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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.

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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.

The Discarded


“You’re the reporter, right?”

“Yes, Allison Stone with the Times. You’re ‘Cindy’?”

“That’s what they call me,” Cindy said. “So what do you want?”

“I just wanted to talk to you. I’m doing a story on the-“

“Discards,” Cindy said.

“I was going to say Corporate Family Adoptee Program.”

Cindy laughed. “That’s what they call it, huh?”

“The official name anyway,” Allison said.

“I’ve only heard us called ‘Discards’,” Cindy said. “Usually by people screaming at me for taking their job. Do you mind if I smoke?”

“If it makes you more comfortable.”

“I should quit. I really should,” Cindy said. She took a cigarette out of its carton, lit it, and took a long drag. “It takes up more and more of my credits every month. Vice taxes, you know. Fucking government. What do you want to know?”

“You understand what the program is?”

“Well, I lived it. But yeah, after the government banned abortion, there were a lot of us that weren’t wanted. The fuckwads in the government thought feeding and housing us was too expensive, so they sold us to our corporate ‘families’. That pretty much the gist of it?”

“I doubt Congress would share your views, but more or less, you’re right. They opened the way for corporate persons to adopt children in the foster care system. What is your experience like with the program? You sound pretty negative about it.”

“It’s slavery,” Cindy said.

“Slavery? No, slavery is still illegal.”

“Is it? Still seems like the right word to a lot of us.”

“How so? You’re paid a wage and given room and board and you’re free to leave. You’re free to meet with me.”

“Am I? How many others responded to your interview request?”

“Just you.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“You think it’s because their employers won’t let them?”

“I know it’s because they won’t let them.”

“But you’re here.”

“Because I don’t care anymore,” Cindy said. “It’s fucking sick. It’s all fucking sick.”

“What is?”

“The program! My life! All of it!” She took another drag on her cigarette. Her hand visibly trembled.

“Are you okay?” Allison said.

“Yeah,” Cindy said. “Just fucking great.”

The two women sat in silence for a minute. Cindy smoked, Allison drank from her coffee cup.

“What do you know about the program?” Cindy said.

“The basics, but I’m more interested in your experience,” Allison said.

“My experience,” Cindy said. “Fine. The first memory I have is being in a Megamart day care center with 50 other kids. They were playing this stupid video about employee safety. Safety the Safety Pin doing a dance about cleaning up spills. That was what passed for entertainment. Stupid HR videos marketed to children.”

“When did you know-“

“That I was a Discard?” Cindy said. “Early. They didn’t call us that, of course. We were part of the MegaMart family. I was Cindy Anne MegaMart. Don’t know why they chose that name. Probably because some fucker in HR thought it sounded friendly. Anyway, they told us that our parents didn’t want us, and that the only family we had now was MegaMart. When did I find out?”

She took another drag on her cigarette.

“We were at a park on a field trip. They would take us off campus occasionally, if we all did well on a test or it was a company holiday. We were playing, like kids do. I wanted to play on the monkey bars and a bigger kid that was there with his mom shoved me off and told me that the playground wasn’t for ‘Discards.’ I didn’t know what that was, he told me my mom and dad didn’t want me. Said I would have been aborted fifty years ago. I didn’t know what any of that meant, so I ran back to one of our caretakers, Molly. She sat me down and explained it all to me. She tried to be nice about it, but then she drove the stupid boy and his family from the park by threatening to sue them for damaging Megamart property. I think she thought she was helping, but it just reinforced what the boy had said. I wasn’t a person. I didn’t have a mom to fight for me. I had a company that owned me. I wasn’t a real person. Just property of Megamart.”

“Did you ever find out who your parents were?”

“I looked into it when I was fourteen and they started letting us use the internet. I found out her name. That she was still poor and worked as a housekeeper in Kentucky where she lived in a tenement with my two sisters that I’ve never met.”

“And your father?”

“Alcoholic. Died after he drank too much and fell off a railway platform in front of an incoming train.”

“I’m sorry,” Allison said.

“I’m only sorry that he was an alcoholic. The company rations how much booze they’ll sell to me every month now. Yeah, they can do that. Keeps the health care costs down.”

“Did you ever reach out to your mother or your sisters?”

“I tried a few times. Sent her an email. Told her I didn’t want much, just to get to know her, but nothing ever came back. I gave up. Three years ago, HR calls me off of the floor and tells me she died of breast cancer and that from that point on, I was to visit the company clinic for annual mammogram screenings, so… yea!”

“What about your sisters? Did they ever reach out to you?”

“No,” Cindy said.

“Did you try to get in contact with them?”

“No,” she said. “I got the message from mom’s silence.”

“Tell me more about your early life in the company’s daycare system. What was it like growing up in ‘the Megamart family’?”

“I don’t know. We didn’t know any better, so we all thought it was normal at the time. The company was pretty strict about depictions of families. Every family was always shown to be part of the Megamart family, with a happy mommy and daddy leaving the company dormitories and leaving their happy little babies in company care.”

“So there were the fifty of us in my clutch. All born the same year, so we all grew up with forty-nine siblings all under the watchful eyes of security cameras and MegaMart employees.”

“How many employees were watching over you?”

“Depends on the age. Infants get more caregivers. Toddlers, fewer. By the time you’re a teenager, there’s only two, a guy and a girl. There were enough to keep things from getting too crazy, but never enough to catch all of the shit we did.”

“What kind of things did you do?”

“We all knew where the places the security cameras didn’t see were, so we’d go there and fool around or smoke out. Sometimes things got dark. Couple of girls were raped.”

“Raped? Oh my God. Did the company report it?”

“What do you think?” Cindy said. “Of course they didn’t report it. They handled it all inside the family. Keep it inside the family, they always said. HR would come down, write up an incident report, take the girls off to the clinic, and then if HR actually believed her, they’d take her rapist away and we wouldn’t see them again.”

“Where would they take them if not to jail? Did they have their own jails?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Cindy said. “But I don’t know. I asked our overseer about it and she said we shouldn’t talk about it. But we did. We all heard the rumors of building 13.”

“Building 13? What’s that?”

“Whatever you want it to be,” she said. “Private prison. Torture room. Crematorium. Lab with human experimentation. Monster factory. Everyone knew of a mysterious building on campus that was always guarded, but no one ever went into. That everyone was forbidden from going into. The story is that was where they took the ‘bad’ people and once they went in there, they never came out.”

She snuffed her cigarette out on the ground, withdrew another one from the carton and lit it.

“It’s wasn’t all bad. You didn’t have any privacy unless you were in the shitter, but you always had someone to play with. You also were competing for attention with 49 other kids, so you held back a little bit from each other, even your friends.”

“Did you bond with any of the employees in the nursery?”

“No. I tried a few times. There was one woman, Helen… she said I reminded her of her granddaughter. She would read stories to me. Try to teach me a few things. But then they fired her or transferred her. I never saw her again. I’m not sure what happened. But they rotated out the employees frequently. I think they wanted to make sure we didn’t start seeing anyone but the company as family or who knows? Maybe they had trouble keeping people in a job that required them to treat children as property? I don’t know. You’d have to find one of them and ask why. Not that they’ll talk to you.”

“They’re afraid?”

“Of course.”

“Why?”

“Because they’ll lose their job,” Cindy said.

“They can always find another job,” Allison said.

Cindy laughed. “You don’t know, do you?”

“What?”

“We can’t find another job because we can’t do anything else.”

“Why not?”

“Education.”

“You’re supposed to have a high school education.”

“No, we’re supposed to have 12 years of schooling. People assume the company schools are like any other school, but they’re not, well, I don’t think they are from what I’ve read. Six years of general education, then job training. From early on, they start analyzing you. Watching you. Looking over your test scores. If you’re smart, they put you on a management track. Send you off to college. If you’re not, they start job training you for menial work: cashier, stocker, warehouse work, cook, whatever. Once you’re there, you’re locked in. Your education gets specified to make you the best cashier or cook you can be. And that’s what your life is… forever.”

“What are you?”

“Level 2 buyer. Yea. In theory, I could get a job at another store, but they probably already have their own Cindy Anne, so I’m stuck. And if I get fired, I’ll be fucked. Figuratively and literally. Last job for a Discard is sex work. And that’s only if Megamart doesn’t demand immediate payment of my company debt.”

“Child Services Debt is only supposed to last for five years after you turn 18.”

Sally laughed.

“Sure. Sure, it does. What happens when we turn 18? You get a job with the company. You move into company housing. The company takes the money for rent out of your paycheck. Shop at the company store, they extend you credit. Eat at the company commissary, the cost is added to your debt. It adds up. They take a minimum payment from your paycheck every week, leave you with the rest. If you’re careful and have no life, you might… might pay off your debts in 20 years. If you’re a stupid kid and you buy new clothes, drink, go to the company doctor because you’re sick, or want a TV, the debt just keeps piling up. You’ll never get it paid off. Ever. I told you, they own you.”

“When I was 18, I had a thirty thousand dollar debt to pay back. 6 years later, it’s thirty-five thousand.”

She finished her cigarette and dropped it into the ashtray.

“I always liked this park,” she said. She took another cigarette from her pack.

“Do you want to know the most fucked up thing?”

“What?” Allison said.

“Because it’s individual debt, it’ll roll over to my next of kin when I die. And then they’ll own my kids. Fuckers can take a two billion dollar write off last year, they can’t forgive 40 grand in employee debt. It’s why I never wanted kids. Told my boyfriend Mike to get a fucking vasectomy. Started taking the pill when I was 13.”

“They’ll own your children?”

“Yep. Until they pay off my debt. Which they’ll never do because from the moment they’re born, the company will start charging me for their delivery, their housing, their food, their medical care, and education. Perpetual servitude.”

“That doesn’t sound legal.”

“They say it is. I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. It shouldn’t be. A lot of things shouldn’t be.”

Cindy started to cry.

“Fuck,” she said.

She wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Are you okay,” Allison said.

“No, no, I’m not okay. Nothing is okay about this whole fucking situation.” Cindy sighed and watched the lake. A mother duck led her five ducklings from the grass down to the pond. The breeze brought a welcome coolness. Cindy watched the ducks for a moment and sighed.

“Here,” she said. She pulled out a data drive and handed it to Allison. “There’s more. More stories. Stuff that happened in the orphanage. Rapes. A few murders. Everything I could find on building 13.”

Allison took the drive from Cindy. “I’ll make sure your name doesn’t come up.”

“Don’t worry about it. Put me on the record. Put it all on the record. It doesn’t matter now.”

“You’re not worried about repercussions?”

Cindy shook her head. “No.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“No, I’m not okay. I’m pregnant.”

“Oh… oh,” Allison said.

“You should probably leave,” Cindy said. “Sometimes they’ll have Human Resources follow us, to check up on us.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No. Goodbye, Allison,” she said.

Allison reached into her bag and handed Cindy a business card. “Take it. Call me if you need anything. I mean it.”

“Okay,” Cindy said.

Allison took her purse and started on the path to the car.

“Thanks. For listening.”

“You’re welcome, Cindy.”

Allison had just reached her car when she heard the gunshot echo from the lake. When Allison ran back to find Cindy, she found her body face down in front of the bench, a revolver in her hand, blood pooled and slowly rippled out from where her left temple would have been.

“No! No no no no no,” she said. “Cindy!”

Allison dialed 911. It was several minutes before the ambulance arrived. When they did, Allison stepped back as two EMTs approached.

“What happened here?”

“I don’t know,” Allison said. “I had just left her and heard a shot when I got to my car.”

“Shit,” the first one said. “Is there a pulse?”

“What do you think?” The second EMT said. “She’s missing half her head.”

“Alright, alright. Just checking. Get her ID and let’s find out who we need to call.”

The EMT kneeling next to Cindy’s body, took out a cell phone, opened an app on it, and pressed Cindy’s right index finger on it. After a moment, the phone emitted a ping. The EMT looked at his phone and sighed, “Another Megamart.”

“Big surprise,” his partner said. “Alright, let’s call Benny at corporate. Have them come by and pick up the body.”

“You’re not going to call the police?”

He shook his head. “Megamart family member, Megamart jurisdiction, Megamart’s problem. Trust me, this isn’t our first Megamart suicide. We call the cops, they come in and call corporate, then yell at us for not just calling corporate ourselves.”

“What’s going to happen to her?” Allison said.

“They come and pick up the body. Don’t know after that. Don’t ask. It’s not my job. Now excuse me, I need to call this in.”

Allison sighed and started recording with her phone. The EMT had dialed his phone. “Hey. Benny? Yeah, it’s Alex from District Five. I’ve got another one for you. Cindy Anne Megamart, Age 23, Store 3502. She’s in Liberty Park. Yeah. No, looks like suicide. Okay…. Okay…. Good. Great. Thanks, Benny. Appreciate it.”

“How long we have to babysit a corpse?” the other EMT said.

“About ten minutes,” Alex said.

“Don’t you care about what happened? She was a person,” Allison said.

“Every minute I spent here, is one minute I’m not helping someone I might be able to help. If she were still breathing, I’d care, but she’s not,” Alex said. “She’s just another Discard that couldn’t handle life. Bag, tag, and move one to the next one. Speaking of which, you tag her yet?”

Just another Discard, Allison thought.

It was nine minutes before a van painted a friendly yellow color bearing the Megamart logo of a smiling dollar bill on the side appeared and stopped in front of the park. The driver was a middle-aged woman with brown hair pulled back and tucked under a yellow Megamart cap. She wore a bright yellow pantsuit with a blue tie with yellow polka dots that upon closer inspection were small capital M’s. The side panel of the van opened and two men in scrubs stepped out carrying a large black bag.   Alex, the EMT, waved them over.

“Patricia Morgan, Human Resources Reclamation,” the woman said.

“Alex Jones, Mercy Medical. Sign here,” he said. He held out his phone. Patricia signed with her finger on the screen, then pressed her finger in a confirmation box. “Okay. She’s all yours. What’s left of her anyway. The hospital will send a copy of all forms to your primary contact.”

“Thank you, Mr. Jones, better luck with your next call,” she said. “Tommy, Martin, you know what to do. And whom, may I ask, are you?”

“Allison Stone, with the Times.”

Patricia sighed audibly. “A journalist. Well, terrible business this. Megamart deeply regrets our loss and will be reviewing our departmental mental health policies and practices to see if there was anything we could have done to help Cindy Anne before this unfortunate event. If you need an additional quote, please contact our Media Relations Department; otherwise leave us to our work and no photography.”

The Reclamation team moved with a practiced efficiency that made Allison wonder exactly how often they had done this. Cindy Anne’s effects were neatly tagged and bagged and loaded onto the van. Cindy Anne herself was quickly moved and zipped into the large black bag. Tommy and Martin loaded her into the Megamart van, while Patricia mopped up the remaining gore on the park bench and sidewalk, and stuffed the cleaning materials into a biohazard bag. The entire process was done in under ten minutes, then tthe Reclamation team and the Megamart van were gone.

Allison stared at the empty parking space, then at the bench. She sat on the bench where she had been sitting just half an hour earlier and ran her fingers on the place where Cindy Anne had been. It was like she had never existed.

___

Jorge Diego Megamart had been the Manager of Store 3502 for just under six months and had already developed a bad drinking habit. He had inherited the job and the habit from his former boss who died of a heart attack during the company picnic’s sack race, an event that Human Resources had since banned at all future company outings.

“The job is the job,” his boss had said more than once. “You don’t have to like it. You just have to show up and do it.”

So he did. And the company thought he was store manager material.

He had received notice of Cindy Anne’s death from HR the following evening – an email asking him to add the item to his list of morning announcements. He had known Cindy Anne, but not well. She mostly kept to herself, did her job, and only had to be corrected a few times for using sarcasm on the job. He wondered if anyone would cry when he made the announcement. He hoped not. It would make the rest of the announcements awkward.

As the last few stock clerks shuffled in holding their cups from the Megamart coffee store, he started.

Sales goals had been met. Employees would enjoy a complimentary pizza party. Losses from shoplifting were up 3%, the company wished to remind all employees that EVERYONE was a Loss Prevention associate.

Cindy Anne’s death was mentioned between two bulletins about the formation of this year’s company softball league and the announcement of a new line of cosmetics from teen pop sensation Jessica arriving in time for the Christmas holiday season.

“We will be holding a ceremony to bury Cindy Anne this Friday at 6:30 in the morning. If you are not scheduled to work, attendance is mandatory and will be unpaid,” Jorge said. “Her supervisor will be delivering a brief eulogy.”

Jorge felt sick to his stomach when he realized that the level 3 Buyer position was still unfilled, which made him Cindy’s acting supervisor.

___

The Megamart accounting division took a tax write off on Cindy’s unpaid debt, and another on the loss of future labor, netting the owners of Megamart an additional $100,000 in profit for that fiscal year.

___

“Jacob? What the fuck is this?” Allison shouted as she stormed into her boss’ office.

“It’s a transfer order,” Jacob said. “To the Anchorage division.”

“What the fuck, Jacob?”

“The fuck is that news of your story managed to find its way up to the top floor, Allie.”

“Cindy Anne’s story?” Allison said.

“Yeah. There were ‘concerns’ about the piece.”

“What concerns? I have her testimony, I have the materials she gave me about the company, how they treat the kids they ‘adopt’, about the rapes they’ve covered up. Everything she told me, she backed up with evidence.”

“Evidence stolen from Megamart and evidence they demanded back from our bosses two days ago.”

“They didn’t,” Allison said.

“Yes, they did,” Jacob said. “Turns out one of the owners of our company also sits on the board of Megamart. Has kids that play in the same Lacrosse league as the Megamart owners’ kids.”

“They can’t bury her story,” Allison said.

“Can and did,” Jacob said. “We have nothing, Allie. Corporate came down and took everything you had.”

“I’ll go public anyway,” Allison said.

“And they’ll sue you for defamation and you’ll have nothing.”

“I don’t give a fuck,” Allison said. “I can’t do nothing.”

“Can and will,” Jacob said. “Look, Allison, you’re a good journalist, but you’re also a good person. You can’t be both in this world. Take my advice. Go to Anchorage. Do your penance. Let the corporate goons forget who Allison Stone is for a year or two, then come back and resume your career. You can still be an anchor somewhere by 35. Maybe national by 40.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then there’s the door. And don’t count on finding another job in journalism. Those corporate boys talk to one another and there won’t be room on a news team for a reporter who’s not willing to go along with them and just do the job they expect of her.”

“She died because of this,” Allison said.

“And you haven’t, so don’t commit career suicide over some-“

“Discard?” Allison said.

“Yeah,” Jacob said. “Is she worth it to you? Worth throwing away four years of college and five years of career experience? Worth having to start over in a new career? I hear Megamart is hiring.”

“You’re a fucking bastard, Jacob.”

“Yeah, I am. So what’s it going to be, Allie? Anchorage or unemployment?”

Allison sighed. She pictured Cindy Anne’s corpse smiling cynically as Allison said, “When is my flight?”

Postcards from the Post-Apocalypse


June 5th,

They killed a girl today.

No, that ain’t right.

We killed a girl today.

Susanna Shepherd. She was in my Sunday School class. I didn’t know her that well, on account of boys and girls not being allowed to play together. My brother Martin talked to her though. I think he had a crush on her and was hoping to have pa talk to her dad and arrange a marriage, but Lloyd’s dad beat ‘em to it.

We killed her on the doorstep of her parents’ house, just like Pastor Jim told us the Good Book said. He said she had ‘played the harlot’ and ‘brought wickedness to the congregation.’ She swore she was innocent. She begged us to spare her life. She said that she had never known a man until her wedding night, but Lloyd appeared with a clean bedsheet and Pastor Jim called her a liar and said the sign of her virginity would have been the blood.

Lloyd threw the first rock. I will always remember the sound of it hitting her head. I made me feel like I was going to be sick. Then Pastor Jim and then the other men joined in. Susanna cried and kept swearing she hadn’t done anything. Then a rock hit her in the side of the head and she fainted, I think. She didn’t say anything else after that.

After a while, pa handed me a stone too. I didn’t want to throw it. Pa told me it was the Lord’s will. We had to please the Lord to make sure the crops grew this year.

I threw the damn thing. It landed on her back with a thud.

I prayed to Jesus hoping she was already dead.

Pastor Jim said the Lord was pleased with us for performing his law and removing wickedness from our midst, but I can’t stop thinking about her. Maybe she was innocent. Maybe we just murdered her like Cain murdered Able. The bloody dress. Her face crushed and broken. The limp body they hung from the tree in the middle of town. The smell… the crows picking at her.

It don’t seem like a thing God would be happy over.

Don’t seem like a thing that ought to be done.

I hope I don’t see her eyes tonight

– Excerpt from The Diary of Jim Harlan, New Zion Settlement, New Canaan Confederacy