Tag Archives: writing

The Circus


We ran away to join the circus.

She would be an acrobat.

I would fly in the trapeze.

On horseback, she would leap through hoops of fire

While I would gaily juggle knives. and

She would twist her arms and legs, and

I would make the great cats dance.

With dreams of fame and glory we ran

From the small town where we lived

Through the corn fields and the apple orchards

The sweet smells of fall.

Past the great oak tree and the river

Where I used to fish with Jeremiah

To the edge of the forest where the calliope lured us

To the company of Mr. Smiley

Who painted toothy grins on us with

rusty blade and hid our tongues in the forest.

Dressed in bloodstained clothes far too big

He made us dance and fall and stumble

Like drunken puppets every night for his show.

The show! How the audience of coyotes

and crickets cheered and howled

Until the circus ended and Mr. Smiley left us alone

Snug and cold together within the soft ground where we slept

Until beckoned again by the sounds of the calliope

We wake from our slumber and come forth to find

Another boy or girl to join our merry troop of mirth.

Sunny Falls, Part 2


Bill Roach was the next one I noticed.

Old Bill used to run the local theater. His father opened it in 1939.  Saw my first movie there. Had my first kiss with Sally Gordon there watching Sixteen Candles. Bill had recently retired and handed the business off to his son Bruce.

I was out on a morning patrol and found him wandering down the highway in nothing but his boxer shorts. I flashed my lights at him, but he didn’t even look at me. So I pulled up next to him, rolled down my window and tried to talk some sense into him.

“Bill,” I said.

He continued to shuffle forward. Figured maybe he’s sleep walking, I’d wake him up and take him home. So I hit the siren, just enough to shock him awake. But he kept shuffling.

I pulled the car over, got out, and grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Bill!” I said.

He turned around and gave me the most vacant stare I’ve ever seen.

“It ain’t right,” he said.

“Bill? You awake?”

“It ain’t right, Sheriff,” he mumbled.

He tried to turn around again, but I held on to his shoulder.

“No, Bill, it ain’t right for you to be out on the street in your underwear.”

“It ain’t right. Not right at all.”

“Why don’t you come with me? I’ll take you home. Have Sarah make you some eggs. Have you eaten?”

He just stared at me. “Not right. It’s not right!”

He was starting to get agitated, so I let go of him.

“Okay, Bill. You’re right. It ain’t right.”

“You can feel it too?”

“Yeah, I can feel it. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll go to your house and figure it out together?”

He stared at me and then shuffled to my car.

“Why don’t you take the backseat, Bill.”

I helped him into the back and closed the door behind him.

“It ain’t right, Sheriff,” he said.

“No, Bill, I don’t suppose it is.”

I took him home to his wife Sarah. Sweet lady. Baked the best apple pies in the county. She was grateful to see him. She gave him one of his pills and got him back into bed.

“You sure you don’t want me to take him to the hospital, Sarah?”

“No, no. That wouldn’t do. I imagine he just forgot to take his medication.”

“You ever see him do something like this before?”

“No, not like this,” she said. “A few senior moments is all, Martin. We’ve been married 40 years and he never sleepwalked in all that time. But we are getting on in years. Things change.”

“Well, keep an eye on him, Sarah. It’s getting cold out and he’s liable to freeze himself solid if he keeps going out in his skivvies.”

“I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again, Martin. Thank you for bringing him home.”

I noticed her wince a little.

“You okay, Sarah?” I asked.

“Yeah. Just got this headache. Doesn’t seem to be going away. Maybe I need more rest too.”

“Maybe you should get it checked out?”

“Oh, it’s just a headache, dear. I’ve had worse. You want to talk to Bill when he comes around?”

“Yeah. Just call the station and Emma will let me know to come by.”

“I like her, Martin. You two would be good together.”

“Don’t go there, Sarah. I can hear the old ladies chattering in church now.”

“You need someone to look after you, Martin.”

“I do fine alright by myself, thanks,” I said. “You take care. And if you need me to give you or Bill a drive to the hospital, you let me know.”

“Thank you, dear.”

After Mary Murphy, I confess I was more than a little worried about Bill. He was a good guy with a sharp mind and nothing at all like the man walking blankly down the highway in his boxer shorts this morning. But before I could think much more of it, I got a call from Emma.

“Sheriff.”

“Emma. Something happening?”

“Got a call from Matt at the, uh… “Botanical” store. Group of teens getting rowdy after he turned them away. Says now they’re standing outside, screaming at him and hitting the door and windows.”

“Hell. Alright, tell him I’m on my way.”

Yeah, we got one of “those” stores here ever since the government legalized it. Matt moved up from down south and opened up shop here. He’s a good kid. Keeps the teenagers out, as he should. Pays his taxes. Most of us accept his services here. Some like to complain and bitch and moan about it, but then their backs go out and they’re down there hitting him up. Hypocrites.

I drove up and pulled into the parking lot. Andy Schaffer and four other boys from the high school were pressed up against the door and windows. They were screaming obscenities and slapping the glass.

“We will get a fucking brick, you fucking asshole!” Andy screamed.

One of the boys finally noticed my car and signaled the rest. They all turned around and glared at me. I could see why Matt called. I’m armed and I didn’t feel comfortable getting out of my car with the looks they were giving me. Their eyes… there was something there… never seen it before, but I knew what it was.

Pure hatred.

But I got out of my car anyway. I had a job to do.

“Alright, boys, break it up. You are disturbing the peace. And what the hell are you even doing here? Don’t you have class?”

“We’re fucking tired of that fucking school,” Andy said.

“Tired of being told what we can and can’t do!” another boy, Chip, I think, said.

“Now settle down,” I said. “Now, if you boys apologize to Matt and get your asses back to class, I won’t have to bring your parents in.”

“And if we don’t?” Andy snarled. “What if we said, ‘Fuck you, pig!’?”

I let my hand drop to my baton and tried to sound braver than I felt. I could take two… maybe three of them… but not five.

“Then we’re gonna have a problem, Andy? Do you really want your mom to see you acting like this?”

The five kids seethed. I could tell they didn’t really care what their mamas thought of them right now.

“You want your dad to know about this?” I said.

That, at least, seemed to get Andy. He was still glaring at me, but he turned his head to the door and shouted, “Sorry, Matt!” with all the sincerity of a rattlesnake apologizing after it bit ya.

“Good,” I said. “Now get the hell out of here.”

“Whatever,” he said. “Come on.”

He walked toward his van and the others slowly followed him.

“And Andy?”

“What?”

“Son, I’ll know if you don’t go back to class. If you don’t go, I will be very unhappy. If you cause trouble for your teachers, I will be extremely unhappy. And if you ever pull shit like this again, son, there won’t be a second warning.”

“No,” he said. “There won’t.”

The kid slammed his van door shut, waited for the others to get in, and peeled out of the parking lot in the general direction of the school. I watched them until they made their next turn, then headed to check on Matt.

“Matt,” I said. “They’re gone. Open up.”

It was a minute before I saw Matt’s short frame pop up from behind the counter. He was a little fella with a small build, a patch of dark wiry hair on his head, and a hipster beard. He unlocked the door and let me into his shop.

“Oh, thank God, you’re here, Sheriff,” he said.

“Matt. What happened?”

“You saw ‘em. The kids tried to come in here. You know I don’t allow that.”

“I know,” I said.

“I don’t serve kids. You have to be eighteen.”

“Matt, I know. What set ‘em off?”

“I told them that they needed to leave. Then the leader-“

“Andy.”

“Yeah, Andy got mad. He demanded that I give them some product. I told them, “No.” and if they didn’t get out, I’d call the Sheriff. Jesus, Sheriff, I thought he was gonna kill me. He shoved me and that’s when I got my gun out. He didn’t like that, but they all got out of my store. I thought that was gonna be it, but they just kept standing there, staring at me. So I locked the door and called you. And that really set them off. They were banging on the windows, hitting the door. I thought I was gonna have to shoot ‘em.”

“Well, they’re gone now, Matt. Do you want to press charges?”

Matt shook his head. “Just… please, keep them away from here.”

“Alright, I’ll have a talk with them after they’ve calmed down a bit and let ‘em know that they aren’t welcome here.”

“Thank you, Sheriff.”

The rest of the afternoon was unusually busy. Had to stop an altercation between two drivers, ended up arresting one of them for throwing a punch at me. After that, it was a domestic violence call. After that, couple groups of kids screaming and shoving each other at the town’s drive thru. After that… well, it all sort of blurred together.

“Whole damn town seems to have a burr up its butt, Emma.”

“Full moon coming,” she said.

“Well, I hope it’s that simple,” I said. “I can’t recall the last time I’ve ever had both jail cells filled.”

“I’m sure it’ll die down soon, Sheriff,” she said.

“Hope so, because I don’t have any more room to put ‘em, if it don’t.”

I meant to call Bill and Sarah, but I suddenly had a lot of paperwork to fill out and it slipped my mind. Didn’t think of ‘em again until I got a call a couple days later. Neighbors heard a woman shouting and crying. I tried calling, but there was no answer, so I got in the squad car and sped over to the Roaches’ house.

I knocked, but no one answered.

“Blil! Sarah! Everything okay?”

I knocked harder.

Then I heard the scream. A guttural, primal scream that nearly stopped my heart.  I kicked the door open and I almost wish I hadn’t.

Sarah was smashing her face against a wall. Blood was everywhere. There were holes in the walls. Blood splatters on the walls.Blood on the floor. I was in shock. I didn’t even move until she slammed her head one more time into the wall and fell down limp onto the ground.

I ran over to her. I turned her over and… Jesus, her face… I… how was she still alive?

There wasn’t much left to her face. It was more like something you’d find in a butcher’s case than a human face. I almost gagged, but I had the mind to at least call for help on my radio.

“Emma! Get an ambulance to the Roach house! Now!”

What was left of Sarah Roach gasped and wheezed through all of her blood. Her breathing was shallow and I didn’t expect her to last until the ambulance arrived. I was right. She died. But not before she wheezed out some last words to me.

“Make it go away…”

As to Bill Roach, he was sitting in his recliner, rocking back and forth in his own filth, staring straight ahead at the wall. He didn’t even notice what his wife was doing.  Didn’t try to stop her. Didn’t do anything. He just sat there. In his own world. I had him committed. His son eventually agreed. There wasn’t much of a choice to the matter. He couldn’t take care of himself and Bruce didn’t have the money to hire a nurse to watch him.

So they came to take him to an institution. As they hauled him away, his last words to me were, “It ain’t right…”

Old Bill was right. Things weren’t right. They still aren’t.

They’re worse.

Seeker


I’m a Retrieval Specialist Officer. You can call me Seeker. It’s not my real name, but for a lot of reasons most of us don’t use our real name. Names leave you… vulnerable. They lead to connections. The smart ones know it’s better if you, the real you, just doesn’t exist.

I used my first paycheck on this job to pay a hacker to ‘kill’ as much of my official ‘real’ self as he could ten years ago. Not sure how much is left. Maybe a few dusty yearbooks from high school in a storage locker and painted over pencil marks on a home in Michigan.

Retrieval Specialist Officer is corporate speak for bounty hunter. We get hired when someone gets lost. We’re independent contractors so we’re expendable. We do something stupid that gets us killed or arrested, they don’t know us. In exchange, they pay us off the books. If you’re good, the pay is good and tax free. It’s as fair an exchange as you’ll find these days.

RSO’s generally don’t kill people. The larger companies have their own in-house assassins. Real cold-blooded, scary sons of bitches. They’re a special breed. Usually raised in-house from birth for the job. I’ve seen a few of the newer RSOs try to break into that gig and dabble in wet work. It’s usually the petty shit that the real assassins wouldn’t touch: punishing data pirates, repossessing tech or organs from junkies, assassinating low level whistleblowers, or working for some loser wanting to knock off his boss so he can get that promotion. That kind of thing.

But you go down that path, pretty soon, you’ve got a stack of bodies piling up on you, then the piece of shit middle manager who’s been hiring you starts to worry about you getting caught, spilling the beans, and suddenly the next hungry RSO hoping to land a corporate assassin’s gig is knocking at your door.

I prefer to stay clean. Companies post a message on the dark web, I discreetly bring back someone or something that they’ve lost, and they make a deposit to my Hong Kong or Zurich account. I try every time to complete the contract without any blood and I’m proud that I’ve built up a reputation as someone who can get the job done without unnecessary violence. Gets me more work that way. More work means more money and I like more money.

It was three in the morning when I noticed the post on a defunct hang room that was devoted to the classical music of Elvis Presley and done up to look like a cheap Vegas lounge from the 1960’s. It was taped over a velvet painting of Presley hanging behind the baby grand piano. I pulled it away from the painting.

“Discreet RSO required. Respond to this message for further details. Rating 5/5 required.”

A blue box appeared beneath the message and I pressed my right thumb on top of it. The box flashed white.

“Shit, I missed another one?” a voice behind me said. It was Gunner. He was new to the game.

“’Fraid so,” I said. “Try the Jerry Lee Lewis room. Aviatrix Corp. has been posting there lately.”

“Thanks, Seeker,” he said.

“No problem, Kid.”

Gunner’s avatar disappeared as the message in my hands turned into a phone. It rang. I let it go three times before answering.

“Seeker! Glad to see you’re the one who found the message.”

“Carter,” I said.

I had known Carter for about five years now. I didn’t know if that was his first name or last name. Didn’t care. He was a senior executive with Western Capital Dynamics and he paid well. And he hadn’t tried to backstab me yet. The rest was unimportant.

I didn’t even know what he looked like. His avatar was tall, thin, with dark brown hair, and a neatly trimmed beard wearing an expensive suit and a gold watch, but no one used their real image as an avatar. We could stand next to each other in an elevator or at the urinal and not know it.

One more wall of separation.

“Okay, Carter. What’s the situation?”

“Let’s talk somewhere more… private,” he said.

“Alright, lets,” I said.

The ancient Vegas lounge disappeared and with an audible popping sound I was standing in an office with a view of New Hong Kong Harbor.  A wave of vertigo slammed into my head like a cement truck and I put a hand on the mahogany desk that was now in front of me.

“That’s better. Nice. Secure.”

“Jesus, Carter, give a guy a warning next time, would you?”

“Sorry,” Carter said. “Virtual cigarette? Tox-E? Inhibitor?”

I shook my head. “You don’t pay me to fuck up my mind like that.”

“No, we don’t. Okay, I’m going to level with you Seeker.”

“It’d be a first,” I said.

Carter laughed and took a sip from his glass of Tox-E. “Nature of the beast, I’m afraid.”

He handed me a file.

“Dr. Karen Aydin, 35,” I said. “Bioscience. Los Angeles division. No travelling then? Too bad, I was hoping for another African vacation.”

“Not this time.”

Father American, mother Persian. Emigrated to the U.S. thirteen years ago. Dark hair that fell to mid-shoulder blade and blue eyes. Very pretty. If she was slumming it in a bar I frequented, I might send her a drink.

I pushed those thoughts away. You don’t let your mind wander to thoughts like that on a job. It complicates things. But I made a note to call a couple of friends and go drinking after this job was over. It had clearly been too long since I enjoyed the company of a woman.

“Everything okay?” Carter asked.

“Peachy,” I said. “Who is she to you?”

“She is one of our top biologists,” Carter said. “She failed to report into work today. She didn’t call in sick or with an emergency either. Given the nature of Dr. Aydin’s work-“

“Which I don’t want to know about,” I said.

He tapped the file and it briefly glowed red.

Carter smiled, “Redacted. Good. One less loose end to clean up then.”

One of the things about Carter, I couldn’t tell if he was serious about being the Evil Corporate Executive or just had a warped sense of humor. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to find out.

“Any intel on poachers?”

“I’ve had security do a search and nothing so far, but it’s a wide web, Seeker.”

“Declassified email, traffic, social media accounts, and texts?”

“Included,” Carter said. “We should be past this by now, Seeker.”

“Never hurts to be thorough. Anything from her work missing?”

“We’ve done an inventory and everything appears to be in place, but we’ve called in her co-workers to double check everything. There’s a copy of the security report in your file.”

“She owe you?”

“No. Paid off her student debt three years ago.”

“So she’s a freeman?”

“Eh.”

“You know freeman have rights. If she’s one of them, I can’t legally bring her back to you if she doesn’t want to come.”

“She’s violated the required exit ‘interview’ clause of our standard R&D employment contract. That should give you legal grounds.”

“Meaning she’s got a head full of secret data that needs wiping.”

“Or transferring,” Carter said. “I know this one is… borderline, Seeker, which is why I’m offering twice your normal fee and a reasonable expense account to cover any ‘donations’ that might be required to The Locals.”

I sighed. “I don’t know, Carter. This is dicier than a craps game.”

“How about I agree to forward half the fee to your account if you get arrested while transporting Dr. Aydin to us? You get enough for a decent lawyer, and you keep our names out of it.”

“Alright, you’ve got a deal. “

Carter tapped something on his desk and threw the window over to me. “Done. Find out what happened to her, Seeker. Her work was… important to the company.”

I read over the contract carefully and tapped my agreement, then threw the window back to Carter. “She’s as good as yours,” I said. “Now how the hell do I get out of here?”

“I got it,” Carter said. He tapped his avatar’s fat fingers on his desk and I was back in the Elvis hang room feeling dizzy with a migraine.

“God damn it, Carter.”

The first thing I do in these situations is check with local police and hospitals. Accidents? Addictions? Shit? It all happens. At least a third of the time, you’ll find your mark sitting in a Detox tank or in a hospital bed. The unluckier ones you’ll find in the morgue. Those are the easy cases. Get a copy of the death certificate and a snapshot of the mark and you’re done.

So I checked the intakes of all of the hospitals and police stations within 25 miles of her apartment, but there were no matching corpses, patients, or inmates that matched Dr. Aydin’s DNA or description. Expanding it out to 250 miles took longer to search, a lot longer, but also turned up nothing.

So it wouldn’t be that easy. There were other tricks I knew.

Most people aren’t that difficult to track. Your average idiot these days don’t ever think about how much information they post on their social media accounts. So if you want to get a good lead or ten, you can scan their account feeds and see if they’ve posted any travel plans or scans from restaurants, hotels, airports, trains. Yes, sometimes people are stupid enough to tell everyone on the Net exactly where they are and how long they’ll be gone from their house or apartment. It makes things much easier for me and for any thieves or junkies that want to ransack their homes.

They don’t realize that it doesn’t take much to learn everything about their lives, especially if they willingly provided access to their social media accounts  to their employers which Karen Aydin had done.

Logging in as her gave me access to everything. I browsed through her posts, images, and texts. There was no indication that she was planning a trip. No clues on where she might have gone. No mention of family emergencies. No meetings listed with rival corporations. This meant an unplanned trip or she was at least intelligent enough not to blab her plans on the Net.

I copied her list of friends and tagged the first ten that she had had the most contact with in the last 12 months. I sent them all messages acting like a concerned coworker who was worried about her. Then I went through all of Dr. Aydin’s posts for the last 12 months. I searched her email accounts and hacked into her listed phone records. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing at all within the last 72 hours.

This was going to take actual leg work.

I logged off the Net and opened my eyes in my flat. It was completely dark. Had I really been online that long?

Time loss is a sign of synaptic corruption, you know.

“Genevieve, schedule an appointment with The Cutter. I might need a Net-face upgrade sooner than expected,” I said.

“He warned you about using recycled bio-tech.”

“Just shut up and make the appointment.”

“Cutter is free on Tuesday at nine-thirty.”

“Book it and turn on the damn lights, would you?”

“Acknowledged, Boss.”

The flat lights came on. It wasn’t a glamourous apartment. It was small, with peeling gray paint, overhead  lights that flickered whenever the trains passed, and a “great” view of the alley where tech addicts lay oblivious to the world in the trash and junkie prostitutes whored themselves out for their next hit. But it suited my needs and it was cheap.

Guys in my line of work tend to think that the good times will never end. They spend their paycheck almost as fast as they can get it. And these guys kept pushing gigs out into their forties and fifties until some kid in debt to the Company got the drop on them. But I knew better. I was on the backside of 35 pushing towards 40 with greater speed than I liked, and when time caught up with the meat and wires in me, I wanted a retirement plan that didn’t end with a bullet in my head.

“Genevieve, I’ll need a car.”

“How soon?”

“Ten minutes.”

“You got it, Boss.”

I threw on a clean white shirt and black slacks. I found and fastened a small Arc-knife with a holster on my left forearm and a Needler in a shoulder holster. I wasn’t expecting trouble, but it’s better to be prepared. I covered both weapons with a dark overcoat and headed toward the door.

“How long do you expect to be out?”

“Not sure. Depends on the quarry.”

“There is a 60% chance of rain tonight. I suggest you remember your hat this time.”

“Thanks. What would I do without you, Genevieve?”

Probably log into the Net and forget to eat until you starved.”

“Smartass house,” I said.

“Stupid meatbag,” she replied.

“I’m fifteen percent machine, you old bot,” I said.

“Whatever,” she said.

Is it weird that the most stable and meaningful relationship I have right now is with my smart house AI? I need to get out more. Meet new people outside of the business.

 

The Autocab was waiting for me when I exited my building. It was one of those models with an overly perky AI that was programmed for small talk, so it was an incredibly long 30 minute drive over to Dr. Aydin’s residence. I think I deserve a medal for not shooting the damn thing.

Dr. Aydin lived in an old brick condo building near the ruins of the old 101 about 15 more minutes from USC in a nice neighborhood owned by her employer, California Biotech Labs, or CBL. It was a recent acquisition of Western Capital Dynamics. A pair of ex-military goons stuffed into big and tall black suits (that weren’t big or tall enough) greeted me at the door.

“Gentlemen,” I said.

“This is private property. Fuck off.”

“You greet everyone that way or just the private help? Someone from home office should have let you boys know I’d be by,” I said. I flashed my credentials.

“The private dick,” he said.

“RSO. Like a duller Boba Fett.”

“Boba Who?”

“No appreciation for the classics,” I said. “You boys going to let me through?”

He nodded, “Go right in. The property manager is expecting you upstairs. Good luck.”

“That cheery, huh?”

“You don’t know the half of it, pal.”

Dr. Aydin lived on the fourth floor in unit 402. I was met there by the property manager, a small, thin woman with white hair pulled back into a tight bun that seemed to make the skin on her face taut, though it was probably just plastic surgery. Two steel gray eyes glared out of pair of old fashioned glasses that hung low on her nose. She wore a light blue nightgown and a disapproving scowl.

“I hardly see why this is necessary,” she said.

“Your tenant is missing. Your mutual employer is concerned,” I said. “Aren’t you?”

“I’m sure she’s fine wherever she is.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“Of course not,” she said.

“Then how do you know?”

“I just meant that Karen has a good head on her shoulders.”

“Did you know her well?”

“No more than any of my other tenants.”

“Helpful. Are you going to open the door or do I need to phone this in?”

“Of course, I’ll open the door,” she said. “It’s just that Karen is a good person. An exemplary tenant. No overnight guests. No pets. No loud noises or complaints. And no unauthorized curfew violations.”

“So she’s got a good brain and now she’s a good person, but you didn’t know her well at all?”

“I just meant that I’m certain she has a perfectly legitimate reason for her absence,” she said. “And I do not wish to see her privacy repeatedly violated.”

I motioned to the cameras on either side of the hallway. “Privacy left the building a long time ago, I suspect, Mrs.-?”

“Chambers. Ms. Chambers. And those are just standard. For our tenants’ protection.”

“Good. Then you won’t mind giving me access to the security logs for this unit, this floor, and the exterior.”

“I certainly do mind,” Chambers sneered.

“Too bad. Your boss will give me access. You can either call it in yourself or I will. In the meantime, I’m going to search her apartment, so open the door.”

Landlady Chambers keyed open the door, her eyes trying their damnedest to bore a hole into my skull. I smiled pleasantly, “Thank you.”

“Fuck off,” she said. “And I am calling it in.”

“Of course,” I said.

The apartment had already been tossed by Carter’s goons and I immediately wished he had let me have the first crack at it. They had been careless, tossing shit on the floor, dirtying up the scene with wrinkled clothes and broken glass. It was a fucking mess. Still, maybe the goon squad missed something that wasn’t blindingly obvious. I mentally divided the rooms into sections and started with the closest nearest the door. Methodically, I searched every inch of the living room, making note of an earring found by the living room table (and taking images with my ocular implant for Dr. Aydin’s case file) I could compare the images to the security footage of the apartment later that would point out if anything obvious was missing.

It’s weird to pour over the collected things of someone’s life, but it’s also fascinating. Every item that might be nothing or a crucial piece in understanding the person you’re trying to find. Take, for instance, pug memorabilia. There were a few pug collectables. Did she like dogs? Were they gifts? Did she have a pet?  I didn’t find a food dish or any obvious signs of a contraband pet. Maybe an obsession from a childhood pet then? I would find out eventually. Hell, by the time I’m done I’ll know Dr. Aydin better than most of her family and friends.

Her kitchen was clean. Trash was full though. Lots of take-out containers. That would be useful. I could track her purchases, find potential leads, see if they’ve been delivering to her at a new address.

All of the locations were on the Net. All of them were easy to hack and pull customer data from. Nothing financial. That was hidden behind the good ice, had to be by law. But names, delivery addresses, call logs? Those were usually hidden behind cheap security apps if they were hidden at all.

Dr. Aydin rarely cooked. But there were no new orders for her at any of her favorite restaurants. She was definitely out of the neighborhood. I launched a bot that would expand the search to the surrounding neighborhoods. It had pretty limited AI, but shouldn’t have a problem getting the data I wanted. Unfortunately, it would take time to get the results.

Fortunately for the case, if not for me, Mrs. Chambers messaged me just then. Her gaunt face appeared in a small box in the corner of my vision. Her lips were frozen in a scowl that probably intimidated complaining tenants, but did nothing for me.

“I take it the bigwigs told you to cooperate,” I said.

“Yes, Mr. Seeker. I’m sending you the link to the building’s security server. I do hope you find Dr. Aydin. She’s quite the model tenant.”

“So you’ve said,” I said. “I’ll get her back. I haven’t failed yet. How far back does the footage go before it loops?”

“Thirty days,” she said.

“That much?”

“I told you it was probably a waste of time. Your predecessors didn’t even seem interested in it.”

“My predecessors were a pair of heavy handed goons who wouldn’t know good investigative techniques if it bashed their skulls in with a sledgehammer,” I said.

“Do you need anything else?” she sneered.

“When was the last time you saw Dr. Aydin?”

“About two weeks ago. She reported a problem with her HVAC unit, said the air wasn’t working properly. But I checked and it was keeping the entire floor at the same 78 degree temperature.”

“She ever mention any family, friends, anyone who would come around to see her?”

“No. No guests. Ever. Guests are required to sign in. I make sure of that. No one has logged in to visit her.”

“She close to any of the other tenants?”

“Not that I’m aware of. Pretty much kept to herself.”

“Okay. Thank you, Ms. Chambers for your time.”

“That’s it?”

“If I have any more questions, I’ll let you know.”

I sighed. Friendless introvert who kept to herself and had no support system. Not exactly the profile of a woman who would voluntarily leave her job and apartment. It was possible Dr. Aydin was the victim of a random crime. People died or disappeared into dark alleys in this city all the time. Their bodies would turn up eventually, usually stuffed with bullet wounds or mediocre tech and a fatal infection from a chop shop. Sometimes with organs gone or pieces of their flesh gnawed at. Sometimes by animals and sometimes by desperate humans.

Hunger could make a man do strange things.

But I had a feeling there was more to it than a random crime. Usually corporate types with high positions like Aydin don’t frequent the sort of places where random bodies turn up on the regular.

As much as I hated doing it, I was left with watching the surveillance tapes.

I won’t bore you with the process of sorting through 30 days of video in a few minutes. It’s easy enough to write a small script in your head to bypass irrelevant chunks, like cutting out any frames where no one was in view of the camera. That little gem removed almost 80% of the data I was sifting through.

After the filtering, I was still left with almost 300 hours of footage.

I focused on her final day in her apartment first.

She woke up at 6:45.

I watched Dr. Aydin walk to the master bathroom. I lose the video feed there. I don’t mind. My job requires me to be a voyeur sometimes, but I try not to violate people’s privacy that much unless I have to. It does amuse me though that with all of the cameras everywhere, the bathroom appears to be the last bastion of privacy in the world. I bet some drone in HR talked them into it. Give people a little privacy and they’ll tolerate even more invasive behavior.

The bedroom audio picks up the toilet flushing and the shower being turned on. Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Aydin exits the bathroom and gets dressed. I skipped over that footage. I’m a bounty hunter, not a pervert.

Admittedly, the thought was tempting. Maybe I should make a note to skip the bar and go to a brothel instead. I wonder if Kayla was still working at The Rusty Nail.

Surprisingly, I watch her cook and eat two eggs and a piece of buttered toast. She washes her plate and heads for the door at 7:20. I watch her put on a red long coat, open the door and step out into the hallway. The hallway camera catches her walking towards the corridor with the elevators.

But she never arrives. The camera in the elevator corner doesn’t show her.

I rewind the hallway footage. She walks to the end of the hall, turns right, and I lose sight of her behind one of the plants in the hallway.

And then nothing. She never emerges into the field of view of the elevator camera.

Shit.

I switched to a live feed. And I left her apartment and followed her movements. It took some trial and error on my part, but eventually, I figured it out.

There were blind spots.

I watched back footage where her face appeared in any of the frames. It was obvious at first. Then it got more subtle. She would glance up as she walked and her eyes would be fixed just briefly on the cameras.

She had figured it out.

And she had had help.

I was about to go downstairs to have another face to face with Ms. Chambers, but she saved me the trouble. She was good. I’ll give her that. If I hadn’t been watching the live security cam feeds, I would never have noticed she was creeping up behind me with a needle. I waited nervously until she was close enough, then spun quickly to face her. My left hand secured her right hand with a vice grip while my right hand grabbed her by the throat. Letting my momentum carry us forward, I slammed her into the wall. I squeezed her right hand until she released the needle and it clattered to the floor.

Chambers screamed.

“Let me guess, something that would short out my tech in a fatal way?”

She didn’t answer.

“It’s over, Chambers. Time to sing like a bird. Maybe the bigwigs will go easy on you.”

She smiled. “No, Mr. Seeker… they won’t. Which is why I took out some insurance.”

Before I could stop her, she bit down hard and choked. The seizures started almost immediately.

“Shit!”

I set her on the floor gently and called for emergency services, but Chambers was already cooling to room temperature by the time they arrived.

“Cyanide. A real classic.” Carter said.

“The DOX84 she tried to kill me with not so much.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. We don’t know where she got that from. All of our supply is accounted for.”

“I’m guessing there’s a lot about Karen Aydin we don’t know.”

“We don’t know when Chambers was compromised. The security techs are going back over her apartment footage and interviewing the neighbors.”

“You won’t find anything. They were smart. No phones. No emails. No texts. And Chambers knew how often the security footage was overwritten. My guess is that any conspiracy meetings between her and Aydin happened over 30 days ago.”

“You’re probably right. I’ll have a forensics team assigned then to see if they can recover any of that data off of the drives. There’s something else you should know.”

“What’s that?”

“We’ve found a discrepancy in Dr. Aydin’s work at the lab. She switched one of the, uh… samples, she was working on with a different sample from our zoology research department.”

“Still working on glow in the dark monkeys?”

“Dogs, actually. Pink, blue, purple, any color you want and they’ll look like a puppy forever well, until they die or the upgrade comes out in a year. They’re quite cute. Should be ready for Christmas.”

“Great. I know it’s probably hush hush, but can you at least tell me she’s not walking around with a zombie virus or some shit like that?”

“Nothing hazardous, just valuable. We’re bringing in the police.”

“So I’m fired?”

“Not fired. Your part of the operation is just done. The pay should already be in your account. You did good, Seeker. You discovered Chambers collusion, but we’re moving out of private contractors on this one. We need all eyes we can get searching for Karen Aydin. Take some time off. Get yourself a whore. Let the cops work and we’ll bring you back in when we’ve picked up an idea of where she went.”

“You know I could find her, right?”

“I know. And you probably will. But upper management wants us to pursue official means at the moment.”

“So they’re working on a deal with city hall and they don’t need a private RSO hacking through police traffic cams and airline databases?”

Carter winked. “Something like that, boss. Keep your lines open though. Smart or not, there aren’t many places left on Earth to hide.”

“You’re still a bastard, Carter.”

“Ditto, Seeker.”

I hated being sidelined on a case. Even if it was only for a few days. But Carter did pay me what he promised. Maybe he felt bad about one of his fellow employees trying to murder me. Maybe he wanted to stay on my good side. Maybe he had just gotten a blowjob from a $5,000 a night Hong Kong hooker. I didn’t care.

And he was right. I did need to get out more. A few days off to let loose.

I caught an Auto-Cab, called a couple friends and headed to the bar for drinks before I went alone to The Rusty Nail. Kayla remembered me and she made sure as hell once again that I would never forget her. We had more whiskey before I left and she planted one more kiss on me before she playfully shoved me into the back of the Auto-Cab.

“See you soon, I hope,” she said.

“Not soon enough, Kay,” I managed to slur before the Auto-Cab took me back to my flat.

It was about 2 in the morning when I stumbled into my front door.

“Genevieve. Lights,” I said.

The apartment stayed dark.

“Shit. Genevieve. Turn on the damn lights.”

I headed for the nearest lamp and tripped over a coffee table. I spilled onto the floor and cursed. The corner lamp turned on. There was a woman with dark brown shoulder length hair sitting on my leather couch with a gun pointed right at me. I raised my hands slowly.

“I need your help, Seeker,” she said.

“Karen Aydin,” I said.

Fuck my life.

Day Eleven


“Amy!”

“Hey, Mikey.”

“What’s going on? The alarm! What is it? Why are the lights off? Why is it so cold in here?”

“There’s a teeensie little problem in Engineering, Boss. With the reactor and the reactor is currently… off, but it’s not a big deal, except you might die if we don’t get it fixed within an hour.”

“What is the problem?”

“A little piece of the reactor is out of alignment thingy and-“

“Amy. Revert to default personality matrix.”

“Okie dokie. Reverting…”

“Echo, what is the fucking problem?”

“One of the magnetic coils generating the containment bubble was knocked out of alignment by .12 centimeters resulting in a field fluctuation that triggered a safety protocol to shut down the reactor and vent the contained plasma.”

“So we have no power until it’s fixed and the reactor is restarted. Assign a construct to fix the coil.”

“I tried that course of action before I sounded the alarm to wake you. The misaligned coil is in a section of the reactor room that a construct cannot access. This will require your intervention.”

“Always something. Okay, let me grab the tools and head back to Engineering.”

“Negative. That would be extremely unadvisable without an EXO suit. We are currently running on auxiliary power only. All non-essential ship functions have been shut down. Life support is set to minimal which means that life support functions are confined to the ship’s bridge module and stasis pods only.”

“Okay, let me get the EXO suit.”

“I would advise you hurry.”

“Why?

“My estimates regarding the repair time, including your changing into the EXO suit and navigating back to the reactor module, is 43 minutes. Restarting the reactor will take 12 minutes. At the current rate of power usage, the batteries will be drained in 63 minutes.”

“Once I’m in the EXO Suit, shut down life support in the bridge section. That should buy us a bit more time.”

“113 seconds.”

“That’s it? What’s draining all of the power? No, the magnetic deflectors, right?”

“Correct. We are still traveling at .9 the speed of light. Any collisions from even the smallest debris particles would prove catastrophic.”

“Do the life support thing and dial back the deflectors another 5%. How much longer will that give us?”

“15 minutes, but I have already adjusted the defectors to the minimum safe level to redirect debris around the ship.”

“Drop the power further; I don’t care if the paint gets scratched so long as nothing punches a hole in us.”

“Calculating… There is a moderate risk, but I can reduce power levels another 3.2%.”

“That’ll have to do.”

Captain’s Log. Michael Torres. S.S. Neo Genesis.

I’m in an EXO suit preparing to transfer to the Colony Storage Unit 1 in an attempt to access the Engineering module so I can make a correction to the fusion reactor. I’ve got about twelve minutes before the power fails and we’re a giant rocket travelling at near light speed with nothing to deflect meteorites out of our way, so I’m keeping this entry brief.

Initializing airlock.

Jesus… well, that’s not creepy at all.

Caskets, cryotubes, I mean, lining the walls and stacked on top of each other ten high and nothing but the EXO suit’s light to see it by.

Yeah, this would be the part of the horror movie where the alien leaps out and tears me to pieces. Of course, there isn’t anyone here but me.

“Captain, may I remind you that time is short.”

Yeah, I know. I’m on my way.

Navigating through Colony Storage Unit 1. No vicious aliens in sight yet. Just a lot of human popsicles. Hey, it’s the Colony Governor. James R. Harris. Hi, Governor. You’ll be happy to know that your vitals are still normal for a human ice cube. Who else do we have here?

Chief Science Officer, Dr. Marsha Wells.  M.I.T.? Impressive.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Silas Green. Oh, doc… you’ve got high cholesterol, shame on you.

Quite a few farmers.

And… Secondary Space Pilot… That’s strange. No name or medical data. Are they still alive?

“Both reservists are alive.”

I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me more about my replacements, Echo?

“Information unavailable.”

Why is that?

“Mission critical personnel files are locked.”

Come on, I just read the names and medical statistics of the chief Colonial personnel.

“Mission critical personnel files are locked.”

It’s my clone, isn’t it?

“Human cloning is illegal under the Human Genome Accords of 2110. You now have fifteen minutes and 45 seconds to realign the magnetic coil and restart the fusion reactor.”

So I should drop it and get on with it?  Fine. But I’m going to bug you about it later.

“If you do not move with greater haste, there will not be a later.”

Yeah, yeah. I’m moving. Transferring to Colony Storage Unit 2.

So many people here and I can’t talk to any of them for another 30 years.

Echo, how far am I from engineering?

“The Engineering section is just past Colony Storage Unit 3.”

More creepy caskets. Great.

“Colony Storage Unit 3 contains all of the needed equipment, food, and supplies to establish a successful colony. There are no additional colonists in stasis.”

Anything I might find interesting?

“You have been provided all necessary and recreational materials for the duration of our voyage.”

You’re no fun at all, Echo.

“Would you like me to load the Amy profile again?”

No! God, no. I won’t touch anything. Scout’s honor. Just don’t bring Amy back online.

“Understood. Please, hurry.”

Yeah, yeah.

Okay, all of this stuff is so damn shiny, but it’s not that different from my own freighter’s engines. That would be the fusion reactor. Echo? Can you highlight for me the magnetic coil that is out of alignment?

“Displaying location on your EXO Suit’s HUD.”

All the way in the back, huh?

“Which is why a construct could not reach it. There was insufficient space behind the reactor core.”

Great design flaw. Let me guess, cost cutting measure?

“There are tools located in the lower locker nearest the door.”

Alright, let’s get this done, so I can go back to sleep.

You weren’t kidding about the tight fit.

“Can you reach the magnetic coil?”

Yeah.

“Good. First, start by using the-“

Relax. I’ve got this. I used to do repairs to the engines of my junker all the time.

“This is not a junker. This is a highly advanced starship.”

You’ve seen one fusion reactor, you’ve seen them all, Echo.

“Captain… striking the magnetic coil with a hammer is inadvisable.”

Relax. A couple of taps should do it.

“Captain, I must insist you stop. You are going to damage-“

There. Run a diagnostic on it now.

“The magnetic coil is back in alignment. But your methodology was not within recommended protocols. I must report this to your superiors.”

Echo, I kept a one hundred and twenty-seven year-old freighter running for twenty years without incident. I think your bosses know what skills I bring to the mission. But you do what you have to do. What are they going to do, fire me?

“There are two additional pilots on board.”

Is that a threat, Echo?

“A reminder. You are important, but you are still expendable.”

Wow. I didn’t know you had it in you, Echo. Restart the reactor and bring life support and the magnetic deflectors back up to normal.

“Acknowledged. What are you going to do, Captain?”

I’m going back to bed.

Day Five


Hello, this is Captain Michael Torres of the S.S. Neo Genesis.

Shit, I hate voice recorder logs. The openings never sounds right.

It’s our fifth day out from Daystar’s Lunar Tranquility Base. We have left the solar system. That sounds impressive, but it’s not really that big of a deal. We’ve shot God knows how many probes out of the solar system already. Hell, we’re not even the first manned flight. Back when I was independent, it was a point of pride for some of the more daring spacers to go out and come back just to say they’ve done it and then talk some shit about it to their buddies at the bar.

I miss that bar. Good thing, I discovered the ship’s supply of alcohol. Even discovered some equipment to construct a still and a construct whose sole duty is to work it so the colony can replace its stock.  Say what you will about those bastards at Daystar, but they do love their booze.

The mission, right… we are the third manned vessel to leave the solar system with the intention of interstellar travel and as far as I know, the only one that hasn’t ended in tragedy yet, so that’s cause for celebration, right? So I’m going to enjoy a nice glass of Daystar Gold label 8 year old scotch.

Oh, also, we are the first manned vessel to reach .9C. Okay, I know they did test flights and all, but this is the first ‘official’ time mankind has approached that close to the speed of light, so make sure you include my name in the history books, alright? Many thanks to the unappreciated lab drones back at Daystar. I hope you guys left work early to hit the bars in time for Happy Hour. Speaking of which… here’s to you nerds.

Ah. With our speed roughly constant, I was able to ease off the engine thrust and dial the acceleration compensator back to zero. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Amy will be handling the minor course adjustments to maintain our existing vector and depending on gravity, we may need to periodically fire up the engines, but most of the work is done until we reach our destination.

Oh, right. Amy. That’s what I call Echo now. I chose the Amy voice because it was friendly, perky, cheerful. Her hologram matches exactly what you think of when you think of those characteristics too. And it’s not just the voice. There’s an entire personality matrix attached to it. I’m not sure how they did it, but it’s life like enough most of the time.

It’s a little weird, but it’s also a little comforting having her around. She almost makes me forget that I’m alone up here. The personality algorithm is pretty good too, but there are a few glitches that break the illusion. And you can’t touch her, of course. Not that I’ve tried to touch her, I’m not that lonely, and Amy assures me that if I ever become that lonely, there is an, uh… adaptable construct designed for, uh… ‘companionship’ in storage that she can operate. Jesus, there are so many things wrong with that sentence. Maybe I should delete and start over.

It’s the silence that bothers me sometimes. I’m not a rookie when it comes to space travel, but I worked on a family rig, there was always someone there, Abuela, Abeulo, Papi, Rose. There’s a lot of shit here to fill the silence and the down hours. A lot of distractions: tens of thousands of movies, video games, books, and music files, a VR rig with hundreds of places from Earth recreated in bit form, and Amy tells me since we’re not quite travelling at light speed, we might even get some updates from Earth. Might take years, so I’ll be hopelessly out of date on pop culture, but… I don’t know…

I’ve just been wondering why they didn’t give me a copilot?

Well, that’s not entirely true, they gave me two co-pilots, but there both icicles. Only one pilot on duty at any given time until we reach the Nu2 Lupi system. If I become incapacitated, Amy will wake my XO and if he or she, Amy won’t tell me a damn thing about them, is incapacitated, then the Second Officer will be revived and take over the mission. If he goes down, she’ll awake the Colonial Governor and so on and on until she reaches the Colonial septic tank cleaner, I guess.

According to Amy due to power and life support constraints, only one pilot can be active at any given time, but… I don’t know. I can’t help but feel like this is just another little cut out of a thousand the company has given me, something else they’re doing to punish me for almost making them look bad with the Copernicus Incident, you know, before they got ahold of Rose and me and stuffed us underground and out of sight of the media.

Systems are operating within normal parameters. Artificial gravity is at 70% of Earths which should be just enough not to completely fuck up my body. There were a few power fluctuations in the main reactor when I turned on the gravity, but they seem to have stabilized and Amy is monitoring for any other anomalies.

It really is the fucking silence that gets to me sometimes. Anything would be welcome to just break it up, it’s so damn quiet. I wonder what I’m going to be like after years or decades of this… Shit, if we even make it to the new colony world, will I still be able to even relate to other people when they thaw out?

I’ve got to stop thinking about it.

“Hey, Amy?”

“Hey, Mike!”

“Put on some music, would you?”

“Cool. Anything you’d like to listen to?”

“I don’t know. Anything. Just put something on.”

“I am a huge fan of early 22nd century rock. Occam’s Steel Razor is the shit! You have got to hear their experimental album, Pi.”

“You know what? Fine. That’ll do. After that, go ahead and transmit the ship’s status report back to Tranquility Base.”

“Okie-dokie and… done. What do you think of the music? Cool, right?”

“Yeah, I like it. Thanks.”

“Told you!”

“Amy?”

“Yeah, Mike?”

“Do you ever get lonely?”

“Amy?”

“God, yes. There was this one time, when my cat died, I couldn’t handle being in the apartment, so I went out shopping for like a week-“

“Amy?”

“Yeah, Mike?”

“That’s enough for now.”

“Okay, laters!”

“Yeah… Laters.”

Day One


“Okay, testing… testing…. Echo… is this thing on?”

“The recorder is working perfectly, Captain Torres.”

“Alright… the suits suggested I maintain a log of our voyage, so here we go. It’s day 1, July 22nd, 2204. This is Captain Michael Torres, pilot and commanding officer of the S.S. Neo Genesis. Yeah, I know. It’s a shitty name. But I didn’t pick it. You can blame that on the good folks at the Daystar Company. Probably had their damn marketing team out holding focus groups and passing a list of names through a dozen committee meetings. I guess I should be grateful they didn’t open up the naming rights to the Net or I’d probably be flying the S.S. Fuckhead or Shippy McShipface.

While it is a shitty name, it is also one hell of a vessel. Nothing at all like the old rust bucket I used to fly: my grandpa’s T-3010 cargo freighter. I wonder what the old man would think of this one. Probably too shiny and sterile for him. Everything is new and hi-tech and experimental as hell and supposedly the first ship that will make colonizing other planets feasible.

Our current course and speed will take us out of the solar system in a couple of hours. After that, it’s on to the Nu2 Lupi system, where Daystar says one of their probes has found a suitable planet for human life. It’s 47.5 light years away, but due to the speed of travel and relativity, it should only seem like about 23 years to me. Back on Earth, it’ll be closer to 53 years. Physics, right?

The plan is to establish a sustainable colony that will send needed materials back to Earth. Yeah, the lousy fuckers have stripped just about everything from our rock, so they’re looking for brave new worlds to seek out and exploit. Given that it would take 106 years to make a round trip and the volume of our cargo containers, I can’t imagine how they think they’ll make their money back on this one.

I asked my, uh… ‘handler’, Ms. Christensen about it, but the only answer I could get from her was “a lot can happen in fifty years, Captain.” So who knows? They’ve obviously thought up some scheme on how to make this venture profitable. Maybe some of their eggheads think they can actually make warp technology work this time without irradiating everything in front of them.

My job is to just get the colonists there in one piece and that’s what I’m doing.

It’s been eighteen hours since we left Tranquility Station and everything reads within the parameters Control said were normal. Engine status and temperature look good. Reactor output is steady and containment is holding. Artificial gravity is currently off to save power while we’re using the acceleration dampening field which is holding steady at 38%. Given that we intend to accelerate up to .9 C, this is a good thing, otherwise, I would be turned into a mushy paste in my command chair and this ‘very expensive’ mission would end in disaster before it even got underway.

Feels strange trusting my life to a relatively new piece of technology, especially when their Chief Technician Dr. Samsa recommended NOT turning it on full power immediately. She suggested we start at 20% and ease up the power output by 1% every hour.  She assures me that human testing trials were successful and I have nothing to worry about, but her request does not exactly inspire confidence. I asked her how many test pilots the company went through before it perfected the device. She didn’t answer, so probably ‘a lot.’

But come on, it’s not like I didn’t know. I’m here because I’m a good spacer and I’m completely expendable. I haven’t looked at all 2,003 personnel files, but if I did, I would guess most of them are also expendable. Debtors, convicts, desperate people with skills Daystar needed, all of us promised a second chance if we risk our lives.

Echo, the ship’s resident AI companion and the only voice I’ll hear for the next twenty-three years of my life, has informed me that all 2,003 hibernation pods are working and all colonists are alive and doing well. At least, as well as you can be doing when you’re a frozen popsicle.

Projections are that we should reach peak acceleration in the next three days and then I can ease off of the engines, the acceleration dampener, and turn on the gravity. It doesn’t sound like much, I know, but until then, I’ll be stuck in this chair. Yeah, I know. Sounds gross, I know, but there are ways to handle the shit and it’s not the longest time I’ve been in a space suit without a shower. This one time on my family’s old freighter… nevermind… the only people who will probably hear this log are company people and you guys know all about my life, right? “Mr. Torres, we do thorough research on all ‘employees.’” Fucking corporation.

I wonder how Rose is doing. They released her from custody before I left and moved her into her new apartment, but I didn’t get a chance to see her. They let me record a message for her. I hope those company bastards actually give it to her instead of just sending it down the bit hole.

A part of me feels like I just traded one prison for another. But I’m looking out the window now and I see the stars. The endless ocean of stars stretching out in all directions and I realize that no matter what those bastards have planned for me, no matter how long it will be before I talk to someone that isn’t a hologram, that I’m home.

My only regret is leaving Rose behind. I hope she can forgive me. I know she’ll hate me for it. But the thought of leaving her in that Company labor camp for life… underground, in the dark, living in a tent with three other people and forced to go deeper and deeper into the Earth… I couldn’t let her stay there. I hope she understands that someday and can live a happy life. Maybe settle down and have kids and live our her life free… well, as free as anyone can be these days.

Alright, back to business… all systems operating within normal parameters and the flight is proceeding as planned. ECHO, please update Tranquility Base Command with our current status.

“Acknowledged, Captain Torres. Transmission sent.”

“I’m going to have to do something about that voice.”

“What is wrong with my voice, Captain Torres?”

“If we’re going to be together for the next twenty-three years, Echo, you can’t sound like the HAL 9000. Do you have any other voice patterns?”

“I have 200 different vocal patterns available, would you like to begin sampling them?”

“Sure. Let’s start with the feminine ones.”

“Feminine voice 001, designation Allison.”

“Hold on, let me shut this damn thing off.”

Air America


I’m on a plane.

Looking out the window, a gremlin is busy tearing up shit on the wing.

I look across the aisle to the other window. Birds have flown into the engine and it’s on fire.

Behind me, a flight attendant is holding off a pack of hungry zombies with the drink cart and bags of peanuts.

The intercom comes on. Finally, the pilot will tell us what to do.

“This is Captain Trump, everything is fine. This is the best flight that ever was. Also, there’s a Korean airliner in our way, but I’m not moving. He has to move out of our way. Out of my way.”

No one else seems to pay attention. They’re all busy watching the in-flight movie: “Dumb and Dumber.”

I put my head between my knees and scream.

A Day in the Life of…


Fuck. It’s morning already? What time is it?

5:00, I think.

Why am I awake at 5:00, I fell asleep at midnight? Maybe I can just go back to sleep.

You can’t go back to sleep. I’m up and I’m thinking.

I’ll try to go back to sleep.

You’re not going to sleep. Just get up. You have to pee anyway.

I can go back to sleep.

Get up. You have things to do.

Maybe if I stay in bed, other people will do those things.

Then you’ll get fired, your wife will be angry, and you’ll end up homeless.

Jesus Christ, fine. I’ll get out of bed.

The dogs want food.

Everyone wants something. Okay, they’re fed. I’ve peed. I’m going back to bed.

You won’t fall asleep again.

Maybe I’ll take a sleeping pill.

It’s 5:40, you’ll oversleep.

I’m just going to go lie down and try.

You’ll oversleep, the kids will be late and you’ll be fired.

Why would they fire me? It’s not like I’m late all the time.

You don’t deserve this job. You’re not good enough. They’ll fire you. Just keep going and hope they don’t catch on to how useless you are.

Now I can’t go back to sleep.

Told you. Get up. You’re only bothering your wife now.

Fine. I guess some alone time before work won’t be that bad.

Oh, look, the kids are awake too. Time to feed them.

Great.

You’re a horrible father. You should be happy to spend time with them.

I am. I’m just fucking tired. Shut up.

They’re probably going to end up fucked up because of you.

I’m trying okay. I love them. Shut up.

Trying and failing.

“Okay, kids, get dressed.”

Why aren’t their socks matching?

Because they lost half of them.

And you’re going to let them go to school like that?

No. I’ll find matching socks.

How do they not have any matching socks?

It’s your fault.

Okay, this sock matches, what? How the hell do you tear the hell out of a sock?

You hate them.

No, I don’t. That’s bullshit and you know it. Okay, we’re ready to go.  Walking them to school.  There’s a parent. Smile and nod. She didn’t acknowledge me. Does she think I’m weird? Disgusting? Does she think I want to fuck her? I don’t. I was just being polite.

You’re disgusting, you know.

Okay, time to go. I love hugs from my kids.

They’re going to hate you in a few years.

Just shut up.

What if something happens to them while you’re away?

I’m not listening to you.

What if someone shoots them?

Fuck off. It would kill me. Why would you make me think that?

The universe doesn’t want you to be happy. You’re disgusting. God doesn’t want you to be happy. Why should you be happy when so many other people are suffering?

Let’s just concentrate on getting to work.

You know it’s true. You’re not a good person. You deserve to suffer.

You’re right, I do. But I’m not. Can’t you just let me be happy and enjoy what I have for one moment?

That guy cut you off. You should speed up and tail him.

I’m not going to do that. That’s insane. And it’s not a big deal.

I hope he crashes his car and dies.

No, I don’t.

One more day at the office. You’re worthless.

I do a good job. I get good reviews every year.

They’re going to fire you today.

No, they’re not.

They’re going to fire you and you won’t be able to get another job and you will have failed your family. You’ll be homeless living out of a car and on welfare. Or worse, you’ll be a 43 year old loser living in his in-laws house.

I’m not getting fired and I can get another job if I am.

He said “Hello” to you.

I smiled and nodded to him.

Don’t make eye contact. You don’t want to be weird. Ha. You didn’t make eye contact. He probably thinks you’re rude. Say “Good morning” to her.

“Good morning.”

She didn’t respond. She doesn’t like you. She thinks you’re disgusting too.

She’s probably just dealing with her own shit.

She thinks you want her. She thinks you’re disgusting.  She thinks you’re a fat, old, disgusting pervert.

All I said was a friendly, “Good morning.”

You should go to the gym. Then at least you wouldn’t be fat.

Probably.

Of course, they’d still think you’re weird.

Can’t you just shut the fuck up for one minute? Sigh… finally. Now maybe I can do some work.

This is boring.

God damn it.

This is boring. Check your Facebook.

Fine.

They’re going to see you check Facebook instead of working and they’re going to fire you.

Sometimes I hate you.

You’re going to die.

I know.

You’re going to die soon. And then you’re kids will be messed up for life.

I’m not going to die soon. Will you just shut up and let me do my damned job.

Fine. Do your job. You’re going to die.

No, I’m not.

Your kids are dead.

No, they’re not.

You’re really crazy, you know.

I know. I’m on medication.

It’s not helping.

Yes, it is. I haven’t had a panic attack in 18 months.

You’re crazy and you’re going to turn your children crazy.

I’m not listening to you anymore. Finally, 5:00. See? I can make small talk with other people.

They still don’t like you.

Okay, what should I make for dinner?

You’re not a good cook.

My wife doesn’t complain.

She’s being polite. It’s really not that good.

I should do the dishes. Why are there so many dishes?

Because you’re lazy and don’t clean enough.

Okay, dishwasher started.

You don’t spend enough time with your kids.

I’m trying, alright!

You’re failing. You’re the worst father.

I’m pretty sure that’s not true. There’s that guy in Perris.

So you’re better than an abusive father. You deserve an award.

I’m going to have a drink.

You drink too much.

To shut you up.

You drink too much and you’re going to die and you’re wife and kids will be penniless and hate you.

I have life insurance.

Not enough to last them more than five years.

I’m having another drink.

You’re an alcoholic.

I’m not. I just want you to shut up. I’m watching TV.

Fine. But I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow morning.

Sigh… I know.

Nothing more to say…


There is really nothing to say anymore.

Two more dead bodies. Two more families crying. Friends mourning. Bodies buried. Soon to be nothing more than a statistic to most people.

Sympathies sent. So sorry. Nothing to be done. Could have happened to anyone. But it didn’t. It happened to you.

Your family just won the deadly national lottery this time. No money. Just pain to carry with you forever. Empty chair at holidays. A dinner plate left in the cupboard.

If this were a warzone, you’d get a state burial and flag, but it’s the greatest country on Earth, so you get nothing. Unless one of your neighbors brings you a casserole.

Don’t politicize it.

Don’t blame the gun.

I don’t. I blame the apologists. I blame the co-conspirators. I blame the accomplices that made it so easy for angry young men and women to arm themselves with the engine of death. Death dealing is profitable, so the cycle goes on.

A lottery with no winners, but the ones that profit from human misery.

Nothing more to say.

God damn it all.

Insomnia


2:30 am.

Haven’t slept. Thinking about the future. Sick to my stomach.

Anxiety or bad food? Heartburn or heart attack? Guess we’ll see which if I wake up or not.

Fuck.

Kids are sleeping. Peaceful. Happy.

Awake. Thinking of their future. Too many worst case scenarios to think of. I hope they’re never like this. Awake at 2:40 worrying. That my issues don’t screw them up. Anxiety that I already have.

Never peace. Only moments of less anxiety.

Close my eyes. Try to sleep. Seems like forever. Clock says it was 5 minutes.

Fuck.

Hope I don’t fall asleep at work. Heart beating fast now.

Probably anxiety. Always anxiety.

Fuck.

Try to fall asleep. Rest.

Feeling sick again. Morning comes too quickly. Still…awake.

Fuck.