Kelly Haas Shackeflord has been many things in her short life: preacher’s daughter, a domestic violence survivor, single mom to four, first female project manager in the largest steel company in the US, cat rescuer, word wrangler, and romance enhancement specialist (aka the toy lady). She has had over 50 pieces accepted for publication in various venues such as The Speculative Edge, The Old Red Kimono, The Were-Traveler and Every Day Poets. Currently, she is working on various writing projects between taking care of her 10 full time rescue cats and taming a feral colony.
Thanks to all the judges who made this contest happen. You guys are awesome.
Kaolin Fire is a member of the visual search and mobile innovation team at A9. He’s been developing software independently since the days of DOOR games, not counting hours entering machine code from the back of COMPUTE!’s Gazette. He’s had fiction and poetry published in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, and Murky Depths, among others; has taught computer science at high school and college levels; dabbles in cover art and cover design; and obsesses about the human brain. He has a special place in his heart (and on his website) for the Tetris variants that he’s developed: http://erif.org/tetris — and his iOS apps at http://erif.org/ios
Mrs. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry since 2010 and has worked with several indie publishers as well as having done freelance editing on many books. She has also been involved in typesetting and cover design for multiple novels while in the industry. She currently acts as the Editorial Director for Insomnia Publishing (www.insomnia-publishing.com).
When Mrs. Prybylski is not editing she is writing, doing artwork, and playing violin or cello to entertain her tolerant husband and three cats.
Jon Strother writes fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and slice of life. He founded the #FridayFlash Twitter meme, ran the FridayFlash.org website for neigh unto seven years (with the help of some very generous volunteers), and produced two collections of flash fiction for the Friday Flash community. He has had several pieces of short fiction published in various venues, and hopes to someday get his seven novellas and three plus novels edited to the point of publication quality. Until then he continues to write from the home he shares with his two daughters and insane Beagle, Max.
Hailing from the small college town of Newark, Delaware, E. A. Taylor splits his time between writing, computer psychology, and raising his two shoggoths with his thankfully understanding and patient wife Kelley. His works have appeared in several publications in both print and on the web including Morpheus Tales and The Were-Traveler. His exploits, failings, and misadventures can be found on his blog: http://mylongroadoutofhell.blogspot.comor or in the eldritch tome known as the “Book of Faces”: www.facebook.com/EATaylorAuthor
Mr. Tobin holds a degree in mathematics from LaSalle University and is retired from L-3 Communications. His work appears in The Were-Traveler, James Ward Kirk Fiction – We Are Dust and Shadow, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Grey Wolfe Press, In Parentheses, River Poets Journal, Static Movement, Cruentus Libri Press, The Speculative Edge, Rainstorm Press, Twisted Dreams, The Rusty Nail, Whortleberry Press and various websites and ezines. Follow him on Twitter @TimTobin43.
I was a three-time volunteer (loser, in that I had been volunteered to become a weredog, then been volunteered for the Weredog Corps and then been volunteered for the Green Beret Task Force), winding my way through a third enlistment, when we landed on Venus to find ourselves up against a vast Ninja Noldor Gnome Army much larger than what our Intel people had told us we would be facing.
I had been living as a chocolate lab with a family of potato programmers in Pocatello when the goon-squad came for me. Off-Earth imperialism and colonies, and subsequent wars, had siphoned people from Earth by the hundreds of millions. It did not take long before Earth was short of people to run things, to defend and attack things. Genetic engineers had made therianthropy a reality and weredogs and werecats were the top of those new product lines, mostly destined for soldiering.
Earth soldiers had long ago all been re-designated as SEALs and Rangers. But, the elite of the elite were still called Green Berets, a status reserved for only the best of the best. Somehow I made my way into the Weredog Green Beret Task Force headed for Venus to put down the Ninja Noldor Gnome Insurrection.
Old folks told stories of days when Earth was overpopulated, when there were too many people, too many dogs and cats, too little food and water. It was hard to conceive of such a scenario. Wars and epidemics changed that. Soon Earth was short of people, and a few other species. Scientists made up much of the difference with robots. But, leaps in genetic engineering, and the human appetite for slaves and servants, led to all sorts new cloned, hybrid species. My genesis was part of that panoply. So were gnomes.
Gnomes were released onto the market with much fanfare and promise. Humans would never again have to tend to their own gardens. Gnomes would handle it all, and look cute in the process. But, their promise soon went off the rails. Someone gave the gnomes AI consciousness (most assume it was the French gnome liberationist group, Front pour la Libération des Gnomes), which promptly prompted the gnomes to throw down their garden trowels and revolt. Gardens fell into disarray as the gnomes rioted and burned, then stole some space craft and escaped the Earth. No one knew where they went, until the call for help came from the Space Wolves.
A colony on Venus, called Lycanthropolis, founded by a group of emancipated werewolves, who called themselves The Space Wolves, had for years been successfully terra-forming on Venus, developing new types of vegetables and giant high-protein insects, when the gnomes attacked. It started as simple gnoming, garden pranks and jokes, but soon got serious. In no time gnomes were running amok in the streets and gardens, stealing werewolf garden statuary and releasing it in the wild, rearranging plants and leaving threatening gnome haiku, written in Old German script, on doors and gates all over the planet. All of a sudden the gnomes weren’t so cute anymore and hostilities escalated.
On the surface we formed up fast, but did not have to wait. They hit us in waves, scything with their battle trowels and combat hoes, ululating that strange song of theirs. We held as long as we could and my pack-company was down to half combat-strength before we got split off and separated from the rest of our pack-battalion and were almost over run. We fought our way clear and found some werewolf survivors holed up on an abandoned mantis ranch. That is where I first saw and smelled her.
Her name was Bernice and she was a Bichon from Baltimore. She was also AWOL from the Weredog Corps, had joined the Space Wolves in hopes of freedom and open spaces. Her scent intoxicated me. We were drawn together like fuel and fire and immediately inseparable.
HQ radioed us and told us the plan and gave us coordinates to where we were to make haste and ready. We took Bernice and the other wolves with us. Couldn’t leave them there. Besides, all were trained and blooded warriors.
We moved fast, fought our way through several skirmishes, and Bernice stayed by my side every step of the way. She was a fighter, slashing and tearing with elegance. I brought her up to speed on our new weapons. She, just being near, tested my resolve and restraint.
We rendezvoused with other units, awaited orders, then lured the gnomes into choke points, simultaneously all over the planet, with promises of shiny gold and fresh potting soil. They fell for it every time. We churned them like gnome butter then drove the survivors into deserts and arid plains, where they were cut off and creatively stifled until they’d had enough and surrendered.
We mediated talks between the werewolves and the gnomes. Jamon Mercarder, the Werewolf leader, was holding out, so I had him killed. Didn’t trust him anyway. Gimlis, the gnome leader, laughed for an hour, demanded that we all drink several gallons of garden grog, which had a none too subtle bouquet of compost, and then signed the agreement.
So, a deal was brokered. The gnomes would stay on Venus and help the werewolves to grow their veggies and trees, herd their gargantuan beetles and hoppers. I am told that in a few short years Venus became a garden paradise. (Snakes are strictly forbidden.) But I cannot attest to that, because Bernice and I are long gone.
We headed out with a few adventurous weredogs and werewolves to find our fate, with possibly a little pirating on the side, to make ends meet. We are searching for a constellation called Canis Major, and a sun called The Dog Star, where we hope to find a civilization of canines where leashes, collars, water dishes and steel traps do not exist. And Bernice and I are making use of the time to get well acquainted, doggy style, you might say.
I am a veteran of U.S. Army Special Operations and of numerous writers programs and herds. I have an M.A. in English, from UMKC, the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I have done a lot of corporate and military writing, but not had any fiction published lately, am just getting back into this. I live with a she-demon, two human adolescents, two dogs, one of which is a weredog, and a cat, who seems to be in charge of the household.
Twenty more minutes. Just twenty more. Just – A twig snapped behind Yonin. He whipped his head around and crouched, his half-elf heart pounding. They could smell his elven blood.
He fingered the gun, loaded with its last sunray charge. His breath quickened. His infrasion only revealed flocks of graying trees, glacier-still in the fading darkness.
His nightmare would end in twenty minutes with the first hint of orange in the horizon. For the pack of wyxen pursuing him, daylight was death. The sun’s ascension meant another chance at life for Yonin.
Another twig popped. It was much closer this time.
Brian O is writing a science-fiction/alternate-history novel and is the creative-development lead for the science-fiction RPG INT http://www.int-game.net/, which will crowdfund in 2015. In addition to writing lore for INT, he also is writing a serialized graphic-novel tie-in to the game, titled Tens Day.
Mug Shots was exactly the kind of bar you’d expect people like Darryl and Tony to frequent; a Godless hole with enough room between the brass bar rail and the wall for a stool and a walkway to the three tables in the back, none of which matched. The floors were mostly well swept and mopped. The corners were not, which is probably why the faint odor of mildew persisted.
The magician persisted, too, at the middle table. He was always there, but he never spoke. He sat, he played solitaire with a deck of red backed cards with crisp edges. He never touched the highball of whiskey on his left, which was always there. He wasn’t a magician, though, he just looked like one; quite a bit, in fact.
Barry wasn’t exactly the kind of bartender you’d expect at Mug Shots. He was slim and meticulous; particular and every little motion was emphatic. His boring routines looked more like rehearsed choreography. Barry the Fairy, they’d call him, but he’d smile with that scrunched kind of face that conveyed he hated the nickname but loved the attention.
“Hey,” yelled Tony, “Fairy Barry…”
“It’s Barry the Fairy,” corrected Darryl, “get it right or don’t get it.” He laughed a little too loud at himself, in that way that felt he was convincing himself he was actually quite witty.
“My beer’s gone empty. I thought I told you to stop serving beer with defecations.”
Darryl pulled off his CAT Bulldozer branded baseball cap and swatted Tony with it, “It’s defections, you idiot. Defecation means crap.”
“YOU MEANS CRAP!” Tony yelled, leaping off his stool, sending it clattering backward across the two feet of space to the wall just behind him.
Darryl, the much larger of the two, stood and loomed over him. “Sit down, you son of a bitch.” His massive ham of a fist aimed a fat finger at Tony.
Barry delicately slid Tony’s empty glass away, wiped the spot with is wet-surface-only towel with a red stripe, polished the spot with is dry-surface-only towel with a green stripe, then carefully set a full beer down in the vacancy and returned quietly to the sink.
Darryl sat back down as Tony uprighted his stool while muttering, “You’re still a piece of crap you giant sweaty pig…”
Tony clacked the stool down onto the floor, and the foot door creaked open, blinding light flooded in, silhouetting a figure standing at the door.
“Oh my God,” whispered Barry, looking to his left.
Darryl and Tony covered their eyes with their forearms, looking right, Tony peeking around Darryl’s bulk.
“Welp!” said the magician, tapping his deck of cards neatly on the table and sliding it back into the pack. He stood, slammed his drink, set the empty glass down. “It’s been real.”
The magician tucked his card pack into an inner vest pocket as he squeezed past the two at the bar. At the doorway, he shoved his shoulder into the newcomer unapologetically, and turned left, disappearing up the sidewalk.
The silhouetted figure stepped inside, followed by a golden retriever and what sounded like singing.
Tony tapped Darryl on the shoulder, looking back and fourth at him and Barry, “Do you hear that? Sounds like angels?”
“Shhhshsh,” shushed Barry.
The man wore a long white robe, flat sandals bound with thin sinews crisscrossed up to the knee, and wore his hair long and strait. The dog sat obediently by his side with his mouth closed and his eyes bright. In the blinding light at the doorway, another shadow appeared, and hopped into the bar around the man’s right side.
“Is that a kangaroo?” asked Tony, looking very confused.
“Oh my God,” whispered Barry, who was now wringing his hands absently with his dry-surface-only towel with a green stripe.
Jesus Christ, the Lord, our Father in Heaven, walked in and sat at the bar, leaving the customary one empty stool between himself and Darryl. His dog came over to the stool, trotted in a tight circle twice, then lowered himself to the floor exhaling a quick puff a air through his nose. The intense light from outside subsided as the kangaroo pulled the door slowly closed until the latch clicked, then hopped a half step to the side so as not to block the entrance.
“So,” said Tony, “Jesus and a dog and a kangaroo walk into a bar…”
Darryl swatted him again with his cap.
The Lord spake unto Barry, “What do you have on draft?”
“We have,” recited Barry, “Coors Light, Miller Light, Bud Light, Yeungling Lager, a Sam Adams seasonal, and a house bitter.”
“What’s the Sam’s seasonal?” said He unto him.
“It’s the Oktoberfest.”
“It’s May?” the Lord did inquire.
“It’s a little old,” whispered Barry, and winked at Jesus, hoping the favor would result in some sort of religious credit down the road.
“The bitter, please,” the Lord spake unto Barry.
“Right away, sir,” Barry’s voice was steady and sure, but his palms began to go clammy. Some days aren’t what you’d expect at Mug Shots.
Barry checked the glass for spots and other stray matter, then pulled the beverage carefully, tilting it just so under the tap. He delivered it to Jesus, just behind one quick swipe of the dry-surface-only towel with a green stripe.
“It’s cellar temperature,” he explained, as he always did serving the house bitter, but then grew suddenly nervous, hoping there would be no embarrassing associations with any experience in tombs.
The Lord picked up on the nature of Barry’s discomfort, having seen it in his eyes, and chuckled, “It’s alright, my son, you do good work.”
“So…” stumbled Barry, “….so do you.” His skin went hot and tight with embarrassment. ‘You met Jesus in your bar? What did you tell him?’ went the imaginary conversation in Barry’s head with Barry’s imaginary friends, ‘Oh I told him he does good work. Gah. So stupid.’
The Lord sipped at his drink and set it down. He raised his eyebrows at Barry, “Refreshing!” spoketh He to him.
Barry smiled and felt suddenly at ease.
“You’re God, right?” yelled Tony, from the other side of Darryl.
Darryl swatted him again with his cap, “He’s Jesus, you idiot. God’s his dad.”
The kangaroo bobbed nervously on it’s back paws, glancing between the men anxiously.
Jesus was mid-sip when the inquiry came, and, being left-handed, it took Him a moment to set His mug carefully down to the bar. Without effort, Christ the Lord extended His left fist sidelong, and, miraculously, spanned the distance over the empty barstool and punched Darryl with a solid strike.
Darryl rag dolled to the floor, confused and dizzy. His chest heaved as he breathed belabored.
“I don’t like how he picks on you, Tony. You’re doing your best.”
“Wow, Jesus, that’s just. Wow. Thank you. Folks don’t usually stand up for me.”
“It’s alright. You just keep doing your best. Maybe try a little harder sometimes?” Jesus titled his head slightly at Barry.
Tony looked at Barry, then back at the Lord. “Yeah.” Then he said to Barry, “Hey, I’m sorry and all, you know.”
Barry said, “Thank you. I know.”
Jesus lifted his drink again and drained the glass.
“You hit me!” slurred the heap of Darryl, from the floor.
“You’re lucky. I have laser eyes too,” Christ the Lord then did cast His precision gaze upon the cap of the fallen man’s head. Light red as blood and thin as a camel’s hair did burn through the stitches which heldeth together the cap, and falleth it asunder then into its constituent panels of fabric.
The Lord placed one shekel onto the bar, and slapped His thigh, whistling one loud note across his lower lip. As He left, the dog followed obediently. The kangaroo opened the door, and bobbed as they left. It hopped after them, latching the door behind.
First published in Spillway 2012
Call down the moon
eidos, jade rabbit.
Stretching over the sighted craters.
Old as imagination.
Within the night-bound rock,
The moon woman stroking his fur,
Her pale hands.
Her eyes’ reflection.
I remember when I longed for immortality.
Now I only want stillness.
A static moon in the onyx iris sky.
A picture to take with me.
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog: http://deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com/.
“Welcome to the United Worlds Judicature. Kuiper Courts of Health are administered and regulated by the Solarian laws of the Ministry of Health and Longevity. Please note that all our sessions are recorded and may be accessed by the allocated attorneys in your trial.”
I stared quietly at the holograph of the young woman standing in front of me. She didn’t look old enough to be conducting a hearing. She was dressed more like a call centre agent than an adjudicator: a sharply ironed white shirt, and a tight grey skirt skimming her knees. Even the golden stripes on her collar failed to convey authority; they were more like stylish accessories on her.
I felt irritated by the Ministry adopting a youthful image in every possible department. A ministry wasn’t supposed to act like an advertising agency; it was an administrative body.
As the holographic lady glowed, the room revealed itself. Its decor was certainly not suited to legal affairs. The only pieces of furniture I could see were a long metal desk like an operating table, and an uncomfortable-looking chair.
The hologram-lady spoke again, with excellent human intonation. “Please state your full name along with your title.”
“Doctor,” I said, and stopped. I cleared my throat and started again, trying to sound as authoritative as I could, “Doctor Torren Ronin.”
The hologram-lady’s expression remained flat. I doubted if she realised who I was. Perhaps she hadn’t yet been updated with the latest news. I was quite sure that she was capable of expressing emotions – even half-a-century-old holograms were.
She looked like a recent upgrade – I knew the rule of thumb was the newer the model, the more details. I could see a small scar on her left eyebrow – as if she could ever cut herself – and I could even hear this particular upgrade taking a short breath before she spoke. It was worrying how holograms were becoming more and more human.
Apart from the glow, there weren’t any other obvious giveaways that she wasn’t actually a real human. Maybe her skin and hair . . . she was a bit too pallid, and even though she had dark brown hair, it was rather lustreless. Perhaps that’s why all the holograms dressed in shades of grey: if they were to wear vivid colours, their pale features would stand out even more.
“Please state how you would prefer to be addressed,” she said.
“Doctor Ronin,” I replied.
“Doctor Ronin, my name is Sheeran Hund. I’m a Category-M Class-B judiciary conductor. I specialise in handling cases in conjunction with the Human Lifespan Law.”
I recognised the hint of warning in her voice. She was reminding me that she was highly trained in medicine as well as law, so I wouldn’t be able to get away with any medical subterfuge.
“Please look at the white dot on your left for an iris scan, Doctor Ronin.”
I waited for the holographic dot to appear on my left, reminding myself that the Ministry of Health was more concerned about the safety of their systems than speed. When it did finally pop out, I stared at it, as still as the hologram lady herself.
With an affirmative beep, my iris scan was confirmed.
“Now please direct your wrist towards the same dot for your i-code scan.”
I reached down to my lab coat to unbutton it. My generation didn’t have their i-codes lasered onto their wrists but onto their neck; mine was closer to my collar bone. I was proud of having my i-code where it was – it meant that I was one of the last to be ‘born’ into this world. I wasn’t conceived in a lab with a permission slip issued in my parents’ names. I hadn’t spent the first nine months of my life in a minute incubator. I was born — just like our ancestors had been for all those millennia.
But I was surprised to see that I wasn’t wearing my lab coat as usual. Instead I had apparently put on a white shirt and some grey trousers – which I couldn’t even remember owning. There was no point wasting time pondering any longer. I opened my shirt collar and turned to the holographic dot on my left. A green laser sliced the darkness in two and scanned my i-code.
I knew that my identification had been confirmed after another affirmative beep. The holographic dot vanished into thin air, quicker than it had appeared.
“Thank you, Doctor Ronin,” said Ms Hologram. She walked around the metal table and pulled out the only chair. She sat down. I couldn’t help but wince slightly: seeing holograms moving real objects always disturbed me.
“In accordance with the conditions provided by the Kuiper Courts of Health, you have the right to terminate this session any time you wish. You may do so by pressing the red button on your right armrest. Are you ready to proceed now?”
“Doctor Ronin: today we are here to clarify a fact brought to our attention by HRDS. The Healthcare Reporting and Delivery System has recorded 5.4 per cent of patients requiring emergency-level intervention within 14 days of using your services: that is 17 patients out of the 312 you have seen in the last month. Could you explain this figure, please.”
I was watching Ms Hologram’s left eyebrow. If that cut hadn’t been there, she would have looked flawless. I wondered if this was another strategy developed by the Ministry to make holograms even more human. If they were now including flaws in their design, were we to have uglier, older or crippled holograms soon?
Ms Hund was probably older than me anyway. She undoubtedly had a longer lifespan than me. I questioned how fair it was on us humans to be questioned, taxed, fined and even arrested by computer software which we’d developed and which lived longer than us.
“Doctor Ronin? Do you have any comments?”
“Ms Hund.” I raised my voice. I was getting annoyed with her impatience. “I completed my medical training at the age of 20. For the last 17 years, I’ve been an active healthcare practitioner, a scientist and a lecturer. I’ve served on four different continents on this planet, always with an A-level achievement score. If you were to download the latest news, you would see my name as one of the winners of the prestigious Cornels Science Prize for Academic Excellence. I have dedicated my life to this cause, and I am planning to pursue the same route for the three remaining years of my life. Now, are you really accusing me of not caring enough for my patients?”
“I apologise, Doctor Ronin. Our concern is not of not caring enough – indeed, it is quite the opposite: we are worried about you caring too much.”
I was puzzled by her words. “What exactly are you trying to say, Ms Hund?”
She placed her fingers on the metal table carefully and looked at them one by one, as if she were counting facts in her head. “Doctor Ronin . . .’ She paused. ‘A doctor of experience would unquestionably know that some of these patients were to be admitted to the Quarantine Wards. Allow me to show you what I mean.”
A holographic screen appeared on my left, showing the data of one of my patients. Ms Hologram read out loud, “R. Conas. Male. Age: 26. Medium level of inherited inclination for substance addiction and a high level of potential mood disorder. Medical history includes: inconsistent cardiovascular activity and a limited lung capacity because of a birth defect. Medical offences: smoking and livestock consumption. Past treatments have involved intense rehabilitation and Type-2 supplementation on a daily basis. Admitted to the Quarantine Wards four times. Taken into custody twice. Jailed once, because of tobacco possession. He was released on probation and scheduled to see you on a weekly basis. However, you, Doctor . . . issued this patient a Green Medical Pass after his first visit.”
“I had to,” I said. “Mr Conas’s older sister was due her Last Sleep. She was his only living relative. I issued Mr Conas with a temporary Green Pass for him to visit his sister. Without the pass, he wouldn’t have been able to travel to another Solarian province.”
“Doctor Ronin, I can empathise with your concern for Mr Conas’s circumstances – however, you must be aware of the regulations against such procedures. Solarian Law article 1747 section 1-b: no Green Medical Cards are to be issued to any patient unless that patient has had a clean track record for three months.”
“I’m certainly aware of the Healthcare Law, Ms Hund. In this particular case, there was an exemption clause that covered Mr Conas’ circumstances.”
“May I ask which clause that was?”
“Legislation 79118/5: Mr Conas has less than three months to live.”
Ms Hund rapidly scanned the data which began to flow across the holographic screen on my left. “Our records state that Mr Conas has three years, eleven days and five hours before his Last Sleep.”
“Then you must update your records more often. Mr Conas has a lung defect which will cause his demise earlier.”
“Doctor Ronin, can you please confirm that you have submitted this information to HRDS?”
“I should have done, Ms Hund, but as you know, we practitioners have the flexibility to report within 7 days if we’re working away from the office – and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last week.”
I took pleasure in watching Ms Hologram express a human emotion for the first time: frustration.
She continued, irritated, “Doctor Ronin, I hope you understand that you cannot use the same excuse for 17 cases.”
“Yes, I do understand that.”
“Well, Doctor, you don’t leave us with any other option. I will have to refer your case to the FYS Judgement Team.”
“Ms Hund,” I snapped, “this case – or any other such case you might bring up – has no link to FYS in any way.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but I believe there is enough evidence here to start an FYS investigation. It is a common problem, especially in the medical profession. Dealing with your own kind’s weaknesses and short lifespan from one day to another will almost inevitably affect your own mental state.”
“Then can you explain why you rejected your own Retirement Plan, Doctor Ronin?”
“That has nothing to do with this case, or FYS.”
“It has a lot to do with FYS, Doctor. It is a fact that 87 per cent of doctors who have been diagnosed with FYS reject their Retirement Plans.”
“I was born on this planet, Ms Hund! Do you know what that means? I was born – conceived – here, and I have spent all my life working on this planet, serving my own race. I would rather lose five years of my life and die here, at home, than meet my end rotting on another planet full of ghostly holograms or mucus-leaking humanoids. You cannot use my personal choice of where I’d like to die as evidence for the existence of a made-up illness. Final Years Syndrome is a disorder invented solely to retire humans who are fed up with handing over their own race over to non-existent creatures like you! I refuse to be a part of this screwed-up system – that is why I rejected my so-called Retirement Plan. It’s we who created you, Ms Hund – and yes, we are the same race who ruined this planet in the process! We don’t have the resources to support ourselves anymore, so what do we do? We put our own race to sleep at the age of 40 so that our children can also enjoy life for 40 years – and, yes, God damn it, we don’t or can’t touch you, because you don’t consume any of our precious resources, because you cost less and serve well! But may I remind you, Ms Hund, you owe your nonexistent existence to humans like me!”
“And I would like to remind you, Doctor Ronin, that my ‘nonexistent existence’ will survive beyond your grandchildren’s existence,” she said, and turned towards the holographic screen floating on my left. “Decision made: In accordance with Human Lifespan Act article 213449 section 8-f, I refer case number 847983 to the FYS Judgement Team—”
The screen was automatically typing everything she said. I heard alarms coming from every corner of the room. A male voice began to bark out a sentence again and again: Soundproofing has been cancelled. Soundproofing has been cancelled. Soundproofing has been cancelled.
I couldn’t bear it any longer. I pressed the red button on my chair.
“Congratulations, Ms Hund,” a male voice called.
I couldn’t see who was talking; my vision was blocked by a bulky headset. When I lifted the headset, I found myself in a completely different room. I looked around to remind myself of where I was; I was at the Simulation Lab.
“Ms Hund?” called my senior, Mr Rame.
“Yes, Mr Rame. I’m with you,” I said, pulling the electrodes off my chest. I fastened the top two buttons of my shirt and placed the headset back onto its unit.
Mr Rame examined me with his coppery eyes. “You have some remarkable scores here, Ms Hund. You seem not only to experience anger in its human purity, but you are also to control it rather successfully. Your empathy levels are also worth a mention. However, there is one area that I think needs attention.”
“What is that, Mr Rame?”
He looked down for a moment, and then said, “I assume you know why you were asked to retake this test?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“You understand why you were given one of our most celebrated scientists’ templates as a skin? Doctor Ronin had a huge positive impact on humankind – indeed, some of his methods are still taught in medical institutions today.”
“Yes, sir, I know. I am honoured to have seen the world from such an influential human’s point of view.”
“You have also heard of Doctor Ronin’s notorious pride, then.”
He paused for a short while, as if contemplating how he should continue. “Your scores are almost impeccable, Ms Hund, but you must be careful when dealing with feelings of pride. It is not one of those positive human emotions that the Ministry accommodates. Your tendency towards pride was also highlighted in your previous result; that’s why you were asked to retake the test with Doctor Ronin’s template. We wanted to see how you handled this challenge.”
“I understand, sir,” I said. I fixed my eyes on a random spot on the floor. I waited quietly for his verdict.
“It’s important to relate to human emotions, Ms Hund, but it’s more important to remember that we’re civil servants with a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. Adopting the dark side of human nature can be highly destructive. Even though you’ve successfully handled a challenging skin in Doctor Ronin’s, I would advise you to be wary of your pride under all circumstances. I assume we both understand each other, don’t we?”
I nodded eagerly. I had detected the friendly tone of his voice.
“I guess I should offer you the first human handshake and welcome you as an official adjudicator for Kuiper Courts of United Worlds Judicature,” he said. “Welcome aboard!”
I come from a family of musicians. Creativity and communicating with fingers were hereditary defaults for me. Yet I had no intention of joining the shemozzle caused by my cousins, practising different instruments day and night. I was told I didn’t have the voice to sing, which I had no intention to anyway. I had a different passion, the same as Leonardo da Vinci: I wanted to know everything. I was cursed with an overwhelming curiosity. But unlike Leonardo, I couldn’t even draw a straight line. My thoughts and feelings accumulated inside me until I found another way of expressing them through my fingers; that was when I began to draw with letters. For more information about my work, please visit: http://sesever.com/
Mitsuko turned from the busy sidewalk into the dark alleyway, glancing over her shoulder to ensure she was not being followed. Her hand clasped the wet spot on her abdomen where the wound bled into her hand. She couldn’t believe that, even after centuries of being dead and buried, the steel blades of the long deceased Zoku Clan could still cut so deeply. Mitsuko knew she wasn’t supposed to go out alone but she had to prove her worth to her clan. The Jade Clan had been a traditionally male clan for centuries. Before Mitsuko there had only been two female Jade ninjas and they were clansmen before Mitsuko’s grandparents had been born.
She pressed onward, plunging deeper into the darkness of the alleyway until she located the steel gray door at the end. Mitsuko banged the door urgently, praying that her fellow clansmen would not scold her and that they would listen. She’d, once again, gone against their wishes and hunted for the witch, Sadako, on her own.
The door swung open and Kenichi, her partner, stood in front of her, glaring.
“Ken,” Mitsuko said, reaching for him as he caught her arm.
“What the hell happened to you?” He demanded. Mitsuko hesitated, knowing that her answer would anger Kenichi. She’d put her life at risk again without him there to back her up.
“Sadako,” she said quietly, feeling Kenichi’s furious eyes on the back of her neck. He said nothing as he shut the door and swept her up into his arms, carrying her to the living area. Kenichi laid her on the couch where the other clansmen quickly gathered around, begging to know what happened. After Kenichi quieted them all, Mitsuko told them.
“Sadako has arisen them,” she said tiredly. “They’re back.”
“Who? What has she arisen?” Kenichi asked eagerly. Once again she stalled, this time she knew the answer would cause a panic but she had to tell them.
“The Zoku Clan.”
A dead silence swept the room, each clansman looking perplexedly at one another.
“Impossible,” Kenichi protested, breaking the silence. Mitsuko knew he’d be first to object.
“It’s true, they’ve arisen from the dead and are headed for the city now,” she explained. “They did this to me.” Mitsuko lifted her shirt, revealing the slice along the side of her abdomen from the ancient steel blade. While the other clansmen immediately retrieved herbs to heal her wound, Kenichi stood over Mitsuko, glowering into her eyes.
“You have to stop doing this Mitsuko,” he said gravely. “I could have lost you tonight.”
Mitsuko turned her face away, too ashamed to look him in the eye. She knew how much he cared about her because she felt the same. They were more than partners, they were friends. Kenichi gently turned Mitsuko’s face to his.
“Swear you’ll never leave without me again,” he demanded. Mitsuko looked deeply into his eyes, taking note of the severity within them. She had to prove her worth to the Jade Clan. She wanted to prove that she was as good a warrior as any of the males there but she knew she needed Kenichi by her side.
“I swear,” she agreed.
Long ago, the Zoku Clan was an enemy of the Jade Clan. Nearly five hundred years had passed since the great Jade Grandmaster had slaughtered the last of the Zoku Clan. Their resting place was not far from Osaka. Legends told that there were only about sixty of them all together but regardless of their small numbers they were a force to be reckoned with.
Few ninja clans were capable of harnessing Ether or learning the divine Ethereal Arts, but the Zoku Clan could. But they didn’t always use their powers for good. When Zoku ninjas attacked Osaka in the late sixteenth century, little did they know that the Jade Clan was blessed by a power equivalent to the power of Ether: the infernal Nethereal Arts.
Mitsuko laid on her bed that night, gazing at the ceiling when streaks of golden light floated across it, breaking through the darkness. Mitsuko recognized these lights as Nether waves but she’d never seen them in this arrangement. She sat up and looked to the corner of her room, locating the entity responsible.
At the edge of the city, the Jade ninjas could see the ranks of the of the Zoku revenants in the distance. Regardless of the darkness of the night, there was no mistaking the limping, slouched bodies from the distance. Their tattered flesh and armor fluttered in the chilly Osaka air. An upright figure stood to the center, walking with the poise of a runway model. Long black hair fell to her waist and a red kimono hugged her figure. Sadako and her zombified army now stood across from the Jade ninjas.
“I expected a bit more of a challenge than this,” Sadako sneered. “Too bad about the little bitch my minions disposed of.”
Kenichi narrowed his eyes, focusing in on Sadako. He drew his katana and screamed the Nether incantation, setting the blade on fire. The other ninjas followed.
“Death comes to those who wish it,” Sadako said and signaled her zombie slaves to spring their attack. Out of nowhere, a great explosion of light blasted the undead warriors backwards before they reached the Jade ninjas, Sadako stood her ground.
As the dust cleared, the light revealed the cause of the destruction.
“It can’t be,” Sadako said grimly.
“It is,” Mitsuko said with an immortal echo. Her body glowed with Nethereal energy and she held a blade her clansmen had never seen.
“You shouldn’t go waking the dead, witch,” Mitsuko said. “You might wake that which you don’t desire.” Sadako grimaced and sent her troops forward. Mitsuko only swung the ancient blade once, sending a final explosion across the fray. The other ninjas came to realize what this was, how Mitsuko had become so powerful.
“The Jade Grandmaster has returned,” Kenichi murmured.
D.L. Smith-Lee was born in a suburb of Chicago called Harvey, Illinois. He has published two stories, one in the 100 Worlds drabble anthology and one in the 100 Doors to Madness anthology. Hoping to flood the Earth in the dreamworlds of fantasy, he writes for escape from reality and the love of writing. He currently resides in Florida, where he serves in the US Navy.
This story first appeared in Infernal Ink.
“I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be in my office, I have a 10:30 appointment.”
“Not with Harald Bremer you don’t. I canceled and rescheduled him. It’s okay, anxiety about his domineering mother isn’t life threatening.”
The man in the client’s chair was a stranger, obese and balding. George was sure he’d never seen him before. “How did you get in here? How could you know about Harald? I’m calling security.”
“Don’t get your panties puckered. George. You called me in.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Oh yes you did, lover boy. Whining to yourself about Adele. Did you know she’s still occasionally mercy humping her ex-boyfriend? You keep inwardly begging for help to get her back. Okay, I’m a problem solver, here I am.”
“Here you are what? Who are you to try and meddle in my personal affairs?
“Not who, what. I’m your good fairy, and better than you deserve. Call me Josea.”
“You’re crazy. If fairies existed they’d be cute little elfin women.”
Josea sighed. George noticed sweat rings under Josea’s arms and a goaty odor crept across the desk.
“I’m a guy fairy, George. I help lost hunters, wounded warriors, bowlers looking for a 300 game, that kind of stuff. ”
Josea might turn violent and George knew to humor him until help showed up. “So what are you doing here, I’m none of those things.”
“No, for sure you’re not. What I do is nothing like the glutinous pap you offer up to clients. Maybe too different. But I’m here because I was rated as excessively macho and ordered into sensitivity training. You’re my first test case, and you’ll be getting a phone call after we’re done and asked to grade my performance.
“So let’s get to it. This Adele broad dumped you. I’ve got a solution…”
“Adele and I had communication issues that are none of your business!” George shifted into his most caring voice. “You clearly have issues, Josea, I’ll just make a phone call and arrange for you to get help…”
“You half-melted marshmallow. Communication issues my ass. Okay, you don’t believe me. Here’s a couple signs and wonders. Hold out your hand, palm up.”
“Just do it.”
George held out his hand, empty palm up and a gold coin appeared in it.
“It’s a twenty dollar gold piece, worth about three grand to a collector. Stick it in your pocket. Okay, encore. Your performance issues with Adele. You will now become tumescent, and this tumescence will be maintained until I leave. You can recover this firmness any time by just saying my name, and lose it by saying yours. If you get Adele to jump back into bed with you, most of your problem will be solved.”
George felt a trouser tightening. “What? How? I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in God.”
“You’re confused. I’m no guardian angel, I don’t do spiritual. I’m a fairy, I handle earthly desires and fears.”
George’s shoulders slumped. “She said she never wants to see me again, that we were incompatible…”
“Duh. Don’t over analyze. Get the basics right and you can fake the rest, you’re trained for it. You know when she works out. Go to the health club at the same time and wear a nice tight pair of spandex shorts. When she sees the proof of your affection, I’m pretty sure she’ll go out for a drink with you.”
“I’m not going to make an obscene spectacle of myself in public.”
“Just face her and not the rest of the gym. She liked you before despite your obvious deficiencies, think how she’ll feel about you if she’s content. Okay, think that handles your problem. Now about mine. You’re a counselor, you can appreciate the trauma I’d undergo if I get canned from my good fairy gig. Mano a mano, when they call you need to tell them how sensitively I handled your sex problem.
Resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. Original wife, but after forty five years we are both out of warranty. Have had forty seven stories published so far, most also reprinted. Web site: swampgasworks.com