I ordered two for me and my boyfriend. They worked ok I guess but whenever we were together they didn’t. I don’t know, like, they made us feel the opposite of what the other person felt. I thought mood rings were supposed to show how you were already feeling, not make you feel a different way. Anyway if I was happy, his ring made him feel sad. If my ring made me quiet and calm, his ring made him all angry and intense. If I’m, you know, “excited” he isn’t. None of the other reviews mention this problem but maybe they didn’t order two. Anyway we tried taking them off but of course only one of us wants to get rid of them at a time thanks to their effect on our moods. But the rings are stuck! No matter what we try they won’t come off. My boyfriend tried to cut through the metal and ended up hurting his finger real bad. I dunno, maybe if we weren’t together the rings wouldn’t effect each other. But we’ve been dating for almost a whole year and I don’t want to give up on us over some stupid rings! So two stars because they don’t work together, but they shipped fast.
The stroller stopped, the bus didn’t.
Bradley pushed through the crowd of incoherent revelers and security guards to arrive at work by midnight. The ball dropped, 2000 pounds of confetti floated, people stumbled home.
Alcohol-soaked streamers covered his push-broom. He’d get a bonus if they cleared the streets by 8am, enough to fix his cello and audition in Manhattan. Enough to pay his rent this month. Most of it anyway.
Talib Kweli thumped through his earbuds as he hurled another pair of black waste bags into the truck. The soles of his second-hand work boots glittered silver and gold in the predawn glow.
“D47,” the intercom wheezed. “D47,” as if Brian would miss his number after waiting 38 minutes in this khaki dungeon full of malcontents on hard benches. He darted to the counter and sat before a bespectacled government employee.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “I would like a usage license for the question mark and exclamation point please.”
“Are you 15 yet?” she had a voice like a leaf falling to the ground. A big crunchy leaf.
“Yes ma’am, and I’ve passed the aptitude tests.”
“For the question mark and exclamation point?”
“Yes ma’am,” Brian placed his papers on the scratched and stained counter.
“The hashtag license is free, but there is a charge for misuse, the semicolon test is much more difficult than either of these, and quotation marks are only licensed to certified journalists. Do you want any other punctuation usage licenses today?”
“What about emoji?”
“There’s no test for the emoji permit, but the fee is $200.”
“Oh. Well. Just the question mark and exclamation point please.”
“$120, and you have to sign the terms and conditions.”
She dropped two file folders on the desk, Brian flipped to the end and pressed his thumbprint on the signature box. He tapped his card on the payment panel and held his breath until the charge cleared his now worrisomely underfunded account.
“Have a nice day young man, your phone will reprogram and update your access right away.”
Brian said “thank you” and hurried outside into the enthusiastic sunlight while D48 shuffled forward. He watched the progress bar’s glacial movement until the phone restarted. Finally, he thought, after weeks of waiting and saving, I can finally ask her out. His fingers darted over the keys:
—Gabriella, I’ve wanted to ask this for a while. Would you like to go to a party this weekend with me?
The stern hanger was gone, a gaping chasm yawned in its place. Bulkhead doors had shut with the alarms a few minutes ago, in an attempt to keep some oxygen inside the Dreadnaught. Most of the crew was dead, most of the systems were down, most of Marta’s body hurt.
She dialed Lorenzo on her wrist-mounted communicator but only got static. Since her ship was gone, she would die on this Flemish wreck unless she found another way back to Oaxaca.
They must have escape pods, Marta hoped, but where are they?
The dark corridors were almost empty. Wounded crew members floated and groaned. Sector Defense Administration torpedoes banged into the Bergen, not that it made much difference at this point.
Marta swung into an open semi-circle room, 20 lit circles ran along the outer wall, most were dim. She saw a group of people, wearing spacesuits, crowded into one of the bright circles. A series of three beeps sounded as the circle shrunk.
“Wait!” Marta shouted, “I’m coming!” She kicked off the wall and shot across the room, the pod door closed.
“¡Mierda!” she swore and pounded on the hatch, “¡Hijo de puta!”
“Hey,” a voice called, “hurry up!”
One escape pod remained, Marta floated onboard and joined the last survivors. There were no controls, so the man at the front hit the button to disengage and launch toward the nearest landmass.
The Liso Ship Repairs service shuttle was old, dilapidated, and rattled a lot. It had a slow pressure leak, and nothing had been replaced or updated in over five years. Lorenzo didn’t put money into that thing, so long as it flew the mechanic to the next job, it was fine.
The Dreadnaught Bergen’s escape pod was bare, uncomfortable, and cramped. But that’s what happens when nine people pack into a pod built for six. The Flemish invested as little as legally required into their escape pods. They didn’t want to admit that they might need them someday.
The SDA had won the battle, but they were not gracious victors. The navigation screen showed three escape pods already near Oaxaca and two in the ongoing firestorm. All the others were shot down or captured.
A piece of debris from one of the fighters clipped their hull as the pod sped toward the ground. More alarms sounded, more red lights flashed. Marta and the other two latecomers had no seats or harnesses.
Entry was turbulent, luckily, Oaxaca has a thin atmosphere. The unsecured passengers bounced around the pod. Marta curled into a ball and tried to protect her bleeding head from any more knocks.
Their damaged escape pod, with only inertial dampers, no reverse thrusters, no airbrake, no chute, struck the moon at an unreasonable velocity. The entire front panel caved in and the pod itself broke apart upon landing. Marta slept through the last bit of this ordeal, what with the blood loss and all.
She awoke to the hot Oaxaca sun with a large shadow crouched over her. The shadow turned and made some noise. Another shadow crouched over her. The shadows melted together into darkness.
She awoke to the hot Oaxaca sun, this time, her eyes focused. “We landed?” Marta asked the group of injured Flemish constructing a little tower.
“Yeah,” one of them replied, “we’re on some moon. The locals call it… I don’t know, something that starts with ‘O.’”
“What are you doing?” Marta sat up and clutched her bandaged head.
“Setting up the distress beacon. We should have some ships left up there, maybe they’ll come and get us.”
Marta stood up and leaned against the warm escape pod. Seven of them milled around the beacon, one was off to the side, covered in a foil blanket. “Only one fatality?”
“Edgar,” someone said. “My brother.”
“We’re lucky, after that landing, we should all be dead.”
Marta looked around and got her bearings, they weren’t that far from town. “Thanks for the ride, but I’m headed back to work.”
“Yeah, I was on the Bergen to fix the engine, I live down here.”
“Oh, well, alright then. Are you sure you can walk?”
Marta started shuffling toward the horizon. “I’ll manage.”
It was just after noon, she still had to fix that turbine.
Marta piloted the service ship directly toward the Dreadnaught Bergen. She even broadcast her trajectory to other vessels within firing range, so no one could say they “accidentally” shot her down. Seven harrowing minutes later, Marta hailed the client.
“Liso Ship Repairs on approach to fix the starboard engine, requesting permission to dock.”
A curt voice replied, “Permission granted, enter the stern fighter hanger.”
Marta retied her hair, which had fallen in a tangle, and landed as instructed. She opened the door and looked down the barrels of four plasma rifles and one stunner.
“I’m sure you understand,” the one with the stunner tried to look sympathetic, “but we need to confirm your identity.”
“Of course,” Marta fumbled in her coverall pockets for her work ID badge and held her wrist up to the security scanner. The little light turned green and the men all holstered their weapons. She exhaled and realized she’d been holding her breath. “I’m looking for Sergeant McGregor.”
A tall man with short black hair, rolled-up sleeves, and a frantic voice approached them. “That’s me, the engine is this way.” Without waiting for a response, he turned around and walked back the way he came. Marta jogged to catch up, the security team found something else to do.
“So what happened to the engine?”
“SDA cannons hit us, you may have noticed we’re in a battle.”
Marta’s lower lip twitched, but she avoided rolling her eyes. “Anything else to help my diagnosis?”
“Extensive damage to the fuel system, we had to shut off the supply before it all burned.” The barrage echoed as they hurried down the corridor. “Just through here.”
Marta turned the corner into the engineering department and her eyes widened. Sparking wires, billowing smoke, rising steam, and melting insulation stopped her momentum. Mechanics ran up and down the 20 meter engine, pouring coolant, siphoning fuel, and panicking.
“We cannot maneuver without this engine,” McGregor claimed. “The thrusters are useless, so we just turn.”
Marta inspected the damage, but she knew right away it was hopeless. “It cannot be repaired. Well, it could, but it would take days to replace all the parts and test it.”
“We don’t have days.”
She rolled her eyes this time. “I know, but if you point the port engine outward, your heading should stabilize. It won’t be the same as two operational engines, but at least you’ll fly straighter.”
“We’ve already adjusted the thrust as far as possible.”
“And you’re still turning in circles?”
“Then we’ll have to adjust it more.”
Marta commissioned a hydraulic jack, a concussive grenade, and every available crew member to reposition the port engine. The exhaust ignited the rear fairings and destroyed one of the observatory decks, but navigation confirmed they were flying true.
She held the invoice tablet out for McGregor’s signature.
“You didn’t fix the engine,” he argued, “and you caused quite a lot of additional damage.”
“I saved the ship,” Marta countered.
The Sergeant signed the screen and transferred the second half of his payment.
“If you win,” Marta said as she tucked the tablet into her bag and started back to her ship, “come by the shop and I’ll see about that engine.”
A massive explosion rocked the Dreadnaught and Marta slammed into the wall. Red lights flashed and alarms rang. The noise was unbearable. She staggered to her feet and ran three steps before a second blast sent the floor racing up to meet her face. Marta wiped the blood from her forehead and tried to refocus her vision. She didn’t even notice that the alarms had stopped, the lights went out, and she was floating.
Marta choked down the last of her NutriPack and dropped the wrapper into the recycler. She looked around her place, a small dormitory cramped among thousands of others, and grabbed her bag from its hook in the closet. She walked to work and didn’t lock the door behind her. No one in the barrio locked their doors. Not because it was a safe area, street crime was high on Oaxaca, even though the residents of the barren moon didn’t have much to steal. So she didn’t bother, after all, what were they going to take? Besides, a locked door suggested the owner had something to protect, and Marta didn’t want to replace another splintered door frame.
Her twisting route to Liso Ship Repairs was a grey and brown blur. After 20 years, one row of dirty buildings looked much like the next, and the next. Marta hugged herself to keep warm. Before sunrise Oaxaca was frigid, at midday it was hot. Very hot. A few vendors pushed their hover-carts to market, they nodded, Marta waved as she passed.
Oaxaca was the most populous moon in this quadrant. If the supply ships were two weeks late, half the population would starve. After three weeks, the supplies wouldn’t be necessary at all. Oaxaca only had one redeeming feature to draw settlers, craftsmen, and traders: its location. The moon orbited through two sectors, five superpowers, and innumerable thieving bandits. Weapon fire lit the night sky far brighter than the stars.
Constant battling, especially between well-funded armies, fed the industries on the ground. Need a place to dock and set an ambush? Want live positioning data from your enemies’ ships? Want to celebrate after a hard-won victory? Or buy more ammunition? Or have your ruined ship repaired at reasonable rates? Then Oaxaca was the place for you, and your men, and anyone else willing to pay. Marta had worked as a mechanic for six years, after four more she could retire here, after 14 more she could retire somewhere decent.
The sign in front of Liso Ship Repairs read:
Maintenance, Reconstruction, Null-G Emergency Services
Guild licensed since 274
“Morning Lorenzo,” Marta punched the time clock and set her bag down on her workbench, “any news?”
“Nothing yet,” he replied, eyes fixed on the main computer, “the Flemish and the SDA are still maneuvering.”
“No contracts yet?”
“No, but these repeat clients might both call for help.”
She rolled her stool closer to the turbine she’d been working on yesterday. Somehow, a shot punched through the shield and outer casing, cut a coolant line, and overheated the system. Temperatures soared and the damn thing locked up. Fused metal wasn’t easily manipulated, so Marta had to replace a lot of parts. But it was a big job, and you don’t complain about big jobs, they keep the shop in business.
Three hours later, Lorenzo’s squinty eyes widened. “We have contact!” he called to the mechanics behind his office in the open hangar, “they’re tearing into each other too…”
Marta washed her greasy hands as the phone rang. Lorenzo took the call so fast his chin wobbled and his modified chair squealed. Seconds later, he slammed the receiver down and flicked on the speakers.
“That was the chief engineer of the Flemish Dreadnaught Bergen, their starboard engine blew. It’s still hot up there, but they contracted one emergency mechanic for immediate repairs. Marta, prep for launch.”
“I’m still working on this turbine,” she objected.
“Now Marta, they’ve already paid the first half, if they get shot down we’ll never get the rest of their credits.”
Fine, she pulled her short black hair into an untidy knot, “I’m on my way” and my cut had better be worth it.
Marta leapt into the service ship, checked the instrument readouts, and secured the cargo bins. The white exterior and red pair of crossed wrenches supposedly guaranteed safe passage to and from the client’s ship. The laser burns and shrapnel dents proved that wasn’t always the case.
“This is Marta,” she called through the shop’s radio channel, “all systems green.”
“You’re looking for the Dreadnaught Bergen. It’s the big grey one, lots of smoke and flames coming from the starboard engine,” Lorenzo said. “Coordinates should be on your screen.”
She checked, the blue dot was right in the middle of the battle. “We still need to talk about that raise you promised.”
“Very funny chica. Once you dock, find Sergeant McGregor, he’s our point of contact on this job. You’re clear for launch, don’t hurt my ship.”
Just take it out of my pay like everything else, Marta hit the big red button and flew into the fray.
Autumn ejected Summer with vengeful rapidity.
Robert toasted two pieces of freshly sliced artisan bread, and constructed a masterpiece of oil and spices, lettuce and tomato, chicken and cheese. Another toasting melted everything together perfectly, just like in the pictures. The boss told him to make the prisoner a sandwich, and Robert never did anything halfway.
Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, and George R. R. Martin walk into a bar. After three rounds of gin, rum, and scotch, a disagreement arose. Jane wanted to go home, but since they all took Ernest’s boat, she was stuck at this beach bar with no means of escape. Ernest and George wanted to keep drinking and weren’t about to stop the party over Jane’s propriety. The bartender kept their glasses full, if only to cork George’s verbose descriptions of each individual drop of liquor. There were no other patrons since the bar didn’t actually exist, they were sharing a hallucination brought on by a mixture of stress, blood loss, and blunt force trauma. But don’t worry about any of that; Jane, Ernest, and George certainly weren’t.
As the evening wore on, Jane scribbled down some of the men’s character traits for later use. Ernest and George were hopelessly drunk, in fact, the bar was nearly out of alcohol. Jane offered to see if there were any bottles left on the boat, Ernest slumped over the counter in reply. Seizing her opportunity, Jane cast off the line and raised the main sheet. Her newly acquired sailboat leaned with the wind and slowly left the dock.
The next morning, or seconds later depending on the shared hallucination; Jane awoke at sea and remembered she couldn’t sail, Ernest awoke and found his face stuck to the bar, George awoke and ordered coffee from a hookah pipe they had all assumed was the bartender.