Every Single One Of My Titles

SciFi News Network 2428: Orbital Strike Burns Barbarian Fingers — Hands Off The Chicago Arc!

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(First appeared on my Patreon page 1 week ago, on the 18th)

Breitbuzz News – Chicagoland Arcology

Rushland Milouse, Jr.

23 April 2428

 

Shortly after midnight in the early morning hours of April 22nd a pack of barbarians thought to number over 1500 assaulted the Elgin section of the Chicagoland Arcology Wall.

The assault followed the breaking of a wave of heat and drought that commenced in early March. Temperatures outside the arcology wall had been regularly in the 110s F with 90s overnight, roughly 20F  above expected spring temperatures, with little precipitation.

The heat and drought withered barbarian crops, Lt. General Chip Thorson of the Chicagoland Armed Forces said in a prepared statement. It also drove away game, leading desperate starving barbarians to attempt a breakthrough with improvised munitions and assault vehicles cobbled together from junkyards and abandoned materiel salvaged from the 24th century evacuation of nearby Rockford.

Of course, most of us in the arcology didn’t notice the ineffective barbarian attack, enjoying our 24/7 managed environment, 75F days and 65F nights, refreshments swerved by our loyal bot servants, and fresh Lake Michigan water. All of our thanks to the Arcology Management Commission, the CAF, and the CAF Lakewall Guard!

The Barbarians used crude trebuchets, ancient mechanical siege engines from 1000 years ago, to hurl useless handmade bombs against Chicagoland’s outer wall. They did leave significant cosmetic damage, holing the outermost of five yard-thick reinforced armorcrete walls and exposing a buffer layer of sandbags.

A labor crew of a hundred bots defended by a drone air defense wing and a sortie of CAF infantry are expected to complete repairs by the 25th.

Once again, the barbarians have proven their hereditary unfitness. Their ancestors were too useless to rate a spot in the arcology a hundred years ago, and obviously their weakness has only increased with a century of inbreeding and disdain for education and hard work.

All 1500 attackers were wiped out by a launch of kinetic projectiles from one of Chicagoland’s man defensive satellites.

Scientists said the wave of heat and drought that spurred the barbarian attack were due to the continued advance of climate change. The outside environment is expected to degrade further over the next 300-500 years — this journalist says the sooner it wipes out the barbarians the better for all of us!

If you walk with a cane…

…your kids will want canes too. And then, when you look the other way, they will swordfight with them (not pictured).

Fair warning.

Planning A New Collection For December!

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Look, I’m thinking or something. Do I look thoughtful? I think I might think I look like I’m thinking.

I’d have posted a cover, but I don’t have one yet. I may make one, or my stepson Erik may create one. He did the cover for Isolation and Other Stories and it came out great.🙂

The working, 99.9% sure I’m using it, title is Closer Than You Think and I’m planning to have it ready for pre-order as an ebook in November and released in December in time for Christmas!

I have over 50,000 words of short stories and novelettes ready for it right now, and if a couple more stories come together I hope to release it at 60,000 or more. That’s on top of the serial I’m doing over the next couple of months. And tweeting too much. And my coursework in my second master’s degree (Communication / New Media — the first just wrapped up in June and is in, surprise surprise, English / Creative Writing). And Patreon pieces like SciFi News Network and thirteen word stories. And homeschooling our 3 and 5 year old sons with the help of my wife and adult stepson. And any work the ugly, rickety trailer all five of us live in needs to keep it from falling apart before we can move the hell out at some as-yet-undetermined date in the future which will be sooner rather than later if you are kind enough to buy, read, and review some of my stories or head over to my Patreon to help me improve my life and income and readership by establishing some reliable and significant income from this writing thing I’m doing.

Um, hint-hint. Seriously, if you can, do the stuff I just said. Because living in this little crappy trailer and having next to no money is stressful and makes it hard as hell to write anything at all because DISTRACTIONS and WORRIES and from the list of stuff on my mind in the previous paragraph I’m also WAY TOO BUSY but everything has to get done if I want to make sure MY FAMILY DOESN’T END UP LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER. *cough*

VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER

But I was supposed to be telling you about the collection so let’s do that: Closer Than You Think will focus on human stories on or near Earth. No aliens, no space travel. Just the future of humanity right here in our cozy ancestral home which we’re currently polluting and crowding up and apparently baking with this climate change thing we’ve done to ourselves.

The stories will progress roughly from near future to far future — from tomorrow to a couple thousand years in the future. There will be stories of failure, disaster, ambition, success, mistakes, and just plain weird futures where humanity has become something most of us would consider just a bit… alien. Despite the lack of “Little Green Men” in the stories.

It’s going to be awesome, and you’re going to love it.

Just wait.

 

First Serial Installment of “Broken Rice”!

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First off: you can read the first installment below!

Second: you can get the PDF version of installment one right now, and I will add EPUB and MOBI files there in the next couple days — I have the story for you, at least, on my self-imposed deadline of today Friday the 12th. Barely. The ebook formats are delayed and will appear, assuming nothing else goes awry, by Sunday the 14th, through the link above. Long story short, a death on my wife’s side of the family threw the household into a bit of chaos but I’m hoping I’ll be able to steal the moments to get the ebook out.

For now, enjoy the PDF if you grabbed it (SERIOUSLY, GO GET IT!), check back here or see me on Twitter @Tao23 because I’ll tweet about the ebook bunches, I promise!

Next installment will be out in about 3 weeks. Unless a meteor hits me or something. Stay tuned.

 

Here’s the story:

 

Broken Rice

S.A. Barton

Caleb woke with the first throaty crowings of the banty shantytown roosters and did not look out the lone age-scoured plexi window of his family’s one-room hovel. He rolled out of his sleeping pallet on automatic; he was washing his face with a threadbare rag from a tin bucket of tepid water before he was even aware of what he was doing. It was the everyday he had known for five years, half his life: the roosters crow: get up, get ready to go to work.

He did not look out the window because he knew too well what was outside: a gray scrum of gawky shacks a mile wide hanging off the ass of Houston, a scrum of scavenged sheet metal and cardboard and wood and plastic all jury-rigged together with zip ties and twine and knotted plastic bags discarded from richer peoples’ shopping, the vast scrum all in creeping motion, slowly changing like a forest harried by pine bark beetles and struggling not to die, decaying and regrowing and subtly shifting as the seasons passed away. The people who lived in it only ever died or disappeared – nobody escaped to make good, not that Caleb knew of.

Outside, there was also the faintest glow of the yet-unrisen Texas sun, harbinger of a bright day he’d see little of. When it came the dawn would be tinged yellowy-gray and sick with smog, same as every other day except when storms came, when it would be black and wet instead.

As always, dad had risen first and was already gone. His work gang gathered its members in darkness every day there was no rain coming, or only a little. Dad would come back home in fourteen or fifteen hours, the dry gray clay of brickmaking crumbling and cracking away from his arms and legs a little at a time, all night long while he ate and later slept, flakes and crumbs falling away from his skin like ashes. In the new day mom would shake it out of the pallet of old blankets heaped on dry-grass-stuffed plastic bags she and dad slept on, and sweep it off the packed-dirt floor and out the door.

Also as always, dad had dug the ancient cast iron dutch oven, – one of two they owned – from the ashes of yesterday’s fire. Overnight with the dying heat the rice – broken rice, scrap rice thick with starchy powder, the cheapest – had cooked, growing soft and sticky. Caleb looked into the pot – it was older than mom and dad, so old the lid was stamped “USA” – and remembered the dream he had woken from, a dream that came to him again and again and had been with him as long as he had been working, almost as long as he could remember: the people as broken grains of rice, the shantytown a cookpot, the people hard and strong slowly wilting, softening, melting into their neighbors, glommed together protesting and smiling and gossiping and sullen all at once, gabbling, and then the lid lifting and the light of the morning, the worn wooden spoon descending, the silent rice clumping, clinging, impotently quivering, and then the sun-browned lips, the red tongue, the white teeth.

Caleb lifted the first bite of rice to his mouth with a familiar worn wooden spoon, a spoon that was also the first toy he remembered. He had waved it free and wild like a flag, toddling unsteady across the shack’s single room and out into the street, showing it proudly to the blurry wash of passing faces. The rice was gummy – water was too precious to waste washing rice, and too much of the rice was tiny bits and dust to waste so much of the food by washing it away. Every calorie was precious. It was flavored with a stingy spoonful of watery margarine so cheap it wasn’t colored yellow but was industrial gray, a fat pinch of gritty Galveston salt, and a shake of chili flakes. They didn’t have much else to make rice taste like something. Mom grew the chili pepper plants against the parts of the shanty walls that were wood, where the sun wouldn’t scorch them to death like it would against metal, and hung the ripe peppers on strings from the ceiling to dry as she harvested. Dad had eaten his half of the rice already; half of what was remained was for mom.

Caleb wolfed his quarter of the rice quickly and hurried into the dark, his mother still sleeping, snoring softly. She stayed up the latest of them all, tending the fire and preparing the pot of rice to cook while all slept. Her work was in the home. She cleaned the shack and repaired the small gaps and breaks that formed in its walls and roof daily as it flexed in rain and heat and the hard dry wind that blew out of the southwest. She built up the little fire they cooked on from sticks and hunks of charcoal, the only fuel they could afford. She carried water from the Wal-Star pay pump several streets away in heavy five gallon jugs. It cost a silver dime for a gallon; that added up fast against the forty or fifty silver dollars a week the family earned when the weather was good. She also mended and tinkered broken household things until they could be used again, for herself and her family and for the neighbors who paid a few pennies for the service, or more often traded eggs or vegetables or precious spice or a bit of chicken meat or dried fish to liven up the dinner beans.

Caleb walked through the maze of alleys and joined the steady trickle of other boys and girls growing from the endless shanties. A few were as young as five, a few were in their early teens, most were in-between. As he walked, more and more children joined the trickle and it became a plodding slow-motion cataract of baggy-eyed youth heading into Houston proper, flowing without play but dogged with destination. Only murmurs and mutters passed between them, and the gravelly coughs of the ones unlucky enough to work in paper mills and asbestos plants and such. Reluctantly, they came; inevitably they would work because a new day had come. With new days came new troubles and new needs, and every penny counted in a working family.

The manufacturing district was marked by rusty chain link fence, more patchwork than original metal. The fence was a long, long line like a breakwater on an ugly and undesirable shore, broken only by alleys and roads. The shantytown washed up against the fenceline, a tide of litter and dung and the poorest cardboard shelters and brave eruptions of weeds from cracked black asphalt and hard-packed red dirt. The children streamed in through the gates, sweating. The sun was barely showing and already the air smelled like the breath of an oven. A clot of five policemen – there were no policewomen in the Republic as far as Caleb had ever seen, and no shantytown scrub would ever dare ask a policeman why or even speak to one at all on purpose – lounged against their motor scooters in the shade cast by the corners of buildings. They were low-ranking, gawky, pimple-faced. Police work, like most careers in Texas, started in unpaid mid-teen apprenticeship; higher education was looked upon with distrust; the only university in the state was in Dallas where the Republic Bureau of Intelligence could keep an eye on the students.

The sight of the police brought a surge of envy, blunted with familiarity, to Caleb’s heart. His family could never afford for him to spend five years in unpaid apprenticeship. He’d never be a skilled worker of any kind, and so he’d never be paid well enough to live in an actual apartment, not even an old pre-war one with no running water, instead of a shanty.

The cops’ tin “Lone Stars” gleamed dully over their hearts, scuffed and eroded with many rough polishings; they’d trade them in for prettier metals if they were promoted. The stars were handed down and handed down until the metal grew too thin to hold its shape. The cops ate spicy street food from little newspaper baskets and bamboo skewers (the aromas made Caleb’s mouth water wistfully), and cracked jokes about monkeys and dogs, purposefully loud. The children were wise; none rose to the bait but walked on, eyes carefully on the road, their flow through the gate separating into rivulets trickling into dozens of factories and workhouses.

Caleb’s feet found their own destination while he thought about his dream of rice, and of the doll he kept hidden in the hollow of a tree not far outside the workhouse he labored in. His feet, without conscious thought, took him inside. The broad production floor was crammed with tight rows of sewing machines, bins of materials already beside them, empty bins on the other side waiting for finished pieces. Overhead, gap-toothed rows of ancient ceiling fans pushed listlessly at the heavy humid air. Thin ranks of fluorescent tubes flickered and hummed weakly, casting thin shadows below. A pair of loudspeakers, caked with dust and bound to aluminum rafters with faded red cord, mumbled out the scratchy AM voice of Lone Star Radio; today the fourth anonymous voice of Bowie Q. Public railed against the injustice of the tariffs that Canada, the United States, and the Confederacy levied against Texan goods. The plastic outrage and threadbare subject slipped through Caleb’s ears and mind without leaving a trace. It was more white noise in a room already brimming with it.

Caleb sat on the hard wooden stool at his machine, number sixty-four, and began work.

The pieces he worked with were a slightly different shape and color than the day before, and a tiny smile touched his lips for a second – there would be something new to add to the doll. He’d been working on it three seasons and it was nearly complete.

He began sewing and gluing the shoes he was paid a Lonestar dime per hour to make, his hands moving quickly. The small changes to the materials represented a new run of a new style of sneaker, and that was no hindrance to Caleb; the steps of assembly all remained the same. Quickly, a succession of left Euro size 41 shoes emerged from the automatic movements of his fingers. They emerged steadily without pause, because there would be no lunch before the bin was full and heaped up above the lip. After lunch, twenty minutes, there would be a new empty bin to fill before he would be allowed to leave for the day. When he had started there had been a lot of hungry days and late walks home; now it was rare.

As happened sometimes, he moved his hand slightly the wrong direction and the machine drove a line of stitches into his thumb. The bin was almost full and his stomach growled its urgency; with his teeth he ripped the stitches out of his flesh from the knuckle to the web and kept working, dabbing his blood off on the bits of shoe that would be hidden, in the middle of stitched layers of sole and the inside of pieces of upper, until the line of puncture wounds clotted. The pain meant little to him; it was a distraction to be ignored. He finished the bin and called out to one of the half-dozen prowling overseers, who peered into the bin, shook it to settle the contents, and nodded silently.

Caleb left his machine and queued to take a dented metal plate from one of the tall stacks inside the door of the tiny workhouse canteen. A snaggletooth old cook dropped a “corn flatbread” (a thick masa tortilla, but it was best not to say foreign (especially Spanish!) words where anyone could hear unless you wanted police snooping around) and a scoop of stewed beans on it as he passed without pausing. There was no meat in the beans, not even a little fatback or bacon for flavor – seamsters didn’t rate it.

At the opposite side he joined the crowd of kids shuffling past a cluster of water buckets. When his turn came he snatched up the nearest dipper and gulped the two measures of water allowed. A glowering overseer, a tall thin woman hardly out of her teens herself, watched the children carefully with long bamboo switch in hand, ready to enforce the two-dipper rule with swift violence.

Once past, the child workers streamed out to the far side of a bare earth courtyard where they clustered in the thin shade of a long stand of tall half-brown reeds growing through the chain link fence. There they talked a little amongst themselves as they ate, hunched toward one another and voices low, but Caleb didn’t join them.

Instead he slipped off to the side and squeezed through a narrow gap in the corner of the fence, a gap hidden by a spray of flowering shrubs. Surely he’d been seen slipping through the gap many times over the months, but there was no reason for any of the other kids to tell the overseers. The blooms were brilliant as butterflies and nodded as Caleb made himself thinner and slipped through the branches that held them up to the sun. The air smelled like the honey street food vendors drizzled on hot fried dough, a treat he bought himself when pay was meted out at the end of the week – if he hadn’t been docked.

Beyond the gap was a tiny winding path, the brush joining just over his bowed head. As he walked he folded the beans up in the flatbread and ate the morsel quickly. The path led him to a place where animals came to drink; often he saw their prints in the mud among the trash that lined the shore of the unkempt little canal. Beside the drinking place was an old twisted tree with heavy branches that sagged down at their farthest ends to touch the water. Caleb set his empty lunch plate down on a patch of moss and climbed up the branches like a spiral stair, looping around the heavy, stunted trunk that must once have been broken almost completely in two, but recovered bent double and crossing itself and finally grown into itself like a garlic knot from a street vendor. When Caleb had first seen it, he’d wondered how many lifetimes it had taken for that to happen and heal into what looked like natural sculpture.

Near the top of the trunk knot maybe five yards off the ground, folded into a hollow that slanted upward, was the doll.

He had built the doll out of bits and pieces of waste from his station, first building balls that became the cores of the chest and abdomen and head, joining them together and filling and refining their shapes with patient deft fingers until they formed a recognizably human form nearly four feet tall. Over weeks and months the arms and legs and hands and feet had formed in his hands. Now it was nearly complete, the face human and the lips smiling. He was finishing the wings. After that would be the last touch on the feet, and it would be ready.

From the single pocket of his thin tatter-hemmed cotton pants he drew out a small wadded mass of wrong-color-wrong-size swooshes that had been in his materials bin in the morning, forgotten leftovers from the last run. He smoothed them out quickly with nimble, scarred fingers and laid them along a rough-barked branch at his side; with a heavy curved shoe-soling needle and thread he kept skewered through the cloth of his waistband under his rope belt, he attached them along the edges of the doll’s left wing like feathers; they matched the size of swoosh-feathers already on the other wing, but blue to the red he sewed on now. The doll was a riot of color. It was a secret rainbow, a bold kaleidoscope in a life of dim spaces and dirt and clay and worn-down everything and brown and black and gray. He worked feverishly until he heard the chime of the three minute warning that ended lunch. He shoved the doll into the hollow, bent it in half and pushed hard to secure it up deep in the ancient trunk away from rain and any unlikely eye that might pass. The doll was tough. Unlike his work, which he did haste-over-quality to the orders of his bosses, he was sewing the doll to last. After it was secure, he ran down the branches with the same swift familiarity that moved his fingers at the sewing machine. He snatched the plate up from the moss and hurried inside to fill the afternoon bin.

As he walked across the work floor there was weeping; he heard it but did not register it. It was as regular an occurrence as the rising and setting of the sun. The ones crying were the three or four littlest ones who had not filled the first bin and so had not been fed. The slowest of them showed long red welts on his hands and cheeks, and he moved gingerly at his chattering machine – more welts unseen under gray rice-sack shirt, across the shoulderblades and across the tops of thin shoulders from the tough, flexible bamboo switches the overseers carried. They carried them pushed through their belts and sashes, the switches hanging like swords.

Though it had been some time since Caleb had felt them, still there were dark lines on the skin of his back that would be years fading, if they ever did. When he bathed, his mother would touch them lightly with her fingers, fingers rough and chip-nailed with cleaning and cooking and mending and hauling water and charcoal, fingers gentle and comforting despite their rough surface. And she would make a small sound of disquiet, the sound of stifled wishes for a better life, wishes she had spoken aloud when he was very young, before he had to go to work – the sound of wishes stillborn and buried like the unlucky siblings she had brought forth before and after him.

And through the automatic movements of Caleb’s hands and the chattering of the sewing machine and the filling of the bin beside him, the workday ended and left him free to go home to his shack, to his single room and the evening meal, rice with beans and onions and maybe even a few scraps of meat. The morning meal was just fuel, nothing more, but if there was anything to make food taste good in the house it would be in the dinner pot. He walked home in the dying last light of the sun, to half-fill his belly (there could never be enough food, could there?) and fall asleep as quickly as he could. He would need his strength for work tomorrow, same as every day but Sunday.

As the days passed, sleep-eat-work-eat-sleep-eat-work-eat-sleep, a weird, unfamiliar feeling grew in him. He couldn’t figure out what it was – he wondered if he was coming down with some illness like the kids who worked the chemical and asbestos plants always were. He felt restless. Almost lightheaded. As the doll neared completion, as it grew nearer to looking right, the feeling grew bigger and bigger. Distracted, he made more mistakes at the sewing machine; twice he was beaten with the overseers’ slender rods and the overseers went away grumbling at how little he flinched and yelped when they lashed him even though they flailed hard enough to leave blood oozing through his thin shirt.

He wondered what the strange feeling was and it took many days for an answer to come to him. It came as he walked to work yet another morning. The moment it hit him he threw back his head and laughed out loud, still walking – the overseers’ rods found tardies quickly – and the sound of it startled him and he laughed louder, louder, until he was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and tears ran down his cheeks and dripped off his chin to make small dark stars on the parched and dusty pavement, until his ribs hurt and he coughed and choked red in the face and bright sparks floated in his vision and finally the laughter let up and he managed to straighten his steps and walk normally again, breathing hard, still chuckling, the corners of his mouth and his cheeks aching a weird small deep ache because he was smiling and he wasn’t used to smiling. It was a smile that felt like it wanted to stick around and stay for a while, not the half-second little smile he had for his mother or father before bedtime or when new material for the doll fell into his hands, but a broad one that showed teeth. A bold smile.

The weird feeling was hope. A feeling he hadn’t dared feel since mother stopped saying her wishes for a better home and for the money to send him to school out loud, a feeling part of him mistrusted and rejected – when the disappointment comes, it will hurt all the more, you fool, his mind said to him – and part of him wanted to embrace, to welcome home, to keep forever, to hide in a hole in a great old hidden tree, this strange secret hope.

As the workhouse door came into sight he forced his mouth to stop smiling; little made the overseers more suspicious than signs of happiness. Before he had realized what the feeling was, the uncertainty had made him clumsy, unsure; now that he knew, it revitalized him and his hands were fast and sure and the bin beside him seemed to fill itself with shoes. Even the oppressive heat couldn’t flatten him, and he remembered to hide his smile when the overseers were near. When lunchtime came near on the day he knew the doll would finally be done and right he found two shoe soles as if by design, at the bottom of his materials bin, unlikely refugees from a previous worker’s batch.

Since each worker made only half of a pair of shoes over and over, the soles were both for one side, both lefts, but they were small soles that suited the size of his doll: womens’ size six. They were soft and flexible and smooth, scored with the wavy razor slits of dock shoes. Agile, tough soles. Mottled like granite, white and black granules pressed together smooth. Caleb tucked them inside the waistband of his pants where they’d be hidden, rose, and queued for his beans and flatbread.

After he slipped through the break in the fence he skipped down the trail to his tree. His breath came deep and free, his hands swung free and high at his sides, his toothy grin spread wild and free like blooming flowers across his face. He hadn’t skipped since…

…since he was five years old, coming home from his first day of work, near midnight with the moon peering tarnished through low clouds yellowed by the belches of third-shift factories, hands bloody and ragged with punctures from the sewing machine’s needle, empty stomach growling and cowering against his backbone like a whipped animal, a maze of welts blazed by the overseers’ bamboo rods hot under his shirt and down his arms, the blood oozing from the welts’ swollen ridges, the rough cotton of his clothing clinging to the blood. Halfway home, ashamed at his failure, afraid to face mom and dad with the evidence of his shame seeping through his shirt, he’d tried skipping in bravado to recapture what he’d had just the day before when he played free in the street with his wooden spoon, drawing the outlines of mighty kingdoms and digging the moats of impregnable castles. He’d skipped, a dozen steps each multiplying the awkward artificiality of the last, and stopped, his cheeks burning with a blush of embarrassment for himself.

He hadn’t skipped since. But today on his way to finish his project of many months and many furtively stolen shoe scraps, skipping felt natural, real, right.

So he skipped. Free. Smiling. He paused to dance a little jig on the bank of the canal, stomping down the bits of trash, adding his footprints to the prints of the wild animals. And then he went up the ancient staircase of branches, not climbing, but leaping like a young goat.

In the tree he drew out the doll and sat it in the hollow like a child, feet protruding. It sat as his mother had liked to sit him on a low stone wall when he was very small, to remove his flip-flops and brush dirt and tiny stones from his little feet with her quietly loving fingers. Caleb worked quickly, attaching the soles carefully with stitches of strong cord. Without a machine it was difficult work to drive the big needle through the tough material; it stung even his thick working calluses and he wished for a thimble. He could feel the eye end of the needle sliding through the layers of skin like tiny cold beestings, and he had to give the needle a little tug to free it from his finger when it was time to take another stitch.

As he finished the first sole he became aware that the warning chime had already sounded, maybe a minute before. Now he hesitated: he’d have to finish tomorrow. He’d have to run to make it inside in time, to avoid a beating with those bamboo switches in the merciless hands of the overseers. Half a lifetimeas a dutiful worker pulled at him: Hurry! Can’t be late!

The precious seconds slipped by. Still he sat frozen before the one-soled doll. So close. So close!

He narrowed his eyes and bent his head back down and began to attach the second sole. It would be worth the beating to see it finished. He’d go to it after work and take it home to his sleeping pallet, his colorful companion in his dark home and dull gray life, like the brother he’d always wished for, but one not burnt and buried without a marker in a potters’ field.

Caleb stitched as quickly as he could. The line of stitches grew steadily from his stinging fingers, from high in the instep where a knot drawn in tight would be safe from wear and then forward and around the toe, back down the other side and around the heel…

…and from the footpath came the dry rattle of disturbed brush, faint but slowly growing, growing steadily nearer. Someone was walking – but with caution, it sounded like – down his path!

He worked faster, driving the last few stitches in hard, the needle sinking deeper, all the way through his calluses into raw flesh, hornet stings now, drawing blood that wicked into the thread and was sucked into the doll’s sole as he raced to finish before he was found. Hide the doll and move away, idiot! his self-preservation cried, but he couldn’t. He was so close. He’d worked so hard. It had to be done. Now. Now! He forced the needle to move even faster, stabbing deeper into his flesh, silver shock and electric pain, his blood now greasing his palm and pattering tiny drops from his fingertips like rain to the thickness of all the autumns of dead leaves on the earth below.

The rustling was very close now. Loud. And then it stopped and Caleb heard the suck of mud and wet footsteps.

“See? He was here. Brat was stomping in the garbage. Filthy,” a voice said. A young woman’s voice, sweet in its notes and sour with callous anger, a bright clarinet played by a wrathful sonofabitch. He recognized the voice – one of the overseers, yes. They had seen machine number sixty-four standing empty and had asked who had seen him. And if nobody had reason to tell where he had been going all these weeks and months, also nobody had reason not to tell if they were asked. Nobody in the workhouse had a reason to protect him.

Fingers clamped on the needle so hard against the slick blood they were white at their tips, he drove the final stitch, looped the last knot and bit the thread through. He picked up the doll to stuff it into the safety of the hollow…

…and it leapt out of his hands to the branch above, its – his, Caleb’s new bright brother – wings fluttering more colorful than any bird in the world, the thin rays of sun that penetrated the thick canopy of the great ancient tree glistening from the reds and blues and yellows and oranges and pinks and greens and indigos of the doll’s feathers and skin in a convocation of garish rainbows. The doll looked down at Caleb, its eyes deep wells of subtle, fertile green light, a rich mossy glow. Caleb had never stitched green there. And the doll winked.

“What are you?” Caleb whispered.

“Who. Who am I,” the doll said, eyes narrowing, glaring out cool contempt like the cops on the corner Caleb passed in the mornings.

“Hear? Up in the tree,” a second voice said from the side of the canal below. A second overseer. The angry feet squelched through the mud. Caleb could feel the pressure of their eyes seeking him, like dark rays seeking a path through the leaves from below as the sun’s rays found a path from above.

“I am Hope and Striving, blessing and curse. I am the Jewel from the Mud. Call me Jewel, Broken Rice Boy,” the doll whispered to him, and it launched itself into the sky. Its wings beat the leaves and twigs aside and Jewel surged out into the open air and into the bright sun, his wingspan spread wide and wild and free like a grin against the blue sky. Jewel laughed as he flew out over the canal and workhouses and shanties, higher, higher, reaching for the small cotton puffs of clouds far above.

“There! Playing with birds, stupid brat!”

A thrown bottle whistled sharp and struck him between the shoulder blades and pitched him, stunned, down into the leaves and mud he had bled onto. The ages-thick carpet of leaves cushioned his fall enough to spare him broken bones, but his vision blurred and doubled with pain and shock.

The overseers dragged him by his hair and his bleeding hand, back through the mud of the trail, through the dusty courtyard and up the cracked brick steps, through the little empty kitchen and into the workroom. There they beat him with their bamboo switches as he cowered on the floor. Two hundred and forty-nine sewing machines chattered without interruption and four hundred and ninety-eight eyes followed the switches as they rose and fell and the workers’ hands moved mechanically assembling sneakers and tossing them into their waiting bins. The overseers beat him until he curled into a ball like a fetus and wept.

Eventually the switches stopped coming and one of the overseers seized him and hauled him up by an earlobe so hard it tore with a new bright shock of pain. She forced him to machine number sixty four and threw him into his chair, and another overseer wheeled a second tub of sneaker parts beside the first for him to finish before he left, and they left him sniffling, blood dripping from his torn ear onto his shoulder, his hands moving mechanically to stitch the sneakers as fast as he could – blotting the blood from the fingers his sewing needle had wounded in the tree against the places it wouldn’t be seen, on the inside of uppers and the interior layers of soles – so he could escape. They left him hopeless because his hope had flown away into the sky. His secret rainbow, his kaleidoscope, his color in a world of gray, the brother he had made with his own hands, was gone.

#

END OF INSTALLMENT 1

 

My Patreon Patrons Are Getting A Serial…

…but you can, too! The first installment will be posted here as well as there. Subsequent installments of Broken Rice will be patron-exclusive on Patreon first, but will also appear in ebook form after a short delay! I explain it all over on my Patreon page — but before you click the link, please enjoy the cover art for Broken Rice below. I really enjoyed making it (even if some moments were kind of a pain in the butt) and I’m really pleased with how it came out.🙂

Broken Rice cover

 

Overheard Through an Apartment Wall in a City Orbiting Jupiter

juno_160701

This is a little flash story I cobbled together while feeling adventurous about format and framing of stories. And, as usual, about the future. It seemed fitting to post it following the arrival of the Juno craft at Jupiter.

Hopefully the WordPress text editor won’t make too much of a hash of it — I’ll do my best to keep it looking like it’s supposed to.

This story first appeared as a patron-exclusive post on my Patreon page on July 5th — patrons see most posts 3 days early, stories 30 days early, get free ebooks whenever I publish a new one, and random exclusive stuff on occasion when I come up with something I think my patrons would like.

Help me move the hell out of the trailer park (no, seriously, I live in a goddamn trailer park and I’m NOT a fan of it) by becoming a patron, or buying an ebook or two.

 

 

Overheard Through an Apartment Wall in a City Orbiting Jupiter

 

 

At first he was speaking quietly

 

‘snot like it’s a new thing. People say, they say to me, hey, you’re thirteen hundred years old, man, of course you’ve forgotten best friends and lovers and all that shit shortlifers kill themselves over. But to you, hey, what’s all that? It’s no big, that’s what. It all spins around, you’ve got an age in Pluto years, man, and all we pygmies under three digits are like just dust swirlin’ ’round in the bright lightsocket, yeah.

 

 

but as he spoke his voice became louder

 

But what do those people know? They know nothin’. Nothin.

 

 

and I heard glass breaking

 

They think it’s cool, forgetting best buds and how we became so, just burnt out of there like a synapse forest fire, forgetting lovers, wives, husbands, even kids? To forget them and never remember ’til you read on a newsite how they died saving six people from decompression mapping out mineral deposits in the greasy guts of Orcus or they’re a loved great-times-six grandmother survived by who knows how many hundreds and you can’t remember her name until it says what it was in the obituary? And it’s not the years, it’s not the years, there are still a couple hundred of us in the first wave of the bioimmortal and far as I know all the rest all the damn rest still remember who’s important, hell, most of the most important to all of us are all the rest of the first wave, but

 

 

followed by a sob

 

oh I don’t know. Maybe they’re like me, just like me, maybe that’s how we get this old, throwing off dead leaf memories in the fall like the trees in the north when the winds start coming cold. How would I know. Dont’ talk to one of them. The years don’t make me forget. They never made me forget. I remember Tinisia, I can remember her a thousand years away, tiny little thing, graceful, her making coffee was a ballet, I remember her name and how she laughed and the smell of her skin in the morning after and last I heard she headed out in a whole hollowed-out asteroid balloon full of longlifers to see what’s around what star I can’t remember but they thought it might have two or even three Earths worth living on around it, big fat red simmering campfire with a Goldilocks the size of half a Solar system. Take them ten thousand years or maybe twenty and odds are I’ll be here to hear and not remember a damn thing I can’t forget Tinisia or

 

 

and I strained to hear another voice but there was only his growing softer again

 

But the rest, the rest, my own daughters, my own sons, they have no names any more and some of them are still alive out there and I don’t know

 

 

in a steady stream of words. If someone else had been there, I never would have known.

 

and I should know. I don’t know. If friends and family are what life is about then fuck them I’ve never lived or maybe I did but I’m not now and that’s bull, I have lived, I do live, I don’t need

 

 

Even when he wasn’t speaking, I heard faint sobbing. He never stopped speaking or sobbing. Not until

 

don’t need I don’t need shit.

 

 

the end when I heard footsteps

 

Ah, I sound like a brat baby fifty years old just figurin’ it out thumb in mouth. Was I fifty? Must have been, got here. ‘magine what it was for people in the old days, old west when the data roamed wild and free under the blue sky and never past the moon, takes a hundred years just to figure out how it all works, how all the things and people go together and bounce ’round and most all of it doesn’t matter a damn ‘cept if it makes you all happy right that moment, most all of it, who cares, nobody cares, not worth rememberin’ but worth it in the moment, and it all goes ’round, ’round, ’round, and much under a hundred it don’t make no sense but ’round then you figure it all out and the world starts to sorta work in a way you can get

 

 

and the door opened

 

my dad, what was his name, Chuck or Chas or Channing or Cher, a C-word, that was him, doesn’t matter his name he was a damn baby and died, fifty years old didn’t have time to know he didn’t know, and how old was I you expect me to know what happened when I was a snotnosed brat? Didn’t know anything then. Wasn’t nobody worth remembering.

 

 

and he paused

 

Not him, not me. Not who knows how many billions. Nobody knows.

 

 

and the door closed. I only heard a few more words.

 

Can you imagine what the world was like, when everyone died before they had time to figure out what it was all about? Wish I could ask

 

 

 

END

Primalist “Weekend BCE” Event Marred By Arrests: Science Fiction News Network 2259

teepee-1149402_1920-pixabay-cc0-pubdom.jpg

 

For over 50 years Primalists have been gathering for “Weekend BCE,” in which they attempt to emulate life as it was for rural hunters and gatherers over 2,000 years ago. They gather on Earth Day weekend, the last full weekend of April, for an extended contention, beginning on Thursday and conducting closing ceremonies at Monday noon.

For over 50 years Primalist gatherings have also been a subject of controversy, often accompanied by arrests and even violence, which organizers attribute to “radical elements” in Primalism. Critics believe that Primalism itself is a radical element without a place in civilized society.

“Much of the past was truly atrocious, and the farther back you go the worse society was,” Nile Pensington, President of the North America Primalism Association, said. “We consciously reject those elements and focus on the lifestyle of the individual person, leaving the stains of the past – racism, sexism, slavery, animal cruelty, war, genocide – in the past. Our purpose is to live closer to a natural existence, in tune with the ecosystem and the lives of the plants and animals.”

Despite these lofty ideals, Primalism is often identified with their controversial practice of eating non-cultured meat and disconnecting from Civil Augmented Reality during Primalist retreats – and often in their own homes or even when out in public.

“These practices skirt the intent of existing North American law, though they observe the technical letter,” North American Lower House Parliament candidate (Social Republic Party – New England) Marian Hao said in a stump speech at a SRP rally in Tabasco province on the 19th (translated from Spanish). “When I take my Lower House seat I will introduce a bill criminalizing disconnection from our shared augreal consensus. Division weakens us, shared reality unites. We will also fight to make any use of animals, living or dead, for meat, fur, or hide illegal. The only valid and humane way to treat animals is as valued companions, sources for cell sampling under local anaesthetic, or, best of all, left free in the wild.”

And of course, there is that “radical element” which Primalists are unable or unwilling to purge from their membership.

With the exception of three arrests for misdemeanor improper trash disposal and one for felony dumping of biohazardous waste into a reservoir or reservoir headwater, the 112 arrests during Weekend BCE originated from that radical element. Drone-gathered evidence yielded charges of assault, rape, and animal cruelty, with the latter being the majority with 89 arrests.

Although the official North America website for Primalism states that an exception for the slaughter of animals allowing humane means (administration of surgical anasthetic by a licensed veteranarian) is not only an allowed anachronism but is absolutely mandated, radical Primalists seem to delight in using primitive means of slaughter, stringing chains or cords between the Achilles tendons and leg bones of live, suffering animals, hoisting them struggling into the air, and slitting their throats. The practice causes the animals to bleed out slowly, ending their lives with prolonged torture.

“The practices of Primalists are nothing short of barbarism,” Hao said. “If we do not outlaw their practices, outlaw Primalism altogether, their regressive ethics will reinfect society with ancient ills and nothing but ruin can come of it.”

Broken Rice: Word Cloud 2

Word cloud -- Broken Rice at 14k post rewrite

A month ago, I posted a word cloud for a work in progressBroken Rice. It was around 8,000 words long then.

 

Since then, I reached a “I don’t know what to do with this next” point, then let the story sit for a while and worked on other things, then picked it back up recently for a major rework.

 

I liked a lot of things about the story and basic premise. Other things weren’t working for me at all. That’s why I took a break on writing it. I do that quite a bit. I start stories, then set them aside and come back days or weeks later. Sometimes I accumulate quite a few half-finished stories. When my pattern of working works well, it forms sort of a natural cycle with periods of drought and periods of plenty. I’ll finish nothing for a couple of months, then knock out a spate of finishes all of a sudden.

 

Broken Rice needed major work. When I picked it back up I overhauled it completely. I radically changed the setting, the personality of the main character, some major plot elements. I had to rewrite from stem to stern, making everything make sense again, then rewrite a second time so everything felt and sounded right, so everything fit in again, had the right new tone and the right new mood.

 

I really didn’t want to change the story so radically. But I had to. It’s hard to explain — you have to be invested in what you’re writing enough to kill it or alter it beyond recognition, sometimes. Get too attached to finishing exactly what you’ve started and you can find yourself writing a lot of meh. I don’t like writing meh.

 

Times like this, I’m so happy not to have hard deadlines. That’s an aspect of being self-published that is a great advantage… unless you let it turn into procrastination. Which I’m sorry to say has happened before and it won’t happen again please don’t be mad I’m probably not as much of a stereotypical GenX slacker as you think.

 

But, back to the story.

 

I’m not sure it will be finished soon. I have a general idea for an ending and some general ideas of what may happen along the way. From 8,000 words I’m now at 14,000. Maybe there are 5,000 more words in this one. Maybe 10,000. But the words keep coming in little chunks of 500 or so in stolen moments deep into the wee hours when everyone else is asleep or when I wake up early. So I keep writing them.

 

The more of them I write, the better I like the story now. That’s a good sign.

 

The word cloud changed quite a bit. Compare and contrast!

Read This Insane Press Release From Trump IX (SciFi News Network 2204)

Militaristic Trump is militaristic.png

06 January 2204

Reuters Buzz

Above: Propaganda image of Trump I, President of the United States (pre-schism) 2016-2019. In the Eastern (Schismatic) United States, Trump I is depicted as the father of his nation and a strong military leader. In fact, Donald Trump I was assassinated by a right-Anarchist “Sovereign Citizen” in early 2019 after a divisive but ineffective partial term in office marked by internal intercultural violence, mass riots, and an escalating police state.

Financial troubles led to the de facto withdrawal of the United States from world affairs during his term in favor of addressing growing internal instability. He was succeeded first by his Vice-President Mike Pence, then by the last president of the pre-Schismatic United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2020 – both equally ineffective presidents who expanded the internal police state while failing to suppress civil disorder.

It wasn’t until 2023 that Donald Trump’s son Eric (Trump II) led the Schismatic Coup, establishing the Trump dynastic “democratic republic” and severing the country into the Eastern and Western Schismatic United States along the strategic Mississippi River, today lined with walls and fortresses, most dating to the 21st century.

To this day, neither nation recognizes the other’s existence and officially refuses the label“Schismatic,” used by the United Nations World Federated Government, of which the Western United States is a member (since 2119) and which was in 2114 (continuous to today) recognized by the UN as the successor state of the old USA.

(Editorial additions and clarifications are indicated by italic text.)

Full statement of His Excellency President George Washington Lincoln Ronald Wilson Reagan Donald Trump IX, 9th President of the (Schismatic Eastern) United States of America and Defender of the Christian Faith, in his 7th Duly Elected Term of Office, Upon the successful ground test of the most Modern and Powerful (2nd generation, used by the UN beginning in 2084 and retired from official service in 2113) high-efficiency ion drive spacecraft engine and orbital kinetic bombing technology, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE courtesy of Fox-USA Authorized Presidential News Agency:

Scientists of the (Schismatic Eastern) United States of America startled the world in an event to be specially recorded in the history of the USA, which spans 597 years from the founding of Jamestown. This is an exciting period in which all service personnel and People (sic: nonstandard capitalization throughout is as presented in the original press release) of the USA are making a giant stride, performing miracles and turning out as one united people in the all-out charge to hasten the Final Victory of the revolutionary cause of the Founders and the America First Trumpite GOP Party.

In joint operations, ion drive testing in the outskirts of the industrial district of Charleston, West Virginia and orbital kinetic weapons released from high-altitude atmospheric drones (the UN has maintained a no-fly zone above 50,000 meters over the WSUSA and interdiction of any orbital or interplanetary operations since the establishment of the UNWFG in 2045) in the Army-Airforce Testing Range in the ruins of Vacated St. Louis, Missouri proved that the technological prowess of the United States is the equal of any in the world. The tests were conducted perfectly and demonstrated unprecedented power release from both the ion drive and the kinetic orbital weaponry.

These tests prove the USA the equal and Better of the so-called United Nations World Federated Government and demonstrates the Spirit of our Most Dignified nation now equipped with the most Powerful orbital kinetic deterrent. These tests are measures for self-defense the USA has taken to firmly protect the Sovereignty of the country and the vital right of the nation from the ever-growing orbital and interplanetary threat and blackmail by the UN-led hostile forces and reliably safeguards the peace of the Ancestral Territory of the United States.

In world history there has been no precedent of such deep-rooted, harsh, and persistent policy as the hostile policy the UN has pursued towards the USA. The UN is a gang of cruel robbers which has worked hard to bring disaster to the USA, not content with having imposed the insane and unheard-of political isolation, economic blockade, and military pressure on it for the mere reason that it has differing ideology and social systems. The USA will Never yield to the UN’s ambition for aggression and conquest.

The United States, along its entire border including the seacoasts and the Mississippi River border with the bastard Nazi-Communist false “Western United States” rebellion illegally protected by the United Nations, has long been the world’s biggest hotspot of danger of war as the United Nations has lined the land, air, sea, and space itself with its largest and most threatening forces and weapons, including massive orbital strike groups and continuous high-altitude EMP-bomb drone coverage. Under continuous assault of economic sanctions and conspiratorial and false “human rights violations” accusations, the UN has desperately attempted to block the USA from building a thriving nation and improving the living standards of the People, and has attempted to sabotage the social system of the USA.

The USA’s access to orbital kinetic weaponry of Justice, standing against UN aggression and threats to attack with enormous forces, preserves the legitimate right of a Sovereign state for self-defense and a step for Justice immune to the insinuations of UN propagandists.

Genuine peace and security cannot be achieved through the UN’s campaign of humiliation or through compromise at the negotiating table. The present-day grim reality clearly proves once again the immutable truth that the Great Destiny of the United States of America can only be defended by our own efforts to Make America Great Again – by force of arms at home and abroad.

(This post appeared on my Patreon page 3 days before it appeared here, on the 18th. Become a patron and see posts early, get free ebooks THIRTY DAYS BEFORE RELEASE, and also you get my eternal thanks for being part of getting me the hell out of this damnable trailer park!)

13 Word Story: LGMs

13-word-story-LGMs-pregnant-woman-1130612_1920-pixabay-cc0-pubdom

This one probably falls into the realm of science fantasy — but then, people have said that before about a number of things and turned out to be wrong.

There have always been fanciful ideas about how to solve the perennial human problem of famine and plain old food insecurity. They started, I assume, with the first person to say “hey, let’s stay in one place instead of wandering and we can plant these seeds in the ground near our place so we always know where to find food.”

Unless the first person to say that  was persecuted as a blasphemer against the nomad gods. Then, maybe it was the second person to say it, or the tenth.  Which is a scenario that has occurred to me before — it’s the premise of my short story, The Always-House People. (which happens to be free, by the way)

But back to the subject at hand.

There was Swift’s A Modest Proposal with its satirical suggestion of roast children dinner; more seriously, churches and monarchs and charitable organizations and nation-state governments have taken hands at feeding the famine-stricken throughout recorded history. Even more time and energy has been devoted to increasing crop yields through all sorts of means — different growing methods, developing better fertilizers, breeding plants and livestock for improved yields, and lately (and controversially in many cases) directly manipulating the DNA of plants and livestock. And so on.

Closer to this somewhat fanciful idea of green humans sunbathing for part of their sustenance is the proposal to shrink the future human race to an average height of 50 centimeters (about 20 inches). Less biomass, less food and fewer resources to maintain, and therefore less famine — plus less pollution, less scarcity of other resources, and so on.

It would be easy enough to do both, I suppose. Imagine being a tiny green human sunbathing for breakfast and then lunching on a slice cut from a rabbit ham so large in comparison to you it’ll last your family a week.

Any suggestion to fiddle with the genes of just about anything, though, wakes the memory of thousands upon thousands of science fiction tales of technology gone wild. Or, mostly ancestral to those, tales of magic and wishes gone wrong — think of the old tales of the Golem and Pandora’s Box and the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel. All stories in which the quest for knowledge is somehow destructive.

Those tales are pretty irresistible as a reader or a writer. Things do go wrong. Actions have unintended consequences constantly. Human history and storytelling revolve around such stories because they’re stories of life and trying. Tryers fail.

So I hope this story gave you a little chuckle, and maybe inspired a thoughtful moment. As for how possible it is… I’m not a biologist of any description. But it would amuse me to no end if we turned out to be the LGMs, the little green ‘men’ aliens, accidentally pollinating one another.

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