Archive for the ‘Micro Monday’ Category

“And, time,” said a bearded old man holding the syringe that would restore life to the year-dead patient on the table.
The syringe slid easily into her carotid artery, and after another thirty seconds, her eyes flitted open. The old man with the syringe frowned and set down his tool. “It’s taking longer for you to wake up each time, Priya.”
The young, previously dead woman looked around the sterile room, still dazed and black-lipped. Her mouth moved, but her vocal chords seemed still to need warming up before they could work. Her hand went limply to her throat and she began to massage it. The old man took her hand away gently and put it back at her side.
“You know the protocol,” he said and looked at her sternly. “No movement for at least an hour.”
A throat cleared itself on the other side of the table, where a woman in a fitted, pinstripe suit stood holding a leathern briefcase.
“Oh, yes, please forgive me. Priya, this woman standing beside you is Ms. Adele Singh, CPA. I’m sure the two of you have a great deal to talk about.”
Ms. Adele Singh smiled warmly at the supine young woman and brought her suitcase down heavily on the steel table.
“Congratulations, Ms. Kamala. You are the world-record holder for most years spent dead to avoid paying taxes. Thanks to some new tax legislation, you will remain the world-record holder, I believe. I suggest we take some inventory on how much your Douglasing has saved you.”
“I’d much prefer it if you discussed how much it’s cost her,” said the doctor loudly under his breath.
Ms. Adele Singh pretended not to hear him and clicked open her briefcase. “Dr. Needles over there has made no qualms over his objections to the toll being dead has taken on your health. But I assure you, Ms. Kamala, I’m on your side. If someone is going to go to the lengths you have to keep their money, I say they should be able to keep it. To that end, I have prepared a suite of options for you to continue your defiance of the tax collectors,” she removed a thick packet from the open briefcase and extended it to the woman on the table. “Oh,” she said and bit her lip, “well, I supposed I could just read them to you.”
Priya nodded and closed her eyes.
Ms. Adele Singh cleared her throat again and flipped through the pages. “Ah, here we go. The best option for you, I think, might be donating organs. You’re obviously a strong young woman who can undergo the rigors of death. In another six months you could be a prime candidate for growing organs while dead. If you do, the government has promised to forgive all taxable income for such a worthy, life-saving endeavor. You see, Ms. Kamala, we have not been asleep at our jobs while you’ve been dead.”
“I object absolutely, Priya,” said the doctor. “You promised this would be the last time you spent a year dead. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to bring you back. And besides, suppose I was hit by a car or a massive heart attack while you were gone. Would you trust anyone else to bring you back unharmed?”
Ms. Adele Singh sneered and continued, “Financially speaking, this is the best option for Ms. Kamala. It’s by no means the only one, doctor.”
“You’re wrong. It’s not an option at all.”
“Very well,” the accountant said and sighed. “Item number two: Widows and widowers who bequeath their estates to—”
“Ms. Singh!” shouted the doctor.
Priya was beginning to come out of her dazed state and blinked her disbelief.
Ms. Adele Singh’s hand went to her mouth and she gasped. “Oh my! I am terribly sorry. I thought it was an exciting challenge to try to beat the tax laws. It never occurred to me you didn’t know.”
“Ms. Singh, I’m afraid we’ve kept you too long. I’m sure you have somewhere else to be.”
The woman in the pinstripe suite opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. She nodded, replaced it the packet in her suitcase and clicked it shut. She turned and left the room without another word.
The bearded doctor took Priya’s hand and put his other hand against her head. Tears were already beginning to stream down her cheeks.
“This isn’t how I wanted you to know,” he said and squeezed her hand.
After a moment of quiet sobbing, Priya looked over at the table with the syringes and then back at the doctor. He followed her glance, then shook his head.
“Give it some time,” he said. “You can always dodge taxes some other day.”

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Dagmar’s lungs began to burn again, so she took another breath from the tank. It was easy to plan to ration breaths from the tank before the mission; it was always different once she was in the field. She made a note to hold back until she could get some better compensation from her client.

“Aren’t you curious to know what this rare ingredient is?” the synthesized voice in her ear whispered.

“The parameters said I’d know it when I saw it, Essi. I don’t make a habit of asking questions my clients don’t want to answer.”

“That seems like a dangerous standard operating procedure.”

“Believe me, it’s no more dangerous than asking questions.”

“This seems like a lot of trouble to go through just for a gourmet dish.”

“Well, you’re an AI. What would you know about food?”

“And you live on freeze-dried nutrients. What would you know?”

“I think that’s exactly why I’d know about it. Now shut up. I have to concentrate.”

She took another breath and approached the final door. She entered the passcode she’d memorized, and the door slid open. The instructions had been right: there was only one thing in the room.

“I don’t think that’s what you’d normally call an ‘ingredient,’” the voice in her ear said.

In the middle of the floor was a rothari youth, maybe female based on the color of its skin. Dagmar sighed and shook her head; the little tentacled thing didn’t look like much, but she could fetch a handsome price in some of the higher social circles that wanted the delicacy of eating a sentient species without the taboo of cannibalism. The young rothari spoke, but Dagmar had no comprehension of what she said. It sounded more like popping bubbles than words.

“Maybe a question or two was in order?” the voice in her ear said.

“Shut up, or shut down. Your choice,” she murmured as she closed and sealed the door behind her.

The little thing looked up at Dagmar and began to knot and unknot its tentacle-like appendages. She rubbed her eyes in the palms of her hands.

“You have a contract, Dagmar,” the voice reminded her.

“I know!”

“Why is she here, anyway? Why isn’t she at home? She’s obviously too young to be in a place like this one on her own.”

“I don’t know!”

“What are you going to do?”

Dagmar looked up again and peered at the youth. She had no idea why this child was here in this locked room alone, but she couldn’t think of a single altruistic reason for it.

The young rothari extended its tentacles toward Dagmar, not unlike a human toddler asking to be picked up. She reached for the outstretched tentacles, and the small thing moved surprisingly fast up her arms. It wrapped itself around her rested its head against Dagmar’s shoulder. This close, she could hear the child struggling to breathe and felt her tremble.

“Ma’am?”

“Houdini protocol, Essi. We’re going to have to lay low for a while. And it looks like we have a new addition to the ship.”

Dr. Saito was a small cube now. Her former body lay inert on the table, and the cube now glowed a soft, mint green light. The light was not really necessary, she’d explained to Dr. Tanaka. Its only purpose was to indicate to the panel of witnesses to this historic even that the cube was on. Whatever other inferences they drew were their own.

Based on the gasps coming from the men and women gathered in the room, this little flourish showed some foresight.

Tanaka ran the preliminary diagnostic tests to ensure the transfer had been successful. As far as he could tell, the board was green. He looked up from his screen, smiled, and announced, “Transfer complete.”

The faces of the witnesses brightened, they cheered, and one popped the cork on a magnum of champagne. They hugged. They cried. They sang.

Tanaka smiled again as he watched the crowd of scientists and investors who had poured money, support, and even expertise into Saito’s tireless mission to imprint a human consciousness onto a mobile, electronic platform. She’d done it. The first person to take the first steps into immortality. The next step would be to transfer her again into another organic platform. His work was only half-complete.

Still, this first stage was miraculous in itself. He would let the others have their celebration. For now, he would sit down and relax for the first time in five years.

The others had found a new song, now. Several even had their arms around each other’s shoulders and swayed back and forth. Another two clasped hands and began to dance as a pair.

Tanaka closed his eyes and rested his head against palm, still smiling, basking in their success.

Then, there was another gasp, though decidedly of a different timbre from the first gasp of the evening.

He opened his eyes just in time to see the soft, mint green glow flicker and die as rivulets of champagne slithered down its sides.

I wrote a story for you! It’s a short one—the kids call it “flash fiction”—and it’s all yours. And guess what? I’ll have another one for you next Monday! But that’s way in the future. Let’s enjoy this one now. I hope you like it!

“The Captain Eats a Steak”

Captain Chuck Williams had been a Big Goddamn Hero. All the headlines had said so, and he had them in hand to prove it.

“I think you’re remembering that wrong,” Alyson said suddenly from behind him. “First of all, you were not the only one embarking on this little mission to the Red Planet. Second of all, Big Goddamn Heroes tend not to be the type of people who get their pilots killed right away.” She pointed to the jagged, screwdriver-shaped hole about an inch above the arch of her right eyebrow.

Chuck looked away before she could turn her head to indicate another not-so-clean hole. “That happened after. And I’m on my own now, so what difference does it make how I remember it?”

Alyson shrugged and plopped down beside Chuck on the couch. She sighed and tapped the tops of her legs in boredom. “How long do you think now? You’re finally delirious—that has to be somewhere near the end, right? Why did you have to bring me back, anyway? I hated you. You hated me. You could’ve at least thought of your wife or something.”

“Why would he think of me? He left me to rot on Earth so that the rest of the world would write about what a courageous pioneer he was to set off for Mars. If you ask me, I think he knew at least a little bit that he was leaving me for good.” Chuck looked up to see his wife leaning against the post of the doorway. She looked as if she’d just stepped off the set of a 1950s sitcom: pale green A-line dress, double string of pearls, large blonde curls, and soft pink lips. She was the picture of loving, warm hospitality—except her eyes. The look behind her eyes spoke the volumes of emotion those pink lips had never uttered in their life together. “For God’s sake, he’s even put me in this ridiculous June Cleaver getup. I hate A-line dresses and he knows it. What the hell is going through your head, Chuck?”

Chuck sighed and immediately regretted it. His body ached with cold and lack of oxygen. The tips of his fingers seemed like they’d always been blue, and his lips cracked and bled in dryness. “It’s a pretty dress, though,” he said.

His wife shook her head and turned away, mumbling, “That’s not the point.”

Alyson took the tablet from his hand and began scrolling through the results of his last search. “Hey, captain, I wonder what the headlines say about you now.” Her fingers slid and tapped across the screen quickly, and a smirk flitted across her face. “Maybe it’s something like this?” She turned the tablet to face him again. She’d opened a word processor and typed in all caps a series of headlines he’d rather not see:

FORMER SPACE HERO KILLS CRAZY CREWMAN TOO LATE

WHAT WENT WRONG: WILLIAMS LOSES CONTROL OF CREW AND SHIP

CAPTAIN CHUCK WILLIAMS ONLY SURVIVOR ON BOTCHED MISSION TO MARS, NOT FOR LONG

CHUCK WILLIAMS GASPS FOR BREATH, TALKS TO GHOSTS, IS CRAZY

She turned the screen away again, her smirk having grown wider. “What do you think? Too biased maybe? Well, I just fly things—flew things—I’m no journalist.” Her fingers slid and tapped again until she turned the tablet to face Chuck again. “Maybe this is better?” The headlines were the same, but she’d changed the font to what looked like Old English type.

Fire burned in his muscles as he pushed himself up and toward the door. Fire burned in his lungs as he tried to breathe. Fire burned in his brain as he tried to shake Alyson from his head. She was dead. She’d been the first to die. He was talking to a dead person. His wife was alive. He needed to talk to her.

She was in the mess hall, and the pots and pans were suddenly very heavy when he walked through the door.

“What are you doing?” he rasped.

She kept him behind her and never turned to look at him, but he knew how she looked: slightly pursed pink lips, narrowed eyes, stiff cheeks. “The hero is hungry. The hero is dying. The hero needs a steak.”

Chuck reached for her hands before she could turn on the stove. “No, you can’t do that. It’ll eat up my oxygen. You’re just going to kill me faster.”

When she turned to him, he realized how wrong he’d been about how her face looked. Tears rolled down her cheeks in rivulets, and her pale skin turned red in rage. “You’re already dead, Chuck. And you’re such an asshole for it. What will a steak do? Shave a few minutes off your life? You’re looking at minutes anyway. What difference does it make how long it takes at this point? Just eat your fucking steak and die already.”

She was no longer in an A-line dress. She was in dark jeans and a white T-shirt. The moccasins she always wore around the house replaced the white high heels he’d originally seen. Her hair was dyed black and pulled into a loose ponytail. Her makeup was gone and no longer concealed the lines that age had worried into her skin. Only the tears continued to fall.

He watched as she grilled the steak, skipping the salt and butter. Now and then she would sniff or clear her throat, but she didn’t say another word while she cooked. When she was done, she slapped the slab of meat onto a plate and slid it across the counter to where she expected him to sit and eat it. “There,” she said. “That’s the best you’re getting as a last meal. See you around, Chuck.”

Then she turned back toward the door and disappeared.

Chuck looked at the plate she’d prepared for him. For a moment, it looked like one of the dried nutrient bricks—charred and blackened—they’d stocked the ship with before leaving on the mission. Only for a moment. Then, the smell of perfectly cooked meat wafted into his nose, mouth and lungs, and he felt rejuvenated. He cut a slice of the meat and bit into it. For just a moment, the taste of carbon stained his mouth and tongue. Then, the juice from the meat filled his consciousness and warmed him even to the tips of his fingers. The warmth overtook him, and he felt a smile stretch across his face.

When he was finished, his wife appeared again to take away his plate. The tears were gone, now, and the A-line dress swished around her knees again. She took his head in her free hand and kissed his forehead. “Go to sleep now, Chuck.”

The Big Goddamn Hero closed his eyes and rested his head against the cold metal counter, listening to the clink of dishes in the sink. As he fell asleep, he wondered what tomorrow’s headline would look like.