Hello, world! I’m very excited to announce the release of my first book, Women Becoming, a 70 page collection that’s been years in the making. From the magical realist escapism of “I Know Why The Caged Crow Leaves” and the heartbreak of “Wisteria,” to the joy and rebirth of “Wishes” and the love shared in “Child of Light,” follow several unique female protagonists through their journeys of self discovery and rebirth.
One of the short stories in my book “Women Becoming” is available to read for free exclusively on Lesbians Over Everything, a website and collective I’ve been following since 2017. LOE is a safe space for lesbians to share their personal and fictional stories, opinions on LGBT media, and even gay bar reviews. I’ve previously written for their Every Woman I’ve Ever Loved category. I really recommend it if you’re a woman who loves women, like me.
I wrote most of “The Flood” directly after reading one of my favorite short story anthologies called “Queer Fear.” As little as I formally venture into horror with my magical realism stuff, I love reading it, so these stories were right up my alley. “Queer Fear” reimagines the gay and lesbian experience as if we were faeries, ghosts, zombies, haunted by the violence we’ve experienced in our pasts but finding power in the monstrous. Another story in my book, “Wisteria,” was heavily inspired by this collection.
I came up with the idea for “The Flood” while I was still closeted, but wrote after I was out. It felt very satisfying to revisit the fear I used to have it and turn into some disastrous art.
The following is a YA short story about Hannah Black and Marina Ziegfield, black lesbians and childhood friends who must come to terms with internalized homophobia and their feelings for each other.
Derek Black and Richard Ziegfield were perhaps unlikely friends in 1990s suburbia, the former a blue voting, honest insurance agent, the latter a red voting, dicey divorce lawyer, but the connection between their two families was solid. Their only daughters, Hannah Black and Marina Ziegfield, would go on to form the bond of a lifetime, though it took a couple rough turns at the start. Despite this fact, they have always loved each other.
It’s an evening in January, 2016, when Marina realizes that she’s been in love with Hannah her whole life, and that’s why she’s such an asshole all the time. Marina holds her red cup full of Coke in the bay of her kitchen, watching as Hannah’s cousin’s friend, Yael Ashkenazi, relentlessly flirts with Hannah across the room.
Marina is overtly jealous, watching Yael take Hannah’s hand, admire her rings, and why won’t Marina just officially come out already? It’s not like anyone at school is convinced, the more she fails to turn off her Snapchat location when she’s out with a known lesbian from another school. But Marina’s dad is conservative and an alcoholic, the “fun” kind, or at least, it seemed fun when she was young, the do-it-all dancer he became when severely inebriated.
But the older Marina gets, the more she realizes that her dad is slowly letting things go, that there are broken parts of her childhood that she’s been blocking out. This year, the mortgage hasn’t been paid up for several months, for no reason other than that Richard Ziegfield loves staying up for four days straight, work-crazy manic, destroying things in his path.
Marina knows her mom started sleeping with someone else years ago to avoid the oncoming storm, that behind closed doors, they act like strangers who just happen to live together, so this is what Marina has also learned to do: avoid the truth and act like nothing gets to you.
Some things really get to her, though. Things like Yael’s not even that good looking, generous inches shorter than Hannah, and why is she wearing a suit jacket, a full on bow tie, and black dress shoes to a house party? With no socks? Didn’t Hannah’s cousin say she goes to Bridgerton, the most prestigious high school in Chapel Hill?
Some loaded preppy girl, as if Marina doesn’t sometimes secretly wish she was one of those, shouldn’t be swooping in on Hannah during this, their senior year. This was the year that Marina always thought, if she and Hannah dated, would be the start of the next two most important years of their lives: where are we going to college? Where are we moving to? If you pick the dream house, I get to pick the campus. We’re staying together, no matter what.
While Yael and Hannah’s cousin talk up ahead, Marina takes the chance to finally grab Hannah’s ear. Nudges her best friend in the side with an elbow, grinning, says,
“So why’s this chick dressed like she’s going to the goddamn opera, am I right?”
Hannah snorts, playfully swats Marina’s elbow, then says in her ear, low,
“I think she looks good.”
It takes two more months, of Hannah and Yael going on dates, of Marina trying to be nice to Hannah’s new good friend, but never really able to let the snark stay off her tongue, of Marina and Hannah continuing to stay close, though Hannah’s phone is off, often, when she’s with Yael, before Hannah and Yael are full on girlfriend and girlfriend, out and proud, all over Instagram.
Marina knows she didn’t shoot her shot hard enough, or ever, really. She could’ve been honest, sat Hannah down on the old tire swings where they’ve spent hours, some nights, in Hannah’s front yard, and told her how she felt, straight up, no bullshit. She could’ve confessed that she wants more than friendship, wants to love Hannah for the rest of her life, wants to be gay and out and proud, but she’s afraid her father will think it’s stupid, or a phase, or maybe even hate her, for political reasons.
She didn’t say any of it, because Hannah should be free. Free to choose what she wants and how she wants to spend her life, without having to feel guilty for Marina’s insecurities.
Marina knows the old adage: if you love something, let it go, if it’s meant to be, it will return.
She just doesn’t know if Hannah knows how much she loves her.Continue reading
The Droid Hunter, Part 1
The premise of this universe is based on two of my favorite albums by Janelle Monae, Metropolis and The ArchAndroid. By way of those, then, this work is also inspired by the classic science fiction film Metropolis (1927), from which she drew her inspiration. In today’s high tech society, I often wonder how involved robots and AI are going to be in our lives. Personally, I’m all for it, but there are definitely a lot of things that could go wrong. In this, I imagine a dystopian Earth from the point of view of both humanity and AI: Analiste the droid hunter and Haven the droid hunted.
I’m going to be posting this one serially for a few weeks. Hope you enjoy!
“Good evening, cyberboys and cybergirls! I am happy to announce that we have a star-crossed winner in today’s heartbreak sweepstakes: Android number 65043, otherwise known as Haven Xiotrip, has fallen desperately in love with a human! And you know the rules! She is now scheduled for immediate disassembly!
“Bounty hunters, you can find her in the Neon Valley Street District at the Leopard Plaza Apartment Complex. The Droid Control Marshals are full of fun rules today. No phasers, only chainsaws and electro-daggers! Remember, only card carrying hunters can join our chase today. And as usual, there will be no reward until her cyber-soul is turned in to the Star Commission.
You sit in the crowded cafeteria of the Metropolis Bounty Headquarters, tonight’s call to action repeating in your mind over and over.
You are one of the youngest bounty hunters in the city at twenty six, as well as the disgraced royal daughter of the Metropolitan ruling family. It wasn’t becoming for someone of your status to do rogue police work, but you applied as soon as you had enough of your own units to pay for the training. Most of your fellow hunters avoid you, stare resentfully and whisper. They don’t get why you’d leave the ease of powerful ranks for something like this, for physical labor that breaks your back, for work they use to try to get in to the upper classes. That’s fine. No one will ever really know.
Unless, of course, they find out that you fall in love with your targets. One target.
The supposed role of the hunter is to pursue criminals. You don’t really have a problem turning some of the more murderous Androids in, but what counts as being in a criminal in this society – falling in love being one, as if that’s even remotely quantifiable by the book of the law – is why you’ve rebelled from your societal position. Though the Androids are superficially artificial, most of them are intelligent, emotional, and compelling. As the Star Commission says, they have souls.
You’ve been a somewhat covert patron of the Retrolove clubs in the Neon Valley Street District since you ran off at the age of twenty. A certain droid with fiery drive and enrapturing soul caught your attention a club called the 6 and kept you coming back like an addict. You’d been watching her for months before she was ever tuned into you, but even then, you knew it was love. Something told you you knew her from somewhere, and the more time you spent with her, the more that felt true, though you still didn’t know how it was possible. Reincarnation on your part? Who knows?
Some would say that robots can’t love humans, and vice versa, but how can the government punish them for something that they can’t do?
It’s been half a year since you’ve seen her last, but she sent you a message two days ago, through one of his clients in the Commission. Her government connection must’ve snitched.
Now, the government not only knows her name, but wants her dead.
Well, you know one thing’s for sure. You’re going to be the first one to find her.
You stand, tossing the rest of your dinner and activating your phasers, fuck a Droid Marshal, giving the crowded room one last look over. Most of the other hunters aren’t in a rush for this one, as there is a Headquarter backlog of hits to be had. Though chasing down an easy target will get enough of these vindictive drones up and raring pretty shortly, the cyber-soul of a 60000 isn’t worth many units. This kill is a routine order.
But not for you.
Magazine article from Indie Uprising, Issue 89:
JAN 76, 2718
Not All Heroes Wear Capes: The History of Retrolove & The Dirty Scavengers Movement
Most robots built during Metropolis’ Retro era (2560-2686) were designed to be all around secretaries, intended for work fulfillment purposes. Millions of factory made, mostly female-evident humanoids were sold by the government to local business owners, to perform filing, cooking, cleaning, and problem solving in the work and home life. These Retro bots were numbered between 60000 and 69999 and were not initially programmed to be intelligent, making them affordable for your average 2600s man. This man had no real technical idea how the Androids functioned, but bought them in the thousands and resold them, using the profits to pay off his debts.
The Retro era was defined by its anti-government sentiment. The human leaders of Metropolis were, and still are, corrupt, rich oligarchs with their secrets locked up in firewalls, militia. When the location of their data centers, which held proof of universal fraud and human slavery, became public knowledge in 2599, groups of terrorist-hackers sprung up, recruiting other disenfranchised humans by the millions. These anarchist groups offered humans who were indebted or living lives of crime an avenue to disrupt the government’s hold on their independence.
When they weren’t stealing government secrets, Retro hackers were social people. In their spare time, they bought Retro bots off of struggling businessmen en masse, reprogramming and redesigning them. They found it easy to rewrite the bots and give them boosted intelligence, enhanced memory, and incredible emotional capacity, using what is now considered legendary independent software. The government, it was discovered, did not take adequate time to safeguard their robots.
Many hackers used the bots as passive companions, alongside or in place of humans who were susceptible to diseases. Some pairs of Makers and Androids, history says, were soulmates. An influential group of serious hackers used the bots to help supply their anti-Metropolitan crime rings, generating billions of cybercurrency and raking in profit surges for the black market. Many of the Retrobots rose to be leaders and shakers in the movement.
When the government learned that hackers were misusing their products, they doubled down on their tendency for overreaction. In 2618, they demanded all debts, by all people, be paid in full immediately, which was ridiculous. The Revolution soon called for ultimate freedom, for war, and started moving in troops. But any violent attempts to overthrow the government were thwarted. All the revolutionary groups were stomped out and eliminated by the early 2690s, robots and humans alike. These gradual killings resulted in 110 million human casualties, including 30 million missing persons reports. This was the highest record of slaughter since the end of the Nuclear War of 2300, during which Metropolis wiped out 198 million people. So it goes. The thousands of leftover Retro Androids were carelessly disassembled and discarded in the radioactive wastelands of the outer Valleys.
Our government was forgiven by peace keeping agencies universe-wide, once again, for the extermination of their people. The 2700s have been years of rigid existence and low creativity since: Government-approved tech, or off with your heads!
At the end of the Retro Era, the Metropolitan government enacted laws to prevent another uprising of the poor and robotic, including the famous Sexual Contamination Act of 2686: All man-on-robot love is punishable in a court of law by a minimum ten year prison sentence. For humans. The robots are just “destroyed.” But all this law really did was push the man-on-bot movement underground, into the throes of the still-moving black market, where the Revolution dances on in clubs today.
This is what the government is most afraid of: You can’t just wipe the memory of a Retrobot. The 2500 hackers of legend, who designed the immortal Skyaea software with care, crafted a level of mysterious encryption in the core parts of their Androids, that no one alive, besides the bots themselves, will ever truly understand. Even club owners these days are obsessed with trying to wipe a Retro’s slate clean. What they don’t understand is that these droids were intrinsically designed to learn, to resist, to take down The Man. Wherever you put them, they will adapt to their environment so that they can upend and correct the environment. They will do this without you having to tell them. This is the spirit of love, of freedom.
While club owners are the most populous on the street, and make the most units, the Scavengers are the real heroes of our movement. Sure, they spend literally all of their time sifting through garbage, often at the risk of exposure to death by radioactive toxic waste, but they’re the dealers, and without them, there would be no product. Against the law, they use their handiness and old-school programming flair to discover long abandoned Retro boys and girls in the darkest corners of our world. Fix them up, and sell them to your low and high end clubs.
They’re the only ones who grasp the Skyaea programming as well as anyone can, make the Retros move again in those all special ways you like. Make them hypersexual, hyper-responsive to human minds. The 80000s and above, Metropolis manufactured and approved, will never. They don’t have the soul.
The problem with the Retrolove club owners, the Scavengers’ customers, is that they’re often failed, disgraced Metropolitan businessmen who don’t know shit about programming. Most of these owners are too greedy to hire a team of actual repairmen, or give the Scavengers a place in the business, so. When they buy the Retrolovebots, and the bots eventually “crash” or “change course,” they tinker with their proportionately pre-moderated settings themselves, to try and make them more profitable. Sometimes they damage them, sometimes beyond repair. After which they “hit the shredder,” or get wasted into raw materials. Those materials are used for building construction, human implants, anything, really. This is why club owners cannot be trusted.
That’s why you all keep coming back to us Scavengers: you know the government has your nads crushed between its fists, and you want release. You want the danger of knowing that the Androids, as they are, know us better than we know ourselves. That creation has surpassed creator.
This is what makes the Retrolove movement so Revolutionary: the government has never truly cared what we do in our black market clubs or where we stick it, because even the government, after all, has to do it too. The taboo orgasm is the one safe ground, the one thing we can all agree on, and sometimes, those fated orgasms lead to love. That’s why they let our practices slide, apart from a few arrests, and even consume them.
The Dirty Scavengers are your creation. You want to demand our services? Stop treating us like shit. Pay us. We own you.
We Can’t Talk About That
“There was, just before the feminine mystique took hold in America, a war, which followed a depression and ended with the explosion of an atom bomb. After the loneliness of war and the unspeakableness of the bomb, against the frightening uncertainty, the cold immensity of the changing world, women as well as men sought the comforting reality of home and children. (…) We were all vulnerable, homesick, lonely, frightened. A pent-up hunger from marriage, home and children was felt simultaneously by several different generations; a hunger which, in the prosperity of postwar America, everyone could suddenly satisfy.”Betty Friedan, “The Feminine Mystique”
When I write up my outlines for potential book plotlines these days, I usually set out what my overall “themes” are going to be. I’ll start writing and think I’m going in one direction, but the next thing I know, ten or twenty pages in, the major theme ends up morphing into something else. Often times without “my” permission. The writer in me has her own voice.
No matter what my story is about concretely—whether it’s as complex as time traveling kids who crash land a planet full of misandrists (yes, that is a thing I am attempting to do), or as simple as a girl who just wants a guy to notice her—my underlying theme or “moral of the story” usually ends up having something to do with mental health.
More specifically, it ends up having something to do with the fact that mental health issues, at least in my experience, seem to be these big, scary things that nobody wants to talk about, like the adult version of monsters in the closet. Those of us who deal with mental illness, in our own lives or in our relationships with family members and friends, sometimes find it easier to just repress it.
I guess the motivation behind my wanting to write about this “mental illness repression” is the fact that I’ve read It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, a book that pretty quickly changed my life once I was done with it. Funny Story’s protagonist, Craig, challenges a lot of the taboos that come along with mental illnesses like major depression and anxiety. You’d think that reading a fifteen year old boy’s perspective on the matter wouldn’t teach you enough, but I think it’s because the author chose such an innocent and young speaker that the book hit home so well, to me. To me, when I read it, it was like, “Okay, if this kid is able to see that something is the matter with our country’s views on mental health, then why can’t we, as adults, see that problem?”
Aside from wanting to writing about it in stories, I’ve also just wanted to know, in general, why going to counseling and taking medicine because of said counseling are seen as shameful behaviors. When I’ve heard people say things like, “psychology is a pseudoscience,” “depression is just sadness,” “therapy is for weak people,” and “I don’t need meds, I’m not a crazy person,” I try not to ask them what it is specifically that makes them think that way, but judging from how I personally used to feel about mental illnesses, I can guess at the causes behind it.
Being diagnosed with a brain-altering disorder is like being told that you don’t have control over your own brain anymore. And that, at first, sounds completely dense and ridiculous.
It’s like, of course I have full control over my own brain—it’s mine, and the way it works is simple. I tell my left arm to move, and it moves. I hear my stomach grumble and tell my legs to walk me downstairs to the fridge. Being in full, autonomous control of ourselves and our bodies is one of the fundamental building blocks of existing as a human, since we can’t control others, can’t control the weather, and can’t control time.
But when you find out that you don’t actually have as much power over your brain as you thought you did—when “all of a sudden,” there’s a chemical that goes missing, an unwanted feeling, an involuntary, panicked reaction—it can be a scary thing to realize. It’s like, if I can’t even get a handle myself, how in the world am I ever going to handle anyone else? If I can’t even control my head, how am I supposed to control the rest of myself?
I think that some of the people who “don’t believe in psychology” stop those thoughts there and prevent them from going any further—reject the idea that the brain is somehow outside of our control.
Then there are the people who at least know that there’s a mental health issue in their life—that they are having thoughts that they can’t control, that they are having breathing problems and panic attacks that they can’t stop—but don’t want to admit it because they don’t want to seem like a “crazy person.” I blame the media for perpetuating the idea that all mentally ill people are “crazy people,” but then again, I’m biased, because I blame the media for a lot of things. Sorry.
I don’t see how having a mental illness automatically makes you “crazy.” Sometimes it does, yes, give or take, but I decide to look at mental illnesses the same way that I would all others, like, cancer, or something. No matter the circumstance and no matter the name of the illness, it’s a condition that the patient probably didn’t ask for and probably didn’t want, so telling a depressed person that they’re “crazy” or implying that they “just need to get better already” is probably inaccurate.
People with cancer need chemo the same way that people with major depression, anxiety, and such need therapy and medicine.
Cancer is visible, whereas mental illness seems, to an extent, invisible.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story was an excellent view of mental health from a male’s point of view, and I was able to compare this to my real life experience, having known and talked to a few males who have rejected going to therapy and then told me their reasons why. Needing therapy, and even just needing help in general, are seen as “feminine” needs, “feminine” problems; the “damsel in distress” trope exists for a reason.
Depression is not gendered or sexed. Neither are anxiety and psychosis. There exist millions of words describing why these conditions appear in humankind. From now on, I will be dedicated to exploring the why.
Made of Soil
Flash fiction I wrote in or before 2016
My skin is dark and made of soil. Gravity keeps the dirt packed solid against my bones, always slightly damp and never leaving residue on what I touch. Still, most people avoid me because of it.
Tonight at the supermarket, a woman stares at me, across the aisle where I’m stocking shelves. She has liquid black hair like a waterfall of ink, and I can tell she wants to touch me, the way her mouth is agape.
She walks over slow, not looking at my face, probably full of questions about my roots. I’m not prepared to answer, but I don’t have a choice. Soon she gets so close that I can feel her breathing oxygen into my soil, inhaling my earthy petrichor.
“Have you always been like this?” she says to my arms, one hand curled against her chest as if concerned. “Is it a condition? Must you be watered?”
She hovers her hands over my arms and it makes me nervous; she’s a cold kind of beautiful. Her fingers are curled into loose fists like they are holding seeds, and my pulse is visibly rumbling beneath my fine, top layer of dirt.
I don’t want her to touch me, but I do.
When she looks into my eyes, I see her eyes are not eyes at all, but eerie, dark holes in her face that seem to have no end.
As I stare into them, trying to find their end, she smooths her palms along my soil, slow and soft.
Then she stabs her fingers, sharp, into my dirt.
And then I feel seeds, dozens of them, slipping from her fingertips and burrowing in my arms. My body absorbs them as if it has a choice.
“Meet me here tomorrow,” she says, pulling away her hands. They are covered in my dirt and as if I have a choice, I work here tomorrow. She runs off without another word, a flurry of hair, skirt and wind, leaving me alone in the aisle.
On the walk home, I feel the seeds dragging themselves down deeper. I can’t stop seeing her face, and the more I picture her – the endless flow of her hair, the empty pits of her eyes – the more painful the holes she left in my arms become.
Once inside, my energy drained, I feel the hard shells of the seed coats break apart, the roots crawling out and spreading through my body. They latch, parasitic, around my nerves and vessels, draining my blood as if for nutrients. Finally, sleek stems coil out from my surface, multiplying quickly, leaves fluttering in the air.
Humiliated, I watch it grow: a tangled web of vines that starts to flower into finicky, blue forget me nots. I know now that I can’t return to the store, and this is what it means to be dark and made of soil: everything that touches you gets in.
Have you ever wondered how much of you there is on the Internet? I have. My fellow millennials and I live in an age where employers use Facebook in hiring decisions, tweets can lead to violent protest, nothing you do online ever really gets deleted, and games like Pokémon Go connect us in virtual real-time the way we’d only dreamed was possible (or at least I’d always dreamed, as a lifelong Pokemon fanboy).
It’s always been hard to imagine my life without the Internet, personally. I grew up living at a desk with my dad’s clunky IBM desktop on it. In 2003, in the good old fifth grade, I was using Windows XP to run America Online, which I had to do via dial-up, which meant that only one person in the house could use the phone or Internet at a time, which, as you can imagine, was first-world exhausting. By 2006 I was using Internet Explorer on Windows Vista, writing several Myspace, Xanga, and other dumb teenage angst blogs that I hope have faded into obscurity (but let’s be real, they haven’t) and torrenting with LimeWire (RIP).
Back then, creating HTML blog themes and finding obscure workarounds to download things for free taught me an important, now-lifelong lesson: no matter what censorship comes, the Internet truly belongs to everyone. But something that belongs to everyone can be edited and thus destroyed by anyone, and these days, it is: by some of the lovely humans out there who enjoy coding malware.
The thing that’s always fascinated me most about computers are their viruses. I’ll never forget the day I learned as a kid that Bonzi Buddy, a now well-known case of malware, was not a helpful search tool but was in fact a crime someone committed (and really f#cking annoying, too; if you had one you understand). I’m not glad cyber theft and crime exist, but it’s also humbling to know that a fifteen year old kid from the Netherlands with no name or money could hypothetically write a program powerful enough to shut down a government. I like the fact that online, there are no class boundaries. Code is the great equalizer.
I think it’s because of this that cybersecurity is a such fast-growing field of computer science. We spend 11 hours a day online and nearly 3 billion of us use a smartphone, taking up a virtual space that we now have to watch over. Sometimes our spaces are used to launch large-scale DDoS attacks without our knowledge, our video calls surveilled by governments and pervs. This website lets you view insecure webcam streams worldwide and god knows how many female celebrities (and females in general) have been hacked for nudes.
Humans must come up with complex cyberlaws and corresponding programs that determine, for example, whether or not the NSA should massively collect data and exploits, or where jurisdiction should be held when a criminal technically comes from nowhere, or what should be done about the environmental impact of tech on the Earth.
But where do the majority of us, and our iPhones with Instagrams of cat memes, fall into the grand scheme? What about the fun of it, the Snapchats and subreddits and vines (RIP)? Personally, I embrace our robot overlords – because at the end of the day, humans were behind them – and I appreciate the f#ck out of them being able to do things like drive by themselves, run like a cheetah, and dance in choreographed teams.
I started studying computers, hacking, cyber crime, robots, and social media trends about a year ago for hobby’s sake. Along the way here, I want to document what’s happening with surveillance technology in the U.S.: when the Internet is in our homes, watches, cars, and heart and baby monitors, is it always a good thing? Is there really too much information? This is a conversation I see happening all around me. I can’t wait to share more about what I’ve learned from the people having it.
It’s good housekeeping to take care of your digital house too.
Protected: Wishes (Tumblr Exclusive)
I’m Blue, Too
The following is a piece that I wrote and illustrated years ago with Shel Silverstein’s poem “Masks” in mind. I remember always loving Silverstein as a kid, but his poetry has resonated so much more with me as an adult. “Masks” spoke to me on an especially powerful level, and because of it, a short story about a lost girl named Blue began to form.
This was originally performed as a spoken word and visual piece for the 2013 Miss SAE Pageant at the University of La Verne.
Once upon a time, a girl named Blue lived in a village in her native land. She was happy and safe at home with her people, but sometimes she wondered what it was like out there in the world, what it was like out in the unknown lands.
Suddenly, one night, Blue woke up and saw red. She saw fire all around her, burning down her village, and she was scared.Continue reading
This is fanfiction that I wrote about Janelle Monae’s first album Metropolis. Enjoy!
A spaceship lands on post-Nuclear-War Earth sometime in the year 3000.
The spaceship comes from the golden planet of Metropolis. It returns to this barren earth to retrieve a droid.
It is an android to be specific, given the human name “Jane.” Jane is made of strong, white titanium and has hair made of thin, coarse, black metal fibers. Jane has a face, torso, waist, limbs, and a chest plate that bears the numbers: 57821.
Droid 57821, or “Jane,” was sent to Earth 1,000 years ago, and has walked among the humans ever since. Now, she lies unconscious and brain-dead. Now, she is scrap metal lying amongst rocks and dust. Jane is a lone droid that was left behind at the End of the Earth.
At her inception, Jane was given a high-capacity memory system. She had recording cameras installed behind her red eyes. Jane’s “brain,” a compact conjunction of wires, compartments, and motherboards, was specifically designed to capture lifelike video. Droid 57821 was meant to observe Earth, send live feeds to Metropolis, and give intellect and insight about Earth’s race. About the humans. She had the capacity to complete her mission, and she was designed to be compassionate, graceful, and friendly with the humans—but Metropolis soon became bored of her, and of Earth. As time and technology progressed, she became a dinky, old science experiment, created by an early breed of simple, foolish Metropolitans.
She was forgotten.
And at the eve of the Third Millennium, Earth went to War. The nations rebelled against each other, created nuclear weapons and battled for 20 years. The Nuclear War killed millions, and the Final Bomb annihilated what was left of the beautiful planet. The human population was completely wiped out. (Or so it appeared)
Earth is now a desolate wasteland, a toxic place where no life can survive.
A Metropolis satellite spaceship, which hovers in the black, star-filled abyss, receives an unknown signal from a sender called: 57821.
A Metropolitan Scientist calls his colleagues to the spaceship’s laboratory. They stand in front of the control panel. There, the five of them open a digital map of the known universe, to trace the strange sender’s location.
The inhospitable planet that has not held life for years. Someone or something there can connect to their ship. Someone or something there is asking for help. “It must be an android,” says one of the scientists. “Haven’t you heard the story about ‘Jane,’ the Earthbound Android? The experiment sent to earth from Metropolis for 1,000 years, to walk among humans? She is an ancient experiment now, given up on because of her inferior technology. But she must have sent the signal. She must be 57821.”
The scientist says that they must retrieve her. The other four scientists scoff. “The Rulers and The Government have given us no such order,” says one. “That android is trash,” says another. The five scientists contact The Metropolitan Laboratory of Science Center, or The MLSC, from their spaceship, and ask what is to be done about the unknown signal. “If it’s coming from Earth,” says Vortex, President of the MLSC and employee of The Government, “Investigate it.”
And so they do.
“And if it turns out that the signal comes from the Earthbound Android?” says the first scientist. “If we are to find 57821?”
“Bring her to us,” says Vortex. “She is weak, nothing but a waste of Metropolitan materials and time. She was not even strong enough to withstand the Nuclear War of Earth. If she is alive now, even just a little, hell—bring her.
“She might as well be punished for her failure to survive.”
The spaceship lands, after tracing the signal and finding its sender’s location. The five scientists, dressed in protective gear and masks, walk onto the harsh, barren land, and see a white mass of titanium, almost completely submerged in red dirt.
The first and second scientists pull “Jane” out of the rubble. Jane’s eyes are closed and her body is covered in dark ash, scratches, and dents. Her battered limbs are hardly even connected by her wire joints. Vortex was right: she is trash. The scientists drag her by her arms, clunking her titanium body against the red sand, and Jane lets out a groan. They look at her swiftly—is she alive? But Jane’s head hangs loose from its neck joint, and she gives no other sound.
The scientists re-board the golden, Metropolis, satellite spaceship. They travel back through space, signaling to the MLSC that they will land momentarily. They fly back into Metropolis’ hazy, pink atmosphere as the grand orange sun is beginning to set, landing on a large panel outside of the Laboratory of Science Center.
Jane has awoken now, and she’s gone bezerk. Her interior design is severely damaged and burned, and her brain is still half-dead, traumatized from the effects of the Nuclear War. Her metal body shakes and jerks out of control, and it takes eight Guards to bind her, hold her as they drag her inside the Center and up to Vortex’s Headquarters.
Vortex stands in the center of his Headquarters, as the white-coated Guards and the five scientists surround and walk with Jane, Droid 57821. Headquarters is a steel-paneled laboratory with high ceilings and cold floors, with massive computer panels and control boards lining the back wall. Jane’s body still seizes as they carry her, and she grunts uncontrollably, flicking and flailing her weak arms and legs. Vortex walks up to the struggling Guards, raises his fake, metal arm, and clunks it into the top of Jane’s head.
Jane stops, goes limp, and has a new grey dent in her otherwise white forehead. Vortex tells the Guards, “Drop her,” so they do. Jane falls into a pile against the steel, tile flooring. Vortex tells the Guards to leave, and the Vice President and Treasurer of the MLSC, who’d been seated across the room watching, stand and join him now in front of the five scientists.
Vortex is a tall, broad, six-foot-six metropolitan, with dark, dark skin and a bald head. He has many mechanical parts, including an arm, a leg, and a robotic eye. Vortex was in an accident of some sort that no one in the MLSC or The Government talks about.
He stares down at the five scientists harshly.
“Is she the Earthbound Android?” asks the first scientist, timidly.
Vortex says, “She is.”
The Vice President, a slender, silver-haired metropolitan woman, shakes her head.
“Take out her tapes,” she instructs the scientists. “See if she’s collected anything viable for our use.”
The five scientists scrambled to the floor where Jane had been dropped and turn her over on her back. The third scientist unscrews the panel on her back, which contains her core engine, and the second scientist unscrews the panel on the back of her head, which contains her brain.
The third scientist sees nothing inside of Jane’s core besides burned motherboards, snapped wires, and corroded batteries. When he opens up the panel completely, Jane’s interior sparks, her body twitches, and a thin trail of smoke begins to rise from the corrupted system. Vortex, The Vice President, and the Treasurer all shake their heads.
The first scientist, meanwhile, carefully powers down and disconnects Jane’s brain, which is burned as well, but not as badly. Not at all. The second scientist removes the sliver of a memory chip from the center of Jane’s brain. The technology is extremely basic, a thousand years old. He laughs.
“I don’t think we’ll have anything to play this back on,” he chuckles.
Vortex, The Vice President, and the Treasurer don’t seem to find that funny.
“Give it to me,” says the Treasurer, a skinny old man with stringy, dark hair. The Treasurer takes the memory chip and moves to one of the large control boards, in front of a giant screen. He sits before it, inserts the chip into the oldest drive that the MLSC still has.
He powers up the computer, accesses the chip. Nothing but static buzzes and snaps across the screen.
“Useless,” says the Treasurer.
“Hell, as I thought,” Vortex says.
The Treasurer returns with the memory chip.
“What to do with this?” he asks.
Vortex looks at him.
“Burn it,” he says.
The Treasurer pulls a handheld fire starter from his pocket. He lights a flame, holds it to the chip, and as it catches fire, he throws it far from it. The chip explodes with a boom, and sparks, metal, and smoke burst from the device, sputtering about and startling the five scientists.
1,000 years of Jane’s memory, gone.
The first and second scientists, meanwhile, are whispering and staring at the rest of Jane’s brain.
“For being created a thousand years ago,” mumbles the first. “It’s not so bad.”
“It’s worn,” returns the second. “But it’s still got power. Look—“ he opens up a deeper compartment, which has electric wires that are lit up, pulsating and vibrating. “—I’ve never seen a brain from so long ago with that much activity.”
“She’s excited about something,” chuckles the first.
“Burn that too,” Vortex booms from across the way at them, suddenly.
They glance at each other.
“But—her brain still works,” the first contests.
“Who is her Maker?” Vortex demands.
The fourth scientist help the first and second scientist turn Jane’s mangled body to and fro, searching for a signature imprinted on her body. Most droid Makers leave their mark on their creations, but Jane is far too dirty and damaged for a signature to be found.
“I don’t know,” says the first. “But whoever he or she was, they were talented.”
Vortex, the Vice, and the Treasure all look at each other and sigh.
“We could give her a new system, with better technology!” the first scientist exclaims. He looks at his colleagues, who are nervously and uncertainly nodding with him in agreement.
“Yeah,” says the third. “She’s a piece of junk now, but she still has a brain. We could fix her up. Make her a member of modern droid society.”
“Yeah!” agrees another.
Vortex squints his eyes, one ugly and scarred, and the other made of glowing metal.
“Fine,” he grunts. “Keep it.”
They all glance at each other until Vortex suddenly screeches at them, “Now get out.”
Her memory may be gone, the first scientist thinks to himself as he and his colleagues scramble out, with their droid, but a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Newer androids in Metropolis are made with high quality nerve-ending wires beneath their titanium, giving them physical sensitivity and physical feeling. The new Jane is given all the finest wires, making her titanium “skin” a desirable commodity. And she would find her most sensitive place to be her thin, metal lips.
The Wondaland Arts Society, where Jane has been repaired, looks upon their finished creation: Jane-3000. Jane is powered off, looking sleek, slender and shiny as she stands on her metal platform. She will be returned to and checked up on tomorrow, when the day has dawned. The five men of the Wondaland Arts Society turn off the lights, and leave Jane and the laboratory for the night.
The door shuts.
Jane opens her eyes, then.
Her pupils glow red. Music begins to drip and pour from her the speakers of her stereo system, on the sides of her neck. And she begins to sing.
“Left the city, my momma she said, ‘Don’t come back home,’
“These kids ‘round killing each other, they lost they minds, they gone.
“They quittin’ school, making babies and can barely read
“Some gone on to their fall, Lord have mercy on ‘em.”
“One, two, three, four, your cousins is ‘round here sellin’ dope,
“While their daddies, your uncles is walking ‘round strung out.
“Babies with babies, and their tears keep burning,
“While their dreams go down the drain now.”
“Are we really living or just walking dead now?
“Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
“The way we live, the way we die—
“What a tragedy, I’m so terrified!
“Daydreamers, please wake up! We can’t sleep no more!”
“Love don’t make no sense, ask your neighbor.
“The winds have changed, it seems that they’ve abandoned us.
“The truth hurts, and so does yesterday.
“What good is love if it burns bright, and explodes in flames?”
“I thought every little thing had love, but, uh—“
“Are we really living or just walking dead now?
“Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels?
“The way we live, the way we die—
“What a tragedy, I’m so terrified!
“Daydreamers, please wake up! We can’t sleep no more!”
Jane’s music stops, and she stops singing. She looks into space, her eyes going from glowing red to beautiful brown.
She knows very little but the fact that she is currently bound with refrains on the platform. Despite this, she is calm. She knows that her name is “Jane,” and that it is a human name. But she has no recollection of where she was before this, or why she cannot remember. Something tells that she is not from here, that she was not birthed in this laboratory and that this is not where her life began, but she has no clues as to her true origin.
Jane has no memories. (She only has music).
Her eyes try to make things out in the laboratory in which she stands, but it is much too dark. She closes her eyes again to shut down and rest again, when suddenly, she hears a soothing voice talking to her in her brain.
57821, it says. It is time for you to come home, my dear.
You’ve been gone long enough.
Thank you, but you must come.
You must go.
Rick and Morty in: The Alternian Showdown
The following is a whacky sci-fi crossover between two of my favorite franchises, Rick and Morty and the webcomic Homestuck.
I had so much fun writing this back in February of last year. If I could write an episode for either story, it would look something like this. Hope you enjoy!
Snuffles, formerly known as Snowball, the peaceful leader of this paradise planet, communes with you one last moment before your return to Alternia. You arrived here hours ago, you think, via the strange “portal gun” that Vriska found along the cliffs of your hive. You still have no idea how this thing works, but you’re here. She won’t let you hold it, of course.
You sit in your wheelchair, as ever, before the complicated mechanics that tower this fluffy barkbeast over you.
Vriska is waiting below the grand palace for your procession with the leader to terminate, growing impatient. Not impatient with you whatsoever is Snuffles, his thin, robotic voice smooth in your thoughts.
Most of the intelligent robot barkbeasts have been kind to your brand of tourism, just trying to learn more about them. But Vriska has, in her way, upset the local barkbeasts by openly questioning their society to such a degree that you have to leave now, hours in.
So it goes. She just wanted to make sure things were in order, that they’d be safe if the Condesce came through.
But is it just her order, Tavros?
You can see your reflection in the shine of Snuffles’ steel frame, as you hear his voice. You look tired. Adventuring used to make more sense, just for the shit of it, before the accident. Then you thought Vriska forcing you to spend time together was just her trying to make it up to you.
Now? This other world is perfect to you. It’s a deadly, freak accident that you’re here. If any adults find out you left, you’ll both be culled on the spot.
But the white sun outside here does not scorch the skin. The grass is actually greener, there is no widespread violence just for entering the street, just for being a different breed.
The society was created because it was a dictatorship once, learned its lessons.
Though you’ve never seen this variation of a barkbeast creature before, in your eight sweeps of life, as soon as you felt them in their dimension, you were able to connect.
What does that mean? That you’re meant for more in the universe than Cavalreaping at conscription?
I don’t know.
Snuffles lowers the chamber containing his body, more level to you.
What happened to you was not your fault. Do you want to walk again?
Uh, yeah. But –
Do not ‘but.’ We can supply you with our technology, to restore your usage of legs. We will have to make some adjustments, but it can be done.
You roll your chair back a bit, stunned. The hairs on the bumps of your skin stand on edge.
“But that must be so, uh, expensive, for you, and I’m not a barkbeast, so, how would it connect to my biologies?”
That is why I said we will have to make some adjustments.
Vriska’s bellowing, outside.
Not now. She wants to unleash some kind of revolution on Alternia, now, with this “portal gun.” Create an underground railroad to funnel out young trolls, some witchcraft tech that she found in the ground.
What about this world? If the Condesce ever comes through?
What about you, Tavros?
“I don’t know, if I have time – “
“You may return whenever you like,” Snuffles speaks through the equipment. “We will be waiting for you. You remind me of an old friend.”
You take the elevator to the ground, slowly making your way to the entrance. Vriska has taken a seat in the center of the path to the double doors, yards away from the barkbeast guards who keep turning around to observe her. She has a panel of the portal gun open in her lap, staring intently, her vision eightfold at work.
The doors open automatically, but she doesn’t turn when she hears them.
“There you are. Man! Thought I was gonna have to go up there and interrupt some mpreg.”
“Uh, what’s an ‘mpreg’?”
“Some shit Terezi’s lusus told her in a dream once. Thought it sounded funny. Trust me, you don’t wanna know what she thinks it means.”
“Okay, I don’t.”
That gets her to look at you.
A little too saucy. Oops.
“Are you fucking ready or what?” Her voice drips with venom. Your hairs stand on end. “You took forever. I can’t believe the idiot this gold mine belongs to just left this on Alternia? What were they even doing here, spying on us? Doesn’t matter. We can go so many other places than this, Tavros, probably anywhere! If we don’t get killed the second we get back, anyway.”
How is she able to joke about things like that?
“Oh, please,” she reads your mind, cheater, “you and Gamzee joke about that all the time.”
She exaggerates all her vowels at the end there. You aren’t exactly sure what she’s making fun of you for. Is that what she’s doing?
“I thought,” you say, “you wanted to go back to Alternia now.”
She stands, abrupt, and regards you with a glare.
“We wouldn’t’ve even spent so long in this boring little prairie if you weren’t so obsessed with sharing your feelings through that feeble little mind of yours. I wanted to know if this was a planet worth taking over someday, but no, you wanted to discuss the finer nuances of barkbeast shit!”
You don’t point out that her psionics disallowed her primary access to the most powerful beings here.
That was just your luck, for once.
But she heard you.
Moments in the future…
The air is thicker, almost suffocating. You know home. You open your eyes to find yourself rolled back into your hive, from the same place you left, in front of the nearly barred window. Vriska follows you shortly after, closing the green, glowing portal behind you.
“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Vriska begins. She opens that one hatch on the portal gun, frowning, scheming, scheming. She starts to pace around you. You turn back to the window. “This is way, way more important than I’m sure you can even grasp.”
“You got that right.”
Both of you turn to find the strange voice coming from an alien in a new portal, floating ominously across the room.
“What the fuck,” you say, without even meaning to.
You wish Tinkerbull was here.
Vriska doesn’t play this, whatever this is, tucking “her” portal gun in her inner jacket. If Gamzee’s hellish clown gods are real, maybe this is one of them.
Equipping her current sword, Vriska charges at the fragile, blue-haired, bipedal thing in the portal.
“Hey, hey, murderbitch, knock it off!”
“What did you just call me?”
Quickly, the alien barrel rolls out of the portal under her slice, coming up unstable, but finding his bearings as Vriska tries to slice at him from behind.
“What are you? How can I understand you?” Vriska demands this while almost taking his head, but he ducks quick, unbothered.
“A simple voice recognition system, sweetheart – “ He dodges a lash to his face, keeps dodging and dodging, how can he move like that? “Translated into millions of dialects across galaxies – part of the way the portal system works, since I’m here, now it works – which you’d know if you didn’t fucking steal my portal gun.”
“This is yours? Ha! You’re a pathetic, ancient demon!”
“And you’re a future war criminal.”
“You don’t know anything about me!”
Vriska throws the sword and it laces his arm, cutting the white lab coat down to the skin.
“Fuck! The fuck is wrong with this planet?”
“You are, right now!”
“Oh, Morty, you’re really in it now. But no, you weren’t gonna drop the extra portal gun somewhere so obscure that it fled your cumfilled brain the second Jessica even breathed in your perimeter.”
“Who, uh, are you talking to?”
The grandiose alien turns to you, but just for a moment. You’re almost invisible.
“Not you, half breed. Man, it must be hell for you on this world, living under a violent fascist dictatorship where she basically left you to die and you’re disabled? Quick, someone – someone get, the Hallmark channel, or, fuck, is it TLC? Yeah, yeah – ”
“Don’t fucking talk about him like that!”
Vriska defending you? In your sci-fi fantasy nightmare come to life?
Another portal opens, bringing with it a draft of cold and another alien, and this is way too much foreign activity happening in a random brownblood’s hive off the Southern Coast. It’s still evening so the drones won’t be around for hours, and you don’t know how that makes sense if you were in the barkbeast utopia that long, but still, but still –
Vriska always puts you here, too deep in political shenanigans. And you can’t walk out anymore.
The other alien looks like this one, sort of, meager skin pulled over thin bones, but a young one, disoriented from falling ass backwards out of the portal and into your crowded hive.
He has another portal gun, maybe his own, clumsily fixing it to his belt. This forbidden science magic from these aliens, it intrigues you, even if it might be why you die –
“Oh hell no,” says the old alien to the young one, “bitch, you took another one of my guns to look for the gun you already lost?”
“Rick, lay off, I didn’t mean to lose it – “
“Morty, this episode’s only been on for a few minutes and you already fucked up this spectacularly, you’re, you’re wanted upstairs.”
“You were here? How?”
Vriska wants answers. Now.
She marches over to her sword on the floor, expertly kicks the hilt to flip it into her hand, and points it at “Morty,” the young, now mortified alien, whose skin is turning red. You wonder what blood color the old one has. Him, like you, running around with a guy like that? In your outer space?
“Uh, hey, n-no, not really, I was just, y’know, p-passin’ by, up above, just passin’ through – “
“Wow, Tavros,” snorts Vriska, “I think this unintelligent creature is you.”
You and the other unintelligent creature make eye contact.
He doesn’t seem like to you, upfront.
“Wow, if you think I’m like that guy, then, then you’re wrong.” “Morty” laughs, or something. “At least my legs work, and, and some other stuff, am I right?”
You don’t seem to like him upfront. Technically, you have the better blood here, but you can’t say that out loud. You’ve tried.
That other stuff also works about half of the time. You almost say that, because you think it’s funny, but the old one is one roll ahead of you.
“Shit, Morty, the guys upstairs are in talks with TLC for this storyline, you ableist piece of shit.”
She charges Rick again, but this time he pulls out his own weapon – some sort of prismatic gun, hot where the lasers would spill, nothing you’ve ever seen –
Vriska falters, backs up.
“Yeah, no FLARP-ing here, little mistress.” He cocks whatever mechanism, doesn’t pull, which angers her back, defenses raised. He knows what FLARP is? You’re gonna die here. This is a triple agent here to murder you for going off planet. Was it worth it? Is this worse than the drones? “Just give me the gun and me and my grandson will be on our way.”
“Your fucking what-son? Not until you tell me where you’re from, or why you think the Condesce’s territory is your petty playground.”
“None of your business and everything in existence is actually my territory, thank you very much.”
“I don’t belong to you.”
Rick looks amused.
“No, you belong to Fish Hitler.”
“Uh, haha, Hitler,” Morty supplies, “we’ve never been here, by the way, he’s just pulling your leg, um, a-arms, and I don’t know how the gun even got here, that’s, that’s still something – “
“You’re not getting it back,” Vriska growls, ignoring the wide-eyed little one, and you, ever still, “I bet you have eight million! Surely you could spare one for us poor, poor little victims of fascism.”
“Bullshit, you’re probably secretly her biggest fan.”
Vriska jumps for him, physical scuffle, both weapons dropped, and you have no idea why this is happening, neither does Morty, but they seem to have auto-agreed on some kind of villain’s code.
“So, uh, who’s she,” Morty says, suddenly near you, as you watch in horror as their scuffle begins to knock into your desk, throwing things around.
“Trust me, you don’t, want to know.”
It doesn’t last long, Vriska far stronger than him once they’re on the ground, but a sharp elbow to her face that breaks her glasses disorients her long enough that he steals the portal gun from her jacket, bleeding vibrant, uncanny red all the while. She’s barely injured, besides some glass shards to the jaw.
“Morty, let’s get the fuck out of here, stat!”
Vriska roars as she chases them towards their quickly vanishing portal, reaching for Morty’s foot at the last second, taking his shoe, only that.
When the portal closes, that feels like a death sentence.
You almost hear something knocking on your front doors.
You’re just, imagining that.
“Shut the fuck up.”
Vriska sighs, tossing the alien shoe, kicking your floorboards, and observing the mess that is her glasses, the remains of the your Fiduspawn cards on the floor, and the desk turned over with all the trivia you’d been collecting in piles, discarded haphazardly now.
You could, not listen.
“Don’t worry, I’ll clean all this up. Put all your little fucking stacks back in their hives.”
That counts as an apology, you think, in Vriska’s world. You guess you’ll take it, if she’s pitching.
“And we’re getting that fucking gun back.”
She squeezes her eyes shut, the sign of her communion attempt, the tendrils of her hair swaying slow. Chills rise all over you, as usual, but you aren’t her target.
“What kind of backwards ass convoluted neuro pathways are these?”
You can’t, get into the alien’s head.
She drops her attempt. “I will.”
I want the gun, also.
That piques her interest, genuinely. Maybe for the first time all night, you think. Sometimes, Vriska can see you. Ironically, she’s not hiding behind all that glaring glass, at the moment.
You wish she couldn’t read the reason why, that her vicious light would stop exposing you. She can see and hear Snuffles’ sacred, impossible promise to you.
“That’s not gonna happen,” she chuckles, coming closer to your chair. She kicks the wheel a little. “There’s no time.”
It’s a nice idea.
“Keep it at that, ‘toreadoormat.”
Hours in the future, but not many…
Your name is Morty Smith, and you really didn’t mean to drop that portal gun on Alternia. You swear. You’re not even sure what’s so wrong about it, to be honest.Continue reading
“Brujería” is a short story about two women who are mysteriously drawn to each other. Our nameless protagonist is a butch young woman who must navigate her sexuality through a sometimes grim lens. Along the way is the elusive Verona, a self described “bruja” who may or may not have put a curse on her. Read the rest in my short story book Women Becoming, available for $2.99 on Amazon.
We’re sitting in her friend’s back yard in the dark, at two in the morning, and it hits me that she drove us here high and drunk out of her mind. She got us here in her hoopty, the beat up Honda that she drives without a license, the radio bumping nasty rap, her son’s empty carseat behind us, and the carpteted seats reeking of swishers.
“I’m not trying to brag,” she said when she picked me up, “but I’ve never gotten a ticket or pulled over or anything.”
This girl must have guardian angels or something, I think. Her friend, out here in the yard, is also a Mexican in his late twenties, sitting across from us smoking a joint, rapping over some shitty beats he made on Garage Band. He really wants to fuck her, she told me as we got out of the car just minutes earlier, “but I let him buy me dinner instead.”
He doesn’t know that Verona and I are exchanging unspoken dialogue, where we sit: my hand around her hip, her blonde head on my shoulder, my hand sliding beneath the waistband of her jeans, fingers tracing the lace band of her underwear. Once, she brushes her lips against my neck, groaning so only I can hear her.
Her friend doesn’t know that she’s like this, that she sins, and I’m not even sure she knows it either. I wonder if he’d still want to sleep with her if he knew, or worse, if he’d want to even more because of it.
We meet for the first time outside the infamous, run down steamship in Verde Beach, the S.S. Barnes. I think I’ve seen her before as she sits next to me, on the bench at the bus station. Looks Latina, could be Filipina, ice blonde locks, pink lips, overweight, still hot. Her uniform shirt is ill-fitting, buttons pulled tight across her chest. Her name tag is pinned on crooked, looks like it’s going to pop off.
She doesn’t say anything to me at first, staring at her phone and puffing a cigarette roach. I think she’s just a co-worker I’m never going to talk to as I look upon the ship, thinking, shit, it’s so cold.The ship-turned-hotel, creaky and haunted, is always hiring waitresses for the holiday seasons, nine dollars an hour. It’s a shit job, but it’s something. Christmas presents for the kids. All but two of us are women, most of us struggling, at least half of us “queer,” from what I can tell, but I don’t talk to anyone when I’m on the clock.
“You look like that singer,” Verona finally says, from beside me. I look over, read the name on her tag, and watch as she blows a cloud of smoke, tosses the roach.
“What’s your name?” she asks me. I always take my name tag off as soon I’m off the clock.
When I tell her, she snorts.
“That sounds like Sasha Fierce,” she says, tossing her roach to the ground. “You know, like Beyoncé? I hate that bitch.”
Oh, God, I think, as I remember the moment she first caught my eye. She was the one who’d mispronounced the name of the featured wine last month. When the male chef staff had gently corrected her, she’d verbally torn them each a new asshole, in Spanish, for a full minute. I didn’t see it, but I definitely heard it coming from the kitchen. Everyone in the dining room did.
I know exactly why she didn’t get fired for it.
“Can I add you on Facebook?” she says now. She’s scrolling through her phone, getting ready to search me. I hate Facebook, but I also think this woman is very good looking: Catch 22. Something about the way her sleek, dyed hair frames her face, the way her clothes are too tight for her. I would soon learn that these details were on purpose.
So I tell her the name I go by on Facebook. I watch as she looks through my page for a full minute, then looks up at me suddenly, a spark in her eyes.
“You like girls.”
She’s paused her screen on a photo of me and my ex from high school.
“Uh, yeah,” I say. This is why I hate Facebook.
The bus finally pulls into the harbor across the way, and I stand in wait, eager to get out of here.
“I had a girlfriend in high school, too,” says Verona, and I look at her. “She was mean, she used to steal my make-up.” This is stereotypical of me, but I don’t know if I believe her story.
When I get on the bus, I half expect her to sit right next to me. She doesn’t. When the bus gets crowded, she plays her rap music loud from the speakers, not the headphones. Normally, I hate when people do that.
So I should’ve let her go back then, in retrospect: the fact that she asked me first, that spark in her eyes. But as our work went on, she kept sitting next to me at the bus stop. I should’ve pretended that I didn’t see it in her, or better yet, that she wasn’t the one who’d wanted to show it to me.
Months have gone by since that time in her friend’s yard, and we keep doing this thing, her letting me touch her when we’re both drunk, but only then. We’re down the street from my house, parked in front of the Catholic church, the only car on this side of the street. The streetlights are streaming down on us, illuminating her clearly for me.
I work at a different restaurant now, and she says she does too, but she won’t tell me where it is. It also turns out that she and her four year old son, who she calls Baby, live only a few blocks up the street from me. I’ve tried not to ask about Baby’s father when she mentions him, but tonight, as we drove home from the bar, she decided to tell me the story.
“He’s thirty six now. When I was a kid in Colombia, he kept hanging out around the house. He grew up with my half brother or something. We started dating and he tried selling me a couple of times. It turned out he was a pimp in charge of this huge ring.”
Suddenly, she digs through her purse, hands me a grinder and blunt papers.
“Do you smoke?”
I used to smoke weed when I was in high school, Adderall and mushrooms every once in a while, too. My ex-girlfriend and I did it all together. I don’t remember much of those years, but I remember well what the first hit used to feel like.
The relief that washes over you, the release of your conscious thinking. Things shift and colors change and suddenly, this woman in front of me, turning up the radio and dancing in the seat, is a person I’ve known my whole life, who’s always been here. The platinum blonde hair, the bronze skin, the well-endowed of it all, it all looks so familiar. I’ve dreamed of her or something.
The Droid Hunter, Part 2
You are currently being chased by two tracking drones overhead, dodging and darting between dark alleys in the Leopard Plaza Complex. This means bounty hunters will be following soon, and you’re fucked.
The gray, mechanical orbs shoot red streams of voltage at your chassis from the air. Their phasers are set to low, meant to stun you into inaction and burn minute holes in your exterior, but some of your wires are already fraying through the casing of platinum and elastic-silicone that comprises your skin. You’re a 65000 series Android, and thus not built with integrated weapons.
Close combat with black tungsten sickles is your game, but you can’t catapult yourself high enough to strike them directly here, not with the Leopard Plaza’s smooth, vertical walls rising all around you.
That’s the least of your concerns, once they’ve brought the hunters to you.
The upper levels of the Complex beside your Apartment leave you two exit strategies: up or down. You have to get out of the building range, put distance between you and the hunters with your address, but it’s only midnight. The blinding streetlights of the Metro nightlife commotion are downstairs, people and bots alike are going to be paying attention. The only way you hide your trackers is if you remain in the shadows of the upper levels, run alleys until this area of the Leopard is level enough that you can roof jump to the next building. You’ve lived in this block for six years, the maze of it something you know better than the drones, but they have the advantage of flight.
You have a quarter mile of building left to cross until the nearest ledge to your knowledge. You rush out from the end of one alley and sprint towards the mouth of another, moving steadily North, but they’re fast, following and waiting for every moment that you lose cover. One pelts you in the arm and you drop a sickle in open space, hissing as electricity crackles and stalls your limb. With the arm that moves, you pick up the sickle and hurl it at the drone on your left. It pierces the body, sparks jolting, and the drone starts faltering towards the ground.
You aggress the bastard when it’s low enough that you can use your other blade to shank it again, carving the metal outside open and stabbing the circuitry inside until it’s good and wasted, but the other drone shoots your back as you stoop over its partner’s corpse. You turn to throw your sickle at the live one and miss, the blade clattering to the ground way too far away. The bot above you shoots and shoots, faster, harder, stunning dents. The actuators in your back are rapidly growing paralyzed from the shocks. You’re now too stiff and fried to raise your arms and throw your blades, and this is what it wants. Slow you, lock you up, weaken you for the hunters.
You’re exhausted from running. From your Apartment when the drones announced the hit. From your emotions. From your life.
What’s the point? You knew you were risking it all to send her that message. Analiste was only doing what you told her to, letting you go. She hadn’t been back to your Retroclub in months, because you pushed her out. Told her you weren’t worth the class disparity, your ceiling, your crime. You don’t think she believed it, but does it matter? You tell someone to fuck off enough and they start to listen, even those who love you, who you love. Two days wasn’t long enough for you to save this.
Bounty hunters are given the use of chainsaws on the regular. Whoever finds you first won’t bother bringing you to the Star Commission in one piece. If the reward is for your soul itself, they’ll just leave the rest of you here, and you’ll be lucky if it’s only one of them. Sometimes two or three compete against each other and the target for the units.
There are a million things you’d rather watch than that pissing contest. You’d rather watch humans literally piss.
You consider going into sleep mode, expiring peacefully. The other tracking drone comes nearer once it’s processed that you’re hunched over, your top half too stunned to lift. It’s stopped shooting, simply hovering afloat, its one red eye locating you precisely.
You stare into the eye, until the bot is exploded by a pulse of white phase.
Analiste is on one of the high rooftops above, hunter uniform sleek and crimson, the three moons glowing behind her silhouette.
Analiste switches her loaded phaser for a hookshot, sends a long chain and grapple into one of the walls, and scales down it. Both weapons back on her belt, then. She comes over to where you’re capsized on the floor with the disemboweled drone. Stares at it, stares at you.
“Always hated those fucking things,” she says, smiling. “Come on. Soon as the feds realize we butchered the sinister stalkers and I’m going rogue, we got more than bounty hunters to worry about.”