Alex reached out a trembling hand to the roaring waterfall.

They had taken it, his dry place. He had fought, kicked and screamed for help, but it never came. He washed the blood off of his hand, multiple cuts criss-crossing his knuckles. The cave walls were smooth, worn down through time by ancient rivers.

It was the floor you had to watch out for. Alex had stumbled while running, hands splayed out in reflex scraping on the rough stones. Home cave. Some called it “New Chicago” which always confused him. What is a Chicago? He’d ask the question during meals of dried fungus, harvested from the walls in garden galleries.

The elders would just grin and pat him on the shoulder, “Never mind that. How’s the strips? They’re fresh picked!”. Faces pulled back in smiles that hid something inside, he felt it. That dragging pain like the one in his palms, flesh cut open by unyielding stone.

His dry place. Not much in the cave was truly dry. The air was filled with flecks of moisture borne on whispering air currents. The elders warned him to never go to the mouth of the cave, up the steep cliff sloping to the surface. When the rains first came, they said, it was barely enough to make a stream cascading off the ridge.

Now, they said, it was a raging torrent. The world is trying to drown us, so we must go deep and huddle in its warmth. Pirate crews would search the old world for treasures. Alex wanted to be a pirate. They would dance and sing around the fire, telling stories of how they found buried vaults of dry wonders. They would give out precious gifts, brightly colored squares wrapped in clear film.

They tasted sweet and tart, with flavors Alex had never imagined were possible. It was a dry world treasure, they said, made for children to eat. Alex still had one left in his pocket, wrapped tight keeping out the damp. At least the bullies didn’t take that.

They were probably splitting up his things right now, cackling with glee.

He had been warned about going too far, past the modest huts made with stone and topped with strips of fungus too bitter to eat. But he couldn’t help himself. The waterfall where he stood was the extreme limit of the camp, where water turned a wheel powering their lights.

The old generator was another miracle, taken from a dry vault and hauled several days to where they lived. Men died to bring it here. The outer surface was pitted and flaked in spots with rust, green paint glistening under the lights. Alex would come down here sometimes, to listen to it turn and whine.

He’d put his hand on the metal and feel the vibrations, telling it his most precious secrets.

The secret that he kept closest to himself, one that he didn’t dare tell anyone. He wanted to leave. Home cave was home, but it was also something else. He would catch elders sitting in their huts weeping, wiping back tears if they saw him walk past. Smiling to his face, but silent sadness drifting like fine droplets coating everything with despair.

One treasure had changed everything. A book, the only one he had ever seen at camp. He learned the words from the oldest of them all, made a promise to never tell. Reading was not encouraged. Markings were on the treasures, pulled in from the downpour by pirates on the hunt.

They had markings like “Express Delivery”, “Chili 20ea Cans”, “30 Watt Lightbulbs”. Words that he learned, but didn’t understand fully their meanings. Each treasure would be handled by the elders, reverently like they were newborns in a mother’s arms. He couldn’t understand the sadness.

The book, kept in a chest wrapped in cloth. It read “Tour guide – The Sights of Chicago”. Pictures of places and people, tall buildings and “cars” on dark strips, dotted with bright yellow. The elder that taught him, had told him about cars. They were wonderful, moving fast with glass to see the outside.

When Alex asked about the rain, the elder grew silent with growing sadness on his face. The rains, he said, started slowly at first. Then the rivers swelled and rose, sweeping houses and things from their places on dry land. Many lives were lost. Emergency declared, people rushing to shelter.

Buildings failed under the torrents, supports weakened by waterlogged soil. Some collapsed from the sheer weight of water collecting on top, drains and downspouts overwhelmed and bursting. That was when they searched for caves like this one, stretching deep into the ground.

It was one of the few dry places left. But it wasn’t enough.

Alex couldn’t stop dreaming about the pictures he saw, the people happy and smiling. He wanted to walk on the dark strips, talking to people through their clear glass. Maybe they’d invite him in, let him sit on the dry seats and smell the air while they talked about happy things.

Perhaps it was for the best he lost his dry place. It was time to find a new one. He felt in his pockets, hand closing around the colored square.

He would find someone like him, and give them this treasure.

Candy for smiling faces, dry cheeks free from tears.


Image: Artefakt 4 Acryl-Öl auf Hartfaserplatte 50 x 40 cm

Bogan scratched his wrist, pulling up the bandage crusted with dried blood. It was his mark, the chineoid blessing so he may travel between zones, feeding the collective. Feeling the shifting pulse of internal chineites he fell to his knees in prayer, bright red blooms blossoming around his wrist, dripping on to the parched ground.

“Please bless this harvest, may the ones who sing in the light be praised. Submit to the body, become the body, forever without end.”

Idle winds stirred loose plastic bags snagged on jutting reinforced steel bars. It was hallowed ground, the interface between chineoid geometric purity and the cursed ruins of the past. Crumbling concrete was piled high in regular mounds, product of the relentless converters chewing through the bones of cursed cities.

Bogan lived near the blessed arch, the curving finger of mechoid gods. Some said it was a connection to the shard itself, the holy seed that sprouted a million fingers each spawning grand arcs of conversion. Like moving a finger through water, bow waves peeling back at curved angles.

The chineites were taking the old and making it new. The holy body, unity of spirit and mind.

Bogan often went to the great wall, throwing in found objects to be absorbed by the shifting surfaces of the chineoids, sometimes receiving blessings in return. His mark was necessary for travel, those that strayed too far from their zone became subject to the conversion process.

Old wives tales of youthful exuberance meeting a cursed end was commonplace. Bogan had seen them in his travels, bodies encased in teeming strands, eyes open and pleading. Some said they lived for many turns, until their bones were left gleaming in the sun.

Blasphemy was not tolerated.

The blessing could only come from the chines putting on the mark, the right of adulthood. Bogan had received his early, a rare exception that brought much speculation to his village. Was he the chosen? Whispered tales told around fires increased his desire to sift the sands for prized relics of the past.

They would never understand. Even those with the mark rarely sat at the great wall, after harvest was done to listen to the sounds. Tendrils of silver beauty waving in the breeze, the chineoids sang as the sun moved across the sky. Bogan would sit cross-legged, staff of metal planted in the ground resting on his forehead.

He would feel the song, deep in his mind. The mark was his connection, the will of the collective. He felt the need for relics, the old metal scraps in ruins of buildings near the wall’s edge. They would direct his hand, joyous light on success, burning pain on failure.

Bogan took the pain as a proof of sacrifice. He must improve to be admitted. Every day he strove to be faster and better, he wanted to be among the blessed few that came from the walls every new year. The blessed had converted faces intertwined with chineoid grace.

Holy clouds of chineoids hovered near their limbs churning and boiling in endless patterns. They would speak to the unconverted, the unmarked and unholy. A movement of their staff, and they would bring an entire village to its knees. If displeased, a finger of god itself would descend, spawning new rippled arcs of converting grace.

Bogan slid down the pile of concrete stones, careful not to lose any of his collected bounty. This offering would be the one, he was sure of it. The song from the collective was too joyous to be anything else. As he held the strange objects in his hands, he could feel the tug of the mark wanting to touch and convert it.

But these were for the holy wall alone.

Advancing to the great arc, standing tall in the noon-day sun. Bogan sat in his customary place marked by the stacking of stones. Sitting on the ground, he put the objects into his lap in a small pile. The wall shifted, questing tendrils dividing like branching rivers towards him.

He threw each object into the waiting fingers, each conveyed to the wall increasing the volume of the song. His last object, with strange buttons and a small window on to a darkened pane of glass. It was most precious of all. The rounded edges felt strange in his hands, like a stone smoothed by the passage of time.

He held it close to the swirling tendril tips, feeling the tug as they burrowed beneath the dark plastic surface tasting the materials hidden inside. The song swelled and silver ropes erupted from the ground, piercing his legs and torso. He was blessed by their touch, honored to be converted.

His vision clouding as chineoids surged through him.

Blessed be the collective, forever without end.

The Arch

Today’s post is an excerpt from my writing notebook – a glimpse into a city where aliens are commonplace.

Working at тупики wasn’t bad, just providing enough credit flow to make the bills go away. At least until the next cycle. I usually sat out front, watching the people along the street. After a while I could pick up things that I’d see over the disconnected strobe-like intervals of staring into the middle distance.

There was the UniBot, that had the cracked rear rim where some ped kicked the hell out of it. It didn’t seem to mind, slowly rotating its greasy wheels until it found a stray connector to fix or a sign that had been torn off by one of the kids up the street. When the weather closed in and the wind started to pick up, I’d switch to the inside.

Not all the way, but in the small foyer between the main door and what I had come to know as “The Arch”.

My boss might have been a split-brained schizo hive-mind exile, but he wasn’t stupid. Plenty of trouble was waiting to cross the threshold between the street and the tattered carpet inside, and he didn’t want anyone starting fires or shooting up the place.

That’s where “The Arch” came into play.

It was huge, at least three of me stacked on top of each other could pass beneath. That was handy since some of the customers we had could reach up and nearly touch the cavernous ceilings inside. It was wide enough to drive a city transport through, so there was never any chokepoint that would cause some of our more skittish patrons any personal space issues.

Hewn from a dense material that seemed to be a fusion of gritty clay and volcanic glass, the surface was pitted and textured as if it had been left out in the centuries worst hurricane, while a volcano erupted nearby belching silica shards that sand-blasted the surface with miniature pits, each dimple dimly reflecting a point of light if you tried to shine a beam on it.

It wasn’t the size that impressed me, it was the dense AI that it held in its opaque innards. I had never seen architecture like that before. The one and only time I gazed upon its guts was when my boss had to reset something via a small access port that only he seemed to know how to open. Inside the glow of billions of optic cross-connects lit half the room before he made a gesture and the mesmerizing lightshow subsided. The Arch could think. And The Arch knew if trouble was coming.

Had one guy, (wrong term? But I couldn’t tell its sex), he waved past me with a few tendrils attached to a knobby arm, and before I could say anything, he was crossing The Arch threshold, nearly into the club.

Two large doors that I had never seen before, one on each side, slid down. I then heard a muffled scream that ended with a odd flash of light, like something from an after-image when you stare at something too bright. It was almost negative in its intensity, but you wanted to screw your eyes shut all the same.

A few seconds later the doors chuffed open and there was nothing but a small bit of swirling ash, quietly being absorbed by the floor of The Arch.

Found out later from the boss he was an assassin that was sent to “retire” a customer in the place. How The Arch knew, I’ll never guess. We allow weapons only if they’re stowed and locked into standby, so it wasn’t what he was carrying that was the tip-off. All I knew was, you don’t sit in The Arch, if you wanted to see another orbit around the sun.

I know, you’re wondering “Why have a guy at the door at all if The Arch is so formidable?”

Good question, let me explain.

My boss prides himself on providing personal service. Sure, there are those mega-clubs where everyone just gets scanned, maybe tagged with a temporary chip to allow access to different parts of the club, like the Rabuho, but that stuff is for tourists interested in the latest shiny thing, not clients of “taste and distinction” as he would put it.

So that leaves me. I’m personable, but able to fade into the background when needed if we have an important guest. You never want to overshadow or out-compete with a guests “spotlight”, the perpetual cloud of recording devices streaming video to all corners of the planet and beyond.

So I help out here and there, and the boss likes me, at least to talk to now and then. I think he misses the hive-mind, so another being that he can relate to relieves that somewhat.

Its a good job, and he pays me under the table, so I don’t have to register a capital account and get scrutinized by the local tax authority, which I’m loathe to do. I have a few past debts that would come creeping up if they discovered I had a way to feed myself.

Another story, but suffice to say that once you are “under the weather”, with technology in this day and age those debts take a life unto themselves, stalking every step you make until you finally relent and settle with the collectors.

I have my reasons, but I’m never going to settle.

Its a matter of principle.


Today’s post is an excerpt from my writing notebook – a glimpse into a city where aliens are commonplace.

It was an okay job, I guess. The guys in the back of the house knew how to work hard, but they also had a dedicated sense of when to goof off. It was necessary, just to preserve some kind of sanity in a place that never really closed. There was no “last call” when you are servicing a metropolis teeming with visitors from all corners.

One night when I was taking some glasses to the back to be prepped and washed, one of the dishwashers poked me with his stubby fingers and said “Youz, Followz”. He used that damn projection thing that they do, that vibrates your skull and makes the words seem to come out of everywhere. Scared the crap out of me.

Looking down, I saw in his beady eyes a sense of urgency, so I put down my rack of dirty glasses and bent low to get into the small access tube he waddled into.

There were some lights strung up like an afterthought at the worlds drunkest party, zig-zagging all over the top of the tunnel until there was a lit heap at the end, where the rest of the string had been thrown. Near the heap we took a fast right and left, until there was a small space where some of the other washers were sitting.

I got the once-over from a bunch of small black beady eyes, but since I was escorted, they stayed put and kept on working at their seats. Each one had a small break crafted into a larger pipe, and I could see waves of liquid pushing through. Looking up, I saw this was one of the many fractured alleys and pathways in the city that had been built over, so there was no entrance other than the one I came from.

A narrow slit of sky was visible, with the floating advertisements blasting colored beams into the foggy night.

They all had a worn cup, that was tied to the pipe in segments, which allowed them to scoop up some liquid and dump it into containers near their feet. The sound was like a gentle scraping, as if ocean waves made of cups would make crashing on to wooden shores. Some were taking hits from the cups too, and looking further down I saw a few of them asleep, cup dangling in their hands.

“Youz Scup, Youz Friendz”

Oh, an invitation then. They cleared a seat at the pipe and I pointed and asked “For Whatz?” and was met with a pause before he said “mucho safez you likez”. Well damn, I guess I won’t go blind. Our metabolisms were similar enough, and this unregulated tap line must be from some pirate brewer somewhere, the smell was like gentle aged whiskey before it got poured into bottles and capped.

I sat and took a worn cup, dipping into the waves — “Noz Waitz” – he slapped the cup out of my hand and I saw the darker debris that was floating inside. Oh, okay… there’s a trick to it.

I watched as he deftly got the cup, dipped into the flow avoiding the particles and slapped it back into my hand.

It was slightly warm, like it had been through a fractioning column. I took a deep swig, and the familiar burn down the back of my throat was all I needed to know.

They had accepted me, I was one of them. I drank, and the warming feeling of the booze pushed back the grey fog leaking from the sky.


I don’t know where it came from. It was during one of those moves, the kind that took me to a new place with unfamiliar faces and rooms the wrong size. Unpacking and unwrapping, kicking empty boxes across the floor into a pile. Arms aching with the sun sinking low.

I didn’t even put the bed frame together, just flopped on the mattress as night fell. Open window letting in the cool breeze. There was plenty to do tomorrow, getting settled and starting the new job. I wondered what my co-workers would look like, if they’d be happy I was there.

Too quickly it was morning, with beams of sunlight prying open my sleepy eyes. I had dreamt of endless cubicle rows, wandering to find a meeting room I couldn’t find. There were no people, just the overhead lights humming as I walked for what seemed like hours.

Washing my face, seeing the circles under my eyes. I looked like a wreck, but it was just the jitters of something new. Maybe I should’ve started the job much later, not a day after my move. It would be fine. Just get through today and I’d be able to get a good sleep tonight.

Work was busy, with calls and meetings. I loosened my tie while stepping outside, catching the bus back to my apartment. Just a few more things to unpack, and then I could relax. A quick dinner and more box wrangling, everything had a place. The shelves were standing tall next to my bed, two smaller tables on either side.

Sitting on the bed, my foot touched a book on the floor. I must’ve dropped it in the bustle of getting things ready. It was a high-quality paperback, with a matte paper cover that felt silky to the touch. There was no title or author, just blank pages as I flipped from the end forward.

Then I saw the pictures.

Endless cubicle rows, machines perched on desks in identical angles. Overhead lights glaring from above. This was different though, there were people in the back. Not brightly lit, just shadows on the edges. I couldn’t tell if they were facing me or turned away.

I put the book down, creeping unease filling my heart with dread. How could that be? Just a coincidence? I picked it up again, turning to the beginning. The same cubicle rows were there, but now with spindly things crawling over the top. One had glowing eyes looking directly at the camera – or however this was captured on paper.

I closed it again and put it on the side table. It was getting late, I wouldn’t solve this puzzle tonight. Sleep came quickly and with it vivid images, smoky column of ash rising from a volcano in the distance. I was alone on a vast field of hardened lava. Neon-bright flows in the distance, catching spindly trees on fire.

I woke, with crickets chirping outside. The moon had risen, bright and full. It was early in the morning, hours before sunrise. I sat up and looked at the book again. Something drew me to it, like the tug of a magnet on the surface of a fridge when you put up a picture. I opened it to the front, turning pages quickly.

The picture was there. Smoky columns and snaking lava flows in the distance. I turned the page ahead, seeing nothing but blank paper. Turning the page back, same volcano but other things were on the fields. Impossibly long legs and withered limbs. This couldn’t be right.

I threw the book on the floor, burying my head in the pillows. I needed some sleep. Even just a few hours before work would be better than nothing. My heart was racing, feeling my pulse throb at my temples. Just keep calm. Get some sleep and look at it fresh in the morning.

The dreams kept coming.

Then I woke, and went to work. Feeling odd, sitting across the desk from my boss. He was explaining something important, but my ears kept fuzzing out. His voice would fade and waver, like he was talking under water. I rose my hand to ask a question. He looked at me, then opened his jaw wide.

Lines of razor teeth in rows all the way back to his throat, dark tongue reaching out.

I woke up, sweating profusely. Pounding in my head. The urge to know, to see the pictures consumed me. Its been days now, I’m not sure. You must be reading the book now, with its pages that are ever changing. Do you see me? Do you see them?

Tell me how to get out, I beg of you.

Don’t turn the page.


There’s a comfort to the sameness. Working on the line, processing thousands upon thousands of units every minute. In better times, I’d be making mental plans for trips and fancy purchases. Those were long gone, crushed under a wave of cheap labor and diminishing need for skilled artisans.

I used to have a shop. Small one on the corner of a sleepy street. Not quite downtown, but close enough I could see the shiny towerblocks and remember a time spent in sterile offices and stern conference rooms. Working amongst people who wanted advancement over friendship, grinding me down.

Like a stone being smoothed in the rushing water, edges of character made into similar shapes to those around me. My productivity took a dive from overly-invested to cynical observer. Final days spent looking out fourth-floor windows at graying buildings across the river, not wanting to be at my desk.

I got my wish.

Pushed out on to the bustling sidewalk, pat on the back and empty promises about possible futures. I knew it was ending, but I didn’t see the message written on the wall with my own dissatisfaction. I dove into mundane details, buying a shop and fixing whatever crossed my path.

That too ended in a circular fashion, I found that when turning a screw or replacing a part I would get a flash of its history. Threads of fate tangling in a hardened knot. Sensing more than touching, images and emotions would flood me and I’d have to put the object down.

Not every piece would reveal a story, but soon it happened with alarming regularity. I couldn’t tell if my ability was being honed by handling things steeped in history, or gradual exercise of latent ability. Most of what I repaired had been languishing on a shelf or was a stop-gap before buying a replacement.

It was almost as if what was being repaired was a witness to history, soaking in the sounds and sights to later be retold through my trembling touch. I started to wear gloves, but even then it wouldn’t stop. The flashes of history worming through cotton layers. Even leather gloves weren’t enough to block it out.

There was no hiding from time, or a place.

I hated to sell my shop, but I had to. One night, I was putting away my tools. My hand brushed an old chisel brought in by a white-haired retiree. Jolt of realization, pure horror as the images flashed before my mind’s eye. It had been used to mutilate someone. I could see the victims face tightened in fear, pleading. The old man laughing as he gripped the handle.

I dropped the chisel on the floor, startled. Called the police and told them where they could find it, putting it in the mailbox outside, wrapped in cloth. Locking up, holding a bundle of belongings. Never looked back. I’d like to think its been remade into a book store or a daycare.

I ran all the way home.

Following weeks spent poring over ads, visiting papered-over offices and sitting in dingy temp agencies. I was matched to a night shift factory job. The pay was meager, but the position promised a vital requirement – lack of human contact. It was an assembly line, mostly automated.

It was just me during the night shift. Sometimes a technician would appear, adjust something on one of the swinging robotic arms and then disappear. The oiled precision of the line gave me peace. My job, monitoring output. I was the biological backstop for unblinking eyes scanning the conveyor.

A blast of air would knock out any defective parts from the stream. For those that didn’t succumb to micro-second huffs and puffs, I marked with a tool on the screen. Sometimes I’d pluck one out of the line, a sample for quality. If it passed, I’d pitch it back into the throng. Those that failed were labeled and saved for evaluation.

My mood was steady, like the thrumming of the line. Swinging arms, brightly colored and multi-jointed. Red striped borders on the floor serving as a warning. With the line at full speed the clacking and whirr would drown out my heartbeat. All I felt was the thud of the stamper, the huge machine shook on every down-stroke.

A mechanical heart beating with a singular purpose.

Press a key on the virtual menu, select part.

Highlighted, choose for closer inspection.

I deftly plucked the part out of mid-air, holding it under a magnifying glass. Then the feeling. A sensation like back in the shop, but stronger. Like plucking a conversation out of the crowd, all the murmurs flowing into a tapestry of voices until your name is called.

The electric shock of knowing.

I dropped it to the floor, skittering off the toe of my boot. I sat down on my work stool, peeling off the gloves. Rubbing my face, playing the images back in my mind. The part was one voice in a symphony. Yet I saw the end result. Like moving your hands to catch a ball in flight, not thinking but just doing.

I was going to die.

I sat staring as the line tumbled past in organized chaos.

Every piece had its place, packed in tight with others of its kind.

Like graves on a hillside.


Oscar swore as the drill pipe swung overhead. Brian, his Derrickhand, was getting sloppy on his shift. Each pipe was nine meters long, threaded at the ends to screw together with the next lowered section. That is, if it was lowered properly for Oscar to do so.

“Hey, wake up man! Haul that back up and try again!”, Oscar waved hand signals overhead as Brian slowly got the swinging pipe under control.

This wasn’t their first time working together. The stakes were high enough when drilling on land, they went up when you hauled a bunch of gear out to the frozen wastes of the arctic. It had taken months just to get all of the infrastructure in place, the supplies and fuel stacked in special geodesic domes that wouldn’t get crushed under tons of drifting snow.

They were only good for a few hours each shift, maximum. High winds sometimes made progress difficult. When there was a whiteout you had to rely on the beacon at the main building, pulling yourself along the wires strung on eyehooks pounded into the ice. Sometimes, even the wires were buried.

The Rig Floor was dominated by the rotary table that clamped the pipe and allowed them to hook a string together. A metal mosquito sipping at treasures buried below. In their case, it wasn’t a pocket of hydrocarbons folded into sediments. They were going for a larger quarry.

Oscar mated the pipes, ready to drill down to depth. It had taken weeks to get through the decades of compressed ice using specialized drill attachments. You didn’t want it to shatter, causing containment problems. It had to be lowered in slowly, solid-state lasers pumping joules into the surface, allowing the bit to bite and churn it topside as liquid slurry.

Oscar kept careful watch on the depth. They were near the breakthrough point, where the geologists had said it would transition into compacted methane hydrates. This formation was special. Instead of a thin layer deposited on the sea floor, this pocket had been formed from early glacial activity.

A large concave pit under tons of ice surrounded a massive store of hydrates, all ready to be siphoned up to the surface in special reclamation tanks. It was their job to push through and establish a good seal. Oscar had a bonus riding on his performance, reclaiming more than 50% would mean a big fat check with his name on it.

Oscar squinted at the depth gauge, digital readout flickering with each vibration in the pipe. Most of the gear was custom, and took some getting used to. A green led lit up, signaling proper depth. He glanced at the pressure reading. Nothing. Not a single cubic centimeter was coming through.

It didn’t make sense.

At depth the drillhead would have activated the hydrates, causing them to release their trapped gas molecules. Oscar put his ear on the pipe, straining for the tell-tale hiss of laminar flows. Not a thing. He whipped his hands up signaling Brian to halt.

Removing his gloves, Oscar met Brian at the catwalk next to the drilling floor, piled high with drill pipes.

“We’re getting a whole load of nothing down there.”, Oscar gestured towards the pressure readout.

“After all this? You sure we calibrated it right?”

“Dead sure. Look, I’ve got an idea but we’ll probably have to pull some of the string to do it.”

“You know how much I love backtracking when we drill.”, Brian smiled, punching Oscar in the arm.

Oscar was about to answer when the suspended drill pipe above started to slide downward. Brian must’ve forgotten to secure it before coming down. Both of their faces twisted in horror as the exposed edge slammed into the upright pipe clamped in the table jaws.




Geysers of snow erupted away from the site in all directions. It was a cascade, cubic meters of hydrate were releasing all at once. Oscar ran, trying to reach the equipment shed. Cracks formed under his feet, others spewing gas blowing snow high up into the air.

A deafening roar as the entire camp sank down into the pack, snow blowing out from every side in large gouts. Oscar ducked behind the trailer, hands on his ears and mouth open trying to save his eardrums from the impending blast. A muted roar came from the hole, soon resounding from all sides.

Each gyser of snow turned into a bluish flame tinged at the edges with yellow. Inverted rocket booster pushing towards the evening sky. The roar was continuous, drowning out any sound. Oscar looked at the rig, perched on large metal pontoons.

Below, brilliant blue light as the motherlode caught fire, flaming sun rising to meet the sky.

Oscar uttered a prayer as it broke the surface, melting the steel deck.

End Of Times

I had drank too much, again. The alarm pierced my ears, shrill beeping growing in volume. Slapping the the clock on to the floor, I slowly sat upright with my head throbbing. I had been celebrating a friends birthday and didn’t leave until the early hours of the morning. At least I didn’t have to work today.

Shuffling down the foyer, ratty slippers with googly eyes glued on by my ex-girlfriend. I shook a toe, looking at the pupil swing around the comical ellipse. I guess they still amused me, or else they would have joined the boxes I stacked out by the dumpster. We had one of those mutual-but-seriously-admit-its-your-fault kind of splits, so I didn’t want anything around to remind me of her.

Except these silly slippers. They made me think of better times, trips to the beach and hiking in the woods. “Get some breakfast, googly-eyes.”, I said to no one, half-expecting her muted laugh from the kitchen. I started coffee, reheated some leftovers. Sitting on the kitchen stool, I waggled a remote at the television.

A Russian news channel was on, a product of my half-hearted attempt to learn the language. I stared at the screen, letting the foreign sounds soak into my mind. One day, I would visit Moscow. It was the polar opposite to anything I’ve done before, which was exactly why I wanted to do it.

“и в местных новостях кремль объявил, что–” the voice cut out, suit and lapel microphone hitting the floor. I blinked. Keying the rewind on my DVR, I stepped through to the last word. At the edges of the perfectly coiffed hair, small cracks formed. Hands shaking, I advanced each frame.

Small black cracks, then tendrils meeting across the face. The surface wasn’t cut, peering closer at the screen it looked like a cheap video effect – parts of the announcers face were missing. Black, perfect void. A few frames later and nothing left but two glowing dots where the eyes had been, outline in relief, then nothing.

I pressed play, and the empty suit fell to the floor again.

This had to be a prank. It couldn’t be real. The chime on the coffee maker sounded, breaking my train of thought. Coffee. Yeah, coffee would be great right about now. I stood up and grabbed a cup, walking slowly with the steaming mug to the couch, left hand gripping the remote.

I glanced at the time, it was around noon. There had to be something on about this. I flicked around some channels, surfing through commercials until I stumbled on an Emergency Alert System announcement. White text scrolled by on a deep blue background, framed in red.

“National Alert .. Emergency Action Notification .. Shelter in place, stay calm. There have been anomalous broadcasts from our partner countries with no clear cause. Emergency officials are analyzing the situation. Stay tuned for further developments. Curfew is in effect. .. Shelter in place, stay calm..”

The message repeated, in a loop. “Anomalous broadcasts”? I changed the channel, punching in the local news station. “.. so what you’re saying is that this could be an orchestrated event.”, the anchor addressed a shorter balding man, video crawl labeling him as an expert in communications.

“Yes Grant, this is obviously the product of some kind of psychological warfare, a scare tactic”, I changed the channel again, trying to find out more. Something wasn’t right. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled with rising fear. I pushed onward, catching fragments from different channels all discussing the event.

“.. global reach, at least in countries that are overseas, we talked to ..”

“.. massive panic as rioters loot the stores behind me, police are trying ..”

“.. we now go to our reporter in Paris. Linda, what is the situation there?”, I paused, sunset painting the Eiffel Tower in orange hues. The blonde reporter had just lifted the microphone to her mouth when the edges of her face began to darken. I hastily hit record, capturing her frightened gasp as she disappeared into nothingness.

I stepped the recording a few frames back, looking at the background. People had been walking behind the shot, and as the edges became tendrils on her surprised face there was an advancing line of clothes falling to the ground – with no one in them. I sat back, staring at the world map on the wall.

It was studded with multicolored pins, places I wanted to visit. I looked at Russia, then France. Two pins defining Moscow and Paris. White-hot realization rocketing up my spine, I stood up and ran to the bedroom. Grabbing a small suitcase, I began packing. Just the essentials. Dragging the wheeled carry-on to the kitchen, filling it with staples like rice and beans. A pot and a cup, a few utensils.

The sun. Whatever was happening was linked to the sun setting. I only had under seven hours of daylight. It might be just enough time. I dashed outside, shoving the luggage into the back of my car. If this had happened close to rush hour, I wouldn’t have made it out of the city.

I revved the engine, weaving in and out of traffic.

I had to get to the airport.

If I was lucky, I could intercept a private jet. There were plenty of them at the VIP terminal, always ready to take their clients to far off places.

I patted the pocket in the luggage, holding all the cash I had on hand. It might be enough. Just enough to convince a pilot to fly towards the north. Land somewhere near the arctic circle. In summer there would be months of daylight. Just long enough to find others.

Long enough to beat the creeping shadows.

I rammed through the VIP gate, startling the snoozing security guard.

Up ahead, sleek aircraft shone brightly under the noon-day sun, white paint on slender wings.

New Darwin Inc.

Eldon Graves drummed his fingers on the conference room table. Junior ad execs were lined up outside, vying for slots to pitch their new product ideas. Eldon dreaded this time of year, young shining faces stuffing the metaphorical hopper with naive and unoriginal pitches.

The promotional sweeps were coming, and he had to be in front of it. Normally they’d let the algos whip up something, but management insisted on getting ideas internally to seed the process. New Darwin, Inc. was one of the top firms specializing in product design and advertising.

New Darwin didn’t handle mid-tier or bottom of the barrel. That was a job for the hacks training up simplistic algos to mimic popular fads, spewing out a digital firehose of brightly colored over-saturated garbage. Eldon had a friend working the lower tiers of the business, and it wasn’t pretty.

Machines will come for us all, I suppose. Just one thing they haven’t cracked yet, the illogical leaps and intuitive gathering that the human mind could do. Yet. Eldon put his elbows on the table, resting his chin on folded hands. The junior exec trailed off, wondering if her presentation had him offended somehow.

“Excuse me, is there something you don’t like?”, she was eager to make an impression, hair back in that no-nonsense style, subdued shoes and leggings.

“This is for soup, correct?”, Eldon spoke softly, gaining momentum.

“Yes, its a premium offering that–“

“Your costs for this product are too high. Outsource the meat and veg to Baako Brothers. For packaging loop in the Satori people.”

“Baako grows their vegetables on garbage dumps, and the Satori-“

“This is a business. To stay in business we need to hit our margins. Your costs are too high, make the changes.”, Eldon closed his notebook, a signal the pitch was over. The exec gathered her materials, eyes beginning to tear. It was a tough lesson, better she learned it now than trying to pitch the higher-ups with that kind of crap.

This wasn’t the old-aughts. Regulations governing safety standards had been scrapped or deemed useless, a product of relentless birth rates propelling the global population past 10 billion. Infrastructure and governments were at their limits.

Consumer lawsuits were extinct, ground to dust under legislation that opened up opportunities for corporations bold enough to seize them. So what if some chemicals seeped into the process. If customers didn’t like it, they were free to spend half of their income on luxury items.

Gone were the warning labels and cautions. Ten pages for how to plug in an appliance was shortened to “find outlet”. Besides, making premium items was expensive. Easier to use a lower grade of vegetable protein, grown on massive trash dumps than paying a private greenhouse for the top-shelf. Satori Design was known for using heavy metals in their inks and questionable chemicals in their liners, but their packaging costs were the best in the business.

Eldon walked out of the meeting room, dismissing the rest of the hopefuls with a wave of his hand. There wasn’t a single good idea among them. Why even waste my time, he thought. Management was only doing this to maintain the illusion they didn’t rely exclusively on algo-derived advice.

They were dinosaurs anyway, the entire board and the CEO. Eldon paused near a reflective panel, straightening his tie. If it were up to him they’d all be on the next hyperloop to the African Collective. Eldon brushed lint from his lapel, removing a security card from his breast pocket.

Eldon had been working on something that stepped beyond the status quo. It was time for an aggressive push and higher payoffs. Swiping the card on a recessed reader, Eldon stepped through the large frosted door into his private research lab. Among gleaming racks of samples, technicians consulted algos for the proper mix of profit and lethality.

Too fast, and your customer would expire, crushing all future profitunities. Too slow, and the unit costs would outweigh the income. This was the real frontier. Right here, in this room. Optimizing product details for absolute minimum requirements. In some cases, accelerating mortality if it meant spin-off profits, usually in the form of extended health services and elderly care.

They had a whole line-up of products ready to go. All it would take would be a change of the old guard at the top, and Eldon would be set for life. He walked to the storage room, browsing shelves of prototypes. He selected a few foil pouches, printed with ugly machine codes.

The packaging hadn’t been finalized yet, but he imagined the words set in rustic type on a simulated cloth background. “PrestaPerk, the finest brew – into you! Enjoy our premium offering of roasted coffee beans seasoned with our signature flavors. Drink deep, refresh your body and soul!”

The beans had been grown on former exclusion sites, engineered to absorb certain compounds to assist in reclamation efforts. It was somewhat ironic that old factories had contaminated the soil, and now Eldon was profiting from their past misdeeds.

Eldon pocketed the pouches, walking out to the central elevators. The board meeting was in fifteen minutes, and he had just enough time to substitute his prototype for the usual refreshments. Based on the potency of this batch, he estimated it would take a few months before the heart attacks and organ failures would begin.

Patience, Eldon. Patience.

Entering the elevator, Eldon stared at the display. Soon, he’d be in the top office calling the shots.

Profits demanded no less.


The sky was a brilliant sapphire blue. Maxx smiled and and tucked in his arms, reducing air resistance. Slashing down at a sharp angle, vectoring in on the bright yellow jumpsuit below him. To the left and right, blossoming canopies as chutes deployed.

He had to make this, there wouldn’t be another chance.

Air pushing hard against his goggles, right hand gripping the knife. Closing in, Maxx could make out the logo on the jumpers back, “Wallace” in big white letters. Maxx plunged down, raising the knife high. Slicing arc, look of terror in the jumper’s eyes as the ruined chute streamed out of the gash.

Maxx threw the knife, letting it tumble into the air. The landscape melted, screams from the doomed jumper reverberating across infinite plains.

Killing in a dream was easy, if you had the right gear.

Bright lights, and the sharp smells of supercooled conductors dripping milky-white traces of mist. Maxx rubbed his eyes. That was too close, he almost didn’t have time to extract himself. Each contract was different, but getting the timing right was crucial.

Large dewar flasks lined the wall, hoses and leads winding into a single trunk suspended over an ugly headset. Protruding wires and clips, ending in small probes designed to tunnel signals right into the brain. It was a custom rig, for clients demanding exacting results.

It was just business.

Maxx had hundreds of dream-kills under his belt. The marks ended up brain dead or manifesting terminal conditions like a heart attack. Very neat and tidy. Precisely why he was paid well. When it came to eliminating the competition, silencing a witness or just exacting revenge – Maxx was there, arsenal of tools in hand.

Maxx’s watch beeped, alerting him to another target about to enter REM sleep. Lowering the headset, Maxx closed his eyes and reinserted into the liquid reality of dreamtime.

The auditorium was packed, full of attendees for the annual stockholders meeting. Staggered rows of velvet seats, plunging down to a small semicircle stage. A central podium in the spotlight, whispers and jeers as the mark came out completely naked.

Maxx pushed through the crowd standing in the aisles, hand gripping a large-caliber pistol. Just need to get down there and pull the trigger. Easy-peasy. He had a bit more time on this one at least.

Every person had a brochure with one name printed on the front, “Anita” in large black capitals. It was a common thing, a target using their own name on things inside dreamtime. Maxx kept pushing through, feet feeling like he was wading in deep water.

Anita stood at the podium, skin glistening in the bright lights. She began to speak, halting on every other word. Her eyes scanned the crowd, anxiety mounting.

Maxx shifted his grip on the umbrella, looking down in shock. Dammit, no.

Anita smiled, pointing at Maxx, “There he is, GET HIM!”

Dammit, she knew. Maxx started to run, feet tearing into the carpet like soft mud. Hands appeared out of each seat row, hands upon hands linked in a long chain. Fingers gripped his legs, locked around his waist, held down his arms.

Then the background shimmered, like a stone being thrown into a pond. Maxx was sitting in a wooden chair, straps around his arms and legs. A metallic band lowered on to his head. It was an electric chair, right down to the large knife-switch on the wall beside the single telephone that would ring to save a life.

But that call wasn’t coming.

Anita walked out into the light, holding a cigarette. Slim, brunette and wearing a simple black dress. She cackled and took a drag, exhaling slowly.

“I’ve been through worse than you.”, she smiled, baring perfect teeth.

“How… how did you know?”, Maxx strained as the bands tightened. He couldn’t move his head or limbs.

“Call it defensive training, or more accurately conditioning.”, Anita flicked the ash, exposing the ember.

“You’re going to tell me exactly where you are, for real.”, she stepped closer, the glowing tip hovering over his eye.

Maxx tried, but couldn’t speak. She had to be a lucid dreamer. No one had control like this, unless–

“You’ve been retired. Now, lead us to your little lab.”, she plunged the tip into his eye.

Maxx screamed, echoes filling infinite plains.