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Thursday, 31 March 2005

Facilitate

The purpose of Hudson's torture was to facilitate his enlightenment. Every day, he entered the circle room longing for an epiphany. Perhaps today I will see the light. Perhaps today I will transcend pain.

But each day, he suffered endless humiliations. His only comfort was the predictability. First the water, then the fire, then the earth, and finally the air. Four elements of damage, always in the same order.

His favourite, if a person can have a favourite method of violation, was water. It cleansed and soothed. Hudson kept these symbols lodged firmly in his mind as the sanctified poured or sprayed or dripped water in places it should never penetrate. He imagined drinking the liquid or swimming in a calm lake of it. Mastering one portion of his day readied him for the suffering to come.

On this particular Tuesday, the water component ended abruptly. Hudson struggled against the bonds securing his wrists and ankles. "What is it? Have I been enlightened? Am I finally free?"

"You've been re-evaluated."

"And?"

"You no longer require four elements of torture. Three will suffice."

And so the fire began.

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

Imperial Majesty

I bowed before his Imperial Majesty. It would take time for me to grow accustomed to calling him that. He was my brother, after all.

Born in Toronto, we didn't have pureblood parents. We didn't come from noble stock. We didn't even come from money. Times change. After losing sixty percent of the population to anaphylactic shock brought on by the Deximondas, those of us left behind had to rewrite the rules.

Racklin had met Priscilla sitting by a fountain in High Park. She had been throwing bread to the ducks, despite the sign that warned of the penalties for doing so. He had whispered to her that he wouldn't turn her in to the authorities if she shared the bread. And so, with a single act of defiance, they had fallen in love.

He didn't know then that she was the daughter of the Shaw of North America. Nor was he privy to her family's connections to the inner sanctum of the Deximondas. He chose her because she liked ducks and bore a mountain of blond curls. Racklin was a sucker for blond curls.

After the wedding, I was offered a bed in the Imperial Palace. In return, the head butler assigned me chores. Eight rooms in the northeast wing--all the furniture, windows, linens and carpets--were my responsibility. I kept them clean. We brothers take care of each other. And Racklin's library was one of the rooms in my wing.

He loved to read. I loved the feel of the leather chairs and a crackling fire in the woodstove. The Deximondas despised the smell of wood smoke, so that room became our sanctuary.

Monday, 28 March 2005

Profundity

She showed a profundity beyond that of any woman, or man for that matter, I had ever met. She could do complex maths in her head, find the right words to comfort in any situation, but most of all, she could read.

I remember the first time I saw her. She sat beside me on the bus, flipping the pages of a novel as though she was looking for a particular phrase.

I asked her, "What are you reading?"

"Dostoyevsky."

"One of my favourites. What passage are you searching for?"

"I'm reading, not searching."

How could anyone read that fast? She'd make it through a library of books in a month.

"Do you actually retain any of it?"

"Every word? If you've read the book, ask me about a particular passage."

I shook my head. "This is some kind of scam. You've read it hundreds of times and can quote it or something. I won't be made a fool of."

"Suit yourself." She stuck her nose back in her book and flipped the pages again. I noticed just how cute her nose looked and smiled. Maybe she was telling the truth. I couldn't let her get away.

"What's your name?" I asked.

Sunday, 27 March 2005

Elements

The fluids in the vat digested the sample into its primary elements. Brains took the longest to break down. All that density. All that history.

I peered over the edge and relished the action.

I always saved the brain for last. After all, human brains made the whole production so worthwhile. Killing strunks or frangles was boring. They didn't scream or try to run away. They recognized superiority and succumbed to it. Their brains took less than an hour to break down. And the tonic barely took the edge off the pain.

I planned on mixing the juices into a new concoction. I scoured the ziplicks looking for a good recipe, but in the end, I improvised. The last couple of humans had cured my headache for more than a week a piece. If I could stretch this one to two or even three, I could slip through the wormhole after the commotion settled down.

The authorities always investigated human disappearances. Part of the interstellar pact with Earth. If the rumours were true, their fleet had more firepower up its collective orifice than most of the fringe worlds. Too bad they were so bad at escaping from predators.

Their loss was my gain.

Friday, 25 March 2005

Strangeness

The atmosphere's strangeness seeped through my envirosuit and into my bones. It felt yellow somehow, as though the colour of Beta Pictoris could possess a texture.

I checked my O2 levels and they all shone green. I had plenty of time to hop over to the canyon and take more samples before my evac arrived.

I rose about 3 metres on my first hop. From that height I caught a glimpse of the shadowed side of the canyon below. This nameless moon of the gas giant Yoona-12 had magnificent landscapes--flood plains of long-dead seas, three ice-spewing volcanic mountains and my favourite, the Canton Canyon.

I named it, since I landed here first. The American ship wouldn't make Yoona-12 for another month, so our crew had plenty of time to name all the good stuff. The volcanoes were named after Bantal's three kids: Kennedy, Mercury, and Drantly. I couldn't figure out why he would name all three kids with names ending in the letter "y", but there's no accounting for taste, or the rantings of a woman in the throws of labour.

Thank God he didn't bring his kids with him on ship. All those y's would have driven me bonkers. The league allowed families to accompany crews on journeys of 40 light years or more, but Bantal enjoyed the solitude. He claimed he loved his kids, especially when he missed them.

I landed from my jump and skidded on the dusty surface. I overbalanced to avoid smashing my suit on the rocks and the sampler in my right hand flew out of my reach, tumbling hard. I switched off my external mic, avoiding the crunching noises as the guts of the instrument spewed forth.

So much for the canyon samples.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Permanent

The incident generated a permanent mark on his record.

Sharp, Nathan Q, Non-Commissioned Photographer. Insubordination causing injury. He abandoned his team to explore a garfressinate colony. The creatures resented his presence forcing Sharp's emergency evac. Contract Terminated. Return to nearest civilian station.

The timer clicked and the quick-vid shut down. Nate rubbed at his beard stubble. He'd have to shave before next shift or Desven would chew off a piece of him and serve it to the team. Every grunt on the Ivar wanted him dead.

Stupid new-coms. Followed their dicks into danger then wondered why they couldn't yank them out again. Sergeants were supposed to keep them in line. Not let the little weasels make their own choices, like following a non-com into hostile territory. Nathan had shot two cards full of the infrastructure and inhabitants of an alien colony. He should have nabbed big money for that kind of portfolio, either from the tabloids or the intelligence division, or both.

Instead, he had an injury and an expensive evac on his record, his cameras confiscated, and his contract terminated. And at the next shit-hole outpost, he'd be dumped on his ass with half his last paycheck and a voucher for the value of his confiscated gear.

And the damned little aliens wanted their pictures taken. Nate hadn't needed the evac. They were celebrating his union with the colony. Auto-trackers couldn't distinguish between "diplomatic shows of strength" and a brawl. Technology sucked. And the cocky kid with his warning shot. If he'd stayed awake for five minutes of basic training he would have known that firearms made the garfressinate twitchy enough to slice off a leg.

Monday, 21 March 2005

Redact

Every page in the file had been redacted. Pages and pages with nothing but a word here and there and the rest blacked out. How could one company have that many secrets?

I closed the file folder. No point in proceeding. Whatever I needed to know about Bender's company I would have to dig up myself. Official channels produced squat. Nada.

Bender's side businesses and his mafia connections held little relevance to me. I only wanted to determine the lineage of my fish. All of my detective efforts were focused on learning whether my dusky damselfish had been bred in captivity in Florida, or if she had been stolen from the Caribbean.

I didn't know what I would do with the information. I loved her, as much as it's possible for a man to love a fish. I talked to her every day and I kept fastidious care of her tank. I monitored the ph and salinity religiously. I even kissed the glass after dropping in her food, to show her how much I cared. If Bender or his underlings had ripped her from her family, kidnapped her and forced her into slavery, what would I do?

Could I take her back home? Would she survive in the wild, or had she forgotten how to fend for herself? My stomach flip-flopped imagining the pain of leaving her in an ocean filled with dangerous predators.

The decision would come later. I needed to concentrate on hunting down the facts.

Sunday, 20 March 2005

Interview

The light shone in from the window. A glorious summer day. The interview wouldn't be one of those single-light-bulb-hanging-from-the-ceiling kind of interrogations. This one would be bright and cheery and evil.

Shiona had venom in her blood. Had to. No other explanation could account for her constant abrasive jibes. Nothing anyone did was ever good enough for her inspection. No one spoke clear enough, or told enough truth or sold enough naked toothbrushes.

Yes, she ran a company that produced and marketed profane dental care devises. A little contract with an injection molding company in Taiwan, a little back-of-sleazy-magazine advertising, and she'd built herself an empire.

I wanted to join forces with her. As controller. My first porn-accounting gig. And let me tell you, there aren't that many legitimate and gritty jobs for guys like me.

First, she offered me a coffee. If I said yes, that meant coffee breath and the awkward moment where she would be doing a traditional girl-type role of getting the beverages. That could rant me right out of the office. On the other hand, if I said no thanks, then she might think I was some health-conscious, tea-sipping hippie, and hate me instantly for it.

So I went for safety. "I'll join you, if you're having one," I said.

"Maybe later." She pulled a red file folder from a drawer.

Was that a smile? No, she never smiled, but my intuition screamed that I'd made the right move. I pressed on into woo-her-over mode. "I've been researching your company."

"And?"

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Indolent

Thanks for the word, Mark B.
*
The worst part about Gentra wasn't her noxious farts or her brash voice. She was indolent--incapable of lifting a finger to help with anything. Her favourite pastime was to nibble at her fingernails while she stared at the bedroom ceiling. She wouldn't even replace the toilet paper roll when it ran out.

I would have killed her if I had the balls. But she kept all the wood dull at the tips and I didn't exactly have a sword hanging over the toilet.

Sure, murder was still a felony back then, but she was already dead and I had invited her in. How was I supposed to know she was a vampire? And the most digusting kind too.

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Invidious

Thanks for the word, Shane.

***
Liam was invidious of her. Who wouldn't be? She had money, a body only workouts and surgery could produce together, and the most luscious car ever built by Homo sapiens.

She drove a Mustang convertible. God, it purred like an angel and drove like a hot knife through icing. Sweet as a baby corn cob. Words got messed in its presence.

He watched her every morning, as she pulled forward and back, nudging her prize out of the communal garage. He sat in his Escort, doing his gentlemanly duty, allowing her to leave first. In truth, he relished the sound of her engine, the soft whir of the gears as she switched from first to reverse.

Their two cars bore the same make, but that's where their similarities ended. Hers was bumble bee yellow, his black, with patches of rust. Her roof rolled down at the push of a button, his was dented from a couch too heavy for the weight tolerance of the roof racks. The carrier itself had long ago blown away on the highway. Lucky for Liam, the cars behind swerved to avoid the wreckage, unscarred.

He wet his lips in anticipation of the moment. The wave. A casual twist of her wrist as she zoomed for her world outside the garage. He always returned the gesture with a half-salute-and-nod. His personal creation. He hoped it exuded waves of cool and savvy, though inside he feared the truth.

That he didn't exist on her plane of awareness. Only in the dimension of fools.

Monday, 14 March 2005

Anxious

Space travel made Danny anxious. As the attendant tightened the straps on his acceleration couch, a thousand terrible scenarios flooded his mind.

Fuel explosion on the launch pad. Fire inside the cabin, boosted by the oxygen mix. Engine misfire, acceleration miscalculation, wormhole collapse, the list spewed endlessly forth. He nibbled at a fingernail, though he could barely latch onto what was left below the quick.

The flight crew assistants performed the safety demonstration. Danny hummed a tune in his head, drowning out their enactments of atmosphere decompression.

The woman on the couch next to him whispered, "I hate this part."

"Me too," said Danny.

"Why do they bother? Most space travel mishaps are fatal. We won't have time to pray let alone dress in an evac suit."

Danny nodded. Leave me alone.

But the woman droned on about her cat dying during shipping twenty years ago and how the fleet had no idea how to safely ship a box of tissues let alone human cargo.

Danny tried to squirm away from her, but the straps held him immobile. Please let it be over soon.

The engines fired. No wait! I didn't mean it like that. Please make her stop talking. I don't want the flight to be over soon. I misspoke. Please, I--

The secondary rockets fired. On a standard mission, they don't activate until the ship reaches the outer atmosphere. Fortunately for Danny, he didn't have time for a scream of death. No time to feel the pain before his brain vapourized.

Sunday, 13 March 2005

Survey

The man with the wrinkled suit approached me. He had that look of desperation, as if at any moment his family could be evicted from their cockroach infested apartment. The yellow plastic clipboard warned me to run, but I stood my ground.

"Excuse me, Miss? Can you take a few moments to answer some questions about freedom?"

"Sure." If I said no, six kids would be living in a cardboard box.

He tilted his head a little to the left. "Do you believe that every person has a right to be free?"

"Of course." As if I could answer any other way.

"Please answer with a 'yes' or a 'no'."

"Yes."

"Great." He coloured in a bubble on his official survey form. "Do you believe that every animal should be free?"

"No." He looked disappointed with my answer, so I added, "Otherwise we'd all be hitting cows on the highway and running from stray dogs on the streets, don't you think?"

He nibbled on the end of his pen. I couldn't tell if he liked my rebuttal or not. "Do you believe that every sentient creature should be free?"

I bit my lip. No wonder the guy looked hungry. This survey was about as real as a giant squid attacking the CN Tower.

I looked at my watch. "I'm late for an appointment, so if you don't--"

"You agreed to the survey, Miss. Now please, a simple 'yes' or 'no'."

Okay, better to finish and get out of the danger zone than to argue. He could probably run faster than me. "Fine," I said. "My answer is yes."

"Good. Now if you don't mind, I need you to initial this box." He handed me the pen and pointed at a box marked "Initials of Respondent" on the form. His nail was bit back well past the quick.

Nut house for sure. I grabbed the pen. "Ouch!" The pen had pricked me. Must have been a sharp burr or something from all his chewing on the end, but I couldn't see an obvious pointy bit. I initialed the box.

Saturday, 12 March 2005

Shadow

She lived her life in his shadow. He earned more money, he spoke more gracefully, and he had more friends. She was an add-on, nothing more.

One evening, they attended the Opera. She couldn't recall the name of it, and all the characters sang in Italian. She should have been moved, like he was, but she felt empty. Bored. Delving into her thoughts, she abandoned the chore of reading the subtitles and trying to follow the plot.

Back in prehistoric times, she imagined riding a Brachiosaurus; feeling the pounding of the earth as the glorious beast took each step. She began her journey high up on the herbivores head, then slowly climbed down the wrinkles in its skin to it's back. The foliage of the Jurassic period opened before her. No flowers yet; mostly ferns. T-Rex wasn't due here for another hundred million years. She couldn't remember the names of the predators. Instead, she pretended there weren't any.

The big dinosaur stopped for a drink. She climbed down the ridges in its leg until she stood beside it at the water's edge. Dipping a hand in the water, it felt cool and soothing. Without taking the time to undress, she waded in then dove beneath the surface.

For a while, the world was a peaceful and liberating place. Then the applause began, and she fell back to the red fabric seat of the theatre.

Thursday, 10 March 2005

Runaround

Yesterday, I had one of those days where every time I tried to accomplish a task, I got the runaround.

First, I had to pay my weekly taxes, so I tubed down to the Reclamation Bureau to fork over the cash. The Drip behind the counter could barely speak English and he kept telling me my account was out of fodder. I'm guessing he meant order, but who the Hell knows with a Drip.

When I finally paid my taxes, I grabbed a cab to Luna's Wake for a beer. The cabbie didn't like my credit chit, as a matter of fact, he snapped it in two, then threw it out the window. I don't know what his problem was. Maybe the naked Bracklez female offended him. Most humans think it's a joke. They have no idea.

Neither do I. Never been with a Bracklez. Tried a Drip once. Nothing but ooze. And if you don't wash the stuff off right away, it turns nasty. I never take a Drip home after too many beers.

Back to my story. Naike, the bartender, isn't one to run a tab, especially for humans. He remembered my chit, who wouldn't, but when I couldn't produce it, he pointed at the door. I offered to do dishes, or sani the tables, but he didn't go for it. Man, I needed a drink.

So I tubed into the core and headed for the Slit Fields.

Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Inexorable

Thanks for the word, Shane.
*
Inexorable devotion was a very dangerous trait for a chocolate worshipper. That kind of inflexibility could turn a person mad, or obese, or at the very least rot their teeth.

Janina loved chocolate more than she loved her mother, or herself. She worked at the shrine, lining the confections into perfectly straight lines each morning. As the converted milled through to say their prayers, she would encourage them. "That square one," she would say, "is toffee inside--perfect for those at level two." She would pat the young children on the head and say, "One day, you'll be old enough for the truffles. Wait and see. For now, pray for a week and you'll earn a Turkish delight."

The most difficult task of the day for Janina involved the culling. Any chocolates that had smudged, or melted into misshapen rejects, she had to remove from the altar. She would slip on her white gloves--a new pair each day since chocolate was so difficult to clean--and chant her prayers while she placed the substandards on a blessed silver tray.

Oh father in seven, stay my hunger. For each level I will beg forgiveness. For each impurity, I will suffer. Father grant me one level for will power, two for abstinence, three for ignoring all temptations of flesh, four for...

Only when she felt the forgiveness from her savior, could she bring herself to consume the flawed ones. Only with his love could she swallow the holy goodness, internalizing all that she believed.

Her biggest fear was that one day the high priests would discover that afterwards, she dared rinse the chocolates away before waiting an hour. Milk was her dirty little secret.

Pulp

The street was a mess of pulp. Not the kind from square containers of not-from-concentrate orange juice, but the stuff that once belonged on the inside of someone. Now it was on the outside, all over the pavement and the sidewalk and the storefront windows.

Inky bent down to touch a smudge of the ooze. The gloves he wore were made of polyester--cheap dollar-store black ones designed to expand to fit your hand then shrink down to easily tuck in a pocket. He wasn't a cop, so he didn't wear latex to prevent crime scene contamination. Inky was a simple bystander, nothing more.

Except for the part where he killed the guy.

Sunday, 6 March 2005

Abandon

Marty had to abandon the car. Though Red23x9b would never forgive him, no other action would cleave the pain.

He had bought the car on the way home from his first day working construction. Cement and Marty stuck together. The mixture spoke to him, showing exactly where to smooth, where to adjust, where to pour. Any building with a Mary foundation stood the stresses of every disaster from atmo-leak decompression to sewage pump failure. Red23x9b was jealous, since he and Marty had never connected on a deep level.

Most cars could anticipate their driver's desires. The first time Red23x9b had suggested taking the scenic route, Marty had reluctantly agreed. But after four hours, the car had overstepped his artistic bounds and Marty drove home manually.

That started the fights. Where are we going now, boss man? Don't you like my route, expert-boy? Cars could be so damned vindictive. Worst of all, the irritation from the endless fighting stripped away his ability to hear cement.

Cracks appeared. Two foundations failed. First one contractor, then another fired Marty. For a brief time he dabbled in carpentry, but plexi-wood didn't even whisper to him. Finally, after Red23x9b overrode manual control, Marty decided.

He drove to a construction site, crushed Red23x9b flat, and buried it under a truckload of cement. The entire crew stood and watched; none said a word. When the red roof of the car disappeared under grey smoothness, Mary tossed the keys in and raked the divot smooth.

Saturday, 5 March 2005

Essence

Umbree wanted to shout from the rooftops. After years of explosive dead ends he had finally developed the formula for happiness. The essence of joy. The tonic of bliss.

He held the flask up to the light, examining the tiny bubbles streaming to the surface of the yellow translucent liquid. The beverage itself emanated glee. Swirling the flask, he inhaled the subtle aromas of bubble gum, pencil shavings, and catchers' mitts.

To drink it now would prove nothing. Umbree already felt giddy from simply capturing pleasure's essence. He needed to test it on a subject filled with gloom. He set down the flask and rummaged through his cabinets for a container and found a stained travel mug. After wiping and rinsing the coffee evidence away, he poured the yellow delight into the mug and twisted on the lid. The bubbles hissed through the steam vent.

Umbree threw on his coat and scarf, grasped the mug in his right hand, and climbed the stairs from his lab to the street. He would find some miserable soul and convince them to drink. Of course, he intended to save a mouthful for himself.

Friday, 4 March 2005

Frigid

Thanks for the word, Tessa.
***
Her attitude could gel a tank of propane. Minus fifty degree stuff, hence the reason the boys called her Ms. Frigid. When Greg decided to melt Sandra's glacier he began his most challenging assignment.

He grew up in northern Ontario, in a small town where it snowed at least once in every month and everyone spent their days shovelling and playing hockey. Women confused him more than a tropical climate. One of the worst bachelors in the free world, he banked his chances on time-honoured pick-up lines and the old candy-and-flowers standard.

Ms. Frigid walked into The Hitch so Greg bought a beer and sent it over to her table. She accepted, but insisted on a glass from bar-tender. He considered abandoning her as a goal, but then she smiled. Her frigid grin jacked up the tension. A true challenge. How could he back away?

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

Blue

I hate the colour blue. It represents all of the things I'm not. Light-hearted, relaxed, bright and sunny. I'm more of a grey.

The sun radiates down on a Tuesday. Everyone comments on the intense blue of the sky. Cloudless, expansive, uplifting. I want to smear it with black paint, to stuff a few clouds up there with my bare hands and make the rain pour down. But I'm not a rainmaker and I certainly don't carry black paint in my handbag. Hiding is my only option.

And so I hide. From the sky, from my obligations, from the world.

I can't hide for long. Bills must be paid. Noses must be wiped. Envelopes must be opened.

I hate envelopes. They represent...

Tuesday, 1 March 2005

Poison

Thanks for the word, Michael!

***

Rebecca named the dog Poison. Not because he was deadly, or smelly, or even useful. Poison was her second favourite word. First place belonged to "exsanguination", but it wasn't dog-worthy.

She stood on the front porch, and yelled, "Poison! Here boy!" The neighbours had learned to tolerate her, though she suspected they were secretly trying to oust her from their midst. From her position, she could see that Mrs. Midarkin and Old Man Frudler held their front curtains open, scoping out the dangerous doggy, counting how many places he's sprayed or dumped a load. Rebecca planned a scout-and-clean mission after breakfast.

Poison hurried up to her, his stubby tail wagging. He wasn't one of those cropped dogs like a Doberman or a Rottweiler. His tail had been severed in the door of a car, long before Rebecca had claimed ownership and named him after a chemical compound causing discomfort and possible death. She leaned down and scratched him behind the ear. "Good doggie."

Slave

Prijafai was the worst kind of slave. Lower than a house slave, or a mining slave, or a body slave. Gedlin the Whipper was her master and he owned her soul.

She had barely reached her fourteenth year when her parents sold her to Gedlin. Her father, Ietro, had slipped behind on his fish tributes. When he lost the boat to a winter storm, he was forced to sell his only possessions to the highest bidders. Mama was deft at the finest of embroidery, and Lumarp the Costumer paid dearly for her skills. The law forbade that Prijafai sell her body for two more years, and her malformed spine prevented her from accomplishing laborious tasks. The last option, Ietro's only choice, was to sign her over to the Whipper.

Gedlin worked for the Duvutchya Lenders. When tribute dropped behind, he extracted suitable recompense. No beating was too brutal, no torture too painful for a laggard assigned to him. His soul was empty and he so he consumed Prijafai.

Hate was the first emotion he sucked from her. She did not think she harbored such a hurtful sentiment, yet daily he consumed a dose. Then came contempt and spite. He relished every element of negativity within her, until she forgot what it felt like to be happy or generous or kind.