The Pups in the Yard (Second Draft)

I decided to give this story a second draft treatment because I didn’t think my first draft did it justice. A lot has changed between the first draft and the second so I recommend reading this one if you’ve already read the first edition. Enjoy!

The pups roamed the yard, each of their noses pointed directly towards the ground in search of any new smells from the creatures that had paid visit the night before. The soil’s scents were a cocktail of the neighborhood wildlife, a potent mix of raccoons, possums, and of course squirrels. Nothing made the pups more excited than the odor of a a squirrel. The scent of a squirrel evoked thoughts of a thrilling chase around the yard, ending of course with the little furry body within the jaws. In perfect world the squirrel would join the rest of their toys and would become a mainstay in their lives. Unfortunately, every run in so far with a squirrel had ended in the small creature narrowing escaping their grasp. One of these days, they thoughts, one of these days…. 

The neighborhood had an abundance of squirrels. They dashed across the power lines high above, they jumped from tree to tree leaping with their little paws out stretched like a kite, each in search of nuts to snack on or bury for later. They usually wrapped up their business by midday before the hot summer sun hung overhead pounding its scorching rays down onto the neighborhood. Midday was neigh, which meant that the pups had to be vigilant for their small furry friends.

As the pair of pups patrolled the ground high above them huddling on the roof sat a pair of squirrels, their cheeks stuffed to the brim with their latest catch of sweet juicy walnuts that they had gathered from the tree in the front yard. They took too the roof of the house to look out for any beast in the backyard. As expected, two beasts patrolled the backyard below. The pair of squirrels peered their tiny heads over the ledge waiting for the beast to retreat into their abode.

To the squirrels of the neighborhood these beast were nothing more than a nuance. A mild inconvenience in their quest to collect their food as a part of their daily routines. A squirrel was more likely to die from the giant metal monsters that patrolled the gray rock paths across all across the neighborhood. Most of the time if a dog grabbed hold of them them the dog wouldn’t know what to do with their new small furry friend and drop it just out of mere excitement and confusion. Still it wasn’t anything any sane squirrel would ever want to tempt, and those who had intentionally tempted fate with a dash through the yard of a beast were usually the ones who perished in the jaws of a dog. Except for the pale squirrel.

The pale squirrel looked like a typical squirrel: long furry body with a big bushy tale, but where the typical squirrel’s brown fur provided adequate camouflage against the backdrop of a tree trunk of the mulch of forest floor, the pale squirrel had a white coat like a cloud. A white coat for a squirrel was practically a death sentence, and with the pale squirrel’s constant disregard of the beasts that patrolled the yards it had found itself in a considerable amount of trouble. You’d think it’d learn by now to not go toe-to-toe with a dog, and yet it would dash through any open space as long as it meant getting from point A to point B as hastily as possible. One of the squirrels on the roof had even seen the pale squirrel escape the jaws of death from the very same beast that roamed below. If it hadn’t been for the humans of the house intervening, the pale squirrel might have met its end right then and there.

The two squirrels on the roof were not suicidal like the pale squirrel, so like any sane squirrel out there the two on the roof stayed patient and still.

The pups shifted their focus from the ground to the places they knew the squirrels liked to be: they wondered to a small tree on the edge of the property and sniffed up the trunk. The little pup, a black furred dog with a short and stocky body and ears like a bat, yelped up the tree. A method of detecting squirrels that she had perfected: a small yelp was enough to startle a squirrel which would then cause the tree to shiver. The tree didn’t answer. Just to be sure, the larger dog, a brown furred beast with droopy ears, let out a deep woof. The tree remained still. They carried out their investigation around the yard barking at fences, flowerbeds, never checking the roof, for the roof never shivered. 

The dark shingles of the roof began to bake, and the squirrels on the roof began to grow hot. The beast had to leave soon or the squirrels would be forced to make a move. They could risk it and dash across the yard, perhaps they’d even survive if either of them get caught in the beast’s jaws. Otherwise they’d be forced to be cooked to death upon the roof. Trees filled the next yard over, like a miniature forest, if they could just cross over they could relax in the shade and bury their nuts. With the sun no letting up, they decided to tempt fate.

Once the two squirrels had plotted their route they began to take action. The beasts had retreated towards the edge of the yard and now lied beneath the shadow of a neighboring tree, they tongues danging from their open mouths as they panted. The large dog sat up against the chain linked fence that divided him from the trunk of the neighboring tree. His head casually gazing around the yard for any signs of the squirrels. The smaller dog however continued to patrol the perimeter. The squirrels inched to the far side of the roof, as far away as they could get from the large dog and waited for the moment to bail out of there.

One squirrel tensed, ready to take the jump when a loud bark came from across the yard. Had they been caught? How did the beasts notice them so easily? The squirrels froze and turned their heads towards the commotion. 

The smaller black dog had joined in on the barking, her yelps like an alto singing an out of key duet with the deep baritone barks of the larger dog. They were not facing the squirrels, instead their attention was brought to the fence line. In the middle of the chain linked fence a light furred squirrel crawled. The pale squirrel.

In the minds of the two pup they pictured themselves playing with their favorite playmate. Collectively they remembered their last chance encounter with the pale squirrel and the taste of its fur in their mouths. Memories of the playful little chirp it let out when they squeezed it in their jaws came back, it was like a squeaky toy that actually moved! It had been weeks since they had last laid eyes on it, and now it had finally came back to play! But why wouldn’t it come down here right now to play? It just sat there frozen like the dozens of other squirrels they had seen on the fence. They barked louder begging it to join them in the backyard for a little play sesh.

Inside the house one of their owners, a young male in a red shirt and black shorts, who had spent his afternoon laying on the couch mindlessly watching random science videos on YouTube. The cool breeze of the AC blew through the open door way into the backyard where the dogs had begun yapping wildly. He could tolerate a little of the dog’s barking, but their chorus just wouldn’t stop. They had seen a squirrel and he knew it without having to look outside. Something about the intonation of their barks changed when they saw one, their barks grew louder and whinier. Worse, he feared what the neighbors would think of the two dogs going wild outside. They had gotten enough complaints before of the passive aggressive type. Unwilling to leave the comforts of the couch, but wanting to do something about it, he began shouting their names from his cozy spot. He knew they wouldn’t listen, they never listened when a squirrel was present and in due time he knew he’ll have to leave the comforts of the couch and drag the dogs indoors by the collars. Still opting into the lazy life he continued yelling out the open door.

The pale squirrel cocked its head back and forth scanning the terrain below it taking note of the situation. Two canines, both sizable but not an unreasonable obstacle. It had encountered this due of dogs before, nearly escaping their jaws, which made this yard problematic. A human inside the house, shouting futilely over and over (rarely did dogs ever listen to their owners in its presence. Perhaps its white fur made it more desirable in their canine brains). It continued its scan across the yard. The rest of the yard contained a few overgrown planter beds to its left, a covered deck in the middle, and a storage shed on its right. On the roof of the house it spied two brown furred squirrels frozen in place. Its destination lied within this yard, usually not an issue, but the canines always proved to be a hindrance. The human inside clearly showed no initiative to herd the dogs inside despite their loud barks, which was an issue. It needed to get in that yard, what it needed lied within it and it didn’t have long. With no time to waste the pale squirrel acted upon a classic maneuver.

The two squirrels watched from above, frozen in primal fear. the pale squirrel leaped from the fence, its limbs spread outwards turning its body leaf like and drifted towards the yard. The pale squirrel hit the ground and began zigging and zagging all of the place. The two beast hot on its tail. 

The pups lost their minds, their barks roared in excitement as they followed their favorite playmate around the yard. The pale squirrel was fast! No matter how close they got to it it had already zoomed out of the way and off to a different direction. Yet they didn’t give up hope, they had caught it before and they sure as heck could catch it again! If only their playtime hadn’t had been cut short. 

First went the smaller black furred pup. Yanked away by her collar she had been removed from the scene. Her owner dragged her towards the house. She yelped and yelped at the squirrel but her owner wouldn’t give into her demands to play with their little guest. Before she knew it she had been cut off from the outside world with a pane of glass between her and the backyard. The owner returned to the yard to control the larger dog.

The larger dog proved harder to get back inside, not only because he had thirty pounds on his black furred sibling but because he had anticipated this. The owner had a track record of pulling them in whenever they had a squirrel guests. When the owner returned to the yard the larger pup now barking at the pale squirrel, who had climbed to the top of the storage shed, dashed away from the owner. The two of them played a little game of tag across the yard: whenever the owner stepped near the large dog would dash away to another part of the yard. This continued until the owner finally managed to grasp the collar of the larger dog. The game was over. The larger dog surrendered to his owner and let him escort him inside.

The pups in the house watched the pale squirrel through the windows as it dug little holes in the soil searching for whatever squirrels were so interested in finding. Meanwhile, the two squirrels on the roof took a sigh of relief and leapt from the roof towards the lawn and then proceeded to dash off towards the shade. One of them, on passing the pale squirrel, noticed a strange thing in the pale squirrel’s paws. Between the pale squirrel’s white little paws sat a red nut, and even though the sun was fully out the nut appeared to be glowing. The pale squirrel tucked it into its cheeks and dashed away.

The Pups in the Yard (First Draft)

The pups roamed the backyard, their noses pointed directly towards the ground in search any new and novel smells from creatures that had passed through the yard earlier that morning. Any smell would satisfy their curiosity but only the scent of a squirrel cold really satisfy their playful desires. One of these days, both dogs thought, one of these days we’ll play with a squirrel. 

The squirrels came and went throughout the yard collecting nuts and burring acorns into the damp soil. After the rain was the best time to hunt for acorns, walnuts, pecans, and whatever assortment of seeds they could get their little paws on before the sun’s rays grew too a sweltering hot crescendo later in the day. The mid morning air still cool and gentle meant it was prime time for their daily routine.

Unbeknownst to the pups on the ground two squirrels hid within the trees watching  and waiting for the right opportunity to bale from the yard. Deep within them a sense of fear held them in their place, and yet they knew they were safe. Long had the days gone of outrunning wolfs in the forest, now the wolf’s decedents were nothing more than docile animals with a rough sense of play. A sense of play still too rough for the squirrels liking. Now waiting on the dogs below was nothing more than a mere nuisance in their daily routine. Cats on the other hand were still a problem. Cats could climb trees and pounce from roof to roof making them formidable predators of the squirrels. Only daring a squirrel would ever go toe to toe with a cat. Dogs on the other hand could only bark loudly until their vocal chords went horse, or until their owners called them inside. The squirrels remained hidden in the tree while the dogs below carried out their search.

The two squirrels had not arrived at this yard for collecting nuts, they had already done enough work for today. Instead they were here for the tall tree. In the middle of the yard a tall sycamore tree stretching high into the sky took root. In the sycamore’s trunk a large hollow had been formed, providing shelter for many generations of squirrels like themselves. The two squirrels had moved in recently after the pale squirrel had moved out to another hollow across the neighborhood. All they had to do was climb down the tree they hid in, dash across the yard and up the sycamore and and be home free.

One of the dogs, a smaller black furred dog with bat like ears yelped, well more like bocked like a chicken. The squirrels had become acquainted to this yelp, it was an informational yelp signaling to her partner that something of note had been discovered. The squirrels tensed not out of any particular reason other that instincts driven into their psyches after millions of years of fleeing canines. The black dog yelped again.

Across the like a taxidermied animal frozen the pale squirrel, its albino white coat glowing in the bright sunlight like a ghost. The larger dog, a brown furred one with floppy ears the bat eared dog on the other side of the yard. If the bat eared dog’s yelp was like the bock of a chicken the brown furred dog’s bark was like the howl of a wolf. The two dogs began singing a chorus of high toned bocks and low pitched howls. The squirrels tensed again. Again not because they knew they were in danger, but because their instincts thought they were. If the ghostly white squirrel across the yard had any sense in it it would climb to the other side of the fence and hide out until the coast was clear. But if the stories of the pale squirrel were true that would not be the case. 

Voices of the owners of the dogs joined in on the chorus as they shouted the dog’s names through through open windows. The usual routine for most squirrel and dog run ins.

the pale squirrel scanned the yard, its head roving back and forth like an owl’s. Once it had plotted the best route through the yard it was time to make its move. Leaping from the fence with its front and hind legs outstretched flattening its body like a leaf it flew through the air, and stuck the landing with perfect form. 

The dog’s duet crescendoed into one of excitement. It was finally happening, they thought, finally a squirrel had answered the pleas to play with them. As if it had answered their calls the pale squirrel dashed across the yard, zigging and zagging along the way. Inside the house the shouts of “quiet” grew louder for their owners, but the pups were too busy focusing on their new playmate. 

The large brown dog always overestimate his agility, it futilely stumbled as it tried to keep up with with the squirrel, nearly toppling over at points along the path. The smaller more nimble bat eared dog on the other hand could keep up with their new playmate, but only marginally better than her brown furred brother. Not trained in any sort of hunting tactics at all all the two pups could do was follow their instincts on how to catch this dang squirrel. Which amounted to a rather klutzy looking ballet on four paws. The pups tumbled into each other on multiple occasions as the large brown furred dog lumbered behind the zig zagging squirrel. Between the bat eared dog’s quick speed, the brown furred dog’s lumbering demeanor, and their collective tunnel vision: the two four legged beast collided with one another not once, not twice, but thrice in their little “play session.” By the time the pale squirrel had made it across the yard and onto the opposing fence, the pups only at the halfway point of the yard, still determined in their playtime, sped towards the fence. Their little “play session” ended with two loud thuds into the neighbor’s fence. 

After the riot that had been the dance between the dogs and the pale squirrel had ended, one of the owners had finally stepped out of the house, a lanky young man wearing a red shirt, black shorts and slippers. Not having it anymore he shouted their names and called them dogs inside tempting them with two delicious smelling treats. The pups, quite embarrassed by their attempt to play with the albino squirrel, dashed to the door and took the treats as a consolation prize. 

The squirrels hidden in the tree breathed a collective sigh of relief. They climbed down their tree and crossed the yard and climbed up the tall sycamore and into the hollow they now could call home. They knew that the dogs will be back, they were a part of the deal with living in the neighborhood, but they shouldn’t fret. If anything the dogs were mere entertainment for their new home in the sycamore.

The Feeders

Author note: It’s been a while since I’ve written a short story in just one sitting, so I challenged myself to write a story over the duration of one album. So I sat down, put on a pair of headphones and started up World of Sleepers by Carbon Based Lifeforms, which is perhaps one of the best psybient albums ever composed. Below is the loosely edits first draft of the story I wrote in the one hour, eighteen minutes and thirty nine seconds it takes to listen to that masterpiece.

Back before we had excavated the catacombs we call out home now. Back before we could venture into the night and look at the stars so high above. Back before the feeders descended upon us, their tendrils dragging within the night across the surface wrecking everything in their paths. I had gone camping.

I had set up camp at the Greenwood Saddle. My favorite weekend getaway spot, a place I would go to calm my mind an escape the monotony of daily life and brew up story ideas. Not twenty miles from the city my camp sat nestled between Mount Katherine and Mount Wayne within the Greenwood Saddle. Beneath the gray full moon the mountains themselves had an eerie yet peaceful presence about them. I sat at my camp huddled in a chair beneath a propane lantern chair beneath a propane lantern scribbling away into my notebook fleeting thoughts while other campers murmured in the dark around their camp fires.

When my eyes needed rest my gaze would shift to the city, far on the horizon. Its lights glimmering like golden glow worms. I would watch the twinkling city and wonder what stories unfolded within each speck of light. How many people were having the best night of their lives as they took on Sixteenth Street hoping from bar to bar. How many families were enjoying a quiet movie night? How many couples were getting engaged? How many were going through a rough break up? So many lights, so many stories. I would return to my notes and jot down the stories as they came to me, filling my notes with more ideas for stories than I would ever write.

The night grew colder, and the mummers around my more silent. Gentle hisses periodically whispered in the night air as the campers extinguished their flames. By the time the moon had ascended to the apex of the sky only a single camp fire remained lit. I wasn’t tired but I knew I must sleep. Tomorrow would be hikes aplenty. I looked towards the city one last time to soak it in. The suburban neighborhoods around it had grown dimmer, but the urban core still glowed magnificently. I watched it for who knows how long, soaking it all in for what would become my last time.

I thought it was just a trick of the eye, a hallucinating from staring too long. A dozen of them must have fallen from above. Trails of blue lights descended from the sky, wiggling like worms at the end of a lure. They slithered through the sky in a serpentine like fashion, at the ends a bulbous blue alien mass that had to be at least ten blocks wide. The ends of the tendrils smashed themselves into the ground, smoldering the golden lights of the city. A thud like a distant firework show followed. My mouth hung loose my breath gone. What had I just witnessed?

I watched as the glowing blobs rested upon the surface of the city, the blue bioluminescence pulsing from the ends of the tendrils up high above into the sky above. Only a void in the night sky betrayed the creature, stars that were there a moment ago were no more. And then they retreated.

The tendrils lifted themselves one by one into the air towards the void, and then slithered back down at the same terrifying speed they had arrived before. Each time pulverizing the ground beneath it into a crater, smashing the lights below into darkness, only to curl itself back towards the void like an squid feeding, accompanied by the erratic sounds of the beast as its tendrils played the surface of the Earth like a drum. Campers around my began waking up, wondering what in God’s green Earth was going on.

A woman screamed, a man whimpered, children cried. We watched long into the night as the city became obliterated into darkness. Once the beast had done its job and the an abyss lied where the city stood the tendrils stopped their beating. They sagged towards the ground, resting upon it, and blue veins pulsed towards the void high above. We stood there speechless, within just a few hours whatever this thing was had obliterated the very city we called home, and just when we thought it was over it began dragging.

The void drifted eastward and the tendrils curled beneath it like string dragged across the ground. They began combing the surface, beating and skipping across it in erratic patterns. A low rumble filled the air as the void drifted towards the horizon, its dull blue limbs dragging lazily across the surface. Little did I know that that would be only the first instance of such an event, forty years ago. Not a single urban center survived the decade of feeding, and then the rural lands went next as the feeders dragged their tendrils across the country side feeling for signs of human life.

That is why we do not venture towards the surface any more especially after dark. If you ever find yourself surface side, and the sun has long set, if you hear the faintest sound of a deep rumble start running.

The Constant

Originally published on /r/writingprompts, you can read the original post here.

My journey began two hundred and fifty six years ago when I was a mere graduate student at the Academy. I spent a decade working on my thesis, a rigorous study on the rise and fall of civilizations. Funding was plentiful, as the Overseers gladly sponsored any sort of study to help them maintain power. After civilizations reach a certain level of maturity they begin to reflect on their own past and future by looking at those who had failed before them, and after a hundred thousand years the Overseers had conquered nearly ninety percent of the galactic plane, their crusade slowly dwindling. They had accomplished what they had set out to do, and funding began to divest from the military towards things to keep their grip stable and strong, such as the police forces and non-military research.

Why had so many empires lost themselves to the same fate over and over again? That was the question I set out to answer. In every empire that came before us, spreading their tendrils across the galaxy like roots wrapping and constricting themselves around a boulder, squeezing it until cracks erupt across its surface, and overtime the very foundation that had supported the expansive and intricate root system crumbled beneath the roots own force. My research took me down a particular path, a path I couldn’t foresee.

At the end of their reigns all civilizations fell to just one man, over and over again. The Plague Bringer, the World Eater, Apocalypses Incarnate, Oblivion, Atlas, civilizations had lived and died under his command as long as he lived. Entire nations had fallen because of one bad day he had within their boarders, he destroyed empires stretching across the galaxy because he felt like it. New life would arise to build the universe to how they saw fit before he grew bored of them. Legends say that even the gods themselves fear him, the antimatter to all creation. There were only two constants in this universe: the fundamental forces, and him. A Constant.

I presented my findings before my peers, I was laughed at but granted my professorship anyways because of other useful findings I had uncovered. I took up a job at the Academy in the anthropology department and taught brilliant young leaders the mistakes of our forerunners, imbuing them with knowledge to keep the empire’s roots. I told them everything they needed to know, except for the Constant.

After a while I began to believe that maybe the Constant was nothing more than an honest mistake. My colleagues would share my crazy theories at dinner parties after one too many drinks to poke fun at me, I would laugh along at the foolishness of my youth, and yet the idea hung in the back of my mind, and like the Constant himself it bided its time until it was ready to strike.

The idea grew in my head until it became the only thing I could focus on. My lectures grew shorter, and my nights in the office longer. I began taking unannounced trips across the galaxy to libraries and archeological sites to look for any traces of the Constant. My peers grew concerned and my superiors irritated. Eventually the Academy cast me aside, distancing themselves from me research. They didn’t know it, but that severance was the best thing they could have offered me.

Now free of my obligations I could focus all my time and energy towards my life’s work. I became a nomad, traveling the galaxy in search for the Constant, and after a hundred and forty seven years of searching my journey has taken me to a small mining settlement among the Frontier planets.

I expected the Constant to be a hulking beast, his flesh made of brimstone and his veins filled with fire. A simple sneeze from him as strong a fusion bomb. Instead my journey brought me to a tall and lanky man with a five o’clock shadow and sleepy eyes. His hands calloused from working in the mines, nothing substantial.

“Been a while since I’ve had one of you stop by,” he said greeting me at the threshold of his small company issued capsule.

“One of what?” I asked.

“A fan,” he said. I suddenly became self conscious of my appearance, I hadn’t shaved in quite some time, my beard was disheveled and down to my chest. My hair past my shoulders. I probably smelt of the small freighter I took to reach the settlement, a mix of piss and tar. I should had at least showered before exposing myself to the most powerful man in the galaxy. “Come on in,” he said. I obliged.

The interior of his capsule was cramped yet cozy. Paintings of landscapes lined the sterile glossy white walls, the standard maroon padded seats that came in capsules like this had been replaced with wooden chairs with white cushions. Lavender filled the air, overpowering the scent of burning sulfur that filled the atmosphere of the settlement.

“Can I get you anything? We got coffee, tea, beer.”

“No thanks I’m good,” I said. “May I?” I asked pointing to the chair next to me.

“By all means,” he said.

The chair creaked beneath my weight. My heart sped up, I began fearing for my life, for the lives of others, what if the chair were to break beneath me? Would the Constant abandon his friendly demeanor and topple the very civilization I had sworn to protect? I held my breath.

He walked to the table beside me and placed two glasses of water on the table. I took a sip, not because I was thirsty, only because I didn’t want to offend his hospitality.

“So what brings you here professor?” He asked, his voice relaxed, like he was speaking to an old friend who had popped in because he was in the neighborhood.

“H-h-h-how do you know who I am? Can you read my mind? Have you been watching me?” I placed the cup down on the table gently.

He laughed. “Not at all. Once you’ve been around as long as I have you just develop a knack for picking folks like you guys out of a crowd. To be honest,” he said taking a sip of his water, “I kinda like it. I can let my facade down around your types. Do you want an autograph or something?”

I shook my head. “I’ve been studying you for over two hundred years, I just needed to see you with my own eyes. So you really are the Constant?”

Another small chuckle. “So that’s the name you’ve given me? You know, I like it. Better than the last guy before you, he called me the Downfall. Constant has a nice ring to it.”

“Why do you do it?” I said, immediately regretting my question.

“Do what?”

“End things.”

He shrugged. “Why does a star burn? The star doesn’t know what it’s doing, but it does it anyways because the laws of the universe compel it to.”

“But you’re human, you’re conscious,” my leg began to shake.

“Are you aware of controlled burns?” He leaned forward on the table.

I nodded.

“That is my purpose, I don’t know why I do it, I just know that if I didn’t things could be far worse. I’ve seen futures where empires had stretched themselves too far, too thin, they starve out. Civil war breaks out and in due time, they blow each other up, eradicating all life in the galaxy.

“In other futures,” he said tracing a line on the table, “man and machine do not live in harmony like you’re civilization had managed to do. Which is something you should be proud of,” he looked at me and smiled, “it is not easy reigning in god like intelligence. In those futures their very own creation grows beyond their control, and in due time it too wipes out all organic life.”

“S-s-so what do you do?” I asked.

“I keep watch,” he took a breath. “I keep watch until those who control the galaxy begin to mutate and grow cancerous, and when the cancer had begun to spread out of their control I step in and reset the balance.”

“But what are you doing here, on a Frontier planet?” I asked looking around me. “You could have anything you want. You could use your powers to build a more prosperous future as benevolent god, ensuring you’ll never have to burn it all down.”

He chuckled. “There are many things I’m good at, but being a leader has never been one of them. My very nature makes it impossible for me to lead such an empire, trust me I have tried but no matter what my men either turn against me or nobody listens to me in the first place. And these powers you speak of, I do not have them at my disposal to do so as I wish. They’re like a bucket of water, after every use I need to go back to the faucet and let it fill up. Right now I am just a mere miner, and father of a lovely young daughter, biding my time until the tumors of your society grow too strong.”

Hearing that made me relax a little. “Do you know when you’ll be fully replenished?”

“I feel them growing within me, but don’t you fret,” he smiled, “in due time they will awaken again, but not until you’ve grown bored of your life and retire yourself.”

“I don’t plan on retiring for a long time,” I said.

“Then you have plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of your civilization. You look like a mess,” he said standing up, “want to wash up in my shower?”

I nodded, he guided me to the small cleansing station in the back corner of the capsule. As I bathed I felt the warmth of relief flood my body.

A Thousand Years

A thousand years of life, handed to me in the form of a prison sentence. Not even billionaires get this lucky. I would be rendered invulnerable for generations. No empire lasts that long, I shall remain patient until the prison wall’s have fallen and make my escape. After all I had plenty of time. How foolish of him to give a crook such a generous gift. How foolish of me to think those thoughts nearly a millennia ago.

Three hundred years of torture, not a single day went where my body wasn’t mutilated, burned and seared, lacerated and mangled by the so called peace officers. My arms were restrained out and up, and my legs anchored to the floor, like some sort of medieval torture victim. I didn’t eat, I didn’t drink, nor did I see the sunlight. My body no longer needed substance to function, it took care of that all on its own.

Every day the guards would come in at random intervals and unleash the furry of the state upon me. I had seen their faces change through the decades. Ever changing, like faces in a dream.

They It was so I could feel the pain and suffering I had inflicted upon others, but by the time it had all ended I had forgotten why I wounded up there in the first place. My life as an outsider faded to the back of my mind like the memory of a story I had read long again. Was I Prometheus after he had given light to the mortals, forced to suffer until the end of time for his rightful deed? Or was I a forsaken soul, banished to the ninth circle of hell doomed to be tortured next to Lucifer himself for my unforgivable deeds? I no longer knew.

And then the day of the roar came. It began with a deep roar, like a stampeded on the horizon. The guards grew anxious and made haste with their punishment to me that day. The grumbling grew louder and more ominous through the session, the guard’s face began to sweat. He dropped his tools and dashed out of the room, the power to my chamber cut, leaving me in complete darkness. A crescendo of roars and screams hit a fever pitch moments after he had ducked out, the walls began to rumble, more violet than any earthquake I had seen before. The noise outside of my chambers shrilled like the winds of a hurricane! How long the roaring lasted I cannot tell you, somedays I remember it lasting just a mere second, and others decades. But, it did die down, leaving me with nothing but silence, and the abyss.

I hung there in the abyss for many lifetimes. I no longer remembered who I was, hanging there in the void. I was nothing more than a thought in the deepness of space. I had begun to wonder whether if the world around me in which I had remembered, with all its colors, sounds, and textures, was nothing more than a reality I had dreamt up to keep myself busy as I just existed. Something to keep myself sane. I began envisioning other realities, ones in which I was an explorer conquering unknown lands; others where I was royalty, imposing my rules about the land, and punishing those who dissented; sometimes I saw myself living a simple life, in a quite little town working in the mills. No many how many realities I dreamt up, they never met the vivid elegant world I had once remembered. And then the light returned.

It was an expedition to the lost plant, an archeological crew had ventured into the the caverns of the Empire’s supermax, deep within the forgotten mountains. I could hardly believe it when I saw their faces, and they as well when they saw a living breathing human in the cell.

Unlike my previous caretakers, they meant no harm, in fact it was quite the opposite. They wanted to know everything. What life was like within the Empire, what they ate, what they watched, how they dressed. The Empire I had once belonged to had been wiped from the face of the planet, erased not by an exterior threat, but through their own hubris of their weapons program. What had been a simple weapons test had lead forth a cascading explosion, incinerating the breathable atmosphere of the planet, and rendering the capital uninhabitable.

I was taken away from the inhospitable surface of the planet, and given care by my rescuers. That was a century and a half ago. I am now at the end of my sentence, a sentence of a lifetime in pain and isolation, but I am proud to have found a new life within the culture of my rescuers.

Wrong Number

Truth be told, I’m not sure why I answered the call. When my phone vibrated aggressively on the surface of the particle board conference table like a small creature had been trying to break free from within the black rectangle, I checked the screen. I hadn’t recognized the number, some 777 area code that I had never seen before. I let it ring for a second before I excused myself from the meeting to answer the call.

“-‘inking, about another visit. What do you think?” the voice on the other line said. It was deep full, but distant and muffled. Like a whale’s call deep in the ocean.

Somebody answered the caller’s question, a woman’s voice. She was too far away from the microphone for me to quite make out what she said.

“I told you Julia, you’re brother’s too busy to go.”

She spoke up, her voice still inaudible.

“I know, I know he promised he’d go again, but he’s too busy with work to go. He won’t be free not for a, let’s see here…” his voice trailed off, a series of gentle clicks and clacks followed it, “…three and a half millennia. Wait a second, where are my readers?” he paused, “Ah here we go, eight and a half millennia. I need you to fill in for him. Who knows if the place will even be around by then! Can you do me this one favor? Please?”

The call went quiet for quiet a while, I checked my phone to see if had cut out. It hadn’t. I contemplated hanging up, clearly this was a private conversation and I had no business listening in. But my curiosity had been piqued when the man used the world millennia. Plus I really did not want to return to the meeting. It was one of those meetings that could easily be an email, but the project manager insisted on the meeting anyways. So I stayed on the line.

Finally, the woman’s voice answered. I was still unable to make out the words.

“Oh thank heaven!” The man said. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down Julia. What decades work best for you? Last time your brother went he stayed for just over three.”

She answered.

“Oh really, five? Trying to one up your brother again I see. I’ll see where I can fit you,” the clicking and clacking resumed. “Ah, how does twenty sixty seven to twenty one eleven work?”

She answered again, this time brief. No more than a word.

I felt an itch in the back of my throat, I fought against it.

“Great! See that wasn’t so ba-“

Before he could finish his sentence I coughed.

“Oh my self,” the man said. He sounded startled. On the other end of the line I heard the sound of shuffling. “Excuse me, which child of mine am I speaking to?” His voice was much clearer now, and closer.

“Ugghh, don’t call them that. It’s creepy.” I heard the woman groan on the other side of the line.

“Uh what?” I asked, not entirely sure how to respond to being addressed as a child, nevertheless his child.

“Your name, what is your name?”

“Jaime,” I said. “I think you butt dialed me.”

“Butt dialed? What does that even mean?”

“I means exactly what it sounds like,” the woman answered. “Your butt dialed them.”

“Don’t be outrageous,” the man said, “my butt can’t dial anything. That’s why I put the fingers on the hands.”

“You know, if you would just get a smartphone like everyone else up here this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I know it’s policy to adapt our technology with the times, but these humans just innovate so quickly now it’s hard for an old man like me to keep up. I’m so sorry you have to hear this Jamie.”

“Look, clearly you two are working out some stuff,” I said. “I’m going to go, and just pretend that this never happened.”

“Wait, before you go. What did you overhear?”

“Nothing, just some dates. That’s all.”

“Alright, good to know. If you heard anymore I’d consider smiting ya,” he laughed a hearty laugh. “Alright child, have a blessed day. You take care now, bye, bye.” He hung up, and I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

Interception Chapter 2

Saz sat on the shredded couch, a cup of herbal tea with a splash of laze mixed in to calm his mind and help with the unwinding. “The more stress you put on the connections, the longer it takes.” The witch told him.

The witch, Minerva, sat next to her console and told him everything she knew about him. She told him that he had contacted her earlier that week for an interception, she admitted to him that she had lied about being capable of intercepting him, she had done plenty of interception before, but never for a human. In hindsight, she wished she hadn’t agreed to their deal. Human interceptions were not unheard of, in fact they were theoretically feasible and were one of the primary ways people were abducted and held for ransom, or worse, sold into slave labor. Various systems had been put into place to prevent such a thing, but even then crafty hackers could still reroute a human mid sprint. Human interceptions typically left the victim dazed and confused for hours, sometimes days, as their mind unwound. There were tales of people being intercepted and sold into slavery, who didn’t know any better, obeying commands as if they were always a mindless drone, until months later when everything flooded back to them and they realized everything they knew had been taken from them.

Since her sprinter was outfitted only for inanimate objects, and not living beings, she had told him to sprint naked, just to be safe, and if he had any augments to have them removed. Saz was not augmented, as far as he remembered. It would require two trips, one for him and the other for the goods. When he arrived she had left the room to give him “some decency” while he changed and adapted to his new surroundings. Probably not the best idea for somebody suffering from temporary amnesia.

“Made a few modifications to help with the unwinding,” she said. “Been a while since I’ve worked on a sprinter though. Hopefully I didn’t fuck it up. You’re welcome to stay until you fully unwind. But, “she stuck out a finger, “on the condition that you stay within this room. When you’re ready to leave I’ll have you blindfolded. Can’t have you knowing where I am. We’re in a similar line of work, I hope you understand.”

Saz nodded and sipped his tea.

He held out his hands, he recognized them easily. From their olive undertones, to the pale scare tissue wrapped around his right wrists like a fleshy bracelet. His left arm was spotted with lighter scare tissue, small and irregular, like a pale leopard.

He placed his right hand on his hair, well head. There wasn’t much up there. A short buzz cut, no longer than the thickness of his fingers. He wondered what color his hair was. Brown maybe?

“I got to make a quick call,” Minerva said. “You promise you won’t strangle me again?”

“Promise,” Saz said.

She left the room, leaving Saz alone with his thoughts.

Like dancers moving across a dance floor while the lights strobe about them, memories appeared and disappeared, as soon as he’d remember something it would be gone, only an after image remained in their place. He’d see a clear image of a gun, held by gristle harry hands. Only hands though, the rest of the body faded into a dark hulking silhouette.

There was a woman with neon pink hair fully illuminated standing in an alley flashing neon signs hung above her, and then she was gone. Then another woman with neon blue hair, her face a dull blue, like glowworms in a dark cave. On her shoulder sat a glowing red five pointed star. Each time she flashed into existence, her hair was different. Her face, a void, but in each iteration she bore the same glowing red star on her shoulder.

He remembered his line of work, or at least of them. He been a runner. He ran chems and other contraband substances from point A to point B, then return back with the cash. He had come to Case City for the big bucks, it was the only city that still printed its own physical currency, making a paradise for libertarians and outlaws alike.

The hatched door swung open, Saz looked over. Minerva shut the door behind her.

“I hope you’re happy,” she said, “I canceled the date.”

“Aren’t you a little old to be dating?” Saz asked. “Don’t you have grand kids or something?”

“Hun,” she said, “you’re never too old to have a little fun.” She still wore the black dress, the drops of light still trickling down the fabric. “Oh, and that’s thirty six strands you made me tear. A hundred and eighty extra bucks coming out of your bill.”

“Fine,” Saz sighed. So what’s your story?” Saz asked.

“I intercept, I get paid, I make a living. Nothing else too it,” she said.

“Did you make that yourself?” He pointed towards the sprinter in the middle of the room.

“What makes you think so?”

“Sprinters aren’t supposed to look like that. Looks like you Frankensteined your own.”

“I’m not going to have the kid with a wound up head tell me what a sprinter should or shouldn’t look like. Pfft,” she spun on her chair. “You get back to your business, and I’ll get back to mine.”

She turned around and began working on the console again. Case watched the sprinter, he knew what they were supposed to look like. That was burned deep into his minds eye. They were supposed to be larger than this, have holoscreens and dials for picking your route, and have a protective shielding. This one was barebone, just a stainless steel coffin, no protective glass or anything. It was either cheap old crap or counterfeit. He knew more about sprinters than himself at this point. In one sense it was relieving to know so much about one thing when he knew nothing else at all, but in another sense he was frustrated that he only knew so much about one thing.

The sprinter began to purr, the purple plasma drifted across the invisible barrier between the room and whatever hocus pocus wonderland lied in the chasms between sprinters. He envisioned a three dimensional roadmap, with highways, feeder streets, main arteries, all the way down to the rustic dirt roads. Each road terminating at a different sprinter, allowing who (or what) ever entered to be whisked away faster than the speed of light from one place to another. He saw the network with clarity, The Case City Network, the CCN.

He watched the specs of light dance across the plasma membrane. The plasma functioned like a break, slowing down the matter passing through the CCN. A sprinter warped only a few packets of matter at a time, in order to not clog up the routes. Whenever a packet hit the plasma would light up like a firefly in the night sky. After the packet of matter had been sufficiently slowed down the sprinter itself would begin organizing said material in accordance to the blueprints it had received from the sender side. The machine would then begin piecing together the packets using a mix of nanomachines and other high tech wizardry he either didn’t know or couldn’t remember. You were effectively dead the moment you began sprinting, only to be miraculously brought to life in another within a few minutes of entering one. Because of this, sprinters had earned various nicknames: coffins, caskets, death booths, Lazarus chambers, and so on.

In theory the material was the same between both ends, but sometimes a packet would be lost or mixed up, most of the time it was benign, other times people would emerge with missing organs, or limbs they had not entered the sprinter with. The cases were few and far between, and mostly happened with counterfeit sprinters. Saz looked at his hands, they looked right to him, seamless and the right proportions.

The sprinter’s plasma barrier retreated back into its hiding spot, like the ocean retreating from the shoreline during a low tide. In the middle of the metallic coffin sat a black box with a white cross atop it. Case stood up and looked at it curiously.

“Hey, hey,” Minerva said, “don’t touch that.” She stood up from her console and walked to the sprinter.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “What is it?”

“Medicine,” she said. She sat herself down on the side of the sprinter and retrieved the box. She opened it and produced a small flask. “I’m sure they won’t mind being one vile short.” She sat the box back down in the center of the sprinter and turned to Saz. “Take this,” she held the vile towards Saz. He took it and sat back down on the couch.

“What is it?” He held the vial up to his eyes and inspected the label. ‘REMEMBRANCE’ it said in bold letters, beneath it in smaller text, ‘Case Co Biolabs.’

“Supposed to help with the unwinding,” she said. “You’re lucky that was my first interception tonight.”

“How do I take it?”

“Open it,” she mimed a twisting motion with her hands, “and bottoms up.”

Saz twisted the top off and peered into the vial. A green liquid sat within the container’s walls. He tossed his head back and downed the medicine. It tasted of oil and rotten fruit. He gagged.

“Taste like shit, but works like a charm,” she smiled. “No, don’t spit it out.”

Saz’s gag reflexes overloaded his throat. His throat closed up and his diaphragm began convulsing, he coughed the green liquid up. Some of the green serum spilled on the couch. Minerva rushed over and snatched the vial from his hands.

“No, no, no,” she said, “you are not wasting this. Did you swallow any?”

“A little bit, bleh,” Saz stuck out his tongue, “I think.”

She sighed and screwed the cap back on. “Half left,” she said, “we’ll give it another shot after your stomach settles.” She returned to the console and booted up the sprinter again.

“What are you doing?” Saz asked.

“Figured I’d make a little cash intercepting tonight,” she said, her back turned towards him. “If I got to babysit you in the sprinter room might as well.”

“Why would anyone want that vile stuff?” The taste still lingered in his mouth.

“Runners using counterfeit sprinters mostly, or maybe a sprinting station is in need for an emergency,” she shrugged. “I don’t ask questions, just send it to whoever’s paying the most.”

The plasma receded reveling an empty casket. His gaze drifted from the casket across the room towards the wall with the light board, “Welcome Saz!” still written in radiant green.

“Why’d you write my name on the board?” Saz asked.

Minerva shrugged. “When you called me for the job I could sense distress in your voice, like something was wrong. I thought maybe it’d help with making you feel welcome.” Beneath the hoarseness of her voice, Saz sensed a tinge of warmth in her tone. “Who’d you piss off?” The warmness gone from her voice.

Her console beeped, she spun around on her chair and resumed her work.

“And we have another,” she said. The sprinter booted up once again, Saz watched it, waiting to see what lied beneath the curtain. The sprinter did its magic, the plasma curtain closed, and opened. In the middle of the sprinter lied a steel case, maybe a half a meter long an no more than a quarter meter wide.

“Mind checking it for me?” Minerva asked.

“Uhh, sure…” Saz went to the sprinter and opened the case. Nestled inside a crooked crevasse embedded within a cushioned surface sat a black metallic arm. The reflection of the florescent light above the sprinter twisted around the arm like an ever shifting tattoo. At the shoulder of the cybernetic arm, in luminous scarlet sat a flower with five petals, drawn so intricately. A single line started from the tip of the top petal, it traced the outside and spiraled inwards, growing thinner and thinner until it twisted into a perfect circle in the center. He felt his eyes begin to water, he didn’t know why.

“A runner without augments? You must be quite the paranoid type,” a woman’s voice echoed in his head. The same one from earlier. “I don’t even want to know where you hide the contraband.”

Saz cocked his head.

“How’s it look?” Minerva asked.

“Familiar,” the word just slipped out of his mouth.

“No, I mean what condition is it in?” She asked.

Saz shrugged. “Looks good to me, what are you doing with this?”

“Close the case and set it by the door,” she said.

“I’m not your assistant,” Saz said.

“You’re going to make a little old lady like myself lift a heavy box like that?”

“I bet you’re augmented from head to toe. Just how many implants do you have in you?”

“Didn’t your mother tell you to never ask a lady if she’s augmented?”

Saz was sure that wasn’t a thing people told him not to ask.

“Usually I’d leave that hatch open,” she pointed to the door, “let a little bot take care of it, but since you’re here I figured I’d give the bots a day off.”

“Fine, fine,” Saz closed the hatch and lifted the container out of the sprinter. It was lighter than he expected, he carried to the door and sat it down. “There, are you happy? He said walking back to the couch.

“You make a fine assistant,” Minerva laughed.

“What’s the arm for?” Saz asked, sitting down.

“Refurbishment job,” she said. “Client wants it polished.”

She didn’t mean what she meant, nobody in her line of work would do a simple “refurbishment job.” No, he remembered clearly what those words meant for people like her. She was going to wipe it of any ID tags and markings.

“No,” Saz shook his head, “you can’t do that.”

“Yes I can.”

“How much are they paying you? I’ll double it!” Saz didn’t know what he was saying. There was something about that arm that beckoned him to protect it, like a child holding on to a teddy bear while his mother threatened to toss it out.

“Why do you want that arm so badly? It’s not even your size, it’s clearly a woman’s.”

“Just please,” he closed his eyes. Images of the woman with the luminescent hair and the five pointed star tattoo flashed through his mind’s eye like a corrupt video file. He slammed his fists into the couch. “I’ll triple it, quadruple it. Just tell me how much.”

“Saz, calm down,” his eyes were still closed but he heard her voice draw closer. He felt her hand touch his shoulder, her palms were rough and calloused, like a shopkeeper’s. “I can sedate you if it’ll make this easier. I read some studies that said that dreaming can help with the unwinding process.”

“No, I’m fine,” he opened his eyes and gazed at the sprinter. “Just give me more tea.”

She removed her palm from his shoulder, leaving a cold mark on his skin. He looked at his palms, twinkles of sweat glistened across his skin. Like he had just broken a fever.

Another image of the woman with luminescent hair flashed before his eyes. She was smiling at him, her tattooed gave him a thumbs up. She had long scarlet hair draping to her shoulder, like lava flowing down a volcano. The strands flowed into her flesh, and began gently twisting into a delicate pattern. Soon a five pointed star emerged, and the red river continued flowing inwards. The lines spiraled towards the center, tracing the same pattern over and over again, stars within stars, until it ended in a circle. Her flesh turned pitch black, leaving only the tattoo. He had been wrong, it wasn’t a star, it was a flower.

The Two Minute Rule

Prompt from here.

My mother had always lived by the two minute rule, “if it’ll take you less than two minutes to clean, clean it!” She would say. I had grown out of it over the years, getting lazier with every rotation of the Earth, sometimes you’re just too dang tired to clean. However, I might have stuck with it longer if she had told me that putting off cleaning a minor mess would lead to ripping a hole in reality.

It was just a small scruff, a streak of red from dried up pasta sauce from last night’s dinner. Nothing more than a sliver no wider than a grain of rice and no longer than the top half of a thumb. Wren and I had just finished out dinners, full and ready to collapse on the couch I took both our plates in hand while she wiped down the table. One of the forks, my fork, fell out off the plate and tumbled down towards falsely tiled kitchen floor. The fork hit the white vinyl surface leaving the small red mark across one of the thin gray lines, like a teacher’s red pen on graph paper.

The words of my mother echoed through my head, it won’t take that long to clean up anyways. But I didn’t want to, that could be a problem for future me. Plus it had been a long day at work, my energy no longer the roaring fire it had been that morning, but exhausted down to nothing but embers.

Too exhausted to handle the minor mess I figured I’d get to it tomorrow morning when my body and mind were fully rested and recharged. I picked up the fork and placed the bowls in the sink, I’ll handle those tomorrow as well. (Take that mom!) Wren and I spent the rest of the night watching Parks and Recreation until we grew tired.

I woke up to Wren still asleep, as usual. On autopilot I slipped from under the covers and made my way towards the kitchen to prep the coffee pot for the day’s work. I loaded the Mr. Coffee and went to finish last night’s unfinished work. I started with the dishes, which cleaned easily. (See mom, no big deal!) A quick rinse and into the dishwasher they went. Next was the red stain across the floor, I wetted a paper towel, dabbed a little dish soap on it, and got down to my knees and began scrubbing.

Like an erasure to a white board the stain went away, mostly. A tiny finger nail sliver remained, hardly visible unless you were looking for it. But I couldn’t leave it so. The burnt orange mark of the pasta sauce stood out too much on the white flooring, and the scorn of my mother grew louder in my skull. I pressed against the stain and scrubbed away.

The stain remained there, unchanging. As if it were mocking me for not abiding by my mother’s rule. If only I hadn’t been so lazy this task would have been over within a second or less. (Dammit mom, you were right!) I pressed all my weight into the red scare and scoured that pesky mess.

Like the mouth of a rabid dog, a white froth formed on the surface of the floor. I scrubbed until the surface had given way. My thumb slipped through the damp towel through the flooring and into a hole. I halted my mad scrubbing and withdrew myself from the situation. Where the remnants of the sauce had laid now sat a small crack, no larger than my thumb, and as dark as the mouth to a cave on a moonless night.

Had I put too much of my weight into it that I had ruptured a hole in the cheap flooring? God I hoped not. I leaned over to the hole and peered. It was too deep for any sort of the overhead lighting to reach the bottom. I got up and searched the kitchen drawers for our flashlight.

Light in hand I went back to the rip and switched it on. Odd, not even the beam of the flashlight could reveal what lied beneath. The light’s beams seemed to just stop at the edge of the hole, unable to travel any deeper into the void.

I stuck my finger in. I could not see past the threshold where the flooring met the hole. Using my free hand I switched on the light to see any traces of my finger. There were none. I withdrew my hand from the hole, and sighed in relief upon seeing my index finger fully in tact.

I spent the rest of the morning experimenting with the strange abyss. I stuck forks in it, then butter knifes, which were longer, and later a tape measure to see how far the tunnel went. At least twenty five feet, the length of the tape measure, perhaps more. I hadn’t realized the time until Wren had dragged herself into the kitchen. She asked me what I was up to, I told her reconsidering my cleaning habits. Then got up and told her to watch out for the hole in the ground. Groggily she said “sure.” And poured herself some coffee.

This will be the last time I ignore the sage advice of my mother.

Interception Chapter 1

The world flowed around him like water through a river, he was nothing more than a rock beneath the surface, a conduit for the smooth laminar flow. He watched as photons of indistinguishable origins warped before his eyes, a streak of red here, a dash of blue there, perhaps a questionable dosage of x-rays or gamma rays if his route had been miscalculated, or his information had been wrong. God he fucking hoped not, that would be at least a week in a medichamber, if not more. But the odds were slim to none.

The visual world was always first to come during runs, something about the sprinters seemed to turn on the occipital lobe first, working memory came second. Sight before sound, plenty of trips abound. Sound before sight, a runner’s fright. Or so the old sayings went. It was a relic of the old days, when sprinters were still in their youth, full of bugs and faulty parts, before the engineers who’d designed them knew the proper ways to switch back on a human brain after transversing spacetime like a ship parting the waves. But still, the saying persisted, and even in his dumbfounded state, the saying echoed within his skull.

Slowly the world grew more and more viscous, like the arrow of time pointing in reverse on a paint mixer, the streaks of light began to slowly unblend from each other. Gradually they began forming coherent shapes. A tendril of light whipped back and forth above him, like a snake whose head was caught in a mouse trap. At first it moved erratically, trying to escape the mechanism, but with each beat of the whip the the bright white serpent moved slower, and slower until the trap had sucked all the life out of it. The white snake let out its final tremor until it keeled over, and rigor mortis kicked in, stretching it into a long white florescent light hanging above him.

Sound had returned, he could hear the faint buzzing of the light above him, a faint rattle of the dead snake. Beyond the buzzing a faint machine hummed. A thud banged from somewhere within the space he was emerging into. He wanted to look towards the origin, but his face was still locked in place while the sprinter carried on with its work, indifferent to any outside stimulus.

Sense began gradually returning, each one a little more quickly than the last. Touch, he could feel the cold surface his body laid upon. His vestibular system was next, he could now tell exactly where was in space. He knew the cold surface was down, and the bright white light was up. Then kinesthetics, without looking he knew his hands were where they should be and his feet too. Finally, his organs, he felt his stomach growl, his heartbeat, his lungs fill with air. He was now a fully functioning human being.

A buzzing sound came from his right, odd, he had expected a gentle chime. Must be a different kind of sprinter, he thought to himself, best to play it safe. He waited for the chime, but it never came. He took a deep breath and sat himself up.

He shivered, he looked down at his barren body. Why was he nude? He didn’t remember ever taking off his clothes. Sprinters could transport almost anything, from the fabric of his clothes to the cellular makeup of his body. The practice of removing clothes before a quick sprint was long abandoned, only those too old and stubborn (or paranoid) sprinted naked. He dug deep into his mind in search of his reasoning why he had sprinted naked, he couldn’t find it. Give it a minute, he thought to himself, mind’s still unwinding.

He looked around the room, preferably for something to cover himself up. The room reminded him of the cramped apartment he used to rent in the Dynamo Ward in the lower levels of Wintermute. Oh Wintermute, the city he had made a name for himself. He remembered bits and pieces of his time there what he didn’t remember is why he had left it.

Never mind, that didn’t matter, he had to figure where he was now, and more importantly, why.

On the far side of the room sat an empty terminal, the screen dark. Behind the terminal a wall of black boxes and flashing LEDs, like the twinkling of stars from above. To the left of him sat a maroon lether couch, the cushioning ripped through various incisions and lumps. Flashes of rotting flesh came to mind, bodies lacerated and burned, vital fluids leaking through the incisions and white pus erupting through the blisters. Tas. Why did that word ring so strongly in his mind? He closed his eyes, the gaping wounds hung in his minds eye. He looked to right. A light board hung on the wall. Written in radiant green light were the words “Welcome Saz!”

He cocked his head and squinted. Saz, that was his name, but who wrote that?

The machine he sat in buzzed. A deep purple plasma began spewing from the upper corners of the metallic coffin, the plasma poured off the edges flowing a centimeter or so down before hitting an invisible barrier, and trickled atop the force field.

“Shit,” Saz said. He pulled himself out of the sprinter and hurdled over the edges. His right leg made contact with the plasma, his peripheral nervous system kicked in and quickly pulled the leg backwards. His left leg wasn’t prepared for such a sudden change in his balance. His torso, now just over the edge of the sprinter, was overtaken by gravity and he was pulled towards the ground.

He rolled onto his back. All his limbs were clear of the sprinter. On his right shin sat a pink mark where the plasma had contacted his flesh. He sighed and let his body relax.

“Fuck me,” he groaned.

Saz stood up and watched the sprinter. It was completely covered in the purple plasma, like fog across a pond on a cool morning. There was no safety shielding between him and the plasma as you would find on most legitimate sprinters, but then again, he didn’t typically spend time with those in a legitimate business. Flashes of white light glistened across the hazing barrier, like fireflies in the heat of the summer. The process continued for only a second or two until the machine buzzed again and the plasma retreated back into the edges of the machine.

In the middle of the machine sat a large black duffel bag. He yanked it out. He didn’t recognize the bag, but he assumed it was for himself. He unzipped the bag. He took a step back, and nearly tripped once again. Inside the bag sat loads and loads of paper bills. Each of them gleaming with that soft cyan luminescence, with that large C stamped in the middle. Case City bills, thousands of them.

Another thing caught his eye in the bag, wadded up on one of the ends was a piece of clothing. He pulled it up, gently pushing the cash aside as not to soil their elegance. He unwadded the cloth, it unraveled into a plain gray t shirt, within the shirt a pair of red shorts and underwear.

Tap, tap. He jumped. Tap. He looked towards the source of the sound, a metal door outfitted with a wheel in the center, like a weather tight hatch in a freight ship. Another tap. Saz scanned the room again, looking for anything that could be make shifted into a weapon. He picked up the shirt beside him, held it between his hands lengthwise and twisted either end around his hands, and dashed to the hinge side of the door.

The wheel spun. The door creaked open.

“Saz?” A woman’s voice said. Hoarse, as if she were parched, “have you changed yet?”

The door swung a few degrees more, Saz added tension to the shirt between his hands, and gave it one more twist.

“Saz?” The grainy voice said. She walked through the doorway. She wore a long black dress with light bands flowing from her torso to the hemlines, like neon rain drops running down a window contouring around the fluffs of the outfit. Her chalk white hair held up in a bun. “Fuck not another trip,” she stomped.

Saz lunged from behind the door and lassoed the woman with his shirt. He tensed his arms, pulling her closer to his body and constricted her throat.

“Saz, is that you? You’re just unw-” She gagged. He pulled tighter until she no longer could speak.

She kicked him in the shin, Saz hung tight.

“How do you know my name?” He asked.

She coughed and pointed at her neck. He loosened his grip, giving her enough slack to barely take a breath.

“I intercepted you,” she croaked.

Shit, who’s he piss off this time? Or was just a simple mugging? He quickly looked over his shoulder towards the hatch and kicked it closed. His rubbed his elbow against the wheel and attempted to turn the latch. The wheel didn’t budge, not enough leverage.

“Why?” He said.

“You paid me to,” she said.

“Liar,” he raised his voice and pulled the shirt tighter.

“Well this was nice while it lasted,” she said.

“What?” His muscles tensed all at once, then all fell limp. The shirt slipped through his fingers and draped across the woman’s neck; his legs could no longer hold. His body returned to the cold hard floor. He wanted to reach out and grab the woman, but his limbs no loner listened to him.

She removed the shirt from her neck and tossed it aside. “Glad to see you too,” she said. “Nice job ruining my dress,” she inspected her elbows. Small metal spikes ruptured from the black fabric and into her skin. She kicked his stomach, the air shot out of his lungs.

“My rates just went up, an extra five percent to cover damages,” she leaned down and looked him, “both material and psychological.” Her face was efflorescent and white, like she had stuck her whole face into a bag of powdered sugar and called it a day with her make up. She pointed her right elbow towards him and fiddled with the severed fabric. “This dress ain’t cheap,” she said. The metal rods retracted into her flesh, “that’s five bucks a thread. I’ll have a bot add it all up.”

She walked away from him and squatted down at the duffle bag. She began lifting the wads of cash out and stacked the beside her. She formed six piles of five stacks and brought them to her desk. She kicked at something and leaned over, then stood back up. She sat on the chair beside the console and watched Saz from across the room.

Saz could feel his motor control return to him, first with a slight twitch of his fingers. He lay there focusing on moving his hands.

“You should have your full range of motion back in a few minutes,” the woman said. “Supposed to give the victim enough time to flee the scene and then some so you can’t trail her. Fucking men,” she rolled her eyes. She returned to her console and began typing away at a set of holokeys.

Saz lay there watching her. If what she said was true, she was on his side, at least as much of his side he bought from her. If what she said was true, she was on his side, at least as much of his side he bought from here. He searched his memory for her face, her face reminded him of those wicked witches from children’s stories, but as for her, he drew nothing but blanks. His memory still rewiring in the back of his brain was like an ever shifting maze, wandering it was futile. Best to let it settle first.

“What do you think?” He heard a woman’s voice, it wasn’t the witch’s, it was younger, stronger and it came from all around him “Fully augmented memories,” her voice continued, “no more wind up time. Just sprint, and,” she snapped, “you’re all there. What do you think Saz?”

“Huh?” He groaned and got up.

“Oh you’re up,” the witched turned spun in her chair. She stood and walked to him, she picked up the pair of shorts on her way. “Now would it bother you to get dressed?” She tossed the pair of shorts towards him.

The Road to R-Day

On March 18th, 2067 in the suburbs of Toronto humanity made two major breakthroughs, one in science, the other in religion.

A small start up known as TSD Biotech1 had come about with a revolutionary way to clone anything with a DNA strand, they called their patented process DOPPLE, because they claimed that their cloning process, unlike their competitors such as Ringwald Biotech, or ClearHealth, and even the aptly named DoppleU2, could create a perfect cell to cell copy of a specimen. But despite the proclaimed revolutionary technology TSD had created, most of the hype went under the radar, at first.

The cloning industry at the time was relatively young, only really catering towards cloning individual body parts for transplants, pets for those rich enough to afford it, and animals for consumption3. At no point had anyone successfully cloned a human being as we do today, either due to technical issues, or legal reasons the cloning of a full human was unheard of until TSD changed everything.

However, across the Niagara River, just north of the DoppleU’s headquarters in Buffalo, the Canadian parliament had just passed a law in 2056 (colloquially known as the Deus Act) allowing the cloning of a human being if (and only if) the person had been legally declared dead, and that the revived body had to be brain dead. It was a revolutionary piece of legislation that was wildly criticized. Why had the Canadian parliament pass such drastic legislation? Well to understand that we have to look at the state of cloning at the time and the state of neuroscience. First off, the cloning.

As previously mentioned, cloning at the time was in its early stages, there were a lot of issues and complicated problems that now, with the benefits of hindsight, seem trivial to us. One of these issues dealt with cell division. You see, at the time cloned organs failed a lot, and I mean a lot. You would only ever get one if and only if there were no organ donors available or your body repeatedly rejected organ transplants over and over again. A cloned organ either would grow cancerous or just stop functioning altogether.4 Even the best cloned liver had an expected lifespan of just five years. A patient with a cloned organ had to be kept on constant watch, either through remote monitoring, weekly checkups, or a live in caretaker, just to ensure they could be taken to the nearest hospital in case something failed. Once they arrived, they would be kept on life support until another one of their cloned organs could be delivered and surgically inserted. When you bought a cloned organ you were literally buying time. This issue of longevity of cloned organs was becoming a major concern for the industry and was one of the many reasons why lobbyists had fought so hard to get Parliament to consider fully cloning humans. The theory at the time was that if they could clone a full body, they could grow the organs wholesale and thus allowing people to have a fully functioning liver, heart, kidney or whatever they were in need of. The US Congress was the first to debate this topic, but it kept on being shot down by the more fundamentalist members, so the battle was brought to their northern neighbors. In Canada maybe they couldn’t save the original person, but they could grow a brain dead body and allow their family members access to their closest living relative’s organs. A martyr for the family’s good health.

The second breakthrough at the time was in neuroscience. Another revolutionary procedure had been completed in the winter of 2053, the first ever successful brain transplant. In a lab in Beijing, a team of neuroscientists and surgeons had successfully transplanted the brain of a mouse to its cloned body. This was beyond revolutionary and took the world by storm. Another push of human cloning legislation made its way through the US Congress, it cleared both chambers this time, but was shot down by President Sophia Tucker, who was strongly against “unnatural” medicine5. Despite this setback the research continued on mice and other small mammals. If a fully grown cloned body could show to sustain the brain of another’s then this could open up the doors to immortality.

After the Deus Act was passed a whole new slew of biotech startups boomed across Canada. Many failed, but one succeeded, TSD.

Taylor, Syracuse, and Darwin left their jobs at DoppleU to get in on the excitement. They, like the many other optimistic startups encountered many hurdles along the way, both legally, and scientifically. Legally, they couldn’t find just any dead person to clone, no they would need to find someone who’s family was willing to sign over their deceased relative’s genes and likeness. Plus there was the additional rule that prevented no one person from being cloned more than once after their death. This led to somewhat of a bidding war between companies and put a premium for deceased people’s DNAs. Those who sold their relatives to the highest bidder could make an additional few hundreds of thousands of bucks just for selling away their relative’s DNA. This led to some rather serious unforeseen consequences. It didn’t take long for people greedy for a quarter of a million dollars to grow eager to get their money sooner than later. An epidemic of “unexpected deaths” flooded the nation, in 2058 the total number of unnatural deaths increased by nearly fifty percent. Parliament facing the struggle between the immoral behavior they had perpetuated, and not wanting to lose the lead in the cloning business, quickly amended their law and made it legal to clone a human being if they died, only if they allow it in their will and if their death was declared a natural death. This only caused a “tolerable” spike in deaths afterwards.

Scientifically there were many hurdles as well, mostly on the process of growing and aging said clone. The first wave of clones had been implanted within surrogate mothers, then after their birth immediately placed into a medically induced comma and underwent many treatments to rapidly age the body. After artificial wombs were created in 2060, the surrogacy went away overnight, and the industry went through a “Second Renaissance.”

The development of artificial wombs actually made it easier to experiment with the aging process, and after a major breakthrough by CleanHealth aging the normal way became a way of the past6. This was fine and all, but there were a few hurdles: most notably, the bodies were aged, but without any sort of external stimulus the muscles and organs were severely atrophied and unable to function in a fully grown body. Enter TSD.

TSD, for the most part, was well behind the curve. They had less funding than other startups at the time and didn’t exist in any sort of fancy office building. In fact, TSD was based out of a former fast food chain’s storefront. They managed to convert the kitchen area into a lab, keeping the fridge and freezer to store specimens, and turned the front of the house into a small cubicle farm. But, despite all their setbacks they cracked the code in 2064, they were able to not only grow a full sized human in a vat, but also create one with a perfect cell to cell ratio of the one who passed. After they had cracked the code it was off to the big leagues.

Their revolutionary new DOPPLE tech allowed a human to be grown in a vat but with enough artificial stimulus to have a functional human body. This opened up so many doors, however they were soon shut on the fateful night of March 18th, 2067.

On March 18th, 2067, now more commonly known as R-Day, one of TSD’s clones had been released for “harvesting”7. As with standard procedure the body was removed from the tank once it reached the peak physical age of the previous owner’s life, and was prepared for surgery. Typically the body would be placed under general anesthesia as was common at the time for all sorts of surgeries, however this time the anesthesiologist had been lacking sleep from a bachelor party the previous night and had made a miscalculation in the dosage. Before a single scalpel had been placed upon the clone’s skin the clone shot up off the table and gasped. The clone, as you might know her today, is one Mindy Breaker, the Second Lazarus.

Mindy had died nearly a decade ago due to a brain tumor at the age of sixty eight. Although it was in her will to have her body donated to science, her widower denied it over and over again, it wasn’t until he had passed that the surviving family was able to sell her DNA rights for science. So you must wonder what it was like to have suddenly returned to the world of the living ten years later and in a body forty four years younger.

Having never encountered this situation before the doctors panicked and attempted to subdue the woman, but she resisted, and managed to escape. She was eventually apprehended by the police and brought in for questioning.

She claimed that she had returned from the afterlife. She had spent a decade with her parents and siblings who had passed once again. And after ten years of waiting, she had finally seen her husband once again. They were dancing together in their old living room, until she had been suddenly dropped through the floor and into a deep void, only to wake up in a cold sterile lab. She didn’t understand what had happened, and if it wasn’t for her renewed energy and younger physique, she would have thought it all to have been a dream. Mindy was let go and returned to her closest living relative, her son who was now thirty years older than her.

Her resurrection had been a nuclear blast upon the moral, religious, and legal world. Morally, was harvesting organs wrong if that meant they were bringing back people from the dead? Now after millennia of religious debate there appeared to be proof of an afterlife, but which one? Nobody could agree, but it had opened a whole new world of study: the spiritual world. Scientist started having people consensually agree to die and be brought back to life. And legally, legally who “owned” Mindy and the others who had sold their DNA to TSD and the like? Mindy fought for years trying to regain ownership of her genetic code, and eventually won, even if it cost her family everything. She eventually died of old age, again, and made sure her will did not include any language regarding cloning this time around.

Thanks to an unfortunate mistake made by a hungover medical professional8, humanity had made their first jump to discovering immortality. Either through the afterlife or cloning here in the physical world, the future looked bright.

Footnote 1: TSD officially stood for Taylor, Syracuse, and Darwin, the initials of the three cofounders, but to those in the industry it was a bit of an inside joke. TSD also was short for the very campy action movie The Sixth Day staring the late actor turned politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which in itself was named so because of the Biblical verse “on the sixth day, God created man.” The film was a bit of a cult hit among biologists specializing in clone tech, mostly for its horrible science.

Footnote 2: DoppleU would later go on to sue TSD for their usage of the word “Dopple”, but would later be shut down by the courts as DoppleU never officially cloned a single human before the TSD breakthrough. Ironically, DoupleU eventually had to change its name to Replika in order to avoid being confused with TSD.

Footnote 3: Although given the general concern about cloning at the time, most people would avoid eating cloned meat due to its unnatural origins, and falsely spread rumors that it would cause cancer despite plenty of studies showing otherwise. But there were a select few who indulged in it, otherwise the cloned meat was given out as animal feed for dogs and cats.

Footnote 4: This often brings up the question of pets. How could cloned pets live much longer (proportionally speaking that is) than a cloned human organ? Most cloned pets tended to live up to three quarters of the original pet’s life expectancy, meanwhile these organs would fail after just 6 percent of their theoretical lifespan. Well, that question is one reason why the Canadian Parliament spent years debating the legalization of fully cloned humans.

Footnote 5: For those not in the know, Misses Tucker had previously found her fortune in the alternative medicine industry at the now defunct Woop, a brand touting treatment to cancer with things like honey water with sprinkles of vitamin, along with “healing” stones. During her time in the House as a representative from California she frequently fought against pushing for more conventional healthcare funding. As president she swore she would “keep a close eye on the cloning industry.”

Footnote 6: Unlike what we know today, the technology at the time only allowed for aging forwards, it would be another one hundred and sixty two years until de-aging could be done cheaply and reliably.

Footnote 7: A now outdated term for taking the organs out of one clone and placing them in storage for future use.

Footnote 8: The anesthesiologist, despite being the one who had triggered this new discovery, was later disciplined and lost his license, and fined severely. He still had to be made an example of to deter any reckless medical practices.