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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  09:51:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 786 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Laura

Paul sighed. It was his last night on Earth, at least for the next few years. And it was going to be at least that long before he?d hold Laura again. She was sitting with him on a blanket, under stars, but tonight, so close to touching them, he couldn?t pull his eyes away from her.

?I love you, and we?ve had-? he stopped, to compose himself, to put a little more firmness in his voice. ?I love the time I spent with you. But you?re 22. I?ll be gone for almost a tenth of how long you?ve been alive. And there?s so much here that you?ll be missing out on if you?re staring up at the sky and pining away for me.?

?Fuck you. You?re not leaving me to go to the Moon.?

?And Mars.?

?I?m not a fucking child, and you?re not my fucking father- and not just for how very gross that would make us screwing. So stop trying to make decisions for me, or protect me. Or are you looking for a license to fool around? I?ve seen the press conferences, the way the butch lesbian looks at you.?

?If she?s a lesbian why would she?

?Okay, maybe she?s not a lesbian, but the one with the short, milspec hair who stands like she?s trying to pass for a boy.?

?I?m not looking to screw around. God, I was celibate for a year after my wife left me, being in a pod and separated from most temptation should make that easier. But you won?t be. And what I?m saying is you should do what you want to do.?

?I want to be with you, doing you.?

?I know, babe. But you can?t. Because I have to go. This is me, doing what I want to do. And I?m saying you should have that same right, that same freedom. If you want to try and wait for me, I love a good love story, and that sounds perfect to me. But if you find yourself wanting to move on, do something else, with your time, with yourself? I want you to be happy. Whatever that means, whatever it takes for you to get there.?

?I can?t believe you?re leaving me for space.?

?In fairness, I  fell in love with her first. And she?s got more badonkadonk.?

?Badonka- wow. You are such an old man.? She snuggled into his shoulder. ?But you?re my old man.?

?You shouldn?t- I?m not holding you to that.?

?Well I am. Hurry back to me.?

?It?s two years, and we?re not exactly dawdling. We?ll be moving faster than any humans ever have- discounting the speed the Earth travels around the sun, anyway.?

?Well double-time it, old man. I?m not going to wait forever.?

?You don?t have to wait at all.?

She kissed him. ?Just shut the fuck up and go to Mars.?

It had been a tradition, for as long as Ken had been around to observe it, for astronauts to meet for a drink the night before a flight. They weren?t supposed to. But that didn?t stop them.

Ken had already made the rounds by the time Paul arrived, and was sitting on a stool at the bar with Paul?s drink waiting in front of an open seat. Paul told him about Laura, and how damn hard she made leaving.

?You?re a stronger man than I am,? Ken said. ?You?re no spring chicken. That could be the last early-twenties year old who spreads her legs for you. From here on out you could be looking down the unshorn beaver of mid thirties to mid forties spinsters, not a pretty landscape, I can assure you.?

?You don?t so much date as screw drunks and hire prostitutes cheap enough to afford on your government salary, so I?m not sure how much weight to give to your advice.?

?Not advice, so much as? nostalgia, envy. You know that old saying, youth is wasted on the young, and those young and handsome enough to bed the young. And that girl was young, nubile, perky. Now space has some beautiful tits on her, but she?s a prick tease; just when you think you?re about to reach out and touch her majesty, she pulls away. Her coyness only makes her more alluring, but you?re never going to touch them, Paul; man is never meant to cop that feel.?

?So? like Lucy with the football in Peanuts??

?Why would you ruin my beautiful tit-based metaphor with a fucking children?s cartoon? Now I feel skeevy, and it?ll be at least a day before I can enjoy schoolgirl porn again.?

?So rent something else.?

?I said I wouldn?t enjoy it, not that I wasn?t going to watch it.?


  05:11:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1919 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores: .05 Shelter

Lisa woke up coughing. ?You inhaled a lot of smoke.? She tensed up. The last man she'd spoken to had patently refused to help her rescue women from a burning building, so hearing a man's voice now was the opposite of comforting.

He noticed, but didn't take it personally. ?My name's Clint. I know the firefighter you talked to. When you tried to play hero, he got you out of the building.?

?My neighbor?? she asked.

?Didn't make it. She was dead when you found her. She was probably dead when you asked him to stick his entire neck out for her. But he saved you- exposing himself to no small amount of risk.?

?I never even got his name,? Lisa said sadly.

?Ironically, his last name's Freeman, though he might not stay that way were I to give you his first name. You understand I mean no offense. But you're on the fence, at best, right now. And until we have some inkling which way you'll fall, it's silly to let you know our secrets.?

?Fall? I don't under-?

A woman entered the room through a curtained doorway. She had a fierce beauty, but also a soft boyishness, that reminded Lisa of her first crush. And she was flat-chested. Lisa hated breasts. They were uncomfortable, saggy sacks of fat that reminded her how far from her ideal weight she was- and even on other women she preferred them to be practically nonexistant.

?You were supposed to let me know the moment she woke up,? the woman said, glaring at Clint.

?Just did. And we were talking. Which I think was better for her than me bolting out of the room to fetch you.?

?I'm Anna,? she said. She had a 'W' burnt into the middle of her forehead, but the real fire was in her eyes. They were hazel and green, but from where Lisa laid they looked to be on burning, and smoldered. She had messy blonde hair put up in a pony tail. ?This is the Shelter. The men who set fire to your building didn't intend for there to be any survivors. If they knew of you...? she didn't finish. ?But they don't. That was the point of bringing you here. You're safe, now.?

?The fireman had you declared dead, so officially, you're persona nonexistant. And it's crass, and I'm sorry, because you've already been through a lot, but I have to give the pitch. Because we could use your help. The work we do, there aren't a lot of women willing to risk themselves to do it. It's dangerous. And it's thankless. And it's necessary.?

?What do you do, here, exactly?? Lisa asked.

?We provide services to women in need. Shelter. Healthcare. Whatever they may need, that they aren't able to get elsewhere. That's why we were in your building.?

?Wait, you were in the building??

?Not us, obviously. But women we worked with. A doctor, her nurse, and her assistant. They were good people. And they died trying to safeguard women's rights.?

?Women's rights? You're talking about an abortion clinic. You set up an illegal clinic in my building? You brought those fucking psychopaths into my home? Do you know how many women died because of you.?

?Fifty-seven. But they didn't die because of us. They died because... because we couldn't believe they would murder so many women, just to punish us. We never wanted to put anyone in danger. But we didn't have a lot of options,? Anna said, defiantly. ?I'm not trying to sway you. You have your feelings on the subject, and you're welcome to them. But you also have a lot of propaganda, and bullshit, filtering towards you every day. Just, before you decide to storm off, meet the other women here, first, get a feel for what we do, and how we live. Then you'll at least know who it is you're walking away from.?

?Fine.? Lisa felt badly for being so aggressive, but she couldn't stop seeing her neighbor, in those seconds it took her to come crashing down the steps into the lobby. She knew that that never should have happened, and wanted desperately to have someone to hate for it.

 She followed Anna into the next room, and Clint folllowed behind. ?Can I do the honors,? he began, ?seeing as how you're still trying to augment your cool factor being stoic, and I can't shut up??

?Only if you can stay on task,? Anna said.

?Cool. This is Dr. Dowling, and her nurse, Mitchell.? The woman was wearing a pair of floral-printed scrubs, and had her dark hair just long enough to pull back. She wore a pair of thick, rectangular glasses, and seemed to like to play the light off them to hide her eyes. Her nurse was a man, in his fifties, built like a tree-trunk. If it weren't for his baby blue scrubs, he would have looked like a Marine. ?Don't let her frown fool you, she's one of the best doctors on the continent. Especially for all things gyn-ovarian. But unlike most women in her profession, she's still technically board certified- largely because she hasn't been caught, yet.?

?Wow, way to jinx it,? she said, and knocked on their faux-wood table, ?and it's Ellen, by the way.? 

He turned towards a woman nearly as wide as Mitchell, but taller and leaner. She had short hair, cut slightly too long to be a pixie cut, and seemed to stare lustily at every woman in the room, in turn. ?The beefy chica is Mae Watkins- though you'll probably call her 'Mayday' like the rest of us, do.?

?Careful, beef stick.? And the men, too.

?Ignore her subtle come-ons; she's a clinical sex-addict.?

?Says the man who can't keep his eyes off my tits for even ten seconds when you're in the same room with them.? They shared a smile, before he turned to the next woman.

?This charming young lady is Ofelia.? She held up her arm; on the inside of her left forearm, the letters spelling out the first five letters of her name, 'OFELI,' were tattooed in thick, black ink. Following these was a brand, an 'A' just like the one of the other women's cheeks, finishing out her name. Ofelia nodded, and smiled at Lisa, and her short blonde hair bounced. ?She comes to us all the way from the south.?

?I don't know that Missouri really qualifies as the south.?

?She's been with us since before she was street legal,? Clint said.

?I'm nineteen, now.?

?I'd suggested calling her jailbait, before; but when nobody joined in it was really creepy, just me doing it.?

?Your ADD is showing,? Anna told him.

?Really? But I thought I zipped up after going to the bathroom.?

A woman with dark, auburn hair down to the middle of her back had a baby wrapped in a garment that made a little hammock for it, and kept the baby snuggled against her chest. She realized she was next for an introduction, and made herself a little bigger. ?This is Mary, and I?m sure you?ve heard of her son, Hey-Zeus.?

?Matthew,? she corrected him. ?I thought about naming him after you,? she said to Clint, ?but I thought calling the boy Dickless would give him self esteem issues.?

?And this is-?

?Jeanine,? the older woman interrupted him. She had medium-length, curly silver hair. She also had a 'W' brand across her left eye; the brand had made her iris cloudy, and Lisa found she had to stare into her other eye to keep from shivering. ?My parents were big into irony, named me Virginia; my younger sister couldn?t quite pronounce it, so I became Jeanine.? She smiled, but she had a sternness to it that kept Lisa from being at ease.

?We wanted to do a little something, for the women who died,? Anna said, ripping Lisa's attention away from the older woman. Ofelia had fetched a coffee container, and she opened it up. ?It's surprising how many celebrations involve fire; obviously we wanted something else. So we're going to bury this, beneath the ashes of that building; they never rebuild when they torch women's housing. Hopefully it'll be discovered by people in a saner world, one where the burnt rubble and bones of fifty-seven are seen as the tragedy they are, and aren't preserved as a warning.?

Anna produced a small recorder. ?And I was hoping, at least, that you'd say a few words, Lisa. We didn't know them. They died, because... it's war they've declared on us. It's really as simple as that. And sometimes, in war, it's hard to know the lengths the other side will go to win. But you knew these women, some of them, anyway. And we want to remember them as more than a number, we want to know them as women- at least as best we can.?

Lisa wasn't comfortable speaking in public; really, any group of three or more made her go silent. But she swallowed. She'd so wanted to hate Anna, but she knew that the police weren't standing around trying to figure out how best to eulogize her dead neighbors. And knowing that helped her find her voice. ?I hardly knew Mrs. Kowalski. She made me tea, a couple of times, and served me stale cookies that I gather she baked for children and grandchildren who didn?t visit as often as she baked for them. I remember, I got a lung infection really bad. I think I passed out in the hall, in front of my door. I came to in her apartment, on her couch, covered in her blankets. She made me soup. I barely knew the woman, but I know that she was full of compassion. And it's completely fucking shitty that she's dead. She died in a fire set by men who were supposed to protect her; and she was allowed to die by the men who were supposed to save her. She didn't deserve that. No one does.?

Ofelia whispered to Mae, ?I get why the fuckers only would have brought male police to assault the clinic- but how come no women firefighters showed up on the truck??

?Female firefighters topped out at about 2 percent nationwide,? Mae told her. ?And that was before things went ugly. So even back in the day, statistically you weren?t likely to get a woman on a fire call.?

?Oh,? Ofelia said. 

?I didn?t know a lot of the people in my building,? Lisa continued. ?Maybe because I never thought- I didn?t expect I?d be standing here, trying to speak for them. And I,? she sighed, ?I don?t know what I can do, or how I can help, but I feel like I owe them something more than a few words. So for now, I?ll help out, best I can.?

Anna turned off the recorder. ?And when you feel like it?s time to move on,? Anna said, as she ejected the memory card from the recorder, and put it in the coffee can, ?we?ll help you with that, too.?

?Can you work a pair of binoculars?? Mae asked, grinning wide and clapping Lisa on the back.

?Yes?? Lisa answered.

?Then you?re my new spotter.?

?What happened to your old spotter??

?I like you. You?re funny. And cute.?

?Careful,? Anna said to Lisa, ?she?s a wo-maneater.?

?Whoa here she comes,? Jeanine said with a smile. Lisa swallowed; she didn?t like the sound of any of that.


  08:47:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 633 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: The Pride of Nations

Ken hated the Chinese. Not because he was a racist- well, okay, he was maybe also a little racist. But he hated them because he spent twice as much time on the phone with them as he did his own government.

?I don?t care what nation he?s from, the consulate can kiss the curly hairs on the underside of my balls if they think I?m sending a physically unfit person sailing through the universe on the Mars mission. There?ll be other missions. But don?t you dare bitch at me because none of your other astronauts made the A team. You don?t have anybody on the B team that can replace Anguó- that?s the sloppy fact of it. You spent too many years coasting- the Japanese were outspending you on space until a decade ago - and you?re still playing catch-up. And let me remind you that?s the same Japanese who don?t have a slot on this mission, either.?

?By my count there are three Americans on this ?international? mission.?

?Yeah, and when your country?s footing half the bill- which we both know you could damn easily afford these days- you can fill out half the seats, if you so choose. But we didn?t rig it, if that?s your beef. You want to send somebody down here I can show you all of our data on crew compositions.?

?Why don?t you send it to me??

?Send you demographics on over a thousand astronaut candidates from dozens of programs, citizens from a hundred countries? Taste my ass. I wouldn?t let your people have a photocopy of a single file, let alone all of them. But if you want someone to verify that we only had one seat reserved for an American, like we maintained from the get-go, and you care enough to buy one of your people the plane ticket, I?d be more than happy to show them through the thought process myself.?

?Perhaps your President will see things differently.?

?The President doesn?t dictate policy, and I will have a shuttle suppository before I let him politick over this. Because these astronauts? lives depend on us not putting the pride of nations before their safety. And if I have to fly to Beijing on my own dime I will show you the true meaning of a fucking shuttlecock if you try and shoehorn Anguo back onto this mission.? 

?It?s diabetes,? he complained.

?Yeah, and if this were a normal dink around the universe, that wouldn?t be an issue. And from what I understand, they?ll have insulin synthesizing facilities on the Moon, so he?s still a viable candidate for some time on the Station, but there is just no room at this inn for his recently diagnosed little fanny. I?m sorry about that- honest and truly. I like Ang, and we?ll take a hit on mission unity for losing him. But there?s no guarantee he can be ?fixed,? and any treatment is going to push us out of this window for Mars. And he ain?t worth an 18 month layaway.?

?Perhaps the Chinese government will stop funding your little space adventure.?

?Ooh, the Chinese are going to pull 3% of the funding out of our budget. I?ll have to stop springing for the extra half in the half and halfs. Until the Middle Kingdom nuts up with its wallet, you?re always going to be standing there with your dick in your hand, proud of your cornholing exploits, while the rest of us stand with spread cheeks aquiver, wondering if it?s in yet, or if it?s already time to fake it.?

The line went dead, and Ken got himself another drink. Then his phone rang, from the State Department.



?You been talking to the Chinese again??


?You use any racial slurs??

?Not as I recall.?

?Good enough.?


  05:11:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 749 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Whores: .04 The Fiance

I knocked on the door. I still couldn't fathom how one couple, with one oopsy-baby, mattered as much my new job said they did. But I figured the line from that old poem was true: it wasn't mine to reason why.

I knocked again. A thin man, with thin lips, and slightly thinning hair- though that was only evident when the light hit it a certain way- answered. ?May I help you?? he asked politely.

I flashed him my phone, with my credentials highlighted. He held up his phone, and it chirped to authenticate my badge.

He opened the door and led me inside. He gestured to a couch and two chairs sitting around a coffee table, which made me hopeful there'd be coffee at some point. I'd learned from my stint in homicide not to sit on the couch, though; people don't like cops in their homes, with basically no exceptions, but they get even more uneasy if you start to get comfortable. So I sat in one of the chairs, and he sat down in the other. ?So, officer?

?Detective,? I corrected him.  

?Oh,? he said. ?I think my fiancé is getting in with a bad crowd.?

?That sounds serious,? I said with a sardonic grin.

?You know, feminist types. Four months ago, she found out she was pregnant...? he hung his head. ?She won't even talk to me. She's considering murdering our child, and she won't even have a conversation about it. Truth be told, we're not ready for a kid. But we aren't talking about smoking a little pot at Christmas. It's infanticide. At a minimum.?

?Slow down, sir,? I said. ?Let's take a step back; I'd like a little background on your fiancé.  Where'd you two meet??

?Work. We both work at an advertising firm, downtown, in the graphic design department.?

?And how long have you been seeing each other??

?About a year.?

?And she became pregnant.?

?I found out four months ago. She came to me, in tears. She was so upset. She thought she was pregnant. I didn't think anything of it, at the time. It's not my first pregnancy scare. My first college girlfriend went through three; every time her period didn't arrive within an hour of when she felt it should she freaked. I just figured it was another close call. Only it wasn't.?

?And now she won't talk to me,? he continued. ?And the last few weeks, she won't even look at me. I love her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her. And she won't even look at me.?

?Okay,? I said. ?But what makes you think she's planning to abort the fetus??

?I didn't, at first. I just thought she was depressed, and melancholy; ours is a very competitive field. There's two interns for every one paid graphic designer. And there's no maternity leave at our work, so I figured she was bummed about having to give up her job to have the baby.?

?But about a month ago, she met some new friends, and things started getting better. I thought our lives were back on track. Until I met one of them. We bumped into her at the grocery store. And Deborah introduced me to her. She had an 'A' branded into her forehead. And I knew that meant something. So I looked it up on the computer.?

I knew the literature- certainly better than a little internet searching could get him, so I helped out: ?Started with a men's rights advocacy group, Men United Protecting Our Future. They're like the KKK, only instead of being against African and Jewish Americans, they're against abortion- and maybe women generally.? And we don't like to talk about it, but police departments tend to be lousy with MRAs- which makes a degree of sense, as both tend to be groups that force certain behavior on people. But because of that they exercised outsized power.

?The women they capture at illegal abortion clinics they brand, either with an 'A' or 'W.' It's mostly a regional difference, these days. South of the Mason-Dixon, they still prefer the traditional scarlet letter- an A. For adultery- though some assume it's for 'abortionist.' Up here, they favor a brand in the shape of 'W.'?

?For 'whore,'? he said. ?That's why I called you. Deborah's not a whore. She's just scared. And confused. She doesn't understand what she's about to do. You have to help her.?

?I'll try,? I told him.


  08:46:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 665 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Reunion

?It is good to have you back,? Claudette said, squeezing Paul?s ribs so tight he felt like he was being attacked all over again. ?That slimy little Russian?? Alisa shot her a look, but she wasn?t paying her any attention, ?he just skeeves me so hard. He wouldn?t stop looking at my crotch. I mean, I came through the Air Force, so I can handle an entire platoon staring at my tits, or my ass, my legs, trying to catch a glimpse of me in the shower, whatever. But crotch staring? And it?s not even like this is a particularly camel toey jumpsuit, as jumpsuits go.?

Paul started to follow her hands as she traced them down her figure, then caught himself and stopped. She noticed, and looked a little hurt that he had. ?It?s nice to be back with you, too, Clod, and I?ll try and refrain from staring at your crotch.? He smiled, and she smiled back.

?I really don?t mind looking. Just drink in the whole package. I?m more than just a crotch on legs. All of us are. Except for maybe Levy.?

?So does that mean you?re suddenly interested? or were you just embracing the opportunity to call me a cock?? Levy asked.

?With legs. Because a disembodied penis would be scary.?

Paul laughed. Then he remembered the short brunette hiding behind him, trying to blend into the background. ?I?m sure by now everybody?s heard about Ang,? he swallowed, feeling guilty, and hoping no one was going to blame him for the catch. ?We?ll all miss him, but it?s my pleasure to introduce you to his replacement, Rica. Some of us got a chance to train with her in Houston, but for some of you, this is your introduction. She?s going to be our new biosystems engineer.?

Paul pointed to the tallest of the two other women, the one with short, dark hair who?d lifted him so easily off the ground. ?This is Clod, Claudette if you?re nasty. 2nd Lieutenant from the U.S. Air Force, and our pilot. Pretty sure she can kick my ass. And wants to.?

?The blonde next to her is on loan from the Russian program, Alisa. She?s our mechanical engineer- opposite side of your coin.?

?Most of the things on our boat were designed so chimps could fix them,? Alisa said. ?If one of the other things breaks, and I?m not there to fix it, everybody dies.?

Rica grinned. ?Lucky. Worst that?ll happen if I fall out an airlock is an Apollo 13 scenario, where you all will have to drink your pee. They drank pee on 13, didn?t they??

?No idea,? Paul said, ?but I think you?ll get along swimmingly with us.? A man with shaggy, salt and pepper hair walked into the room. ?And there he is, our fearless if slightly aged leader, Martin du Blanc, formerly of the French military- which he swears to us isn?t an oxymoron- currently of the European Space Agency.? Martin leaned forward and put out his hand for her to shake.   

?I did not catch your name,? he said, fixing her with kind, light blue eyes.

?Rica,? she said nervously, taking his hand.

?And that?s John Levy,? Paul told her, ?though it?s honestly weird to hear his first name out loud, since nobody uses it. We have no idea what he does. He says it involves high level math. I think he just has dirty pictures of the AD.?

Levy was heavier than either Paul or Martin, and had a thick beard of red hair. He was also younger, though he didn?t look it. ?I?m a computer engineer, specializing in artificial intelligence and robotic engineering. But the way I see it, we traded an angry Chinese guy for a hot chick. I think that?s a win for all of us.?

What Levy didn?t notice, but Paul did, was from the look Alisa and Rica were trading, it probably wasn?t as big of a win for the men as he thought.


  05:10:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1094 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores: .03 The Fire

Lisa hated the night shift. She had all her windows blacked out, and wore earplugs. But the fact remained that she lived in an apartment building, and there was no keeping a building full of women quiet while she slept- not that that had anything to do with their gender.

She stirred to the sound of gunfire. The building wasn't in the nicest of neighborhoods, so that wasn't wholly unfamiliar. But this was different, because the shots were coming from inside the building. That made her skin go bumpy, and her ears prick up- not that she knew what she was listening for.

There was a steady, heavy stream of gunfire, followed by a lull, and another gunshot. Then came another loud noise, one she couldn't place, other than to say that it was louder than the gunshots.

Finally, she started drifting back to sleep. Whatever had happened was over, and she told herself that if someone had needed the cops they'd have called. She was half asleep by then, so she believed the fairy tale that if one of her neighbors had called the cops, they'd have actually shown up.

But then she heard the noise, piercing, deafening. Her body was heavy, and didn't want to move. But she woke up coughing, hacking. She opened her eyes but there was only darkness. She reached for her nightstand, and found her lamp and flicked it on. Still only darkness.

But the darkness burned. Her eyes hurt, and it was a struggle keeping them open. They were filling with tears, and just as quickly spilling them onto her cheek. She tried to take another breath, and coughed it back up, and then it finally hit her: smoke. Her room was filled with smoke. 

Lisa rolled off the bed and onto her floor. There the smoke was thinner. She could breath enough to think.

The wail continued, it was her smoke detector, but behind it, joining it, like the backup choir of a powerful singer, she could hear screams. Lisa crawled with her belly against the floor.

She'd been sleeping in a ratty pair of panties and an A neck shirt that was just see-through enough she'd learned she couldn't wear it out without men staring. She wanted to grab a pair of jeans, or a coat, or her shoes, but just trying to lift herself up off the floor a few inches to survey for any one of those items of clothing sent her hacking back onto the floor.

So she pulled herself across the carpet, through her apartment, and to her front door. She tapped the doorknob leading into the hall. Then she felt the door itself. It felt cool to the touch. So she opened it.

The smoke in the hall was worse. Even crawling along the floor she couldn't breathe properly. After two attempts at inhaling, she simply refused to try a third, and started pulling herself down the stairs. It reminded her of being a child, and sliding on her belly down her parents' steps. It hurt her nipples, and she cursed again not having found a better shirt to cover herself in.

The lobby was relatively less smoky, so Lisa stood up and took a deep breath in and held it. It was like cool mountain spring water for her lungs- even though she coughed when she exhaled it.

She fell forward through the lobby doors and onto the sidewalk.

A fire truck was parked outside her building. ?Thank God,? she thought. But then she realized that the firefighters were just standing there, watching. One of them was even smoking, pointing and laughing at the smoke billowing out of an open window.

Lisa forced herself forward. One of the firefighters caught her, and helped her sit on the lip of the fire truck. He pressed a mask of oxygen to her face, and told her to breathe in, slowly. When she didn't feel like she was in a low-rent casino, anymore, she coughed out, ?My neighbors.? 

He shook his head. ?I'm sorry,? he told her.

She peered through the smoke now rolling out of the lobby. She could see one of her neighbors, Mrs. Kowalski, stumble through the smoke. She fell past the last few steps, and landed in the shallow pool of smoke that was cascading down the steps.

?Our orders were very specific: contain the fire.?

?But my neighbor,? Lisa protested, ?she's right there. I can see her through the lobby doors. You have to help her.?

?We've been told not to. At the eastern fire district, one of the fighters disobeyed, and tried to help the women, and they shot him.? His jaw set as he watched the fire grow unchecked.  ?They're lucky,? he said, though she didn't think he believed it, ?I've been to fires that the police set, where they stay outside, and pick off the women who try to run.?

?But the police aren't here,? she told him.

He looked to the other firefighters. ?I'm not so sure,? he said.

?You're a fucking coward,? she said, feeling like she wanted to just give the whole thing up. She threw up her hands in disgust, and marched back towards the burning building.

?Wait,? he said, but she was done wasting her time with him. She shoved her way through the lobby doors. Smoke had finally filled the lobby as well, and she had to get back down on her hands and knees.

?Mrs. Kowalski,? she called. From the smoke Lisa had already inhaled, her throat was hoarse and cracked. She didn't get a response. But through the haze and ash, she could make out a large, bulbous lump at the base of the stairs, and she crawled towards it. ?Mrs. Kowalski. Are you all right??

She rolled the larger woman over, and tried to feel for a pulse. She couldn't find one, but she'd never been good at trying to, so she cupped her hands beneath her neighbor's armpits, and started to pull her towards the front doors.

The older woman was heavy, and Lisa's muscles were starting to burn as badly as her lungs. But she was close, she had to be, to the front door- not because she could see it, but because she knew she wasn't going to make it very far. So it had to be close.

But before she managed to reach the twin glass doors, she heard the supports from the floor above the lobby groan menacingly. ?Shit,? she said, as the ceiling collapsed down on top of her.


  06:32:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 972 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Exam

Paul passed every test Ken put him through, and a few he and medical thought up just for the occasion. So Paul was understandably irritated when after three days of silence he stormed into Ken?s office and asked, ?You can?t tell me if I?m back on the mission yet??

?I can?t tell you at the moment if there?s a mission for you to be on. At this point, with what happened to Kalashnikov- not to mention your own Houdini of an infirmity- everybody?s gotten nervous. And as our AD has made painfully clear, there really ain?t a lot of give in this mission. There?s two personnel who might be replaceable at this point. Anybody else so much as develops a polyp and it?s game over.?

?And, that all means for me??

?Back to the salt mines. Dr. Jenkins asked for you, personally. He says having an extra set of eyes down there, someone to look at things from a fresh perspective, might get them positive results. Which would really be negative results, as far as I?m concerned.?

?But you want to know if there are problems. Right??

?Of course. I just don?t want there to be problems for you to find.?

?Got you.?

Paul went down to medical, showered, and dressed in some clean scrubs. Then he found Jenkins. ?We appreciate the extra help,? he said, and handed him a tablet without breaking stride, then he was gone. The tablet had a full medical work-up, all the tests and labs for one of his crewmates- at least, if he was reinstated onto the Mars mission. There was also an exam room number, and a checklist, with, ?notify patient? left undone.

Paul walked into the room. ?Ang, what?s up??

?Paul?? He blinked, then again. ?I heard you were dead. Or in hospital.?

?No such luck. On the former. And I was only in the hospital for a few scrapes. Dog attacked me. You know how they fuss over us.?

?We were told the Cosmonaut was taking your slot.?

?He might, still. They?re doing tests, making sure I don?t have rabies or anything. But for the time being, I?m helping lighten the load a bit down here.? Paul tapped on the tablet to open up the lab results. ?Labs all look good. Great, even. Health-wise you?re five years younger than you actually are.? Paul?s nose twitched, and he made a face. ?Could I get you to remove your shoes and socks??

?Sure.? He started unlacing. ?Could I ask what it?s about??

?Probably nothing. Just a smell. Wanted to check something that maybe wouldn?t show up in the tests.? Paul heard a sound, like the movement of air. ?You hear that??

?Is this another test??

?Probably just the air system.?

Paul sniffed the air above Ang?s foot. ?You?re smelling my feet? This going to be a joke, where you tell me I have foot odor??

Paul picked up the tablet, flipped through several test results. ?Your fasting plasma glucose is on the high end of the normal range. Could I get you to roll up your pantlegs?? He did. ?Not a lot of hair on your legs.?

?I?m Chinese.?


?But what did you smell?? He was starting to get worried.

?Gangrene. You see the pallor in your feet- that?s ischemia caused by reduced blood flow. I need you to lay back. I?m going to do a Doppler sonogram of your legs.? Paul hit a few buttons on the tablet, and a monitor and a tray with the measuring equipment slid out of the wall.

It took only a few seconds pushing the device against Ang?s leg before an image appeared on the monitor. ?Well shit,? Paul said.   

?What is it?? Ang asked, now good and panicked.

?Peripheral vascular disease.?

Ang?s eyes narrowed. ?But can I still go to Mars??

Paul sighed, and shook his head. Paul stayed with him for the next hour in silence, and held him while he cried. 

Ken was happier than Paul had expected him. ?Ang was our first choice, but he was one of our expendable crewmen- by which I mean we?ve got a replacement waiting in the wings. But it?s treatable. And with care, and treatment, he?s going to be fine. Drink??

Before Paul could answer Ken poured one for himself, and then another, and handed it to him. ?But that was impressive. It was asymptomatic. There were no tell-tales; this is like reaching into a stream and pulling out a big-titted mermaid- the other docs say it?s a hell of a catch.?

?It is. I just caught a whiff. Strong, really strong, for a second. I had an old woman, a diabetic, in Houston, when I was working at a clinic. She came in complaining of pain in her foot. But the moment she was in the office everybody could smell it. Death. We had to cut off her foot and the leg up to her knee. But Ang?s foot somehow smelled worse- but just for a second. I don?t understand it.? Paul sighed, and drained his glass. He was trying to focus on his diagnosis, not on what it had done to his friend?s career.

Ken took the empty glass from him and filled it back up. ?You didn?t just save his leg, you probably saved his life. And they tell me, untreated, PAD can lead to impotence; you might have also saved his dick- which we both know is the more important thing.?

?He isn?t going to thank me anytime soon.?

?Yeah, well, the trouble with dreams is some day you gotta wake up. I?m lucky, in that I usually wake up fiddling my balls.?

?Thank God. You were dangerously close to being profound and helpful for a moment there,? Paul said, and took another drink.

?A man gets preoccupied by the things he loves.?


  05:08:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores: .02 Beginning

But it hadn't started there- not for me, anyway.

I was a cop for four years before they let me take the detective's exam, and that's still young. I passed it the first time, because I'd been studying for it for four years. Being a uni was fine- but it wasn't what I wanted to do with myself, chasing drunks, issuing traffic tickets.

I'd just got done with my training, on-the-jobbing with robbery, then homicide, vice and narcotics. Gender crimes was a different story. It was a new department, new as in there were two other detectives in it, working twelve hour shifts seven days a week.

They'd been doing that for eight months. The previous two detectives working that desk- the ones who set it up- took early retirement after four and seven respectively.

So by the time I was through with my training, they weren't going to wait around while I learned the ropes. Captain scheduled me for twelve hour shifts, with four hours of overlap so I could absorb a little wisdom from the nightshift guy. 

Not that he'd acquired much in the way of knowledge, beyond the best places to get a donut or a burger at 3 am- though there were more than you'd think. I got to know him while I was working vice- he liked talking to vice cops; half the time I suspected he was jerking off under the table to the stories he heard. He wasn't a bad cop- just... fucked up. But in four years, I'd learned that those three little words described nearly every kind of man or woman with a badge.

I remember we did the career day thing in high school, and my tests said I should be a cop. So I met with a department chaplain. I told him, point blank, I didn't think I had the brain damage to be a cop. ?They don't start that way,? he told me.

But there weren't a lot of options, once I graduated. The paper mill'd closed. And I had the kind of face they wouldn't let through the doors of an elementary school. So I ended up a cop, anyway.

Which it turned out suited me just fine. I had a knack, as they say. I just didn't want to be walking the streets any longer than I had to. So the moment I had a chance to transfer out of the small-town department I started in to a whoplace with its own chief of detectives, I lept at the chance. But success for me was mostly a combination of not actively fucking my career with a drug or whore problem, and luck.

The gender crime desk was a tough assignment. Like I said, it was a new post, and what little history it had was riddled with early retirements and a whole lot of pissy feelings.

At least, that's what chief of the detectives told me. ?It might seem strange, or silly, to put you through all the other detective desks just to get to what a lot of people still think doesn't deserve its own unit. But gender crimes run the gamut. They involve drugs, they involve theft, homicide and of course vice. I'm still shocked we didn't do it that way, combine the two. They're both mostly women's crimes.? The chief of detectives was a small, older man with white hair, and blue eyes that had kindness in them that disappeared the second he started talking.

?Actually, vice arrests far more johns than women,? I corrected him. ?And I think the reason they didn't, is, well, it seems a little... sordid, conflating gender crimes with vice. Almost like we're saying all women are whores.?

?No, you're saying that; what's more, you're saying all women are gender criminals- and that's worse. Points to either you running with the wrong kind of crowd, or you seeing every woman as a gender criminal- and either one says you need counseling.?

?Or it points to me having a healthy dose of cynicism, and never assuming anybody's innocent until I've had a look at them myself.?

?Not a bad recovery, as they go- or a bad philosophy, for a dick. But your first case is on your desk. Deborah Gladstone. Her fiancé suspects she's about to abort his child. Asked us to intervene.?

?Should we interview the girl??

?Do you walk up to a bank robber and ask them if they're planning on robbing a bank? Christ, tell me it's just because you haven't had your coffee this morning that you're this fucking retarded.?

?Right. And I had a late night.?

?Yeah, eight hour turn-arounds are a bitch- but stop bitching about them. Information on the girl, and everything we've got on the baby daddy, is in the file on your desk. Now get the fuck out and do what we pay you your civil servant's pittance to do.?


  06:27:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1460 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Test Flight

On the runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Paul shielded his eyes from the sun coming up over the horizon. ?Watching the sunrise with you is romantic and everything, but you know I?ve got a girlfriend, so I don?t understand?

?Why I got you up at the dawn of asscrackachusetts?? Ken finished for him. ?For giggles, my son. Because I fell asleep fiddling, and I woke up, fiddling my way to an epiphany. Or an orgasm. Whichever is the one that requires you to clean the sheets.?

?Is this the kind of epiphany that you share with the class, or the kind that?s only still legal in the deeper parts of the south??

?Mostly the latter- or maybe that?s the fiddling inspiration I?m thinking of. I forget. But I didn?t want to be alone, and I just knew you?d be awake, all full of butterflies and vinegar. So we?ll chalk it up as part of your psychological stress testing.?

?I?m fine, Ken. Really. The doctors at Canaveral had to make a mistake. I?m in good shape, but bone fractures don?t heal that quickly- no matter how healthy you are. And while I?m pretty sure the series of scans I?ve had since have made me infertile, not a one of them has shown a bone on the mend. The logical conclusion has to be that somebody screwed up. At a public facility.?

?I never thought I?d hear a Hippocrat badmouth a hospital.?

?Then you don?t know many Hippocrats,? Paul said with a smile. ?But I?m saying, in comparison to your tinfoil brigade of doctors who will spend months agonizing over the most mundane of symptoms, these guys did a one and done x-ray and called it good. Subsequent tests show the first x-ray had to be wrong. And pretty much everything else can be explained by the shock from the attack, a mild infection from an animal bite, and the painkillers they probably wrongly prescribed for me.? 

Ken opened the door into the cockpit for Paul. ?Maybe, but you owe me four hours flight time this month, anyhow. I figured we?d crank it all out in one flight- these old Gulfstreams can do more than twice that, if memory serves. And if memory doesn?t, then we get to practice water landing procedures. That sounds win-win to me.?

?Okay.? The cockpit was modeled after the Mars mission cockpit, Paul plopped down in the pilot seat; he didn?t know what Ken was up to, only that he wasn?t being told something. ?But you?re not the usual flight trainer.?

?Nope. Scared pissless. Lots of people are, of you, right now. Unknown commodity. And for what it?s worth, I can see it. I mean, you flip your Junior Mints in the middle of flying us around you could smack us into a mountain- and having override control doesn?t do me a shit of good from the cheap seats if that happens.? He sat down in the trainer?s chair, and buckled in.

?But you?re crazy, so you figure what the hell??

?I want this mission to happen. Under my watch. We get grounded for eighteen months, and I will be replaced. I have to be. Millions, maybe billions of dollars, flushing, somebody has to pay that price. And really, I?d rather go out in a blaze of glory than die a whimpering bureaucratic death.?

?It sounds like you?re saying the same thing I did, only not as succinctly.?

?There?s no poetry in your generation; or maybe that?s what I get for hiring wise-asses. Now quit holding me hostage by the short and curlies and let?s kick off this orb, the suspense is making my privates tingle.?

The engine only made the tingling worse, but he was enjoying it enough he waited until they were in the air before he said, ?I got the results from your SCUBA test yesterday. You passed with a Technicolor dreamcoat of airborne colors. Only caveat the instructor had was you used too little oxygen.?

?But in space, wouldn?t using less oxygen be good, since we have to carry it with us??

?Not if you?re using too little.?

?So you?re worried I might be hypoxic.?

?Right. I?m mother-henning a doctor. But there?s another reason the usual instructor bailed. I want you to increase altitude to 15,000 feet. Without putting on the oxygen mask.?

?Regs say we shouldn?t pilot for more than thirty minutes above 12,5 without masks.?

?Yep. And if your eyeballs explode, or you pass out, you?re grounded, and my career?s in the crapper- to say nothing of us likely dying. I?m rooting for you- but we want to be damned certain you?re not going to get anybody killed- well, anybody but maybe me. But this being first-class accoutrements, I?m going to pour myself a scotch and soda.? 

He did. And he drank most of it before slumping back in his seat. He woke up three hours later, as the plane touched back down on the runway.

?You passed out,? Paul told him. ?I?ve been monitoring your vitals, just to be sure, giving you oxygen from the masks periodically, to be on the safe side.?

?You didn?t put it on autopilot, set an alarm to wake you up??

?You can check the black box, if you like- or put in a call to the Station flight controller, I?ve been checking in every fifteen.?

?I think technically he?s an air traffic controller, since he belongs to the air force.? He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. ?Everything 5 by 5??

?You forget that I?m a doctor- I have no idea what that means.?

?Any problems??

?I got a little bored, after a while. I had to fight the urge to draw penises on your face with a Sharpie. But other than that everything went smoothly.?

?Landing was a little bumpy,? Ken said.

Paul taxied the plane off the runway. ?It rocked you awake- well, that along with the additional oxygen did, anyway.

?But I have one more test before you?re done for the day.?

?Done? It?s not even noon, yet.?

?Right, but until we get some kind of a clearance from medical- there?s only so much I can do with you- especially since a part of that is working around everybody else?s schedule. We?ll get you a g force test tomorrow, when the techs are free.?

Fifteen minutes later they were in one of the smaller chemistry labs. ?The ping pong ball test?? Paul groaned.

?We?ve got concerns about your lungs and their capacity to do what lungs are supposed to. So it?s one we?ve got to put your through.? Paul sat down, and put a long tube to his lips. ?Oh, that?s my personal tube,? Ken said.

?We?ve shared a beer before,? Paul said around the tube.

?Yeah, but I didn?t say it was for my mouth.? Paul spat the tube out onto the counter. ?Kidding. Come one. Focus, here.? Ken dropped a ping pong ball into a tall glass chamber attached to Paul?s tube. Then he raised his wristwatch and said, ?Go.?

Paul blew into the tube, and the ball floated upward. ?Now I don?t probably need to explain the point of this test to you, but it?s fun, because it lets me flaunt the fact that while you have to keep blowing I?m free to pause,? he inhaled theatrically, ?and breathe, as needed, or just as I fucking feel like it.? He exhaled, and made another show of breathing in. ?But the point, now much belabored, is that you?re supposed to exhale at an even rate, keeping the ball suspended at approximately the line marked on the tube. It?s about lung capacity, and determination. It also makes you turn the color of a turnip, which is all kinds of fun for me.?

?Well, usually by now they?ve turned turnip-colored. You?re just a little orangy, not even red, yet. You?re taking all the fun out of living.? Paul finally stopped, and blew the rest of his air into Ken?s face.

?You got to drink scotch and soda before breakfast, have an early morning nap, and from what I?m guessing plan to knock off work early right after this to drink some more. How exactly am I taking all the fun out of your life??

Ken wasn?t paying attention. He was still staring at his watch. ?No one?s ever blown that hard for that long. Honestly, I?m a more than a little attracted to you right now.? He patted Paul on the back. ?Beers??

?You?re buying. And you move that hand any further down my back and I?m taking it away.?

?My hand? How very 12th century Persia of you.?

?I like the classics.?

?Me too. That?s why I?m thinking we start with a good scotch, instead. Well, good by my standards, anyway.?


  05:28:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1351 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores: .01 Prologue

In honor of March, which is women's history month, I'm posting my new project on Saturdays. Enjoy:


The air smelled strangely to Deborah. It was stale, and there was the smell of medical solvents. But there were other smells, too: tobacco, and cat vomit. ?I?m sorry,? her doctor said. ?The last renter was a slob. But we were lucky to find anyone who would rent to us.? Unconsciously the doctor touched her cheek, and the inch-tall capital letter ?A? burned into her skin just below her blue eye.

?It?s okay, Dr. Gerson,? Deborah said. ?I?m just nervous.?

?Please, it?s Jolee; and technically they took away my medical license. But this procedure is completely safe. ?

?Yeah,? Deborah said, unable to meet her eyes. ?Procedure.?

?If you?re having second thoughts, we don?t have to do it today. We can reschedule.?

?Again, you mean?? Deborah sighed. ?I can only put off for so long before the damn thing?s going to come out on its own and start demanding things, like candy bars or an education. That was an attempt at levity.? Jolee gave her a puzzled look. ?This shouldn?t be a morose thing. I don?t want cake and a party, either. But this isn?t shameful- it shouldn?t be.?

?You're right,? Jolee put her hand on Deborah's.

?Peter got me pregnant. We were trying to be safe. Using the rhythm method and fertility awareness. I even still had an IUD that was supposed to still be functional- from back when those were legal.?

?It wasn?t your fault,? Jolee said to her. ?No method is 100% effective.?

?I?ll lose my job if I have to take maternity leave. I?ve probably already lost Peter.?

?If you?re sure,? Jolee said, hesitant to push her, ?we can start prepping you.?

There was a heavy knock on the door. ?Open up, this is the police.?

Jolee's expression changed, her features hardened, and her eyes were demanding when they fixed Deborah. ?Do you know how to fire a gun?? Jolee asked her.

?What?? Deborah asked.

?The police. If it?s really them, and not just some anti-abortion shitheads, they don?t arrest people at abortion clinics.?

?What?? Deborah asked again, panicking.

Jolee knew wshe wasn't getting anywhere, so she turned her attention to her nurse, who had been standing silently in the corner. ?Take her to the bathroom, set her up with a gun.?

The nurse aimed Deborah?s shoulders towards the door out of the bedroom. She glanced down the hall, to the front door to the apartment, rattling in its frame as someone pounded on it again. The receptionist, Laura, was standing beside the door, holding a shotgun with a pistol grip.

The nurse pushed her down the hall, into the bathroom, and shut the door behind her. ?If we had the time to do this right I?d start you off with a .22 and build your confidence up. But they?ll be wearing armor, and you might as well spit loogies at them as use a .22.? She opened the drawer beneath the sink, and retrieved a pistol. ?This is a .45. It?ll stop an armored man in his tracks- provided you hit him. Safety?s already off, you hold it with both hands, steady it, point and pull. It?s got a light trigger-pull, but it?s going to kick. Brace for that. This is your life, and these are our rights we?re fighting for.?

She got under the bathroom sink, and pulled out a carbine. She ejected the magazine and checked it, slid it back in and chambered a round. Then the nurse locked the bathroom door and shut it behind her; it really bothered Deborah that she couldn?t remember her nurse's name.

She found herself staring at the bathroom tiles, coral pastels in sea shell textures; the effect was far less tacky than she might have assumed. Deborah thought about having her own bathroom, in her own home, or at least an apartment she owned. She wouldn't have chosen the ocean-theming herself, but if Peter had insisted on it, she felt she could live with that.

Deborah jumped as the front door was broken inward by a battering ram. She wasn?t holding the gun up anymore; it was just hanging limply in her arm. She was crying, though she only barely registered that fact.

She heard the sound of gunfire, first ragged, then three quick, concentrated bursts of automatic fire. Idly, Deborah wondered if that had been the nurse firing. But the silence that followed was thick.

The knob on the door into the bathroom started to jiggle. She wanted to think it was the nurse, but she should have known that the door was locked. The thought frightened Deborah enough that she raised the gun, though it now felt far too heavy for her to hold up, let alone use.

There was more jiggling, and the lock opened. The door swung open slowly, creaking. There was no one there.

A man, with his head fully covered by a balaclava, leaned inward. He looked right at her, and at the gun pointed awkwardly at the middle of the doorway. Deborah made no attempt to aim it at him.

He stood up, and leaned in enough to extend his sidearm. ?Police,? he said, and fired once.

Deborah assumed she was dead, then. There was pain, blinding and brilliant, and she was falling, uncontrollably. Her head struck the tub faucet, and then she was aware that she was still alive, because, that, too, hurt. She felt warmth and wetness that stuck her hair to her head.

Then she was pulled out of the tub and laid flat down on a small rug. Several men gathered around her, and started opening cases filled with medical equipment. She mistook their chatter for military code, until she heard ?BPM,? and realized they were providing care.

One of the men cut open her shirt, and then felt along her side. He used a stethoscope to listen to her breathing. It was only then that panic set in again; she was having trouble breathing. ?Sucking chest wound,? the man with the stethoscope said, then, ?scalpel.? One of the men peeled away the plastic packaging around one and handed him the utensil. ?Vitals??

?Good,? one of the other men told him, consulting a monitor. Deborah felt more pain, which she assumed was him cutting into her chest to help her breathe. But the incision was too low, in her abdomen. If she?d been able to she would have asked him why.

Then she felt like the skin was being stretched off her belly, and she realized that the man had his hands inside the incision he?d made. It put her in mind of her first boyfriend- though why she?d ever dated a ?Ronnie? she couldn?t now understand- and how he?d gotten handsy one night after taking her out. Except now the awkward pawing was happening under her skin. Blood loss and shock kept her from the full horror of that moment.

And then he removed them, and it felt like he was trying to drag all of her internal organs back out of her with his hands. ?Cutting the cord,? he said. The cut end of the umbilical cord slapped down against Deborah?s neck, and reminded her disturbingly of Peter, and the part of him that had gotten her into this damn mess.

The man holding the fetus stood up. ?Seems to be breathing.? He handed the child to the man he was speaking to, his superior, Lieutenant Colson, who was not wearing a mask at all. Deborah wanted to ask to at least see the child, but she was on the verge of passing out. ?The mother??

?What mother?? Colson asked, and drew his sidearm and shot her in the face.

?And the clinic?? the other man asked.

?If we leave it, sooner or later they?ll set up the abortion factory again. Burn it.?

Colson marched out of the room, to where Alex Harmon was standing, triumphantly holding the child in one arm. ?Detective, that was nice work. We couldn?t have done it without you.?

?Yeah,? he said. ?That?s what I?m afraid of.?


  06:18:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1427 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Miraculous

The phone rang later, and it reminded Ken of how this horrible day had started. ?I?m fiddling my testicles; I wouldn?t stop if the good lord appeared in the flesh beside me for the rapture, so there?s no chance I?m stopping for you.?

?Sir,? Alan said, ?it?s the hospital. They?ve released Paul to us, but, well, it doesn?t make any sense at all.?

?Did he shit a chipmunk, son? Cause I?ve seen stranger things, and the weird things going into or coming out of a man?s ass are between him, his lovers and his proctologist.?

?He?s fine. He?s in medical, now, but they asked me to call you, um, I think to absorb some of the verbal abuse before you could get into the office to talk to them.?

?Clever cocksuckers,? Ken said, ?except that Jenkins fella. He?s a clever cuntsucker. There, bigotry narrowly avoided.?

?Your humanitarian credentials continue to amaze me, sir.?

?Crawl out of my ass, unless you?re planning on buying me dinner, son, or paying me rent.?

?Of course, sir, what was I thinking??

Ken took his hands out of his underpants. ?I don?t know, but you?ve ruined my fiddling. Too much bass in your voice, I think.?

?I?m not going to talk in falsetto to aid your fiddling.?

?Nope, that?d be queer, and I haven?t any right to ask that of you. Apparently that skill set commands another twenty grand a year, and I was told we didn?t have it in the budget. But that?s why I love you, in my platonic way, because you don?t sue me for being myself. You did file that HR complaint when I stopped wearing constricting undergarments. You should remind me to fire you for that, at some point.?

?Actually, the complaint was to get you to wear any garments under the waist, sir.?

?Oh, right. That?s more understandable. I?m glad that?s behind us. I hate it when we fight.?

?Have you been drinking, sir??

?I never fiddle sober.?

?I thought I remembered that. I?ve taken the liberty of sending you a car. And having your other car towed off your neighbor?s lawn and to a garage.? 

?You?re a saint in pleated pants.?

?GPS says that they?re at your front door.?

?Then I should find some pants of my own.?

Ken dozed off in the back of the car, and woke up fiddling. ?Sorry,? he said to the driver. ?It?s like getting a song stuck in my head, a song played entirely on my nutsack. But you could have put up the partition, I wouldn?t have minded.? Something about the driver?s smile made him add, ?Pervert.?

The hive-mind triplets met him at the entrance, each holding up tablets like door shields. ?The hospital must have made a mistake,? said Dr. Bronson first.

?Only? they haven?t. Because we have their x-rays. So his arm was broken- fractured, anyway,? interjected Dr. Pierce.

?And now it isn?t. Only it couldn?t have healed that fast. There isn?t even anything on record that could explain this. We?ve been running every test of his immune system known to man. And so far, all we can really tell you is he shouldn?t be as healthy as he is.?

?So you want to ground this astronaut because he?s too good a candidate??

?We haven?t made a suggestion yet. In part because we don?t know if he actually is that good a candidate. There are certain disorders that can supercharge the immune system- almost always with disastrous results. Usually autoimmune.?

?Where the body tries to eat itself.?

?Like in the Thing?? Ken asked.

?Well, usually less dramatically, but yes.?

?So in a nutshell,? he paused, to see if any of them had heard about interrupting his fiddling, and when they didn?t react, he continued, ?you have reservations.?

?Yes,? they said, in unison.

?Okay, so what are the possibilities at the moment??

?He can?t have healed that fast,? said Dr. Pierce. ?First possibility is that he didn?t, and it?s still broken. But we?ve double-checked that.?

?But it might mean he couldn?t have been injured that badly in the first place,? Bronson ventured.

?Static, or shadows on the x-ray could have magnified a hairline fracture.?

?Which isn?t a good explanation, but it probably beats miraculous healing.?

?Wonderful,? Ken said. ?And has the AD finished picking teams??

?I believe so.? He wasn?t happy about that answer- mostly because they knew so, but didn?t want to risk his wrath any further. He grunted, then ran up the stairs.

She was pacing around her office, smoking. It only took him ten seconds looking at the tablet she?d left on the edge of her desk to understand why she wasn?t happy with the results. ?When I said you could pull from JV, I didn?t expect you to draft an entire C team. Why the shit would we even?

?You didn?t specify. That?s all acceptable permutations. The fact that most of our staff fall into what you so colorfully call the JV team means most permutations are going to be majority them. But you?ll notice that I?ve charted that detail. You click that button in the top right, and the primary and back-up team members get highlighted in bold and bold italics.?

?But you?re telling me there?s nobody with the same skill set as Wesley and Kalashnikov? Replacing them requires rotating in three JVers. One of them skipping mission training could work- and two years on ship is plenty of time to fill in the gaps on the job, but three? That?s half the mission standing around sucking their thumbs, unless they?re maybe especially igitted, and they end up with each others? cocks in their mouths. But the moral of your chart is I am buttfucked in the eyesocket unless I want to postpone this launch for eighteen months.?

?That doesn?t even make sense; you?re just being profane for profaneness? sake.?

?There was a nonsensical kind of poetry to it, I thought,? Ken said.

?But that is the general take-away. You?ve got your lush. Your unexplainably healthy initial candidate. Or a long siesta while we train up a minimum of three new personnel to get the skill sets we need. Mars is a delicate operation, with very specific technical needs. And every new crew member adds another 20% to the resource needs- more food, more habitat, more fuel- so we can?t just add two and a half astronauts without consequences.?

?And a half??

?We could kinda use a little more medical expertise with that team, though we could maybe fake it with the EMT pilot.?

?Yeah, because faking it is usually the best way to handle rocket science.? Ken eyed her cigarette, contemplating snatching it from her to steal a drag. ?Fuck. I need to see Paul.?

?I figured. He?s in the exam room.?

?I hate every living thing in this building right now,? he said, and started to storm out of the room, but stopped as he caught sight of a plant on a shelf near her door. ?Especially you, ficus.?

The first thing Ken saw in the exam room was a man?s bare ass. Then he heard Paul?s voice. ?I?m surprised you didn?t make these assless paper gowns the standard work uniform around here, so you could peak at the lady interns.?

?We have enough trouble getting girls to work at NASA, between all the math and the phallocentricity of rocket science.?

?What is this, the 1950s??

?Our employee statistics don?t lie; this is still man?s work.?

?But I assume you didn?t come here just to get a tasteful look at my bum.? His expression changed. ?I?m off Mars, aren?t I??

?You should still be in the hospital. With a mostly broken arm, and some pretty nasty cuts. And the medical eggheads are trying to talk me into believing your recovery is a warning sign. That bad things might happen to you in space. But you know how tight our launch window is. Vlad has early stage cirrhosis. Administrative tells me we don?t have any third stringers, so it?s between you and Vladimir Explodinglivernikov.

?So we?re going to try something unconventional. I want to try to break you. If you?re going to have medical complications, better they happen here, where doctors can help you, rather than up there, where your crewmates are counting on you to be the healthy one who keeps them alive. That means taking all of the usual stress tests and turning them up to 11. You might die. Or you might get to be an astronaut, after all.?

Paul didn?t even need to think about it. ?Let?s do it.?


  06:09:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 953 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Alternate

The three medical directors were in a stalemate with him. They were in the medical section, on their turf, but not a one of them wanted to be the first to break the silence. The Administrative Director stood behind them, not hiding, just to the side, because she had no part in this conversation.

Dr. Bronson was the first to speak and risk Ken?s wrath. ?I want you to sit down, because you look like you?re going to hit somebody, the way you?re standing.?

?It?s in your body language,? Dr. Pierce added.

?My body language is in a violent mood, and you?re not making him feel any friendlier. We?re trying to keep our footing in the middle of a 9.5 shitquake, so what did you need to tell me this goddamned urgently.?

?Well,? Jenkins stuttered, ?Wesley?s alternate?s a lush. Duh, I know.?

?We only put him on the team to appease the Russians,? Ken said, ?who felt they were getting frozen out of the primary team only having one member who hailed from their former communist paradise.?

?Well,? Jenkins continued, ?it?s worse than I think anybody realized, like drink you under the table on a good day- or are those bad days?? Ken raised an eyebrow at that.

?Since his last physical he?s starting to show signs of cirrhosis,? Pierce said. ?It?s early, but it?s the kind of damage that?s kind of sort of impossible to deal with in space. We can?t know if it?ll continue to progress, but it looks like our alternate needs an alternate.?

?You three have like a hive mind, right?? Ken asked. ?Chips in your brains, data cables hidden under the white coats since wireless would interfere with the equipment?? he asked, lifting up Jenkins? lab coat to check.

?We?ve worked together in close proximity for fifteen years now,? Jenkins said, smoothing the back of his coat down. 

?But aside from the spreading cheeks for the Russians aspect of his selection,? Dr. Bronson said, ?he has the same relative skill set as Wesley. If we tank the Russian- which we may have no say in- we may not be able to fill the hole he leaves. That could mean tanking the whole team, going back to square one, having to train people up.?

?So that?s why you have the administrative director here. God,? Ken groaned. ?We?re going to pick teams, like this is fucking dodgeball and it doesn?t matter who ends up on what squad.?

?The Mars mission is very sensitive,? Dr. Pierce said. ?We can?t have any waste. The teams were chosen to be the most flexible and versatile possible. The alternative is to pray for a medical miracle from either Wesley or the Russian vodka cask.?

?And we don?t pray here at NASA,? Ken said, ?because our God is science, and that son of a bitch is indifferent to even the most fellating prayers.?

?Maybe science is a she,? offered Dr. Bronson. ?Perhaps if your prayers had more cunnilingus...?

?I wouldn?t give my wife more tongue, why would I give more to your sissified deity??

?Maybe that?s why she left.?

?I will not have you bringing that Nietzsche shit into my space port.?

?I think he meant your wife,? said Dr. Pierce.

?She left because she?s a cunt. At least that?s what the judge said. Still gave her half my shit, on account of that stewardess I banged. But that was worth it. She could get her legs behind her back and her pussy near around my face; I swear to you it was a thing of beauty like unto gazing upon the face of God. If I had my druthers we?d scrap all this space nonsense and put you to work on the question of how a pussy gets to be that damn good.?

?Aren?t you at all worried about a hostile work environment?? asked Dr. Bronson.

?I hired you boys so I could talk about pussy without getting dragged back into court again.?

?I don?t know that we?re all comfortable discussing female genitalia,? said Dr. Pierce. ?Jenkins is gay. And from what I?ve seen of her personnel file, and the skirt, I?m pretty sure the Administrative Director?s a lady.? 

?Administrative is not part of this conversation yet. And no one is this gay, Jenkins, you have to take my word for it. It was like if you could fuck a sunset, or if the Mona Lisa gave out rimjobs with a baby oil reach around and a lollipop.?

?Is a lollipop something sexual I?ve never heard of, or?? the AD asked before trailing off.

?No, it?s just a lollipop, Ms. Freud, and as I?m fairly certain I just mentioned, you aren?t part of this conversation.?

?I?m not sure excluding me for my gender makes things better??

?And it all sounds tantalizing, sir, but back to the point,? said Jenkins.

?The point is you don?t need me for this shit. AD, you?ve got files including the mission critical skill sets, right? I want a chart of every possible combination that nets us a workable Mars team without returning to square one. That means you can take em from the JV squad, but no recruits, no candidates. They have to have been on one of the parallel training teams. When I get back I expect it to be on my desk.?

?Back, sir? It?s two in the afternoon.?

?And I?ve been up all buttfucking night. I?m going home to sleephump my pillow. If experience holds, that means I?ll tucker myself out from that five, five-thirty. Expect me back in at midnight. Later if you prefer I find pants.?

?Later it is, then.?

?The junk-constricting I do for this place,? Ken muttered as he got up to leave.


  06:08:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1367 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Ground Control

The phone rang. He didn?t want to answer it. It was that damned phone ringing at all hours, like right now, that made Erin leave him. Not that he was bitter. He?d let a hundred Erins leave, so long as they kept calling him.

But that didn?t mean he wanted to actually answer when they did. ?Ken?? the voice on the other end of the line asked.

?The moon had better be on fire,? he muttered into the receiver.

?Not enough oxygen on the moon for that- unless you meant inside the Lunar Station, and then?

?If you don?t get to the point, Alan, I?ll send you to the moon without a suit to check for me how much oxygen there really is.?

?It?s Paul Wesley, sir. He?s been attacked, hurt pretty bad; he?s in the hospital.?

That woke him up. ?Who was it? Iranians? Fucking terrorists??

?A dog.?

?You shit me.?

?I shit you not.?

?Hurt badly, you say? Like in danger of losing his slot on the Mars mission??

?Like in danger of not surviving the night.?

?Fuuuuuck.? Ken kicked his feet off the bed and sat up. ?Hospital??

?Cape Canaveral.?

?That?s fitting.? Ken got up, started looking for where he?d tossed his clothes. His shirt and a sock were clearly visible on the floor, but he was having trouble finding anything else. ?I imagine their dress code includes pants.?

?Likely, sir.?

?Prudes.? Then he saw a pant leg, poking out from behind his dresser. ?There you are, you randy little cocktease.?


?Found my pants, Caffrey. I?ll be at the hospital as fast as the drunk drives.?

?Do you need me to send you a car, sir??

?I said I?m a drunk; I didn?t say I was drunk now.? He hung up the phone, and slipped on some loafers. He regretted not taking that car when he got behind the wheel and the world kept shimmying around- not spinning, but not standing still, either. But he drank often enough to know he was more hung over than drunk, and which of the several roads he was seeing was the real one.

And it was late enough in the night, or early enough in the morning, that there wasn?t much in the way of people on the road. He made it to the hospital without sideswiping so much as a bush- though he did jump a curb or two.

Ken hurried through the emergency room doors and stopped at a nurse?s station. ?Where?s the astronaut?? he asked. 

?Unless that?s relevant- as in his injuries were sustained from a fall from orbit- we wouldn?t have that in the log,? a tired and bored looking nurse told him. 

?Wesley, Paul, doctor- if that made it into the file.?

?213,? she said, glaring.

?My ex wife used to look at me just like that,? he said, ?but don?t get your hopes up; you?re not my type.?

213 was only a few rooms past the emergency bays, which were only separated by a blue surgical curtain. Ken stopped in the doorway, because the damage was far more substantial than he?d been expecting. 

?Is somebody there?? Paul asked, trying to sit up, finding it was both more difficult and more painful than he?d expected, then slumping back in his bed.

?Just go back to talking to the smurfs,? a man in a white coat said, rising from a chair in the corner.

?But how would I know if Smurfett?s coming onto me? Because I?m seeing someone; I don?t want to lead her on, but I don?t want to make things awkward by making that assumption- I mean, it?s almost an accusation, isn?t it, when an advance is unwanted??

?Engorged genitals would imply a certain physical and psychological willingness to mate; also the act of her exposing them to you.?

?That is a tell-tale in my experience,? Ken said. ?You the doctor? Or did you wander away from the psych ward??

?Dr. Cowell.?

?I?m his boss. Friend. Drinking buddy. And he helped me move a couch, once. Onto the lawn. Where we burnt it.? Cowell raised in eyebrow. ?The ex-wife was supposed to get it in the divorce- but the judge didn?t specify the condition, so I gave her the ashes- and a check for the value of it, of course; I?m a fair man. Prone to fits of aggravated arson, but fair.?

?Mr. Wesley is suffering from delusions, and we?ve found they remain more pleasant if he?s able to discuss them, as evidenced by what happened earlier when we refused to acknowledge Scooby Doo.?

?Bad touch,? whispered Paul.

?Indeed,? Dr. Cowell replied.

?So how loopy is he??

?Depends on the moment. You can try talking to him, if you like.?

?Paul? It?s Ken. Space program. Took you to your first donkey show.?

?And last,? Paul replied.

?You are such a gay.? He smiled. ?But what the hell happened, man? You got attacked by a dog at 4 am? What were you doing out that late, looking for a hooker? I keep telling you, you?re an astronaut, now. Call me, I?ll find you a hooker. That?s my job.?

?That?s not funny.?

?Kid, it?s hilarious, you?re just too doped up to know that. But truth be told, we do what needs to be done to keep our astronauts in working condition. I hate to be all dehumanizing, but you aren?t a person anymore; you?re a multimillion dollar piece of equipment. It?s my job to make sure you don?t get broke before we get our money back out of you. If that means hookers, well, we?ll find you something clean and as close to this side of legal as is practicable. Drugs, that?s harder. We don?t want to put unknown shit into our astronauts, knowing it might continue to do unknown shit to them in space.?

?But painkillers we got covered. NASA?s got more docs than cocks, and it?s hard to swing the latter around without hitting one of the former, with the collective cajones of a herd of steer among em. I assume that all falls under doctor-patient, doctor.?

?I?m not your doctor,? Cowell said, ?and it would likely only be covered under lawyer-client, or possibly therapist-patient- but I have no interest in the space program?s debauchery.?

?I assure you it?s very interesting, but that?s probably just as well.?

?I was just out for a walk,? Paul said, defiant, but also drowsy.

?We?ll talk later, and get you a better alibis than that. Something about kittens in trees and crying orphans, work in some tits, maybe, for Middle America.?

?Aren?t we in, Middle, Merica?? Paul asked, as his eyelids and mouth got too heavy for him to keep open.

?We finished exercises at Houston last month, dunce; we?re in Florida for the launch. But for the record, I?m from Middle America, and I love tits.? Ken smiled to himself, then shook it off as he turned back to Dr. Cowell. ?Couldn?t it have been a bear?? He asked, trying to joke, ?couldn?t it have been a bear that screwed up the most ambitious space mission in human history, instead of a dog??

?It could have been a bear. Or a rather large, and rather mean dog. I?m basing my conclusions on Dr. Wesley?s description of the animal.?

?And you think we can trust his description??

?He was lucid when he arrived. Painkillers and shock turned him into the mound of delirium you see before you. And his wounds are consistent with a large animal attack- maybe too serious to have been caused by a dog- though by and large they look worse than they actually are. He?ll live, there?s no question about that. He may require some reconstructive surgery, and we?re still waiting to hear back from radiology but I suspect that?s a broken wing.?

?But will he fly??

?Excuse me??

?This man?s an astronaut. I understand you?re not one of the anal retentive weirdos who work for me, but is there a chance this man will be cleared to be fired through the atmosphere on the tip of a rocket in the next few weeks??

?I would say not; I?d be cautious to say he?d ever be cleared.? 

?Well isn?t that shit?? Ken asked.


  08:05:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1386 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Prologue: Bad Dog

I tingled. It was still all so unreal. I had wanted to be an astronaut since I first saw the Right Stuff, as a kid too young to properly appreciate any of it except for the fire shooting out of the rocket engines.

It had gotten so bad that my twenty-two year old live-in girlfriend couldn?t stand my energy. She told me to go for a walk whenever I was pacing the house at 3 am.

But I like the night. The world shrouded in darkness, illuminated sparingly by intermittent points of light. It?s like being in space but without the ship- you know, if you could survive the vacuum. For most of my life that was as far as I thought I?d get.

But in a week I would be up in space in the ship. I still wasn?t 100% on how that happened.

I remember making a choice in high school. The Air Force Academy was a pipe dream. You didn?t get in without a letter from a senator or a congressperson. 

I used to tell my mom I was going to be the first doctor/astronaut/President. And she never wanted to be the one to tell me it couldn?t happen.

Most astronauts came through the Air Force, same as it?s always been. But I did the math, and realized that if I were to go through the Air Force?s medical program, I?d be on active duty seven years, and ready reserve another six. And that would bump me past NASA?s prime recruitment age.

So I gave up on the stars. Because as much as I wanted to touch them, there were people on this planet who needed help.

Only as part of my post-graduate work, I bumbled into a research internship with a geologist studying water on the Martian surface. I really only helped him wrap his head around some of the biology, but when he published he listed me as a co-author, at almost the same time that I was finishing my traumatology fellowship.

The paper made a splash, no pun intended, at NASA, because it had implications for the Mars mission they were planning. I basically woke up one morning with my foot in the door. I got a call from a NASA administrator who asked me, ?You ever thought about going into space??

?When I was a kid,? I told him, playing coy.

?How about Mars?? And he let that hang there in the air.

?You serious?? I asked.

?You?ve got the science and medical background that makes us NASA people swoon. And you ran in high school. You?re still in shape, right??

?Might have put on my freshman fifteen, but I can still run a six minute mile.?

?Good enough.? And when he said what came next, I could hear him grinning. ?So you smart enough to qualify for the mission, but crazy enough to volunteer to be a ballistic payload??

A lifetime of job interview advice rushed through my brain. I wasn?t supposed to act too enthusiastic, or desperate. But I couldn?t play it down enough not to say, ?Definitely.?

The two years that followed felt like a blur, now. Selection, general astronaut training, specific mission training. And now we were fast approaching launch. A Mars shot means launch windows come only every couple of years for the shortest flight- the rest of the time the planets rotate farther away from each other.

So I was nervous, more so than usual, which meant I was taking even more late night walks, sometimes more than once an evening. It was peaceful, except for the occasional dog locked in a back yard who got territorial when I went by.

I liked to explore, walking down new and different streets. There was an old looking house, not dilapidated yet, but in the beginning stages of disrepair. I?d bet the owner was older, at that point in their life when they didn?t want to admit that the upkeep was too hard for them, but not yet to the point where they hired somebody on to pick up their slack.

The house was ringed with ten foot bushes that had once been manicured into rectangular columns, but nature was overtaking the artistry and they were starting to round off at the edges. I heard an animal through the bushes, and tried to stare through the darkness between the leaves to see eyes or a patch of fur.

I?d been on enough of these walks to recognize the noises dogs made in the dark, the snorts and the dance of paws on dirt, right before the barking started. I always tried to get distance before that; just because I was up that late didn?t mean my neighbors needed to be. 

But it stopped sniffing at the air, and there was a moment of tension where the animal in me told me to be still, because my life might depend on it, and I listened. It made a noise, a noise like, like dogs aren?t supposed to make. My girlfriend?s dog made that noise, one time, when we made the mistake of getting him a plastic bone made for puppies, which he promptly shredded and ate- and he made that same kind of noise while trying to pass it.

And I told that animal inside me to shut up, because the animal on the other side of those bushes was in pain; this was no time to be a coward. ?You okay, puppy? It?s okay. Let me see. Maybe I can help. I?m a doctor, I guess.?

There was movement in the bushes, a lot of movement, big movement. Was it a bear? Was I the first astronaut who was going to be mauled to death by a bear in a suburb a week before the big mission?

It was too crazy a thought; it had to be nerves. I was seeing things. Stress from the flight. From all the times I?d been poked lately, jabbed by inept nurses with butterfly needles who bristled and became even more inept if I offered to help with the poking.

I pushed my hand through the bushes, cringing when I expected to feel teeth. The animal started to growl, and I recognized the noise and stopped moving. ?Okay, if you don?t want me in your space, dog, I?ll go. I don?t want to upset you. Might hurt you more than I could possibly help.? I started to retract my hand, and held my breath. But it cleared the brush without incident.

Only I felt warmth, wet warmth, against my face. Was I near a sewer grate? Maybe the vent from an air conditioner or a laundry room? But it was moist, and rhythmic. Breathe, but too much breathe- even for a big dog. Oh my god, it was a bear.

And then I saw eyes, too high up to be a dog?s eyes even though in the shadows inside the bush it looked like a dog?s face. ?Good boy,? I said, trying to back away.

And then it pounced.

Instinctively, I put up my arm, and the animal caught it in its mouth as it landed on top of me on the ground. Then it clamped down, and my arm broke like a toothpick, and still it shook it, tearing skin and flesh from bone. I hit it with my other hand, but it barely seemed to notice.

I took another swing, and this time it dropped my broken arm to snap at the other. Then it lunged for my throat. I put up the broken limb a second time, limply trying to deflect its moist, strong jaws. With my good arm I tried to choke off its air, but its neck was impossibly thick, and I couldn?t get my fingers around enough to squeeze.

My hand groped at the face, too thin to be a bear?s but too big to be a dog?s, until I found its eye. I jabbed my thumb into the socket and mashed it like an overripe grape. For an instant, those jaws snapped more viciously, but without thought, once pinching my windpipe but immediately releasing as it continued to bite randomly at me, its teeth tearing open my skin.

Then it shook my hand off its face, stood up on two legs, and ran off.


  10:32:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 985 words  
Categories: Banksters

Banksters 50: Transcendent

But the bouncer did. He heard the difference, and when he pulled the curtain back he saw the difference, too. He threw Dylan against the far wall, and shoved Ryan to the floor, where he stomped on his chest. Before either Morgan could even ask a question as to what had happened, he was on the phone with the police.      

?You don't understand,? Dylan said as he was being led away in cuffs. ?She begged us for it, she was practically demanding it. Tell them.? He looked at me, himself begging.  

?She wanted it? That?s your excuse? Kids these days. Christ,? I said, and shook my head.

?Sir?? the policeman asked me. I was disappointed it wasn't the pretty homicide detective, but of course nobody had died, so there was no reason it would have been her.

?At first, everybody was having a good time, but you know these trust fund kids, they took it too far, you know? And when I tried to stop them,? I pointed to my swollen jaw, ?they hit me, put me out cold. But how is she?? I nodded in the direction of the coat she left behind when the paramedics took her away.

?Hurt, but most of the damage is superficial. And psychological.?

?It's just... you go most of your life, feeling like humans are better than their instincts, that we're civilized and we've risen above all of that. But under it all, we're animals. Ready to do terrible things to other people to get what we want.?

?Yeah.? It was in his eyes. He'd seen that world I was alluding to. He worked in it. Breathed it in. He had a ring on his finger, and every time he thought about Grey, he touched it. She either brought out his protective instincts, or reminded him he needed to beat his wife some more.  

When I was done with the police, went back to the office. I still smelled of sweat and sex, and I knew I should probably shower. But I'd spent so long working, fighting, for this moment. I didn't take the elevator. There was a single glass stairwell on the south side of the building, with a view of the harbor. I wanted to savor every moment of my ascension.

When I got to the executive floor, I wheeled Richard's chair by the window. I checked them all, to make sure they were locked, because I was wary of becoming some kind of Icarus cliché. And I sat, for hours, looking down at the city from my new perch.

When she was released from the hospital Grey came looking for me. The fact that she found me without having to call, or even question, made me feel warm inside. Julee understood me, like an entomologist understands a beetle, on account of having some similarities. But Grey got me, without trying, without needing to.

She sidled up to my chair and straddled me. Even in the limited light coming off my desk lamp, I could tell her face was misshapen, swollen and bruised around her lips, her right eye, and cheek, with several smell cuts to punctuate it. ?I don't know if it's a turn on right now, but the police confiscated my panties. Under normal circumstances, sure- but the Morgans did not pull their punches.?

She felt self-conscious, beat up like she was. ?You were wonderful,? I told her. ?More than transcending your physical beauty. If I weren't tired from taking the stairs up here, I'd have you over the desk right now.?   

?You're full of crap. But it's nice of you to say,? she said, resting her head against mine. ?What's next?? she asked, and I was certain she meant more than our Morganciding scheme.

?There's almost literally no one left. The board was going to name me CEO a few days ago, had it not been for George- who at the time they could have potentially sought out, but didn't. And now, after Hookergate, they'll find a way to strip him of his vote.?

She got up off my lap, and walked to Richard's liquor cabinet, and got us each a glass of his best brandy. ?And the Morgan twins,? I continued, ?thanks to an inspired evening, are going to lose their vote, as well. The board will probably beg me to take the post, now.? She handed me on of the glasses, and clinked with me as she sat side-saddle on me lap.

?You've got the power, the booze, the girl, what do you want now??

?A trip to Disneyland?? I asked, not quite sure what she was getting at.

?I was worried you'd never stop looking, for more.? It was the same self-consciousness from a moment before, and again directed at herself.

?I think you misunderstand me. Most of my relationships have been means to an end- which I'm sure you can sympathize with- and I mean that both professional and personally. But more? From here, I can't imagine what more there could be.?

?You'd better mean that,? she said, and kissed me very softly on the neck, ?because you're not the only one who knows how to push people out windows.? She hopped off my lap, and jogged on over to Richard's flat screen TV. It was the evening news. At first, it was just the wrap up of a segment on pet hats being sold to benefit a local charity, but then they broke away for continuing coverage of a developing story.

I recognized the picture immediately, but it took me a moment to hear the words the reporter was saying. Sam Warwick was shot in a break-in at his home. He was dead. ?What did you do?? I asked her.

?Consider it a wedding present.? She kissed me. Well, she kissed me and put her hand down the front of my pants. But that seemed like a slightly less romantic note to end on.

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