Friend Ship

Once upon a time, there was a Friend Ship.  Long ago, it was just a raft.  The rudder was vague, the sail was thin, the deck was easily swamped.  The ship grew over time, piece by piece.  First, a strong hull developed after they found a shared passion.  Next, a wide deck sprung up after they supported one another through a hard time.  Finally, a powerful diesel engine rumbled into life after they shared more and more experiences.  Now, the Friend Ship could weather any storm.

Years passed while the Friend Ship floated at the dock.  They didn’t use it anymore, not like they once had.  Its hull rusted, its deck splintered, its engine seized.

Eventually, they came back to try again.  They dusted off the controls, repainted the cabins, and hung a new flag.  Together, they rounded the island just like they used to.

The Friend Ship thundered through the choppy surf, but then, the winds got stronger.  A powerful gale swept into the Friend Ship.  Despite the quick cleaning, the Friend Ship hadn’t been in a storm for a long time.  Its hull started leaking, before long, it changed back into a humble raft.  When the raft sank, they found themselves separated at sea.

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Set The Hook

Jacquelyn’s drink wasn’t perspiring, but she was.  The conversation had turned, as they always do, to felonious stories.  Her friends weren’t competing, they weren’t even her friends, not yet, but each of them tried to outdo the others.

One bragged about scraping under a toll-booth bar at over 300kph.  Another claimed she burned down her business for the insurance, and successfully avoided prosecution.  Three somewhat suspicious soliloquies and three mostly mollifying martinis later, it was Jacquelyn’s turn.  The group sat, slumped, and sprawled around a table at the back of the room.  Club music thumped their glasses like a dinosaur was learning to breakdance downstairs.

Her little black dress wasn’t.  It was a floor-length ivory evening gown, not expertly tailored, but close enough in the dim lighting.  Jacquelyn’s ebony complexion nearly disappeared into the velvet seat-back.

“I once robbed a bank,” she grinned wolfishly, “or at least, played my part.”

The music seemed to fade.

“I didn’t want to hold the gun you see, I have no intentions of returning to prison in this life.  So Hector pointed the .38 at the teller and didn’t say a word.  He didn’t have to, everyone’s seen a movie about a bank getting robbed, she knew the drill, probably the most exciting day of her life.

“The teller girl put some bundles of cash into a bag and placed it on the counter.  Meanwhile, my job was to distract the security guard.  Not kill him, not seduce him, not flirt with him, just distract him.  I threw my hair over my shoulder, kept glancing back at him and smiling before turning away.  He kept his eyes on me until Hector walked out the door.  I followed him 60 seconds later, and waved to Paul the rent-a-cop on my way.

“Of course the money was tagged so we couldn’t keep it, just left the bag around the corner.”

Jacquelyn liked to think of herself as a young woman, but the fact is, she wasn’t.  She had to be interesting.  More interesting than these teenyboppers.  More interesting than high speed chases.  More interesting than snorting cocaine in the DEA bathroom.  More interesting than anyone else.

Her story was a lie of course, just like her name.  But it wasn’t about truth, it was about confidence.  With enough confidence, she could arrive alone and depart accompanied.

Asking to Ask

“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?

Crossed Wrenches- Part 3

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.’”

“Oaxaca.”

“That’s it.”

“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.”

“Sorry.”

“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.”

“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.


The End

Crossed Wrenches- Part 2

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.”

“Copy that.”

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?”

McGregor nodded.

“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.

How Does That Make You Feel?

“I don’t know,” Jason mumbled over the whooshing sound his eyes made when he rolled them hard enough.  “OK I guess.”

“Are you sure?”  Mrs. Peterson was unconvinced, as shrinks usually are.  “Why don’t you check the feelings chart on the wall?”

Most feelings charts are full of dozens of options, covering every possible expressive emotion.  Mrs. Peterson simplified the chart to two: One was a picture of Beyoncé smiling, labelled “OK,” the other was a mirror, labelled “Not OK.”

Jason tilted his head vaguely toward the wall.  “Not OK.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

Gone

It was like gazing into a carnival mirror.  The kind that comes out of no-where and suddenly you’re looking at an older version of yourself wearing different clothes and grimacing at customers.  His features were familiar, if a bit more ragged.  Twenty seven years and three states later and he was right in front of me.

“Excuse me.  I…I think I’m your son.”

The old man frowned, “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”

“Thanks.  It’s been a long time, you look so different.”

The old man greeted another disinterested patron.

“You haven’t met my wife, or your grandchildren, we must have you over for dinner after work.  What do you say?”

“Welcome to Wal-Mart.”

“Dad,” more bargain-hunters jostled past.  “It’s me, Bill.  We used to live in Oklahoma, before Mom died.  Remember?”

His dull eyes squinted when he looked right at me.  He took a shuffling step and coughed.  “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”

“A Lost Art”

“Made in America,” the label declared, “by a machine.”  The Augmented Reality implant had always been 1000 USD, including the surgical procedure itself.  Almost laughably cheap, everyone had one installed at birth, hospitals didn’t even ask for authorization anymore.

Just think, not that long ago, people had to physically carry their computer with them from place to place.  And they were huge, up to 10 cubic centimeters.  People had to login constantly to update their feed, but not anymore.

The AR system tapped into the optic center of the brain and displayed an overlay filter on everything within the wearer’s field of vision.  At first, it was little more than a heads-up-display, but it’s evolved over the years.  Don’t like seeing the bare trees in winter?  For you, it’s always spring, with new leaves and flowers blossoming.  Don’t like seeing piles of trash along the street?  For you, they’re heaps of roses covered in a fine mist of mineral water.  Don’t like seeing fat and ugly people?  For you, everyone’s just a bit fatter and uglier than you see yourself in your mind’s eye.

During the AR development, there was some concern about social isolation.  A clever programmer solved the problem.  When your field of vision notices someone you’re networked with, their image flashes blue, and your social score rises.  This feature placated the nay-sayers, who only stopped whining about the oncoming torrent of information to tell someone they should recycle that bottle instead of dropping it behind them.  It got people to grow their networks, meet new people, and stumble around crowded areas to get more points.  In short: it made people more social, not less.

Since the system was embedded in nearly everyone’s brain, personal information could be shared instantaneously across distance.  If you bumped into someone in your network; all their updates, selected thoughts, and what they’d seen since the last time their shape flashed before you, would download to your AR implant wirelessly.  People could get to know each other without resorting to unreliable communication methods like speech or the written word.

With AR, you don’t have to miss anything.  If your conscious mind can’t keep up with billions of updates per minute, that’s what the other 90% of your brain is for.

[Jun 2 Writing Challenge] On the probable result of a fast-paced life.

Journey’s End

He scampered up the winding tower stairs that led to the captured princess.  He’d crossed fiery desert, snowy mountains, and dense jungle to reach her.  The door splintered before his dented battle-ax.

She screamed, then tentatively asked “Are you my hero?”

“Princess, I’ve come to set you free.”

“Thank the gods!  And thank you sir, you will be richly rewarded.”

She leapt up and kissed his prickly cheek.

He calmly cut her throat.

She staggered backwards.  Her eyes pled for an explanation as her dingy gown turned red.

“Your hero was getting too close.  We couldn’t risk your escape.”