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?”

“Almost.”

“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”

“Name?”

“Anton Voroshenko.”

“Origin?”

“Novgorod.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Good.”

“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.”

“Rebbo?”

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.”

Wobbler

“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.”

Incognito

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.

“Jack…”

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.