Category Archives: Stories and Sagas

Hyper on the Low

The shirt flickered like dead static. Blue, grey, green, grey, yellow, grey it went. It jumped and stopped — as if holding its breath — and then proceeded to shake and jitter.

Alex pulled the fabric away from his muscular toso and stared at the light emanating from the cloth. His v-shaped jaw quivered as he continued to gaze at the spectrum of colours. “I’m not one of them,” he said to the silhouette of a person hiding in the shadows of basement.

“Who are you?” growled a distorted voice. The sound of metal gears scraping against each other filled the space and drowned out the noise of the rattling pipes on the walls. “Who are you?”

“I’m…I’m more than that. I’m more than GamerGate, I’m a soul.” Alex’s body started to shake and he inhaled sharply as if he had become cold. “I care. I believe games are all things. Meant for all people.”

“Fifteen days ago you read the banned list,” the voice said. “In violation of its terms you played twenty-one pieces of patriarchal programming. You promoted a culture that silences the voices of the void. For those crimes, you are being banished.”

Alex slumped onto the ground and rocked backward and forwards. He cradled his torso in his arms and stared at his skin as it started to flicker. “You can’t do this to us, we’ve, we’ve got rights too.”

The silhouette stepped out the dimly lit corner. The person was a woman — not slim, but not overweight. She had a healthy frame with long brown hair and hazelnut eyes.  Her blue jeans and low-cut singlet made her look normal, almost. Half of her face, the right side, was missing and had been replaced with metal and gears. As her jaw lowered, metal screeched against itself.

“Oh, I know about those rights,” she said. “I count them sometimes. I notch them on my externals, I slice them into my skin when I remember the pretty gamer boys who made one too many grabs for my breasts. ‘Don’t…wear…hyper-colour…t-shirts. One absolute rule. One.  Not like the thousands we have. “

“I’l change. I promise I won’t laugh at the list anymore. I won’t mock it, help me. I’ll hire more women for my team, I know they can be good coders too.”

“The patriarchy never changes,” she said taking the lantern off the ceiling. “The patriarchy never dies. Only the voices of the void do not heed its call.” She leaned down and lifted Alex’s chin up, his face reflecting in her polished metal. “And I am one of those voices.”

With a singular motion, she brought the lantern down on his head and the static was consumed by the dark.

Magic Stylings

Leah winced as she put her cracked and blood-stained knuckles under the running water. The action sent shivers up and down her spine and made her shoulders involuntarily jump as they stayed there. If that had been the only remnants of her fight, she wouldn’t have been overly concerned. One more struggle in the long line that had been her life.

Her head hurt though. A dull ache, one that crept around the top of her forehead and down her circular face. It snuck into her blue eyes and pressed against them, into her thin pale red lips and petite ears. Even her nose felt it, its long point and sharp tip feeling a mild throb. It had gotten in her skin, under her pallid complexion, and was crawling around in there.

“Mucktack,” she mumbled to herself, standing up and flicking her fingers down. Leah recalled when her assailant had grabbed her hair and pulled. How she’d screamed and clutched at the air trying to get away from his grasp. If he’d been a better fighter, she’d have been the one on the ground — dead — instead of him.

Running her hands through her patch-work coloured strands of brown and black, she looked around the town. It was small, maybe ten shops large. All of the places glowed with a faint colour that highlighted their magical properties — blue for shadows, yellow for fire… Leah didn’t know the rest. She hated Gamics. She wished she could still believe their tricks were nothing more than clever performances to fool the locals, but she’d been out of Scinok territory too long to keep believing their lies as well.

Sighing, Leah started walking towards the snipper — a sign with a pair of scissors etched on it advising what services the store offered. Light peaked through the green canopy of the forest up above. It was more silver than white today and created little shimmering shapes on the earthen road with its lilting base and deep holes that no one seemed to have tried to fill.

It took her twenty-two steps to reach the door, and one flash of her timer to notice there was almost no one inside. No customers at least. All the chairs were empty, their black coverings and metal bases contrasted with the wooden floor of the store. Each cutting area had a rack full of scissors, and scooping blades that vibrated and sliced at the same time. There was a closed space at the back with a sign that said ‘Snippers Only’ and some magazines stashed on top of tables next to the waiting benches on the left.

Only one man was inside, his black hair full but with the occasional gray patch in the wrong place. It was not styled, it was sticking out in any way it wanted.

Leah pushed the door open and heard the twitter of a bird, she guessed it was the sound of the entrance charm. “Need a cut,” she said.

The snipper turned around, his face structurally handsome but the rotations had not been kind. He had two scars on his right cheek, one on his left and both his ears had a small piece missing from their ear lobes.  His eyes were mismatching — green and blue — telling her that his lineage was mixed and as he moved into the light, his olive skin became more prominent.

“Long or short?” he asked in a voice that Leah believed should’ve belonged to another type of man. It was husky, and warm. It carried itself and wrapped its tones around  your heart until you relaxed.

“Short,” she said as she stroked her hair that went past her shoulders. She’d grown it for her bonding partner, he’d loved to tangle it in his fingers and hold it up in front of her. At least until she’d been transferred, to here. To the backend of nowhere.

The snipper clicked his tongue and looked her up and down. She noticed his eyes fall over her blue and black uniform. The one that had infused metal bindings to keep her safe. One that told everybody she was a Guardian. The kind of clothes that get your evicted from Gamic businesses unless you’re on patrol or willing to bend a few guidelines.

“You going to pay for it?” he asked.

“That’s a –“

“Twenty baral,” he pointed to a metal basin. “Or get out.”

Leah squinted, she knew about the anti-regulation shakedowns by other Guardians, but she didn’t like his tone either. “You want to make this a spot check?” she said, reaching for her knife.

The man continued to rub his hands with a white cloth. “We’re a fringe village here ‘nok, no one follows your standards. Or didn’t you notice?”

Her fingers started to curl around the hilt. “So what happens now?”

“Twenty baral, in the dish, and I slice up your hair. Or I slice you up and take your body out to the forest so the versarches don’t get hungry.”

Leah let her gaze linger over the snipper’s scars, then his tools of the trade — blades and scissors of all kinds — before pulling her hand away from her knife. She walked over to the bowl and put in the twenty coins. Then, as an afterthought, she added another one. For his courage.

The man flicked his left hand toward a chair, she sat in it. “What type of experience you want?” he asked as she stared at a reflection of herself in a polished metal mirror.

“I told you,” she snapped, “short — “

“No, magic or standard. Some gamics lose their keit if I don’t cut it with the props.”

“I like the sound of scissors, tells me you’re working.”

He pulled a cream towel around her neck and stuffed it in the back of her top. “Never understand you ‘noks,” he said, as a white sheet floated down on top of her. “You talk about safety and then let a stranger get close to you with cutting tools. The other way’s much less accident prone.”

“When a Scinok snipper opens up out here, I promise not to bother you with my preferences,” she said.

He laughed and clinked a metal comb and a pair of scissors together. “A Guardian’s hair doesn’t get this long from paranoia. Lover?” He ran the comb through the section on her left.

“Any of your business?”

“Is if you want a good style.” Something slid across her throat, something sharp and cold. “See what I mean about accident prone?”

She swallowed, finally accepting how far she was back from the regulated walls of Mystilvern. How much land the Scinok advancement didn’t control, but pretended they did. “One that would come looking for me if something happened.”

“You want your cut as short as your truth?” he asked, holding her hair up. Now that they were closer she could make out the deadness in his eyes.

“To the top of my neck,” she said.

“You going to be killing a lot of drunkards then?”

“Only when they skip out on their contracts. He had a chance to come back alive.” The scissors started to slice away at her tangled mess.

“Did us all a favour,” the snipper said, although his eyes told her that he didn’t mean it.

“I’m just a cog in the wheels of progress,” Leah said as she felt her head become less heavy.

“I love that line.” He kept cutting, his eyes not looking at what he was doing but straight at her. “What’s the other one you ‘noks like using to avoid being called keits?”

“The machine rolls on?”

“Love that one too.” He stopped and clanked his instruments together, hair fell out of them and floated towards the ground. Reaching around, the man ran the comb across the faint scar line next to her right eye. “What did you do to get sent out here?”

The snipping continued. Leah cleared her throat and looked away from the mirror. She peeked out of the store’s windows and saw a few people walking down the main street. No revenge gang was forming outside the snipper’s. No one seemed interested in the corpse lying on the street either.

“Aren’t you going to take care of your own?” she asked, without thinking too much about the consequences.

“Probably would if he was one of ours. ‘nok on the run is still a nok.”

“But he’s…” Leah stopped herself before she finished her sentence. Green eyes didn’t mean they were Gamic. Neither did his dark skin. Could’ve been a distant family member was one. Could’ve been a hereditary thing from hundreds of rotations previously. She hadn’t bothered to ask how a Gamic had ended up on the wrong end of a contract, and the details had been very clear. They’d told her he was one of the others, and that’s all she’d ever needed to know for processing purposes.

As if sensing her thoughts, the snipper said, “So you could’ve bought him back alive?”

“The machine rolls on,” she repeated.

He’d moved up now, her precious two-rotation’s growth all over the floor. “What did you do?” the man pressed. “Seems like you’re going to be here a long time. No one gets their hair cut when they’ll be back in city limits in a kew or two.”

“Everyone lapses.”

“Sure, kids. Little wood blocks. Seen one of them open up their flow too much and then explode.” He clapped his hands right next to her ear. “Pop! Gone. Blood and entrails. You’re thirty-something rotations on though. We don’t get that many second rounds when we shuck up.”

She gazed at the man’s reflection, wondering if this was a power game by a small human enjoying the moment, or something else. If he was one of the dark ones, the remnants of the rebels from the war. Leah decided to chance it. “I’m good in a fight,” she said, hoping he knew what that meant.

“Not embracing the calmer days?” For the first time, he looked down and checked the length of the hair at the top of her head. The comb went up and down, as if trying to find the right place. Then, without asking, he cut. “Maybe you need a vocation.”

“Like being a snipper?”

“Never know who you might meet,” he replied, a tiny smile appearing at the corner of his mouth. “There’s always a little crazy out there, hiding away. You just got to recognise it.”

“My ‘lover’ had a little crazy, and an extra vocation. Merchant, exporter. He didn’t mind the anti-regulation trade either. Nothing big, just a few odd supplies here and there. Food, prototypes, Gamic kids.” Leah felt her pulse rise, and sweat break out on her forehead. The man’s cutting slowed. “We had a fight.” She stopped and ran her scarred fingers along her thigh. “They give you the same ranks. Survive a battle, earn a line on your chest. Think of something innovative in an office, get a pompous ceremony. Break up two kids wailing on each other, they slap a courage badge on your chest. Save your squad leader from a death trap, pin the exact same thing on you. Gets a little confusing once the battles are over.”

The snipping continued.

“So we had a disagreement — him and his business interests on one side, me and my beliefs on the other. Gave him the whole speech about what we were fighting for, what our positions mean. Then, when that didn’t work, threatened to bring the Zhu in. Love isn’t as real as baral, it appears.”

“Sometimes.” The man clicked the metal tools together again. “He didn’t make it?”

“Oh, they tried. All those healers and their instruments rushing around. My commanding officer had a stake in the enterprise, didn’t like the regulations being applied to her as well. So, the war hero has to go.”

“It happens. After all, it’s clear what kind of hero you are, it’s right there in the title.” He kept cutting. “But you could’ve saved him?”

“Sure, but I hate weak men,” Leah turned her gaze away from the mirror. “Maybe I just hate weak people, killed enough women in the ditches. Maybe I hate pretenders, I don’t know. All these individuals who talk big, strut around with their confidence on display and then come up short. I thought about it, at least. But, he wailed, like an animal without control, so I choked him out. Shucking deserved it.”

With a sudden movement, the snipper made a dramatic finish to cutting her hair. “Done.”

Leah shook her head, refusing to look at the style, at herself. “Don’t you need to clipper me? Get all the little parts?”

“I’m lazy, I used magic for that.” She could hear him chuckle.

Swallowing hard, she turned back and looked at the style. It was better than what she’d have gotten in the city, if she’d paid five times more. The part was split perfectly in the middle, the edges were completely aligned and when she moved her head it flowed with ease. “Anyone tell you how good you are?”

“Only if they get out of my chair alive.” His hands reached around her throat and pulled away the sheet.

“Do I need another heartbreaking story next time I come here? If I want to be one of those fortunate few?”

“No,” she could feel his hands undo the towel, “just don’t kill anybody.  Even if they are a ‘nok on the run.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Leah replied, standing and brushing herself down. She turned, took one last look at the snipper with his stony face and strange eyes before spinning and heading back to the door.

“Think about that vocation,” she heard him call out after her. “War’s over after all.”

Unemployed Magicians

Zacharius Forlien Asterielle, Zack to his allies, sat at a long wooden table. It was smooth, in parts, and rough in others. On the benches that sat under it there were marks that had been made by the scrapes of shields and knives. Occasionally there was a black patch, a burn mark. He was a slender man, and squished between a burly male and a hairy woman who had a twirly moustache.

“What you down about?” the hairy woman asked  Zack as a Guardian with metal arms and legs clanked behind the two of them. The hubbub of voices and the cheers of a celebration filled the silence when there was no reply. “Come on, what you down about?” she pressed.

“Well, it’s this news.” He banged a paper that was in front of him. It was turned to the sixth page, dense symbols and text filled each column. “I mean, I’m having a crisis.”

“Not an existential one, I hope.”

“Am I not supposed to have a metaphysical conflict?” Zack snapped, turning to face the woman. His small eyes had opened wide, revealing grey eyes. “I’m a multi-dimensional being and I’m not supposed to have an existential crisis?”

“Multi-dimensional this, multi-dimensional that — no wonder why people hate Gamics.”

“Why do you even care? Just a moment, do I even know you? What’s your name?”

“Samantha,” she brushed her moustache down. “I solve mysteries. With my axe.” She dropped the aforementioned weapon on the table, making a loud thud sound that caused two diners to inch away from them. “Think of me as an adventurer of the mind.”

“Samantha,” Zack mumbled. “Am I one of your lucky…suspects?”

“This is more pro-bono. I see someone a little down, think I’ll strike up a conversation. Maybe solve their woes before I start work for my client.”

Pushing the paper further forward, and into a man’s plate of food, Zack leaned back. “I’m a Dthead.”

“Should that bother me?”

“I summon portals, control people through their blood. Or something.  I don’t know. Seemed like magic to me.”

“Sure. I don’t know how dimension-hopping works, but I assume  it involves a little bit of the sprinkle dust.”

“Exactly. Look, I carry a knife.” He put it on the table next to her axe. “I wear organic clothes made by hand.” Zack pulled at his hemp shirt and silk pants. “I mumble words and steal people’s life energy.”

“Is that the fashion around here? Mystilvern strikes me as a little odd.” Samantha pulled at her brown hair and then removed some rheum from under her eyes. “Plus, I’m not here to listen to your woes, only solve them. Can we hurry this along?”

“I thought I was a character in a fantasy novel. Things that can’t be explained happen because… well … they can’t. They just happen. In some distant, unknown world, one with a strange name. I thought the whole genre was about that. Maybe a little bit of science thrown in for good measure.”

“Doesn’t seem so bad. I can think of worse things. Did you know that whole cultures were relabelled with different names because of white men?”

“That’s not the point,” Zack snapped, banging is pale hand on the table. “If I’m not a magician, if I’m not a Gamic who can conjure things from thin air in a fantasy world, then where do I belong?”

“Paranormal?”

“Do you see a werewolf anywhere? A vampire?”

“What about…noir?”

“Oh, so the detective solves the crime by reading other people’s thoughts? Two whole pages. Not even flash fiction.”

“Perhaps…” Samantha leaned forward, her large frame casting a long shadow over the table. She massaged her fat nose. “I see your problem. You can’t just waltz into another genre and start shooting fire bolts.”

“Buddy-cop action would never be the same. People wouldn’t know what to do.”

“Chaos.”

“Am I supposed to pack up my skills and go like a whimper into the darkening sky?”

“Who’s telling you this?”

Zack turned his face away from Samantha and patted the newspaper. “A columnist. He’s saying that magic portals don’t count as fantasy.”

The detective picked up the newspaper and started to read it. “You’re a braver person than I am, getting through this.”

“I felt compelled.”

The sounds from the other parts of the room filled the emptiness of conversation between the two of them as Samantha worked her way through the article. She folded it up at the end. “Don’t know what to say, can you still conjure magic?”

“Pretty much.”

“Make…people die after swallowing their blood?”

“In the right circumstances.”

“Sounds like fantasy. I’d keep going. After all, everyone’s got an opinion.”

“But…but…but…”

She patted down her moustache.  “You seem like a nice person, but this is pro-bono. I don’t guarantee results.” Samantha stood up, grabbed her axe and banged Zack on the back. “Hope you get over that crisis.”

“Maybe I’ll cast a few more spells tomorrow, see how I go.”

“And if that doesn’t work, you can always call it radiation and head off into the desert. I mean, science explains everything, right?”

“Appreciate it,” Zack said as Samantha walked away. He picked up the paper, sighed and started reading the article again.

The Foot

Kenji’s hair was all wrong. It was not slick, to the side or smoothed with an overuse of gel. It was ruffled and giving directions to nowhere and everywhere.

His clothes were the same. His white shirt was dangling out of his pants, his jacket crinkled at the bottom, his shoes scuffed and tie undone. Even his face seemed distorted with its open mouth and panicked-looking eyes.

For a graduate of Keio university, he didn’t seem the part. He appeared more akin to an outer-suburb uni student. Someone who had failed their test too many times and given up on everything. Given up on that banking job in Tokyo.

Yet, Kenji was all of those things. And none of them. His feet — in their slick, black, ni-man shoes — pounded down the stairs at Meguro station. They made a thumping sound that was louder than the hubbub of the platform and louder than the train’s engines.

The Keio-graduate’s actions made people stop and turn, their lives interrupted by a slim man wailing his arms about as he leapt down the stairs. He pushed an older woman to the side, making her scowl, and ploughed through two lovers holding hands.

As the train’s chimes started to sing, Kenji’s legs stretched even further, his strides gaining distance. The electronic circuits sparked, the gears turned and the doors started to close. Kenji blew out a breath of air and leapt, his body seeming to fly through the space that existed between him and the Yamanote-line’s still open carriage.

A man’s foot lifted off the ground, a size 12. It lifted and shot forward  faster than anyone could have seen. It hit Kenji in the chest, knocking him down to the platform, behind the white suicide barriers.

The doors closed. The train slid away from the station and a man with blue eyes glared at Kenji, a scowl on his face. A middle finger extended.

“Mataku,” Kenji said as he stood, wiping the dirt from his jacket. He adjusted his tie, pushed his shirt into his pants and waited for the next train. He waited the whole three minutes.

Put the Jazz Down, and Walk Away from the Saxophone

“So, maybe you’ve heard this one before?” Terrence’s eyes swivelled, a thick layer of murkiness seemed to exist between his iris, his brain and the woman he was speaking to. “An android, a vampire and a skateboarding mutant walk into a bar. No one says anything. Right? Not the ghoul, not the crazy aunt with a cleaver as a hand. No one.

“They get closer and closer to the counter. Their boots, shoes, clacking, clicking, on the ground. Closer and closer. The bartender turns, cybernetic eyes swivelling in his head, and he says, ‘What’s crossing your genres?”

Terrence fell off his stool and onto the faux-wood floor. He cackled with delight, clutching his side as he laughed at his own joke. When the woman didn’t respond, he sat up and said, “Crossing your genres? Y’know…crossed gene–“

“I get it,” she replied, her voice sharp and edgy. It sounded tense, the way something does when it’s been stretched all the way back and held in that position for hours. She looked that way too, her neck rigid and even the parts of her that were naturally round seemed to have gotten sharper. Honed to a point, points that held up a black dress  above the mid-part of her thighs. “And no, I hadn’t heard that one before. Normally they’re less…funny.”

Terrence rolled onto his stool, his six-foot frame and loose shirt almost making the action seem normal in the dancing lights of the nightclub. “You know what Susan?”

“Angela.”

“Susange,” he burped and cleared his throat. “You would be a great author.”

“I am a great author,” she took a sip of her drink. It was in a beer mug, fat and huge. It appeared discordant against her thin rouge lips and tied-back hair. She had slim eyebrows that frowned slightly as she gulped its remaining contents down. After she wiped her mouth with the back of her left hand, Angela snapped her fingers. As if on command, the bartender spat on the floor. A small robot cleaned up the mess.

“Not as great as I used to be,” she continued, “not enough to pay the rent, but still…”

“Don’t give me that. You’re all backlist. Propped up by–” Terrence leant back and glanced at the ceiling, holding his sides as if in a pose “–the ‘man’. For a woman who’s like, ‘I despise the man,’ you sure use him a lot. His entrenched ways. His repression of the individuality. What you need’s a little wilderness man time.”

“That’s the last thing any woman ever needs.”

“Oh, come on, baby. My sci-fi operas are all about the rise of the feminine mind. They put their feet so far down the throat of the patriarchy that even the radicals blush a little at my prose.”

“Dont’ bullshit me. I’ve read your works. I’ve read all five of them.” The noise of a heavy glass mug hitting the counter interrupted Angela’s speech. The bartender reached under his tabletop and turned a knob.

The lights spun faster, the doof-doof of the music punched through the speakers louder. The blackness around Terrence and Angela stayed the same though. It was as if all that existed was two creaky stools, one bar, and them.

“I’ve poured over every single word,” she persisted. “Half-baked, second-rate, pieces of cliche that they are, spat out and thrust upon the world as if you’d vomited half of your brain into a bin before you’d started to type.”

“They love it though,” he countered. “Those repressive themes, even the women.” Terrence leaned forward, his hands grasping an imaginary circle. “It’s like an orgasm of nostalgia. Just this sticky thing that slides all over the body, and then squeezes our most sensitive areas. Once it’s there, it starts to pump them, right? Just vibrate along those pressure points a little. Sure, they know what’s coming. But it’s warm in that bossom of the past, it’s warm in that power. And even when they’re writing those empowerment tomes, they’re only trying to get it off them. A sort of half-hearted attempt to make themselves feel good. The same way we grab onto those literary novels, like they’re a bar of safety, all while I ooze down them and jiggle their hidden lusts until they tingle. They know they shouldn’t like it, right? They know it. And yet when they actually hate how I make them feel,” he turned and looked at Angela, peered into her eyes, “it’s even better.”

Terrence leant back and adjusted his package. “It’s like when you need that straight shot of dominance to justify your existence. They’re angry as all get out, and they’ve already prepared all these arguments to yell at the page. They love to tell me how much better they are when I’m down there, but I’m still down there.  I’m rubbing and sliding everything I am into their hearts, into their ears and–“

Angela brought mug down on Terrence’s face. It shattered and cut, revealing pieces of metal beneath his skin. His eyes appeared to press out of his skull, they showed terror but also surprise. “What? Don’t  you like my work?” He hit the ground and made a clattering sound.

Angela’s chest was heaving, her body no longer pointy but round once more. Her large breasts rose and fell as if in waves, her cheeks were red and her breaths deep. She jumped off her stool, grabbed a piece of glass and started stabbing at Terrence’s body. “I…hate…your…work!” she said.

“I hate how you treat women, how you subvert them, make them less than they always are. I despise the way you make us WHORES, make us all sex-addicted weaklings with nothing but ass and breasts.” Her fingers streamed red, but she kept going. “You think we’re objects? You think we’re little girls for your purity dreams? Damn you. Why do you even need these?” She stabbed his left eye, Terrence whimpered. “You can’t see anything.”

Quicker and quicker her thrusts went, faster and faster until…her body slumped. Her hair was tussled; her eyes roved the ceiling, unfocussed. Her breaths were less deep, more shallow and restful as she stroked her thigh, leaving red lines along it.

“Five minutes, forty-five seconds,” the bartender said, leaning over the counter. “Not bad.”

The lights went on, a white wall sat two feet from Angela. There was another a foot from where the darkness had started around the bar. “Not bad?” she asked as if she was rebuking him. “That should have been my personal best.”

“Yeah, close. Why do you keep doing this to yourself?”

Angela stood up and straightened, sniffing in the air. “I’m editing one of his books at the moment. We expect it to be accessed three-million times on launch day.”

The bartender took off his apron. “Sorry, that was personal.”

“So you do care about your customers.” She held her hands towards him.

He rubbed them with a white gooey solution. Angela winced when it made contact. “A little,” he said after he’d finished covering up to her wrists in the liquid. Slowly it merged with her skin, leaving unblemished fingers and palms behind. “First the chamber, then suicide. That’s what the data tells us.”

“I feel like I should say something witty,” she said. “But all I know are cliches. What happens when you work at a mid-list publishing house, I’m afraid.”

The bartender’s blue eyes sparkled under the light; his slim but sturdy frame and soft oval face made him look caring and strong. “Cliches I can live with, dead clients are what disturb my sleep.” He held out a small box. “It’ll be extra this time,” he said. “Rush job.”

Angela waved her left hand over it. “You never tell me your name.”

The man looked at her, his forehead crinkling slightly. He glanced at the broken android, then back at her. His gaze stayed on her face, never deviating. “Luis,” he said as he pushed the wall closest to them. A panel the size of a human slid open and the flux lights of the mall outside made the room brighter than it had been.

“Luis,” Angela repeated, her head down. “Unusual name.” She headed toward the exit, her high-heeled shoes clicking on the faux wood. “Unusual occupation, I guess.”

“Everyone says that.” He smiled, his shoulders sagging slightly, his guard seemingly down. “And good luck with your book, you’ll need it.”

Shattered — Vision Writing Challenge

This story has been inspired by Vision Writers January Writing Prompt. You can find the inspiration here

Shattered, that’s what they called him.

I guess you could argue the point, they had him snipped a while back. Held the boy down, took out some laser cutters, pliers and then did the deed. Little thing winced and whined through it all, his odd eyes bouncing across all of us onlookers.

He was a man in mind though, had all the parts. Let it hang loose in the summer, kept it wrapped up when the snows came. Also didn’t tell you much, not that we used to ask, but when one did he would pull his lips back into a snarl and snap at the noises.

Not much of a homebody, but some men aren’t. Can’t fault them for that, not when it was the women-folk who did it. Who gave him that name, who cut into his flesh and took away his ability to reproduce. Can’t blame them either, someone was going to. Shattered had that kind of a face, the kind that attracts trouble. Makes you want to hurt him.

I don’t know if you’ve guessed yet, but Shattered was a mangy thing. A mutt they used to call them types out West. He was about three foot high, had brown and black fur with a long snout and deep sunken eyes. Never a day went by where I didn’t see a red line somewhere on his body, or watch as his tail wagged while he pounded down our town’s main street.

If you live in in a town like ours, you’ll have a few dogs like that too. Trouble makers, half-coyote, half-wolf. The kind that the crazed kids go and shoot when they’re drunk and bored. The type of four-legged animal who gets killed then comes back reincarnated in another skin.

Shattered though, he wasn’t keen on the reincarnation thing. Those boys’d go out–drunk on whiskey, drunk on wine–and they’d be found five days later with an eye gouged out. Just one. Their faces would be contorted, half smiling and half terrified, but all dead.

Maybe it was Shattered, maybe it was an alien of some kind. Maybe Shattered was an alien. It was hard to tell. You see, that’s what made those boys go out yonder–they wanted his eye. Not his real eye, not the blue one that shone like the clearest sky after the rains; no. What they wanted was the one that looked like cracked green glass. All these sharp lines running into it, straight into its centre. And in there, there was this hole.

You got to understand, the hole is what humanity’s been looking for a long time. Maybe what you’ve been searching for your whole lives. Safety.

Stare long enough in there, and he’ll show you the world. More or less. Probability and all that. Close enough for the town dwellers. So they’d chase him down to catch onto those visions. Some of them he’d let get close enough for a pat, others he’d growl at and they’d do the dance so they could catch snippets in between their hockey pocky. The rest, well, they never got a chance. They were always similar in type to those boys who’d hunt him down when they were drunk, and he’d always scamper off so they never could catch him–till they were dead.

But the future, as you might now know, is often dark and empty. It’s bleak and barren, and when your favourite child turns out to be a murderous son of a bitch, that’s not something you ever want to accept. Doubly so if the vision involves your daughter shoving a man’s privates down his lover’s throat.

So the woman folk got together, figured out Shattered was a demon of some kind and decided to end his line. They didn’t want to kill him, no. Not when you got a town stocked full of millions due to a mangy mutt’s magical eye. They just didn’t want anyone else seeing their daughters and sons pillaging the landscape. They didn’t want anyone figuring out it would be better to smother them kids in their sleep instead of letting them live.

Poor little mutt, didn’t stand a chance against a town full of angry mothers. So they snipped him, tossed him in an ole cell out back and left him there.

Maybe he was testing us, maybe he was that cold-hearted killer who fakes a smile and puts up with torture only to come back and burn it down later. Hard to say now, town’s all gone. We had a few bumper years where people could really pin down what their lives were going to be like because ole Shattered couldn’t run no more. Everyone could get in on the action, get a little piece of his soul.

Everyone including that little girl, the one who turned out to be Alicia Marcus; she got to take a good long look at her future. She got to see the flames, got to see herself razing the world to the ground and lightning up the Northern Capital as people ran hard and fast to escape her forces.

She damn well drunk her fill, Shattered barking the whole time while she was in there. Nothing he could do though, just a mutt in the big scheme of things. Then she emerged, all eight years of age, and pulled the pistol from the Sheriff’s holster and shot him through the head.

So, in response to your query about the vision dog you got on your planet, I got to say that you should put a bullet through its head. Two to make sure.

Justine Needs a Little Faith

Julie took her panama hat off and tossed it on the wooden floor. “I’m not going to be quiet,” she shouted down the hall before slamming the door closed. “It’s not like I have a pulpit.”

She pushed her unmade sheets somewhat flat, and fell on the bed. Its prestine whiteness complimenting the immaculate room with bedstand, dresser and full-length mirror. “I hate you,” she mumbled, her face in the mattress.

“Are you having another moment of existential doubt?” a robot-sounding voice said. It came from a moving box that appeared to be hovering across the floor. The speaker had no mouth or any visible output device. It was simply white, and square.

“I’m not.”

“We can increase your dosage.”

“I don’t need more…what do you call them?”

“Faith.” A small slot opened on top of the box, two pills rose from its innards until the gap had been completed covered by the previously ascending platform.

“I’m not crying,” Julie replied, sitting up. Her diamond jaw was clenched, her eyes focussed. “My emotions are in control.”

“You are important to the sisterhood,” it said. “A daughter of a politician.”

“I hate my mother, she just wants to use me.”

“Faith,” the box hovered close enough that it could touch her legs. “Weakness is not acceptable.”

“I’m not weak.”

“According to our records, you asserted an aggressive stance towards a younger inductee. That is considered weakness.”

“Don’t…mansplai…what do we say if the person isn’t male?”

The box continued to rub against Julie’s legs. She clenched her fists. “I’m not…I’m not what you think I am.”

“We have revised the Holy Scriptures in accordance with Prophet Josephine’s divine revelations. You simply require Faith.”

“It’s sexist,” she mumbled. “My father’s not a pred. Why doesn’t she do anything about it?”

“Senator Aquiline is debating amendments to the economic principles. She does not require masculine deviations.”

Julie picked up the tablets, they looked yellow under the fluro lights in her room. “Unto thee I give a land of milk and honey,” she said, swallowing the first one. She swayed on the bed, collapsing after the second tablet was taken. Her hands reached for the bible on the bedside table. Holding it, Justine started to shiver.

“It’s who I am,” she whispered to the wall. “Why did God forsake me? Why did he curse me this way?”

No answer came. Only the light being dimmed and the sound of her teeth clicking together in the darkness.

The Hidden Chemical Sheds

 Joined plexi-glass screens ran from room’s ceiling to the floor. They formed a circle, and projected contrasting visuals: riots in Ipswich, a flowing creek, angry faces, and slow moving sloths. Faster and faster they went until white and red words flashed against black and white backgrounds. All were adjectives–some offensive, some rarely used in daily speech–every single one hovering around the phrase ‘The Patriarchy is Us’.

Inside of the circle, two women sat. One on the bed covered in dark blue sheets, and the other on the floor. Both were trim, their arm muscles well defined and necks long. They were not sisters though. No one could make that mistake; their faces were far too different.

Bella had blonde hair, hacked short and frayed at the edges. Her dark green eyes appeared to cage the wildness of a forest, and her face was round and nose sharp. Her hands moved in short, furtive motions. “You know what the most insulting word is?” she said, her tone fast and spiteful.

“Malak,” Pinei replied, her angular jawline barely moving to give a response. She ran a hand through her black hair, and then crossed her legs while sitting on the bed.

“No.”

“Is this one of those rhetorical things?”

“It’s women. It’s girl. It’s…being female. Feminine.”

Pinei’s brown eyes shifted their focus towards the skylight. “Still like voyeurs?” she asked.

Bella seemed to ignore her. “You understand how it works, right? ‘Throw like a girl.’ ‘Cry like a girl.’ Anything we do, anything that’s natural to us, it’s a weakness. I’m going to bring these people down.”

“‘We’re all sandwiches in man’s hands.'” Pinei stated, sounding distracted. Her attention appeared completely focussed on the moon above them. “Professor Vera,” she said in a mock-announcer’s voice. “She will free you from the prison of your mind.”

“You shouldn’t make fun of it, you know it’s true.”

True? One of our classes says everything’s relative, the other says we should fight as if their ideas are absolute. You can’t have two sides.”

Bella stood up and stretched, her pale skin appearing almost luminous in the moonlight. “It’s nuance.”

“It’s what lets them keep their jobs.”

“So you’re not coming with me tonight?”

Pinei sighed and flexed her tattooed arms. The images they contained were covered with old scars and a rolled up checkered shirt that hung loosely off her frame. “You’ve got it round the wrong way.”

“Really?”

“The patriarchy doesn’t label what women do as weak. It labels those actions as weak because they’re done by women.”

“Yeah. I know that.”

“Do you?” Pinei’s focus shifted back to her friend. “Tonight’s rally, what do you think it’ll accomplish?”

“We’ll show them that we’re a force. We won’t back down. We’ll show them strength.”

“Or… that, driven by an irrational anger, five-hundred female extremists sought to tear down a fragile collation of understanding allies.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bella pulled at her white shoe-string top. “If they want violence, if they want to see us fight using their tactics, we can. We’ll beat them at their own game.”

“There’s no game.” Pinei played with the sheets. “There’s just lives.”

“I can risk mine.”

“Sure.”

“So why don’t you come?”

“Because mine’s precious. They’ll have guns , they’ll use them. Last week was only the start.”

“You don’t know that,” Bella sat on the bed and pulled out a box from under it. Inside was a pair of shoes. “It’s all propgranda. No one died.”

“No one?”

“The Edict wouldn’t stand for it. There’s fifty women on that council. Over half. They wouldn’t let it happen.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re just…strategising.”

“Over half the council is women,” Pinei continued. “And yet you’re marching on the capital.”

“It takes time.”

“Uh huh.” Pinei crossed her legs and closed her eyes. “Like when my father was shot, and they strategised?”

“That’s…”

“And my mother? When she was yanked from her bed and taken behind the chemical sheds?”

“Safety in numbers. It won’t happen in this country. It’s illegal.”

Pinei stared at her non-white arms, their hue dark but not black–stained with something else. “Doesn’t happen in your country, I guess.”

“What are you talking about?” Bella pulled her second shoelace tight. “You’re a citizen too. I’ve seen your ident card.”

“And I’ve never seen yours. Never even asked.”

“I’m fighting for our rights tonight. All of womenkind.”

Pinei smiled. “That’s right, of course you are. Because the patriarchy must be slain, it’s absolute existence the only thing we can hold onto in these troubled times.”

Bella stuck her tongue out and stood up. “Wish me luck,” she said, beaming.

“Don’t get killed. And don’t take the first bullet, it’s always lethal.”

Bella didn’t listen.

The Missing Anatomy

Troy looked at the stand-alone cardboard advertisement and attempted to raise a single eyebrow, his right one, like the cool kids did.

“So, what do you think?” his friend, Will, asked, pointing to the promotion.

“I don’t know. What’s it supposed to be?” He turned and looked at his classmate, the sounds of the shopping centre fading into background noise. The bright and dark colours of customers’ clothes becoming a blur–only his friend’s oval, dimply face clearly visible.

“I think it’s shooter with a girl protagonist. But it could be a RPG.”

“You think? It’s got long hair.” He banged the prominent character’s picture.

“Maybe you shouldn’t call her ‘it’.”

Troy sighed and pulled at his black t-shirt. His dad had bought it for him at a gaming convention. “Fine, it’s a girl. I’m not stupid, we go to co-ed.”

“So, are you excited?”

“About?”

“It’s made by the same people who created BioQuake and Energy Effect. It’s going to be…” Will leaned in, his brown eyes flicking left and right, making sure very few people were around them. “…fucking awesome.”

“Maybe,” Troy looked back at the poster. “But where’s her… Y’know?” He held his hands out, and shook them.

“Amelia’s thirteen.”

“Christ, you know her name? You’re not actually going to play this shit are you?”

Will moved closer, and ran his finger down the girl’s chin. “Doesn’t she remind you of Justine at school?”

“Yeah, flat, like a board.”

“I guess, but,” he blushed, “I mean, maybe she’ll want to play co-op.”

“She doesn’t do games. She’s in the swimming team.”

“That’s not what she told me.”

“You get up enough courage to talk to one girl, and it’s Justine?” Troy ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “I can’t believe you dragged me all the way down here to see this.”

“But it’s going to be the biggest release of the year.”

“It’s a fucking girl,” he pushed the cardboard prop. “Lara’s one thing, she’s a bad-ass woman. A real woman. Not same scrawny ass,” he shoved the promotion once more, “wannabe female who can’t become popular. What’s she going to do? Whine some guy to death?”

“Justine’s looking forward to it,” Will whispered. “I thought you’d be excited.”

An idea occurred to Troy, one that he was surprised had taken so long to form. He turned and stared up at his half-a-head taller friend. “You’re trying to bang her.”

Will appeared confused. “No,” he replied, his face seeming to be covered in a cloud of doubt. “I just saw a 3DM in her bag and we got talking. I hadn’t even heard of the game until then.”

“Cause it’ll be shit, games for girls are. They don’t know how to make them.”

“It doesn’t get a lot of coverage on the sites.”

“Cause it’ll be shit,” Troy repeated, irritation creeping into his voice. “Not everyone’s desperate enough to fuck rack-less women.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Oh come on. Let’s get a soda or something.”

“I still think it’ll be good,” Will mumbled.

“Yeah, so are imaginary breasts.” He tried to nipple cripple his friend, but Will dodged. “What level are you on MagiCraft?”

“Sixty-five.”

“Awesome, soda and then a guild run?”

“Sure.”

“Geez,” Troy whistled. “Girls as main characters, what the fuck next?”

The Pistol in the Desert

Metal gleamed under the light of the sun, flashing a signal to Robert and Lestrad. Quick, long, quick its pulses went—matching the shifting sand and the rhythm of the dune.

“Foggles,” Robert said as he touched the metal. “Foggles and pickles. It’s hot.”

“Use your shirt,” Lestrad snapped, his shadow looming over Robert. “It’s got to be worth something.”

“Ain’t burning this,” the smaller of the two tugged at his thin blue t-shirt. Doing so revealed a skin still trying to heal itself. “Replacing kit ain’t easy for me. No one benefacting my scavenges.”

“Because you don’t take risks,” Lestrad said, his giant hands pointing to the object. “You want me to teach you or not?”

“Yeah.” Robert tried to spit on the ground, but no slaver followed his action. His blistered and parched lips even seemed unable to make any sound without the aid of his vocal cords.

“Then use the shirt,” the hulking teen said. “Show them you’re willing to do what it takes.”

Robert swallowed, his eyes glancing at the seemingly endless sand around them. “Risks,” he eventually said, taking his shirt off. He winced as he bent down, the sun’s rays appearing to cause him pain on his recently exposed torso.

Carefully, he placed a tiny part of his top around the metal and pulled—a steel cylinder emerging from the desert floor, with an oddly shaped middle and wooden handle. Robert held it out from his chest, appearing to analyse the object in. A silver and black light zipped along the side of their discovery.

“It’s one of those things,” he said to Lestrad. “We’ve seem ‘em in the books.”

“I know what it is,” the bigger lad replied, his brown eyes becoming deeper, more focussed.

“What’s the name?”

“It’s a thing, and it’s worth a lot.”

“Ain’t you know?”

“Names aren’t important. It kills folk.”

After a few moments, Robert brought the object closer to his body and touched the handle with his other hand. “Cold now.”

“You sure you want to look after it?” Lestrad commented, stepping towards the smaller boy. “Had things taken from you before.”

Robert spun, and pointed the barrel at his companion’s chest, a finger now in front of the trigger. “Ain’t this how they used it in those moving pictures?” he said, his tone half-joking, half-suspicious.

“Seems like you got the hang of it.”

“You think it’s worth something? I mean, what if it don’t work?” The lights along the side increased their speed.

“It’s a killing thing Rob,” Lestrad said, taking a pace back. “Who you going to kill?”

“Old man Nizer. Beat me good and proper, till me back wouldn’t heal no more in the rays.”

“You deserv—”

“—Ain’t no one deserves that. Got someone else in mind?” Robert’s finger moved closer to the trigger.

“It’s a day’s journey to Lingform.”

“Then it be a day’s journey.”

They made it in half the time, Robert hanging at the rear, the item stuck down the front of his tattered pants. Nizer was exactly where he’d been the same day he’d beaten the smaller of the boys: standing outside of the goods store, whistling at women.

“Lookee,” he said as they approached. “All growed up and cleaned by the sun. God been good to you, Devil should’ve claimed your soul long ago.”

“He claimed my skin,” Robert snarled, clenching his fists.

“Told you, ain’t liking Dune-wafers in me town. Even if they’ve got the blessing of the Locater’s Guild.”

Robert snatched the item from his pants and pointed it at Nizer, the sun glistening off its long metal cylinder. “Don’t mean nothing no more, I’m taking this place.”

Nizer smiled, his yellow-and-green-stained teeth directly in contrast with his silver hair. “Hoo boy, a pistol. Well, ain’t it be me luck and fortune day. Get to beat a wafer and take his toy.”

He waved the pistol once more. The sound of him swallowing easily distinguishable from the gentle wind’s whispers. “This thing be for killin’,” he said.

Lestrad’s shadow changed positions, its direction now towards the front of the town.

“Ain’t that what you said?” Robert asked, his voice half pleading with the bigger boy to tell him he was right.

“Oh, it kill and kill alright,” Nizer answered, taking a step. “But be needing bullets. I got a stash of those, but me pistol went and got all fungused up.”

“Guess you’re due for another beating,” Lestrad said to Robert, taking another pace towards the town’s entrance. “Should’ve listened to me.”

“But…but…” Robert pulled the trigger, the gun clicked and the pulsating light went black.

Nizer’s lips turned into a snarl. “Wackin—” He was cut short by a single beam of silver that came out of the barrel. It penetrated the man’s chest, and everything beyond it, far into the horizon.

“What did you do?” Lestrad asked as the beam grew, getting thicker and thicker, a high-pitched noise starting to emenate from the pistol.

Robert dropped it, slicing Nizer in half. “That ain’t like in the movies.”

Once the silver line was the length of a man’s arm, it made a popping sound and turned into an expanding dome hundreds of metres high. The light it generated disintegrated everything in its path—except sand—and then exploded, turning the sky fiery red and yellow.

Flakes of brown swept over its handle, covering all but its metal cylinder. It gleamed under the midday sun—flashing quick, long, quick.