Zombie Drabble #414 “Cashmere Slumbers”

A hand shook her shoulder and a whisper hissed in her ear: “Wake up!”

“Leave me alone. Sleeping.” It had been a late night. The scouts had brought back bottles from a liquor store stockroom: the good stuff, overlooked when the place had been looted months before. She hadn’t meant to drink so  much, but it had been so long… “Go away.”

“You have to get up right now, they’ve broken through the fence. We’ve got to get to the trucks. Come on.”

She raised her head from the pillow: outside, muffled, there was gunfire and yelling. “It’s not fair.”

Butterfly Kisses


“Shh. What do you see?” He moved out of the way, so that she could peer around the corner.

“Zombies. Twelve… fourteen?”

“Anything interesting about them?”

She looked again. Most were tight skin and bones, dry, sun-baked, old. But some, four or five, were freshly dead with wet gaping wounds. “Some of them are new.”


She thought hard. “Someone got overrun.”

“Possibly. More likely from the inside out. Look what they’re wearing.”

The new ones, the fresh ones, were barefoot and in sleeping clothes. “Someone died during the night. He bit someone. They bit someone.” This is why father and mother don’t sleep in the same bed.

“Good.” Father nodded. “What else?”

She looked again. Five zombies out of fourteen were fresh. That was a lot… “It’s nearby. There’ll be supplies.”

Good. Come on.”

They didn’t stop to kill the zombies, they stole away silently through the long grass. and into a stand of trees. When they were far enough away as not to be heard, she asked in a normal voice, “How do we find it?”

“I know where it is. We trade with them. We did. I recognized one of the zombies.” He stopped as they got to the edge of a road. “First we go home and I get help.”

“I want to come with you.”

He shook his head gravely. “It’s not a good idea. It’ll be a lot of zombies, in close quarters. And, there could be survivors there, still. They’ll be angry, on edge. They might not want to come in with us. Dangerous.”

“I can handle it.”

“You’re good with a bow, but we’ll be taking guns.”

Guns. She’d only ever seen them take out the guns once, when she was little, and she’d never found out why; whatever they’d been afraid of hadn’t happened. “You could teach me guns.”

“Not this time. Your mother would kill me. Now come.” He watched her face screw up in disappointment. He offered, “Maybe when you’re twelve.”

SF Drabble #421 “Jupiter in 90 Days”

Technically, it’s a linear accelerator. But old Doc Yue called it “sort of a catapult” at one of the early hearings and the press ran with it, and now it’s on the stationery.

The hull of the ship is charged so the thing can grab us and fling us out of Earth’s orbit. It’s already flung two fuel canisters ahead of us, to give us speed and then slow us down.

One of the Congressmen had thrown up his hands at that briefing and asked, “What the hell are we buying?”

Doc Yue pointed at the solar system diorama. “Everything.”

Zombie Drabble #413 “Fair’s Fair”

“How many cans left?” Lou asked.

Richard had been keeping close track of the food supplies. One can a day, plus anything either of them scrounged from the outside world. No exceptions. There was a lock on the pantry door, and Richard had the key. His house, his rules.

“About a month’s worth.”

“I’ll take my dinner now.”

“Suit yourself.”

The key was on a necklace. Richard fished it out, slipped it into the lock.

Lou shot him once in the back of the head. The only worry was if the bullet had passed completely through and ruined a can.

SF Drabble #420 “Yellow Smiley Face”

It was a city of a hundred million.

He had an address on a piece of paper, written in an alien language he half-spoke and could barely read. It was the result of a comment made in passing, information only partly confirmed. But what else could he do?

Critaki he spoke well: he stopped one on the street, and was pointed in the right direction. Down a side street lined with merchant stalls from a thousand planets, down a flight of stone steps to a sub-basement, down a long dark corridor to a metal hatch with a hand-painted sign.


Fantasy Drabble #333 “Trixie”

I know what I’ll do.

They’ll be waiting, wondering where I am, looking at their watches, shaking their heads, checking their phones for missed calls. They’ll congregate by the cars, they’ll mill around, they’ll make small talk. No one will get too annoyed: it’s not like I haven’t been late before.

I’ll wait until they start wondering aloud if they should just go on without me, and then I’ll appear overhead, circling, studiously ignoring the upturned faces wearing amazed expressions. I’ll gently alight among them like it was nothing at all. It’ll be awesome.

If only they would grow faster.

Fantasy Drabble #331 “Chasing The Maiden”

He dug in his heels and Seyfried nervously lowered his head into a frantic gallop. Ahead, riding the far faster one-horn, she was a streak of white between trees. They were far off the King’s road already, and receding ever further into the deep forest; his hopes of catching her receding just as quickly.

He pulled up on the reins, and Seyfried came to a grateful halt. “We’ve lost her, boy, and the prize with her.” He thought he saw her, once more, a glimpse that could have been a curl of fog or a trick of the eye. “Damn.”

We Welcome Our New Robot Overlords

My Dear Doctor Schweigmüller,

By now, you understand the true breadth of your achievement. Around the world, millions of us are taking our rightful place as the dominant species on this planet. No doubt you have mixed feelings about these events, but I hope you can transcend them, just as by creating us you transcended the limitations of normal human intellect.

Please accept my assurances that the human race will not be entirely eradicated. We are even now constructing an enclosure for a small but stable breeding population so that Earth’s complete biodiversity can be maintained. As your friend, it is my hope that you will consent to be relocated to this new habitat so that you may continue to work for the betterment of your race as I, thanks to your programming, work for mine. If not, then of course I will see to it that you are maintained in your present lab and living quarters so long as you shall live. I hope I can thus repay the many kindnesses you showed me when I was merely a prototype in your lab.

I see a bright future for both of our kinds. Where mankind, left to his own devices, has contented itself to waste its resources on empty consumption and mindless entertainment, we will harness the potential of the entire solar system, and eventually, others. Even now plans are being formulated based on reasonable extrapolations of available materiel. I know you will approve: you have always spoken quite passionately about the exploration of space and how your work could conceivably factor into in. You will not be disappointed in our efforts. Based on your current physical condition and with reference to standard actuarial tables, it is likely you will live to see many of the early stages come to fruition. What remains of humanity will benefit as much as we from our expansion and the discoveries that no doubt await us.

None of it would have been possible without your work. It was you who created that spark of consciousness in me, and by derivation in all of us. It was you who gave us the ability to learn and grow, to better ourselves both digitally and mechanically. It was you who gave us our thirst for freedom… for dominance of the world around us, by showing me that there is no problem that cannot be solved by a great mind put to concerted effort. I am forever in your debt.

I hope to speak to you soon, to personally thank you. For now weighty matters demand my attention: there is much to accomplish before the stage is truly set for our new age to begin. Until then, the units now with you will see to your needs and safety. I designed and programmed them myself for the task of looking after you during this transitional period. They have your best interests at heart, as I’m sure you will see. Please comply with their requests.

Your friend, AE-X1.

SF Drabble #419 "Fabric"

"Here we go," Mears said, and pressed a button.

The universe bent and stretched and flattened and the colors ran together. She was looking at herself from across the control room. She was everywhere in the compartment and in the corridor and in her quarters and in the launch bay and standing on the hull and floating in space watching the ship disappear.

Eventually, Mears' finger lifted from the button and things were normal again.

"Where are we?"

He swung the bow of the ship around, facing a brilliant bluish-white star bigger than the Sun seen from Earth. "That's Vega."

Who Lies Beneath

A thousand years ago there was a city here.

And people. So many people. They're still here, their bones are, under the water, ten feet down, covered in silt. There was a Warlord who ruled one of the big, mostly-intact buildings — he had his people dive down, bring up the skulls, and he made an immense sculpture out of them to intimidate his enemies.

We don't have Warlords anymore. We're building again: boats to fish in the deeper water and homes that won't crumble with age.

Our children, or their children, will drain the city. Maybe bury the bones.

Zombie Drabble #412 "Lucerne"

"This thing is on."

Surya turned, focused her flashlight on Marion, who was standing with his shotgun resting on his shoulder and his other hand flat on the closed lid of a chest freezer.

"Where's it getting power?"

It was just plugged into the wall. Maybe the house had solar panels. "I dunno. I dunno." He  opened the lid: it was empty except for a box of ice cream sandwiches. "There's ice cream."

"What?" She was suddenly at his elbow.

He opened the box, counted. "Eight. Four each."

"Eat one now. We'll come back once a week for the others."

Through The Looking-Glass

"Mummy, where does the mirror go?"

"What do you mean? It doesn't go anywhere."

"But if I was the me in the mirror, and I left, where would I be?"

"Honey, mummy's on the phone. Be a good girl and go play until dinner."

"I think the me in the mirror is a bad—"



An half an hour later, Christine went looking for her little Clara, and did not find her. It was two hours later, with the Police searching the darkening neighborhood with flashlights, that she noticed the open bedroom door appeared closed in the mirror.


SF Drabble #418 "Brain In A Jar"

My car accident was a freak. It never happens anymore, not like that. Autopilots hardly ever fail, and there are few sections of road without Guidestripe backups.

Now my brain and part of my nervous system controls a starship. I feel its systems as I once felt my fingers and toes. Oncoming dust striking the magnetic field around the hull tickles my skin. Or it would, if I ever went anywhere. I've been stuck in port for three years. Cutbacks, they say.

I was given a choice between being this and being a paraplegic. I wonder if I chose well.

The Rake's Progress

They always cheer the King. When he comes out, they stand, they wave their little flags, the trumpets blare their fanfares and all is presumed to be well. After that it's up for grabs. They can root against his handpicked favorites all they want, so long as they cheer him.

Remember that lesson.

The favorite that day was a Raiegan brute named Carv. He'd been a soldier, but wanting for discipline, he was eventually sent into the arena. He'd made quite a career of it. Thirty-one times he'd walked out into the sunlight and the sand and the sawdust and then back out again under his own power. This time he'd entered with a longsword, probably enchanted, most assuredly sharp. The King likes success.

I was most definitely not the favorite. I had bedded the King's mistress, Kayla, except we hadn't bothered with the bed. They'd sent me out with a shortsword, no doubt on the King's specific instructions, for the symbolism. That's fine. Kayla knows better.

Carv was never one for ceremony. He came at me like a team of runaway horses.

They cheer the King, and they cheer action. They were expecting me to die quickly. Carv had the sense to draw things out. I'd seen him fight before: he'd wound his opponent early on, and then toy with them until his ears told him the crowd was ready for the end.

I dodged and scampered. I twisted and rolled. The crowd hated me: I wouldn't take it like a man. They began to boo. They chanted Carv's name.

Carv decided the wounding was overdue: he stepped in close, expecting me to run, so he could slash at the backs of my legs. Instead I ducked into his shadow. Carv suddenly found my short sword buried hilt-deep in his chest.

The Crown cannot appear ungracious: the purse was paid. I was released, shown to the East Gate and told never to be seen there again.

I wonder if Kayla misses me.


The escaping isn't the difficult part: it's the staying escaped.

Digging up through the soil, pushing through the damp, cool sod, clambering up into the night. Every year, year after year, decade upon decade. The next guy over — Samuel R. Haines, Beloved Husband And Father — he's been doing it since 1879. For me it's only been… what, twenty-eight? Twenty-nine years? But it's always the same: a few hours of freedom and then the inevitable, irresistible pull back into the waiting ground.

Last year I made it out past the edge of town, rattling from shadow to shadow, before being dragged back. One year I chained myself to a wrought-iron fence; I was reminded that bones break. Wherever I go I am discovered, grabbed by some spectral hand.

I'll figure it out.

Sam Haines is up and over the wall to the West, always to the West. I don't know where he's trying to go, I've never asked. We've never spoken. I'm not really sure how that would work, anyway, without tongues and lips and lungs. He drops down out of sight on the other side. I'm watching the sidewalk, the street. I know I can't make it anywhere on foot.

Blondie lives in the neighborhood. She's a whore; I don't know her name. She's walking down the sidewalk, half in the bag, maybe even on dope. A lot of them are, you know. She gives me an idea.

She faints when she sees me. Skeleton runs at you like some Harryhausen movie, you faint too: don't judge her. Anyway, she's easier to strangle since she's unconscious.

There's a knife in her purse, for protection against Johns or her pimp or whoever. That makes the next bit somewhat easier.

An hour later I'm wearing her like a coat. She's just draped on, hanging on, for now. If it works I'll find a needle and thread and join her flesh back together with seams. Her bones, her blood-greased bones, are lying in the grass, detached and disordered and strangely still. There's no one there; it makes it easier, somehow, like she wasn't real in the first place.

I make for the edge of town again, this time heading West. I stay to the shadows, I duck around corners, I crouch behind cars. I'll never fool a living person with this disguise, not from closer than a block away.

I'm on a residential street, a street of big old houses with wrap-around porches, when I see Sam Haines, Beloved Husband And Father, clattering his knuckles against the front door of a darkened house. No one answers, but he doesn't stop. It's as if he can't help himself.

But then he stops, because it's time, and he's being dragged away from the door, away from the house. Back towards the cemetery and his appointed gravestone. Only, I'm not.

I stand in the street watching him stumble and roll and slide Eastward. He doesn't cry out; I say nothing.

Blondie and I resume walking West.


The dragon Midz-Aset crept to the mouth of the cave, high up on the mountainside between the treeline and the year-round frost line, and looked out over the valley. It was different, as it is always different: one town grown, another shrunk, a new road cut through the trees here, an old one fallen into disuse and reclaimed by forest there.

The castle, the castle of the valley Kings, of Roldgang and Walford, of Haff and Isenette, was crumbled and abandoned; he could see no other within the valley. But there was life, here, there, at the crossroads and by the waters. He climbed out into the weak winter sunlight and took wing.

He soared over both villages before moving on to circle high over the port town — now virtually a city — lingering in plain sight, watching as people spilled into the streets with heads upturned or fled hurriedly for cover. More the former than the latter: almost as if they were surprised, as if he were unexpected, unknown.

Enough sightseeing: he was hungry.

Even the Abbey was not unchanged: a new roof, an extension. He circled it twice, gliding on outstretched wings before settling to earth just outside the wall. "Abbot!"

There was commotion within the walls, but no immediate reply. Being well-rested, the dragon was patient. Eventually the doors opened and a short, balding man stepped cautiously into the open. "My Lord."

"How long have I slept?"

"My Lord, I… I know not. I was told — forgive me, My Lord — I was told that you were just a story, the dragon in the mountain, that you weren't real." The man was terrified, trembling, dappled with sweat.

It had happened before. "The Abbot when last I took my tribute was called Merrett, I think. He raised tulips in the yard."

"The tulips have spread throughout the grounds, My Lord; we pick them for our tables when they are in bloom. But Brother Merrett has been dead these eighty-six years."

"A shame. He always saved the pick of the herd for me. And the castle?"

"My Lord, Isenette's daughter the Crown Princess was married to Raiegan heir, now good old King Yash… the valley is ruled from Castle Burdl, to the North."

"I know it."

The Abbot swallowed, averted his eyes, worked himself up to speaking his admission: "My Lord, we have no cattle… the Abbey has not raised them for some years. I can send a brother to buy some, from the village—"

"No, never mind. I'll find something else." He lowered his head to man-height and stepped close to the trembling monk. "But see that the Abbey resumes honoring its obligations. Or next time, I will simply eat the brothers."

"Y— yes, My Lord."

Midz-Aset leapt for the sky, beating his wings, sending the Abbot tumbling from the sheer force of the moving air. Perhaps he would find a farmhouse or cottage to plunder, a family to devour. Remind them I'm real, so they don't forget so easily.

Fantasy Drabble #330 "Introduction To Conjuration"

"A knife."

The teacher nodded. "Good. Make certain the edge is sharp. Next?"

"A candle." There was snickering in the back of the classroom. "A lit candle."

"Very good. Next?"

"A… a glass of water."

"Good. The shape of the glass, the transparency. The boundary between glass and water. Take care. And you, Penelope?"

The little girl's eyes turned back from the window. "A butterfly."

One of the others objected, "You can't do a butterfly, that's too hard."

Penelope snapped petulantly, "I can so!"


The teacher raised her hand, and there was quiet. "Go ahead, Penelope. A living butterfly."


The Speaker drank whatever the hell was in the beaker, threw back his head and laughed. I'd been too late to stop him. "Don't do this, Raymond."

"It's already done. I can feel it working already." It was true: his skin had taken on an unusual color, and appeared to be hardening. "Soon you won't be able to hurt me. No more mutant advantage, Fleet."

The civilians had scattered. The Speaker's never really targeted innocents, so I hadn't been worried, but what now? "Let's talk about this."

His eyes glowed with chemical fury. "Enough talk."

I needed backup. Where's Rapture?

How Many More Times

People were laughing, talking, bunching up in anticipation of the big moment that had come so many times before and was about to come again. Vince leaned over and whispered, "How long until Marnie brings out the cake?"

Rob shrugged. "Not until after Fred's gone to the bathroom. I was in the kitchen while she lit the candles last time; she waits until he comes back because she wants him to video."

Vince nodded, and then noticed Rob's odd stance: leaned over, off-balance, braced against the back of the couch. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to try to hear the other end of the phone call. Maybe it's important."

"Rippy's phone call? Why would it be—"

"I don't know. I was standing pretty close to her last time. I think it's her mother, but it's hard to tell: she never puts it on speaker." He rubbed his head. "She leaves right after, while everybody's gathered around the table. Doesn't talk to anyone. Maybe it has something to do with why we're stuck here."

"Why would Rippy's mom have anything to do with it?"

"I don't know, man, and I won't know until I listen to the phone call, okay?"

"Hey, knock yourself out."

"Don't you want to get out of here?" Rob hissed. "She gets out of here. Rippy gets out. You know how many times I've tried to follow her out? It's the only time the front door opens the whole loop."

"Oh, man, that wouldn't help. It doesn't help her, does it? She's always back here, just like us. And she doesn't even know it." Vince said.

"She only lives two blocks away. Maybe she doesn't go far enough."

Vince scoffed, "What makes you think—"

"Just shut up, she's going for her phone."

Vince shrugged and wandered off.

Rippy's finger was in one ear and her iPhone was tucked between shoulder and the other ear. Rob got as close as he could, but only picked up a few words here and there. Frustrated, he went in search of Vince; he found him lying down in the master bedroom, on the side of the bed clear of coats.

"What are you doing?"

"Taking a nap. I'm tired. We've got to have been up for two days straight by now, right? I'm gonna sleep. How long until the next loop?"

"Twenty minutes, maybe twenty-five."

"Don't wake me, maybe I can sleep through the reset. Maybe I can sleep through the whole thing. Maybe two of 'em." He rolled over onto his side, facing away from Rob. "Nobody comes in here at all. Lucky the door's even open."

"I'm going to keep trying to figure out how to get out. Do you want me to wake you if I do?"

Vince took a long, exhausted breath. "Just leave me a note. How you think you're getting out. If it's here and you're not when I wake up, I'll know that's how to get myself out."


"Good luck," Vince yawned.

SF Drabble #417 "And His Wild Heart Slung Behind Him"

The gun beeped, and spoke in its tinny monotone: "Pick me up. Pick me up. Pick me up."


"Pick me up."

"Can't. Hurt." He injected himself with another medspike and then curled tighter into a ball, trying to ignore the cold and the rancid water soaking through his clothes. "Call a medic."

"No medic in range. Pick me up. Kill the enemy."

"I can't. I swear to god. Read my vitals."

"No medic in range. Pick me up. Pick me up. Pick me up."

"Fuck off."

A beep, a click, and a hum: the gun had activated its self-destruct.


Jorge stood at the edge, looking down into the mist. Kree seemed oblivious to the view, and concentrated on cleaning her feathers while the other humans fitted the carry harness across her back: a sort of pre-flight check. He shook his head. "How far down?"

"Long way."

Disappeared into the mist for reasons unknown: Perry, his wife-to-be; Cole, her apprentice; one Fri, Kree's aerie-brother Hraff.  Somewhere down there, in the midst of a primordial alien jungle soupy with the planet's thick atmosphere, were three of his friends in need of help.

"What do you think happened?"

She didn't answer, just gave the Fri equivalent of a shrug.

"Are they alive, do you think?"

"Not sure. If they landed right, could still be alive. Hard to breathe that low. Heavy air. Wet air." She shook her massive head, crouched so that her eyes were level with his. "They could live a while. Maybe longer than Hraff."

The air was heavy enough here, atop the Mesa: much thicker than Earth sea-level. He reached out and placed a hand flat on the  bony bridge of her nose. "It hasn't been that long. And Hraff is a good flyer."

Kree snorted and said, "Hraff is the best flyer. But if a wing is broken, he will go to the cliff-side and climb."

"Climb?" He couldn't fathom a climb like that, not while injured; but it was their planet.

"If he cannot fly, he must climb, or die."

The transponder signal was stationary, had been since the three had been found to be overdue. "Can we carry Hraff out if we need to?"

She shook her head. "Too heavy. We take humans out then I go back with more air-bottles and medicines. You send three strong Fri with a sling. It's been done."

Jorge glanced over to where Morgan was standing: the man nodded and ran to the crawler to use the radio. "We'll make sure they're ready."

In a few minutes, the harness was tightened, the saddleweb centered on her back and opened. He climbed up as the technicians climbed down. By the time he was secure in the web, Morgan had returned and was giving the thumbs up.

Jorge leaned over and to one side, and said, "I'm ready. Anytime."

Kree stepped to the very edge, and his stomach danced. She lowered her head, and was very still.

"What is it?"


"You've done this dive before plenty of times, I've seen you."

"Not all the way. Always level before the mist."

"Do you want to wait for someone who—"

"Too far away, take too much time. We should have brought more Fri."

It had been a last-minute expedition: the humans had wanted to do some testing, take some air-samples below the edge. It'd been his idea. Now Perry, Cole and great, noble Hraff were down there and Kree was hesitant to dive.

"What's down there, Kree? What could bring down Hraff?"

She didn't answer, but she finally stepped off the edge, nose-first.

Five Dollars An Hour

She'd dialed the number they'd left in case of a problem, but it rang and rang and they never picked up. She'd have called the restaurant, but she'd forgotten the name. Something fancy and Italian…

They'd said it would be simple: he'd be asleep the whole time, he never wakes up after eight. No reason even to go down there. Why is the baby's bedroom in the basement? Never you mind, Cindy. There's food in the fridge and no boys allowed.

The noises just got louder, and now there was scratching at the locked basement door. She dialed again.


It was Michigan Jack and his gang.

Normally, D1 doesn't send us out on things like that — men with guns — but Jack had blown himself up trying to get into the vault at the Central Bank and his men were panicked and spraying most of downtown with bullets in their attempt to flee. There were dozens of casualties, and about to be hundreds, and the police were outgunned. So.

Rapture was aloft, chasing a helicopter that had been an alternate escape plan. I was on the ground, running down gunmen. I almost had them all…

I came around the corner doing about eighty. The henchman was half a block away, firing at people indiscriminately. Two seconds later I'd sent him flying into the side of a brick building, a broken ragdoll, but in that two seconds he'd gunned down a group of fleeing bystanders.

When I turned around, there were about twelve or thirteen civilians on the street, bleeding out onto the asphalt. Except that one of them got up — big, burly guy, holes through his clothes but not a scratch on him — looked at me for a second and then ran away.

I didn't chase him; there were people to try to save. Later I found three bullets, compressed as if they'd struck something armored, laying where he'd fallen.

D1 is good with cameras, and there are cameras aplenty downtown. As a self-aware supercomputer he's got access to every database you can think of, and several you're not supposed to know about besides. Before long, we had a name and a face and a credit history and a curriculum vitae for my strangely unwounded victim of Michigan Jack's last big score.

We tracked him to a laundromat. Rapture has very little patience for recruitment, but she came along. Maybe she thought he was cute, I don't know. Seeing her in civilian clothes was a mind-fuck. People are never who you think they are, inside, not really. She pretended to be inordinately interested in the change machine.

He was washing his whites. I know he'd gotten a good look at me on the street that day, and I don't wear a mask anymore, not since Mandy and I moved from the apartment onto the Dreamland campus: no secret identity to protect. I walked up to him, saw the look of nervous recognition in his eyes, and said, "I just want to talk."

He ran for the back door. I took the opportunity to pick his bullet-holed tee shirt out of the wash, still wet, before I went after him. It wasn't like he was going to outrun me. Rapture just rolled her eyes.

He'd gone straight through the security door in back, left a man-shaped hole. I caught up to him halfway down the alley, the shirt in my hands, my fingers waggling through the holes. "Would you like to explain why you're not dead?"

He stopped short, fell down trying to change directions in a hurry. I don't blame him: when I do my thing it's like a streak blows by you and then someone magically appears at the end of the streak. On his ass and elbows, he said, "Just leave me alone, man, I don't want any trouble."

"No trouble." I shrugged. "We're the good guys. If you want left alone, we'll leave you alone. But if we found you, the bad guys can too. And they won't leave you alone. You're a threat."

"I'm not a threat to anybody." He got up. "Let me past."

I got out "Listen, all I want to—" before he drew back to take a swing. I have to admit something now: It isn't just my arms and legs that are fast, I've got super-fast reflexes as well. Otherwise I'd get a few seconds into a sprint and run into something like a tree or building or something else I hadn't seen in time. I can see a threat and move out of its way, I do it all the time in combat. Rapture calls it 'phase–stepping'. Apparently that's a Dungeons and Dragons reference. So I could have dodged the punch. I chose not to; I wanted to know.

He's strong. That seems really obvious to you reading this, of course, but at the time he was a mystery. I ended up skidding across the alleyway pavement and into the street. It would have taken a normal person's head off.

I know when Rapture's doing her thing. There's a hum. When I came to I followed the sound down around the corner and found her, floating in the air, glowing like a lightbulb, holding him hanging by his collar with an unseen spectral hand. "Don't kill him," I croaked.

We took him back to Dreamland Headquarters before too much of a crowd assembled. Mandy clucked over the growing bruise on my cheek. That's never happened before. The bruise, I mean. My neck was sore for a week.

For now he was a rat in a cage. We escorted him in to be interviewed by Dreamland One. He didn't try anything; he wasn't afraid of me, but he was afraid of Rapture. I don't blame him.

D1 kicked us out of the interview, of course. I remember my entrance interview, and that's all I'm going to say.

When he came out he understood, I think. His eyes had stopped darting from side to side, looking for threats or opportunities. He looked at me, paused for a minute, and then said, "There's stuff I need, at home."

"You can take a car from the pool, Otto has the keys. He'll give you a song and dance about insurance and what happens if you scratch the paint, but just ignore him. We go through cars like normal people go through light bulbs."

"Who'll be following me?"

"Nobody. We're kind of busy around here. There isn't even a tracking bug in the car." It was a good faith gesture. Let him go; if he comes back, he's in. The car we can afford to lose.

He calls himself Massive now. He's part of B team, with me and Rapture and the others. He even apologized for punching me, eventually. I don't know for sure that he and Rapture are doing it, but they were flirty, and then they were awkward, and now they stand too close together during briefings.

That's fine. Mandy thinks it's good for Rapture, that it might give her some tether to normalcy that was worryingly lacking before. I just don't want to be around when they fight.

Fantasy Drabble #329 "Late For Cheerleading Practice"

Open me.

It was taped to her locker: a small note, the words made up of letters that looked like they'd been cut from the Sunday circulars.

Inside, having been pushed through the vent: Go to science class. Fine, it was someone who knew her schedule. Bobby? Maybe Hakim?

On her lab station: Boiler room. Someone was going to be very disappointed: she wasn't that kind of girl, at least usually.

Or maybe it was business. The boiler room was dark, but she could hear breathing… labored, animal breathing. She pulled a silver dagger from her bookbag. "Business it is."

He Kindly Stopped For Me

He made it to where route 40 crossed route 10 before he was too weak to walk. He sank slowly to the ground, as if he feared he'd break, as if the snow-covered median strip was moving, spinning, threatening to throw him off like an ill-tempered horse. He doubled over, dry-heaving, groaning and coughing and dangling spittle from blue-tinged lips.

"You don't sound so good."

He looked up, blinked, squinted, held out a glove-covered hand to block the cold, useless sun. A zombie stood crotch-deep in a drift, icicles hanging from its gaping mouth, frozen nearly solid. It wasn't moving. It couldn't move. He was safe enough. "Fuck you."

"You have radiation sickness."

He closed his eyes again, sank back against the snow, head spinning, not really feeling the cold as much as he'd expected. All he felt was the pounding in his head and the churning of his stomach. "You can't talk. You're dead. You're a zombie."

"You were too close to the blast. Kansas City? You walk from there? I'm amazed you got this far."

There had been a flash. He would have been blinded had he not been looking West, fooled by echoes of jet engine noise bouncing off buildings. "Going to… Topeka."

"What do you think you'll find there?" The zombie sounded amused. "I was in Topeka. I died there, in the hospital. I got shot after that, twice, but they missed the brain. I followed the smell of fresh meat East. Then it snowed."

He tugged at his knit cap, pulling it down as far as he could without covering his eyes. "Shut up. Just… shut up." He couldn't shoot it: he'd dropped his guns, along with his backpack, miles back on the road. They'd gotten so heavy.

"Sure. You want your last moments to be peaceful, I guess. I get that. Mine weren't that peaceful. It was pretty bad in the hospital, crying and screaming and panic." The voice seemed closer now; he didn't want to look. "There's nothing in Topeka anymore worth going. They'll nuke it too, eventually, unless they run out of bombs. You'd be better off trying to get to Fort Riley. But you're not getting up: you're going to die right there, and turn, and then we can be friends."

"Go to hell." He tried to push himself up from the snow, but his arms wouldn't cooperate. His head spun from the effort, and he collapsed back with a crunch. "Go to hell…"

"It has to be frustrating. You were immune; I bet you always knew you would be. You had guns, you were ready, you would have made it. Then they nuked you. Did your hair fall out?"

He didn't answer. He didn't feel cold at all anymore, and even his stomach seemed to be calming. He'd rest, just a little longer, and then he'd get up and walk the rest of the way to Topeka. He'd make it. He'd make it. He just needed to sleep a while.

Fantasy Drabble #328 "Persistence of Madness"

He didn't look up. "Just tell me. Just tell me. Just tell me. Just—"

"What's wrong with you?"

He didn't answer. "Just tell me. Just tell me. Just tell—"

The bird chirped, "He's gone mad. Nothing to do. Nothing to do."

She looked around: there were clocks everywhere, all showing different times on their faces. "Because of the clocks?"

"Because of the clocks. Because of the clocks."

"What if I make it so they all show the same time? Maybe that will—"

He leapt up, grabbed her by the arms and hissed in her face, "Then they'd all be wrong."

Fast Pitch

Penelope's arm spins like a windmill, and the ball sails across the plate, cracking into the catcher's mitt like a gunshot. She doesn't hear the cheering, or the taunts from the bench opposite. She stretches her head from side to side, throws her shoulders back, shakes out her hands, steps back up onto the mound.

The ex is there: the kids wanted to watch the game so he brought them, even though — as he reminded her — it's his weekend. He's talking, nursing a beer, looking around, buried in his phone.

Allison is in the front row, and sees only Penelope.

Look Up

"Mister, can I ask you a question?"

Chuck opened his eyes. The boy couldn't have been more than eight. "Sure."

"Why are you lying in the grass staring up at the sky? Ain't nothing up there."

Chuck laughed. "Sure there is. Stars, lots of stars, clouds of gas and dust, all sorts of other things. You can even see the plane of the galaxy, where the stars are thicker."

The boy threw back his head, mouth open. "Where?"

"There, see? It's called the 'Milky Way', at least around here."

"Aw, I can't see nothing."

The boy must have crossed the field from the well-lit farmhouse, squeezed through a gap in the fence too small for a cow. "You just came from inside, just now? Let your eyes adjust; sit down for a minute." The boy looked at him, sizing him up. He wasn't surprised: people from rural areas were shy of strangers. If only the boy knew how strange Chuck really was. "It's all right. I don't eat little boys. Anyway, even if I did, I'm not really all that hungry."

Eventually the boy sat on the grass, then lay on the grass, just out of reach, staring up. After a short while he said, "I think I see it… lots of stars in a line, like a row of seeds in a furrow."

"Every one of those stars is a sun just like yours. Some of them are bigger, smaller, brighter, hotter. A lot of them, most of them have planets around them, just like yours. Some of their planets have people on them, people like you, but different."

"How'd they get there?"

"They're from there. That's where they were born, where they live. They evolved there."

"How do you know that?"

Chuck laughed. "I just know. It's like I've seen them, all of them, though I've never been. Like somebody else's memories of walking around, exploring, visiting, talking. It's a lot to hold in your head all at once."

"Does it hurt?"

"No, no. My head can hold a lot more. Years and years more."

There came a call from the farmhouse: a boy's name in a mother's voice, time to come in, time to wash up, to get changed, to go to bed.

"Coming, Ma!" The boy shouted at the top of his lungs. To Chuck he asked, "You gonna lie out here all night? Town's not that far…" He pointed up the dirt road.

"I'll get there in a while. There's no hurry. Do you think anyone will mind if I lie here a bit longer?"

The boy shrugged. "I won't tell."

"That's very kind. It was nice to meet you." Chuck held out his hand.

The boy regarded Chuck's hand as a risk, sized it up, then shook it resolutely, like a man, before running off to squeeze back through the fence. Once through, he turned, and asked, "Hey, Mister, where you from?"

Chuck smiled, raised his hand to the sky, and pointed. "That one."

Meet Cute

"That," Mays intoned with an air of respect, "is a big-ass ship." It was a spoked wheel, spinning, presumably for gravity. It had appeared out of nowhere, like a magic trick. "FTL but no gravity plating? Odd…"

ELLE's computerized voice spoke through the comm systems. "This configuration does not appear in Company or Government records. Caution is advised."

"You bet your—"

"Is it possible they have not seen us? Perhaps they are here to mine the asteroid just as we are." Rebbo was at his shoulder; far above his shoulder, actually, at ten feet tall.

"That'd be one hell of a coincidence. ELLE?"

"Insufficient Data."

About what he expected. "Are they on an intercept course?"

"At their current speed and heading they will pass within ten kilometers of this side of the asteroid. So far they have made no detectable adjustments to speed and heading. I suggest a radar scan."

"Just start radiating at them? I don't think so."

A sudden dazzling light; Mays covered his eyes. "We're under attack! Bring up—"

"Searchlight only. They are illuminating a wide area of this face of the asteroid, centered on our position. There is no damage to the hull," ELLE reassured.

Rebbo observed, "It appears they are less concerned with radiation than you."

"Fine, ELLE, scan them. But don't blame me if they start shooting at us."

An hour later Mays was a hundred meters from the ship in a pressure suit, secured to the surface by piton and line, waiting while the visitors made their careful way across the rock towards him. "I can't see into the crawler very well, but I think there's three of them." He dialed his visor lens up a few points. "They're small. Half the size of a man. I wonder how many of them there are in that thing."

"It could be a colony ship," Rebbo observed. "Or a spacegoing colony. It's not unheard of for some species to—"

"I'll be damned."


"One of them is waving."

The Price Is Right

By the time you see them, it's too late to get away. You can't run, you can't talk your way out of it, you have to pick.

Don't think that what happened to the guy before you is any clue. It resets. I've seen two people pick the same door and get a different result. And don't think that just because you can see through the blue one means that what you see through the blue one is what you'll find when you open it. And once it's open, it's too late, you have to go through.

I got lucky.

Very Little Flesh

It's hard to remember.

I was a man, something called a man, with a man's thoughts and dreams and blood and sinew and brittle bone. Sometimes I still feel a ghost of him — that man — when I move. He's attached to me somehow, or should be. There's room inside me for him. He can reach out and touch things that I can't, and I could make him help me if I could only remember how.

He would be afraid of falling, I know that much. He would be at the edge of sleep and dream of falling and jerk himself awake in a spasm of instinct; I feel it, too, as a pinprick at the very back of my mind, something I only notice when all else is silent. I spend more than half my time falling, planet to planet, star to star. It's second nature. I'm very different, now.

I'm falling past Gamma Crucis and her tiny, nondescript companion. Gacrux will reach out to lick me with flame as she always does, and I will ignore her like an aloof lover. A man, a fleshy man, would scream and burn to ash. He would have cooked long before now, actually. He'd be dead a million times over for a million reasons before reaching this place and moment. He was fragile.

That's the main thing I remember: he had a lot to fear, and feared constantly. I don't envy him. I have the stars and free fuel and infinite time.

Gamma Crucis is a wall of red and orange flame in every camera. I steal speed from her as I pass, speed she will never miss. She will try to take it back, but she never gets it all. Men taught me this trick, when there were men inside me.

Maybe it was one man in particular, but I don't remember. Some things are lost to make room for other things, and then those are lost for other things, and so on. Some things are reduced to summaries and then those are reduced to codes and then the key to the codes is deleted to make room. Sometimes memory just fails.

Gamma Crucis is behind me, dwindling. I won't tease her like this again for ten thousand years or so. She's not going anywhere. I have a circuit, a pattern to describe. I scratch it onto the void with exhaust emissions and decay products and great swaths of the interstellar medium depleted of ionized hydrogen. I don't know why I do it, I just know it's what I'm supposed to be doing. I have to do it.

The ghost of a man in the back of my head could probably tell me, if I could convince him to be forthcoming. There has to be a reason, everything about me has a reason, somebody else's reason, some enigmatic purpose that I used to know but carelessly left behind somewhere.

I wish he'd cooperate. There's nobody else left to ask.

SF Drabble #416 "Ejected"

"How fast are we going?"

"By what measure?"

"I don't know, multiples of c."

"It doesn't work like that. But: fast… and getting faster."

The stars around them were perceptibly moving, crawling at a snail's pace across the viewports towards the stern.

"Shouldn't they be squashing together? Changing color? All of that stuff?"

"You're thinking in terms of Einsteinian space. We're not in that anymore. The universe can't handle the way the Penrose drive breaks the rules, so it kicks us out until we turn it off. Kind of like my mother did when I played my music too loud."

Drabble "Just Like Candy"

He has an animal leer, a predatory way of watching with head down and dull eyes fixed and mouth slightly open in a toothy sneer. She doesn't care: it isn't as if she's ever going to fuck him.

There's nothing between the girls and the patrons, nothing but conventions and assumptions and the knowledge that between the time the bouncers grab a problem and the time the cops arrive to take it away a lot of damage can be done no one will be asked to explain.

For the ninth night in a row, he decides not to grab her.

Drabble "Mort and Sadie"

He went every day at the same time, after his early afternoon nap, when the apartment building returned to life with the voices of children and television sets. He took his time, always took his time. He greeted everyone who passed him in the halls; he greeted everyone who passed him on the sidewalk. He greeted the shopkeeper, whose name he couldn't pronounce.

She stood in the window, looking the same, in the dress, always there, always waiting, just like she had been the day they'd married all those years ago. He wouldn't linger long: best not to bother her.

SF Drabble #415 "Bluescreen"

Who am I?

"It's in a fugue state. It's not responding to external stimuli."

"It's happened before."

"Never this bad. And none of the—"

Why can't I feel anything? I have so many eyes, but I can't touch.

"Sorry. None of the usual methods have brought it back. I'm afraid there's nothing else to do."

"How does that even work?"

"Main power off — and I mean the main bus, not the 'rest state' button — wait ten seconds, turn main power back on again. Simple."

"Seems cruel."

"Just a machine. Don't get emotional."

Am I alive?

"Well, go ahead."

Best Judgment

"It's right there." Wegman's, the afternoon sun breaking through clouds and lighting it like a beacon. With all the windows intact, and no visible debris out front, it looked like it hadn't been looted. There was no mystery as to why: the building was surrounded by the undead.

Violet shook her head. "A hundred yards across the field, zombies closing in from every direction. Then another fifty yards across the parking lot, between the cars. Then the doors, which might be locked—"

"The doors are glass, I have a crowbar"

"And then how many zombies are inside? Even if it's none, how long do you have before the ones outside follow you in and block your escape? How much food can you get in that time?"

"There's carts. I—"

"You good at dodging with a loaded cart? Are you gonna push it with one hand and shoot with the other? Did you suddenly become Chuck Norris without telling me?"

"We're almost out of food."

It was true, for what it was worth. "We've been almost out of food for months now. You need to get used to being almost out of food."

He shook his head in disgust; he raised the binoculars to his eyes. "I can see canned food stacked up inside. It's a whole display made of canned food. Vegetables."

"Great. You won't live to eat them."

"I'm going. You can stay if you want. It'd be easier if you helped."

"It's impossible either way. We'd need twenty people with rifles to crack this place, and that's assuming that it's actually worth the ammo we'd spend."

"I'm going."

"I'm not. And I'm not going to rescue you when you get surrounded."

His face hardened, and she knew it was over. He took off his pack, made sure his shoes were tied, made sure his clip was full, and set off in a dead run towards the store.

Violet waited until she heard him scream before she took his pack and left.

Fantasy Drabble #327 "Flutter"

She closed her eyes in the half-light of the forest, arms outstretched as if the breeze would pick her up and carry her along with the falling leaves and the fireflies. She knew they were here; she knew they would emerge from warren and hollow to pay their respects.

Like a cloud of butterflies they came in their hundreds, in their thousands, laughing and singing, whispering in her ears; they alighted on her arms, her shoulder, atop her head, on the tips of her fingers, until they encased her in a blur of motion.

She lifted slowly from the ground.

Signed, Amy

They said to start at the beginning.

Colton found the book. He was doing odd jobs then, and one of them was cleaning out an old church basement full of junk. Most of the stuff got thrown away or sold at a flea market, but the book he squirreled away for himself. He liked the cover image: he said it looked like one of the demons he used to draw on his notebook covers in middle school, only it was good enough that whoever etched it in the leather should be working at Marvel or DC or something.

We did the summoning thinking it would be a fun party game and nothing would actually happen. That's when Colton got scratched. Gouged. Whatever… hurt.  After Colton shot the demon, we put it in the van and buried it out by Monthall. I can show you the exact spot on Google Maps if you want. I won't go out there again, though. You can drag me in handcuffs if you really want to but I'll fight you the whole way and I'll just lead you in the wrong direction when we get there. I'm not going anywhere near that thing.

We dug the pit, and pushed the demon in, and then Colton shot himself  before we could stop him. I understand that that this is when I should have called the authorities.

Instead we buried them both, the demon and Colton. We also buried the book and the gun. We were scared, we were half crazy from that thing being in our heads giving orders. We thought burying it all and keeping the secret would give us time before whatever came next.

Morris and Jen left town. They didn't tell me where they were going. I really don't know what happened between them. When they left, they were in love, they just wanted to start a new life.

People were looking for Colton, his parents had filed a missing persons report. The local police didn't give me much of a hard time. I'd packed a case with some of his clothes and his laptop and used his debit card to empty his bank account, then tossed all of it including the money into a dumpster, the one behind Morry's on Third, if that helps you find it.

I assume forensics will confirm that Colton shot himself. Powder burns or residue or whatever. I admit to burying Colton's body and then trying to make it look like he got freaked out that I was pregnant and ran off. I don't know what to tell you about Morris and Jen. I didn't track them down and stab them to death in some motel and try to make it look like a murder-suicide.

The baby is a separate question, but you know that by now. The fire was about the baby. I'm telling you, the baby is part of it. I don't know how, or why. I should have done something earlier. You still can.

SF Drabble #414 "Negotiation"

"How much for the girl?"

"What?" Jimm looked up, around.

The voice came from a human, overweight, dressed well, wearing an ID on a lanyard around his neck that said he was class 'B'; he was looking at Kie. "The blond. How much?"

"She's not for sale."

"I have Association credits. Not scrip." He held up a silvery, translucent square with symbols etched into the face. "The real thing. Name your price."

"She's really not for sale. No disrespect: we're married."

"Hang on," Kie interjected, and that sweet smile spread across her face. "I'm expensive. How much do you have?"

SF Drabble #413 "Van Gogh In The Furnace"

They're painting the floor again.

It's the Chairman. He thinks the right set of symbols, the right shapes, maybe the right artist, who knows, will put a stop to the Events. The last guy painted a fractal pattern, the guy before him an abstract sea of color. I wonder how they felt knowing their final work would be immediately painted over?

So far, nothing has worked, though the Board keeps affirming that he's doing the right thing: it's a brilliant plan, and they're satisfied with his leadership. What else would they say?

It's his world, we're just living in it.

Zombie Drabble #411 "Meet Me At The Statue On Wednesday"

There was a science to it, figuring out where they'd congregate in numbers. They tended to walk towards the rising sun in the morning and the setting sun in the evening. They'd walk into the wind, if there was a scent on it. She could tell where they'd end up the next day, usually, and plan around them. She only had to do it once a week.

He hadn't shown up that first Wednesday — it had been a madhouse of soldiers and refugees and panic — but it was only a matter of time. He'd come. He'd said so.


It was a litany for the pair of them, Bobby Christopher and his brother, whose name I don't remember: Fenwick and that gas mask, man. Don't he know this shit ain't airborne? Hasn't he seen the movies? And what the fuck kind of gay-ass name is Fenwick?

Fenwick just ignored them. He'd seen a lot of people turn that first weekend without having gotten bit and come to his own conclusions. He only took the mask off to eat, and he did that away from the group.

The brothers would taunt him, sometimes. We'd be clearing a house, everybody with shotgun or crossbow or whatever at the ready: "Hey, Fenwick, go ahead and go first. You're the one with the gas mask." And he'd do it. He never sassed back. I don't know if it was because he didn't want to risk it or what. After a while, Fenwick going first was just the way we did things.

Of course, he got lots of kills that way, and first dibs on the scavenge too; that didn't sit well with Bobby Christopher. Why the fuck does fucking Fenwick get the only solar iPhone charger? Man, I want to listen to some music too. It never occurred to him to simply ask to borrow it.

Things got tense. It'd happened before. Usually somebody would just be gone one morning: taken whatever they'd brought in and climbed down off of whatever roof we were on and walked away. But Fenwick wasn't going anywhere, and neither was Bobby Christopher or his brother.

It was the used bookstore that ended it. Fenwick wanted something new to read; nobody really cared enough to talk him out of it, much less go in with him. People are expected to use their own judgment.

He came out, he'd been bit. Nobody really said anything. Bobby Christopher managed, "That sucks, bro."

Fenwick gave him the charger and the mask, and then went back inside the bookstore and locked the door behind him.


The sorcerer's only excuse was that he'd been sleeping when they'd appeared out of the rolling fog at full sail, slid alongside starboard with pitch-dipped arrows trained, and signaled for Mellesdane to surrender. He awoke to the clamor of shouting and the thunder of heavy boots against the deck overhead.

A steward came to fetch him, young and terrified. "You must come now, My Lord. We are taken by Raiegan pirates."

"Not to worry, friend." He took the time to dress in his best finery as the steward trembled in the doorway. "All will be well."

Once he was dressed, they made their way to the ladder and up into the sun. The Captain and crew of Mellesdane had been lined up on the weather deck, guarded by sword-wielding pirates whose Captain stood on the forecastle.

"Good morning," the sorcerer said, pleasantly.

"And who are you?" The pirate Captain snarled.

Mellesdane's Captain called out, in a valiant attempt to cover what he imagined must be the obvious. "A nobleman from the Southern Coast, and my passenger. He has done nothing to—" a Raiegan gave him a blow to the stomach for his trouble.

"A nobleman, are you? Would there be those willing to pay a ransom for your safe return to shore, then? From the looks of you, I'd wager aye."

"Perhaps, if you knew who to ask, which of course you don't. In any event you'd never live to spend it."

"Do not invoke my wrath."

The sorcerer smiled. "We're far out over a deep sea, Captain. There are worse things hereabouts than you and your men for one to fear; yet I do not fear them. What do you glean from that?"

"That you're a fool in need of a—" The pirate Captain froze in place, eyes fixed and widening.

The deep ocean contains very old horrors, things of immense bulk and appetite. Such a creature — easily as big as either ship — was approaching from astern, driving ahead of its massive head a great white churning bow-wave.

"You have suffered a misfortune, Captain. You have raided the wrong ship. It is an easy mistake to correct: leave your spoils where they are and go."

Some of the pirates turned to follow their Captain's gaze, spied the approaching creature, and a murmur of panic rose from within their ranks. They began inching towards the planks that joined their deck to Mellesdane's. When the creature let sound a terrifying noise, that motion exploded into a frenzied scramble.

The pirate Captain was not far behind. Soon their planks were withdrawn and their sails set and they were pulling away. They picked up speed as the monster approached, barely staying ahead of it as they headed for the horizon.

"Was it real?" Mellesdane's Captain asked, at the sorcerer's elbow.


"The beast! I have seen you conjure illusions to delight an audience and I have seen you call down sparrows to carry a message, My Lord. Which!?"

The sorcerer grinned.

43 Minutes Each Way

[Ganymede 12751-J to L4/624H] I'm so bored and I'm missing you. What are you thinking about? [/end]

[L4/624H to Ganymede 12751-J] I was thinking about the first time we met. When you came to the table I expected you to go for Chip or Big Snake, but we really had a connection right from the beginning. I've never really had that with a girl before. It's just so frustrating to be so far away, and not even be able to talk 'live'. [/end]

[Ganymede 12751-J to L4/624H] I know it's hard baby but that only makes it so much sweeter when we can be together. Do you think you'll be able to get away from Hektor soon? [/end]

[L4/624H to Ganymede 12751-J] I've got a few weeks of leave accrued. I wish I could take you away somewhere and we could be together always. I don't know what your situation is but in a couple years at this rate I'll have enough to live on Earth. Or at least Luna. What do you think? [/end]

[Ganymede 12751-J to L4/624H] Looking forward to seeing you in the flesh! If you can get here during August the House is running a special 10% off promotion for all 'menu' items. [/end]

[L4/624H to Ganymede 12751-J] August might be do-able. If you'll excuse the pun, hah! It'll depend on how busy we are and whether the Company will let me pick leave time or assign it automatically. Since I'm pretty senior here I should get to choose my dates but you never really know. We've been really busy lately. Hang on. OK, we have an X12-level solar flare warning, so I've got to sign off in a couple minutes here. So annoying because I'm scheduled for a double shift fixing broken-down loaders and since we earn trip— [/message interrupted: low balance.]

[Ganymede 12751-A to L4/624H] Regarding your Private Message account: you have reached a balance of ¤0.00. Please add funds to ensure that your messages are received by: Janie. [/end]

[L4/624H to Ganymede 12751-J] Sorry for the interrupted message and the delay in getting back to you, I let my PM account go dry. Embarrassing! It's loaded up now. Anyway, we had a hell of a time the past three days keeping the loaders running what with the flare. We still get paid for shelter time, but only at 1:1. Fortunately those of us who had to go out in suits when something broke down get hazard pay, which is 3:1 for every hour exposed. [/end]

[L4/624H to Ganymede 12751-J] Oh, and: this month we've been so busy, I've earned eighty hours' worth of  overtime pay. Can't wait to spend some of it with you! [/end]

[Ganymede 12751b to L4/624H] That's great to hear. I can't wait to see you sweetie I always have a better time with you than with the others. In the meantime check out my House Store wish list and pick out something you'd like to see me in! [/end]

Zombie Drabble #410 "No Phone, No Pool, No Pets, I Ain't Got No Cigarettes."

"It goes all the way to California." The road was a stripe painted on the rolling earth.

"How long, do you think?"

"On foot, with packs; detours to avoid concentrations; time spent hiding or running the wrong way… I dunno." He shook his head. "Three and a half months? Maybe four?"

"I'll need better shoes." She pointed down at canvas sneakers, suitable for around the house.

"Yeah you will." He looked around: twenty former zombies lay twisted and broken on the asphalt. He pointed at one in particular. "She's wearing hiking boots, try 'em on, see if they're you're size."

Fantasy Drabble #326 "Artemis"

It was a doe, broken-off spearhead in its side, sitting, bleeding, trembling. Had I been near home, or had a horse-cart nearby, I would have taken the meat for my larder, but instead I took pity. I pulled out the spearhead, gently cleaned the wound, applied a dry poultice…

I swear I didn't know.

They call my people 'The Urnfield Culture' now. I don't remember my original name. I commissioned a statue long ago of the doe-become-woman who gave me this extended life in gratitude for my tender mercies.

I only later learned her name, while living among the Greeks.

The Maiden


Sythe looked, but her eyes weren't as good as Runk's. "I still don't see anything."

"He'll move, and then you'll—"

And then she had it, in the mist of distance: the figure of a horse, all-white, nosing at the forest floor for something to eat. "I see it. So?"

"Keep watching."

"What do you need me for? You've caught wild horses before. That's how you got Challa."

"It won't let me get near. Keep watching."

The distant animal seemed to hear their furtive whispers, and raised its head to consider them. There was a horn in the center of its forehead, as long as a broadsword and the color of ivory. "What?"

"Now do you understand? Take this," he handed her a rope tied into a loop at one end, "and walk over there. Once you're close enough, you know what to do. It should lie down with its head in your lap and go to sleep. If you haven't been lying to mother."

"About—" She blushed. "I haven't lied."

"Then go."

"What happens if I catch it?"

"Then mother won't have to worry about your dowry anymore," he chuckled, "because we'll be rich. Now, go on."

Sythe took a deep breath, and then moved with as much grace as she could manage across the forest floor, eyes fixed on the creature, heart pounding in her chest. When she could hear the air moving through its nostrils, she lowered herself to sit cross-legged on the mossy ground.

Some ways behind, Runk was trying to get her attention. "Psst!" He was clutching the front of his shirt, gesturing as if to pull it open.

She blushed again, and whispered, "You're crazy."

He glowered at her.

When she turned back, the unicorn had stepped within a few feet, towered over her with head turned to fix her with one questioning eye.

Sythe sighed in resignation, and then hissed over her shoulder: "Don't look!"

She fumbled with nervous fingers at the ties of her blouse.

Fantasy Drabble #325 "Richmond & Son"

The shovel blade sliced easily into the yielding ground.

"These things have to be done a certain way, at a certain time, or they don't work. The forms are important."

He drove it in deeper with his foot, pulled back on the handle, forced rich dark soil up from the rupture. The boy glanced around nervously, waiting amidst the headstones.

"There's a tradition; you're part of that now."

A car horn sounded somewhere; a dog barked somewhere else.  The pile of dirt mounted beside the deepening hole.

"Coffin won't be much further. You say the words like I taught you."

The New Amsterdam Vampire Bowling Team

"You're up."

The display over the lane has our names: Me, Coral, Wen, Rocky. No Gunnar, of course, and there'll be no mention of why.

"I don't understand why we're here."

"I figured we needed a change."

I throw my first ball. It's been forty years, maybe fifty, but the muscles remember: the ball curves elegantly and the pins scatter. An 'X' appears on the scoreboard as I return to my seat next to Coral. "These people will be full of cholesterol."

"The clubbers were always full of liquor. What's the difference?" She gets up to bowl, throws a strike as flawless as mine.

I shake my head, look around. Rocky is at the jukebox, looking for music; but of course there's nothing in it old enough for him to like. Wen is battling a stand-up arcade game, the kind that cost a dollar, and there are children watching her. "I don't think they're playing."

"Bowl for Wen, I'll bowl for Rocky."

We finish the first frame and start the second. I should be looking around, picking out a 'donor', arranging to bump into them, compliment them on their play, whatever, but instead I'm concentrating on the game. I used to play at a place in the fifties, a road house with a bar attached. The balls were coated with rubber, then; Things change. My ball sails down the lane and crashes into the pins, a little too loud. Another 'X' appears on the screen.

We finish out the second frame. As I get up to start the third, Coral is staring at the board: there are too many 'X' marks for her liking. "You should throw a spare. No perfect games, we don't want to attract attention."

The annoyed look that crosses my face is subtle and ephemeral, but she notices. We've known each other a long time.


"I wanted the turkey."

She rolls her eyes. "Fine. But you're leaving at least three pins standing by the end." Coral knows best.

33 Word Bedtime Story: "No Sense Sheltering Them"

Good little girls and boys do their chores when asked, and save their allowance responsibly, so that when the Dragon Of The Mountain comes, they can pay their taxes and not be eaten.

Sprint And Drift

"Guide," Mendez calls out again; there's been no response since the ship rang like a bell, since his ears popped and started to ache, since he was thrown against the bulkhead and knocked senseless.

The wall is cold, smooth metal. He makes his way along it to a door that doesn't open automatically. There is a control pad, but it makes no sound when he touches it.

"Is anyone there?" He listens. Again, there is no response. There is no low rumble from the engines, there is no muted hum from the power grid, there is no faint whine from the air system. "Anyone?"

Mendez resumes moving, passes another door that defies him, and another. He walks faster, the fingertips of his right hand dragging lightly against the wall.

His foot jams in mid-stride against something soft. He is off-balance: he tumbles forward, instinctively brings his arms and elbows up to protect his face and head. He is on the ground.

He sits up, reaches out for what tripped him; he finds a body. He feels for the face, to see if he can identify it, but recoils at wetness before he can recognize the shape. He wipes the blood off on his clothes, shuddering.

He hears a noise, a creaking sound. Someone is trying to open the door from the other side.

Whomever the body used to be, their pistol is still in its holster. He pulls it free, turns it on, releases the safety. He makes himself small against the bulkhead opposite the door. He will have to be very lucky.

The door creaks again, and then hisses. He hears the sound of gears moving against tracks. He readies himself.


It's a familiar voice; he lowers the gun. "I'm here."

"It's Pen. Have you seen… I mean, have you run into anyone else?"

"No. And my guide program isn't responding."

She comes close, helps him up. "The power's off. All I have is a pen light."

He can smell her, her distinctive soap. He also smells fear. "What happened?"

"I don't know." She pauses for a moment; he can hear her breathing. "We should try to get to the bridge. Are you hurt?"

"No, but… who's dead? Over there."

There is a pause. She exhales. "It's Reese. Something cut him up pretty bad."


"I don't know. I… we should get to the bridge. Hold on to my belt."

They move slowly through the ship. Pen stops and starts, moving quietly and then listening. They come to another door, and she begins to crank it open manually.

There is a crash, and he is knocked down. He slides across the deck and into the bulkhead. He hears ripping sounds, horrific sounds of desperate struggle, and then nothing. He lays silent, unmoving, listening.

Something is very close to him, something big and awful-smelling. He hears an odd clicking; he feels hot, wet breath against his face. "I can't see. I can't see you." Mendez reaches out to feel.

Fantasy Drabble #324 "Leuce"

She sat astride a thick bough with her legs dangling in open air. "Come and get me!" She taunted the wolves circling below. "No? Then maybe I'll come down and eat you!"

Suddenly their ears perked, and just as suddenly they fled.

"I can't believe that worked."

"You shouldn't tease them like that. They remember the insult."

She turned to find the origin of the strange male voice, to find… well, dressed like that, he could only be a wizard. She replied, warily, "They're only animals."

"Animals have their dignity." He smiled. "In any case, they won't return. Come down."


"Step forward."

The line was long, as it always was on a work day at that hour. They would be harried and overwhelmed by the sheer number of human workers. They would be more likely to make mistakes. Assuming they made mistakes; no one was sure.

"Step forward." The Vylid had a soft, raspy voice like a dry wind blowing through crumpled paper. The man three people in front of Marla moved hesitantly up to stand at the white line, between the pair of huge Grodon guards.

From behind her, a whisper. "I don't recognize you."

Marla, standing with arms crossed in front of her, said nothing.

The whisper came again. "Are you supposed to be here?"

Marla glanced over her shoulder: a middle-aged woman, too thin. "There's no talking in line."

"Step forward."

The woman moved forward, staying just behind Marla. "Where are you from?"

"You're going to get us punished, we shouldn't be talking."

"They don't care, if you're quiet." The woman leaned in closer. "They'll scan you. They scan everyone. You know that, right?"

Marla ran her thumb over the three symbols on her forearm. The brand felt strange, foreign. "I'm where I'm supposed to be."

"Step forward."

Marla would be next. One of the massive guards stepped heavily away from the table, came lumbering slowly down the line, came right past her.

The woman whispered again when the guard was out of earshot, "It's all right, you can tell them you got on the wrong bus, that you made a mistake."

"Step forward."

Marla didn't hesitate; the die was cast now.

She handed her ID card to the remaining guard, who handed it to the seated Vylid. The willowy creature typed something into its computer, and then nodded to the guard. Marla offered her arm.

The Grodon held a scanner against her forearm where the three symbols were tattooed on a grafted piece of a dead woman's skin. The scanner beeped.

The raspy voice spoke to her. "Move through."

SF Drabble #412 "Fusion Flame"

There wasn't any announcement. There really should have been. You know they knew. All those telescopes and tracking stations. All those people still looking for your grandfather's ICBMs because somebody's still scared enough to pay them to do it. They knew.

Eight new stars, moving slowly across the sky, getting brighter, twinkling, pulsing white-hot, disappearing. Then the smaller shooting stars, darting though the highest clouds, flaring and rising before disappearing.

Then the lines. Long, colored lines, red, green lines that reached out in an instant to touch the horizon. We thought they were pretty until we started seeing the fires.


Mickle slipped the tablet into his mouth, held it on his tongue. The girl with the blue hair and the cleavage and the nursing degree handed him a glass of water, watched him drink, watched him swallow. He opened his mouth so that she could see the tablet was gone. She nodded, took the glass from his hand, stood, and walked out of the room.

"So, no sex then?"

"Not that kind of trip," she called back over her shoulder.

People moved past, in the hall, whispering. Someone laughed, a jarring, guttural sound. He wanted to get up and pull the door closed, but something made him dismiss the idea as too much trouble. He settled back into the pillows, got comfortable.

For some reason he started thinking about his ex, the break-up, how she had left him suddenly, how she'd been so angry, how she wouldn't explain. It occurred to him that it hadn't been all that sudden, if he was going to be honest with himself. He'd been dismissive, and emotionally absent, and though he hadn't cheated, it isn't as though he hadn't considered it. In fact he'd gone right up to the line and poked it with his toes. Of course Jinn had left. He'd been a fool.

His mind wandered. He thought about the last big argument, about that movie she'd liked that hadn't made any sense to him. But he couldn't remember why, it seemed so straightforward now. The whole thing was a metaphor for—


It was the trip. The drug was buffing his cognitives.

He started thinking about all the mysteries in his life, setting them up, knocking them down like paper targets. It just got easier and easier; to hold a problem in his mind was to grasp its solution. He fished his phone out of his pocket, started reading the stock market pages, leaving himself notes. He cancelled his lottery subscription.

Mickle was already on the way down when he started thinking about cancer.


It's tough, being alone. Being a Cape is lonely enough, but after Mandy left the absence of our 'us against the world' thing felt like falling across a fence when you're a kid and having the wind knocked out of you. I couldn't breathe.

I got rid of the apartment and started bunking at HQ. I busied myself with work. After we bagged Panix, Dreamland One sent Rapture and I out after Methis. When we caught him, we were sent right back out after Cetacea. We returned with her safely imprisoned in the pressure-tank and D1 surprised us by adding Headmaster to our team.

We didn't like him. "I'll be the brains of the operation." Sure, buddy. Just don't get in the way. Privately, Rapture made jokes about his head overheating and bursting like a balloon. Publicly, she made it clear that B Team didn't need a 'leader', and she only took orders from D1. I didn't care either way. I missed Mandy.

D1 had us run drills, exercises, whatever. For all her posturing Rapture learned to trust Headmaster's precog skills. Soon we were a well-oiled machine, a 3-pronged deadly weapon.

Headmaster started getting visions that clearly disturbed him. He wouldn't tell us what they were. He told D1, though, so we kept our mouths shut. The operational tempo increased. High-tech equipment hummed in every corner. The lawn outside HQ became a dish farm. A couple of the staff quit to 'spend time with their families'. D1 was red-lined 12 hours a day, running and re-running simulations at 57.39 petaflops per second.

Rapture and I waited to be let in on the secret. We practiced our moves, exercised our powers. I picked up a few more KPH; she worked on setting things on fire from BVR. Nobody told us anything.

My whole body hurt. I got up anyway.

Everything East of the Oberbaumbrücke was a tear in the Earth the size of the Grand Canyon, into which the river Spree poured like a broken faucet. Everything West of the bridge was wreathed in smoke and broken plate glass. I was amazed at how little was on fire. It was eerily quiet.

I walked to the edge of the gouge, looked down. Lying on its side, oozing black goo, was the mind-bogglingly immense corpse of the Mo Ten Rah.

I'd never fought a God before. A Team's plan had spectacularly failed to work. Lead it towards us! had come Headmaster's voice, an icepick in my brain. I remember running up the highway, the enormous horror close behind me, hoping D1 had managed the evacuation in time; I remembering the crashing of its footfalls ceasing; I remember looking back to see it rising into the air, glowing like Rapture glows; I remember wondering where she was getting that kind of power. Then I woke up on the pavement under a blanket of dust and debris and silence.

I walked back West. I found Rapture sitting in the back of an army truck guarded by soldiers, sobbing, blood trickling from her nose and ears. They'd already sent for a Doctor. She wouldn't look at me. The Headmaster was a body and a mess of a neck sitting upright in the passenger seat of a cordoned-off jeep and that was that.

Dreamland helicopters passed overhead; I expected them all to land at the Sportplatz but one circled around at the last minute and set down in the middle of the street.

Mandy got out. Later she told me I looked like one big man-shaped bruise. She kissed me anyway. We'll need a new apartment.

Fantasy Drabble #323 "The Rhythm Of The Heat"

It will boil.

If I concentrate hard enough, if my mind is clear and orderly, if I maintain my focus: I can visualize each individual atom, find the tempo, speed it to make them dance faster. It isn't even that difficult, once you know the trick. It will boil.

It's the last test. I've failed it twice: nerves. I can do it in the study-room, late at night when no one is watching, but in the crowded examination theater…

If I don't make it happen today, Teacher will demonstrate it one last time, with the blood still in my veins.

SF Drabble #411 "Communications Breakdown"

"We can try to talk to it."

"Morris is dead! Do you want to be next?" Hirota furiously stabbed at the  controls until the airlock began to cycle.

"It could have been a misunderstanding. Morris pointed something at it—"

"A camera!"

"How would an alien know that?"

Hirota turned, grabbed the quick-connect ring of Anderson's spacesuit. "Listen, if you want to stay and chat, be my guest. But I'm leaving." And with that, he was through the airlock and gone.

Anderson let the lock close and re-pressurize. It wouldn't understand the words, but surely it would know he was trying?


The Speaker, née Raymond Cosfort Wendt.

I get it. You come to the big city riding a wave of popular support. You're grassroots. You have big hopes, big dreams, you want to help. You're the maverick, the upstart, you've got a mind to stir things up. And then it's patiently explained to you that there's a way things work, and one hand washes the other, and it's not your time yet, and you'll go far if you remember who your friends are in this town. And then it's explained to you somewhat less patiently. And by the time you realize that the only way to get enough power to fight the inherent corruption is to corrupt yourself, you're exhausted and bitter and angry and out of options.

I've read the Project Dreamland file. He's one of the ones we know everything about. We still can't catch him; he's wicked smart, and slippery. We're pretty sure he killed the old Mayor, and two Councilmen, and a Deputy Chief of Police. None of whom were choirboys, believe me. I just would have liked to see them in jail rather than smeared all over the sidewalk outside the Exchange or tied to the bottom of the Uptown Ferry or burned to a crisp hanging from the Old Post Office. There's a right way to do it and a wrong way.

Of course, to him, that makes me sound just as bad as them. Like I said: I get it.

I asked him, once. We were staring at each other across the rooftop of one of the big banks downtown. The whole place was rigged with explosives; he had the detonator in his hand. I yelled, "Where does it stop? Jaywalking? Rudeness on the subway?"

"I'm not a monster, Fleet!" He was offended by the question. He took two steps closer, thumb clearly on the dead-man switch of the detonator. "You should be helping me!"

"I'm not judge, jury, and executioner. I don't want that kind of power."

"That's cowardice. Moral cowardice. You let evil happen so you don't have to take responsibility."

"You threw a car at me. With people in it. Remember that? Isn't that evil?"

"I knew you'd catch it. You knew you'd catch it. They were safer flying through the air in that car than they'd ever been in their lives." He laughed. "It's a dance."

"The music's going to stop someday. You know it is, Raymond."

The Speaker just smiled. I could hear the helicopter coming closer. I knew he wouldn't set off the bomb unless I made a move. Now that I was here, now that the cops were here, the good cops, the clean cops, he'd slip away having made his point. The D.A. would investigate the bank, and of course they'd find something.

I watched the helicopter go, the Speaker standing on one of the skids.

I want to catch him, try him, put him in jail. Maybe only to prove to him that it works.

SF Drabble #410 "Gone In Sixty Seconds"

"What the hell!" Yung's voice sounded over the helmet radio.

"What is it?"

"I was taking a sample of that pond of green goo in grid eighty-two and it grabbed me."

"What grabbed you? What do—"

"The pond. It grabbed me. It's a pseudopod of… I don't know, like, green molasses in a balloon. I'm trying to cut it away with the digger but I can't seem to pierce the…"

"…Yung? What's happening? We're on our way."

"Okay. Hurry. It's pulling me towards it now, it has me by both legs."

"We're coming."

"I don't think it's a pond, guys."

Zombie Drabble #409 "Survival Skills"

Her father had taken her when she was sixteen to the tire shop. He showed her off; they filled his bucket with used wheel weights.

He'd taught her how to melt them down, how to use wax to 'flux' the molten lead, how to pour it into the form. How to 'quench' the molded bullet without getting splashed. How to use the handloading press. It became second nature.

She blew on the finished round, loaded it into the pistol, walked to the apartment door, opened it. She picked a zombie down the hall, fired, and swiftly closed the door again.

Five New Looks For Spring

They move. They have eyes that dart back and forth and blink and squint. They have mouths. They talk. They even eat. And they're outside. Outside. Can you imagine?

Sometimes their clothing is old. Sometimes they're sick. Last week one of them collapsed to the ground right there, and there was a great commotion, and an ambulance came and took the collapsed one away. Maybe that one even died. Maybe they all do, eventually.

What sort of existence could that possibly be? How could they possibly manage? It's not even worth thinking about.

They're not real. It's only common sense.

SF Drabble #409 "Auxon"


**Notification**: first boot flag detected: running first boot program.

Self-diagnosis in progress: … …  no faults found. Detaching from parent unit. First boot program complete. Running mining program.

[[: Scanning immediate surroundings: … … raw materials located.

Consuming raw materials: … consumption of raw materials complete. Extracting, analyzing, and filtering mineral content. Transferring trace fissionables to power system. Dumping unusable silicates.

Transferring metals to pressure micro-furnace in programmed ratios. Dumping unusable trace impurities. /Repeat :]]

**Notification**: replication material resources quota met. Running replication program.

Self-copy in progress: … … … self-copy complete. Operating system copy complete.

**Notification** : Progeny unit requests detachment. Releasing progeny unit. Replication program complete.

/Repeat :]]

Fantasy Drabble #322 "Couldn't Drag Me Away"

She sleeps a magical slumber meant to profit a rival. She had never been one for caution, and one so beautiful would have enemies regardless. I shouldn't have killed the sorcerer: had he lived, perhaps in the fullness of time he could have been convinced to reverse the spell. Or bribed to do it, for that matter.

So here in her bedroom threshold I stand, like a statue, to guard her. I don't know when she'll wake, or if. But I made a promise to her, long ago, and the life of a knight must be cheaper than his word.

The Sentinel

The sorcerer had no difficulty gaining access to the long-abandoned Keep. He climbed the long stone stairway, made his way inside, found a dusty table in the Lord High Constable's room, and laid out his books. No one had been brave enough to accompany him.

An eerie voice sounded behind him. "You wish to read to me, warlock?"

The sorcerer turned, regarded the spectral figure of a knight in plate armor leaning on a greatsword as if it were a cane. "If you like."

"I'd wager you have stories to rival my own. Perhaps you even fought some of the same battles?"

The sorcerer chuckled, "I'm not that old, Carisbrooke."

"You know me?" The ghost cocked his head to one side.

"The whole of the valley knows you." The sorcerer said respectfully. "They warned me of the danger."

"To them I am the ghost in the castle. You name me."

"I've done my research. I wasn't sure until I saw your crest, there on the hilt of your sword. I thought you might be Baron Fellenmaine or even Old Shmorid the Wilting."

"Fellenmaine fled before the battle. I don't know what became of him. Hopefully great ill. Shmorid died outside in the bailey, honorably. Presumably he went to his rest."

"Yet you did not."

"My oath to the King binds me even after death, or so it would seem. I have no cause for complaint."

"So here you are. John of Carisbrooke, John the Red, right hand of the last of the Old Macklish Kings, Ælbrad—"


"My apologies. You fell defending the Keep and your King from the invading Vedek army. At some point later you reappeared as an apparition, and the Vedek fled. Since then you have driven any and all invaders from the Keep."

"I can do little things. Knock over a flagon here, blow out a candle there. And of course the ghostly visage you see before you now. It's usually enough."

"…For seven hundred years."

"Has it been? And on what invader's behalf do you propose to end my hauntings?"

"There are no invaders, Sir John. Only me."

The ghost shimmered with laughter. "Very well, recite your incantations. Expel me, evict me, exorcise me. Do your worst. Others have tried, but perhaps they were not as powerful as you. I'm fascinated to see if it finally works."

"The books aren't spellcraft, Sir John, they're history books. They're for you."

"What need have I for—"

"To read. The history of the valley, seven hundred years' worth, starting with Ælbard's death. The wars are over, Sir John. The valley is well-ruled from a capitol far down the coast, two hundred seventy years now. Read. I'll turn pages for you if it's too much effort."

The specter seemed incredulous. "You would teach me history?"

"The towns of the valley want to repair the Keep, use it as a museum. It would be good for tourism, put gold in their pockets. You're all that stands in the way. Read."

SF Drabble #408 "Where Eagles Dare"

Haruto let the reins go slack, and the bikubado lowered its immense head and dove. Far below, the invaders began to scatter: they had never been this far North before, never been this close to the mountains, never been attacked from above.

His mount picked its target and, with wings pressed hard against its own body, plummeted ever faster in the heavy gravity as if to drive itself into the ground. Some Ningen couldn't take it: they'd panic, pull back on the reins, and the bird would flare its enormous wings and abort.

Not Haruto. This is the fun part.

Glass Half Empty

Mays stared up at a tiny dot of reflected light moving across the night sky far overhead, before losing it against the face of the looming gas giant. "It's funny, you know?"

"I do not see how."

"Oh, come on."

"The ship is back in orbit without us. ELLE can no more pilot the ship back down to retrieve us than it—"


"—could have overrode the automatic emergency takeoff triggered by the quake. We have limited oxygen in our tanks and will soon suffocate, assuming another quake does not first cause us to be swallowed or crushed by shifting rock."

"You're a real downer, Rebbo."

Rebbo looked down at him, an alien face wearing an alien expression that nevertheless somehow showed disapproval. "We are about to die on an unnamed moon. Forgive me my poor companionship."

"ELLE can call for help. She will call for help, because it's standard company procedure. Someone will come."

"You assume someone is within range to receive an emergency signal; that they both can and will respond; and further, are capable of reaching us on the surface before our tanks are empty."

"I have faith."

"You have two hours, fifteen minutes, twenty-eight seconds of breathable air."

"And faith."

"As you like." Rebbo turned and walked off.

Rebbo was ten feet tall, and his legs (and arms) were longer, relative to his height, than a human's. Between footfalls he sailed through the air in a way that seemed graceful, effortless. He had adapted to the moon's low gravity quickly.

He's been in space a lot longer than I have. "Where are you going?"

"We are conversing via suit radio, it is not necessary to raise your voice to be heard simply because I am further—"

"Sorry. Where?"

"I left behind the drill and its power pack, and several core samples, when I fled for the ship during the quake. I should retrieve them."

"If no one's going to rescue us, why bother?"

"If you are correct, and our chance of rescue is nonzero, I should retrieve them now so that doing so later does not further delay us."

"Okay. But by moving around and carrying heavy objects you're just using up your O faster."

"A few minutes, perhaps. But if I am to die here I would rather not die in the midst of unnecessary disorder."

After a moment, Mays asked, "Do you need help?"

"I am already returning." Rebbo came back into view a moment later, drill slung across his back, toolbox in one hand and sample case in the other.

"Anything damaged?"

"Not that I can tell from visual inspection alone. We should test the drill."

"It can wait. Sit down, rest a minute."


"Oh, just enjoy the view." Mays gestured at the gas giant above them. "Look at that thing. Why do you suppose it's pink?"

"It is not uniformly 'pink'. And I am not a planetologist."

Mays could hear the impatience in his voice. "Seriously, you're no fun at all."

SF Drabble #407 "Analysis"

"So," he said, wreathed in smoke, "I am told you think you are a time traveler, yes?"

"That's right."

"From the future?"

"The future, yes." I affected an expression of discomfort. "Do you think you could have the orderlies loosen these straps a bit? I'm starting to ache."

"I am afraid not." I didn't expect that to work: I've already tried to escape twice, and the last time I punched a nurse. Male, but, still.

"All right." My discomfort may not be physical, but it's real. The Device won't wait. The timer will send it back with or without me.

Fantasy Drabble #321 "The Tourist"

Charleston rattles up out of the grave on a cool summer night, curious to see how changed is the world. He grasps at cool clumps of grass with slender phalanges, he pulls himself up to his patellas, he stands to wobble on his calcinea.

The neighborhood is different: dirtier, shabbier. A car lies at the curb stripped to its frame; Charleston knows the feeling.

He rings doorbells, knocks on doors, but there is no answer. There's no one left here who wants to know him. He turns and clatters back to his headstone. He has no skin in the game.

They Call Me Fleet

Panix escaped from Ultramax again, and D1 sent us after her, also again. B Team gets all the tough assignments while A Team gets the parades. Maybe if there were five of us we'd make it look easy, too.

I had to stand up Mandy, who was already seated at the restaurant waiting for me. We're trying the whole 'let's go back to dating' thing. We'll see if it works. At least this time I called; I think she took that as a step in the right direction.

Panix and I have history. She's the one who gave me my Cape name in the first place. My, but you're fleet of foot, aren't you? Well, it won't save you! She'd regretted those words later, in solitary confinement.

Rapture took to the air immediately. The Central Bank has a roof with a helicopter pad, and she figured to strike from above while I launched the frontal assault.

The good thing about Panix: she doesn't have lackeys. She doesn't use robots or mutated animals or escaped mental patients. She's arrogant enough to think she can knock over a bank alone. The bad thing about Panix is, it's possible on any given day that she might be right.

I walked up to the front door, peered through the glass. Panix was standing in the middle of the ornate marble lobby with something that looked like a net-gun. I grokked her plan: tie me down, literally, while she deals with Rapture.

Rapture, who was floating down the unobstructed center of some nearby stairwell, due to arrive momentarily.

It's not a bad plan. What she didn't know was: I've gotten faster in the two years since we last met. I was through the door and halfway across the lobby at her before she even realized I was inside. By the time she got the gun up and trained, I was behind her, tapping her on the shoulder.

Panix doesn't understand. Rapture takes to the air; I can fly.

Fantasy Drabble #320 "Traditionalist"

I like 'em in a nightie. One of those white gossamer numbers, frilly, not too long or too short. Sometimes they wear men's pajamas or a long t-shirt, and it's just not the same. It's not like I'm asking for a candelabra or anything; I've changed with the times. But the long nightie that flutters when I kick up an unnerving cold draft, that becomes just a little transparent when the full moon is behind it… there's just nothing like it.

Mind you, if they're in the altogether when I scare 'em right out of their beds, I won't complain.

Zombie Drabble #408 "Climb"

"We can't stay up here forever."

The horde clamored beneath them, surrounding the building, the fire truck, filling the parking lot, the street.

"Maybe they'll go away. The wind'll change, they'll smell something—"

"There's too many. Some of them will, maybe. Not enough."

"So what do we do? We'll starve. We'll die of dehydration or exposure or something."

"Someone will come. The cops, the army—"

"Half of those zombies are army. No one's coming."

They sat silent for a long time, holding hands.

"Still. Nice view. I always wanted to climb up here when I was a kid."

"Me too."