Monthly Archives: October 2013

Cartaphilus

I have lived and have loved more than you know,

And I have known homes where I longed to stay,

But by then, I had no choice but to go.

 

I have seen beating hearts turn cold as snow

Beneath the weight of the words I can’t say.

I have lived and have loved more than you know.

 

I have watched tempers flare, words turn to blows

Where a small kindness might yet win the day.

But by then, I had no choice but to go.

 

At times, I have been the decent man’s foe

And have ruled where only devils hold sway.

(I have lived and have loved more than you know.)

 

I have met some so kind they seemed to glow.

They could bring color to a life a turned grey.

(But by then I had no choice but to go.)

 

So much and so many, but just one I wish I’d shown

Wished I’d told, “Love, in you alone do I feel this way:”

“I have lived and have loved, more than you know.”

But by then, I had no choice but to go.

 


Etymology

A confession: as you lay here before me, splayed and pink and wet and raw, I can think only of words and their etymologies.

Carnal. Middle English, from the Latin carnalis, fleshly, which is in turn the adjectival form of caro, flesh. Carnalis is, of course, of the same lineage as carnale, which survives in English as charnel.

These are fine words, simple and short. The wonderful thing about simpler, shorter words is that they express more essential concepts. They arise from necessity, from practicality. Imagine that you’re a hunter wandering pre-historic plains. Short, simple sounds describe the most important things in your life. Sun. Spear. Water. Food. Dog. It’s amazing how many languages these words and their variations appear in. Thousands of years of linguistic evolution, of physical separation, and these fundamental sounds remain the same.

Caro, from the Greek keirein, to shear. Keiro then being the first-person present tense form of the verb. But keiro is a short word, too, and there are so many synonyms for a word like “shear.” So many connotations. Such subtlety.

Your clothes are an obstacle to be overcome. From the proto-Indo-European, gleyt, to cling to, to cleave, to stick.

Keiro. I shear.

You demure, your coy playfulness is a barrier, a wall of silk and lace and perfume. But walls are meant to be breached. A wall erected to keep others out necessarily implies a thing worth having, worth possessing, does it not? Secrets and softness and weakness. Norse, silki.

Keiro. I cut.

What I see before me, I take. Again and again, I take. It is mine. It must be. If it weren’t, would it not be better defended? Would there not be an army to oppose me, to say no, stop, don’t? Old English, tacan, to grasp, to touch.

Keiro. I ravage.

It’s a festival, isn’t it? A celebration, this back and forth, this sawing, this blood. We are creatures of blood and bone and flesh, and flesh is a thing to be consumed. Cows must stand in a field and gorge on grass all day long just to sustain themselves. But a human eats a small part of the cow and they are sated. It was flesh that awakened us. Only on the day that our ancestors looked up from their herbs and their grasses and saw the flesh before them, splayed and pink and wet and raw, did they develop the capacity for thought. Only then did they become real.

Keiro. I devour.

Oh, lover. Oh, whore. Oh, little meat.

Oh, carne vale.


Intellectual Property

Fun fact, this marks my 200th post! Now, unfortunately that doesn’t mean 200 stories. In fact, it even includes posts where I announced that I wouldn’t be updating properly. But still! 200! That’s a big round number and that’s neat!

Anyway, here’s a new piece of flash-fiction for you all inspired by a conversation I had earlier about GMOs. Enjoy!

 There were two men in suits at the door, and if a lifetime of getting screwed over by forces beyond her control and comprehension had taught Maria anything it was that nothing good ever came when men in suits showed up unannounced on your doorstep. Still, she put on a happy face and greeted the two strangers. “Good morning, gentlemen. Can I help you with something?”

The two men couldn’t have looked more different from each other. One of them was fair-skinned, tall and thin with glasses and a clean-shaven face. The other was dark and squat and thick with a long yet well-kept beard. “Are you Maria Delcosta?” Beard asked.

Maria’s eyes went wide.

“Forgive my companion, Mrs. Delcosta,” Glasses said with a smile. “He can be a little brusque, but he’s quite harmless, I assure you.”

Beard snorted. “Mrs. Delcosta. We’re here to speak with you about your son, James.”

Maria’s face fell. “Jimmy? What’s wrong with Jimmy? Are you with the school? Is he in trouble?”

“No, Mrs. Delcosta. This isn’t about James’s academic performance. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, James is doing fine, isn’t he?”

Glasses nodded. “That’s correct.”

“Not surprising, really.”

“To be expected, honestly.”

“Then, what is this about?”

Beard cleared his throat. “Mrs. Delcosta, we represent Monde-Agra Incorporated.”

Silence hung in the air as Maria tried to place the name of the company. “Wait,” she finally said. “The cookie people?”

Glasses chuckled. “That’s correct, Mrs. Delcosta. ChocoDelight is one of the many brands within the Monde-Agra family.”

“Did James win a scholarship?”

“Not exactly, Mrs. Delcosta.”

“However, we are pleased to inform you of an exciting new opportunity for James’s future. May we come inside?”

Maria looked from one man to the other and back again. “I suppose.” She pushed the door open and the two men stepped through. Maria led them over to the living room where the two of them sat on the couch and Maria sat facing them on a loveseat.

“Mrs. Delcosta, we’ll be frank,” Beard said. “Did you consume ChocoDelight while you were pregnant with your son James?”

“I… guess so? I don’t know that was ten years ago. I mean, probably, but I don’t specifically remember eating it.”

“Well, we have reason to believe that you did, and consequently, we have reason to believe that your son James has the MONAG7 gene.”

Maria blinked. “I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“It’s extremely likely,” Glasses said. His hands were folded on together on his lap and he leaned forward in his seat. He reminded her of a guidance counselor she’d known in high school. “ChocoDelight has been known to alter the germ cells of men and women aged 24-35 who consume them.”

“Fetuses that develop from these cells may have the MONAG7 which can, in turn, express itself in easily identifiable ways in children at the age of 10.”

“Are you telling me your fucking cookies changed my genes?”

“Not at all, Mrs. Delcosta. But your eggs may have been altered as a result of choices you have made and products you have used.”

“This possibility is made clear on every package of ChocoDelight.”

“It’s hardly our fault if you didn’t read the End User License Agreement on the freshness seal.”

Maria sighed. “Alright, fine. My son has this gene, maybe. What’s your point?”

“Well, if your son carries this gene, then that means either you or the boy’s father passed it along to him.”

“MONAG7 is patented by Monde-Agra, Mrs. Delcosta. The act of procreating and thereby copying the gene violates that patent.”

Maria said nothing. Her body trembled with fear and anger. “And you’re going to sue me. You’re going to sue me for having children.”

“We don’t have to, Mrs. Delcosta.”

“You could simply remand James to our custody. His body does, after all, contain Monde-Agra’s intellectual property.”

“May we see James?”

“Absolutely not,” Maria said. “Get out of my home.”

Beard stood up. “Let me be a bit clearer. You will let us inspect James for signs of MONAG7, or we will alert the authorities, we will have you arrested, we will take everything that you own, and you will die alone and forgotten in a woman’s prison.”

“You can’t take my boy.”

“James Delcosta,” Glasses called out. “Come to the living room, please. My associate and I need to speak with you.”

A boy with light brown hair and a scared look on his face poked his head out of a doorway. Glasses waved him over.

“James, honey, don’t–”

Beard moved around behind the loveseat and set a firm hand on Maria’s shoulder. “Stay seated, Mrs. Delcosta.”

Glasses got down on one knee and looked James square in the eye. “Follow my finger, please,” he said to the boy. “Just with your eyes, not with your head. Look left. Now right. This is going to sting.”

“Ow!”

“How’s it look?” Beard asked.

Glasses shook a test tube and held it up. A single drop of red spread through the liquid inside and turned pink. “MONAG7-A negative. The child’s clean.” He slipped the vial into his pocket and tousled James’s hair. “Get out of here son.”

Beard lifted his hand off Maria’s shoulder. “That’s that, then. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Delcosta. Don’t get up. We’ll show ourselves out.”

“Mommy?” a soft voice called out. “What’s going on?”

A little girl stood in the hallway. She was wearing teddy bear pajamas and clutched a matching teddy bear in her hands.

“Nothing, baby,” Maria said. “These two men wanted to talk to Jimmy, but they were just leaving. Right?”

“Of course, of course.”

“Back to bed, sweetie. Naptime’s not over yet.”

“Mommy, I–”

“Bed, baby. Now.”

The little girl grunted her displeasure and turned around. Glasses smiled. “What a charming little girl. Is that your daughter?”

“Isabella, isn’t it?” Beard asked. “How old is she, Mrs. Delcosta? Four?”

Maria was silent, her lips pressed into an angry, thin line. Glasses and Bread paid her no mind. They both bowed their heads slightly and turned to leave.

“We’ll see you in again in six years, Mrs. Delcosta.”


Agnostos Theos

The preacher of the new god stood before the temple and took a deep breath. This was foolish, he knew. It was illegal to preach of foreign gods in the city. At best, he was likely to be mocked and derided, laughed out of the temple and told to preach his gospel to the beggars and the madmen of the slums. At worst, they might beat him or stone him.

That’s what the Hellenes did, Paulus had told him. They played at being a civilized people with their carefully planned cities and their marble columns. Perhaps most of them were innocent, as innocent as non-believers could be. They said their misguided prayers and their left offerings to their stone idols and they went about their lives like good folk everywhere tried to. “We preach for them,” Paulus had said. “For those who would follow the one true God and his son but are cursed with living in ignorance. We preach to save them, just as we have been saved from our own ignorance.”

The preacher kept this mission firmly in mind as he walked up the steps of the temple. “What you do now, you do for the good of others, for their salvation.”

The inside of the temple was much as he had imagined it would be. Dimly lit by candles and braziers, smoky with incense, and crowded with people from all walks of life. A vendor stood in the corner peddling herbs and animals to be left as sacrifices, coins and figurines to be used as votive offerings. No one paid him any mind, but why should they? They didn’t know that he had come to speak as the prophet of the one true God. As he stood there in silence, a few eyes began to drift away from the altars and settle on him. The Hellenes spoke to each other in hush whispers. Expectant and curious and wary faces regarded him. There was nothing else to do but begin his sermon.

The preacher took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Another. “Men and women of this fine city, I see clearly that you are very religious. In my time in this place, I have seen many objects of your worship, statues and altars and other fine things. You have a goddess for the harvest, a god for the sea, gods and goddesses for every aspect of your lives. No matter the supplication, there is a deity you can turn to for help. But if you will hear me, I will tell you of the one true God, the God who hears and answers your prayers even when you bend your knee to false idols.”

The sermon went on, and slowly a crowd began to gather before the preacher. His eyes scanned the faces before him nervously at first looking for any sign of malice, but as more came to hear his words, his confidence grew. “Why, I see in this very temple an altar bearing the inscription ‘To an Unknown God,’” he said. “I tell you, when you worship at this altar in ignorance, you worship the God that made the world and everything in it!”

A voice called out. “Our unknown god is not your god, Ioudaios. I will not sit idly by while you fill my people’s heads with lies and instruct them to forsake the old ways.”

The preacher searched the crowd to find the source of the voice. In the back was a withered old crone, barely supported by staff. Her back was bent almost double and her body trembled with palsy, but there was fire in her eyes, and she regarded the preacher with nothing so much as hatred. The preacher forced a smile to his face and cleared his throat. “Grandmother, how do you know that our gods are not the same one. After all, my God created–”

“I know because I have seen my god in the flesh. Tell me, have you met yours? Can you look your god in eye? When you speak to him, does he answer you?”

“Does yours? A stone idol is not the same thing as the one true God incarnate, Grandmother.” Some of the crowd laughed at that, and the preacher allowed himself a smile. This was going better than he had dared hope. Perhaps he had a gift for speaking, like Paulus.

The ancient woman’s expression contorted in anger for a moment, but then she grinned. The preacher winced. The woman’s smile was almost as broken as the rest of her, and her few remaining teeth looked to be stained dark from red wine. “No, of course not. A statue is nothing. These gods you denounce are nothing. But if you like, you may come with me and I will introduce you to my own savior.”

The preacher laughed. “Of course, grandmother. Show me whatever charlatan disfigured beast it is you bend your knee to.” The gathered crowd laughed too, and the preacher smiled. The old woman would surely blush and turn away, or curse him and flee. The argument for the souls of the Hellenes was over, and he had won.

“Of course, my child. Follow me.” The old woman turned and disappeared through a doorway. The preacher watched her go, frowning. He stood his ground and was just about to resume his sermon when a child spoke aloud, “You don’t need to fear her. The one true God will protect you, won’t He?”

“He will,” the preacher muttered. “Of course He will! The one true God protects all who believe in Him!”

The preacher stepped through the doorway and into some kind of storage room. It seemed as if he had stepped into some ancient, chthonic temple entirely. Strange, shapeless idols lined the walls. The scent of turned earth filled the air. Darkness lurked in the corners of the room like a skulking animal. The preacher swallowed, called out. “Where did you go, Grandmother? Surely you didn’t leave the temple completely?”

“Here, my child! Down here!”

The preacher turned his head towards the sound of the old woman’s voice. It seemed to come from the darkness itself, but as he squinted, the shadows resolved themselves into another doorway with steps leading down. The preacher took a deep breath. “The one true God protects me,” he whispered to himself. He stepped forward, his eyes slowly adjusting to the gloom. There was a faint light bobbing far below him, a torch held by someone descending a staircase.

“Grandmother,” the preacher called out. “Are you so eager to inter yourself within the earth?” But she gave no response. “The one true God protects me,” the preacher whispered. He repeated these words over and over with each step, a mantra born of equal parts determination and fear. But the light in the dark got no closer until at last he was upon the old woman. She stood with a sly grin on her face, the flickering torch before and a basalt door engraved with a script he had never seen before behind her. “Shall you know the unknown god, Ioudaios?”

The preacher closed his eyes. When he opened them, his expression was as hard and unyielding as the stone door the woman guarded. “Show me whatever false idol you have secreted away, Grandmother. I will look upon it, denounce it, and let all the city know of your folly.”

The old woman’s grin grew wider still. “I promise you, boy. You will find yourself praying to the unknown god before you ever speak a word against it.” She turned to the wall and activated some hidden mechanism. With a groan and a sudden rush of wind, the basalt door slid into the ground. “Enter, my child. Enter and see.”

There was nothing to see but darkness. The room was an inky black without even the light of a candle or a torch to illuminate. The preacher stepped forward and stood still, waiting for his eyes to adjust and reveal to him whatever the Hellenes had hidden away in the depths of the city, whatever secrets they kept even from their fellow citizens. But the darkness never changed, not even after many minutes of silence and staring. “Well?” he said. “Where is this–”

A jewel appeared floating in the air, a strange red-gold that was neither ruby nor topaz. And then another and another. They winked in and out of existence. A few disappearing and others appearing to replace them with every passing second.

“What–” the preacher began, but more jewels than before appeared, a sea of them spaced haphazardly throughout the air like stars in the night sky. At last, the preacher understood what was before him. The blackness was not shadow, but some enormous creature that filled the room with its bulk. There were not jewels before him, but eyes. More eyes even than the mythical Argus. But Argus was a giant with a body like a man. Argus did not twist and writhe like a nest of vipers. He did not have mouths all over his body, great gaping holes like a leech’s sucker with teeth. Argus was myth, and the unknown god was even now focusing all of its shining eyes on the preacher, even now wrapping thick ropy cords around his arms and legs and pulling him towards its waiting slavering mouths.

The preacher screamed for an eternity, first in animal terror and next for mercy and finally simply out of agony. But the old woman paid him no mind. She simply activated the mechanism once more and turned away as the basalt door slid back into place. The climb back up the steps and into the light of day was long and painful, but she laughed softly to herself the entire way.

All who met the unknown god prayed to it, she mused. So many prayers, and none of them ever answered.


Debris, Pt. 11

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ghenn said. Robaire’s words, the accusation behind them, didn’t faze her in the slightest. She registered them, and in some distant space in the back of her mind she thought, “Wait, what?” but they wouldn’t sway her from her course. Robaire had to be stopped. He had to be made to answer for Kyle and Jando’s deaths. There would be time for questions, time for an investigation later. Now there was only those cruel eyes, that arrogant sneer, the porcine face, and what she was going to do about it.

Robaire’s eyes locked onto Ghenn’s. He was silent, his brows furrowed in concentration as he studied her. “Get him,” the voice whispered. “Wrap your fingers around his throat. Do it.”

“They offered you freedom. They told you, ‘Do our dirty work and we’ll grant you three wishes.’ Is that it?”

“Your words won’t save you, Robaire.”

Robaire sniffed. “Save me from what?”

“Justice.”

Robaire stared at Ghenn, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly open in disbelief. And then he laughed, the sound sharp and harsh and loud. It echoed off the bulkhead in the tiny room, and doubtless it could be heard ringing all throughout the station. They’d all hear Robaire laughing at her. “Oh, that’s too good,” he said. “That is just fucking hilarious. The murderer thinks that she’s going to serve me ‘justice.’” Robaire frowned, his flabby face hardening into stone. “Well, whatever you’re going to do, get it over with. They told me I’d be spending the rest of my life up here, anyway. I’d rather it be another minute than another century.”

Confusion and anger cut through Ghenn’s cold determination. “What are you talking about? You’re the murderer! You hacked into Daddy Dearest’s systems and sabotaged them! You poisoned Kyle! You suffocated Jando! You–” The look on Robaire’s face stopped Ghenn mid-sentence. She saw something there she’d never seen before. Fear.

“How could I possibly hack Daddy Dearest? The goddamn machine’s impenetrable! It’d take every AI down on Earth a hundred years to do it!”

“You got in when I cracked Daddy Dearest. You got in and you killed them,” Ghenn said. Her voice was little more than a whisper, and already the thoughts were creeping back into her head to eliminate Robaire before he could do more harm.

“Bullshit you cracked Daddy Dearest. Friendulate did social networking nonsense, not cybersecurity.”

“They gave me a program. It left a vulnerability you exploited! I know it was you! I saw outside activity in the network!”

Robaire blinked in confusion. His eyes went wide and he buried his face in his hands. “Hundreds of years ago, the Agency spent millions of dollars trying to figure out how to control people’s minds, and all they had to do was wait for the day when we’d be desperate and stupid enough to let them in ourselves.” Robaire shook his head. “It was the Agency, Ghenn, not me. You let them in, and they went right to their bloody work. They gave you a list of names, didn’t they?”

“Eliminate him!” the voice hissed. “Silence him now!” But Ghenn ignored it. The growing unease in the pit of her stomach was too strong to ignore. “How did you know that?”

“They gave me one, too, when I was sent up here. They give every would-be recruit a list of names, and they watch and they wait. I’m sure they were watching you through Daddy Dearest’s own eyes, once you let them into the system, and I’m sure that as soon as they found you… too sensitive for their work, they decided to go ahead without you.”

“How do you know that?”

Robaire smiled. There was a sadness to it instead of his characteristic smugness. “Simple. Your company didn’t do cybersecurity or government work. Mine did. I know how these people think, and if I’m right, they’ve been jumping up and down with glee because you finally handed them the one thing they couldn’t get otherwise, the one thing no one could construct in operate in secret, that already existed but that no one could claim. Just think about it. Daddy Dearest’s stations house humans, but we’re not necessary. Hell, removing us would probably simplify things. Without us, Daddy Dearest could collect the junk floating around out here and recycle it into something more useful. The factories on-board each station could be programmed to make most anything you wanted. It’d be trivial to make something simple, something like a steel rod twenty feet long and two feet across, one with a simple propulsion system. ” Robaire chuckled. “Ghenn, you’ve given them the keys to a fully automated orbital weapons platform. You— are you even listening to me?”

The BiOS window covered Robaire’s face, data flowing over and around him. “I can’t reset it,” Ghenn muttered. “I can’t restore Daddy Dearest’s systems to before I installed the program.”

Robaire sighed. “That makes sense,” he said. “Of course they thought of disabling that. Trust isn’t in an Agent’s vocabulary.”

The voice was screaming for her to strangle the life out of Robaire right this instant. That must have been the Agency, too. The program had made changes to her BiOS, after all. Robaire had been right. She’d let them into her own mind. “What are we going to do?”

“Die horribly, probably.” Robaire shrugged. “This conversation’s been recorded, I’m sure. They probably don’t have anyone watching at this particular moment, otherwise Daddy Dearest would have sealed the doors and drained the oxygen, but they’ll find out soon enough. A day, an hour, a week. And then they’ll find a way to eliminate us.” Robaire thought about it. “Probably everyone. I’m sure the whole system would run a lot smoother without prisoners trying to muck it up.”

“That’s it? We’re doomed?”

“Correction: We’re all doomed, and the Agency gets a shiny new weapons system they can use anywhere on the planet with no warning. It’s win-win.”

Ghenn walked out of Robaire’s room feeling nothing. The weight of what she’d done, of all that Robaire had revealed to her had crushed her and left her remains numb and broken. “I’m dead,” she thought. “No matter what, I’m dead. If he’s telling the truth, the Agency will kill me as soon as they go through Daddy Dearest’s security footage. If he’s lying and he’s an Agent, he’ll report me and they’ll kill me anyway.”

She looked out a viewport at the MDCU’s scouring the debris fields for material. They should be in their hangars, she realized. The shift was over and there was no one piloting them, but still they gathered materials for some inscrutable purpose.

“Well, if we’re all dead, anyway,” Ghenn muttered. She opened up a BiOS window and started a secure session, for whatever good that would do her. She went through Daddy Dearest’s systems one by one to see what options were available to her. She’d been locked out of resetting everything, of course. Communications were all down. Shutting down the recycling plants and the factories wasn’t an option. She could still control the MDCU’s, for whatever reason. She could remotely pilot them for a few seconds, but a signal from Daddy Dearest overrode her control before she could do anything useful. She looked at the code controlling the MDCU’s and as a test put in a command for one of the machines to cease all operations.

It did. She counted out thirty seconds in her head. Daddy Dearest didn’t issue it any new orders.

Ghenn opened up another secure session and began running calculations. Orbits and trajectories, angles of interception. She could ram an MDCU right through each of the station. It’d be completely irreparable by automation. Maintenance crews would have to be sent up, and they’d see that someone had been in Daddy Dearest’s systems. They’d reset everything. They’d lock the Agency out. There’d be no kinetic projectiles raining hell down on the Agency’s enemies, no slow asphyxiation or drug overdose or starvation as she and the rest of the DCC floated helplessly in space. It’d be quick, painless. Preferable, all things considered.

Out beyond the debris fields Ghenn had come to call home, the moon rose behind the Earth. She watched with a smile on her face as she saw it, just like the first time, just like every time.

New flash fiction on Wednesday! Thank you for reading!


No Update – 10/19

Sorry folks, no update tonight. I blame terrible time management skills. Expect Debris to wrap up on Monday and flash fiction through the remainder of the month. Come November, I’ll either attempt NaNoWriMo or try and revisit a few loose threads this year. We’ll see how ambitious/insane I’m feeling at the end of the month.


Debris, Pt. 10

Robaire noticed Ghenn staring at him from out of the corner of his piggish little eye and turned to glare at her. “And just what are you looking at, hm?”

“Nothing. Nobody,” Ghenn replied instantly out of habit. Silence hung in the air. Robaire sniffed and smirked and turned his head back towards the monitor. A wave of anger washed over Ghenn. The senseless, insistent urge to say something that would cut through his indifference was too strong to ignore. “A nobody.”

Robaire’s head snapped back. His eyes met Ghenn’s and for a moment, she saw unbridled rage in them. But the look only lasted a moment. His temper cooled some to contempt. Ghenn shrugged indifferently. Robaire snorted and walked away from the crowd. Ghenn smiled, pleased with herself for having finally gotten to him in some small way.

* * *

On screen, Kyle looked peaceful in death, if a bit unrefined. Practical, really. That was it; the preparations were just a bit too practical for a proper funeral.

That made sense, Ghenn supposed. Daddy Dearest wasn’t human, after all, and he had forbidden the crew on Kyle’s station from interfering with the body. The camera showed Kyle in a stasis pod, his skin a bit discolored, his hair mussed. He was wearing the simple jumper that they all wore as their uniform, but he looked peaceful. The intensity that he carried with him every day of his life, that had defined the man, was gone. There was only rest now. An involuntary, eternal rest, but rest. There were flowers picked from the station’s hydroponic garden arrayed around him, a surprisingly delicate and aesthetic touch from Daddy Dearest. They were nice. Kyle would have said that he hated them and thought they were ridiculous, but then he would have let them be. It was a good touch. A sensitivity in death that he wouldn’t have allowed himself in life.

“Dust thou art,” Ghenn whispered. “And to dust shalt thou return.”

“Hm?” Panna murmured.

“It’s a line from the Christian Bible. Kyle told me once that his great-great-grandparents were Christian. Seemed appropriate.”

Panna nodded. Ghenn thought about it a bit more. “Plus, think about it. On Earth, we were all executives and founders and rich as Hell. And now we’re cleaning up space debris. To dust have we returned.”

An older woman, Elaine kicked Ghenn’s chair from behind. “Shh!” Ghenn turned around in her seat and stuck her tongue out, but was otherwise silent. Her eyes quickly scanned the gathered crowd. Everyone was present but Robaire, but that was to be expected. He wasn’t really the type to go to the funeral of someone like Kyle. General anti-social tendencies aside, he and Kyle had been competitors, both of them quietly vying for defense contracts while they pushed their more palatable services onto the public at large.

Plus, Kyle made him look like the squat, foul-tempered troll that he was, and he was far too proud to mourn the death of someone who was better than him.

Ghenn shook her head. Where were these thoughts coming from? Ever since she’d installed the Agency program, she felt like she was fighting to keep her mind coherent and her thoughts organized.

Of course, the two deaths, one right after the other, didn’t help. She hadn’t slept right in what felt like weeks.

But then, she’d only installed the program a few days ago, hadn’t she? Why was it so hard to remember?

And the cold war she has running with Robaire wasn’t doing her any favors either, of course. In fact, that was probably worst of all. The slimy little bastard.

“Find him,” a voice seemed to whisper in her head. “Confront him. He’s older than you, soft and flabby. Even if he got violent, you could take him. The man’s a mess, and you have Daddy Dearest on your side.”

Ghenn’s eyes narrowed to slits. Her hands balled up. She was angry, unfathomably angry. But she couldn’t just get up and attack him in the middle of a funerary service. Daddy Dearest would intervene and detain them both, and once he’d investigated, she’d clearly be guilty of assault.

“He’s the one that’s guilty,” the voice said. “He’s the murderer.”

That was right. Robaire had to pay for killing Kyle and Jando. He couldn’t get away with it. He couldn’t be left alone to kill again. She was the only one with any idea of the truth of what had happened. She had to get answers. She had to stop him.

The eyes of the others rested on Ghenn as she stood up and walked away. Panna hissed at her, “Where are you going?” but she paid the younger woman no mind. Ghenn’s footsteps echoed off the walls of the station’s bulkhead, like an antique clock marking out the seconds until the time of Robaire’s punishment.

The door to Robaire’s bunk was slightly ajar. Ghenn pushed it open, and found him sitting there alone, a smug smile on his face. He snorted. “So,” he said. “The Agency got to you, too.”


Debris, Pt. 9

Ghenn’s come lit up with chatter. Most of it was coming from the people around her, Panna and Robaire and the others, but some of it was on the emergency channel, a sampling of voices she recognized and some she’d never heard before at all.

“What the hell’s going on?”

“She hit her distress beacon. Something’s wrong.”

“Daddy Dearest will handle it… right?”

“Jan? Jan! Talk to me, Jan!”

“She’s not saying anything!”

“Maybe her comms are down.”

“Maybe she’s out of oxygen!”

“That’s impossible. There’s enough oxygen in these things to last forty-eight hours.”

“Somebody do something!”

“Fuck it, I’m going to save her!”

“How? With the MDCU? One mistake, and we’ll be scooping up both of you to feed into the reclamation engines!”

“Then get Dad to do it!”

Ghenn opened a BiOS window. Daddy Dearest’s systems were a jumble of conflicting orders. There would be no rescue coming for Jando Sinar (and if she was reading the information flying across the screen correctly, the gravity in the stations would be off and there’d be puddles of gruel by the food dispensers. She tried to parse through it all, to get into the emergency protocols and send an automated rescue, but every step of the way some new process interfered.

The first solution that came to Ghenn’s mind was crashing the system and hoping the reboot would clear up the issue, but that was insane. Daddy Dearest had never been shutdown in the history of the Debris Collection Corps. There must have been safeguards in place just in case it became a necessity, but Ghenn didn’t want to find out the hard way that some vital system was actually something Daddy Dearest had evolved over time that would be forgotten if he were reset and restored. The only other option then was brute force.

One by one, Ghenn began crashing every process that was generating noise. Comms with the other MDCUs started filling with static. On-board the stations, the lights were dying, the food dispensers shutting down, the air scrubbers deactivating. All of these things would have to be fixed, but right now the most important thing was saving Jando, was… was…

Ghenn paused. Kyle was dead. If Jando’s life was threatened and she died, there’d only be three targets left. Three targets and she’d be free. Why was she scrambling to save this woman she barely knew?

A burst of panicked static crackled through the comms, shaking Ghenn from her doubt. She wasn’t behind this, and that was reason enough to intervene.

Ghenn activated Daddy Dearest’s subroutines, willing him to act faster, to save Jando. Finally, after ten seconds that seemed like an eternity, a blinking green light in the corner of her BiOS informed her that Daddy Dearest had dispatched a rescue unit. The drone popped up on her display, flashing red and blue lights like an ambulance back on Earth. Ghenn exhaled in relief and rubbed at her eyes. She hoped Jando would be okay, but no matter what, at least she’d done something. At least she tried.

* * *

It hadn’t been enough.

The drone had pulled Jando’s MDCU back to her base station, and Daddy Dearest had instructed everyone to get back to work. Hours later, when their shift ended, a message was waiting for everyone on the projection monitors: Jando Sinar had died in her MDCU. “At this time, it is believed that cause of death was asphyxiation. Rescue Drone Q-4 noted system failures in the air filter on Ms. Sinar’s MDCU, and particulates were found in the interior of the craft. An autopsy will be necessary to confirm.

“Due to the recent tragedies, volunteers are only required to work half of the normal shift at no penalty for time lost. You may take the first half of the shift to grieve as appropriate.

“Funeral services for Kyle Krant will begin in an hour. Funeral services for Jando Sinar will be tomorrow.”

The volunteers gathered around the monitor silent. Death was rare in the DCC, so rare that there’d only been a handful in its fifty years of operation. Two in single day, let alone a single cycle, was unimaginable. The crew were united in their unspoken thoughts that if these accidents could happen to otherwise healthy, normal people, then they could happen to anyone.

And then Robaire spoke.

“First the prick and now the ice queen, huh? Who’d have guessed?”

Panna gasped in shock. Looks of outrage and disgust played across the faces of the others. Robaire didn’t even have the decency to smile that loathsome smile of his, as if he were pretending that all he’d done was made a joke. Instead he simply looked bored.

Ghenn looked at him, and for the first time, she really saw him. Down on Earth he’d been one of the most powerful men in the world, but he didn’t look like it. Up here, he was just an overweight, slightly short man. Non-descript. Forgettable.

A nobody with a chip on his shoulder.


Debris, Pt. 8

Ghenn grumbled and rolled over. “Who?”

“Kyle Krant. The guy that you–”

“I know Kyle Krant.” Ghenn pushed herself up onto her elbows and blinked against the soft, warm light of the bunk. Daddy Dearest didn’t switch the lights to the horrible, grating white ones until an hour before the shift to force any stragglers awake. “What happened to him?”

“He’s dead.”

Ghenn stared blankly at Panna for a moment as her mind processed the concept. “What?” she shouted, throwing her blanket off and rushing for the door. She paid Panna no mind at that point, pushing past her and into the hallway. Out in the dining hall, the others were gathered around the projection monitors that Daddy Dearest used to display news from Earth. Kyle’s face was up there, larger than life, smiling and handsome. It must have been from before his volunteer work began. Ghenn could make out the hint of a collar at the bottom of the headshit.

“Mr. Kyle Krant passed away this morning following a routine medical procedure. At this time, the cause of Mr. Krant’s death seems to have been heart failure following myocardial infarction. An autopsy will be performed on Mr. Krant and his remains will be preserved and returned to his family on Earth. A memorial service will be held following today’s volunteer shift for any who wish to attend.” There were a few moments of silence and then the message began to repeat.

“Jesus. That guy was only a year older than me.”

“He was a jerk, but man. Nobody ever dies up here.”

“He was cute! What a waste.”

“How’s a guy like that die? He was in my group last cycle. Guy was always running, doing squats, push-ups, everything.”

“A myocardial infarction’s a heart attack,” Robaire said, a note of exhaustion and irritation in his voice, as if he were dealing with children. “Maybe Mr. Athletic wasn’t as healthy as we thought. Maybe he knew it, and that’s why he was always taking extra special care of himself.” Robaire paused and sniffed. “Or maybe he’d figured out a way to get Daddy Dearest to supplement his daily bread with some amphetamines.” Robaire turned to Ghenn, his eyes drawing up her sleep-wear clad body. She recoiled from him; his gaze felt like he was running his tongue over her skin. “Tell me, did you ever notice him using any… performance enhancing drugs?”

“You disgust me.”

Robaire shook his head and smiled. “And here I thought I was winning you over with my charm and my flattery.”

Ghenn’s eyes drifted back to the projection of Kyle. She shoved past Robaire and walked over to the terminal. There was a single message waiting for her in her messaging system. She didn’t even bother to open it. The title alone told her everything she had to know.

“1 doun 4 2 go!”

* * *

Ghenn had Daddy Dearest take control of her MDCU and pulled up a BiOS window. It took an irritating amount of digging around, but she finally found the activity logs for Daddy Dearest’s network. A lot of internal communication between the various stations, some messages relayed back and forth to Earth, and unidentified activity that had to be her own poking around. The logs showed no activity from her at what would have been the time of Kyle’s death, and for that she was grateful; part of her had been afraid that she’d somehow subconsciously had Daddy Dearest eliminate the man.

She was just about to pronounce it a coincidence when she noticed a new entry in the activity log. Someone had just gotten into the system.

Ghenn’s breath caught in her throat. Her MDCU’s console lit up with a distress signal from an MDCU working near a different station.

It was Jando Sinar’s.


Debris, Pt. 7

Ghenn sat in her MDCU looking over the medical records for the targets the Agency had sent her. Her console beeped, a message from Daddy Dearest informing her that at her current pace, the quota would not be met. Ghenn closed her BiOS window and stared at the light for a moment. She opened up a new one, navigated through Daddy Dearest’s systems, and set the program to pilot the MDCU for her. It was funny to think that in less than a day, Daddy Dearest had gone from omnipresent arbiter, the warden in their panopticon, to just another program. A very smart program. A very advanced program. But a simple program, subject to all the limitations that entailed. At least she wouldn’t have been able to go into a human overseer’s head and tell them, “Actually, you do my work for me, and forget we ever spoke.”

The medical records popped up again in her BiOS. Jando Sinar, a woman she’d never met, only a year and a half into her service, was asthmatic; that was useful, although Ghenn didn’t know what she’d do with it yet. Kyle Krant had a weak heart, some kind of congenital defect. She knew Kyle more than she liked to admit; he was cold and standoffish, with a physique that spoke of obsession (and now compensation and fear.) Shinnara Smythe was healthy. Bingwen Hsu was old, old enough that his “problem” might very well take care of itself, but otherwise fine.

Panna was the picture of perky health, naturally.

Ghenn frowned. She didn’t want to think about Panna. She didn’t want to think about any of this, really, but her mind was wired for problem solving, for finding opportunities, and she saw problems and opportunities in the data arrayed before her. If the Agency kept the word, she could be free within a month. Less. All she had to do was sabotage Jando’s air filter, scare Kyle, and blow the rest of them out of an airlock.

Ghenn frowned. This would be so much simpler if she could just arrange to get them all on the same station and scuttle the thing. Or deactivate its oxygen generators. Was that an option? It certainly wouldn’t “destroy any valuable hardware.” Although the discovery of a bunch of rotting corpses six months later would be pretty unpleasant.

Ghenn stared off into space for a moment, thinking about nothing in particular. She closed the BiOS window, shook her head. These were people, and she was thinking about them like they were just inconveniences. Was this how Agents thought? In statistics and numbers and inconveniences? She couldn’t do this. She wouldn’t. She’d just have to get in contact with the Agency and let them know.

Or do nothing. That was probably safer. Better that they think she was incompetent than uncooperative. Although they didn’t have any agents in the MDCU. They couldn’t have. If they did, why would they need her?

Ghenn took control of her craft back from Daddy Dearest and went back to work. The shift passed more slowly than usual, but that was alright. For the first time in over a week, Ghenn was content to simply think about nothing and watch the stars, the earth. She laughed and joked at dinner. She checked the terminal briefly and moved on to other things. She slept easily that night.

The next morning, Panna shook her awake. “Ghenn. Ghenn, you’ve got to see this. You’ve got to hear what happened to Kyle.”


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