Category Archives: Writing

Confession of a reading writer: it takes me forever to read a collection of short stories…

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From Short Circuit which you might remember if you’re KINDA OLLLLLD

…because the nature of short stories, for me, demands slow consumption (I wonder if that’s why I almost always write them slow, too. Putting them down halfway through for days or even longer before finishing them. Hmmmm).

I don’t mean short stories are automagically HALLELUJAH THE CLOUDS PART AND A RAY OF EPIPHANY TRANSFIXES MY SQUIRMING LITTLE BRAIN when I read them.

I mean, if they are decently written and the story is my cup of tea (I have diverse tastes in tea; I’m not very picky) and the story has something to say about something rather than just being a sequence of stuff happening just to have stuff happening — then it takes me forever to read a collection or anthology or ‘zine or whatever grouping they’re in.

It takes all that time because when I finish a short story, I have to put the book down and let the thoughts and feelings it inspires rattle around in my subconscious for a while. Sometimes I can read two in a row before I have to stop.

Otherwise the feelings and thoughts get all muddy, and I start feeling all bloated and sickly, kind of like if you sit down for dessert and cram a quarter of a double chocolate cream cake AND a big plate of tiramisu AND a gigantic plate of flan down your gullet all in the space of fifteen minutes.

I don’t know about you, but if I do that I end up all pukey and unhappy and regretful. I wish I’d just had one dessert and saved the others for later.

That’s how I read short stories, to avoid that pukey regret and savor the deliciousness. And to drag the metaphor out a little farther, if the dessert is a bunch of plain ol’ slabs of cheapo junkfood factory cake (uninspired little ‘look a thing is happening who cares’ stories), I could pig out and eat ten or something. Because who cares, it’s just meh. It’s not like you’re going to miss anything if you cram them down your throat with the heel of your hand one after another after another after another after another without really tasting them.

But why would I want to? Where the good (and great) stories have me stopping after one or two so I can digest and savor the memory, the meh ones have me stopping after one or two because WHO CARES OH MY GOD I’M BORED.

I hear there are people who can read through a whole collection, even a long one filled with STELLAR stories, in one sitting. Just chow down a dozen profound and excellent short stories with tons to say one after another.

Y’all are weird. But, hey. It takes all kinds.

You weirdos. Seriously, you weird me out. Have I mentioned I find it weird?

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If you don’t recognize this I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE ANYMORE WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON A WRITER GEEK’S BLOG

A new installment of Broken Rice…

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…is available!

I’ll update this page as it appears in various venues. So far it’s at Amazon and Smashwords.

This is the fourth of six or seven installments depending on how things go while I’m writing the conclusion — one consequence of my outline-and-planning-free writing style is that I’m not often good at predicting final wordcounts. After it’s done I’ll release an omnibus and a print edition. At a projected 30-35,000 words, it will be the longest thing I’ve written. Right now it’s right around 20,000 words, equal to my previous record in Isolation, the title story in the Isolation and Other Stories collection.

So, why the heck am I writing a serial? And why was there a long pause between installments three and four?

Because I’ve been hit or miss in terms of finishing my work on longer stories. I have several projects that have been waiting at 10,000 or 20,000 words for me to finish them. I’ve let myself be derailed into turning to shorter projects and finishing those instead. But that’s not a good pattern for a writer to be in.

Writers need to finish their writing, dammit!

So a serial seemed like a good way to make a public commitment to finishing a story. I started this project to light a fire under my butt. By following through here, I demonstrate to myself that this unfortunate pattern of leaving long stories lie fallow for months or years before finishing them is unnecessary. I show myself that I can finish what I started. And I force myself to figure how how to motivate myself to do it.

Sometimes we realize that something is wrong, and it needs fixing.

It won’t get fixed unless we work on it with a seriousness.

So here I am, working with a seriousness. And I get a finished story out of it, and I hope you’ll find you got a good read out of it.

People Kibble: SciFi News 2033

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US in Ottawa Newsletter
January 22, 2033
Patrick Chowdhury Melendez
 
President Trump Jr. “Fights Hunger” With People Kibble
 
Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Jr. announced a USA-wide anti-hunger program from the so-called “press vault” in Trump Tower in NYC (the de facto White House since 2021) at 5:15 this morning.
Press coverage was limited to fifteen reporters representing the “Gang of Seven” Trump regime-approved media organizations. A source within Trump Tower confirmed that those reporters were brought into the tower during the inauguration for sequestration and “extreme vetting.”
The source also stated the initial number of reporters admitted was sixteen, two per media org. The sixteenth reporter did not appear in footage of the press conference released by Vice President (and former President) Eric Trump. The whereabouts of that reporter are unknown. US in Ottawa staff and other expatriate press speculate that Reporter Sixteen may be Miles DeGuzmen of the popular morning Fox News “Trumping the World” segment, which has been guest-hosted by Sean Spicer since January 19th.
Trump Jr.’s “anti-hunger” program, “Making Americans Healthy,” follows two years of widespread simmering protest and riots in the wake of President Eric Trump’s 2031 federal-level outlawing of the last state-level food stamp, EBT, and WIC legacy programs. Federal welfare programs, including food and financial assistance, were ended in 2023.
Riots were especially intense in spring of 2032 following the revelation of the February malnutrition deaths of Mrs. Jackie Pillman of Little Rock, Arkansas and her kindergarten-age twins, Steven and Stephenie. The President announced that he was “working on a solution” in his Thanksgiving day address to the nation that year. He also vowed to “plug news leaks” in his remarks, thought to be a reference to the anonymous bloggers who produced the viral stories of the Pillman deaths. No arrests were ever announced, though some night disappearances of suspects were rumored in following months.
“Making Americans Healthy” relies on National Guard detachments (formally placed under federal control in 2021), which are directed to distribute one fifty pound bag of UNGR (Universal Nutrition Granular Recipe, a soy and peanut based, vitamin-enriched food dubbed “Purina Human Chow” in expatriate media) to any citizen who reports in person with two approved forms of federal identification to a distribution point on the 5th and 20th of each month.
“UNGR is a terrific food that provides everything adults and children need to be healthy and well-fed,” President Trump Jr. said in the released presser footage. “The taste is a bit boring, sure. I’ve tried it. But if people are hungry, they’ll come and get it, and they’ll be thankful for it. If they don’t like the taste, great. Maybe they’ll get off their asses and get jobs. There are so many jobs that the CEOs of factories and construction companies come to me every day begging me to find them workers.”
Independent economic analysts in the EU and India estimate actual US employment at 25-30%, or 60-65% if the chronically underemployed are included. US figures, released by law exclusively by press release from the Oval Office since 2024, place US unemployment at a radically unlikely 2.2%.

Dear Flying Superheroes: FLY HIGHER

Back in the days when I read more superhero comix, and today when I watch a movie with a flying superhero — especially one with some kind of ranged attack, IRON MAN I’M LOOKING AT YOU — I’m super annoyed when they just happen to fly low enough for an opponent with no ranged attack to grab or hit them.

JUST FLY HIGHER, DUMMY.

“But the plot requires me to get close enough to let my opponent start a thrilling grapple…”

SHUT UP THAT’S LAZY-ASS WRITING.

Same goes for every drama that features a standoff with a gun and the hero stands there holding the gun on the villain as the villain creeps closer and closer until they can just grab the gun. It rarely makes sense. If there’s something about the character holding the gun that makes it make sense, fine. Maybe they’ve just realized that they can’t bring themselves to shoot another human being. Or there’s some overriding reason that shooting and maybe killing the villain would be a terrible idea.

But that’s so seldom the case. More often than not, it’s a contrived situation to up the tension.

Don’t be lazy and write things that don’t make sense. If you want more tension or whatever, and it doesn’t make sense, GO BACK AND WRITE IT DIFFERENTLY SO IT MAKES SENSE.

If the tiger catches the drone, make sure there’s some internal logic to it.

Sometimes I Forget To Mention It Here And I Have No Idea Why…

…but I do maintain a Patreon page. Because I am a poverty-stricken writer (yes, actually under the poverty line for a family of 5. Or even 4 if you count my college student stepson as an adult, even though his full time job is college student and he lives here with the rest of us in our itty-bitty trailer), and while the readers I have are wonderful and sometimes even take a moment to tell me so on Twitter or in a review…

…and because Patreon is now a way for creators to make a wee bit more money than they would if they can think of something to offer people who like what they do, and I can — for example, I just posted some brand-new microfiction over there…

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…and often I post it over here eventually, but not always. And I never post links to free ebook copies over here, but I do over there for my $5 or more patrons…

…so, yeah. I’m a big fan of supporting the arts, and these last few years I have become part of the arts. If you’d like to see some of my arts before other people get to see them, Patreon is the place to go.

Thanks for reading. Wherever you read.

Citizen Performance Reviews Eased: SciFi News Network 2222

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BB Homeland Authorized News

Cleared by DHS-Press

Staff

Washington, D.C.

January 1, 2222

In the spirit of the new year and new beginnings, President Maria Tombaugh is authorized by DHS and the Supreme Board of Directors to issue an Executive Order easing the standards of Citizen Performance Reviews and the penalties and solutions for failing to meet standards.

Revocation of citizenship and deportation to Stateless Internment in Nevada, Alaska, Alabama, or Indiana camps is now reserved to citizens who fail three, rather than the previous standard of two, consecutive performance reviews.

Manufacturing quotas for Stateless facilities increase 1% with the new year as per standing policy. Quotas at new facilities will be set 5% lower than in established facilities for a two year “break-in” period.

Remediation Residential Programs for citizens who fail performance reviews have been expanded from three to five, with new camps opening in Montana and Mississippi in addition to the established program facilities in California, Missouri, and North Carolina. Remediation programs are expanded from eight to thirteen weeks residence, the President’s response to a 2220 SBD directive to improve the current 55% graduation rate to meet a 75% goal by 2228. Notice to report to RRPs has been eased from two days to five. “I believe citizens having sufficient time to prepare for their service will improve graduation rates by reducing the number of citizens who discover they have lost property or residence upon their return from RRPs,” the President said in authorized and DHS cleared remarks. In following remarks he made it clear that losses are the sole responsibility of affected citizens, quoting the exact text of official DHS and RRP materials provided to remediates.

Performance reviews for citizens will increase the weight of employer reviews from 33% of the score to 45%, with the remaining percentages changing to 25% credit score and 30% social media and public speech score. Unemployed citizens are no longer theoretically able to achieve a passing performance review score of 60% from the two other factors. “Let this serve as notice that the United States will have full employment and freeloaders will not be tolerated.”

As always, students in compulsory K-5 education and students who go on to higher education via scholarship or purchase of and satisfactory progress in government-licensed middle, high, and university schools up to completion of a Baccalaureate degree may present grades in lieu of employer review.

Medical exemption for unemployment is expanded to fifteen rather than twelve months in a ten-year period when approved by a licensed medical professional. An additional six months is available for injuries or illnesses that are directly linked to occupational hazards including accidents if the injured party is not at fault more than 10% at the ruling of an arbitration panel or judge. Military and DHS members retired with 35 years of service and select high-level federal and state political officers retired with 20 years or more of service are, as before, considered to have a maximum employer review regardless of employment status.

Congress has also applied for authorization to submit and consider a bill reducing fees for First Amendment permits including Peaceful Assembly, Approved Press or Citizen Press, or Minority Religion. Details are unavailable as the Supreme Board of Directors has not cleared details of the bill for discussion beyond officeholders in Congress and the Executive branch.

Supreme Director Arlexa Weems of MS-Apple and All-American Nanocircuit LLC criticized the potential bill, saying that making FA permits less expensive “invites the Wild West of misinformation, slander, and terrorism that marked the civil unrest and informational chaos of the early twenty-first century.” Her counterproposal is to fix permit costs to the index of inflation plus 2% to discourage “casual trolls whose only interest is anarchy.” Weems also criticized Congress as a “liberal enclave” whose “overly forgiving impulses must be held in check in order to preserve the smooth and profitable function of the grand business venture that is the United States of America.”

Political analysts believe the SBD is likely to split approximately 75 members to 25 in favor of Supreme Director Weems’ proposal.

*********

So, let me ask you: how could the United States get here from where we are now? Can you imagine a way?

This appeared on my Patreon page one week before it appeared here. Patrons get to see the good stuff early – it’s a way for my poor writerly butt to make a few extra bucks to ease my family’s trailer-bound existence.

God Won’t Let The Climate Change: 13 Word Story

 

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So, I haven’t done one of these in a while. In the last months of the presidential campaign and the aftermath, well, the distraction of watching this all unfold was distracting. I had trouble writing anything but deep dystopia. I managed to create some wordage, but it was a bit of a slow stretch  for three or four months.

But here I am, production ramping up again. Maybe next time something distracting befalls the world, I’ll be a little better at keeping the creative juices flowing. This little episode did a pretty good job reminding me that I’m still learning the ropes and will be until I die — which is what all the more successful people who do stuff do, I hear.

But anyhow.

This one, of course, is inspired by the ideology-driven denial of either the human role in climate change, the actual fact the climate is changing, or both.

And of course the title is dedicated to the people around the world who take their faith as incompatible with climate change, or a round Earth, or a heliocentric solar system, or whatever other observed data they choose to disregard, thinking it opposed to their beliefs.

Of course, there are plenty of people who have some sort of faith — one of the established ones, Deism, Pandeism, animism, whatever else — who have no trouble at all accepting that what we observe about the universe is actually what we observe about the universe. And of course there are the various flavors of atheist (myself included) who just go with the data as best as we can interpret it, but can also appreciate how awesome, beautiful, and sometimes scary things like flowers, babies, galaxies, changing climates, and all kinds of other stuff are.

Paying attention to politics, I have heard (read) some of our lawmakers say things like the title of this story. Or that the oil or coal we’re mining cannot run out because a deity will restore it at our need.

Well, even if you do believe that Earth is a creation and a deity appointed humans the stewards of it, that seems pretty silly to me. Not to mention a bad way to raise a worldful of humans.

Would any of us raise a kid like that? “Hey, kiddo — this is your room. It’s yours. Go ahead and rip up the floorboards, pee in the corners, punch holes in the walls. I’ll pop by and fix everything up perfect for you again, leaving you to learn nothing but how to be a spoiled rotten brat with total contempt for the good things you have.”

That seems like an awful idea. So not only do I, as an atheist, not believe that a deity will come and save us from the consequences of our actions, I, as a father, think that would be a very poorly thought out path for a deity of any intelligence whatsoever.

So maybe more of us humans, regardless of belief system, should be worrying a bit more than we do about this planet of ours? Just a thought…

 

[This appeared on my Patreon page on the 22nd, a week before it appeared here. So, you know, becoming a patron is a great way to see a lot of posts early, plus you can receive free ebook copies and even signed paperbacks of stories and collections I publish!]

Flash Fiction: Under Ashes

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“Anything worth a damn is made on a coast and ships from a coast. By air or sea.”

That’s what the president said. At least, it’s what was reported on the shadow web that snakes through the makeshift network of “smart” stoves and washing machines and automobiles (if you can afford them!) and can openers and athletic shoes and disposable razors and anything else with WiFi and an app.

The authorized news, on the other hand, ran a piece on how the economy was so gloriously rampant and virile that airlines have formally discontinued coach and business class seating, leaving nothing but a spacious expanse of first class and super luxury class seating in their cavernous airliners.

The anchorbot’s perfect on-air voice floated like a cloud behind the image of an iron-haired general, her chest a solid plastron of stars and ribbons like a compacted galaxy. Her feet were up on an ottoman and a masseusebot worked the suspension bridge of corded tendons in her neck with eight-fingered silicone hands.

Then, as the anchorbot droned a lulling narrative bridge, a puffy gilded teen cherub sat with a megaplatinum record from Motherland Records on a hefty wood base with a tall glass cover occupying a seat of it own beside her. A stewbot cracked the claws of a four pound lobster with deft blurs of a little brass gavel and slid the laden tray before the starlet who tucked into the chow with a flood of melted butter.

Finally, the anchorbot burbling upbeat and drawing to a conclusion, the vid showed a man in an immaculate dark suit and bright tie. The men are always first or last, symbolic frames of the stream of words and images, carrying with them weight and importance, tangibility. The lights and vids of an array of three monitors suspended from the ceiling (the “overhead” on an airplane, is it called?) flickered gem-reflections off the heavy steel rims of harsh six-angled eyeglasses. His hair was a blond cap, waxed down like a helmet. Sideburns trimmed to stilettos stabbed the angles of his jaw in the new style I can’t get used to. A trackball in each hand, he Does Important Things for the cameras.

The images fade to the state news logo and the anchorbot climaxes and relaxes into a commercial.

We all have televisions so we can see how good things are. We may not have hot water, or even running water. We only have electricity part-time. I can’t afford the simplest drugs to treat my pre-diabetes or even aspirin for my arthritis half the time. I set snares for squirrels or I’d have nothing to go with the endless lumps of hard bread (gotta soak it in a bowl of water to eat it) and cheese the Army hands out to keep us from starving or rioting or both.

But the state provides televisions. A new one every Christmas, even if you forget to bring them the old one to trade in.

We’re doing great, dammit. We’re finally great again. The television tells us so. All the biggest world powers respect us they way they should, the announcerbots say.

Just outside the city line – I can see it from the kitchen table in this two room shack I’m blessed to share with just two other bachelors – a bot crew and one Christ of a huge fanged combine-thing, driverless and nameless, chews up the old interstate highway and loads the bits into an endless stream of self-driving dumptrucks that take the blacktop south to do God knows what with it. Thin dribs and drabs of snow float through the scene like in a snow globe, and icicles hang from the noses of the workbots. They don’t care, of course.

I hear blacktop is made from oil. Maybe they’re squeezing the oil back out of it to ship to India or China or Brazil. Those places are hungry for oil and any other resources they can get their hands on, the shadow web whispers from the WiFi toilet when I crap. Who knows if it’s true. The television doesn’t say a word about that.

But the stock market is up again, and the Air Force says Fallujah will fall again soon.

There’s going to be a celebration when it falls, next month in DC. The commercial for it is on again. It has been playing twice an hour since spring.

The commercial ends and my gaze falls on the faded cap hanging on its nail across from the window. The cap is gray now, like my hair before it fell out, but you can still see the crimson fire peek out of the deep folds of the seams like ember under ashes.

I wish I could be in DC for the celebration. To wear the cap again, pump my fist in the air and holler again. Full of power, strong like a bear. Those were the days.

But the highway has gone away, and I’m not much for walking anymore. Nobody I know is.

END

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, 02 January 2017. My patrons get to see a lot of things early, and can get free ebooks and even paperbacks! Come help me get the hell out of this damned trailer park and into a place where I can have even a small writing office and maybe even write ALL THE TIME. Well, almost all the time. I do have kids and a wife and a cat to think of as well.)

Starting Late And Dying Young

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So, General Organa — Carrie Fisher — is dead. At sixty. She left behind a hell of a body of work and a trail of lives and souls touched through the characters she portrayed, the stories she worked on, and in person eye to eye.

She’s hardly the only one to die relatively young. It happens all the time. But when someone whose work is widely known goes youngish, you notice.

And it set me to thinking, because that’s what I do. I don’t just write about the near future. I live in it, too, through imagination and worry.

I think, I’m forty-six. Carrie Fisher died at sixty.

My dad died at fifty.

Oh, Christ.

I’m going to croak in four years or maybe fourteen (or fifteen minutes or fifty years, but never mind that). And I wonder, in that self-doubting way I have in my own head, if that means that if I’m lucky I’ll live to see a book of mine sell a whole thousand copies.

If. If I’m lucky, the little voice says. It’s a pessimist. My future vision, no matter howmuch science fiction I read and write, specializes in horror when I’m the only audience.

And it is honed and practiced by my earlier life. The Wasted Years, I sometimes think of them as, despite their worth now in experience and tenacity and other mostly bitter lessons learned at the feet of pain.

People like Carrie — scratch that. I’m talking about her. Carrie worked and built her career through substance abuse and mental illness and her own internal little voices, whatever fear and doubt she had and she alone truly knew.

I didn’t build a damn thing, and that lack hurts me. Like, physically when I think about it seriously. For this reason and that circumstance and whoknowswhat, some of which I’m aware of, it took me thirty years or so from age five to my mid/late thirties to begin to suspect that I might have value as a human and as a creative person. While Carrie worked I hid and devoted myself, monklike, to substance abuse and cowardice and surrender to all the things I didn’t think I could face alone.

Maybe that’s why, in this latest cycle of Star Wars movies, I feel contempt for Luke Skywalker.

And let me be clear: the character, not the actor. While I admire both Carrie Fisher and Leia Organa, I’m not sure I can admire Luke even if Mark Hamill is, I hear, a great guy.

I’m not closing the door on Luke. For all my pessimism, it is born of constantly disillusioned optimism and idealism. I cannot help hoping, even as I cannot help pessimism-ing. They’re in my blood.

But, seriously, fuck Luke Skywalker.

General Organa, from her Princess Leia days, was out fighting the good fight, facing the cold hard world with teeth bared and steel in her spine, standing in the face of disadvantage and danger and fear and worry and her own personal feelings and pains. Like the woman who portrayed her.

And you, Skywalker, you self-involved coward, ran away to hide.

It is easy for me to hate his character because I see a part of me portrayed in him that I despise and regret.

“But live your life without regrets!” you crow.

Oh, stuff it. That’s as dumb as that stupid “No Fear” slogan that was so big a few years back. You can’t learn a damn thing if you pretend the lessons and clues to them don’t exist.

And, to pick up the earlier thread again, I wonder how much time I have. Four years? Fourteen? Fifty?

I wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t spent so many years being a dedicated half-hermit drunk paralyzed by the fear, the near-certainty, that I had nothing to offer the world, nothing to offer even myself.

And I know it doesn’t matter.

The past is gone, the future is unrevealed, and what matters is what I do now.

Now is all I have. And all you have. And all Carrie and General Organa and Princess Leia had.

Some days it’s hard. Living with one foot in the maybe-future, as I must doing what I do, makes me a worrier.

I worry I already blew my chance. That maybe only an S.A. Barton who kept writing in high school and through his twenties and thirties had a chance to make a living and a name writing. That maybe the S.A. Barton I am, the one who blew those years in self-dissipation, cannot no matter how hard he tries. (Oh, gawd. I’m speaking in third person. Shoot me.)

But maybe that me would have been too shallow to be worth much without all these crappy experiences I have survived. And the better experiences that eventually grew from them.

Who knows? Nobody.

Playing the what-if game outside of fiction leads to madness.

I still worry, wonder, regret, rage, fear. And wonder if I’ll have time to make my voice heard widely, to grow into a respected creative voice the way Carrie Fisher did. To make that kind of impact, one that will last many, many years after her untimely departure. I don’t know. It took her a lifetime, didn’t it?

Maybe I can. Maybe I won’t.

But when the worry and regret perch ravenlike in the dark corners behind me, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

I have no time for cowards anymore, whether they are Luke Skywalker or the Ghost of S.A. Barton Past. But I do, in that undying spark of stubborn optimism that hides under my pessimism, believe there’s a chance to be better today, and every today until the todays stop coming, and to find success.

SciFi News Network 2098: Eight Simultaneous Prison Riots Put Down In Hours

(Originally appeared on Patreon, December 16)

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US AP (Federal Approved)

Monday 17 November 2098

Staff

Riots at eight Indianapolis, Indiana-area penetentaries were put down yesterday by automated Lockup Consolidated guards aided by automated SWAT teams from the cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

All eight riots began between 8 and 8:30 Sunday morning. An Indianapolis PD SpoxBot, in a text release marked “reviewed and approved” by Deputy Police Chief W.A. Stoltzy, stated the riots are believed to have been deliberately plotted and coordinated. “So many riots simultaneously occurring in a single district and in such a constrained timeframe are highly unlikely in normal circumstances,” the statement read in part.

An investigation is ongoing.

The riots interrupted production on orders of clothing and furniture kits for markets in the European Union and India, where strong basic income programs have preserved and expanded a mass market for frivolous consumer goods.

Although the riots were ended within 6 hours and with minimal casualties relative to the inmate population (14 dead and 171 injured of 38,500 total inmates), equipment damage pushed back anticipated delivery dates.

“This is going to invoke contractual penalties. Significant monetary penalties that will severely impact revenues,” said Stanley Wallers, the Executive Vice-President of Lockup Consolidated’s Textile Division. “In order to compensate, we anticipate 30 to 60 layoffs of human production and shipping bot supervisors. If there are no more setbacks we may consider opening hiring again in a year or so.”

Lockup Consolidated is among the top 10 employers in the Indianapolis greater metro area, employing over 400 human workers.