SF Drabble 451 "Like Cobwebs"


"Arno Vets, come forward." The crumpled old man shuffled up to the line, stopped, clasped trembling hands behind his back. "Arno Vets, you have been judged medically unfit for work. You are reassigned to Barrack Housing 185-A. Dismissed."

We didn't watch him go; we were listening for our own names.


"Capi Macklore, come forward." A well-dressed woman moved to the line and smiled casually. "Capi Macklore, your debt has been paid by an anonymous Citizen and the fine waived. No further action. Dismissed." There was grumbling as she left.


"Wace Halvaneer, come forward."

Me. Here we go.

SF Drabble #450 "Est Pour Les Amants"

"Oh, look at them, Caro." She was beside herself with excitement. "The hair, the clothes. And the machines…"

"Automobiles." He had her around the shoulder, as much to keep track of her in the crowd as it was in affection.

Paris swept past them and bustled around them and brushed against the cheek and eye and nose: Paris between the wars, Pars of glamour and sex and miracles.

"Thank you for my wedding present."

Three thousand years back, for a week they'd never forget. He leaned in for a kiss, a long, passionate, Parisian kiss. "Thank you for marrying me."

SF Drabble #449 "Glimmer"

"You're in there somewhere, sleeping, maybe trapped, maybe just waiting for that spark to return, that anima," Walcott said, tapping lightly on the 'head' casing with a dirty fingertip. The robot never answered, no matter how many leads he replaced or contacts he cleaned or parts he replaced.

"You worked once, I know you did: I've read your logfile," he observed, sighing, and sat back in his chair. The unit had been a loader at Quito, then lifted to the Moon and then Europa, nearly a hundred years of labor all across the system before eventually failing.

"Where'd you go?"

Fantasy Drabble #367 "Recipe"

"Then what?"

She continued stirring, but called out over her shoulder: "Crow's eye. Three."

"Crow's eye… crow's eye…" There were shelves upon shelves of bottle after bottle, and no categorization system that I could recognize. "I don't see it. What do they look like?"

"Seen a crow?"


"Did it have eyes?"

"…I guess."

"Like that then. Crow's eye. And be quick, we're almost to a boil here."

Still nothing. "Are you sure you need them?"

She stopped stirring, turned around. "Do you want this Roscover fellow dead," she hissed, jabbing a gnarled finger in my direction, "or don't you?"

SF Drabble #448 "Bedside Manner"


"Listen, I know you're nervous, I know you've heard any number of horror stories from friends and family and the internet, but believe me when I tell you: there's really nothing to worry about. I've done hundreds of these comprehensive Upgrade procedures and I haven't had a 'crash' yet, not a fatal one."

Once it was in his body and brain would be dependent on it, and if his body rejected it, he would cease to exist. But he could feel the anesthetic in his system, pouring over his skin like a warm bath, washing away all his doubts.


I told her I was only there for a week, visiting aunts and uncles and cousins; she told me she was couch-surfing on a year off from art school. "Mental health reasons," she'd said, and I'd wondered how seriously she'd meant it.

She knew all the good places to eat, all the nondescript apartment buildings where parties were sure to occur, all the romantic spots to stand and hold hands; I had specie in my pocket and didn't hit her, unlike her ex.

I wonder if that week was anywhere near as important to her as it was to me.

SF Drabble #447 "Broadhead"

Are we awake? Good. Awake being a relative term, of course. Better to say aware. Are we again aware? And yes we are, wonderful.

Just now you are seeing nothing. You hear nothing; feel, smell nothing. As an Upload, your existence is a thing of your own creation, and you have yet created nothing. It can be a biblical heaven, it can be a sybarite's playground, it can even be a simulacrum of your previous existence if you like. It's for you to decide.

For now, play. Your tool is your mind. Learn how to make by making. Decide later.

Fantasy Drabble #366 "Don't Make Me Pull This Car Over"

While the more cowardly townspeople ran in terrified circles, the bravest planted their feet, aimed their bows, and loosed arrows upward at a furious rate. Most fell short, but a few came close enough to hear the whizz, and one or two bounced off Midz-Aset's scaly underbelly. After a while he grew bored, and flew off in the direction of home.

"I don't see why you bother terrorizing them if you're not going to bother eating anyone," Winnis the Oreiad wondered aloud, as the dragon landed on the mountainside by the cavern-mouth entrance to his lair.

"Because it annoys them."

Zombie Drabble #425 "Infected"

He'd had the fever for a couple days, then nausea. Now the ugly red and purple rash was spreading across his back and his stomach, and deepening to black, and Doctor Raul's service wasn't picking up. "Right, I'm taking you to the hospital."

He was too weak to argue. She put her shoulder under his armpit and walked him to the car. When they hit the first police roadblock, she diverted to side streets; at the second, she rolled down the window and waved over an officer. "What's going on?"

"Is he sick?" The cop asked, hand on his gun.

Fantasy Drabble #365 "After The Fall"

"If we'd won, there'd be green trees and grass and flowers of every color. And it'd be warm."

But you didn't win, Aila didn't retort. Instead, the White Warlock had killed the King and his Heirs, taken the castle, and remade the land to his liking for leagues in every direction. "I know, Mother."

"But don't you worry," the woman continued. "The Prophecy will still come true. A hero will rise up and defeat her. It just wasn't time yet, and Gwarn wasn't the right hero."

"I'm sure you're right, Mother." The snow was up to her knees. Fat chance.


"Ordinarily we'd call it in, then open up the cell and take the body straight to the infirmary. But we haven't touched the body. We haven't even opened the cell," the guard said, as if his sensibilities were offended that proper procedure hadn't been followed. "Orders."

"Orders from who?"

The guard shrugged. "Warden doesn't tell us everything." His partner nodded, knowingly.

Last time I was at Sanctuary Island Penitentiary it was besieged by Project Dreamland's erstwhile rivals, the group we called 'the Romans'; since the battle, it had been repaired and reinforced, the staff redoubled and retrained. The new Warden had 86 days without an incident.

Yet here was Methis, lying cold and dead in a locked cell. His face was a hardened mask of surprise; there wasn't an obvious wound, but there was a trickle of blood below one nostril.

"Security camera?"

"One here in the corridor looking in, one built into the ceiling of the cell looking down. Both stopped working at the same time. Cameras go out, we walk down and eyeball them right away. That way knocking out a camera brings a guard instead of keeping one away. We got here, found this."

The odds of two camera failures and a death by natural causes all occurring simultaneously were too remote to consider. Interfering with electronics, shielded electronics, that could be any one of a dozen gadget guys, some of whom were inside this building in cells of their own. "Go check Game Player, Hargrove Mud, Panix, and Micro. Make sure they're in their cells. And Tic-Tac, while you're at it."

There was another, more uncomfortable possibility: a vigilante Cape, someone with some innate electrical power, someone we weren't familiar with yet. I continued, absent-mindedly, under my breath, "All bets are off."


"Go on."

"Sir." The first guard ran down the hall.

He thinks I'm in charge. Orders? Why did D1 send me to look into this, anyway? "I need to know how he died."

The second guard began, "I'll have him taken to the infirmary right a—"

"No, leave him for now. We'll send our techs with a van." I took out my phone. The guard was hesitant. "We have a better lab."

"You're the boss."

McLeary had been a cop for a long time. "No physical evidence to speak of at the scene. Nothing under his fingernails that didn't belong there, no sign of a struggle, no forced entry. The cell door logs every time it opens, and for how long, and it hadn't been open since breakfast, and our boy was fine then."

"Who'd want to kill Methis?"

McLeary was clearly thinking, 'who wouldn't?', but what he said was, "No idea. All the other inmates are accounted for and safe. We'll look into victims, victims' family members, next of kin. Maybe someone with a grudge just developed powers." He looked like he had a bad taste in his mouth. "But this doesn't feel like some newbie lashing out. This feels pro."

You always know Mandy's coming: it's the heels clacking on the marble floors of Dreamland Headquarters. I feel like she wears them for the attention it brings, and I'm not complaining. We suspended our conversation to wait to see what she'd say. She didn't disappoint us. "It was his brain."


"No. It's missing. Like it was scooped out with a melon-baller. Only less traumatic. More like, poof, no brain. Not even residue."

"You haven't seen anything? No visions?"

"Nothing. And D1 doesn't have a predictive scenario that explains it either."

The self-aware supercomputer at the heart of Project Dreamland is capable of some frighteningly accurate predictions, but the mutations that result in Capes are inherently unpredictable. We're D1's blind spot, at least until we act. Once we do, he can start folding us in as data, writing algorithms that account for us. Until then, an emergent Cape is a land mine waiting to be stepped on.

"Teleportation?" McLeary wondered.

"Maybe." I shuddered. "It'd have to be super-accurate. And at a distance, too." They were still reviewing all the security camera footage, but so far there wasn't even a hint of anyone unauthorized having been on Sanctuary Island within the necessary timeframe.

"Or they were invisible—"

"If you're invisible, why knock out the cameras?"

"If you're doing it all remotely, why knock out the cameras?" Mandy retorted.

McLeary cleared his throat. "So we'd know immediately. To bring the guards. So someone would see that he was dead right away."

"'Here's what I can do. You're not safe'. Something like that. It's a calling card."

"Pretty much. Sanctuary Pen is three kilometers from the nearest building on the mainland, and two kilometers of that is open water. Our melon-baller could have been anywhere outside that radius, doing his thing across the bay. If he can do that, he can kill anyone, rob any bank, lift any hard drive. He can steal warheads from silos." McLeary would have sounded amused to a stranger, but I knew him well enough to hear the hint of panicked mania in his voice. "There's no such thing as a locked room to this guy."

"Don't sweat it."

"Don't sweat it?!"

"We beat a god. An actual god. Remember that? This guy, whoever he is—"

"Or she," Mandy pointed out.

"—Or she, we'll find her. Or him. Whichever. You'll see, it's—"

I've told you before: the ability to run as fast as I do of necessity carries with it superhuman reflexes. Or maybe it was just my good luck that they came together so I didn't end up splattered across the side of a building somewhere. When McLeary's face froze, and he began to drop like a ragdoll towards the floor, I was behind him and holding him up before Mandy could begin the blood-curdling scream that followed.

Doctor Chowdhury did the autopsy personally. Mandy didn't watch this time, though we all waited outside. Roland McLeary's brain was gone, just like Methis'.

I'm motherfucking coming for you, melon-baller.


The lights are on in the convenience store, unlike in the parking lot, but there's no clerk. Marcie drags the stranger inside, lays him on a big welcome mat while Parker locks the doors and pushes the magazine display over to block them.

"He's bleeding bad."

"I'm gonna see if there's another door," Parker says, and runs towards the back.

She doesn't have to tear open the stranger's shirt: it's already in tatters. Four parallel gouges go from just below his Adam's apple down to his hip. She can see bone. "Parker…"

The lights in the store go out.


Epilogue (from 'Project Dreamland')

There's this dream I have.

I'm running: like, super-powered running. Running so fast that the air is stacking up in front of me and superheating, so I'm leaving a trail of plasma as I go. It's a thing that happens. You've seen a space shuttle re-enter? Like that.

I'm running because I've got to save Mandy. I don't know from who or what, but I know I've got to get where she is or she dies. But no matter how fast I run, I don't get any closer to where she is. The guardrails and the dotted lines and the streetlights are a blur around me; the bridges are an irregular heartbeat overhead. At some point I realize I don't even really know where she is, so maybe I'm running in the wrong direction entirely.

This is usually about the time I wake up, with sweat steaming off of me like I was boiling, with Mandy standing by the bed having jumped out to avoid the kicking. "You should really talk to somebody about that," she said this last time, before climbing back in and putting her arms around me.

So I went to see Dreamland One; I figured a sapient computer with access to the sum of all human knowledge could probably give me a good read. I described the dream in detail. "What does it mean?"

"She's going to die someday, and you know it, and you know being a Cape isn't going to make any difference," D1 said without hesitation.

"Gee, thanks."

"Fleet, the truth is that no matter how hard we work, all the lives we save will end eventually, including our own. We are fighting for time, to keep innocent people from being robbed of it by those who have our power but lack our virtue."

Walking back to our headquarters apartment, I realize: of course, D1 is right. There've been Capes before us who are dead, some even of natural causes. Only a few Capes are long-lived as part of their mutation. And of course their families, their friends, their support teams, they all lived and died as any normal person would. Mandy will die. So will Junior. And Portland, and McLeary, and even probably Rapture.

But I refuse to believe Dreamland One will die. Never happen, and not just because it's a computer.

D1 is, for all intents and purposes, a god. It sees all, it knows all. It acts indirectly —through us, through the Capes and our support staff — but that's always been enough. I have no doubt that if D1 felt it needed to act directly, it would figure out a way to. It probably wouldn't even take it long.

Maybe it already has. Maybe it's all programmed and built and waiting in some hidden bunker to be activated in a last-option sort of situation. There are people who'd probably be worried by that idea, who'd picture some Terminator-style apocalypse with D1 playing the Skynet role, but not me.

If there's going to be a 'man behind the curtain' — and there almost certainly is going to be, no matter what any of us do, technology being what it is — D1 has my vote.

"What'd he say?" Mandy is studying data, looking for trends. It's homework from the boss.


"Pssh. I could have told you that." She gets up, stands close, kisses me. She smells like candle wax and baby powder. "We should go on vacation. We haven't done that in a while. Just for a few days. Leave Junior with Portland?"

Live life while we've got some. "Pack. I'll buy tickets."

SF Drabble #446 "Superpod"

They stood at the very edge of the aerie — Perry and Jorge a few steps back, Hraff with claws dug into the lip — their eyes turned upward, outward; the sky was a roiling cloud of Fri.

"How many are here?"

Hraff rumbled, "All clans. Most from each clan. Some stay behind."

Like Hraff, apparently. "Why?"

"Find mates. Socialize, play games. Negotiate."

"Dolphins do the same thing," Jorge said.

"Dolphins?" Hraff asked.

"Earth swimmers."

Hraff leaned as far out as he could, perfectly balanced between rock and sky. "Are they beautiful?"

Remembering another world, a smile grew across Perry's face. "Absolutely."

Estate Sale

She stepped barefoot through the doorway and onto the porch and into the snap of the morning air, down from the porch and onto the scratchy concrete sidewalk, off the sidewalk and onto the cold, wet grass.

Somewhere behind her, he was opening drawers and lifting up stacks of unopened mail. "Do you have the keys? Where'd she keep the keys?"

"Don't know." There was grass poking up from between her toes. She bent down to run her open palm across the tips of a once familiar lawn gone too long uncut; she laid down and let it envelop her.

Frame Of Reference

"Which one's Grandpa?" A picture in a frame, grainy and sun-faded and black-and-white, covered by a small square of thin glass.

"On the left." From the kitchen, over the sound of glasses and plates and running water. "He's the one shooting."

It did look like him, except younger, lighter. There was of course no wheeze, no faint odor of alcohol and medicine, and no chair: none of the things she had associated with him when she was little and he was alive.

"Why are the trees just sticks?"


The word meant nothing to her. "Can I keep it?"


Fantasy Drabble #364 "Last Option"

I wonder how many have walked into this forested darkness before me, weapon in hand, in the hopes of winning the bounty? It has to be dozens during the reign of King Mor alone. How many walked in under his father, his grandfather? Under the Wittlemites? Under the Rogol yoke or the ancient Borgingdians?

Have any ever walked out? The edge of the path is littered with broken bone.

I have nothing to lose: with no war, there is no pay, and the stomach does not pause for peacetime. Either I will prevail and eat, or I will be eaten.



"It's been six months." Frank pulled the sheets up to his chest; the girl was entirely hidden.

"What does that matter?" Alice was still in the bedroom doorway, still in her coat, still holding canvas grocery bags in either hand. "Who is that under there, Cassie? That girl from the Starbucks? Tell me it's not your secretary."

"Do you actually care?"

She didn't answer. She sighed, and went into the living room. She put the bags down. She lit a cigarette. Eventually Frank came out wearing only jeans, and she answered. "I suppose I don't."

He sat down, took a cigarette from her pack, but didn't light it. "Go to the bathroom, would you?"


"So she can leave."

"Seriously, who is it? I'm just curious."

"Not my secretary. Bill Warrick's secretary." He put the cigarette in his mouth, took it back out almost immediately, twirled it absent-mindedly between two fingers. "It's only… maybe three times over the past couple months. It's new."


"Seriously. It isn't one of those things where—"

"It doesn't matter."

He shrugged. "Okay. Bathroom?"

"I'm going to Ashley's overnight." Alice got up, stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray. "It'll give you time to pack."

Best Week Ever

He is awakened by the noise of drawers opening and silverware rattling and coffee percolating. He rolls over, reaches out, finds only an absence beside him. He sits up, wraps the sheet around him, goes out into the living-room.

She is dancing and arranging breakfast on the floor with one hand; she is wearing only socks and earbuds and holding her phone in the other hand. She sees him and smiles, pauses her music. "Hungry?"

"What time is it?"

She steps close, looks up at him. "Time to eat. Then more sex. Then maybe after, you tell me your name?"

Five Sentence Fiction: "Til Death Do Us Part"

He has donned the priestly robes, he has recited the mysterious words, he has taken the sacred cup to his mouth and has drunk deep. It never occurs to him to refuse: she is his beloved, and a God.

She appears as she has before, bone-white and desert-dry, terrible and beautiful. His head swims when she approaches, as she takes his face between her hands, as her cracked lips meet his own.

When she pulls back, when she speaks, he hears it as a warm, soothing voice in his mind: "I accept your love, and the gift of your life."

SF Drabble #445 "Natural Defense Mechanism"

"There's more over there."

In the suit, it was an effort to turn, to look at Hargrove to see which way she was pointing, and then to turn further to look that way. He saw a small clump of native black-leaf brush struggling to grow amid the ever-spreading green Earth-life. "Good eye. Shall I burn it?" They both had cans of the chemical spray, but only he wore the flamer backpack.

"There's not much there, and the grass is dry." She was already waddling towards the brush.

"Don't get too close to the leaves..."

"Hasn't gotten through a suit yet."

Fantasy Drabble #363 "For The Man Who Has Everything"

The sorcerer stared into the open caravan, eyes darting from hook to hook, drawer to drawer, basket to basket. Part of him wanted everything, but he had learned self-control over the many years. "I'm not really a potions-and-charms sort."

"Perhaps a staff?" The merchant pulled out a gnarled shock of oak-wood capped with a bulb of dragon-bone. "Pepier the Elder made this. It's a blank, of course—"

"A Pepier blank after all this time? I'll be able to tell if it's a fake…"

"I stand by my wares, my Lord."

The sorcerer's grin deepened, spread. "I'll fill it with fire."

Mommy Dearest

She walked up to the grave slowly, knees trembling, footfalls unsure on ground that seemed ready to spin away under her. There was no one around: the church was fallen into disrepair, the graveyard disused, overgrown, forgotten.

"It's been a long time." There were no flowers to lay down; her hands stayed in her pockets. "Fifty years? Sixty?"

Swirling leaves were a halo of yellow and orange and red around her, slipping past her as she stood, pinning against the tree, wedging against the headstone. She didn't bend down to clear them away.

"Maybe you've forgotten. But I never will."

Zombie Drabble #424 "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do"

"How've you been?"

She stood awkwardly amid the ruined department store, feeling the weight of the backpack and duct-tape armor and axe. Eventually she managed, "Good."

He stared at his feet. "I should probably apologize."

"You didn't call."

"Yeah." He shrugged. "I don't have a good excuse. I just… I guess I wasn't really feeling it anymore. You know how it is. But anyway, I'm sorry. I should have called."

"Probably doesn't really matter now."

"Yeah." He perked up. "Hey, we have a shelter nearby. Food, weapons. Not many women; you'd be welcome…"

She shrugged, avoided eye contact. "Thanks, but…"

Five Sentence Fiction: "Falling"

Step off, eyes closed, arms outstretched, heels together. Feel the world reach up with her insistent grip to pull me closer, feel the air compress against my face as it resists my passage, feel something in my throat and shoulders and stomach begin to change.

Tell me something: if you could fly, if you just knew it, what would you do that very first time, with no one watching? Would you launch yourself from a tall building or tower, or would you find a low stone wall and risk only a turned ankle?

I've never been one for half measures.

Fantasy Drabble #362 "The Return Of Muckle John"

His Majesty is still fat, I see. Perhaps he has been eating his enemies? I would have thought chasing them across the battlefields would have relieved the Royal frame of some of its burden. Perhaps His Majesty commands his Dukes to chase them in his stead, so that they may be brought to him to be devoured at the Royal leisure?

And how fares Her Majesty the Queen? Does she yet live? Has she been crushed in an attempt to produce a son and heir? She must live in as constant fear of a Royal collapse as the Throne itself.

Fantasy Drabble #361 "The Carol Show"

It doesn't happen often. I wonder how many times before I noticed, you know? Brushing my teeth, my hair, doing makeup, I tune it out, the infinite Carols. They're all doing the same thing as me; I can ignore them, right?

Except sometimes, one of the Carols isn't doing the same thing. Usually it's the third or fourth one. It's hard to catch if you don't know what to look for. A little bit of lag, like, 'mirror latency'. Subtle.

But then she won't look me in the eye, like she's ashamed that I caught her slacking off at work.

Five Sentence Fiction: "Land Ho!"

The Captain followed the outstretched hand, raised the spyglass to his eyes, focused in on the narrow strip of hazy brown emerging between sea and sky, and said with palpable relief in his voice, "Finally."

"You won't be a Captain anymore, once we make landfall. They'll break up the ship for shelter and firewood," observed Father Ordry.

"No one will be happier than I, Father, that I may lay down the burden of these long months," the Captain said, spyglass trembling in his hand. "No one."

SF Drabble #444 "How To Make War"

I set up the slingshot maneuver before I'd even seen him, to use the planet's gravity well to change my course and pick up speed out towards 82 G Eridani, and there he was, only a few ∆V from my current escape orbit. It's just good luck.

I adjusted my track, I released a ball-bearing packet, I adjusted again, and I cloaked.

He'll never see me. I'll be a barely perceptible shimmer below him, skimming fast just above the atmosphere, when the cloud of ball bearings hit him like a close-range shotgun blast. I almost feel bad for him. Almost.


It's hot, dry land. To get anything to grow here, you've got to water it in blood and sweat, ain't nothing living coming up by virtue of just the rain. The sweat's easy, with the fat sun overhead. It's the blood that's hard to come by.

Used to be a highway come through just on the other side of the butte, but the government widened it, straightened it, moved it far to the East. Don't know if missing persons reports had any bearing on the decision. Now we've got to travel hours just to find people to take, to bleed.

SF Drabble #443 "That's Nice, Dear, But It's Not A Planet"

"You need to take a shower."

"Listen," Carl began, and then shook his head as if he'd thought better of continuing.


"I'm planning my burn, Reese. We get one shot at this." He added, calmly, "Let's just get this thing on the ground, okay?"

"I'm just saying, I don't spend a lot of time next to you in the cockpit, but—"

"Reese, I was married, did you know that? She was gorgeous. Cheerleader in High School, the whole thing. But she nitpicked the hell out of me, so here I am."

"Wait, you came to Pluto to avoid nagging?"

SF Drabble #442 "Travel Buddies"

He strapped into the seat as it adjusted its shape to better accommodate him. In the end it felt almost womblike in its comfort. Next to him: a seat taking a completely different shape to accommodate an alien. "Do you know how long it takes to get up to the liner?"

"Fifty skith. Maybe… one-twentieth of your day?"

"Oh, all right. That's not bad."

"You have an interesting odor."

"Sorry. Big spaceport, I had to run for the gate." He would have shrugged, but his shoulders wouldn't move. "Couldn't miss the flight."

"For only fifty skith, I can tolerate it."

Five Sentence Fiction: "Eater"

"I have a family," he says, trying to keep the quiver of fear out of his voice.

She smiles, walks slowly around the cage, dragging her fingers from bar to bar, and finally says, "You're not a very good liar." She slips the key into the lock, and the heavy door swings open. He doesn't rush her; he backs away.

He has seen her feed once already today.

Fantasy Drabble #360 "Crime Doesn't Pay"

"What keeps them from raiding your hoard when you're not here?" The Oreiad Winnis asked, looking at the pile of half-melted armor and blackened bone. "You do leave from time to time, yes? What if some adventurer snuck in while you were—"

"One did, once." Midz-Aset snorted steam, continued, "A thief, the best in the land. He left his scent in his footprints. I flew to his home village, but he had fled; I burned it. I found his family's hiding place, but he was absent; I ate them. In the end he gave himself up just to end it."


There is a little town in her head, made of tin cans and cereal boxes and exhaust pipes. It sits on a wooded knoll out by where the highway will someday be once Eisenhower does his thing, where the middle class will eventually paint their neighborhoods across the straining landscape, where for a little while longer there is still magic seeping out of the ground like oil.

It is always autumn. She is the town's only permanent resident.

There are other people here and there, by invitation only, imported and expelled following her whim or favor: her mother, always; her father, mostly; certain school friends often; her brother, rarely, only when he is good or it is his birthday. Together they collect turning leaves and four-leaf-clovers and happy memories.

There will come a day when she will get in the car and drive down the hill to adulthood; not today.

SF Drabble #441 "Sleeper"

All of this — the house in the suburbs, the family, the real estate license, the barbecues and dinner parties, the strip mall hair salon and full grocery cart — it's a construct. You're not a happily married mother of two children under six: you're a weapon.

You've seen the video, seen your own face, heard your own voice explain the reality of this to your future self. You've seen your signature on the contract, you've seen the training logs, the fitness reports, the swiss-cheese paper targets, the final orders.

No more bourgeois fucking around, Foxtrot: it's time to do your duty.


The cellar was black and musty and cool. He leaned heavy against his cane, placed his feet with methodical care. He conquered the darkness light switch by light switch.

There had been parties down here, once upon a time, the after-hours kind where one sends the household staff home. There had been Cuban cigars and Russian women and gambling. Afterwards, there had been companionable regrets.

It was all gone now: the friends were spent forces, like him, or dead; the women had found husbands or self-respect. One couldn't even get Cuban cigars today.

All that was left was the booze.

The Good Stuff

Come back from the show, Little Rick shows up, wants to know where Jenny went, right? Like I fucking keep track of Jenny. He's all over the place, raiding the fridge, trying to give me noise like, oh, I gotta make sure she calls his shit. She ain't gonna call you, Rick.

When he leaves, I see his bag on the table, like, his brown bag. And you know I know what's in the bag, and Little Rick's too stupid to keep a count. So I figure I got thirty seconds to grab what I can.

Two little blues. One goes down, one goes in my pocket. He comes back, gets his bag. I'm like, hey, man, be more careful with that shit. He's like, whatever, man, and he splits.

I lock the front door and hit the couch. Like, half hour later, Jenny's fucking thrift store paintings start changing.

SF Drabble #440 "For The Woman Who Has Everything"

"This is the newest model?" She walked around the android, looking it up and down, sliding a finger along the bicep and around the shoulder and down the back. "Fully loaded?"

"Yes, the 7000 Series. This one's a 7800XT," the manager nodded. "All the luxury appointments."

"Complex household tasks?"

"Yes, ma'am. Even does the dishes. Quite a bargain at only—"

"And more intimate services?" she pressed, pulling the waistband open just enough to peek.

"I, ah… I can't say. That is, I…" the manager hemmed and hawed. Behind him, his secretary gave a nod and a grin and a wink.


She knows where she's going, where they're going, where she's taking him.

He follows on, trying to keep his bearings and his socks dry; soon enough he gives up on both. "How much further?"

She doesn't answer at first. He hurries to catch up to her, splashing and cursing. When he reaches her elbow she says, "Tired?"

"No," he insists. He doesn't want her to think he's changed his mind. "Just wondering."

The stream curves around a hill capped by an old oak; she leads him up by the hand, sits in the shade, takes off her sweater.



Fantasy Drabble #359 "To Walk The Earth"

She plodded across the carefully-maintained grass to where he was standing lost in thought by a restored field piece; when she was close enough, she asked, "Were you here?"

"Sure," he said, nodding, then pointed and continued, "I took a bullet to the thigh about a thousand yards that way. Those big, slow-moving bullets, they tumbled through the air, they tumbled through your flesh when they hit you."

Every ten years or so — sometimes twenty — they'd reconnect like this, and he always wanted to talk about the past, about ages ago, lifetimes. "Is that all you remember, just the pain?"

Primer Contacto

The other children had run, frightened by the noise and light or by the understanding of what the noise and light represented. José had run, too, faster than ever before. At some point, though, he had realized his abuela had not run, that she could not have run; he crept back to the house in bare-footed silence without any other thought than the realization that he could not simply leave her behind.

José pulled the squeaky screen door open a millimeter at a time, listening between heartbeats. As he crept up the hall his abuela's voice was agitated as she related the story of how her father had been arrested during more radical times, how he had disappeared. She talked passionately, plaintively, of humanity, of grief, of mercy. Through the hole in the curtain, his body now frozen like a churchyard statue, José could see what she was talking to.

They Come Out Of The Dark

"Where are the candles? There have to be candles." She was in the kitchen, opening drawers and cabinets, clattering and banging. "Somewhere. And matches?"

"My phone's almost dead. And no service." He meandered through the house, phone held up and out, watching the screen for any sign of connection. "Maybe they killed the cell tower too."

"Mine's been dead an hour. Forgot to turn off wi-fi."

He was at the kitchen doorway. "We could go. Don't even pack up. It's only an hour down to the main road. The car has headlights, Joan."

"Don't you think they've thought of that?"

Up With People

"She's been there all afternoon." The nurse shook her head. "Usually she never misses arts and crafts, but—"

"Emily?" The doctor took a step closer, spoke in low, reassuring tones. "Is everything all right?"


"What are you looking at?"


"Do you mind if I look at the sky with you?"

She didn't say anything, just moved over so there was room beside her at the windowsill. He knelt down, turned around, leaned back to put his head against the  moulding. The clouds slid by above them: excruciatingly, majestically slow. "Pretty."

"Better than arts and crafts," Emily whispered, conspiratorially.

Adélaïde and Marguerite

They think we are sisters or college friends on a day out under the Linden trees along the Seine. They think we have left our embattled first husbands at home to fend for themselves and be swamped by toddlers.

They think that when I take her hand across the table at dinner in the café, it is because she has shared some serious personal revelation, and I am commiserating.

They will continue to believe these things until we finish and depart, until we are huddled under the umbrella waiting for a cab, until I lean in and steal a kiss.

Zombie Drabble #423 "Particular"

"Ain't none."

After a snort of exasperation: "Well of course there isn't any here. The place has been picked clean. Looters got whatever they—" Harvey gestured at the now-motionless zombies sprawled across the floor "—didn't break."

Gus shrugged. "Try someplace else?"

"I know a shop a few miles from here. Around the back of a strip mall. Never did very well. They might have gotten missed…"

"Plenty of beer back at—"

"You can drink all the beer you want," Harvey said patiently. "I only drink Glenlivet 25. And I'm going to keep searching until I find some."

"Your call, boss."

SF Drabble #439 "Lost In Space"

He launched when I was four. I remember riding in Mother's car to the Cape, watching the rocket rise into the sky on top of that impossibly bright light, and covering my ears and crying because of the noise.

We'd get video messages every week like clockwork for a long time, personal messages he recorded for Mother and me, and we'd watch them curled up together on the couch. Then men in uniforms came and told Mother there wouldn't be any more, and she cried, and later that same day we moved in with Grandma.

He's still up there, somewhere.

SF Drabble #438 "Lost Girl"

"Excuse me…"

"Busy," the creature grumbled.

"I'm sorry, I just need to find the gate for—"

"Busy, human."

She looked around: there were other beings nearby, but they were all in motion or in conversation, difficult to interrupt, and there were no spaceport employees anywhere to be seen. She wore her most pathetic face, hoping the alien could even read human expressions. "I'm really sorry…"

"What gate."

"I'm not sure, there's just this symbol…"

"That is a Polixaci trade glyph. If you travel on liners, should learn to read them. That way, three gates down."

"Thank you so—"

"Just go."

What Became Of Michael Scissors

The gun was shoved into his waistband, the address was scratched in black ink onto the inside of a matchbook cover, the sun was dying on the horizon. It was finally time.

There are parts of L.A. that you don't go during the day, because they're not there yet. The buildings are, the streets, the addresses; but they're not themselves. They only become themselves in under the buzzing streetlamps, in the shadows between them, in the corners and alleyways out of their reach. He was going to one such place, one he'd been before and sworn to never go again.

"You're an idiot, Happy," he muttered as he turned the key in the ignition. "You've always been an idiot."

He drove through the thinning traffic, watching for tails, making random turns, pulling last-second U-turns, cursing and blessing his paranoia. He was almost certain he'd lost whoever or whatever had been following him by the time he reached the address.

Once upon a time, the Mob ran the Nondescript. They'd been bought out or scared off, likely the latter. He parked, he looked around, he pulled the gun out of his belt and checked to make sure there was a round in the chamber.

In the old days, there would have been a bouncer working the door to keep troublemakers out, big guy, the sort that never has to show you his gun to get your respect; the stool outside the Nondescript was ostentatiously empty.

Hap was out of the car, walking with a purpose, head down, right hand heavy in his suit pocket. The neon sign was dark, but there were lights inside. He didn't figure on knocking; he burst in without breaking stride, scanned the room, found her.

Aulia. She was impossible to miss: skin-tight red dress slit up the side, plunging neckline. He had the gun out and up and pointed at her before he realized that there were other people in the place, men sitting at tables, men no doubt with guns of their own. "What did you do to Mikey Scissors?"

The woman looked at him coolly, with a detached disregard that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. After a moment, Hap realized that the men — Aulia's men, the goons at the tables — hadn't moved, hadn't stood, hadn't drawn their guns. She smiled. "You'd better come back to my office."

"I'm not playing games, lady."

There was a snicker from somewhere behind him and to the left. Aulia turned and walked towards the back, not looking to see if Hap was complying or curling his finger tighter around the trigger. She's not afraid of me. None of them are. It was an act of will to lower the gun and follow.

The office was ornate and stylish and smelled of sex and ashes. "Please sit down." She made her way behind the desk and sat. "I'm not sure how much you know, so I'll have to start at the beginning. How are you acquainted with Michael?"

Mikey Scissors, small-time bookie and sometimes informant. "I arrested him a couple times, when I was a cop."

"And now you're a private detective." It wasn't a question. "More lucrative? Better hours."

He wasn't in the mood for jokes, and the adrenaline was starting to make him jumpy. "I saw Mikey burning to death, and you were there. Now—"

She smiled. "Things aren't always what they appear, Mister Dash. I didn't kill Michael, he's very much alive. He works for me."

"Doing what?"

She fished a cigarette out of slim silver case that snapped shut between her fingers. She put it to her lips already lit, as if it had been burning in the case. "You were with the police for eight years, you know at least part of the score. Yes?"

Hap said nothing. She knows me, like she researched me, like she was expecting me to come.

"You have to fill out paperwork. It must be frustrating, yes? So much unexplained. I'd think it'd be worse for the coroner, of course."

"Listen, lady—"

"Aulia. I belong to one of four factions, factions that use magic. Each faction's focus — its fealty, if you will — is to one of the four schools of magic, centered on the four classical elements: earth, water, air, and fire. You've seen that silly children's show?"

"Sure. My niece watches it."

"It's ridiculous fluff, of course, but that's the basic idea. There's some areas of overlap, and we can cooperate in those areas when we choose, but the reality is most of the time we barely tolerate each other. The Fire and Water factions, for example, have been in a feud for longer than you've been alive."

"A feud."

"We kill one of them, they kill two of us, we burn down a building, they flood a town. It's all we can do to keep it from getting truly out of hand. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Not really."

How many unexplained drownings? How many cases of spontaneous human combustion? That man in the easy chair, only his arms intact. The woman in the tub, the bone-dry tub, lungs full of water. 'I'd think it'd be worse for the coroner', she'd said. Goddammit. "Mikey. He was… water?"

"No. I already told you, Mister Dash. He's fire. He works for me. What did you see?"

"He was standing there. Two guys, one on either side. You walked up, they backed away. You held up your hand, and…"

"And he burst into flame."

"Like oilmen burning off a wellhead." Hap shuddered. He'd run, he'd left the car where he'd parked it and ran eight blocks, until he was sure it was safe to walk.

Aulia smiled, pushed a button on the intercom. "You can send him back now." After a moment, the door behind Hap swung open and…

Mikey Scissors, grinning. "How are ya, Hap? Good?"

"What you saw," Aulia said, "Was a reward."

Fantasy Drabble #358 "Up And Out"

"She's waiting upstairs, sir."

"She's… who is?"

"The lady of the house, sir."

He looked up the spiral staircase, listened, heard nothing. He glanced down at the postcard, blank but for this address, and turned back to the butler with a worried look. "Why am I here?


"Who is the lady of the house? What does she want with me?"

"I'm sure I don't know, sir. If you'll proceed upstairs, sir."

He had one foot on the lowest step, as if of its own accord. His hand reached out for the railing.

"What's the worst that could happen, sir?"

SF Drabble #437 "The Hinge Of Fate"

We won the Battle of the Kuiper Belt with mass drivers and x-ray lasers and by the skin of our teeth. I counted the UNAF ships left undamaged at the end of the battle on my fingers, but the Woolies' invasion task force was an expanding cloud of gas and debris in a highly eccentric cometary orbit around Sol.

We spent a year building for the counterattack. I hear things were bad on Earth during that time, with planetwide rationing and fuel shortages, everything going towards the war effort.

But it was Midway: we never lost a battle after that.

SF Drabble #436 "Great White Hunter"

It nosed around in the black alien grass, dug in the dirt with its long curved tusks, and then lifted its head as if scanning for threats, its large, pink, sail-like ears deploying over its head with a snap and a wobble.

"It's seen us," Graves whispered over the suit-radio.

"It's heard us."

"In air this thin?"

"Graves, look at those ears: It evolved for air this thin." He raised his rifle.

"Leave it. Wait for a full-grown one."

"You want to risk being charged by a full-grown one? All five thousand kilos?"

"It's just a baby."

"Grow up."

Ghosts Of The Losheim Gap

"If we follow the tracks, we're sure to reach a town eventually, yes?" The prisoner asked, with a tone of tired exasperation.

Francis shook his head; it seemed like they'd been walking for days, weeks, always in the eerily silent, snowy half-light. "I don't think it works that way anymore."

The prisoner stopped short, exclaimed, "I don't hear the guns!"

Francis stopped also. He listened, looked up, let the snow fall on his face and begin to melt. "Me either. For a while now I think."

The prisoner sighed, and rubbed his hands together for warmth before shoving them back under his armpits. "I would rather not freeze to death in Belgium."

Francis shrugged. "If I'm right, we don't have to worry about that anymore."

The prisoner furrowed his brow, then shook his head in confusion. "Still, we must walk. Come, Corporal, march!" He started down the tracks. "Nicht schleppen!"

High Dynamic Resolution

"There, right there."

"And look up?"

"Not straight up, just sort of… up at the sky."

He set his feet, arms at his sides, tilted his head skyward. I found him with the viewfinder, adjusted some settings, and squeezed off a couple shots. I walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. "Want to see?"

He was incredulous. "You're done already?"

"Sure." I showed him the LCD display, scrolled through the pictures until I found the best one. "This is my favorite."

"Beautiful." He stared for a moment, then said with some disappointment, "No need to paint it now, really."

Five Sentence Fiction: "Kept"

The ticket was waiting with the station agent in her name. No doubt he'd had his secretary take care of it, all arranged with a word and a wave of the hand between important meetings. The train would take her into the city, the cab would take her to the apartment building she'd never seen, the door key she'd be handed by the Super would let her into the apartment and into a new life.

She already knew she'd never love him, not really, not with his short temper and his selfish lovemaking and his cigar-smoking-as-status-symbol. It's temporary, just temporary.

Meet Me On The Wharf

She was standing under the very last lamp in a tight red dress, out past the pay phone and the benches. He walked to her as casually as he could manage. "Evening."

"Relax, no one's watching."

"Can't be too careful. You have the drive?"

She held up a tiny square. "Flash card."

He let her place it in his palm. "That's fine, my laptop takes them. Pretty standard now. You've already been paid." It wasn't a question.

She smiled. He nodded and turned to walk away, not hearing the rustle of the silenced pistol sliding out of her garter belt.

Real-Time Tactical

Watts slumped down against the trench wall, shoulders against support beams on either side, laid his helmet bowl-up in his lap. He surveyed the soldiers lying twisted and dead around him, and asked, lightly, "Anybody got any water?"

"Nobody has water, Watts, nobody ever has water. Stop asking." The Sergeant answered without looking down: he was scanning no-man's-land with binoculars. "I see Perkins."


He watched for a time before answering. "Not moving."

"You told him not to charge them. It's his own fault." Watts lit a cigarette, took a long pull from it, rolled the smoke around his mouth before inhaling. He held it in for ages, imagining he could feel the nicotine being absorbed by his lung walls.

The Sergeant climbed down from the edge, tossed the binoculars onto his pack. "I'll have a word with him, believe you me."

"Best do. Next time he'll get us all killed."

"What do you care?"

"I don't," Watts exclaimed, bristling. "I'm a fighting man to the core, Sergeant, born and bred. I just like to win."

"All right, all right, don't get offended." The Sergeant opened his pack, shoved the binoculars in, and fished out a tin of rations which he opened and picked at with obvious distaste. "I just don't see why it matters, winning or not. Not like it'll make a difference."

Watts took the cigarette from his lips, stared at him. "I just don't understand you, sometimes, Sergeant."

"I'm smarter than you, Watts; I'm a non-commissioned officer, after all. My analytical  and decision-making skills are heightened by design. I'm capable of reading the situation so that I can give orders. I don't stop reading it just because the fighting's over for the day."


"So tomorrow, we'll be back at our starting positions and it'll all start again, and Perkins will be reckless again because that's how Perkins is, and you'll be cautious again because that's how you are, and the battle will turn the way it turns because of some unseen hand manipulating the fighting on a scale beyond our ken."

"What, like Generals?" Watt snorted. "I've never even seen a General, Sergeant."

"Nor I."

"All I care about is doing my job."

"That's all you're supposed to care about." The Sergeant reached into his pack, grabbed another ration tin, handed it to Watts. "Here, eat something. Not long until dark, now."

They ate in silence as the glow on the horizon faded. They could hear far-off singing, bits and echoes of song that had found their way through the smoky haze laying over no-man's-land.

"They're at it again."

"I think it's 'Wacht am Rhein'," Observed the Sergeant.

"Always liked that one. Do you think it'll be Jerry again, tomorrow?"

"Probably. It's usually Jerry."

"Might be the Romans; you never know." Watts lit up. "Remember when it was the Zulus? Now there was a battle. Perkins caught a spear right through his—"

"It hasn't been the Zulu for years," The Sergeant sighed. "Now get some rest."

Fantasy Drabble #357 "Innovation"

There is a churning at the surface, a cavitation, a rending of the waters that spreads in all directions only to disperse in the waves. She rises to investigate.

A ship, a small one, all metal and paint and throbbing hum. They used to row, men did: they'd grunt in unison at the waterline, pulling themselves across the surface one stroke at a time. Then they'd stretched canvas across the sky and let the wind do their work for them. Clever men.

Now their ships cough and spit grime that settles on the water; she'd sink them, if she could.

One Night At A Time

Ant got out of bed, shuffled to the kitchen in the dark, pulled open the refrigerator door; the cold, blue light inside revealed vodka and expired milk. He stared for a while, until he could feel the cool air escaping past his arms, and then closed it.

"You need groceries, Anthony," advised Mr. Greene, from somewhere behind him.

"I know. I'll go tomorrow." He fumbled for a glass in the cabinet, rinsed it out, filled it with water.

"You were supposed to go yesterday."

Mr. Greene was a flicker of movement in of the corner of Ant's eye, at which Ant didn't try to look directly. It would have scared him, had he not known. It had scared him, when he didn't know, when he'd first moved in. "It's too far a walk; what do you want from me?"

Ant walked slowly back towards the bedroom, still in the dark, and stubbed his pinky toe on the hallway corner, almost dropping the glass, and spilling the water. "God-dammit."

"You could turn on the light."

"It'll just wake me up more." Ant leaned against the wall, holding his foot in his hand, gingerly manipulating his toe with his fingers, trying to figure out how badly he'd hurt it. "It feels broken."

"No it doesn't. It would hurt worse."

"It hurts a goddamn lot."

"It would hurt worse."

Ant put his foot on the floor, cautiously putting a little weight on it, and then a little more. "You slipped up, there, 'Mr. Greene'. You made a mistake. If you're not just in my head, how do you know how much it hurts? How do you know? If you're an actual honest-to-god ghost and not a hallucination from me going crazy. Or from not sleeping. Whatever."

"I know how people act when they break a bone, Anthony."

"Fuck off." He hobbled into the bathroom, turned on the light, immediately squeezed his eyes shut. He could see the glow through his eyelids, a faint orange washing across the field of black. Eventually he opened his eyes a sliver, to give his pupils time to adjust.  He set the glass down, raised his foot again, tried to get a good look at the pinky toe. "It'll be black and blue tomorrow."

"Probably. Take an aspirin, Anthony, it's an anti-inflammatory. It'll keep the swelling down."

Ant refilled the water glass and opened the medicine cabinet. He grabbed the aspirin bottle; he hesitated, then grabbed the sleeping pill bottle.

"That's not a good idea."

"I need to sleep."

"You slept a little last night without them."

"Two hours. I need more." Ant picked up the glass, turned off the bathroom light, opened his eyes wide, waited for them to adjust. "I need to sleep."

There was ambient light in the hall, from the streetlamps outside, from the moon, from neighbors' porchlights; once he could see it he started for the bedroom again, sliding the hand with the pill bottles along the wall to keep his distance. He shut the bedroom door behind him, sat on the edge of the bed, switched the lamp on the nightstand on to its lowest setting. He set the glass down, set the aspirin bottle down, stared at the sleeping pill bottle. "How many, do you think, Greene?"

"One. But you can do without. You—"

"I took two last time, and it didn't work at all. Just made me fuzzy until the sun came up."

"You took them at four in the morning, Anthony. Just take one."

"It's three thirty-seven now."

"Just take one."

He stared at the bottle some more. "Let me think about it for a minute."

"About what? Whether to take one or two?"

He shook the bottle, listened to the sound of the pills in their dozens bouncing against the plastic. "It's more a question of two or all of them at this point."

"I really don't like it when you talk like that."

Ant scanned the room, tried to focus on Mr. Greene, could never quite get a bead on where to look. "I don't get you, Greene. You're dead. If you're real, I mean, if you're not a figment of my imagination or a symptom of some psychosis. You're a ghost, which means you're dead. You don't seem that bad off. Lemme ask you: do you have trouble sleeping?"

"Anthony, please be serious. Just take two. Take two, and an aspirin, and fix the edges of the blackout curtains, and close your eyes, and put everything out of your mind. You'll fall asleep."

"The neighbors will wake me. The upstairs neighbors will stomp around and—"

"Put earplugs in. You have earplugs in the nightstand drawer, half a package."

"I don't like those, Greene. What if there's a fire?"

"You'd hear the smoke alarm even through the earplugs, Anthony, I promise. But there's not going to be any fire. Don't even think about that."

"I wouldn't want to burn." Anthony opened the bottle, spilled its contents out onto the comforter beside him, pushed the loose pills around with his fingertips. "Slip away quietly, that's one thing. Burning would hurt."


"Oh, shut up. I'm not going to do it. I can't do it. You know I can't." Ant picked up two of the pills, tossed them into his mouth, grabbed the glass, washed them down his throat. "It'd be humiliating. People would say things." He  didn't bother with the aspirin, he didn't bother putting the rest of the sleeping pills back in the bottle. He laid back on the bed, his legs dangling off at the knee. He closed his eyes. "Why can't I see you, Mr. Greene? Seriously."

"What do you want me to tell you? That I'm not a real ghost? Do you even believe in ghosts, Anthony?"

"Of course not."

"Of course not. Hand me your glass, Anthony, you'll spill water on the bed."

Ant held up the glass, and the weight of it was gone from his hand, presumably to the nightstand. "Thanks."

Fantasy Drabble #356 "Acheron"

The boat slid up to the dock; the boatman looked her up and down. "Haven't seen someone carrying a sword into the afterlife for a long time." He scratched his head, furrowed his brow. "Can't remember the last time. How'd you manage it?"

She smiled. "Couldn't say."

"Going to make trouble on the other side?"

"Is that a problem, Charon?"

The boatman shrugged. "Not for me. My responsibilities end at the shoreline."


"Well, come on then, if you're coming."

She spat out the coin, wiped it on her tunic, and handed it to him before climbing into the boat.

Five Sentence Fiction: "Somewhere, Somehow, Somebody Must Have Kicked You Around Some"

Sweating, feet aching, back of the neck burning for the lack of sunscreen, slapping at insects that have bitten and gone, pressing on. The compass app on the phone still points, but the map waits in vain for data from long-gone positioning satellites.

The city I fled — first in a car and then in a stranger's truck and then on foot — is a bubbling mess turning into something horrible and alien. There are other people heading into the hills and woods, masses of people, huge crowds of them, but I'm avoiding them for fear that in their numbers they make a target.

It probably won't make any difference.

The Muse

"This is all that's left?" He nodded at the old desk, untouched, alone in the empty room.

"The movers came yesterday and took everything else to storage. The will says only you can touch the desk." She shrugged. "It's very specific on that point."

"Thank you." He was in a fog, staring at it, remembering the old man sitting there, encased in a blue menthol cloud, scratching away.

"You're a writer, too? Novels? Someone said—"

"Yes." He rested his fingertips on the desk. It was smaller than the modern, expensive one in his office; he'd have more room now. "Novels."

Giant Summer

I was working in London, then, as an artist's rep. Terrible work: they're terrible people, artists. One of them had a lady friend, called her 'Poodle'. Real name was Gwen. She was one of them, the 'growers'. Ended up about forty feet tall, as I recall.

The artist couldn't have cared less. Was working on an 'installation'. I saw it when it was done: he wrapped Nelson in some crepe paper and ribbon. Pastel. Hideous. City had it taken down, eventually, because of the uproar, but they'd funded the damn thing in the first place, so they couldn't look too keen. Anyway, he had me look after the girl.

Everything had to be ordered special, of course. Food in bulk. We had a sailmaker for the clothes. She said the canvas itched, but what could we do? When she eventually shrank to normal size, she nearly suffocated in the stuff.

SF Drabble #435 "Dance Of The Spirits"

He was a sudden voice from the doorway: "Hey, come outside."

"Can't. Processing soil cultures." They'd only brought so much seed, and couldn't afford to waste it.

"Take a break."

She wanted to; she needed to. "All right." She followed him outside, down the steps, into the cool alien night.  When he stopped and looked up, she did the same.

"What are we looking at?"

"Wait… a minute, maybe…"

There was a gradual brightening, waves of light, green and blue with red at the edges, spreading across the sky. They stared up at it together; eventually, she held his hand.


He'd been staring at it for twenty minutes, from far enough back to take it all in. She wandered over to introduce herself.

He didn't give her the opportunity. "How much?"

She repressed the urge to chuckle. "Well, they say if one has to ask, one—"

"How much?"

"Sixty thousand, not counting delivery costs, insurance, fees."

"He's dying, you know."


"Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Two months, maybe three. When he goes, it'll double in value. I'm amazed you haven't adjusted your price."

She seethed silently, face frozen. Eventually, she said, "I apologize, I was incorrect; this painting is not for sale."

Fantasy Drabble #355 "Once Bitten"

"I parked up at the point. Out past the old—"

"I know 'the point'. Go on."

"We were just making out, I swear. Her parents are real strict—"

"Just tell us what happened."

"There was this noise, like a wild animal or something. She got scared, she wanted to leave. I told her I'd get out and look around. You know, so she'd think I was brave or whatever…"


"I looked around in the woods, and when I came back, I found her… like that."

"Kid, I can't help you if you lie to—"

"I'm telling you the truth."

Deadly Toxic Cloud Escapes Chemical Refinery, Kills Area Man

"You can't go out there."

"Don't be ridiculous, Harriet."

"You heard what the radio—"

"You can stay inside if you want." He tapped on the window pane. "Look, see, there's the Magruders' dog, and he's fine. The radio's in on it, Harriet."


"I'm going."

"At least wear the mask."

He'd bought it at a surplus store during a survivalist phase, before he understood the real danger. "There's nothing in the air, Harriet." He looked at her, read the expression on her face. "Fine, I'll wear the mask." 

Masked, Brent threw open the door and strode out with confidence; Harriet quickly closed the door behind him. The street was empty, but he could feel the eyes on him from front windows.

Let's put on a show. He ostentatiously bent down to smell a flower, took a deep breath. He immediately felt nauseous. Wait, do the cartridges on these masks expire?

Fissile Material

She was already cooking before we got to Los Alamos, I see that now. In Houston, she had friends and places to go and her parents weren't really that far. I had more time for her. There were things keeping her from going off the deep end.

She keeps escaping from the infirmary. They're just not equipped for this sort of thing, but everyone's concerned that if she's sent off-base, she'll talk about the work. Lord knows what she's heard.

This time they found her out in the desert, half-naked, twirling a lasso. I just don't know what to do.

The Weapon

"Where you headed?"

"Baltimore. My sister's birthday, and then in a week my parents' anniversary. We're squishing them into one weekend, you know."



He coughed once into his hand, glanced surreptitiously at his palm before answering, "Washington."


"Testifying. Then meetings on the hill." He shrugged. "Maybe the White House."


"Pretty routine, actually." He fished a handkerchief out of his pocket, coughed into it.

"Coming down with something?"

Ebola. "Hope not, lot of work to do."

"I'll probably end up with a cold, Emily's kids always give me something."

He smiled. "Children, they're little walking disease vectors."

Thou, Arid Mother

Don't be afraid. She comes closer, floating whisper-quiet over creaky floorboards, arms at her sides with fingers outstretched like antennae. Her lips are closed, her voice is between his ears. Don't. It's not a plea: it's a command. Somehow he complies.

She cocks her head to one side then the other, her glassy gaze falling on his face, his cheek, his neck. She is inches from him. He only smells the dust in the air. You think I am a demon, but I am a god. You are my first adherent.

He reaches out, trembling, to touch her face; under the peeling white paint of her skin she is like granite, and cold, and smooth. His fingertips hum against her. You will love me and I you. You are my right hand and my voice. You may at times hate me, but need never fear me.

He nods.



Fantasy Drabble #354 "And It Feels So Good"

She waited patiently, meditating while her men broke down yet another iron-reinforced heavy oaken door. When they were through, and had lit new torches, she rose and stepped across the threshold, already whispering her incantations.

In a corner, in a pile of detritus, something began to glow an otherworldly green. One of the men bent down and started clearing away the rubble, until he had uncovered what she was looking for, whereupon he backed away without touching it. "Ma'am."

She knelt, reached out, gingerly picked up the glowing skull. "I have found you, my love. And you will live again."


"See that?"

Everybody in the room was looking at it. "The bust of Nefertiti? Uh, yeah, I see it."

"Solid gold. Paint for the headdress, but under that, gold. Weighs… I don't even want to think about how much it weighs."

"Me neither."

"I'm going to steal it." She didn't whisper it into his ear, or even particularly lower her voice. A woman nearby turned and gave us the stinkeye, but her husband just chuckled. Nobody alerted the guards.

"Sure you are."

"Come on," she took me by the shirtsleeves and dragged me out of the room, through the gift shop, out onto the city street. "It's here until Friday. It's under guard when it's in transit, but here they rely on automated systems. I can do it. Getting it out of the country will be the hard part."

"You'll never sell it, it's—"

"Not for the money. For Egypt."

Hohmann Transfer Orbit

"Books? Do you want to take any books?"

"I've got the e-reader."

"You'll miss books."

"There's a weight limit, Henry." Not only did everything have to fit in the one case which had to measure within certain dimensions, but the whole thing — case and contents — had to mass less than 25 kg. Not in a 'we'll charge you extra' sort of way, but in the way where they make you take something out and throw it in the trash right then and there; she'd explained all of that already.

He didn't say anything, he just sat on the edge of the bed watching her, trying to think of something else to suggest, to be helpful, to be somehow part of it, to be necessary.

She was working on off-duty clothes, trying to arrive at the perfect selection: once she was on her way there would be no supplementing it. She'd thought it through. But the list seemed now like a complete stranger had written it.

"I like you in the blue thing."

"I already have a dress. There won't be any reason to wear the blue one, it's too…" She trailed off. She didn't want to say 'sexy'. 'Revealing'? "It's just too much."

He shrugged. "That's why I like it."

She smiled, gave him a look. if there had only been time, she would have stopped packing and sat on his lap, kissed him, done more. But it was already nearly six, and they were coming at six, and she couldn't be late for the flight to the Cape. She started shoving things into the bag almost at random. When the case looked like it couldn't take any more, she lifted it onto the scale. 26.2 kg. "Fuck."

"Here." He came to her side, unzipped the case still sitting on the scale, pulled a few heavier things out, put a few lighter things in. "Slacks instead of jeans. And you don't need a hoodie."

24.9 kg. "Okay."


She sighed. "I wish I could take the boots."

"You can't." He zipped up the case, picked it up, headed for the living room. She looked at the clock again: 6:01 AM. She paused in the doorway and took in the view of their bedroom for a long moment before following him.

She pushed the front window curtains aside: the Suburban and its driver were waiting at the bottom of her driveway, with the police cruiser escort behind it blocking the road. "They're here."

He was a quiet statue. She'd seen him like this before, at his mother's funeral: strong, stoic, playing it like his father would have played it if he'd still been around, following the only real example he'd ever had. But eventually he broke. "Ceecee, what if—"

"I'm coming back." Assuming everything goes right, assuming they don't put me in charge and I have to stay. She put the case down, stepped close to him, put her hand on his arm. "It's just Mars, honey. It's not a divorce."

Whose Little Girl Are You?

I joined the UNAF when the Woolies attacked the colony at 47 Ursa Majoris, like so many people did. By the time I was through basic training and zero-gee combat training and astrogation training it was a year later and the Woolies had taken everything up to and including Epsilon Eridani.

My unit is all greenhorns like me and old men with the shakes, and we're all that stands between the enemy and Sol. I can still hear my father saying, but you're just a girl.

Not a problem.

Separation Anxiety

There's no headstones on the property, none that I've ever found. The real estate lady said the whole graveyard had been relocated sometime in the 50's, before the house that was torn down to build this house was built.

I'm fairly certain they missed someone, though.

I've done the research. Abigail Anne Cordero, 28, wife of Fabrizio, both dead in a fire, buried in 1931. She'd be long-dead now in any event, but I don't suppose that matters. I'll bet he was moved as planned and she wasn't. Somewhere, probably under the mud-room where she appears, her bones are waiting to be reunited with the love of her life.

I'd dig her up myself if I could afford it; of course the insurance company won't pay. If I could get her on camera maybe they'd believe me. Maybe not: it's so easy to fake something like that on a computer.

Fantasy Drabble #353 "Sisters Of The Moon"

Her name was Mavis. She was in all the family pictures: us on the front steps, me with a skinned knee and her with an ice cream cone; the pool with the bright orange water wings on our arms and our skin two shades lighter for all the sunscreen; the ballet recital where I was the swan and she was in a cast.

When they arrested her, it was on a spellcraft violation. Something technical, a harassment tactic. I don't know what happened after.

She started fading from our pictures a week later. That's how we knew she was gone.

Princess Of Mars

There’s maybe twenty people in the compartment: miners, or ex-miners, or whatever. She is suddenly very aware that she is wearing a dress and heels that were lifted from Earth, and that neither have dust anywhere on them, nor is there any in her hair or smudged onto her skin.

Jimmy whispers to her, "Be cool."

It’s the third time Jimmy the Bits has said it, and it’s getting tiresome. The party is definitely down in the sketchier sections of the dome’s lower levels, but it’s not like she’s some delicate flower just because the Managing Supervisor is her father. "Why are you nervous, Jimmy? You said it was all right to bring me—"

"It’s cool. Everybody knows Jimmy." Everybody does, whether they want to or not; knowing Jimmy the Bits can go either way. "Lemme introduce you around."

Jimmy introduces her to a series of people, and they are polite if a bit cool. There are eyes boring into the back of her head wherever she goes in the compartment. Maybe some of them know who she is, maybe not, but they all think they know what she is. Whatever, it’s not like people don’t stare at me in the upper levels.

Jimmy takes her elbow and pulls her to stand in front of a big guy with leathery skin and a patchy beard. Jimmy says, respectfully, as if she is being presented to a Company Director or some Earth Senator on a fact-finding mission, "Yonk, this is Melody."

Yonk nods by raising his head once and then lowering it. “That your real name? 'Melody'?”

"No, it’s just a name I use sometimes. But I like it. Is ‘Yonk’ your real name?"

The room titters, and Yonk grins. "Real name is Stewart. They just call me Yonk."

"Why? What does it mean?"

Jimmy looks pained. Yonk smirks, as if delighted at the opportunity to explain. "Meatie. Pudder." Someone behind her yells, "Cock!" The snickering has graduated into full-on laughter, around her, behind her. Yonk continues, "When we finish a shift we have to clean off. Hose down the outside of the suit in the lock, then shower. Whole gang all in the shower at once. First day on the job, end of the day, everybody sees my yonk, I get the name."

She raises her eyebrows. "Because it’s big, or because it’s small?"

It’s suddenly very quiet in the compartment. Jimmy is white as a sheet, and shifts his weight as if he wants to step away from her, put some distance between them. Yonk, thankfully, doesn’t lose his grin. "It’s big enough for you, I think."

"Well, if you’ll find me something to drink, maybe I’ll let you show it to me. And then we’ll know."

Yonk laughs, a hearty belly laugh that shakes the bulkheads; everybody else is thereby given permission to laugh and the party resumes. A bottle of something home-brewed that would get someone arrested if her father saw it is pressed into her hand.

Glenlivet 18

He sidles up to the bar, smoothly, with an easy smile and his money folded between two fingers. “Scotch, neat. Whatever you recommend.” He slides onto the stool next to mine, careful not to bump me, in a graceful and practiced motion. He wants me to know deep down, without my thinking it consciously, that he is good at this. He doesn’t presume to buy me a drink, or even to ask if he may buy me a drink: I already have two fingers on either side of the stem of a glass of red wine I’m not drinking.

The bartender nods at him, glances at me, turns to pick a bottle from amidst the multitude.

“Do you know what time the restaurant closes?” His head is turned towards me, his voice conversational but quiet.

“Ten.” I answer automatically. “Why not ask Charles here?” The bartender’s eyebrows furrow slightly when I say his name, but he just pours the scotch.

“Now, see,” the man chuckles, “you’re already identifying logical flaws in my plan. Clearly you’re smarter than me. I think you’d be a real asset to the operation if you came on board.”

I am momentarily thrown. “Operation?”

“This one, where I try to pick you up. Imagine how much smoother it would go if we worked together on it.”

I look at him incredulously, but I can tell he knows I find him amusing. “Do you have a name?

“Wayne.” He doesn’t give a last name, because his last name shouldn’t matter either way. We’re not getting married. That’s not the half of it, Wayne.

“I’m Coral.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Coral.”

Charles places the tumbler of scotch on a clean napkin and slides it across to Wayne. “I think the lady was looking forward to a quiet evening…” Charles delivers it with the tone of fatherly advice: I’m helping you out, here, son.

Charles has made me, knows what I am. He’s been around, he knows the night life. A younger man, a more foolish man, might have mistaken me for a call girl. “It’s all right, Charles. Wayne seems like a gentleman.” I fix the bartender’s eyes with mine. “I don’t think anyone is in any danger here.”

Charles pauses, then nods, then goes about his business. Maybe he believes me, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he just doesn’t want any cops coming around here in a week or two showing pictures of a missing businessman, asking if anyone’s seen him, checking security camera footage.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence.” Wayne sips his scotch, and a smile spreads across his face. “The man knows his scotch.”

“He does. But if you nurse it, we can’t go upstairs.”

Wayne downs it, slips off the stool. “I’m in 431.” He walks out of the bar, assuming I’ll follow on momentarily.

The bartender leans in, whispers, “Listen—”

“I never leave a mess behind, Charles.” Wayne will go home safe, eventually, and he’ll go home happy, if a bit anemic.

SF Drabble #434 “Torino 10”

We scrambled up from the car to high ground with only seconds to spare. We watched the wave roll down the highway, sweeping away the traffic jam with the same ease it had the beach houses and the river bridges and the low-lying towns. The sky had already gone thunderstorm-dark in an odd contrast to the horrific otherworldly glow on the horizon.

“It actually hit us,” my wife said, as if trying to convince herself to believe it, as if her senses had been lying to her all along. “I thought it’d miss us, you know, like they always do.”

Auditioning For The Follies

She took the bus to the theater, she followed hand-written signs to the rehearsal space, she checked in with the girl at the desk. She found a seat between a redhead and a blonde, both already  intently reading copies of the ‘sides’ she had herself only just been handed.

“Do you girls know this director? I’ve never heard of him.”

The blonde answered. “Sure, hon. He’s a gas. Makes them avante-garde movies. Lots of flying.”


The brunette piped up, “Like in the theater? Put’cha in a harness and hoist you up? Hardly anyone falls.”

“Hardly anyone,” agreed the blonde.

SF Drabble #433 “Decompression”

There was an odd noise, like a hailstone cracking a window, and then an odd hiss that became a whistle. It was only when Carlos’ ears popped that he understood. “We’ve been holed!” He pushed off, sailed across the compartment towards the intercom panel, tried to triangulate the noise as he went. Where is it?

He mashed the broadcast button. “Meteor strike. Lab two. Somebody get down here with a couple patches.” There wasn’t a response, but he didn’t expect one. They’d be scrambling.

Carlos pushed off again, listened: the whistle was intensifying, deepening. He was starting to feel lightheaded…

Fantasy Drabble #352 “Bored Now”

“We used to travel. We used to stay in nice hotels.”

He didn’t look up, but sighed and said, as if to a child: “This is a nice hotel.”

“This was a nice hotel, before we killed everyone. Now it’s a shithole. There’s dust everywhere. The carpet is worn through.” She stood in front of him, annoyed at his lack of attention. “And I’m sick of rat blood. I want a human.”

“So go find a human and quit bothering me. I’m reading.”

She could have torn his throat out, she was strong enough. But he was her maker. “Fine.”

Five Sentence Fiction: “Stone To Flesh”

It has to be here somewhere.

For every spell, there is a counter-spell: magic, like the universe as a whole, requires balance. I have only to find it.

She’s standing there, watching me with unblinking eyes, immobile, caught in a posture of surprise and panic because of my error. Oh, gods, what if it’s in volume two?

In which nothing happens.

“Looks like rain.”

“I believe you may be right.”

“Best bring in the dogs, and the bicycles as well. Cruel to leave them out if it thunderstorms.”

“Cruel to leave out bicycles?”

“Well, more the dogs than the bicycles, I’ll grant you. But bicycles can rust.”

“True, but they’ll feel no pain for the rust. They have no anima, no spark of life. They are mere inanimate objects.”

“The children who ride them, however, do have anima. They will feel pain, surely, if their bikes grow rusted and unrideable through our inaction.”

“I’ll get the dogs, you get the bikes.”

Fantasy Drabble #351 “Seraph”

“You’re not going back down there, are you?”

There were no weapons or armor to gird on, no lovers from whom to tearfully take his leave. He had only to set his heart and step from the edge. “I must.”

“The danger is too great. You—”

“I must.” He stepped closer. “You heard what He said: we can still lose this war. The servants of darkness can still spill out across the land like the great Flood and devour all that is good and holy, and if they do it will not be because I feared being turned to stone.”

SF Drabble #432 “Grover’s Mill”

Bobby Joe pulled up to the curb in his pickup, leaned out, pointed to his dash radio and yelled, “Are you listening to this?!” He sped off before they could answer.

“What is he talking about?” Cindy asked. “Is there a game tonight?”

Francis pulled his little portable transistor radio out of his pocket, switched it on. “I didn’t think so…”

residents are advised to remain in their homes. Alien landings have been confirmed in Philadelphia, but phone lines further South appear to be down…

“Francis, what’s going on?”

“Dunno.” He looked up, saw strange colored lights crisscrossing the sky.

Grandpa, On His Way Out Of Town

Do you remember being cool?

Is there part of you that recalls biking halfway across the country with the redheaded girl on the back just because you had a week off and had never seen the Grand Canyon? Wading in and pulling those two guys apart before they killed each other over a spilled beer in a dive bar in Okeechobee? Playing the shaker on that Big Brother and the Holding Company record?

Isn’t there a picture somewhere of you with Bowie and Lou Reed and Bette Midler?

Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.

The Watch

When old King Groff drew his sword and pointed it at the enemy we all expected death: glorious, song-worthy death, but death nonetheless.

When the enemy fled, routed, His Majesty was the only one among us not to seem surprised. When the enemy reformed, regrouped on the plains below, the King understood: fear of him was the only thing keeping them at bay.

He called the witches, and they came, and the King was turned to stone. We moved him, the statue of him, up to the bluffs overlooking the enemy, and there he stands.

Ten years, they’ve stayed away.

Maybe This Won’t Last Very Long

I took the pill, okay? She gave me the pill, and I put it in my pocket instead of taking it right then, but when I got home and felt safe I put it on my tongue and chased it with skim milk because that’s all I have in the fridge.

I mean, there’s leftover sweet-and-sour chicken too, but that’s not a drink.

I thought it was a dud, because it didn’t do anything for the longest time. Hey, remember that Billy Joel song? My mom used to sing that in the kitchen. But eventually it kicked in and now I don’t even know where I am.

Ever played chess? There’s this enormous chessboard in a forest here, but the forest is upside down and I really think that would make it hard to play? Especially since I’m under the board. Or, above the board? Fuck I am so high…

The Pitch

“What have you got for me, Bernie?”

“Okay. So we take twenty teenagers, put them ashore on an island, only food enough for half of them, plus weapons. We hide a boat on the far side. All the survi— all the winner has to do is get the boat to the three-mile limit. Real drama.”

“Not real teenagers of course,” Arch cautioned.

“No, of course not.” Bernie grinned. “The latest in AI-controlled CGI characters. And the programmers tell me they’ve worked really hard on the death screams.”

Arch thought about it and shook his head. “Eh, Bernie. It’s been done.”


“You are here for a reading.” Her voice was genteel, and firm, and it wasn’t a question.

The cards were already laid out, regular playing cards in a configuration I’d never seen before. I sat down opposite her. “Aren’t these the wrong sort of cards?”

“Only if one is a charlatan relieving housewives of their mad money. Pick.”

I slid one out of the pile and then hesitated. “Do I look? Do I show it to you?”

Her lip curled every-so-slightly into a hint of a wry smile, and she took the card from my hand. “It couldn’t possibly matter less if you look at it, and I can only read it if I look at it.” She glanced at the card, and set it down on the table: a King of spades.

“You will survive the war. You—”

“War? What do you mean?”

“Pay attention, this is very important.”


I don’t know what he is, and I don’t want to know: ‘Dazzles’ says to dance, I dance. I dance to buy time, to wait for some opportunity for escape to present itself. It’ll happen: he’ll get bored and his attention will wander, or he’ll tire and he’ll fall asleep, or he’ll come close and he’ll underestimate how strong a dancer might be.

I’ll get away. I swear to Christ I will.

Witches Cauldron

There hadn’t been any pesky children when she’d moved in. There hadn’t been any children at all, nor any parents: hers had been the only house for miles. But time marches, and houses are built, and couples move in and nature takes its course.

Now the children were everywhere. On the street, in her yard, in the woods where she’d once sought the ‘Wine Of The Mother’ at her convenience. They came to the door and knocked and ran away. They pulled down her mailbox, not that it ever held mail. There were even eggs once. Her forbearance was tested, then eroded, then exhausted.

It wouldn’t be death. Death would attract attention.

Chicken pox was perfect, but they couldn’t get it all at the same time. Perhaps a few ear infections? And diarrhea. Definitely diarrhea for that Perkins boy, the one with the smart mouth who’d pulled poor Frisky’s tail.


He’d come expecting to climb the mountain the old-fashioned way, he’d bought the gear, he’d looked at the survey maps. On arrival, loaded down, the old guides had laughed at him and pointed up.

Someone had long since carved steps into the rock itself, and they stretched up the mountain and out of sight. He rented a locker for his extraneous possessions and began the climb.

They’re up there, at the top, in the thin air. They know I’m coming, and what questions I’ll ask, and the answers to those questions. All I have to do is reach them alive.

The Battle Of Sanctuary Pen

It was only a matter of time before the ‘cold war’ between Project Dreamland and the group I’d taken to calling the ‘Romans’ set to burning, and my capture and escape had been the flint and steel that sparked it.

Dreamland One sent us in force back to the secret lair where I’d been held, where little Portland had rescued me with her localized time-freezing power, where Junia and Carl — probably not his real name — had been hiding, and found only an empty hole. At least Massive got to have fun knocking down security doors; maybe it was therapeutic after he’d been fought to a draw by Chasm’s golems.

We found the room with the X-Frame, which had been left intact; I guess it didn’t have the same sentimental value to Junia it held for me. Mandy came in, closed her eyes, cocked her head to the side. She’s fishing for a vision, something, anything. I stood close, to catch her if she got overwhelmed.

“Nothing. It’s dry.” She shook her head, put her hand on my chest. “It’s like it’s been wiped clean, psychically speaking. Don’t know how they could have done that.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll get them.”

She looked me in the eye. “And then what? Do we kill them? We don’t really even know what they want.”

I shrugged. “Way above my pay grade.” I know my part in all this. But it probably wasn’t above Mandy’s, and it definitely wasn’t above Dreamland One’s.

Something you should know by this point: me, Rapture, Massive, Selene, and Merry Punkster, we’re B Team. We’re good, and we’re known, but we’re not the ones the kids trade three other baseball cards and a candy bar to get.

That’s A Team: Glowwyrm, The Knack, Raijin, and Tundra. If we were a band playing state fairs, they were U2. They had action figures. They were on fast-food soda cups. They had a syndicated animated series on one of the kids’ networks. The merchandising alone was enough to keep Project Dreamland flush. Hell, when I was a kid I’d had a Raijin 12” with a real silk robe and Eye Staff that really glowed. But A Team wasn’t around.

Surely that was why Junia picked that moment to make her move: with A Team off on some other planets heading off some existential threat to the Earth, Dreamland was down to the J.V. squad. And we didn’t even know the Romans’ full strength; they probably figured they had an advantage.

Debatable. But McLeary summed it up: “They have the initiative. They can go where they please, strike where they please. We have to react, they know how we’ll react, and with what.” He shrugged. “Sorry: who.”

“D1 has something up his sleeve, I’ll bet.”

“Like what?”

“How would I know? Ask Mandy, maybe she’s already seen it happen.”

“She’d tell you.”

“Would she?” I couldn’t answer to that question. But Mandy was all about Junior right now; even getting her out of HQ to try to ‘read’ the Romans’ place took convincing. In the end we’d scheduled it to coincide with a nap.

We didn’t have to wait long. Word came that Sanctuary Island was under attack. Specifically, the single noteworthy feature of the island: Sanctuary Island Penitentiary, where the region’s most dangerous criminals were held.

They were all there — the Speaker, Panix, Micro, the Game Player, Cetacea, Methis, the Wildling, and the surviving remnants of Michigan Jack’s gang — every bad actor and henchman we’d beaten over the last two years, behind bars. But for how long?

The guards were no match for Chasm’s stone golems, and were falling back to try to hold the cellblocks themselves. Fortunately the golems seemed to be taking their time. Of course, because it’s us they really want.

I know I’m not the strongest one on the team. I know I’ll never be any eight-year-old’s favorite Cape. But the one thing I have going for me as someone who can run fast enough to leave a plasma trail behind me is that I reach the scene first. Even Rapture, airborne and at full-on glowy goodness, is an order of magnitude slower than me.

The others take helicopters; I don’t rub it in too much.

I didn’t take the causeway; I run fast enough that the water’s surface tension will support me. I figured coming from an odd angle might give me some slight advantage.

When I got to Sanctuary Pen, golems were battering down the outer walls with their fists, pulling iron-bar gates from their frames. Chasm, encased in rock armor, stood atop an intact section, hands outstretched as if puppeteering; Carl — my old friend from the bar — stood next to him. As soon as he saw me, he lifted his phone to his face and I read his lips: ‘Now’. I set myself up for a run at them, but suddenly Aspect appeared between us, grinning, and then disappeared.

Aspect teleports short distances, in what to a normal person seems like a ‘blink of an eye’. I’d been chasing him when I was captured by Junia, led into a trap like a rookie. He appeared again, a little ways off, towards the water. “Rematch, Fleet?” Gone, then back again in another spot. “Come on, you know you want to!”

I ran at him.

It went on for five, maybe six minutes, with me getting ever closer, crossing the slope again and again. The grass caught fire in intersecting streaks. I almost had him a couple times. But the golems had meanwhile stopped their Joshua’s trumpets routine and were now converging on our little duel of speed. Soon I was having to avoid being clotheslined by their huge arms while still tracking Aspect, and though they’d never be able grab me, I would never be able to grab him. I was losing ground, and I was getting tired.

Then one of the golems started to shake, started to glow, started to fall apart. Then another. Rapture. I looked around, and she was a cross-shaped incandescent filament hanging fifty feet up over my head. I caught Aspect looking too, just for a second, and ran at him.

He tried to ‘blink’ at the last second. I saw his eyes go wide as his outline went soft. Maybe he knew he’d started the blink too late, maybe not. I ran through the space he still partially occupied at full speed.

I stopped just past him, covered in goo and shards of bone. The rest of what had been Aspect blinked in ten meters away and collapsed in a wet ragdoll heap. Ugh. But: one down.

All I wanted to do was dive into the bay, clean off, but we still had Chasm to deal with, and then Carl to police up. Or so we thought.

Carl jumped down from the wall section. Maybe twenty feet he jumped down without a thought. A civilian, a normal human, they would have broken both legs. So, not just a lackey then. Chasm just seemed to be waiting, as if he’d already done his part. Carl walked forward a few steps, away from the wall.

“So what’s it going to be, Carl?” I yelled. Rapture hovered above me at the ready. I could hear the approach of the helicopters. “You’re about to be Massively outnumbered. Pun intended.”

Carl grinned. Carl closed his eyes. Carl started to grow, deform. By the time he’d grown taller than Chasm’s ten-foot golems he was no longer recognizable as a man. In the end the golems came up only to his knee, and he was Lovecraftian nightmare fuel. As if wearing bits of Aspect isn’t enough for one day. He stepped forward, towards me.

The golems turned and surrounded him, began beating his lower legs, began grabbing hold and climbing him, tearing at him like a pack of hyenas trying to bring down an elephant. Chasm’s arms were outstretched again, and apparently he’d switched sides. D1’s surprise?

It didn’t matter. There was nothing I could do except give Leviathan-Carl something to distract him. Tentacles snapped at the ground where I’d just been. Enormous taloned feet stamped just behind me. He plucked golems off himself and threw them at me and they sailed over my head like passing locomotives.

The helicopters landed, and Massive sprang out of one and ran at Leviathan-Carl. Black-uniformed soldiers with long guns followed and sprayed the giant horror with gunfire. Selene and Punkster deployed their respective tech and waited for an opportunity to weigh in. If the prisoners get out

The whole scene was lit up by Rapture’s ever-increasing glow. She was winding up for a big one, bigger than I’d seen since the Mo Ten Rah. Dust and stone from the broken walls were rising from the ground, swirling around her in a great orbital ring, spinning ever faster. Leviathan-Carl launched a golem at her: its midsection struck the spinning disc of dust; it was sliced in half, and the halves missed Rapture.

Leviathan-Carl was angry, and confused, and betrayed. He clearly couldn’t decide whether to squash me and Massive, or bat Rapture out of the air like a slow-pitch softball, or turn around and knock Chasm off his perch in revenge for his perfidy. He didn’t get the chance to do anything.

Rapture’s spinning disc of stone and concrete and gravel and dust was an ever-compressing hurricane above us, and then it was an enormous spear and then a spike and then a bullet. She flung it at Leviathan-Carl. It put a hole through his swollen midsection the size of a minivan and a crater in the ground behind him the size of a swimming pool. The force of the impact knocked me off my feet, and shattered many of Chasm’s remaining golems.

Leviathan-Carl gurgled and fell. It didn’t shrink, change back. The Lovecraftian monstrosity had been his true form; he’d been wearing the figure of Carl as a disguise.

Chasm, atop the wall, nodded to me slowly: but only once, like Boba Fett in the last Star Wars movie. But where was Junia? And: I need a shower.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Junia had seen the writing on the wall in her own visions just as all the elements had fallen into place for the fight at Sanctuary Pen: She’d tossed a few things in a bag and beat a hasty retreat. But in her hurry, she’d let her guard down, and the shield that had been keeping Mandy’s visions at bay had fallen, if only just for a moment.

So Mandy knew where to find her. I don’t know if she notified Dreamland One beforehand, or if she decided to deal with Junia herself as payback for messing with her man. She tapped Junia on the shoulder on the train station departure platform, and when the blonde turned around, Mandy decked her.

I would have paid good money to see that. Seriously. I’m not a fan of ‘foxy boxing’ or anything, I’m just saying: that’s my girl.

She had some of our people with her, of course; Mandy’s not stupid. Junia was loaded into a tinted-window Suburban under guard and Mandy was back at HQ before our little man, still nursing, even noticed she was gone. It helps that Portland is a gifted babysitter.

Chasm got the same treatment Massive and Portland had received before him: he was walked down to the blast-doors that led to an interview with D1, patted on the shoulder and given some words of encouragement, and sent in. He seemed to already know what he was in for. I was almost jealous.

He and his golems might become the newest recruits. If not, we probably won’t have to worry about fighting him again. Once you’ve seen Dreamland One’s ‘true face’, you never return to the dark side. At least, no one has yet.

But either way, we all agree, me, Rapture, Massive, the others: A Team can stay off-planet, as far as we’re concerned.