Short Story: Sprawl Life

They strolled down one of the sprawl’s side-streets. It was a typical city image; neon signs and LED billboards atop shades of gray that afflicted your teeth with the tastes of grit, gravel and sand. Her natural, left arm was linked in his right, cybernetic one. He’d elected to have it to harness the advanced tech and its strength. He was already built like a Mack truck, and hit like one too, but the fresh chrome and carbon fiber completed the look. Taking the street-name Mack didn’t hurt either.

Conversely, she looked as intimidating as the moniker she’d taken on. Rabbit wasn’t sure whether she loved or hated Mack, but walked arm in arm with him all the same. She did it with a saunter that accented a tight ass in even tighter leather pants. They matched Mack’s leather biker jacket, its chrome zippers identical to the glints of silver in her nose, lip, and ears. The only thing that made them stick out like a sore thumb was Rabbit’s hair; shaved clean on one side with the other a wave of bangs and electric-blue.

A few cars whizzed past spewing exhaust– old, manual things. The new auto vehicles weren’t common around these parts, unless you counted vans with massive corp-logos emblazoned on their sides. Corps or cops, same problem in a different wrapper.

Rabbit steered Mack into a diner. It was as ancient as the waitress that came to take their order. The owner seemed to have made it a point not to let the place get cleaned. It had a retro, 1950s feel, beneath a layer of vintage dirt and grime worse than the street’s.

Mack stared out a window from a booth while they waited for their bacon and eggs. The place may’ve been a pit, but it was one of the few that could still get their hands on the real thing. Rabbit had even speculated the owner raised and slaughtered his own pigs. Judging by the floors and walls, it wasn’t that wild a theory.

Outside the sun peeked through deep, dark clouds, then immediately hid away again. The first of the rain came down immediately after. Buckets poured beneath their mutual silence. It wasn’t for lack of words, but rather protection form the hellish hangovers they both had. Any sound made their heads echo like chasms. Only the place’s paint-thinning coffee could force away the pain. At least usually anyhow, today seemed like a different story.

Rabbit was half-way through her second cup when she realized something about the day was off. It was one of those gut-feelings that said it was best to crawl back into bed, pull the mylar covers over her head, and hide.

She couldn’t though. There was a lot to be done. She’d probably see the sunrise again before it was all over– or at least what counted for one. Sprawl-life was like that, there wasn’t sun, just smog and rain. Even if there had been sun, she still wouldn’t see it beyond the sporadic times she ended up in the diner, with or without Mack.

Once breakfast was finished, the waitress ambled over with her aged gait, poured one last cup of coffee for each of them. She tore the check from a yellowed pad, slid it across the table, and returned to the bar-counter across the diner. The woman stood sentinel at the register, unmoving until Rabbit approached moments later, one cup of coffee fuller. She waved a USB stick over the RF reader, verified her various bank account details. The reader was old enough to have retained a debit card slot, but read the cred-stick without hassle. Bit currency was a God-send, especially for miscreants like her.

Mack met her at the door. They stepped out to smoke. Rain still poured down, splattered their sneakers as they nestled against the building’s front beneath its awning. Rabbit deliberately leaned against the “no smoking within 8 feet” sign, and let the rain draw her mind along with its polyrhythms. There was a definite sprawl-way to the rain. It wasn’t like in the rural areas– if there technically were any anymore– the wind didn’t hit the city the same way so the rain developed its own way of falling. It always seemed to have polyrhythms and rests with distant, syncopated drumming behind it.

Rabbit sympathized. Life here was all about falling gracefully, hitting the ground as softly as possible, or with both feet and running, whichever was needed.

An old-era Ford thundered to a squealing stop in front of them. Three guys got out, tatted up where they weren’t gleaming with chrome, carbon-fiber, or leather. Rabbit and Mack both watched the last guy in line, who walked with a stiff, left, cyber-arm against an otherwise billowing trench-coat.

The three guys passed Rabbit and Mack without a second look, stepped inside. The two exchanged a glance. They didn’t need the still-running Ford to tell them what was going on. Rabbit gave a heavy sigh, and pulled open the door in dejection. Mack rolled his eyes, stepped in ahead of her.

The moron with the stiff arm now had both locked before him with a sawed-off boomer in them. He shouted at the old lady whom hurriedly transferred creds to a stick in the register.

“Alright,” Mack said with a grim scowl. “Who’s first?”

The guy with the shotgun kept aimed on the woman. One of the other morons spun ’round with an S&W .44 aimed for Mack’s head.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Rabbit warned. “Give the old lay back her cash while you’re at it.”

“The fuck you say blue?” The third moron demanded. He swiveled with a 1911 in-hand.

Rabbit gave Mack a look, then heaved another, colossal sigh, “Alright. Fine. Have it your way.”

Before they could react, Rabbit had the shotgunner on the ground, boomer in hand. She gave a heavy, booted kick to the guy’s head, aimed for the guy with the 1911. Mack unleashed his semi-truck force with a lunge, knocked the S&W wielder out cold. Mack wasn’t sure, but he might’ve given his brain a jolt; blood leaked from an ear and a nostril.

The third guy shook a little. His hand swayed. Rabbit shook her head. His eyes darted between her and Mack. His finger tapped the trigger. The sawed-off boomed. He was dead on the ground, half his guts missing, before he squeezed.

A stray round hit an overhead tile, buit Rabbit tossed Mack the sawed-off, retrieved the two pistols from the dead morons. She nodded to the old lady who’d fallen into a chair behind the counter, shaking and hoping to recover her wits.

“For next time,” Rabbit said casually, sliding the 1911 across the counter. “See you.”

She and Mack left nonchalantly. There was too much to do to hang around. It was all just another day of sprawl-life, nothing special– even if it was her birthday.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: All Will Fade to Black

In space,
a cosmic place,
we’ll see stars,
Earthen binds no longer ours.

Colonies,
built to appease,
citizens who’ve been uprooted,
their species’ destiny rerouted.

Breathing air,
made with care,
for each loss is precious,
as the need of life progresses.

Terra-forming.
Planet-Warming.
Such shall become our ways,
science and tech our mainstays.

We’ll harvest suns,
hydrogen tons,
use them to fuel our ships,
and cruise the void for trips.

And then one day,
we’ll have had our way,
and all will fade to black,
us and the ‘verse,
ne’er to look back.

Bonus Short Story: E.R.V.

The Extended-Living Habitat Research Vessel was a mouthful to most people that heard or read about it. Colloquially it became known as Erv (like Irvine), for obvious reasons. However loquaciously challenging, it was also the most state-of-the-art aquatic research vessel ever built. It was, for all intents and purposes, a floating skyscraper. It extended a Kilometer into the air and equally as much into the sea.

To the distant observer, it appeared as a hilted sword, point-up, on the horizon. It even shined as one from the solar-cells along its upper-half. The glint of glass from apartments was only barely visible between the cells that supplied power to its nearly two-kilometers of various facilities and dwellings.

The hilted shape, more a bulbous, closed ring than anything, formed the sections necessary for navigation while just beneath the surface, at its stern, arrays of hybrid magneto-hydro-dynamic engines were its propulsion. That is to say, giant, jet-like turbines that served as both engines (by means controlled of electrical charges from induced from salt-water conductivity over magnetically charged plates), as well as power generation.

It was the greatest achievement in maritime engineering since the first, primitive submarine was put into commission and helped create the first modern, Navy. Erv was designed and manufactured with a specific purpose in mind; to harness the power and neglected space of the ocean for marine research and relief of overburdened, land-based cities. Erv was more than a strangely-shaped ship with fancy new technology, it was Humanity’s next, greatest hope.

Farming the oceans with massive nets, as well as fostering marine-animal husbandry through special containment areas in the hilt, no-one aboard wanted for food. Between that and its advanced power-collection systems, ERV was practically self-sustaining, would required only the occasional re-stock of certain, mechanical parts that could not be repaired nor recreated aboard. Eventually, even that was possible– in addition to extensive hydroponics and aeroponics centers aboard, the more than a thousand people living and working there were given an immense catalog of manufacturing abilities. The helm of this massive sword bobbing along the water was a forward section of the bulbous ring-like hilt. Its bridge was a technophile’s wet-dream. Every known form of navigational, computational, and long-range transmitter known to man occupied. Arrays of antennae atop the hilt connected the ship with all facets of modern living– from NOAA weather monitoring satellites in orbit to satellite television and internet. More-over, it’s own, personal system of satellites– built in anticipation of wide-spread deployment of Erv-like vessels– tracked and aided its navigational computers with nearly-autonomous, pin-point precision. All that was necessary was to plot a course, enter it into the nav-systems, then let it run.

With two “kims” of height, the only thing Erv couldn’t do was enter shallow water or win speed races. What it could do was accept and dock with ferries, and once finished, other Erv-class vessels. A series of retractable piers and docks were easily unfolded, anchored to the lower hull for stability. With Erv’s necessary strength, it was possible to form a make-shift port that held true in even the worst seas.
The upper-half of the sword was a composition of modern residences comfortably sandwiched around one another. Its lower-half, a series of labs, offices, farms, and other specialized sections allowed its crew to partake in anything from recreation to medical check-ups in the necessary, hospital-like infirmary level.

The first “test” of Erv was to stand a pre-determined length of time against the elements. In that it excelled. With every storm that came and went, it never faltered. Due to its size and stabilized shape, it was impossible to topple regardless of the category of dangerous hurricanes. Tsunamis only barely registered and merely required its docks remain folded. It was a sword in the proverbial master’s hands, ever-balanced and unyielding.

The Second Erv-class vessel was completed shortly after the first finished its last test; a live-scenario that simulated an extended loss of communications and sat-guidance equipment. Though carefully monitored, Erv-1 had been at sea long enough that the people aboard were confident in fending for themselves. The fully-functioning agriculture and live-stock programs allowed the crew no limit to rations. Moreover, due to the advanced navigational-systems aboard, the loss of satellites only required good, old-fashioned mathematics and active sonar to keep them sailing unhindered.

ERV-2 was put through its paces shortly after contact between ERV-1 and land was re-established. The only test left for the former vessel after a time was to dock with ERV-2 once it survived its extended comm-blackout tests. As expected, ERV-2’s performance was flawless, and like its predecessor, became fully autonomous when lost by land.

The docking of ERVs 1 and 2 was equally successful. Having then been at sea near five years, ERV-1’s crew was happy to be joined at the hip by her sister and its new people. After establishing their tether and linking their docks, they formed a two-pointed palace on the ocean with a harbor between them. Able to now share their crews and foods equally, a kind of specified niche-market began on ERV-2. By scaling back its agriculture focus, with ERV-1 in turn ramping up its own, the two ships were able to compliment one another in both crew and utilization.

ERV-3 and ERV-4 were finished only months later, the construction process now stream-lined. Having been the prototype, ERV-1 required a quick retro-fit and re-calibration of its navigational systems before it could be considered on-par with the slightly newer tech in the second-gen vessels. Before long, all four ERVs were linked to form a half-moon joined only months later by four more, new vessels known as ERVs 5-8.

Together, the vessels formed a massive ring of swords. At a distance, they appeared as streaks of light emanating orb-like energy-bolts beneath. Due to the increased demand for space aboard the existing vessels, and the growing need for more housing on land, a third generation of ERVs were constructed all at once. These eight further vessels broke water only to link with and beside the first series.

It wasn’t long before the ERVs took over the ocean. They formed an inter-connected metropolis complete with streets and walk-ways that dominated the outer areas and allowed for easy traversal across the massive sprawls of ships. Before people realized it, they no-longer felt themselves as crews of ships, but rather citizens of the first, fully-aquatic city. Like Erv-1, these settlers broke-ground to become something Humanity could look upon fondly.

Even today, decades later, newer ERVs are under construction and the sea is on its way to being harnessed to its full-potential. Millions dwell in the metros created by the interlinked ships. Millions more still await their place aboard the cities to come.

With a silent reverie, it seems, the collective wisdom of Humanity has allowed them to once more brave a new-world and thrive. Like ERV-1, those water-dwellers were the first generation of a new class of being; aquanauts who knew first-hand the beauty of the sea in all of its gentle, fierce, and life-giving forms, and embraced it as home.

Short Story: The Secret Keeper

My hands are covered in blood, black and blue with bruises so I wipe them like an auto-mechanic with a shop towel. That metaphor feels the most apt, especially given I just worked the sunuvabitch over like a mechanic works a rust-bucket. He’s tied to a chair, jogging pants and wife-beater splattered with wide trails of blood. Between the sheen of sweat that covers his body like a greased hog, and the swollen-red bits of flesh beneath it, he has that same worn-out, beat-up look of a decades-old Ford that’s worked one too many days.

I don’t care why he’s tied to the chair. I never do. I just do my job.

As usual they brought me in after they’d nabbed the poor bastard in the night. They’d given him just about every other type of treatment known short of the MK Ultra-style drug and plug, and he’d still kept his mouth shut. That’s why I got the call. That’s always why I get the call. You know the one. It goes something like this: There’s a click as I thumb my burner-phone, half clothed in a towel and wet from a still-running shower or some other, mundane bullshit task of life. Then, there’s a deep, male voice– or maybe it’s high and feminine. Either way there’s a voice and it says; “we have a problem.”

That’s it. The phone clicks off. I finish my shower, lunch, or whatever, and leave. I toss the burner in a dumpster down the street during my walk to the pick-up point. It’s always the corner of eighth and Main. I picked it ’cause most days I can watch the petite book-shop owner across the street shuffle back and forth at the counter. She’s always leading with her left foot, but writing with her right hand.

It used to be I’d just stare at her ass, watch it buck left and right with those supple hips. Now though, I try to imagine what’s on her mind. Is it something good, bad? Maybe heartbreaking or even arousing? I’m never quite sure. Must be a sign of getting older and mellowing out. You think less about pussy and instead the person around it. There’s a lotta’ pussies in the world, half as many as there are bodies, but people are rarer. I’m not talking about a human creature. There’s more than enough of those to go around. No, I mean people– personalities and thoughts and dreams worth a god damn.

I always snuff my cigarette out with my left foot as the black sedan rolls up to the crosswalk. I never do it like that anywhere else, only when I’m watching her. The brakes on the sedan squeak as I give her frosted, platinum blonde hair a final look, then angle down into the car’s back-seat.

From there, each call’s a little different. Some days its a car-ride across town to an abandoned warehouse, or maybe a dry-docked tanker in for repairs at the harbor. Hell, we even used a hotel room once; rented out the whole damn floor so no-one would here the guy’s screams. What a waste of cash. He cracked like a damn egg and I’d barely touched him!

Sometimes though, when the situation calls for it, I get to really enjoy myself. Not in the torture, though in my line of work you find ways to enjoy what you do. Why live and work– and do your job well at that– if you can’t enjoy yourself? I mean I get to enjoy the life that accompanies the really swanky places they put me up in. We’re talking billionaire, yacht-club, coke from a G-an-hour stripper’s tit-crack level of swank. It’s the kind of shit you think only exists in movies ’til your numb face is between her plastic tits and shes pumpin’ you on the suite couch.

I’ve seen all of those types of places too. Not the places themselves. I’m not needed that often. But I’ve seen all their types; the tit-job, coked-out party places, the tea and crumpets, dusty-muff-stink places. Hell, even the ones where people address you as sir– because they know slavery’s still alive and well, and black, white, brown or flaming red, they’re whipped into sucking you off and thanking you for the privilege.

It’s the life to live when you’re young. You’ll never see anything like it unless you’re working for the black-box government-types like me, or get in deep with the hardcore mafioso like my bloody friend there. Let me tell you, take the former; the latter, always, always gets busted eventually. Even if they don’t– even if they’re one of the infinitesimally small numbers that slip through our fingers ’cause they’re greasier than a whore in tub of petroleum jelly– they still die younger than us. They spend half their lives looking over their shoulders for guys like me, hoping their time doesn’t come sooner than its planned to.

As for the poor fuck tied to the chair? Like I said, I don’t care why he’s here. Sure, I am too, but I just do the rough stuff. They ask the questions. Who are they? Pray you never find out, ’cause you’re either gonna’ be the one being asked, pissing yourself– oh yeah, a lot of ’em do that too, trust me– or you’re gonna’ be the one asking. There’s no two ways about it unless you hear about “them” and never more than that.

There’s a lot of people, mostly those bleeding-hearts who like to pretend their shit don’t stink. They “object” to my methods and line of work. Funny, they’re usually the ones begging us most to do this shit when their asses are on the line. I digress.

I do what I do because I’m good at it, and I’m good at it ’cause I like to push a person’s limits. It’s freeing. Something you can only understand after unleashing hell on a guy– or a chick, hey I don’t discriminate blood’s blood– and finding out his face is harder than you thought, and ending up with lacerated knuckles or torn tendons.

But it’s freeing for the mark, too. You have any idea what it’s like to keep secrets that’ll have you murdered if you tell them? No. How could you? Having that shit hanging over your head isn’t healthy. Eventually you reach a point where you’re helping ’em more than you’re hurting ’em. Which, even I know is a lot, but think how much better they’ll feel once they heal up in Witness Relocation and their conscience is clear. Not all of them make it there, but the doesn’t change facts. If they choose to give up what they’ve got, I get to free them of that burden.

I’m a secret-keeper; a sort of new-age sin-eater that swallows up all of these fuckers’ pain, bleeds it out the knuckles while I’m hammerin’ on ’em. In a way, I’m the one that suffers most for knowing what I do. Thank fuck for worker’s-comp and mandatory psych-evals. Maybe one day they’ll straighten me out enough to cover up my recurring wounds, then I can ask that cute minx out at the bookstore. I thought about saying I was a boxer once, but then realized I’d have to keep that cover by actually boxing. What fun is it when the other guy hits back?

There I go, digressing again. Anyway, that’s what I do. I beat the piss out of people for ol’ Uncle Sam, free them from their burdens, even help make the world a little safer in the process. I guess whatever my real title is, I’ll always just be the secret-keeper. Who knows, maybe even the minx has some secrets to tell.