Where the Wheel Meets the Road

The war, so they say, ended a half century and more ago, but the Ladies keep to the old habits, of want and privation, of solitude in the afternoons, of cold coffee on the balcony. These habits kept them alive, kept them canny, and have not lost their utility with the coming of a notional peace. The front has shifted, not dissolved, and if there are fewer mortars crashing between the buildings, fewer young men carried silently back through the quiet streets, even so: the siege continues.

They have lost the streets, the bars, and the factories, driven inside and underground. They drift among the new society, unseen aqueducts half-buried beneath newly green hills, trenches choked with poppies. In the labs and offices, they stand in circles, laughing humorlessly at a joke told by someone schooled in forgetting, avoiding eye contact, swallowing rage. They know each other in these moments by a tightness around the eyes, a blanch of white knuckles on a sudden fist, a twist of the mouth revealing the pinch of an ulcer.

Evenings they go to ground in windowless bars or drive through the country on surplus motorbikes, mouths wide and laughing to catch the air, eyes bright with whiskey, cheap cigarettes, country music, blues. They carry the war within them, pass it down in silence to their adopted children, who will use it in the war yet to come.

I Longed For Wide Experience

Weather-beaten and rangy. The library at her hip is grey steel and rainbow mother of pearl.

The old road, the old imperial highway, winds its way across the top of an old sea, and Ulloa has never been more shivering aware of the depths of the open earth. She pauses at the top of a long, brutal rise, and stares down between the alien curves of sandstone; the earth has dropped away beneath her, and she floats on an imagined horizon. She is normally afraid of heights, but not here — how can you be afraid of the level surface of the water?

Still. She feels the wide mouth of the long-vanished sea yawn beneath her, and picks her careful way back down, past petroglyphs, past pioneer cabins, past the bones of long dead aquatic monsters, past tourist traps. The apocalypse has been and gone so many times from this landscape, what is one more or less?

She is more than half-crazed from the heat, and clings close to the cliffside, away from the open air that promises a cool breeze on the way down to the depths. The sky is so blue it hurts her eyes, even behind the polarized lenses of her breather. She stops when she reaches shade, covers herself with as much of the fine-grained urticating sand as she can, and waits for night to fall. The imperial road catches the light, even now, even in starlight, enough to keep her on firm ground, and she’s got a week or more before even the hope of another person.

Dracula’s Body Lies A-Mouldering In His Grave

Dead, and you have been dead, dead and buried, long dead: there is no one now, including you, who remembers your name, no one who knows there is even a name to remember.

You are not eternal; eternity is a thing of memory. You rise from the earth of your unmemorialed grave with the sunset, dissolve back into dust with the sunrise, regular and inconstant as the tides.

Plans, what are plans to you, what is want, what is need. You kill the way a hot day in a grassless city kills, the way a winter kills with the windows broken, neither desiring death nor bringing it.

They tell you lies: that a jar of sand will stop you, that running water will hold you off, that you must be ushered in, all lies, all fictions. In truth you go nowhere, see no one, want nothing; you are the open air two running steps past the edge of a cliff and the promise of rocks at the bottom.

Who Sheds Blood With Me Will Forever Be My Brother

An interloper in the fullest sense, he is: godsent, heroic, fraternal, doomed. In that we are united. The inexplicable cruelty of our fathers, that pit us against each other! What sin is this, to pit teeth and hooves against flesh and warm bronze? We have deserved more, my brother, my soul, my destroyer.

Cruelty is our birthright, my sister; he will use you and cast you aside. We have never met, but I have heard your weeping on a summer’s night, heard your voice as the rock is rolled away from the gate to this my tomb. What did they tell you of me? Did your father explain his crime to you, did our mother trace her humiliation upon the shore?

They cast me here in horror before I was even born, built this charnel house even as I turned overlarge within an amniotic sea; through flesh and fluid I watched it descend into the earth, traced its singular coil with half-formed eyes. I might have spoken prophecy for them, had they listened, had they waited, had I a more commanding tongue. This moment, this meeting, was inevitable as the returning tide, as the flood water rising to reclaim the plains.

The Ambitions of Great Men

“The bitter irony,” Murphy panted, grinning bloodily down at the shredded remains of the former head of Omni Consumer Products. “Killed by your own creation. Did you expect it to save you?”

The suit, somehow still clinging stubbornly to life, made a horrible burbling noise that it took him a few seconds to understand as laughter. “You… still don’t get it. The goal… was never… to build a police officer that would… never malfunction, never take… an innocent life. The goal was to create one… that wouldn’t care… if it did. My death… all of this… you…just a successful proof of… concept.”

“Look around, you jackass. Your prototype is spare parts, your headquarters is in ruins. Omni can’t come back from this.”

More of that horrible burbling. “It… doesn’t matter. We were never the hand, only… the lever. You can’t shoot an… idea, Murphy. They hate us, they hate me, but… they’ll love you. They’ll make you a hero… they’ll make more of you. The world… needs heroes…”

He died still laughing.