07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was naïve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.


"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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10/06/12

  08:05:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 619 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .28: Edge

I stayed until five in the morning. By two I was fairly certain I knew which truck we were looking at. It had been sold a couple of times without title changes, so officially it was going to take a little more work to determine the owner. But all that really meant was requesting information from the insurance companies- and they never put up more than an obligatory objection.

I was able to use the software to track the truck's comings and goings on the camera footage. He was our guy. I was sure of it. But I also had an idea of where he went during the day. And I knew he was the same man from the hospital.

It took me nearly an hour to get a uniform to drop me off at my car. It had been an ingenious man-trap, having me meet her at her place, so she could control my day, and make sure I ended up back there at midnight.

I told myself, and the female officer who was driving, that I?d be fine, now. I was tired, too tired to move, let alone be tempted.

And it was almost true. I got out of the car, and even the early morning air didn?t make a dent in my sleepiness. But after the squad car was gone, and I tried to settle myself behind the wheel of my car I couldn?t stop myself from looking at her front door, and imagining her cocooned in a sea of sheets and pillows, wearing something sexy though probably not revealing.

And I knew I should go home, to my low-thread count sheets and empty bed. I wished I had coffee that I could throw on my crotch. But I found myself sleepwalking to her door.

I kicked myself with every step. It was dangerous, giving in like this.

Maybe I wasn't- that's what I told myself. That it wasn't about giving her what she wanted, it was about trying to get what I wanted. Answers. Reason. I was flailing around. Making mistakes even a rookie wouldn't.

If I'm honest, maybe I wanted to use her, use the fact that I knew she wanted me, to save myself, to get indulgence for the mistakes I'd made- get her help unconcealing evidence. Or maybe I just felt like I needed another human being to know what I'd been holding onto- even if it damned me.

I knocked on her door. I waited, and just when I?d talked myself into going back to my car and to my own bed, she opened the door. Her hair was a matted pile on top of her head, and she stared bleary-eyed at me. ?Alex?? she asked. She wasn?t even awake enough yet to smile at me, but she managed to grab a fistful of my shirt and pull me inside.

?You reek,? she said, and finally managed a smile, but it was strange, because her lips weren?t fire engine red like they usually were. And she seemed to notice that I noticed, staring into a mirror in her entryway, ?And I look like, well, my mother, which is to say a poorly made up transsexual hooker- and I worked vice for over a year, so I know of what I speak. But I have a solution that will absolve us of all of our hygienic sins, while maybe opening us up to some more fun ones: I?m taking you into the shower,? she said, and walked down the hall, pulling her nightgown over her head and letting it fall to the floor.

I wanted to argue. I wanted to want to argue. But I didn?t. I couldn?t. So I followed her.

10/05/12

  08:04:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 752 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Inception

Mai and Maria watched the Perseus leave the docking station in orbit through the monitors. ?I couldn't help but notice all of the religious terminology you were flinging around last night,? Mai said. ?I take it the ex got a little less ex??

?We're still divorced. But we did share a fairly religious experience,?

?God's name was invoked quite a number of times. And you're not on the pill, right?? Maria gave her a strange look. ?Medical officer. I might not go over the prescriptions with a fine-toothed comb, but I still sign off on all the medical inventory we receive- and I don't remember you being one of the three women onboard who are on the pill.?

?I could have an IUD, or an implant,? Maria said.

?So do you??

?No, but I could have.?

?So do you want some emergency contraceptive??

?The thought had crossed my mind.?

?So you did go bareback.?

?Not at first. But by the third time...?

?You slut! And I say that with the utmost pride and affection.?

?I got a little carried away. But I'd thought about contraception. And, I don't know. I guess I just don't know if there's a point. I mean, what are the odds that the one one night stand I ever had will be the one where I get knocked up? And even if I do- so what? I was thinking about it, anyway. And if I decide I don't want it, all it really takes is a massive OD of hormones to terminate. I guess... I just want to keep my options open for the moment.?

?I don't know about that,? Mai said. ?I'm sure things won't go over well with the maybe not-so-ex when he gets back and you explain that you ganked some of his sperm.?

?I didn't gank it. He gave it pretty freaking willingly.?

?I'm sure. But he also probably assumed you were still on birth control. I assume you were when you were married.?

?Yeah.?

?And even if not, let's be realistic, here: are men really ever mindful of birth control? Being a doctor, I'm not sure I can blame them; they're genetically programmed to throw their seed around. But since we've evolved beyond just being men's biological ovens, it falls to us to be damn sure we're in a baking mood before we become incubators.?

?Don't get me wrong,? Maria said, ?because you're spot on, but how would you know that??

?I don't trust men to do my taxes or wash my car, if I can help it.?

?I thought that had more to do with you using your taxes to meet brainy chicks and... hell, even I like a bikini car wash.?  

?I knew you weren't that straight. And I hate to get all Hallmarky on you, but if you're really still into your husband, you should think about letting this go. Do you even know how he felt about children??

?He was vaguely pro. But we were both still young, and still pretty wrapped up in our careers. So it was all fairly academic, talking about kids. But speaking of being young and still pretty... he's got a girlfriend. One who he's supposed to get back with in two years.?

?One who conveniently didn't matter last night.?

?That's not exactly fair. I get it. I mean, I was trying to behave myself, but when I first saw him, if we hadn't been in a room full of strangers, I would have thrown myself at him. And I don't mean euphemistically; I would have tackled him to the floor and had my way with him- he wouldn't have even got a chance to tell me about his girlfriend. But we ended things really abruptly; maybe we just needed to go a goodbye round.?

?But I want this,? Maria said, touching her stomach. ?I could always message him. I mean, because of the delay, we wouldn't be able to have a real conversation about it, but I could prepare something, and record it. Tell him I wasn't on the pill, that I'm thinking about keeping it. Not to entrap him, or keep him here, or for child support or anything. Just because I want a kid. And he's got some impressive genes.?

?I don't know,? Mai said.

?Wait,? Maria said. ?Is this just because you'd be less attracted to me if I got pregnant??

?Not entirely.? ?Mai said with a grin.

?My god,? Maria said, ?you are such a pain in the ass.?

09/29/12

  08:04:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2151 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .27: Bitch Tax

Matthew was crying. Ofelia did what she could to calm the child. But he?d been inconsolable for the better part of a day. No one knew if it was because his mother was still missing, or if the improvised formula recipe Ellen had texted them was no longer curbing his hunger.

But it reminded all of them of their vulnerability. They were low on virtually every imaginable supply, because they didn?t dare go to Mr. Liu?s. Mary had been on a grocery run to his store when she disappeared. Anna had even been reluctant to let Clint go on a run for them.

A call to the police had only yielded the response that she ?isn?t a missing person, yet, but if you?ll leave your name and address we?ll send an officer out to take a statement,? which had only made them more distressed.

Lisa was taking it harder, because it was the first time she?d experienced that kind of siege mentality, and it was this that drove her to knock so heavily on Anna?s door. ?You can come in,? she heard from inside, and opened the door.

?I want to go to the store,? Lisa said.

?It?s not safe,? Anna said.

?I?m going. I still have money in my checking account I can use if I have to.?

?The cops are probably watching the account. If activity suddenly pops up on it? you?re a walking, testifying testament to their malfeasance. They?d hunt you down.? She furrowed her brow, but she knew they couldn't survive indefinitely without supplies. ?And we?ve got money. Our arrangement with Mr. Liu, it just let us be a little extra discreet about it. But we have money. You?ll take Mayday, obviously.? She stood up and called out, ?Mae??

The woman came in after only a few seconds. ?Something you need??

?Grocery run. We?re going to try another store. I?d go myself but-?

?The brand,? Mae said. Lisa gave her a questioning look. ?Some proprietors won?t even sell to a girl with a brand. Even those who do, usually have a mark-up, fifteen percent or so. Most people have it programmed into the register, even- and real misogynist pieces of shit will hit the button for any woman, branded or no.?

?It?s always been kind of a thing,? Mae continued. ?Women?s clothes are made cheaper, or products that?re the same are priced higher, like women?s deodorant. But this takes it to a whole other level of shitbaggery.? 

?Just be careful,? Anna said. ?It?s a bitch to pay a, well, ?bitch? tax, but it?s more than that- it?s less safe. We don?t know these people, or how they?ll treat new female customers.?

?And only bring back things we need. This is as much about putting out feelers as it is about getting supplies. We start to buy too many things that look like we might be running a clandestine clinic from a new store and we?ll have gender crimes busting in our door.?

?Mae, take some bills out of petty cash.? Anna pulled a rawhide cord with a key on it off her neck and tossed it to her. Mae used the key on the top drawer of a metal filing cabinet, then pulled out a small metal box with a combination lock on it. She input several numbers and opened it up, and took out a few hundred dollars. Lisa saw enough to know there were thousands more in the box, before Mae closed it back up and put it away.

?Anything you need?? Mae asked.

Anna thought for a moment. ?Mint chocolate chip ice cream. In one of those big, gallon tubs.?

?Just what we really need?? Lisa asked with a smile.

?I?m only human. And I was planning on sharing. A little.? 

Lisa followed Mae out the tunnel, then around and up the hill. She?d parked her car down the street. ?I expected something bigger, and more intimidating,? Lisa said. ?Like a Hummer.?

Mae climbed in the driver?s side, leaned across and unlocked Lisa?s door. ?I used to have a Jeep,? Mae said. ?But it had a cloth top, and after I left my house I didn?t have a garage to park it in anymore, so it was always getting cut into. Which was extra frustrating, because it was convertible- the thing had a zipper that opened- and my deductible was larger than the cost of replacing it.?

?But this car is more discreet. Plus I can give head in it? if I had somebody to give head to.?

?Um?? Lisa said, and shifted nervously in her seat.

?Sorry, this is the kind of head that requires a penis; you can?t really roadhead a woman- the logistics just don?t work out; though we could always sixty-nine in the backseat- not that I think you were offering.? 

?But God,? Mae said, ?I?m looking forward to having men?s deodorant again. Girly deodorant just does not cut it with me- as I?m sure you can attest- despite the air freshener. But what are you looking forward to having back in stock??

?I?m just happy we won?t be eating rice and potatoes anymore- well, not just rice and potatoes. Maybe fruit. I know it?s you, and it?s futile to even ask, but could you not make this sexual: I would really love a peach right now.?

?You?re so right; I would eat a peach for a peach. Just shove my face right into it, let its juices run down my cheeks; damnit, now I?ve made myself hungry and horny.? 

?Me, too,? Lisa admitted, ?a little.?

?We could always take that siesta in the back seat.?

?No, thanks,? Lisa said.

?You?re right. Anna would worry if we took too long. But the invitation?s open. Us girls have needs, and these days it?s hard to trust a man to help you meet them without worrying he?ll turn you in to the whore police for using birth control.? Lisa turned a little red. ?Unless you?re already getting your needs met.? Lisa turned redder. ?Ofelia or Clint??

?Him.?

?You slut! I thought he?d been walking a little funny, the last few days. But slight of frame, sleight of hand and nimble of tongue.?

?Uh??

?Oh,? Mae realized she?d said too much. ?I thought you knew. He and I, looong time ago. Didn?t mean anything. Not that he?s a man-whore. I?ll explain, that?s probably better. We were both out drinking, separately, because we hadn?t met yet, and a group of Neanderthals sauntered up to me and wanted to make something of my tattoo,? she said, and rolled up her sleeve to show Lisa the Marine Corps. Insignia on her left bicep. ?They said a woman couldn?t possibly have hacked it in the Corps. And Clint defended my honor, chased them off. It wasn?t like he rescued me or anything, because even half in the bag I could have castrated them myself, but it was chivalrous. And so was my response, I think? though I?m a little liberal with my definition of chivalry; I kind of get wound up with chivalry.?

?You?re not saying you ra-?

?I would not use the ?r? word. It was consensual-esque. I got carried away- and I think so did he. I would just say it was unintentional sex; like a crime of passion, only sexier, and less criminal. But he woke up in the Shelter and Anna swore him to secrecy. And it turned out he was a good man to have around- though not like that. It was a one-time thing; I have no claim on your? man??

?Hmm?? Lisa said. ?That explains how he got involved with us. But what about you? You told me your husband was killed, but that doesn?t get you to the Shelter.?

Mae was happy for the subject change, even if the new subject was a less happy one. ?I went to a dark place after Frank died; one bad Frappuccino away from climbing a clock tower near the police station kind of dark. I got a hold of the police report, detailing the men who killed him while he was ?resisting arrest? for ?aiding and abetting the escape of a gender criminal.? He was beaten and then shot five times in the crotch- after he was handcuffed. But the men who did it were all in the report. I blew up their cars, all of them, in the same morning. They would have caught me, after that. I became too much trouble for the cops not to. I think I welcomed it; my house was halfway outfitted towards Waco. And I still don?t know how she did it, but Anna tracked me down before the cops, and set me on a more productive path.?

They passed a Walmart. ?Why don?t we?? Lisa started to ask, and finished the question by pointing. 

?It?s a bitch, staying below the radar,? Mae said. ?We have to avoid all the big boxes, because inevitably they have more cameras than a film studio- which the cops monitor. So we frequent mom and pops. But moms and pops tend to be run by people who are older, and more reactionary. Before we found Mr. Liu, Ellen got chased out of a convenience store by an eighty year old man trying to brand her because she happened to be buying both parsley and vitamin c in the same grocery run. He was eighty, so he never got very close, but still.?

?The nice thing about big boxes is they rely on customer goodwill. So they pretty much have to be as apolitical as possible, which includes forcing their employees not to be openly bigoted on the job. But mom and pops? they rely on convenience. So the owners are free to be just as horrible as they want to be.?

?That?s the other thing; most boxes these days just take plastic- or transfer banking information off your phone. But there are still mom and pops that will take cash- and that?s a godsend, when you?re trying to stay off the grid.?

Mae pulled to the curb. ?But I miss Google, and Yelp. Time was, you could just hop on the internet and see if reviews and posts pointed to an establishment being run by a cranky old bigot. But having that kind of a search history these days gets you marked just as surely as having a brand does. So we get to go blind into these kinds of situations- blind,? Mae said, patting the revolver in its holster at her hip, ?but not defenseless.? 

Mae marked items off their shopping list while Lisa directed their cart. It was nice, being out in a store, doing something as normal as shopping. It gave Lisa perspective, remembering there was a world outside the Shelter, and the struggle that seemed to consume so much of her time and thoughts.

But Mae also noticed a man in his fifties, wiry, wearing an apron, who couldn?t not glare at her. And when they reached the checkout, the man tapped on the clerk?s shoulder and told him to take a break.

After that, Mae watched the register carefully, so she knew what her total was after taxes had added in. ?I don?t let women carry in my store,? the man said. Then he hit another button, and their total jumped 18%.

?That explains why you left your dick at home,? Mae said, ?but that doesn?t make it any less rude for you to eyeball my piece. And we?re not paying your whore tax.?

?Might I suggest you go to the pharmaceutical aisle and pick up some cotton swabs to clean out your whore ears??

?You tongue your customers? asses with that mouth?? Mae asked. ?Because you should keep it the hell away from mine. Let?s go.? Mae motioned for Lisa to leave their groceries on the counter.

?No,? he said, ?you don?t ?go.? It costs me money to pay someone to put this shit away; walking away, you?re basically stealing from me. So either you?re paying up, or I?m calling the fucking cops.?

Mae looked from her revolver in its holster, to the man. He swallowed, and hit a button on the register, and the prices reverted back to their prior total. Mae handed him exact change.

They carried their bags out to the car and threw them in, trying not to appear rushed, though they both knew the cops were probably on their way. 

?What was that about?? Lisa asked in the car.

Mae put it in gear and they were gone. She sped up the hill, then slowed down right before she crested it and turned onto a smaller street, and made her way zigzagging in the direction of the Shelter. ?I just get so frustrated dealing with these pathetic excuses for men. My Frank?s gone, and these are the men we have left.?

Lisa didn?t know what to say to her.

09/28/12

  08:02:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1400 words  
Categories: Whores

Lunacy: Away

Three hours later they were riding the lunar elevator upwards. Most of them had met Melissa at the dinner, but Paul had not, and was listening intently to her. ?The lower section of the trip up uses electromagnetic propulsion- it's basically the same tech that makes the maglev work- which cuts the travel time about in half. And because it's electromag instead of rocketry, it's pretty resource efficient.?

Clod hated Melissa even more than she hated Speed. She'd seen a little of it at dinner; she made eyes at everyone. She couldn't not sexualize everything. In equal parts she wanted to slap the woman and pay for her therapist; if she hadn?t gotten work as a corporate shill on the Moon, she probably would have been a streetwalker.

But rather than assault or insult her, Clod she took a walk instead.

The lunar elevator was loaded up with shipping containers of helium-3 and rare earth minerals. The station always kept enough shuttles to evacuate, but often vehicles began to accumulate at the port. So they had decided to load the Chinese shuttle with minerals, as well as the shuttle that would make the return trip with Colleen.

It made the elevator feel still more like a warehouse, and specifically reminded Clod of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Walking through stacks of containers, Clod quickly lost the sound of Melissa?s droning, and found herself reading the tags on the containers- not that they made any sense to her.

She felt eyes on her. She?d spent enough time in proximity to men to know when that meant she should be cautious, and looked around. She didn?t see anyone. 

She heard noise- not any specific noise, but the general noise of someone nearby, the scuff of a foot, the stir of air from an exhaled breath. Then, at the edge of one of the stacks, she saw hair, too much hair, like a wolf, the size of a man. She moved towards it. She was a soldier, and the one most qualified to deal with whatever it was she?d seen.

Her fists balled, and she caught herself wondering how up for a fight she really was. It had been years since she'd been through basic, and even though she'd never backed down from a fight, it had been years since she'd thrown or received a punch, either. She heard noise, the clink of clothing, footsteps, as a dark, hairy form took shape, rounding the corner into the light.

?Don't,? she whispered.

?Crap,? the man said, then smiled. ?I didn't startle you, did I??

?No,? she said, realizing that underneath all that hair there was a man, and not a dumb beast. ?Not at all.?

?Oh, good,? he said. ?Dante. I handle the elevator, and the space port. Not that that entails all that much. I'm not NASA, though; just like Mel, I'm a company guy. I don't have the chops to play with test tubes. So I spend most of my time riding the elevator. It's like a crazy, kick-ass roller coaster- well, okay, it's like one of those lame, go straight up ones- but way faster than anything back on Earth. At least I think it is. I don't really know, come to think of it.?

?You look like,? she couldn't bring herself to say it.

?Cousin It?? he grinned. ?That's what everybody tells me. I guess I just don't care. I mean, I was a loner on Earth, and I never cared that much about grooming myself. And up here? I'm surrounded by fucking PhDs and walking brainrections. Nice people- it's not like they're rejecting me; but I don't have anything to say to somebody who knows pi out to the fifteenth decimal place, or who plays with physics equations over their breakfast trying to squeeze an extra ohm out of our power grid; I'm not even sure if ohm is the right word in that sentence. So I keep to myself. It's funny how quickly people will write you off as the dangerous kind of loner when you do that. I'm pretty sure people think that if there were a bell tower, or a rifle, for that matter, I'd have climbed the one with the other.?

?Are you sure you aren?t just projecting?? she asked.

?Oh, no. Melissa tells me what everyone thinks. Mostly, I think, to shame me into shaving. I think she likes to think that if we could just get that extra little bit of credibility they?d accept us. She?s an outcast, too. We aren?t even cleared to know about most of the experiments, or equipment. Technically, we aren?t even astronauts; we?re just dumb monkeys doing the grunt work- though we completed basically all the training, anyway. Melissa?s also a mouthpiece, but she runs the forklift, and she even does a lot of the repairs- thought don?t tell Skot; he thinks he maintains it, poor dumb bastard. She actually has to loosen a few bolts whenever he?s coming for his regular maintenance, to give him something to feel like he?s doing.?

Paul nearly bumped into them. ?Oh, God, it?s so nice to see another face. Well, you know, I assume there?s a face under there, somewhere.? Dante grinned. ?But that woman loves to drone and flirt. Not that there?s anything wrong with either. But it was just so? shameless. She went down the line, first flirting with Martin, then Me, Levy, Rica, and Alisa. She?d started the circuit over again with Martin, and I decided I wanted off the merry-go-round.?

?Yeah,? Dante said, ?that?s the inferiority complex. She doesn?t actually bang anybody, but I think she likes to be able to reject astronauts- since they?re always rejecting her. Of course, everybody on Station knows by now that she?s a cocktease, and they ignore her advances in advances, so her self-esteem has been especially low. I?m glad you visited, and that you?re taking the rest of the booze with you, because I think she was dangerously close to her own Girl Gone Wild: The Moon special. I mean, I like topless women as much as the next guy, but it?s depressing when you know the girl, and her issues.?

Paul and Clod shared a look.

?She?s a friend,? Dante said, but he realized his protest was hurting that claim more than helping. ?And I?ve got stuff to do. The climber software mostly runs itself- you know, unless you give a crap about efficiency, and then you have to keep a weather eye.?

Clod sighed. ?I?m glad I?m not the only one who didn?t fall for the Ms. Rah-Rah?s pom-pom pushing.?

?She?s not my type,? Paul said, and she blushed; ?and I?m still kind of? distracted.? Then she realized who was distracting him.

?Yeah,? she said. ?Think I?ll go see how the elevator works,? she said, and followed the direction Dante had disappeared.

Paul was still thinking about his wife- his ex-wife- when he strapped himself for the first time into the Perseus. They only needed the belts for the initial burn; after that, g forces would be low enough to handle even standing.

It was strange, finally being inside the ship. Their trainers in Houston looked exactly the same, to the smallest detail. But with the vacuum of space on the other side of thin walls, it had never felt more alien.

Or perhaps that was just because Paul had reunited with his wife, that the parts of him that had been dormant since she left him were reinvigorated. She made him feel like he was home, even on the lunar surface. So now, by comparison, this new home felt less welcoming.

Rica and Alisa had been onboard for hours, already, performing final checks. ?Mechanical systems ready?? Martin asked.

?Check,? Alisa said.

?Bio and life-safety systems check??

?Ready and functioning optimally,? Rica said.

?Separate from the tower,? Martin said. Clod hit buttons on the screen, and the ship shook. She flipped through several exterior cameras to verify that they were no longer attached. 

?We have separation,? Clod confirmed. She grabbed the stick, and used venting gas to thrush them away from the port.  

?Sensors say we're clear,? Martin said. ?Begin ignition sequence.?

Clod hit several buttons on the panel. ?We have ignition.?

?Take her out,? Martin said.

Levy waited fifteen alligators before he asked, ?Are we there yet??

?Nope,? Clod told him. ?But we're finally on our way.?

09/22/12

  08:01:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1215 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .26: Closer

?Color me impressed- and please, don?t feel constrained by the lines when you color. But she believed. Hell, I believed it. I half expected you wouldn?t let me see the partial plate after we left, because you were that sympathetic to these terrorists. But here it is, in my hot little hand.? She slipped her phone out of her palm and into her coat, then reached for the shifter, curling her hand around the ball so that her fingers stretched out towards my leg. Then she kicked the car into gear and took off.

I expected her to drive me back to my car, so we could go our separate ways, but instead she flew right past her exit on the freeway, took the one for the station. ?I figured you could help me see it through.?

I wanted to complain, about how it wasn't my shift- but it was, for today. To quote the chief of detectives, ?Apparently gender crimes doesn't fall apart without one of you fuckletards riding the desk.? I was honestly more concerned about the word 'fuckletards' than I was about working a swing with Candi; the CoD was compounding compound swearwords, which quite possibly hinted at a new insult arms race that could tear the department apart.

But the CoD had gone home already. He didn't work past four o'clock. The whole swing shift was half as big as the day shift, and nights were halved again. People were always on-call, so in a pinch, you could fill any shift with more people than would fit in the building, but it meant we mainly had the run of the place.

Gender crimes, being largely a new desk, with a small staff, didn't have a cold case file. The CoD or the captain couldn't saunter in and ask if there was something we ought to be doing rather than holding down a desk, because short of inciting gender crime some days there really wasn't anything to do.

Which is why Candi bringing me to the station made me nervous. She was ambitious, a go-getter; she liked to work on projects in her downtime. And her projects always made me nervous, like the crisis center that got bombed out.

But she led me into the video review room. Despite the innocuous look of the place, not too dissimilar from the facility at the hospital, really, this was different. Because it could remotely access any video footage in the city that was stored on the cloud- which included about 90% of the cameras in the city. It was all covered under a presumptive warrant, similar to the national security letters used by the FBI. So long as we could prove that we found a useful needle, we could justify rifling through the haystack. 

?This was how I recognized that whore outside Liu's Grocery. I pulled up footage from security cams around known feminista incidents in the city, and just pored over every image of a woman. I checked days? worth of footage, and total she was in less than a full second's worth of frames. She was good at staying away from the cameras. But I put her at three separate events- from her locations relative to what went on I assume she was more of a lookout than a doer.  But the couple times this last year she had a baby in tow.?

?A feminista with a baby?? I asked.

?Maybe she likes to let them get old enough to call her 'momma' before she kills them- I don't know. Kid wasn't with her when we took her into custody, so I'm assuming deceased, or at least in a dumpster someplace. She wouldn't say. But I figured we have another six hours on the clock, might as well be useful.?

What I didn't factor in was that the room was small. Comfortable, but not really built to have two people moving around. And it gave her an excuse to cram against me; she was practically sitting in my lap- and that made it apparent her skirt had shrunk three inches from her usual. And she kept finding excuses to leave the room, and she'd practically dry-hump me climbing over, then do it again on her way back in.

It went on for six hours, and I don't think she sat still for longer than twenty minutes.

We made progress on the truck. With the partial plate we were able to check traffic cams in the area around that time, and got a few potential hits.

But the last few minutes of the shift were fast approaching, and it was becoming obvious we weren't going to finish before midnight. If it wasn't Gottfried relieving us, we'd have been able to knock off by then, but even still, she realized she couldn't procrastinate, relying on his lateness, for much longer. ?I was wondering,? she said, biting her lip, and for the first time perhaps since I'd met her, she was vulnerable, really vulnerable, ?if you'd like to come back to my place.? I was surprised to see her nervous, waiting for my response. And I wasn't prepared for it, so I took too long to form a response and she immediately minimized. ?I'm not asking you to father a baby,? she said earnestly. ?I had SWAT snag me a handful of contraband condoms from that abortion clinic they raided.?

?So condoms are okay?? I asked.

?Between colleagues,? she said, pressing her body against me, so there was only the thin layer of our clothes between us.

?Not today,? I told her. ?I feel like we're getting closer, we're almost there with this crisis center bombing. I don't want to leave in the middle of it; I may even work a double.?

?Your car's at my place,? she said, and I realized large parts of today had been part of a plan of hers.

?I'll get one of the uniforms to drop me off whenever I decide to call it a night.?

?Well when they do, feel free to come inside for a nightcap. My door's always open. But knock, because I sleep with my holster on,? she leaned in close to whisper in my ear, ?and nothing else.?

I didn't blame her much for the hypocrisy over the condoms; it was no secret respectable women went up to Canada for vacations, and came back with signature scars under their arms where they'd gotten contraceptive implants. The full-body scanners TSA and customs use picked them up like women were wearing them around their necks, but those were women of means. Nobody benefitted from trying to put them in prison.

And I liked Candi, she was nice- to me, at least- and flirty. Not to mention that she was beautiful. But I couldn?t look her in the eyes without seeing Deborah Gladstone, shot in the face for no reason I could name. Maybe it was just that I knew Candi would have approved of it, stood over the corpse and called her a whore, maybe even spat on her.

I?d probably have already fallen in love with her- and despite myself I knew I still might- were it not for that fundamental coldness at the heart of her. It scared me, nearly as much as she did.

09/21/12

  08:00:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 580 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Separation

?I don't want to go,? Paul said, unable to tear his eyes off her body.

?That's sweet of you,? Maria said, noticing, and started to gather up the pieces of her clothes scattered across the room. ?if stupid.?

And as much as it pained him, her dressing did make it easier to think, and maybe even easier to contemplate walking out the door. ?But I mean it. Whether I stay here, or go back home... I've got two lives worth living here.?

?But,? Maria said, pointing up at the stars, ?you've got a third girl on the side. And whether the other two of us like it or not, she's the love of your life, or at least you think she is. And if you don't go suckle on her Milky Way, you'd always resent us for dragging you away from her- and I say that as someone currently sixty-nining her own space fantasy.? She stroked his cheek. ?And it's sweet of you to put me into competition with your current girlfriend- but I'm pretty sure last night was a fling. You were scared. I was horny. We still had unresolved marital stuff, and I think hormones and stress were involved. And now you've got to collect your shit and go do what you know you have to- what you need to do, really.?

Paul kissed her. ?Not bad, as emotional pep talks go.?

?So you're going then?? she sounded almost sad.

?Do you want me to?? he asked, confused.

?Of course I don't, idiot. I left you because I couldn't drag you to the Moon. And now you're here; I?d probably marry you all over again if I thought you?d stay. But I also know you shouldn't base your decision on what I want. It's not fair to you. Which is of course ignoring the fact that you don't really have a choice.?

?It's NASA, not slavery.?

?Don?t be naïve. You're conscripted. And your crew, they need you. It might only be two years, but people get injured. They will. And they need you there. And I know you well enough to know that you aren't that selfish. Even if you wanted nothing but to stay here, even if it tore your heart out and pissed on it to leave, you'd do it anyway, for them. So stop being dumbly sentimental, and go be a fucking astronaut.?

?Thanks,? he said, and kissed her cheek.

She wanted to say something else, but she didn't, and he knew it. But he also recognized the danger in trying to get her to, against her better judgment, so he left.

She collapsed back onto her bed. She wanted a cigarette. She wanted a drink. She wanted anything bad for her that would dull the pain of losing her husband a second time. It had been the right thing to do, the grown up, adult thing to do. But she was out of restraint to do the adult thing.

But she didn?t have cigarettes. Or liquor. What she did have was her mother?s voice, telling her that she was making all the wrong decisions, driving away the best man she?d ever known for some idiotic dream.

Her mother was wrong. She?d been in the Moon?s light gravity long enough to know that. But it didn?t make the echoes of her mother?s voice any quieter, or the very real pangs she felt as the person she loved most left her the way she?d left him.

09/15/12

  07:57:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1218 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .25: W

?I know that walk. In my time they called it a walk of shame; my stepdad colorfully called it the walk of a woman ridden hard and put away wet. I?m still not sure what my mother saw in him, besides a sometimes reliable provider. Clint, I take it? And I had you pegged for Mae?s type.?

?Jeanine,? Lisa said sleepily, turning towards the rocking chair in the corner of the dining area where the older woman was sitting, drinking tea. ?Didn?t think anybody was up.?

?I wasn?t, not until about, ?Oh God don?t stop.??

?That doesn?t really narrow it down,? Lisa said, trying not to giggle. But she noticed the older woman didn?t share in her amusement. ?You don?t approve??

?I don?t- I?m not used to it. Not that our cohabitants are a pack of nuns, but even the ecstatic moments of Mae?s conquests are discreet, stolen.?

?Sorry,? Lisa said.

?I?m not trying to shame you, girl. Life is about the moments when your breath goes hot, whether that?s with your ankles wrapped around your lover?s head or throwing an ash tray at it.?

?You must have an odd history with men.?

?That I do.? She took a sip from her tea. ?There?s more of this, in the pot on the stove, if you?d like some.?

?I was supposed to be fetching us something to drink, but if you?ll excuse me a second?? she ducked out of the room, and peeked into the TV room, then ran back into the kitchen, ?yep. Like a baby.?

?Soiled himself and his underpants?? Jeanine asked with a grin.

?Sleeping,? Lisa smiled. ?Freshen your tea??

?Revive it,? Jeanine said, turning her cup to the side so she could see the bottom, ?because I already killed this one.? Lisa took the cup to the stove and refilled it, poured one for herself, and took both back to the table. She took up the seat opposite Jeanine.

Jeanine stared into her tea and reflected. ?I?ve heard the younger girls call me ?Mother Superior.? I assume it?s because I can be severe, and because I?ve never been caught out ogling the boys who hang around. But I?ve been married- and I don?t mean to Jesus- though at my age that?s no great surprise. I grew up in the northwest, but I was living in Wyoming when I met Bill. I was still young and pretty, then- though not so young I can claim not to have known any better.?

?Bill fancied himself a cowboy, because we had a couple of horses and cows. Didn?t know a thing about what to do with them; course, that described a whole mess about him. He also fancied himself a bar owner, so we sunk our entire nest egg into one. He worked long hours, but by then I was bored with him, so that suited me fine; we had two children, a little boy, and a less little girl, so I had plenty to keep me occupied. He was bored of me, too, which was likewise fine, until I came home to find him balls deep in the girl he hired to serve drinks. That wasn?t fine.?

?I filed for divorce. He had to move out of our house. And his lawyer told him there was no way he could keep the bar- not even if he gave me the house- it just wasn?t worth enough.?

?So he got himself good and drunk; it was about the only way he ever made a man of himself. But a barkeep is only ever as lonesome as his taps are tight, so when he was drinking, and the beer flowed freely, he had plenty of friends. Only he wasn?t crying in his beer- he was pissing angry.?

?The crazier men there in the bar formed a ?posse? and came to our home. I hadn?t changed the locks; I never thought? but he had keys into our garage, and to our gun safe. I woke to hoodlums in our home, following the lead of my estranged husband. Remember when I said he fancied himself a cowboy? He?d paid a man to make him a brand for the two cows he owned, a ?W? because that was his last initial. Mostly, once the men were inside our home, they didn?t know what to do. Broke some things, but they were just rowdy. But my husband got all quiet, and started playing with that brand, staring into the fire as he poked at the embers with it.?

?I wanted to call the police, but they kept up this menace anytime I moved too close to the phone. That bastard coward didn?t dare come at me alone- I?d have carved him out a vagina of his own with that brand. But he had his friends grab hold of me. He told me, ?You didn?t take my name, which at the time I mistook for pride. But I know it, now, I can see you for the whore you are, and I?ll make sure every other man who looks on you can see it, too.??

?He branded me. Our little boy saw that. He?d crept out of his room, after I told him and his sister to hide. And he squealed like a stuck pig; I will never, for all my days, forget that noise. And that brought reality back into the house. The men restrained Bill, called for an ambulance and the police, and managed to slip out before either came. By then Bill was sobbing, and trying to plead with me to take him back so they wouldn't take his bar. And I told him he was a cunt, and I?d cut the word into him if he came any closer to me- and I sure as hell would have tried.?

?I got everything, between the divorce and the civil suit. I sold the house, so we could move, and I burned his bar to the ground. Bill killed himself in prison, and I only ever wondered why he couldn?t have done it sooner.?

?My brand was one of the first, and it made the papers; I fear it was part of the start of the trend. But the stigma wasn?t the same, in those days. People said it made me brave, because I wasn?t cowed by the experience. I did volunteer work for the ACLU, and NOW. So did my daughter. My boy had too much of his daddy in him, never forgave me for leaving Bill- and said that was why he hung himself. We haven't spoken in fifteen years.?

?What happened to your daughter?? Lisa asked.

?She?s dead. The struggle that took my eye, took her life. And I couldn't not hold her brother Jimmy accountable for his part of it; he let his feud with me mean he wasn?t there for his sister when a mother's love was the most poisonous thing for her.? She swallowed, hard and dry, and looked into her cup, and knew there was too little tea left to slake her thirst. ?I been fighting longer than most of you have been alive, and while the nature of the struggle's changed,? she said, ?it goes on. And so do I.? She drained her tea, turned her cup over and clacked it against the table.

09/14/12

  07:33:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 542 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Animal

?You were an animal.? Maria said. ?More so than usual. More so than I thought you were capable of.?

?Shit,? Paul said, rubbing his face. ?Laura.?

?Shit, you two?re really still together? I thought you were just jamming it in a little deeper.?

?I? I don?t know what I was thinking.?

?Honestly, if memory serves, very little thinking transpired. You sniffed me and we were off to the races. It?s never been like that, not even the first time- and that first had been the one to beat. And since when are you into periods? I used to have to berate you into going down on me on the rag.?

?I, well first off, when berating is your go-to come-on?

?You know what I mean.?

?I? I don?t know. I just? I sensed it. Maybe smelled it.?

She hit him. ?Jerk.?

?No, I don?t mean like a disgusting smell, but it was like, I just knew. Something about the way you smelled, I could just tell by your smell.?

?That?s creepy.?

?I always liked the way you smell, but it was different.?

?New shampoo??

?No. Nothing artificial. Just? more acute. It enveloped me, and I felt warm- that moment submerged in a bath where you?re weightless but supported, before you realize you can?t breathe.?

?I know exactly what you mean. It was like that when you touched me. I mean, it?s been a while, and that always makes me more sensitive, but I don?t think it?s ever felt like that.?

?You think it?s because we still love each other??

?What are you, gay?? She laughed. ?I?m teasing. I didn?t stop. Duh, moron. We didn't break up because we stopped loving each other.? Then she thought about it, and felt self conscious when she asked, ?Did you??

?I tried to.?

?The 22 year old??

?She helped.?

?I can?t believe that. Picture you sent me didn?t have a face.?

?Perils of a camera phone.?

?It wasn?t because she had a butter face, then? Maybe just a tiny little dinosaur brain??

?I hate to tell you, but beautiful. And smarter than I am.?

?Oh, you ass!? She hit him with her pillow. ?You love her. That?s how I know it. Because she can?t be smarter than you, Dr. Freaking Astronaut.?

?Maybe not academically; I mean she hasn?t even finished college, it?d be a little unfair to count that against her. But I mean? she?s really bright, practical, worldly and knowledgeable.?

?So you're wearing pretty deep red glasses for the girl.? She sighed. ?I?m not going to be cliché and tell you you have to choose. Because, duh, nothing?s really changed. We were estranged- and passions overwhelmed. It happens. I hope she?s in it for the long haul like you are. But I?m staying up here until they drag me kicking and screaming back down to Earth. We had a nice time, but move along, nothing more to see here.?

?What if I can?t do that??

?You?re shipping out tomorrow, sailor, actually,? she looked at the digital clock on the wall, ?today. God, we were screwing for hours? though that does explain some of the soreness. But you're leaving today. You've got your life to live, and I've got mine. And that's just the way it is.?

09/08/12

  07:24:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1265 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores: .24 Bombshell

She didn?t tell me why we were in a car, or where we were going, not until we arrived at the bombed-out husk of a residence. ?Those feminazis did this,? she said from behind her steering wheel.

?Casualties?? I asked.

?Bomb must have gone off prematurely, because no one was hurt.?

?Or they didn?t intend for anyone to get hurt,? I told her.

?It?s just adorable, how much you want to think the best about people; I could eat you up. They found residue in the rubble, points to putty explosives. Probably nothing military grade, because it?s harder to get, and more dangerous to get caught with, but Gelignite and some of the other commercial grades can be bought fairly easily, or just stolen from any halfway decent mining operation. In a pinch, terrorists have been known to mix their own.?

?But why are we here?? I asked. ?Because last I checked neither of us work on any of the terror task-forces.?

?Don?t we?? she asked. ?What do you think gender crimes is??

?Well, unless a woman is aborting with a brick of C4 in the middle of a crowd, I?d be reluctant to call it terrorism.?

?Oh, Dudley,? she sighed.

?Dudley??

?Loveable, good-natured crime-fighting buffoon. Also rhymes with stu- well, I wouldn?t want to create a hostile work environment for you. But this was a crisis center. Specifically, this was my crisis center. We haven?t been able to find all of the underground clinics. Makes sense, in a way; Prohibition had speak-easies that were never eradicated. But this center was my two-edged solution. It was staffed by pro-life volunteers from my church; women looking for birth control or condoms or abortions got the spiel about the dangers of all of those things from them. And at the same time, they intimated that those services might be available at some later time, clandestinely, if only the woman leaves her name and address- which was put directly in my hand.?

?There are ?underground? crisis centers all over the place. They?re legal and above board, but they make it harder for women to find real abortion providers. But this was a prototype public-private joint; if it had provided results, we could have gotten official funding for crisis centers across the city, as well as used them to gather intelligence and generate leads for our department.?

?But trying to arrest women who are considering breaking the law? isn?t that a little like going after thought crime?? I asked.

?Not as good as charging someone with the commission of a crime, but intent carries almost as good a sentence. And when it works, it saves lives. Of course, when it doesn?t work, it kicks my career right in the cunt. Honestly, if I hadn?t had a break in that gender killing case that same week, I might have been busted down to meter maid.?

?That all explains why you?re pissed, but not so much why I?m here. Forensics has been over the site already, and this isn?t even my shift.?

?Just when I was beginning to wonder if you ever ?detected? much of anything?? she teased, getting out of the car, and I followed suit, ?we have a witness. But I get from our phone conversation earlier, she?s a bit of a sympathizer. Even though by leaving her in the building next door they were putting her at risk, she seems a little too willing to cut them slack. I?m not always the warmest fish, but you? you could find sympathy for the devil herself.? She smiled at me, and something about that smile, beyond even her penchant for red clothes and red lipstick, made me wonder if she was that devil- though even I had trouble finding sympathy for her.

?Tamera Olson. She?s a secretary, for the chiropractor who works next door. She was working over to make up some hours, cleaning up some of her boss?s schedule and billing- which must have been a real mess, because she told me she'd be in again today dealing with it. I need you to pump her for information.? I waited for her to press the doorbell, and when she noticed my hesitation she said, ?It?s got to be you, down to the knock.? I rapped on the door. ?See, that knock, gentle, but strong. Ladies melt for that kind of shit.?

The chain lock on the door slid on, then the bolt opened. The secretary opened the door as far as the chain would allow. ?Police,? I said, and handed in my phone showing my credentials. She took it, and scanned it with her phone. She glanced at the confirmation, then back at me, just to be sure, before she handed it back and unchained the door. She was shaking.

?Are you Tamera? You?re still upset, from yesterday,? I said. I felt like a bastard for caring- not because I didn?t, but because I knew I was being used for my compassion, and I was letting it happen. ?That?s understandable. You?ve been through a traumatic event. Have you spoken to anybody about it? I?ve got a list of councilors who specialize in post-trauma therapy, I could send to your phone.?

?Okay,? she said softly. My phone had already overheard and anticipated, and all I had to do was hit the ?send? button. Her phone beeped.

?I hate to even ask, but you saw the people who did this, didn?t you??

?No,? she said, and for a moment I thought Candi?s faith in my empathy had been poorly placed. ?I saw their truck. Part of the license plate.?

?And do you remember it??

?I wrote it down.?

?May I see it??

?I know what they did there,? she said, glancing in the direction of the newly-blasted hole in the ground next door. ?My sister saw some religious zealots playing doctor at a crisis center, three years ago. She had a molar pregnancy; it was basically a cancer growing in her uterus; there was never a viable fetus involved. But the crisis center refused to tell her that, because she would have ?aborted? it; and they weren't even breaking any laws, because our genius lawmakers decided it should be legal to keep medical information from patients. So she didn?t know her pregnancy was molar, and didn?t know to go to an oncologist, and never got to find out it was a choriocarcinoma; there was a 1 in 5 chance it was cancerous, so it was actually worse than playing Russian roulette with her life. It rotted out her insides, and she died.?

?Keeping that number from us is obstruction of justice,? Candi said, but I put up my hand for her to stop.

?I?m not sure I know what happened to it,? Tamera said thoughtfully. ?I think I lost it.? Candi was seething. She wanted to kick in the door and beat the woman to death with her phone.

?I know we work for the police, and that oftentimes the system fails us,? I said, ?but we aren?t the enemy, here. We want to see justice done, but we want to make sure everyone can feel safe in their homes, in their workplaces. Whoever did this, might feel like they?re making a political statement now, but what happens a few weeks from now? What happens when they get caught out by the police, or God forbid when someone gets hurt by the next bomb they set? This only ends in tragedy- unless we can prevent it. We want the same thing, here: fewer women dead. But to do that, I need your help.?

09/07/12

  07:32:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 522 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Pot Luck

Food had been on the table for several minutes already, and the two crews were starting to chatter anxiously. Vince Barker, commander of the Lunar Station, stood up and cleared his throat for quiet. ?I guess our two Dr. Wesleys aren't going to make it.?

?Right,? Mai said, pausing a moment to chew her upper lip. ?Um, Maria asked me for a medical consult on some of her research, but Paul had relevant experience, so I suggested he help her. And I guess they're working overtime.?

?Hmm,? Vince said. ?Well, we wanted to put together a feast for you. And it's with a little pride- and nearly as much sadness- that I can tell you that this is the best you're going to eat for a long, long time. I don't meant to talk down your crew's cooking- I'd just be surprised if it's a match for the combination of Ang, Colleen and Bella- but the Perseus just doesn't have the robust growing area we have on the station. So enjoy this, please.?

?Ahem,? Skot said.

?And,? Vince rolled his eyes, ?from our staff to your crew- Jesus, that sounded less dirty in my head- but we're all brothers in this- or, at least kissing cousins. Our hearts, our prayers, and hopes, go with you into the unknown. You aren't just seven astronauts. You're standard bearers for humanity, proving that the border between the possible and the impossible is permeable.?

?That was beautiful, boss,? Mai said as he sat down. ?Incredibly, incredibly gay, but beautiful.?

?You should know,? Skot said.

She stuck a very long and dextrous tongue out at him. Ang stared, mesmerized.

?Well, crap,? Martin said, standing. ?I guess that means I have to say something- thanks for the heads up, by the way,? he said, and Vince raised his glass in Martin's direction. ?We appreciate everything you've done, inviting us into your home, your offices, stomaching Levy, and handling our incessant questions with grace. I only hope that after as long in space, we can exhibit the same calm and poise.?

Martin sat down, and noticed Melissa was staring at him. He tried to smile politely at her, but her stare only became more intense.

?Is it time we told them about the surprise?? Skot asked, but didn?t wait for Vince to respond. He went into the hall and wheeled in a case on a hand lift.

Vince shrugged. ?Now, we aren't technically supposed to have booze on the station, but as I'm sure you're all aware, we work for a madman. And he has secreted among the Chinese resupply a case of truly terrible vodka; he might have cut it with paint thinner- or it could just be Russian.?

?That's,? Alisa started, with righteous anger, ?probably right,? she concluded, deflated. She knew better than most how very many counterfeit bottles of vodka were still sold on the Russian market, and how many deaths they caused every year.

?Enjoy yourselves, drink, eat, be merry,? Skot nodded at Vince, which reminded him, ?but drink responsibly, people, or at least, puke responsibly, so I don?t have to help mop it up.?

09/01/12

  10:34:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1495 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .23: Sexploitation

?What are we watching?? Lisa asked, plopping down on the couch in the TV room next to Mae.

?Porn,? she said with a smile.

?Great...? Lisa said, and it came out half a groan.

?I hate that term,? Mary said, ?pornography is what sex looks like. It's a cold, visual depiction of friction. Sex is vibrant, and alive and it?s-?

?The reason you have one baby and another on the way,? Mae said with a grin. Mary gave her the bird.

?But would a rose, named something else, smell any less like remorselessly pounded vagina?? Ofelia added, smiling.

?Calling it erotica only makes it sound classier,? Anna said. ?I don't go the full anti-pornography hog, but it's hard to separate out our experiences growing up in a patriarchy, and our socialization as cultural submissives. It's hard to confidently say that a woman screwing on camera isn't doing so because that kind of behavior has been dictated?

?Hah!?

?Thanks, Mayday- but that she?s doing it because it's expected of her. Women should be free to choose how to live their lives, sexually, or otherwise, but it's hard to call this a choice without acknowledging all of the baggage each and every one of us drags around.? 

?I hate that we can't just watch a skin flick without turning it into a feminist studies class,? Mae moped. ?Can't you all just enjoy the boobs and the butts and the penises with me??

?But going the censorship route aligns us with the same kind of cocktuggers who've all but declared our vaginas contraband,? Anna said.

?You're arguing over a pornographic landscape that hardly exists anymore,? Mary said. ?When I was growing up, porn was populated by the kind of men who looked like what you'd expect from cavemen given steroids- and usually had about the same level of respect for the women they worked with. But then along came this self-effacing, scrawny Jewish kid, who knew how to touch a woman and how to look at one... you?re spoiled for having grown up in James Deen's wake.?

?I was still a teenager, then. Sometimes I wouldn't even watch the sex, just the way he interacted with his costars. It was a watershed. Women were already buying up a third of pornography produced, but suddenly having someone who... catered isn't even the right word, but who simply cared about us in the industry...?

?I don't understand today's women and their need for visual stimulation,? Jeanine said dispassionately from behind her reader.

?You just want us kids off your lawn so you can finish 'reading' Lady Chatterly's Lover in peace,? Mae said. Jeanine glared at her. ?If you don't want us seeing what's on your reader, try locking it when you set it down.? Mae turned to Lisa. ?But why don't you get yourself a beer??

?There's beer??

?Yep. Clint brought us a case.?

?Why didn't you tell me??

?I'm telling you now.?

?But whole minutes have gone by. I've been watching pornography sober, when I didn't have to be.?

?Come on,? Anna said, ?I'll show you where it's at. 

Anna led her into the kitchen, and then to the refrigerator. ?I never would have found it here without your help,? Lisa said facetiously, reaching in for a bottle.

?I hate these nights,? Anna said. ?I get it, I do. It's stress relief. And it's communal, so we get to spend some time around each other when we're not being shot at, or blowing up buildings or being hunted by the cops. But... I can't see a brunette without thinking of Ellen, and my crying quietly to myself in the corner is about as far from what everyone else needs tonight as you could get. Sorry to have used you as an excuse to leave the room, but as a peace offering? Anna took the beer from Lisa, popped the top off with an opener, then handed it back to her. ?But on the bright side, the beer should be taking hold, by now, so I imagine the contentious debate should be mostly through.?

Lisa walked Anna to the bottom of the stairs, then turned back towards the TV room. ?Seriously,? Mary said, trying to raise her voice over the uncomfortable-sounding grunts coming from the television, ?show of hands for anybody who thinks we should skip the anal scene.?

?Those butts were made for pounding,? Mae said melodically.

?You are a vile woman.?

?Yes, but that?s most of my charm.?

Lisa didn?t feel comfortable weighing in on the question, but at that moment Mae spotted her. ?I'm going to go make some popcorn.? Lisa disappeared from the doorway and practically ran back into the kitchen. Which is where she ran into Clint.

?I don?t think we have any popcorn,? he said. ?We?ve got tortilla chips and cheese, if you wanted nachos. Or were you just trying to avoid Mayday.?

?Can?t I be hunting for snacks and protecting my virtue??

?Few women can- but I like to be impressed, so I?m rooting for you.? He raised his beer in her direction. ?But I wish someone had told me they were doing a pornathon tonight. I used to laugh at the idea that men couldn?t be sexual around women, because it made them feel uncomfortable. And now I?m living the opposite. It serves me right. But still, I'd have preferred to avoid my comeuppance.?

?Um, you could always go. Not that I'm trying to kick you out so we can do girl stuff, but if you aren't comfortable...?

?I try not to come and go at strange hours too often. It arouses suspicion. And besides, it's my thing. This is equality, really; I'm just trying to acclimate. And...? he sighed, ?I don't want to be alone tonight.?

?Why's that??

?Things have just been getting to me, lately. I don't mind fighting the good fight. But it feels like we aren't really making any progress, either. I'm not getting any younger, and neither is Mae. What happens when we're too old for this fight- or, more likely, when we don't realize we're too old for the fight and move too slow and get caught or killed. I hate the idea that that better world we've been fighting for won't get here before... before I'm no longer able to work towards it.?

?And I hate that the nuances are getting lost, too. I try not to make waves, because I'm not oppressed in the way the rest of you are. But sometimes it just feels like a very us versus them fight, and sometimes I feel like I'm getting lumped in with them. Sometimes I feel like I should be.?

?What do you mean??

?I'm completely down with the struggle. And I've done things for it where there was a pretty good chance I'd die. But I'm still a man. And sometimes, it just feels like I don't have a camp, anymore. I'm a gender-traitor to most men- they call people like me manginas, which is so grade-school it doesn't even hurt, and, you know, I wouldn't want to be a part of any club that would take them for a member- no pun intended. And I know none of the girls mean anything by it, but I'm not really one of the girls, either.?

?And I guess it?s compounded, because I still feel guilty around Mary. Every time I see her, and her ever-swelling belly... it should have been me, not Mike. I?d rather it had been. Her kid?s coming into this world without a father. Goddamnit, I didn?t ask to be saved,? he wiped a tear from his eye.

?Maybe not,? Lisa said. ?But maybe you were anyway, for a reason. People miss Mike. But maybe you still have some grander part to play.?

?I can?t tell if you?re arguing for a God who moves mysteriously.?

?I don?t know,? she said, ?I just know that I?m glad you?re still here,? she said, and kissed him.

?What was that?? he asked, surprised.

?I've felt scared, and alone, since I got here. The girls have been great, and they've done everything that could be expected of them. But before now, I hadn't... connected with them, beyond fear-clustering. And maybe I just want someone to commiserate with, I don't know. But I should have asked, before. Is there anyone else? I wouldn't want to come between-?

?No,? he said.  

?Because right now everybody else is preoccupied watching pornography. So I thought we could sneak up to the bunks and make some of our own.?

?That... was a little awkward,? he said with a smile.

?I know,? Lisa said.

?But tempting.?

?Only tempting?? she pouted.

?You've been drinking...?

?Yeah, the top third of this bottle, mom, and I'm not that much of a lightweight.? 

?We'll see where it takes us,? Clint said, and took her hand as she led him down the hall and up the stairs.

?Now where's that girl with the popcorn?? Mae asked.

08/31/12

  10:33:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1076 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Claudette

There were days Claudette hated who she was. She was pretty enough, and strong enough, and smart enough; it wasn't exactly that she had low self-esteem. But moments like this one she could hear her dad's voice. When she'd been just a girl he called her Claude, just like he called her sister James. He'd never wanted daughters, and did his damnedest to ignore the fact that he was mostly firing x-chromosomes at his wife.

And it was his voice that she heard how much prettier those other women were than her- Melissa, Paul's ex-wife, maybe even his Earthbound girlfriend. Somewhere in her father's attempts to strip her of a gender, he'd probably intended to impart to her that those superficial things didn't matter; maybe he lost interest, maybe she'd just been a crappy student, but that pearl of wisdom never got passed on.

And she felt stupid for it. She knew she wasn't competing with either woman. She knew that the reasons people get involved have more to do with subtle personality trait compatibility far more than how pretty she was, or whether or not she felt like she filled out her space suit well.

But recognizing that she wasn't being rational about her insecurities didn't make them any easier to rationalize away.

And for some reason even Speed was setting her off; maybe he reminded her of that four-eyed kid in elementary school who unseated her as her class's reigning multiplicaiton champion. Or maybe she just didn't like that her entire species was in the process of being made irrelevant, that if anybody had bothered to work the statistics, they would have found that autopilot computers could do most everything she could do better, faster, and within a lower tolerance for error. And not a one of them had the resources or processing power of Speed.

She glanced around the dimly lit corridors, to be sure no one was around before she even thought it: just maybe, she was scared. She'd been on edge since the Perseus took off. She was a soldier, and a fighter pilot, and a combat medic. She wasn't supposed to even know how to spell fear. But she was piloting the most advanced ship mankind had ever created, further than anyone had ever been. Maybe all of that was just more than her narrow shoulders- by her father's standard at least- could bear.

That was when she realized she was lost. She'd been wandering the station for so long, and taken so very many turns and twists, that she no longer recognized it. And the lights were dimmer here, meaning that that part of the station was rarely ever used by the crew. She thought she recognized the crates from the elevator- which made a degree of sense, since the Beta Station had been built around the base of the elevator, and integrated nearly flawlessly into it.

Not that that helped her figure which way the exit was. She could have asked for help- and if she was too proud to ask people over the comms, she could always ask Speed.

She knew she would never do that.

What she didn't know, is she was being observed. 

Piercing hazel eyes followed her through the crates, while soft feet barely made a noise on the metal grated floor. A wet, sensitive nose took in the lingering smells of the perfumes in her soap from Earth, not quite yet washed away by the scentless, hypoallergenic stuff NASA supplied. But her smell was complicated, mixed with cold sweat, the lightest hint of body odor. The nose flexed and flared, and took in a second lungful of air, the better to smell her. 

In the limited light of the elevator, Clod clipped the edge of one of the crates, and spun around, flattening against the wall they formed. She caught a glimpse of hair, too much hair, black and moist, and eyes that caught the light and threw it back at her. In the dark, all she could see was those two eyes, and she wondered if she remembered enough hand to hand combat to do her a damn bit of good, subtly trying to ready her fists without raising them.

The eyes regarded her curiously. Then their owner stepped into the light. He was tall, and covered in thick black hair, nearly evenly distributed on his body, from his chest to his beard to his eyebrows. He looked like a Lonne Cheney wolfman, and she was still fearful until he smiled. His teeth were white, and only as sharp as a man's teeth ought to be. ?I'm Dante,? he said, nodding in her direction.

She let out a sigh. She seemed to remember mention of a Dante. And he wasn't a werewolf. Those two were enough to calm her down. ?That is, by far, the creepiest introduction I've ever had.?

?I try.?

?To be creepy??

?Eh,? he shrugged.

?Nobody mentioned anybody working on the elevator,? she said, eying him warily.

?Yeah,? he said, dragging the syllable out, almost too bored to finish the word. ?I don't much socialize with the astronauts. Even Melissa forgets I work up here a lot of the time. I run the forklift, pack and unpack things coming off and going on the transports. I also handle most maintenance tasks related to the elevator.?

?So you work for NASA?? she asked.

?Last I heard they were still fighting over that- I think right now they both pay a chunk of my check- but all I know is every month when I check the balance it's all where it should be- not that I'm where I'd have to be to spend any of it.?

She nodded. She'd served in the Air Force, flying sorties in the Middle East. She remembered that feeling, that she was amassing a nest egg she was never going to get to see, let alone spend- and she would have guessed Dante, like her, didn't even have anyone who would inherit it after her. It made her feel closer to him that she otherwise would have, which was probably the reason she asked, ?You coming to dinner??

?Have I yet?? he asked. ?No. I don't really do dinner. I'd rather eat when I'm hungry, not when other people feel like being social.?

?That's fair. Which way's the exit??

He pointed to her left. ?Just follow the blackness until you hit the dark. You'll be fine.?  

08/25/12

  10:32:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1031 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .22: Vitals

?I've got a live one, for you.?

?I think I'd prefer a dead one, if you've got one. Harder to get anybody killed that way.?

?You can't blame that roadblock crap on yourself.?

?I guess,? I said, not feeling she would understand if I tried to explain it.

?We've got a gender-crime killing. According to his statement, this guy, Travis Hickman, and his idiot friend attacked a couple of girls. One was branded. They hacked off one of her arms, then tried to rape her. But she had serious back-up. Which makes us think she's part of the underground terrorists who took pot shots at you. Hickman was in the hospital; he was stabbed during the assault. But somebody got to him. The attacker was smart, savvy. He-?

?He? I thought this was a gender crime.?

?Yeah, well, member of the nursing staff caught sight of a man exiting the room. Didn't get a good look- other than to say he was male. I could have handed it over to Gottfried last night, but, well, I didn't want it royally fucked up, which is of course, presuming he actually left the donut glaze haze he usually hides in.?

?But he stole a sedative out of one of the exam rooms, and used it on the officer we had stationed. He turned off all the sensors monitoring Hickman's vitals. Then he covered Hickman's head with a pillow, and turned a pair of fucking snippers on the man's genitals. I'm reliably informed it would have taken no less than ten individual cuts to get the genitals off. Hickman was mildly sedated, so he didn't put up much of a fight, and the pillow muffled his screams enough that they weren't distinguishable from the normal ICU moans and beeping. When he eventually severed his genitals, he put them in Hickman's mouth, and used the snippers to shove them into the back of his throat, where they got lodged. Last I heard, pathologists were still arguing if he choked to death on his own cock, or bled out. Though I'll admit there's a kind of poetic symmetry to both rapists bleeding out through crotch wounds.?

I took Campbell's files on my reader and bunked down in the hospital's security room. They didn't want to just give me remote access to the footage from the station because their counsel was concerned about it violating doctor-patient confidentiality. And he admitted to me their tech guys were worried it might open up a vulnerability to their entire intranet; they weren?t sure if they let the cops in they could ever get rid of us.

They dragged in one of those horrible waiting room chairs, which made the entire thing feel more like I was waiting for someone to die. I watched the video at about 32x. Most of the time that was enough, since there were only a few cameras leading up to Hickman's room that I was watching. And most of the hospital staff had a recognizable way to their movements.

I had my reader speaking the contents of Campbell's files. It made the crime all the more horrible, hearing it in the dry, stilted, robotic cadence. The things they did to the girl... the things they would have, if they hadn't been interrupted.

I wanted to sympathize with Hickman. He was a low-rent thug, who brutalized a woman, but from his description he wasn't the vile and violent rapist his dead friend had been. But he also had sat by and watched. With a knife in his guts, maybe, but he let it happen, regardless. The tapes were a blur of visitors and hospital staff. But no one came to visit Hickman. I could understand why.

I nearly missed him. Fractions of a moment on one camera, a second on another. He was quick, but completely unmemorable. If I'd chosen that few seconds to have taken a bite of my stale hospital croissant I never would have noticed he was there.

He was smart, playing the camera angles. And this wasn't his first time in the hospital. Of course, that made sense. If he was with a gender crimes cell, they probably had him trawling emergency rooms looking for girls who might have abortion-related injuries, or be looking for an underground abortion. And that meant going unseen- but also not looking like he was avoiding being seen.

The camera over the door was placed to allow some patient privacy. So it only caught bits of the unknown man's interaction with Hickman, mostly the other man's legs squirming around at the edge of the frame. It was over in about a minute.

But there was one camera he couldn't avoid, and he would have always known that: the camera embedded over the door. On the way in all it caught was the back of his head- hardly an identifying shot. But on the way out there was no way to hide from that- especially not with the orderly spotting him; it would only have drawn further attention to try and hide his face from the camera.

Maybe he was a friend. Maybe he was a lover. Maybe he was just one of the few citizens who remembered what it meant to be conscientious. But it was hard to feel that what'd he done was wrong, in anything more than a statutory sense.

I wasn't even thinking, really, but my fingers were hovering over the delete key. My heart beat a little faster. This wasn't any small thing, I was contemplating. Evidence tampering, maybe even obstruction of justice. But this man hadn't ended a life. He'd restored balance, after the brutal, monstrous act that Hickman was a party to.

I dumped a low-rez version of that minute of footage onto my reader, then corrupted the original data. Then I called the number I had for the hospital's IT. ?Exactly how old are those drives you record footage on??

?Uh...? he said. ?Could be fifteen years. I don't know. I've never changed them out.?

?Well, you might want to consider doing that,? I told him gruffly. ?Because your ancient hard drives might have just let a killer walk free.? 

08/24/12

  10:32:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 638 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Estrus

When they arrived back from the north pole, Maria met them at the train. ?I know you guys have only been up here a short while, but we have a surprise for you. Not that it's anything we did, or that we had anything to do with it, actually, but your nearly-crewmate, Ang is here.?

The smaller Chinese man stepped out from behind her. ?Ang!? Paul said. ?Buddy, it's great to see you.?

The rest of the crew hung back, because they had gone on the mission without him. There was a feeling, amongst everyone but Rica, that they had betrayed their friend's trust.

And this seemed to be echoed in Ang's eyes, which were sad, until he hugged Paul. ?Thank you,? he said softly.

?Courtesy of Ang's government,? Maria started up again, ?we have our supply drop early, and an extra hand on deck. I know it's your last day on the station, but if you guys want to show him around, you can. Speed can answer some of the simpler mechanical questions through the droids, or you can grab one of us. Comms should get us if we?re not handy.?

The Perseus crew swarmed around Ang and they all walked out of the station together. All except Paul, who followed Maria down a smaller corridor.

?Can I talk to you?? Paul asked her.

?Sure, I guess.? she said. ?Why??

?Becase you know me, and the crew doesn't, yet. Not really. So they won't understand when I say that I don't feel like myself.?

?As in what??

?I haven't slept. The entire trip up to the pole. Not the first seven hour train ride, not the couple nights we spent there, not a cat nap on the way back. And at night- you know, the simulated one, where the house lights dim and the windows darken so it feels like night even though it's a couple hundred degrees in the sun outside- I wandered all over Alpha. I couldn't tell what I was looking for, but I was restless. I just didn't feel safe.? 

 ?Sounds pretty much like you're just stressed. It happens,? she said, as she turned into a maintenance doorway.

Paul stopped right behind her. He was so close she was reminded of dancing at their wedding, and the press of his chest against her. His breathing was heavy, and her first thought was that he had stumbled, and was having a heart attack. But he asked, ?Are you in estrus??

?Am I in- that?s a weird question for an ex-husband to ask.? He leaned into her, pushing his nose against the hair laying flat against her neck and breathed her in.

?I, I could scream.?

He exhaled, and this time his voice was calm, more measured, like she remembered her husband?s voice being. ?I remember you being quite the screamer.?

?Not like that, you- God,? she said, the last word barely a moan as his lips glanced against her neck. ?It?s been so long since you touched me like that.? He traced his fingers from her neck to her cheek. ?What are you doing??

?Touching you.?

?That?s not what I meant,? she said. Finally she managed to get the maintenance door to open, and they fell inside. She pushed him onto a small bench, and pounced on him. He remembered the night of his attack, and she mauled him in the same way.

She was a blur, of lips, and teeth, fingernails and hair in his face. She was wriggling slowly out of her suit, while writhing on top of him, and he bit her shoulder, so hard he drew blood. That brought her back, enough, that she dismounted.

?I?m going to go back to my cabin,? she said. ?You will follow me there, or I?m going to hunt you down and murder you.?

08/18/12

  10:31:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 3800 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .21: Crisis

Samarra closed the door into Anna's room. Mae was standing against the wall with her arms crossed. ?Samarra, it's good to see you. How are you?? Anna asked.

?Do you ever see me when things are good?? the other woman asked.

?I suppose not.?

Anna caught herself staring at the other woman's soft, brown skin, then following her dark hair down her elegant neck, and watching the way her plump lips moved when she spoke. ?They've opened another crisis center.? She'd always been attracted to Samarra, though it was only amplified by her missing Ellen. She'd never mentioned it, of course, because while Samarra was liberal, by Muslim standards, she wasn't that liberal. ?Following their usual mold, it's staffed by local religious crazies- the ones who actually believe there's science proving condoms and birth control not only don't work, but are dangerous.?

?So the usual misinformation and propaganda mill.?

?Only this one is working with the police. It's the brainchild of a gender crimes detective named Campbell.?

?So they shame girls for wanting to protect themselves, then they report them to the police. God...? Anna said. 

?It gets worse. It's been open a whole week. I stole the sign-in sheet, but they'd already scanned it and sent it to the police.? Samarra handed her a folded up piece of paper.

?We can probably skip Olive Oil and Joan d'Arc, or Ms. Blues at 1060 West Addison,? Anna said, ?but Lucy, 14, requesting birth control, and the reason she wrote down is incest.?

?Either of these could be a trap,? Mae said.

?Only if they thought Samarra is a spy; but we'll want to be careful. Mae, I want you to take Clint and Lisa to the center. If there's anybody in there, get them out- I don't want casualties. But we can't let them keep it open. It has to be destroyed so utterly, that the people behind it question even wanting to set up shop someplace else. I'll take care of the girl.?

?What are you going to do?? Mae asked suspiciously.

?Talk to her. Give her the information the crisis center wouldn't. Lay out her choices, give her the options.?

?Recruit her?? Mae asked. They were both thinking of Ofelia. ?And what if she's a plant?? Anna shrugged. ?Maybe I should go with you.?

?They're going to need you at the crisis center more.?

?If there's trouble- any kind of trouble- you call me. Or I'll kick your ass.?

?I will, Mae. Would you assemble the troops, for me?? 

Mae nodded, and left the room. ?You seem less enthusiastic than usual,? Anna said.

?I'm worried. This feels... convenient. A 14 year old incest survivor? If someone were to design cheese with which to bait a trap for you, Anna...?

?I know. But if it is true, I could never forgive myself if they put that girl into the juvenile detention system. You know what they do to gender criminals in juvey.?

?Yeah,? she said. ?And you know the father would come after her when she got out. And unless she was willing to testify- unless she was convincing in her testimony- he'd probably retain custody. It's just the worst possible scenario.?

?And that's why we can't ignore it.?

?I know. But you should take me with you. I can run interference, and watch for an ambush, or whatever.?

?Isn't that just putting extra eggs into a basket we're worried already has predators circling around it??

?I'm no Mayday,? Samarra said, ?but I'm handy enough with a rifle that I could at least give you cover if you had to run.?

Anna sighed. ?I'm not against the idea of having someone watch my ass. But you watch yours, too. If I'm being set up, we don't want to make it a two-fer for them.?

?Right.?

Mae knocked on the door. ?They're waiting in the TV room.?

?Cool,? Anna said. The three women went downstairs.

?Ladies, this is Jezebel. Those of you who've never met her, she does our undercover work. She's found another crisis center, but we're late to this particular party. The first week's worth of patients have already been fingered to the cops. What I'd like to do is split up the list so we can warn those who went to the clinic. But be careful. Some of the women who go to crisis centers want to be lied to. So don't tell them anything you wouldn't be willing to tell gender crimes yourself. Jez will split up the names. Lisa, Clint, come with me and Mae, we'll discuss the center.?

After twenty minutes going over everything they knew, Anna left them to see how things were going with Jezebel. Clint started checking the supplies they were going to need. Mae went down to the armory to get what they'd need from there.

?How'd I make the varsity squad?? Lisa asked Clint.

?If I had to make a guess,? Clint said, ?and please don't hate me for this, but she doesn't think you have enough experience to walk the crooked line that is explaining to women why crisis centers are bad for them. But this sounds bad enough that it?s all hands on deck, so she?s still trying to make use of you.?

?Apparently not all hands,? Lisa said, noticing Ofelia walking away from Anna, nearly crying. She walked over to the younger woman. ?What's wrong?? she asked.

?I didn't make the cut, apparently,? Ofelia said, holding up her missing arm; ?aaand that wasn't intentional, by the way. But Anna asked me to 'hold down the fort.' I think I... I just need to sit down and pity myself for a while,? she said. Lisa stroked her cheek, but she was distracted, and already scanning the room. When she saw her Anna she abruptly left Ofelia alone with her thoughts.

?Anna,? Lisa said.

?Everything okay??

?I wanted to talk to you about Ofelia.?

?She all right??

?As good as can be expected. But that's why I wanted to talk. I know we're in a hurry, so I'll be quick. But she's been through a lot.?

?That's why I wanted her to stay home, and rest.?

?Yeah, but she can't do that. You've been helpless, right? When they held you down, and branded you? You remember what that was like? Well right now she's stuck there. She's stuck laying on the sidewalk, waiting for the man who cut off her fucking arm to rape her. She needs a chance to move past that, to take back her initiative. Mae saved her, but until she gets to go back to doing what she can still do, she's going to be stuck in that moment. She needs this. And she knows, better than anyone, how bad things can really get for us.?

?I'll think about it,? Anna said, and walked off.

?How'd talking to the boss go?? Clint asked.

?I want to hit somebody in the mouth.?

?I've been known to have that effect on women.?

?She said she'd think about taking Ofelia. What is there to think about??

?Apparently not much,? Clint said, pointing across the room, ?because now she's talking to her.? Ofelia hugged Anna. ?Still feeling like hitting someone in the face??

?Yeah,? Lisa said, ?but now I want to find someone who deserves it.?

They squeezed into Clint's pickup truck, and drove to the clinic. It was in a neighborhood, in an old residence, between a dentist and a chiropractor.

Mae stepped out of the truck, and she closed the door behind her and leaned in the open window. ?This is going to take some precision. You up for it?? she asked.

?Don't think I've forgotten everything the Army taught me,? Clint said, ?just the bits about personal grooming and respect for authority.?

?Shouldn't impact your ability to blow shit up. I'll go around to the back and break in, make sure the place is clear. Then I'll double-back, see if there isn't some higher ground I can watch over you from at a safe distance.?

?That might mean you'll have to hoof it out of here on foot.?

?It better not. I don't think I can sneak a Barrett out under my arm- and leaving it here is just asking to leave behind some physical evidence.?

?We can rendezvous a block over. And it probably makes sense to put it on a detonator, anyway. That way we can be in the car, running, before the damn thing goes off.?

Mae took a large black case from the back of the pick-up and went around back.

?So what are we doing?? Lisa asked from her seat in the pickup.

?Giving her a few minutes. Then we'll go to the front, knock on the door, and wait. She'll let us in like we belong there, and then go do her thing while we wire up the center with enough plastique to choke a blue whale.?

?So what do we do during the interim??

?We could make out.?

?I spent the last twenty minutes straddling your gear-shift. Homoerotic it might be; a turn-on for the ladies...?

?I was kidding.?

?So was I. How about you tell me how you ended up here. You are, after all, a boner-owner. And there'd certainly be members of your gender who would argue that it's not your fight.?

?Yeah, but men are stupid. It's dangerous to pay too much attention to anything they say. But I went into the army reserves to pay for school; I was training to be a chiropractor. I didn't finish. I was engaged. She was in the reserves, with me, training to be a sports therapist. By act of Congress, the army medical plan, Tricare, stopped covering mammograms. Her grandmother died from breast cancer, so her military doctor wanted her to get screened. We were both poor students and part-time reservists, and she was young, so she waited. It wasn't even all that long; her stint in the reserves was I think three years, plus basic. But before we'd finished our contract, she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer- it had metastisized to her bone marrow. She fought it, through the radiation, through the chemo... but she died. All for the want of a male.?

?What??

?Debate for removing female-specific care from Tricare was divided basically along gender lines. Really, a full third of legislators sat it out, for cowardice, but women voted against it, men voted for it. And it passed by a one-vote margin. If even a single one of those men who stood by had voted against it, it would have gone down- all for the want of a male.?

?At the time proponents of the change claimed women ought to be contributing extra into the health plan for those extra services. But once those services were stripped away, the Congress made no effort to put them back in a separate plan. Female soldiers just had to do without. Shit, it's about that time.?

Clint kicked open his car door, and held it open for Lisa. ?Dear,? he said.

?Huh??

He took her hand and led her towards the front door. ?We're a couple, remember, here for the clinic's services.?

?Right,? she said. ?And they don't have hours posted for the weekend??

?Nope.?

?And if there's somebody working there, even if they're not technically open??

?Mayday whacks them in the face and we leave them tied up in the neighbor's backyard.?

Clint knocked on the front door. ?But what if I want to punch them in the face?? she asked.

?Well, if somebody other than Mae opens the door, go nuts.? Silence. ?But if they're bigger than me, I want you to know ahead of time I'm not jumping in.?

?I don't need you to fight my battles for me.?

The door unlocked, and Lisa's arm tensed. But it was Mae who opened it. ?Welcome, and come inside,? she said, smiling. They walked in, and Mae locked the door behind them. 

?We clear?? Clint asked.

?Crystal.?

Lisa recognized that they were standing in a reception area. On one side of the room there was a desk, and on the other couches, with pamphlets and magazines spread about. There were two posters on the wall in the waiting room. The first was a close up on an adorable and perplexed looking baby with black text across it stating 'The Morning After Pill Aborts Babies.' A second showed a handsome man in his late twenties looking forlorn, with his eyes red from crying, and text that said, 'Abortions Kill His Baby, Too.'

?They've got an industrial press in the basement, for making pamphlets. It's probably expensive- and resilient, so it might be worth taking extra time to disable it.?

?I should have plenty of boom-boom. I didn't have any idea of the floor plan or square footage, so I had you plan for bear- and really, this house was only ever a muskrat. But I'm going to get started. Lisa, you're with me.?

?I guess,? she said. He led her to a staircase going downstairs.

?Well, makes more sense than having you sneak out with Mae. Plus, Anna wanted me to show you the explosive ropes. Not that we blow a lot of stuff up, but just in case I'm ever unavailable, it doesn't hurt to have an extra ordinance person around.?

The basement still had some items left over from the previous tenants, a sun bleached boy?s bicycle, and half a no longer working band saw. Clint set his bag down beside the large blue press. ?The mechanism itself is all electronic, most of it commercial. But I can show you how those work back at the Shelter. I've also got a burner phone hooked up to the explosives, and signal repeaters to make sure we get them all.? He checked that the phone was getting a signal in the basement. 

?Gelignite was invented by Alfred Nobel, the Peace prize and dynamite guy. Like most putty explosives it requires a detonator, usually electric. We're using instantaneous electrical detonators, IEDs, because we don't want to take the chance one of the church ladies who works here comes by for some filing at the same time we've got the delay set for. But we take a detonator and insert it into the block of gelignite.?

?Wow, no teasing, no foreplay, just stick it right in, huh.?

?You done? Because I'm pretty sure we have enough explosives here that both of us would be arrested and declared enemy combatants and indefinitely detained forever. I don't like the idea of dying for my principles very well; I like the idea of being in a secret government prison someplace and periodically tortured even less.?

?Mayday sliced the brick into small segments; if we were cutting through steel or something that might be a problem, but these are wooden supports- and old ones, to boot- so it wouldn't have made sense using whole bricks of the stuff.?

?But this first one, we put in the center of the press. Because that might actually be a more horrifying thing than the crisis center itself; imagine them filling cheap motels with this garbage,? he said, gesturing to a stack of pamphlets, ?or having them in every single church in the city.?

?But the basement's a good place to start with our explosives, especially in an 'unfinished' basement like this one, because the struts are all exposed. It makes it easier to figure out what's holding the building up. We'll mold a charge to that post, that one and that one. We'll still want to put a few charges upstairs, as well, but this makes it easier to know which walls are load-bearing.? 

?But the reason we?re being careful, aside from to stretch out our explosives, is we don't want to explode the building; we're not terrorists, and we don't want to send shrapnel every which way. What we want is what people call an implosion, but it isn't, really. An implosion involves pressure differentials; to really implode a building, it would have to be basically airtight, and then you'd have to increase the pressure difference with the outside until the building collapsed in on itself. Which would be cool- but isn't really very feasible. Instead, we just take out the load-bearing beams in such a way that the building falls in on itself- instead of say crushing the next-door neighbors.?

?So implosions are like half-empty soda bottles crumpling- but this is more like trying to get section of a felled tree to fall straight down?? Lisa asked. ?Much cooler.? He handed her a detonator attached to a signal repeater.

?Just stab the end without the wires coming out of it into the putty.?

?Just jab it in? Where's the romance??

?I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be my job to make all the dirty jokes.?

?Then why aren't you??

?I'm trying to be gentle; it's your first time.? He grinned. ?Now take the putty and press it against that post. The way this old house is built, I'd guess that would be enough to knock it down. But we don't want to take the chance that it doesn't. So down here I'll wire that post, and you wire up that one in the corner.?

Lisa took nearly twice as long as he did to ready her explosive, but it was still faster than the first she assembled. ?Let's go upstairs,? he told her when she was done. Then he called Mae. ?How are we looking??

?Nothing so much as a soccer mom driving by.?

?So it's quiet...?

?If you say it I'll kick you in the balls.?

?Maybe too quiet??

?If you've jinxed us a ball-kicking's the least of your concerns.?

He hung up. ?Personally I like the irony of blowing up a crisis center- since this place is run by the same religious nuts who were blowing up abortion clinics- you know, back when they were legal. And it's honestly pretty rare that you get a chance to ironically blow something up.?

?Should we take their computer?? Lisa asked, pointing to the one sitting on the office desk.  

?A few years ago, we would have, too, but now-adays everything but their operating system is on the cloud. Having the hard-drive doesn't make it any more likely we can break that encryption. But here,? he handed her a stud finder, and then Gelignite and a detonator. ?There should be a stud in that wall in the kitchen, thicker than the other studs. Put the putty about shoulder height. I'll take care of the others.?

Lisa dragged the ancient piece of tech across the wall. It showed her a fuzzy black and white picture of the inside of the wall. And at that second she happened to glance up, to see a similar-looking picture of a sonagram, subtly manipulated to make a month old fetus look more human and cute, with the text, 'Life begins at conception? on it.

Lisa tore the poster down and let it fall on the linoleum, then went back to the stud finder.   She found one, but wasn't sure if it was larger than the others, so she kept going. The next stud was several inches thinner, so she went back to the first. She inserted the detonator into the putty and pushed it against the wall, where it stuck.

She nearly ran into Clint on her way out of the kitchen. ?You're already done?? she asked.

?There weren't a lot of other places the studs could be. And the rest is pretty easy,? he knocked on empty wall, then moved his hand sick inches to the side and knocked again to find a stud. Then he pulled his phone out of his bag. ?Mayday??

?Still clear. You pulling out??

?Affirmative. See you on the other side.? Clint looked out the front window. The street was just as quiet and empty as before. But still, he turned to Lisa. ?If anything happens, you get to the truck, get Mayday, and get the hell out of here.? She nodded, solemnly.

But there was no ambush waiting for them. They walked casually to the truck, holding hands again, looking upbeat. Then they got into their truck and drove away. On the opposite side of the block Mayday emerged from some bushes. She tossed her case in the back of the truck and climbed into the cab.  

?I want to drive by, one more time, before we set it off. Just in case- don't want to catch the paperboy making a delivery or something.? He pulled the truck around. But the home was just as empty as before. At the stop sign at the end of the street he paused and scrolled on his phone to the number just below Mae's, and dialed it.

There was a loud crack, followed by several more, and the building fell in on itself. ?Work of art,? he said, and hit the gas.

A few miles away, they were passed by squad cars with their lights on, screaming in the opposite direction. Clint dropped Mae and Lisa off at the Shelter, but kept driving. ?On the off chance anyone saw my truck, I want to be someplace else if they catch up with me.?

Lisa felt dread as they walked up to the front door of the Shelter. She knew from what Mae had told her that what Anna and the others were doing was just as dangerous as bombing the crisis center. She half-expected to see police, or at least panic, because someone had gotten arrested,   when she opened the door. But instead she saw Anna, and a fourteen year old girl sitting in a chair next to Ofelia. They were sharing a coke.

Anna walked over to her, immediately. ?You were right,? she said, looking at Ofelia and the girl. ?She needed to come, to be useful. And she was. Lucy wasn't interested in our struggle. She just didn't want the fact that her father rapes her to ruin her life. Ofelia was able to connect to her, in a way I couldn't. She convinced her to come with us.?

?How'd you get her away from the dad.?

?Samarra slashed his tires.? Anna didn't bother trying to hide her smile. ?That kept him preoccupied.?

?But what's going to happen to her now?? Lisa asked, fixating on the way the girl's legs swung beneath her seat.

?Samarra will smuggle her out of the city. Some of the bigger shelters have a kind of foster system set up, where their members act as adoptive parents. She'll be enrolled in school, and get all the advantages she should have. And with any luck, she'll look back at all of this as a bad memory. I hope someday we all can.?

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