#22: The only people who get their work done early are those who would have done it well even at the last minute.
March 6, 2014
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March 5, 2014
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“Shit, it’s Orlov,” said Kaminski. Pale from the cold and from the sight of his fellow guard’s mangled body still staining the Siberian snow red with weeping blood.
“Are you going to give me a weapon now, perhaps?” said Maksim, sarcastically. “Or would you prefer for me to take it off your still-warm body, assuming that whatever it is doesn’t tear through the rest of us first?”
“You’ll kill me,” Kaminski snarled–though he didn’t cuff Maksim with his rifle butt as he had before. “As soon as my back is turned.”
“You think I can survive out here, in prison clothes, on my own? You think any of us can?” Maksim snapped. “Arm us, and we can help you against something that makes the Gulag seem like a resort–death.”
“They’ll shoot me for even the thought of arming a prisoner, an enemy of the people,” Kaminski said. “Or worse, throw me in with you.”
“Wouldn’t that be a shame?” said Maksim. “I would suggest that we deal with the problem at hand, the one that tore Orlov’s throat out even when he was as well-armed as you. You can make up any story you want, later, and who are the other guards going to believe? Assuming we can find them again.”
With an exasperated, grudging intake of breath, Kaminski retrieved Orlov’s pistol and his spare magazines. He handed them to Maksim. “Do you know how to use it?” he sneered.
Maksim released the Tokarev’s magazine, checked the chamber for brass, and replaced the bullets. “I was a combat engineer during the siege of Sevastopol,” he said, racking the slide and half-cocking the hammer before putting the safety on. “I know more about how to use this pistol than you do. My unit killed a hundred fascists in the tunnels under the city before we were ordered to lay down arms. Nothing that is out there could possibly carry more horror than that.”
March 4, 2014
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March 3, 2014
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“We’ve retitled your course this semester, Reginald,” said the dean. “Take a look.”
Reginald took a copy of the catalog and blanched. “This is too much, Fred,” he said. “It really is. Do we really want to reduce British literature to something so glib?”
“You’ve mentioned it in class before,” said the dean, bristling. “I’ve read the evaluations.”
“Only to keep the kids from sleeping,” Reginald continued. “Only as a low-rent, bargain-basement entry in the the greater world of literature. They have been producing fine literary works in Britain since the reign of Claudius, Fred. That canon has Beowulf and Chaucer and Spenser and Milton.”
“Well, who’s to say this won’t be in the canon?” the dean asked.
“It’s a bit early for that, wouldn’t you say?” snapped Reginald. “There were books considered absolutely essential a hundred years ago that no one reads now. I’m sure a deacon at Oxford would have thought teaching The Water-Babies was a good idea in 1914, but who remembers that soggy moralizing tripe now, popular as it was?”
“Well, when people forget about this, we can change the name of the course back,” the dean said icily. “Until then, in this climate of cuts for arts and humanities, hitching your carriage to something popular is the only way to keep teaching this course. Unless you’d like to take 5 sections of English 101, of course.”
“Welcome to ENGL 433: Harry Potter and Friends,” Richardson grumbled to his class six weeks later. “In this course we will look at British literature through the lends of boy wizards, and read texts that J. K. Rowling may have been influenced by, referred to, owned, or seen on a bookstore shelf at one time or another.”
March 2, 2014
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“Stand still, please. You will feel a stinging sensation as the beams pass over you, and some of your body hair may be singed off, but try not to move despite this as it is the only way to guard against improper fit and accidents.”
The replicator technician-priestess–Glynnis or somesuch, it wasn’t Pat’s concern to remember names–herded the supplicants onto a squealing and rusty conveyor belt. No one except the technician-priestess was wearing a stitch of clothing, but most were so caked in dirt and grime that it was hard to notice. Unlike the dole, which gave out as much mostly-inedible food as the machines could make, the spinprinter could replicate thin if livable clothing perfectly well–so long as the matter hoppers were kept fed.
Luckily for Pat, and for Herb beside him, the best way to get the proper raw materials was from the tatterdemalion rags of the indigent.
Pat nudged Herb at a private joke, pointing and laughing. Herb was having none of it; though it has been some time since the two of them lucked out by finding a settlement that still possessed working replicators at all, he was still resolutely paranoid about being thrown out. The settlement sure beat the regression to hunter-gathering, cannibalism, and worse that they had fled, Pat conceded. And if the price of the occasional replicated chocolate and clothing was a stinging sensation and having to turn in old garments to be recycled, he was happy to do so.
But that didn’t mean having no fun, Pat mused as the grinding of gears pushed the indigents through a laser-ringed arch to begin the printing process.
March 1, 2014
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The machine rattled and whined and spat out a fresh box, assembled from rearranged molecules of particulate matter fed in through the back. Gleeson picked it up and handed it to the supplicant before her.
“Here,” she said. “Remember, the cigarettes are filled with iyodemecin and they’re poisonous. The meat has soap throughout it, and you’ll vomit if you try to eat it. The chocolate, butter, and vitamins are edible, though don’t try to use the silverware as it’ll start rusting the second you open the package and expose it to the air.”
Some of the supplicants would ask why that was, why a device that could rearrange matter was so inefficient that they could eat less than half of the ration box that had been enough to sustain a person for two days within living memory. This poor emaciated thing, though, was so grateful to have any sustenance at all that they only nodded and smiled. Gleeson was sure, from the look in their eyes, that they’d be emptying their stomach on the roadside soon enough after ignoring her advice about the inedible meat. The local cemetery was full of people who, desperate for tobacco, had smoked the iyodemecin-laced cigarettes.
The fact was, there were none left who knew how to adjust the great machines to arrest their slow decline into dysfunction, gradually introducing flaws and errors into what they made until they were all but useless. And there were none who knew any other way of obtaining food, for it had been generations since anyone had obtained it any other way.
February 28, 2014
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Before Grissom could reply, Vincent had walked out of the protective cover of the parked cars, toward Hartwell’s place. He held the shotgun in the crook of one arm, pointed at the ground and flopping easily.
“Who’s there?” a voice cried as he neared the front door.
“It’s Undersheriff Gaines, Mr. Hartwell,” said Vincent. “I’ve come to see if there’s something we can do to end this little standoff here.”
“Vincent Gaines?” Hartwell said. “The old Commissioner of Schools?”
“Not anymore,” Vincent said. “It’s Undersheriff now. And while I can hardly be called the same man, there is a certain resemblance, you might say.”
Hartwell was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “That’s the God’s honest, I am. That’s no way to lose your wife or your daughter.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hartwell,” Vincent said. “I appreciate it.”
“So here’s what I’m gonna do, Undersheriff. I’m gonna let you walk back the way you came, and you’ve got my solemn word to the Lord God that I won’t shoot you in the back. That’s a damn sight more than I could promise any of those others. But don’t be expecting that kind of generous treatment if you come back again.”
“I’m mighty grateful for that, Mr. Hartwell. Truly I am. But I’m afraid I just wouldn’t be doing my duty if I took you up on that. Fact is, I think at this point you can’t even bribe me. I’m gonna have to come in there, arrest you, and take an axe to your still in the basement. We’ll try not to mess things up when we go on, and you should be out of jail in a few days.”
Vincent took another step forward, and Hartwell leaned out one of the front windows, a rifle in his hands. “You try that, and I’ll shoot you down where you stand. Send you to join your family.”
“Do you think I don’t know that, Mr. Hartwell?”
Hartwell furrowed his brows. “You ought to. You’re a damned fool otherwise.”
“Do you think that a single day goes by that I don’t wish I was dead, Mr. Hartwell?” Vincent continued, still advancing. “Do you think one minute goes by when I’m holding this thing that I don’t want to put it in my moth and pull the trigger?”
“What’re you talking about?” Hartwell said.
“I’m just being honest with you, Mr. Hartwell. If you’re so anxious to shoot me, you’d better go ahead and shoot me. Believe me, it’s nothing I haven’t thought about doing twenty times before breakfast this morning.”