Sunday, November 30, 2008

Drabble: Brilliance


“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.”

“Why, what does it do?”

“We’re not sure yet.”

“What do you mean? Why don’t you just ask Fitzgerald?”

“The doctor doesn’t know, himself. He invents in a kind of a trance, and he doesn’t always know what he’s making.”

“That’s a little hard to believe.”

“Well, here it is, believe it or not.”

“But how does that work?”

“Nobody’s sure, but I have a theory.”


“I think his last invention will be – is, maybe – some way to send these ideas back in time to himself.”

“But, the implications–”

“I know.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Droubble: The Dying Game

The Dying Game

I can feel it working through my body, the wrenching pain as the poison’s effects cascade through the systems of my body. There’s an electric buzz as it starts to eat into my brain, a giddy lightness, and then I lose control and with a jolt the process halts, and I lay gasping as the nano in my blood neutralizes the toxins, repairs the tissue damage, even restores lost neural information to states backed up before I ingested the mushroom. But a little bit of the glow remains from that moment of near-annihilation.

I glance at the door in a moment of paranoia. It’s locked, like I knew it was. If Mom knew I was doing this I’d be in serious trouble. Not that there’s any real danger – there’s nothing I could throw at the nano that it couldn’t handle. I know a kid who drank half a quart of bleach, and was up and about half an hour later. But Mom comes from another time, back before universal augmentation. Her mindset is and will probably always be tied up in mortal thinking.

The air, the light, the room around me feels brighter than before. I feel completely alive.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Drabble: New Potatoes

New Potatoes

“It’s a tricky one.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, we just got shipped a load of this new variety of potato. They fry up crisp and light every time, with flavor you wouldn’t believe. They’re perfect in every way but one.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, the flesh’s dark brown, and gets darker when they’re cooked. They taste great, but look burnt or spoiled or something. Customers won’t even try ‘em.”


“You ought to get them used to the things. Serve them up free for one day, they’ll come back for more.”

“Like, Black Fry Day?”

“Good name. Got a ring to it.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Droubble: Thanks


“What do you say?”

“Humph.” The little girl crossed her arms and turned away, in an imitation of adult gesture that would have been adorable on a child a year younger, but was becoming more and more of a worry.

Her mother put a firm hand on the little girl’s shoulder. “When people do something nice for us, we say thank you to show that we’re grateful.”

“But mom, I didn’t want that one. I wanted the other kind.”

“Don’t be ungrateful.” Her mother looked up at the uncle. “I’m sorry she’s being this way.”

The girl’s attention had drifted, though. The gifts hadn’t been a total disappointment, and she was already looking at the new, sparklingly wrapped toys, thinking how they would fit in with the rest of the fancy toys in her room. She was so engaged in contemplation of all her beautiful things that she hardly noticed her mother’s lecture about gratitude. She didn’t even notice when the Tyrannosaurus Rex stormed in – at least not until it tore off–

“Rose!” said Mom. “What happened to your doll?”

Rose looked at the battered ragdoll, its arm loose in her one hand, stuffing poking
out the shoulder. “It broke.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Drabble: Trenches


“Pull yourself together.”

“Sir, I can’t do it anymore.”

“Son, there ain’t a one of us here who doesn’t want to be back home right now. But we’re here, and we’ve got a job to do.”

“Y, yes sir.”

“We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to get through this. We’re going to keep each other alive, and we’re going to make it home.”

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Now go and open register eight!”

“Sir, yes sir!”

It’s half a lie. He’ll make it home, but he’ll never be the same. Thanksgiving Wednesday in the supermarket tries men’s souls.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Drabble: Kink


“We both know the safety word.”

“Pinapple, right.”

“Are you sure you’re really into this?”

“If you don’t want to...”

“No, I do want to. I just want to make sure you are.”

“Oh, I am.”

“It’s just, it’s a pretty far-out scene. If you feel like we should talk it through more first?”

“Sam, are we going to do this or not?”

“Sorry, it’s just, I want to do this right.”

“I love you. It’s fine.”


“I, Sam Murphy, take this woman as my– Oh, pinapple, stop, I feel sick. How, how did people live with themselves?”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Drabble: Confrontation


“Hello, hero.”

I look around my dark apartment. “Who’s there?”

“I think you know.”

“Bill.” I fumble around for the light switch, but it’s dead.

“That’s right, hero.”

“I’m not a hero.”

“Oh, quit being so humble. I know you love it, all that attention.”

“Look, I know I can’t imagine how it feels for you, what happened to Tina. I’m not proud of what happened. But you have to let go.”

“Let go? I don’t think so. Maybe I should help you understand how it feels, instead.”

“Bill, it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“I think it does.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Drabble: Tie A String Around Your Finger

Tie A String Around Your Finger

But there it is again, that nagging feeling that I forgot to do something. You know how that is, that feeling that something isn’t quite right, and as much as you wrack your brain you can’t come up with anything. So you try to convince yourself it’s in your head, that if it were important you’d remember. But if it is important, and you fall victim to that kind of complacency, what if that’s what keeps you from remembering?

I’m caught in that loop when I hear the sirens, and then of course it comes to me.

Hide the bodies.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Drabble: Spoons and Forks

Spoons and Forks

“All these centuries later, and we still think silverware is such a great gift.”

“What do you mean?”

“Those Jesuits we’ve got frozen down in the holds. Bringing civilization to the outer worlds. Teaching them to cover their shame and pray to our god and eat with spoons and forks. Just like the old days.”

“But some of the less advanced worlds are grateful for the help, aren’t they.”

“We’ve all had three million years since the Diaspora divided early humanity onto a thousand worlds. We’re all equally advanced.”

“You still run the freight, though.”

“Man’s gotta make a buck.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Droubble: Vertigo


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying freefall is a picnic. Any EVA has its own risks and dangers; no suit jockey got into the job for the retirement plan. But comparatively speaking, freefall is easy.

It’s a little harder under thrust. At full burn, it’s like working on the side of a skyscraper – one with no ground under it.

But it’s the worst under spin. A gee of centrifugal acceleration is fine inside, where down is nice solid hull. Out here, that hull’s above you, and down is stars, all the way round the spindle. Even for a dyed-in-the-wool spacer, dangling over that kind of abyss sets off some major instinctual red lights.

The trick is to focus on your work. Your suit’s magnetic holdfasts do the real work of holding on.

That is, unless you get careless, move too fast. Keep three of your four magnets on ship whenever you’re moving around. Every old hand knows that.

Doesn’t mean an old hand can’t get sloppy, and here I dangle at the end of my safety line. It takes all my concentration to not look down while I wait for my crew to haul me down.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Droubble: Power of Two

Power of Two

The device doesn’t look like much at first glance – just a flimsy-looking construction of different-sized tubes, dull-grey in color, larger tubes branching into smaller and smaller tubes. Yet your eye can’t quite focus on its extremeties.

“It’s almost perfectly fractal,” says the scientist. “Each branch splits into two equal branches, and so forth down to the atomic scale. Now watch this.”

He turns a switch, and a purplish light bathes the chamber. “The device is powered on ultraviolet light – sunlight would do.” As you watch, the branches begin moving. It’s hard to observe the progress, like watching the hour hand of a clock, but sure enough, the chamber wall seems to be corroded where the thing sits, and a copy of the device is taking form.

The scientist turns the switch again, and the light goes off.

“I don’t exactly see how this is so dangerous. Yes, it replicates, but so slowly. It must take at least half an hour to make a full copy.”

“Do you know how many times a hundred-gram device needs to double to consume the mass of the earth?”

“How many?”

“Shy of eighty-six.”


“Two days, sir.”

“I see.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008



I see the world now as if through the coin-operated telescope at some minor landmark -- a little bit distorted, and scratchy around the edges; I almost feel like it might snap shut to black any second.

I’ve gotten a little more control over the body they made me; it’s far from perfect, but I’ve learned its limitations; I can even pick flowers now without crushing them. Well, most of the time.

The loneliness is the worst, I think. After the news stories tapered off, people stopped visiting; even my old friends can’t bear to see me.

But I live.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Drabble: Inequity


“Did you read in the paper about Fergusson’s new contract?”

“I sure did. And that’s just the start of it -- we all know there’ll be the endorsement deals, and the off-season speaking gigs.” Bob put down the paper. “Pretty wild, don’t you think?”

“It’s sick, is what it is. I mean, yes, they work hard, but that’s too much.”

“Hey, he works hard; if he fills the seats, why not pay him for it?”

“I’m not saying he shouldn’t get paid. But professional athletes and music stars work hard too; why should a philosophy professor get so much more?”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Drabble: A Royal Pain

A Royal Pain

You know you shouldn’t complain; others have it far worse. For you it’s an inconvenience; for a lot of others it’s ruined lives. It’s not a wonder people don’t trust you after all of that. Not that it’s fair; it hurts to get so little trust. And the people who do trust you aren’t worthy of your help.

Still, you have to keep up the work. You’ve got a lot of money on your hands; you want to share the wealth, and it’s certainly not giving itself away. It would just be much easier if you weren’t a Nigerian prince.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Drabble: At the End

At the End

Who do they build these busses for? Why are the seats are so close together? My legs are all crushed up against the seat in front of me and now my foot’s asleep. Why do they call it that? When you go to sleep your body doesn’t go all pins and needles, and that phrase is weird too, because it’s not really anything like being poked with pins or needles. Language is strange. Oh god, this guy’s getting out fast food, it clearly says no food or beverages on the sign, and now the bus is going off a brid–”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Drabble: Fraud


“They’re making you into some kind of hero out there, you know.”

“We both know I’m not.”

His voice went icy. “You don’t have to remind me, of all people.”

“Bill, I–”

He cut me off, voice friendly as if nothing had happened. “Either way, you should enjoy it. You want me to bring in some newspapers, maybe try to get a TV in here?”

“I really don’t need to see that.”

“Suit yourself.” Then the voice again: “Just don’t think that makes up for what you did to Tina.” The hospital room seemed to shudder as he walked out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Drabble: Secrets


I see the messages everywhere. Slight perturbations in the alignment of a vee of migrating geese. Cracks in the paint on an abandoned building. Braile and morse in spots of dried gum on the sidewalk. I can’t quite read where they point, but they are all messages, and they are all written in the same hand.

I do sometimes wonder if it’s all imagined, if my mind isn’t fully sound. But other times I am certain that it is that voice of doubt that is the crazy one, in the face of so much evidence.

But what does it mean?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Drabble: Slippery Slope

Slippery Slope

“Look, I don’t care for it much either, but who are we to tell grown adults how to live?”

“It’s not adults I’m worried about. If they want to indulge in a regressive and sick-minded lifestyle in the privacy of their own homes, all power to them. But if they do it in the public square, impressionable children get drawn in.”

“That argument’s a strawman. Nobody would actually try to convert kids...”

“You’re too young to remember, but I lived it. When I was a born, most kids were raised religious. You really want to go back to that?”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Drabble: Have Nots

Have Nots

“Wow, man, that is slick. How could you afford it? Those next-gen implants don’t come cheap.”

“Hey, have you ever known me to skimp?”

“Nate, I know you couldn’t afford that on your own. What gives?”


“You didn’t.”

“It’s just until I can pay it off. And really, it’s not that bad. Sure, I don’t get full use of the implant, but I wouldn’t have it at all if it weren’t for this distributed computing lease.”

“You’re thinking some rich stranger’s thoughts for him.”

“All encapsulated, though. Well, almost. I do get some bleedthrough...” His face grew distant.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Drabble: Generation Gap

Generation Gap

When we were young, our parents didn’t understand us, either. We were the first generation connected from toddlerhood to global computer networks. Our social structures were puzzling to the older generation. We grew up into a world of ever increasing connectivity, hurtling towards the inevitable. By the time we transmigrated, our ways were all but unfathomable to them, and we had to leave them behind.

But our children were born unfathomable. Unfettered by any legacy of biological existence, their sentience is unlike anything that existed before. All we can do is let them go and hope the best for them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Drabble: Five o' Clock

Five o' Clock

I was shaving when the first zombie came crashing through the window. We’ve been running ever since, a small nucleus of humanity, picking up fellow survivors as we find them, if not quite quickly enough to replace those of us who make mistakes. There’s talk of a place in the woods, a fortified compound where we could make a go at it, but that’s a long way off.

In the action movies, the heroes who stand against the invading horde might be disheveled, but it’s always a ruggedly attractive kind of dishevelled.

Try fighting the zombies with half a beard.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Drabble: Trapped


I’m bruised from when they tossed me down into the disused cistern. My eyes are adjusted to the dark, but there’s not much to see: The only way out is the way I came in, the aquaeduct leading into the structure, and that’s three and a half metres up the wall.

I might get out if it rains. Though if it rains too hard, I won’t be able to fight the torrent out the hole, and if it’s not hard enough, I won’t be able to tread water long enough, and I’ll drown.

At least I won’t die of thirst.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Drabble: Raindrops


“We might be in a little bit later than planned – the rain’s coming down really hard.”

“You’d best hurry, I might not be able to keep your father off that turkey much longer.”

“We’ll do the best we can.” I close the phone and glance over at Robert. His brow furrows with concentration as he squints through the sheeting downpour. “You okay?”

“I’m not sure I’ll even be able to see our turn. I’m pulling over; it’s got to let up soon.”

We listening to the drumming on the rooftop as we wait. The clamorous noise is almost like silence.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Droubble: Baby Boom

Baby Boom

“There’s your baby, Miss Turner,” I say, indicating the ultrasound screen. She manages a smile, but worry makes her face far older than her twenty-some years.

“Doctor, I’ve been watching the news. Is it true what they’re saying about shortage?”

I sigh. “I won’t say it will be a relaxing couple of weeks. But it could be a lot worse. We have every active physician in the hospital assisting on births on a rotating schedule to keep in practice; we may not have a full-time obstetrician on every delivery, but we aren’t going to be turning anyone away.”

“It’s just, I can’t imagine what I would do if anything happened. This isn’t what I planned, but life feels so much more precious now. That night–”

“It’ll be fine,” I interrupt. “We’ll do everything to make sure your daughter is born safe and healthy.” I’m still not very comfortable talking about those days of terror, just seven months ago. The experts were so sure the comet would kill us all. We were spared, and I am grateful. But it is hard, in my line of work, not to dwell on that night when the world was about to end.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Droubble: The Voyage of the Violetta

The Voyage of the Violetta

The smoke from the old engine makes me cough. Or is it the lingering, chilly damp? Waves crash and split against the bow.

The captain hollers to shut down the engine. We run it less and less of late, going instead where the wind takes us under our jerry-made sailing rig. Good diesel is harder to find than it once was; these days we run on seal blubber rendered in old oil drums over a driftwood fire. The seals are plentiful and trusting, in the absence of their major competitor, plump and fat on recovering salmon runs. They’re easy enough to hunt.

We used to run the engine harder, back when we had some pretense of destination; now that we know there’s nowhere to go, we sail under power only to avoid navigational hazards or inclement weather. And, of course, to run the generator. We don’t have much use for power. Light comes from oil lamps. The GPS is worthless box, half of the satelites having decayed out of orbit. Radar and running lights are of little use, for what other ships are out here?

We just run the radio, a long unanswered call to whoever might be left.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Drabble: Beast


It’s hard to say whether the beast was quite sane when he was first put in the pit, but whatever humanity had been there in the first place is long gone. All that’s left is the primal essence of his animality, grown twisted in the dark. He rails against his bonds, in a long continuous roar of wordless rage. The attendants fear to approach the pit, now only going in every few days to throw the next few days of food down.

Some day the occasion may come to release him. I feel pity for any man he may face.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Drabble: The Tiniest Tin

The Tiniest Tin

The tiniest tin went strolling down the street. A stroll isn’t an easy thing for such a small container, but he still went out every day, because he didn’t want the fact that he was a tiny, tiny tin to keep him from leading an ordinary life.

While he strolled, he chatted with his neigbors. He asked Miss Puddlewink, “Miss Puddlewink, I’m so small that I cannot see over the fence, and I’ve no neck to crane up at the sky. Tell me, is the sky blue?”

“Why, yes!” said Miss Puddlewink. “Yes, wee can!”

“That was awful, Miss Puddlewink.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

Drabble: Behind Glass

Behind Glass

They want you to get mad, I tell myself. Don’t give them the satisfaction. And that calms me; I’m still incensed, but damned if I’ll show it.

Another handful of pebbles rattles off the glass of my enclosure. It takes a strong force to pretend not to notice, but I manage to supress the reflexive twitch.

Show them that you’re a civilized being, and not the monster they expect you to be. I do my best to act casual, in the absurdly exaggerated surrounds of the habitat they've built for me.

What I wouldn’t give for a book to read.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Droubble: Control


The next room doesn’t look much better. The remains of its occupants are barely recognizable as formerly human; gore plasters every wall of the room, little clean shadows behind each piece of furniture.

I dispatch orders to quarantine the building – there’s no way of knowing how virulent the strain was, but even if it hadn’t been modified for greater airborne spore survivability, the blood at least was a high infection risk.

And these guys had obviously been messing around with one of the nastier strains. By and large, the plague’s been contined, controlled with a simple program of injections at first signs. But that doesn’t stop criminal gangs or fringe agitators from seeing benefit in the creation and control of a new strain, some way of accellerating the disease’s progression. Not terribly smart, and these guys were espescially foolish. Their set-up was lously: Less like a lab and more like someone’s kitchen, and not a clean one at that.

A fly alights on my mask. As I reach up to brush it away the cloth of my environment suit catches on the corner of the table.

I freeze.

I already feel my skin prickling. This is a nasty strain.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Drabble: Sunday Breakfast

Sunday Breakfast

I glance across the kitchen table at Maria. At the same moment she happens to look up from her paper. Our eyes meet for half a second.

And for that moment, five years of marriage and three of courting are gone – we are strangers again, furtively making eye contact from across the room, looking away, embarassed to be caught looking. It only lasts a moment. We realize what we’ve done, and we share a little laugh at this strange regression. I’ve never loved her more than right now.

I feel a slight draft. That window will need fixing before winter.