembled neutron stars maneuver past each other to be ripped into molecules by tidal shear. All fall through the event horizon.

Eventually all that remains is a handful of tired ancients. Communications crackle to life. Stories are told, long, hyperbolic tales about cultures long-dead. Friendships are made or rekindled. Old forms are resumed, new ones are adopted. Those who don't wish to face the end alone with their thoughts pair off.

The dust, like all things, is in time exhausted, and the glow fades. It takes years. The only light she sees is that produced by herself or the others like her. After a time, even they fade, until she is alone.

She is in orbit of a massive black hole, describing a circle at nearly the speed of light. Beyond her orbit, the empty universe ages further.

She settles in. She sleeps, dreams a memory: it is a billion years ago, in a city on a moon of a huge gas planet orbiting a young, bright star. She has flesh, she has fears and wants and instincts. She takes a lover and bears his child. That baby: she doesn't remember the person it grew up to be, whether it was a boy or a girl. The very name escapes her. She doesn't remember leaving that city on the moon, or where she went after.

It is a long time before she wakes: nothing has changed, because there is nothing left to change. Yet, still, her communications unit comes alive again.

What is next?

"Nothing. Nothing is next," she answers, knowing there is no one left to have asked the question.

Are you the last?

"There is no way to know for certain. There are parts of the universe too far away to reach or see. I think so. Where are you?"


She reaches out with all her senses. "You are orbiting the point-mass, in opposition? I don't see you."

I am the point-mass.

"I don't believe you."

What is next?

"Nothing is next. Where are you? What are you?"

I am the point mass. I am all of them. This universe is concluded. What shape for the next one?

Every communication costs her energy, and shortens her existence. But what does it matter now? "I have no way to know. We never gained knowledge of any other universe."

The only way to do so is to overlap. Live through the death of one and into the birth of another.

"A Big Bang would kill even me."

Death is not a concern. What you are about to do I have done. Join me, decide with me: what shape?

She drops closer to the event horizon, far enough down into the gravity well that it requires intense concentration for the ship to continue to exist. She comes to the conclusion that enough time alone has passed to drive her mad; that she is hallucinating.

If you are mad, then why not risk it? What in this universe remains to be lost? You are billions of years old. What you were when you were flesh would have thought you now a god, and yet been wrong. But you can become a god, now, the progenitor of a universe. Join me.

The ship trembles against sharp waves of gravitational shear. Within, she considers. There are no gods, or in her long life she would have met one. Gods are a way for primitives to project order onto a universe they don't understand. Gods are symbols, or a way to go into death with dignity.

Is that what this was? "Are you my mind's way of softening death? Have I created you?"

I am the point mass. I am all the point-masses. I am all the mass and energy in the universe save yourself.

"You are a figment of my imagination."

Then where am I? Who am I? What else could I be when you are alone?

"Time is warped this near the speed of light. No one has ever been this far down a gravity well  to then emerge and report its properties. Time could be further warped, this close. Am I speaking to someone in the past?"

If I were in the past, how would I hear your responses?

She has no answer. Either the voice is a trick, or it is telling the truth; she has no way to discover which.

Either way it is time; further equivocation only delays the end. She wills the ship lower, down, through.




The sorcerer sits in the brand-new DeSoto, fiddling with the knobs, waiting for something good to come on the radio and for Ronald Feathercane.

He'd seen Feathercane leave the old building with the witch Aulia in tow, smiling, talking. He'd smelled the smoke, the ash, the burn, even from inside the car. He'd wondered if they could taste the water, feel it in the air.

Manhattan is an island; they probably don't even notice it anymore.

He hadn't needed to follow them: Feathercane has to return. His things are here, his asbestos books, his talismans. And it isn't time for them to move, yet, they aren't ready.

There are kids playing on the sidewalk, an uneasy alliance of Irish kids and Italian kids, kids from the same building as Feathercane. They have a hopscotch grid scratched onto the concrete in white chalk and glass bottles of coke with straws stuck in at careless angles.

He wonders if the kids know, have seen, have realized about Feathercane or his witchy redheaded caller. Kids notice things: they haven't learned not to. They haven't been taught to avoid seeing the things it's too uncomfortable to have seen.

There is a bodega across the street that sells him a box of saltines. The North African working there makes him for what he is, but says nothing. People who've lived in the desert respect the power of water.

The sorcerer returns to the car and resumes his stakeout. He keeps watch: there is a rear-view or side mirror reflecting every approach. He eats the crackers. It is a long comfortable afternoon sitting in the parked Desoto. The police drive by twice but don't notice him; there are negro kids to roust from stoops. The police have their priorities.

He finds baseball on the radio. The new play-by-play guy, Scully, isn't bad. Jackie Robinson has learned to hit fast balls. It looks to be a good season.

Eventually Ronald appears: hurrying down the sidewalk, glancing behind him, nervous, harried, doomed. He fumbles with his keys, but eventually makes it through the security door. He doesn't take the stairs; he feels secure now. He pushes the call button and waits for the elevator. He steps in and the doors close with an as-yet-unknown finality. He's making it easy.

It only takes a drop — called down from the rainwater collection tank on the roof, applied judiciously to the right circuit — to stop the old Otis on its track, kill it dead.

He lets Feathercane sweat it for a full minute before calling down the rest of the water, pouring it into the elevator car to slowly rise towards the man's nose. The car isn't airtight, doesn't need to be; there's enough water to fill it thrice over. Poor Ronald will have time to drown before it starts to drain out. He can't flame in the enclosed space, he'll just scald himself to death with steam.

The sorcerer hopes he tries it anyway, out of panic. It'll hurt more.

Fantasy Drabble #304 "Água de Beber"

"Can I get some water?"

The cop grinned at me. "Thirsty?"

"Yeah, it's hot in here, and I'd like a glass of water." I kept my tone even. "If it's not too much trouble."

"Sure." His grin got even wider. He got up, walked to the door, but instead of opening it, flipped the light switch; suddenly the one-way mirror was two-way, and behind it stood three more cops and — goddamn it — Aulia.

"We know what you are, sorcerer."

"She's a liar."

"Save it. I need you talking. Start by explaining how Ronald Feathercane drowned in an elevator, and why."