SF Drabble #490: “Plunge”

The dress was mostly feathers; the whole clan had contributed. Perry wasn’t sure whether she looked like an angel or a fast-food mascot. They hadn’t brought mirrors, so she was using one of the drop-cams patched into a roller’s comms screen. I still can’t tell. “How do I look?”

“Like Fri.” Kree’s great avian head was close, over her left shoulder. “Good or bad?”

“Good.” Sort of. Her grandmother’s dress was pearl-white and ornate and gorgeous and twenty-six light years away, in her mother’s closet. “Most beautiful wedding dress on the planet.”

“Then you get ‘married’ now?”

She laughed. “Yes.”

Comet Supper


“What are you doing down here? Everybody’s eating.”

She’d dragged the old patio chair down to the beach, and was sitting on it, staring out at the sunset. “I’ll eat later.”

“Only a couple hours now, you should—”

“I’ll eat later.”

He walked back up to the house, where everyone was gathered around a dinner table, refilling wine glasses over mostly untouched plates. “She’s not coming. She said she’d eat later, but she’s not coming.”


“Let it be, Mandy. Just…” He sat back down. In the kitchen, the oven door opened with a squeak. “Don’t say anything to Mom.”

SF Drabble #489: “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”

Eventually, she turned around, crossed her arms, and called out, “Hello? Can I help you?”

The figure froze in the no-man’s-land between street lamps. Somewhere, a block or two over, a dog barked twice, three times.

“I can see you. I have Mace.”

The figure again said nothing. It took a step forward, then another.

I’d be hearing a human’s thoughts by now. She pulled out her weapon and waved an emerald-green laser beam across the figure’s chest. It fell to the sidewalk with a thud. She walked over, looked down at the body, muttered, “Where’d you park your ship?”

SF Drabble #488 : “The Buried One”

“Pull it up!” Red shouted over the din, gesturing wildly with his thumb. “Pull it up!”

The drill stopped the unnatural shuddering and started rising out of the bore-hole. Before it was all the way up, reddish brown liquid began spraying out at the edges, then seeping out as the bit cleared the rim.

Someone called from above, “What the hell?”

“That ain’t oil.”

The rig shuddered like in a mild earthquake, then lurched suddenly, almost throwing Red off his feet. He yelled up, “Remember that crazy-ass scientist who told us not to drill here?”


“Still got his number?”


I’m always the first responder to a threat event site. Always. I run fast. Only Raijin ever beat me anywhere, and it was only the once, and it was because he could teleport and had nothing better to do that day. But this time I was out of position, looking for Critical Hit in Vegas, when another ‘pillbug’ appeared in LA and started making its way up Maple towards downtown. So even though I ran full-tilt the whole way as soon as I got the alert, anybody who happened to be in LA and even some of the people from headquarters beat me there.

I came to a halt in the street next to where the Knack was standing perfectly still, AXMC rifle trained on the alien creature, which was a block away alternatively roaring and chewing on a DASH bus. “I’m here.”

“Kid, I’m tryin’ to concentrate.” He fired, and a spurt of green and brown goo erupted from the creature’s face, just to the left of its eye. “Fuck.”

“What’s the plan, what do I do?”

“I dunno, kid. What do you usually do? Ask the big guy.” He pointed his grappling gun at the top of the Bendix building, fired it, and pulled up and away. He called behind him, “And watch your ass!”

I looked back towards the pillbug in time to see the DASH bus spinning through the air at me. I dodged it, but there was time to see the doomed, terrified passengers hanging on for dear life as it flew through the air. In my ear, D1’s voice: distract it. I ran at the bug.

I was a blur harrying its knees, its shins, it’s clawed feet. It pounded the ground where I had been a second ago. It screamed and it spat bile that started eating through my D1-designed running shoes and it started ignoring the others.

I recognized grey spears made of pulverized asphalt and cement striking the creature’s carapace, the debris raining down around me: Rapture’s work. I saw bolts of intensely bright solar energy follow, aimed at the same spots: Glowworm’s work. Together they were trying to pierce the pillbug’s defensive shell while its unprotected face was downturned. Somewhere above, the Knack held fire and waited for an opportunity; so far, he’d been the only one to actually hurt the thing.

When I’m running flat-out, everyone around me is a statue; when I’m sprinting, stopping, sprinting again, I experience short moments of a moving world sandwiched between still images. Massive charging full-tilt up the street behind me and winding up for a punch was like someone repeatedly mashing the pause button on an action movie. I had enough sense to get out of the way.

Massive delivered a punch to the bottom of the pillbug’s jaw as he leapt into the air, his entire bodyweight lent to the follow-through. The creature’s head snapped back with a deafening crack, and its mouth opened to scream.

It didn’t get the chance: the Knack obliterated its left eye with a .338 round. Before it could react to that pain, Rapture and Glowworm sent their powerful attacks down its throat. All the above while Massive was still in the air. The pillbug fell backward with a crunch, peppering the buildings to either side with dust and gravel, blowing out any windows that had remained intact.

I was still catching my breath when the Knack’s grappling hook cable deposited him beside me. “Not bad, kid. Glad you showed up.”

“I may have left some scorch marks on I-15.”

“Price of doing business.” He raised a palm to shield his eyes.

Glowworm, when he’s fully charged up, is as bright as the sun. Walking towards us through the wreckage of Maple Avenue, his radiance was already fading; by the time he spoke he was a run-of-the-mill, balding, bespectacled dentist. “That’s the third one since the funeral, Sonny.”

Arm lowered, The Knack nodded. “Yeah.”

Since the funeral.

Raijin was the original cape, the first one. He’d been around since the fifties in secret, known only to the government, a crime-fighting Area 51 kind of deal. It was only in the eighties, when powered bad guys started showing up, that he’d revealed himself to the general public. We’d needed a standard-bearer, and Raijin — mysterious and exotic though he may have been — was it. His group founded Dreamland, and funded the design of a threat-analysis computer that eventually re-designed itself and became Dreamland One. That group also became the first ‘A Team’, with Raijin at its center, its leader.

But he’d come back from Pa Reh a changed man, assuming he had really been a man to begin with. Along with the rest of us, he’d fought one of the Sagittarian Gods before — a relatively minor example — here on Earth, but going up against one of the strongest of them on its own home ground had seemed to take the fight out of him. Raijin went home to his private island in Micronesia, and stopped answering Dreamland’s alerts, and the next thing I heard, he was gone.

“Could it be related?”

McLeary shrugged, shifted his weight in the wheelchair, looked at Rapture and then back at me. “How?”

“I don’t know. A week after Raijin dies, one of these things attacks that village in Peru. Five days after that, one appears outside Avignon. Now this one, and it’s only Wednesday. Which means the next one is coming Friday, and—”

“You don’t know there will be a next one.”

“Wanna put money on it? Where are they coming from?”

“We haven’t found any holes, so they’re not coming out of the ground. Nothing tracked in the air. D1 is looking at camera footage. All of it, from all over L.A, according to Seabring.”

Rapture looked offended. “What do you mean, ‘according to Seabring’, aren’t you back in charge?”

“I’m consulting. I’m…” He sighed. “It’s an emeritus position. It’s fine. I still don’t feel up to field work, and Seabring’s good. Chowdhury and Mandy both signed off on the arrangement. And so do I. Let it be.”

Rapture said, in a tone meaning that the subject would come up again, “Fine. But Raijin—”

“I don’t know if it’s related. There’s so much about him, his power, that we didn’t understand. Maybe his being alive, being here, was keeping these things away somehow. Maybe now that he’s passed, they think it’s safe to come. That’s just speculation.” McLeary turned the wheels of his chair in opposition, spinning around to point back down the hall. “Chowdhury’s autopsying the corpse now, maybe we’ll learn something from that. Until then, don’t get too comfortable.”


I went to our apartment. Portland Drew was on the couch, watching something on a smartphone, both earbuds in. She didn’t look up. “Everybody’s asleep.”

Meaning four-year-old Junior went down for a nap and Mandy took the opportunity to do likewise. “Okay. How’s things here?”

“No giant bug monsters.” She looked around theatrically. “So far, anyway.”


“I could have saved the people on the bus. Just so you know. Slow down the fall. Land it like a feather.”

You’re not supposed to watch the Dreamland tactical feed. “Rules are rules, Portland.”

“Good rules keep people from getting killed.” She was preaching to the choir, and she knew it, but we’d agreed to a unified front, me, Mandy, Dreamland One. Portland is off the board until she’s older, no exceptions. She wouldn’t look at me. “Anyway, naptime.”

Ringing In Year Six

“Happy Orbit.”

The voice was familiar. He turned, found himself face-to-face with Polly, who he hadn’t seen since landing day. Not ‘Landing Day’, the anniversary, which was six weeks ago, but the landing day, the first one. She’d been loading canvas bags onto a rollaround, one of the biggest ones, and had winked at him as he passed with his stake-partners. “Hi. Hi.

She grinned. “You look different. Tanned. More muscular. I often wondered if you’d tone up.”

He nodded. “I spent year three walking with a Fwolp super-family. I toned up. Since I got back I exercise just enough to stay that way. You look great.

“I like to prettify for parties. And the dress…” she twirled, did a little shimmy. “Cathy made it. Fits nice. How much Fwol did you learn?”

“I can pray. I can I can ask for food; I can ask for seconds. I can describe land formations for the purposes of scouting. I can ask where the humans are.”

“Most of what I know is about trading.” She sipped her drink. “We get a small group three, four times a year that brings in that grey cotton to exchange for food, textiles. Tools. You know.”


“I also know, umm, ‘gway eh gwai, pwo yommo’.”

He flushed. “They taught you that?”

“Well, they apparently taught you, didn’t they?”

“They caught Ian and Sarah sneaking off one night. They had to explain themselves”

“Sure. So, do you want to?”

“Do I—”

“Want to sneak off?”

SF Drabble #487: “Blink Cop”

I popped in on the landing halfway up the stairs, looked around, saw the place was empty, and popped back out. Mitch was already there. “Nobody in the entrance hall.”

Mitch scowled, looked at the map. “Okay. I’m gonna try the other upstairs bedroom. Reset for 1289, 40, 910.”

“40? What is that, the basement? Come on, I—”

“Do it.” Mitch popped out, having set his own coordinates while he was talking.

I punched in the numbers he’d given me and hit the button: the basement, as I thought, and a very surprised suspect kneeling over a floor safe.


Fantasy Drabble #384 : “Practicum”


We’d meet in odd places to avoid been seen; the more isolated the better. We’d all spend the week learning a new one, some abjuration or evocation, some enchantment or illusion, and then we’d get together for the weekend ‘show and tell’. Nobody ever got hurt. Nobody ever went too far. Usually it ended with giddy whispers down the pub; only occasionally did it end with furtive sex up at mine or his or hers.

Eventually Lena got religion and gave it up. Only pure divination for her, now, revealed wisdom. Sometimes she calls to say she’s praying for me.

Zombie Drabble #445: “Spontaneity”

He woke to the weight of her against his hip and chest, of her hand over his mouth. Before his brain could process the noises he was hearing, she whispered into his ear, “Don’t make a fucking sound.”

At dusk they’d climbed up atop an eighteen-wheeler to lay out their sleeping bag; now a herd of undead were shuffling past them down the moonlit highway, an undulating chorus of moans and hisses. They listened, frozen, hearts pounding, until the noises grew few and distant.

Eventually her hand left his mouth, brushed down his chest, came to rest on his crotch.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow


“We’re getting another one.” He hit the record button before she had to tell him to.

She sighed. “All right.”

Flight Control, Awahou. We’re still nominal.” Sometimes they came in awash in static, stretched out slower or compressed faster, chopped up into bits and pieces; this one was oddly normal, like it was coming from a few miles away. “Drive system seems to have settled in after that first hiccup.

“Gotta be from early on in the test flight.”

“God, Earl, just turn off the speaker. I don’t want to listen to it. Just turn off the speaker and forward the recording like you’re supposed to.”

“What, I’m interested. I don’t think I’ve heard this one before. Might be something new in it.”

“You signed a paper, Earl, it’s—”

“Oh, they don’t really care about that after all this time. Come on.” He took a sip of his drink. “Just a bit of history, isn’t it?”

Preparing to ramp up to full power now. Having trouble hearing your replies, Flight Control. Almost sounded like the countdown there a second ago.”

“Time got weird for them too. See, that’s new, we didn’t know that.”

Here we go, Flight Control. Full power…”



What was it, that piece that Grandpa Knowles always played, the one I loved then hated then loved again when it was too late? He told me, several times, but I don’t remember the name; it’s lost somewhere amidst comic books and reruns and realizing girls smelled nice. If I knew more about music — anything about music, to be honest — I could at least narrow it down from the style. I’d know it if I heard it, I’d bet anything.

I wish I could ask him. But there’s a dust cover on Grandpa Knowles’ piano now, has been for years.

Zombie Drabble #444: “Our Friend In The Lake”


Paulie drowned somewhere here, a few hundred yards out from the North shore, just rowed out, dropped himself into the water. We watched him go, yelling and pleading the whole time for him to come back.

I’m not sure if it’s possible for him to come back up. I don’t think they float, especially once they’re decayed enough that there’s no gasses trapped inside them. But I go out and check every so often, hoping he’s near enough the surface for me to reach with the boat-hook; I can’t stand the thought of him trapped in the murky darkness, forever.

SF Drabble #486: “Abduction By Permit Only”

The agent asked, gently, “Can you describe the room?”

“There were bright lights above me. Blinding, I had to squint the whole time. So I couldn’t really see the room. But the table was metal.”

“Metal table, ok. And were there any sounds? Noise? Anything that sounded like talking?

“There was… it sounded like slurping. And definitely rustling. Like, newspapers.”

“Okay. Excuse us for a minute, please.”

The agents stepped out into the hall, closed the door behind them.

“Slurping and rustling—”

“Definitely the Pyorwheen.”

“This is, what, the third time they’ve grabbed somebody out-of-season?”

“The fine’s gonna be astronomical.”

SF Drabble #485: “Cultural Ambassador”

“Five minutes”

Greg pulled the brush through the back of her hair one more time, backed up, surveyed his work, looked at her reflected eyes and nodded. She turned to one side and then the other. “Yeah.”

“They’re gonna love you.”

By this point there was usually cheering, chanting, a rolling boil of crowd noise. Outside, in the oddly-shaped venue, the audience of Shchinwhee sat in near-silence in seats recently designed and installed. “Sure.”

“Just like a normal show.”

She locked eyes with her own reflection. Ten years since that mall food court. Poughkeepsie? Maybe Albany? “Like a normal show.”

Fantasy Drabble #383: “Trace”

Photo by Alfaz Sayed on Unsplash

Are you there? Can you hear me?

They’d been here together, that day, just before the end. She’d been happy, she’d twirled with face upturned to the sun and sky, and then lowered her chin to smile at him mischievously.

Can you answer? Can you speak? Wave if you can. Hold up your hand so I know you can hear me.

The tiny jade  statuette was cold in his hands, where it had been warm.

I’ll try again. I’ll find something more powerful, I’ll go find someone who knows how to fix it. I’ll keep trying. This has to work.

Restore From Backup


“Do you still remember how to play?”

He turned his face towards her, cocked his head, stared, then turned back and pushed down another key.

Does he even understand me? There was enough flash memory to hold him, at least after the hurried hardware upgrade, but the CPU was still a small one. “Do you remember the Debussy? Or the Stravinsky… ‘The Five Fingers?’

He turned, stared at her again.

“I know, you don’t have enough fingers now.”

He leapt from the edge of the keyboard into the air, flapped his wings, circled the room twice before finally alighting on the windowsill. He didn’t seem to be concerned with the outside, but rather with his own reflection.

“It was the only thing I had anywhere near ready. I’ll have to build a new chassis for you, call in Rémy to do the skin and hair, it’ll take some time.” She tapped the keyboard so the screen would wake, revealing design plans already begun. “Weeks, maybe?”

He didn’t look at the computer. After a moment, he flew back to the piano, slowly pushed down a key, then another.

“I wonder if, when you’re a man again, you’ll remember how to fly.”

SF Drabble #484 : “Minor Changes”

“It’s simple,” Canton shouted over the high-pitched whine of the machine. “When I say go, you step forward, you grab her, you pull her backwards, and then you step back through to this side—”


“— then it closes behind you. The bus misses her, she never knows you were even there. Simple.”

“And you’re sure this won’t, like, wreck the timeline, right?”

“It was two weeks ago, Redmond. Anything happen in the last two weeks you couldn’t stand to see undone?” He laughed. “Somebody cure cancer? Anyway, Billie isn’t important enough to change anything. Except to you.”

“Right. Okay.”

After Dark

Photo by Krys Amon on Unsplash

It’s new, just in, I got it from Porcelain, she says it’s better than JQ.

Nothing’s better than JQ. Nothing. But okay, I’ll try it, it’s just Wednesday, I got in free because the bouncer owes me a huge one, and half my squad isn’t even here. Okay. Gimme three. No, gimme three, you know my tolerance. But no I don’t want to go make out in the bathroom. Maybe later, you know?

There are normie girls falling over from a half; Porcelain’s stuff is strong. But it’s just enough to get me feeling festive. Only other powered person here is Twist, and he’s over there trying to tell the DJ how the last three songs he played interacted mathematically. Dude is looking at him like he’s fucked up, but Twist never partakes.

Eventually Twist and I will meet on the dance floor, have some fun. Later, like, last call-ish, we’ll end up in a corner, share the goss, run down the threat board, you know. Once, he had to carry me home, six miles at 3 AM, the whole time creating a bubble of positive pressure around us so we wouldn’t get rained on. Now that’s a true friend.

Falling Action

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

His cup was one of those oversized ones, big as a bowl of soup. “How much time have you got?”

She looked at her phone, because she’d stopped wearing a watch ages ago. “Half an hour. Forty minutes if I take a cab instead of walking back.” Hers was a medium to-go with the cardboard band around it.

They used to meet for coffee twice a week, then it was three times a week. Then it was once a week, but it was in a hotel room. They were back to coffee, now, just coffee: less complicated. “I knocked off for the afternoon. Slow at work. Thinking of walking over to the park.”

“You should do that. You totally should.” Without me. She didn’t need to say it, he’d always been good at reading her. That had never been their problem.

“I think I will. How’s George?”

You don’t care how George is. “George is fine. Working less, which is nice. Less stress, more time with the kids.”

“That’s good.”

“They’re moving me up, though, so I get less, so, there you go.”

“Always the way it is.” He stirred, absent-mindedly.

She checked the time on her phone, again. “Ugh.”

Fantasy Drabble #382 : “Divorcée”

“You’re Fred? Sam’s friend?”

“…Yes, ma’am.” It was later than normal for a delivery.

“You can put the bags there, on the counter.” She tapped her cigarette ash into the kitchen sink, absent-mindedly played with the belt from her robe. “Sam said you’re quite the track star.”

“All-State, two years running. I’ll be on the college team come September.” He put the groceries down gently. He turned back, leaned against the counter. This is where I normally ask for a tip. “Sam mentioned you as well.”

“Well.” She smiled slyly, fangs just showing. “That makes this simpler, then, doesn’t it?”

SF Drabble #483: “Bobby”

“So, you want us to adopt it? I mean, him?”

“Exactly. Raise him like you would any other boy.”

They looked at each other, brows furrowed, nervous, still holding hands. Through the two-way mirror, they watched him play with the toy firetruck, happy as can be. She said, “What if he gets sick? Do I—”

“Do you what you would do if any child gets sick. Thermometer, chicken soup, wet washcloth on the forehead, whatever. Nurse him back to health.”

“But will he? Get sick?”

“He’s programmed to, on occasion. Nothing too serious.” The scientist laughed. “Chicken Pox, at most.”

Speed Chess

It was a castle once, with a bustling town around its base, but now it was a ruin surrounded by dense forest. The sorcerer climbed over a waist-high remnant of a defensive wall and made his way into a building so long-abandoned that it seemed unlikely to have remained standing without some magical aid.

The statue sat at a table, across from an empty chair, with the chess board between, its fingers having seemingly just released the tip of one of the marble pieces.

“The Bishop, then? Interesting move. I would have thought the rook.”  He laid his cloak over the back of the chair and set his bottle and glass down beside the board. “No matter.”

If he sat long enough, he’d be able to see the stone hand moving away from the piece, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. It would move only so far: the statue needed to see its opponent’s play clearly, but to withdraw it any further would eat already-precious time.

“The Queen again; you’re in check. Mate in…” he checked the board again, hand still on the piece, just to be sure, before releasing. “…six moves.”

He wondered how long it would take.

SF Drabble #482: “Deb”

Beatrice stepped into the circle naked and stood, arms outstretched, feet slightly apart, while the automatics went to work. Hair, makeup, perfume, lacy underthings and gown, jewelry, all in turn, all managed by the house computer’s Waldoes.

“Are you ready yet?”


“We’re to leave by four.” Mother had worked for nearly a year to arrange her introduction to Society. All the best people. The Governor’s son. Everything must be perfect.

She’d spent the morning out with the Dolhrum workers, having learned the language young, talking about conditions, talking about treatment, talking about revolution without using the word ‘revolution’. “Understood.”

SF Drabble #481: “Citius, Altius, Fortius”


“Anton Voroshenko.”



“And where is that?”

He gave the lady behind the desk an annoyed look. Idiot. “Greater Russia.”

“The category in which you are competing?”

“Long jump.”

There was a snickering in line behind him. He looked back, then up: two rail-thin, ten-feet tall men with snow-white hair loomed over him. Loonies? Martians? “Can I help you?”

“I just remembered a joke.”

“I’m sure.” He turned back to the registration desk.

The lady, now wearing a smirk, held out his welcome packet and an ID lanyard. As he took it, she said, “Good luck, ‘greater’ Russia.”

Zombie Drabble #443 “Grounded”

“Mom.” She knocked again, softly, tried the knob again. Her voice was raspy, weak. “Let me out, Mom.”

Her mother leaned against the wall outside, eyes closed, exhausted. “I can’t, honey. Not yet. Just… not yet.”

LET ME OUT!” The knocking turned to banging, the pleading to yelling, then  screaming, then muffled sobbing.

“I love you. I can’t let you out.” Her mother sat, back to the wall, head in hands. “Not yet. Not until we’re sure you’re ok. I’ll make it up to you, I swear. I swear.”

The next morning, the knocking resumed, but slowly, accompanied by moaning.

Zombie Drabble #442 “Gauntlet”

At the other end of the hallway was the entrance to Shankton, a town entirely enclosed in an old brick factory complex. At his end, Frankie’s end, there was Frankie. In between about twenty-five zombies hung by the neck, feet just off the floor, beginning to sway back and forth from their weight shifting as they grasped in vain at him.

“I’ve gotta get through?”

“If you want in, yeah. We don’t want nobody who can’t deal,” a hidden voice called out. “Sorry, that’s the rules.”

People were getting worse; it hadn’t taken long. “Is there, like, a time limit?”

SF Drabble #480 “Not Just A Heist”

“And then what?”

The old man glanced at Candace, who shook her head and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before speaking. “And then? And then you pick up the artifact, and you press the button again.”

“And that’s going to work?”

“Of course.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it’s worked every other time.” She exclaimed, exasperated. “Well, except for twice.”


“You’ve done this before.” The old man said, calmly. “Twenty-seven times, by my count. I told you before, the artifact has temporal attributes. It’s the next part we haven’t gotten to work yet. Destroying it.”

SF Drabble #479 “Not Staying”

Six checkpoints, not including the gatehouse coming in from the road. Biometric scanners at most, retina, thumbprint, show the chipped badge, what’s the code word for today. At all of them, two men with guns.

Past all that, the tall, disturbingly thin alien was playing checkers with one of the interns; most of the scientists have gotten sick of losing, and the army officers can’t be bothered. “Hello, Greg.”

“How are you today, Kathlogroh?”

“Healing. Not so sick now.”


“Want to start working on ship. Any news?”

They’re not going to let you out of here, buddy. “Not yet.”

Zombie Drabble #441 “Smol Bean”

There were three of them, hissing and moaning and scratching at the windows of one particular car out of a Monday morning traffic jam’s worth of cars. “Somebody in there.”

Ritchie pushed back his cap. “Yep.”

They picked the zombies off, then — slowly, carefully — approached the car.

“C’mon out.” There was no response, no movement. Ritchie motioned him to go around the other side. “C’mon out of the car, it’s safe now.”

A head appeared, a little boy, maybe five. He peered at them, then knocked on the car window.

Ritchie shook his head, “I ain’t takin’ no fuckin’ kid.”

Indistinguishable From Magic

There were dozens of them clustered around Rebbo, none taller than midway up the massive engineer’s shinbone. Shinbones? Mays had the camera zoomed in and focused so he could at least try to read Rebbo’s body language; out the actual window he could see more of the tiny aliens coming from the mostly mud-brick village downslope near the river.

“He making any headway? You’re listening in, right?”

ELLE’s voice came from either side of the flight control panels, and from his dangling earpiece, and from speakers set into the shoulders of his Captain’s chair. “I am listening. I can’t tell if he’s making any headway.”

He pressed the comms button. “You making any headway?”

Mixed in with a chorus of alien chatter: “What is ‘headway’?

“Do you understand what they’re saying?”

Rebbo gestured to the aliens to quiet down, and when that failed, he put his helmet back on. “They are speaking a pidgin version of an archaic Wholmet trade koine. That suggests it has been a considerable time since a ship has landed here.”

“Maybe pre-Company?”

Almost certainly.

“Do they want to sell the ore?”

“I am having a difficult time describing what it is we want to buy. The Boolbul do no mining; all their metal is recycled. There is a machine that melts down broken or worn-out tools and reforms them to whatever specifications they—”

“A machine? A Wholmet machine?”

I would assume so. I have asked to see it. They have agreed on the condition that in return we allow them to tour the ship.”

“What, all of them?”

ELLE interjected. “A working Wholmet machine of any kind would be on an order more valuable than either our current cargo or the ore we were sent to trade—”

“Well no shit.”

“—for. Any reasonable offer on credit, made by us as their agents, would be honored by the Company.”

Mays threw up his hands in exasperation. “But they’d take the machine, ELLE, the Company. We wouldn’t get the profits.”

“There would be a sizable reward bounty.”


Stand by.” Rebbo clicked off to converse with the Boolbul crowd. Suddenly, mid-gesture, they began backing away: some rushed to pick up spears they had earlier dropped on the ground; others continued towards the village, waving their arms as they went. Rebbo was already sprinting back towards the ship. “Their opening position is that it is not for sale.”


“You OK?”

She waited before answering, still angry, still frightened, the rhythm of her pounding heart syncopating against a chorus of distant car alarms. “Yeah.”

“We should head for the stairs, there’s—”

“Fuck off.”

“Listen, I—”

“Head for the stairs, go on. Nobody’s stopping you.” There was dust settling on her tights; she brushed it violently off, then her shoulders, arms, shook it out of her hair.

He got out from under the table, stepped gingerly over broken glass to a suddenly open window, looked out, whistled. “The front of Hawley Hall fell off. Like, you can see into the rooms.”

“John, I don’t give a shit, get out. Get out. You don’t get to tell me that you want to break up and that you cheated on me and then act like nothing happened. I—”

“There was an earthquake, Ariana.”

“I don’t care.” She pushed back further under the table, until her back was against the wall. “Go.”

“You can’t stay in here. It’s not safe.”

“I want you to leave. Fucking go find Carrie or whatever the fuck her name is.” Outside, sirens were starting to sound. “Go. I hope Hawley Hall falls on the both of you.”


The light was about to change, and we were waiting at the curb. Her thumb and index finger circled my wrist, as far as they’d go, and her other fingers rested lightly on my palm. Touch is important to her. It’s her thing.

When the light finally changed, I was about to step off the curb, but her hand suddenly closed around my upper arm, not tight enough to hurt me because she knows her strength, but tight.

She’d heard something somewhere — somewhere close, probably. It wasn’t the first time. I whispered, “Don’t”, because I knew she could also hear me, even over the traffic noise and the jackhammer up the block and the normal city shouting. There were camera spikes where every third telephone pole used to be, and the cop on the opposite corner had a Detector hanging from his belt. “Don’t.”

By then I could hear it myself: a car, an old car, gas-burning, accelerating out of control, headed towards the intersection. She could’ve reached it before it got there, before it hit anything, she could’ve slowed it down safely, stopped it, prevented anyone from getting hurt. She might even have been able to do it without her face being seen, without biometrics being recorded. Maybe.


The car appeared up the street, going seventy, seventy-five, careening out of control. I watched it scrape a parked car and overcorrect and go sideways. “Don’t.”

I haven’t watched the news. I don’t know if anybody died, or how many. The other people waiting to cross all got hit by flying glass or debris, cuts and bruises mostly. Nothing hit us; I don’t know how she does that. Cops said it was ‘just one of those things’. They waved us along, to concentrate on the injured.

She’s gonna hate herself eventually, or me, or both. I can live with that, because of what they would do to her if they found out, or what she would have to do to stop them.