The jetpack was liquid-fueled, with one tank holding simple water that was combined with a reagent to produce a powerful thrust.

That was all it took for the idea to be planted deep in someone’s cranium.

Within a month, there were catfish delivering mail using a jetpack. Small letters only, at first, and snail spam, but by the time the technology was perfected, they were delivering small packaged up to three pounds.

The problem, as with so many drone-based delivery systems, was simple: hungry people with guns, breading, and a taste for seafood.

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“You see those serrations there, and the imprint on the side of the building?” Rat-Man narrowed his eyes within the cowl of his costume. “That can only mean one thing.”

“Holey cheese, Rat-Man, what could that be?” his sidekick and ward, Mousey, said.

“The most diabolical villain of them all, Mousey: Quarter Pounder. A former mint worker, driven insane by a proofing accident, he is obsessed with our nation’s humble twenty-five cent piece. Since then, Quarter Pounder has been in love with the color, the brilliance, the divine ring of cascading quarters. He welcomes any enterprise that will increase his stock–which is considerable.”

“Masticating molars, Rat-Man! He doesn’t sound very intimidating at all. I mean, quarters? How can you hurt anybody with quarters?”

“Well, he has an impossibly large quarter. And he’s been known to kill people by burying them in quarters–sleeping with Washington, he calls it. And perhaps most diabolically of all, he stole the quarters from a machine where the Rat-Mobile was parked, leading to a two-hundred dollar ticket and fifty hours of community service.”

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The sphinx lolled over like a big housecat, lazily examining its paws. “I’ll tell you what,” it said. “Since you’ve been rather amusing so far, and a good sport, I’ll give you a chance, if you want it.”

“I do,” said Nick. “You know where she is?”

“I do.” The sphinx smiled smugly. “And I’ll tell you. If you answer another riddle.”

“That’s it?”

“This is a super-riddle, the best and toughest one I have. Same rules as always: you get it right, you get what you want. You get it wrong, I gobble you up.”

“I’ll do it.”

“You sure, Nicky boy?” the sphinx said. “I’ll let you walk away now with your life if you want.”

“Yes, dammit!” Nick shouted.

Startled, the sphinx drew itself upright and hissed. “Very well, then. A man performs shadow puppets with the skill of a master. It is shadow puppetry performed in total darkness. Yet you percieve every motion and follow perfectly. How do you do this?”

“That’s easy,” Nick said. “The puppeteer is blind. It’s darkness just for him.”

“Wrong,” whispered the sphinx, licking its chops. “Maybe you’re the one who’s blind, eh?”

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And then, once the negative emotions have been concentrated, they are safely and painlessly extracted and stored. Since emotions, unbound, are inherently dangerous, they are stored in specially-bred laboratory animals.

What kind of animals, you say? Well, it depends. For instance, if the emotion we’ve excised is anger, the ideal storage animal is something very docile: a sheep.

An angrisheep, if you will.

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“It looks like there might once have been a pretty advanced civilization down there, but there’s little sign of it now.”


“Some ruins, evidence of road networks. Not much to go on.”

“Any life?”

“Microbe-analogs and a few eukaryote-equivalents. Nothing larger than that, the environment is too degraded for it.”

“What makes you so sure there was an advanced civilization, then? Or any sapients at all?”

“There. See this space station there, in orbit? Very cannily placed, very precise orbital insertion. And, according to this, one passenger. Or their remains, anyhow.”

“How long…?”

“Millennia. There’s no way to know how long exactly. But they, whoever and whatever they were, had a ringside seat to the end of their world.”

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This year Halloween comes late
Three days late to be precise
We will spend the day huddled
And if we survive the night
Come what may, it will be
The truest fear we’ve known
In all the days of our lives

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Founded in 1835 on lands seized a few years earlier from the Choctaw and Chickasaw, the town of Davis was originally incorporated as “Okatibeha” after the old Native American name for the place. A great battle had once been fought there by the Chickasaw against the Choctaw, hence the name Oke-tibe-ha or “Fighting Water.” It has been since its inception the county seat of Pollocona County, which is Choctaw for “flying squirrel country.”

Following the Civil War, in which the town changed hands seven times (“Not even the Confederates seemed to much care if they retained the spot,” remarked Ulysses S. Grant in his Memoirs), the town was renamed Davis in 1879. Then-mayor Gaius Valerius Catullus Vardaman (second cousin once-removed of the future governor of Mississippi J. K. Vardaman) remarked in an editorial at the time that “giving up an alien and savage name for one that lay bloodstained yet blameless and holy is the height of civic virtue.” Jefferson Davis himself attended the name changing ceremony, an event commemorated by a statue that still stands in the courthouse square; he was quietly paid $5000 from the town purse to deliver an oration which is inscribed at the statue’s base.

Railroad trade brought significant growth to Davis from 1879 to the turn of the century, culminating in the foundation of the North Mississippi Normal School in 1901, which would later grow into the University of Northern Mississippi (UNM). Thanks to its favorable position within the state, closer to the main Illinois Central railroad and later I-55 than either Oxford or Cleveland, UNM grew into the fourth-largest university in the state and enjoyed a modest regional reputation that continues to this day. While it has no football team to drive tourism like Oxford, and its literary heritage is limited, the people of Davis pride themselves as being far more down-to-earth than the “folks down Lafayette way.”

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“So I get that you’re Adams,” said Jen.

“Good to know you’ve been paying attention,” Alan said. “You’ll do that internship proud with that sort of observation.”

Jen smirked and continued. “But who’s Hastings?”


“Adams & Hastings Supernatural Cleanup,” said Jen, raising her eyebrows. “You know, the big magnet on the side of the van?”

“Oh, right,” Alan said. “Mr. Hastings is my business partner.”

“And I haven’t met him because…?”

“He’s a silent partner. You’ll agree that in most cases I do all the talking anyhow.”

“How silent are we talking?” said Jen. “Silent as in dead? Because I’d believe that you’re in cahoots with a zombie or two.”

“I am not! I resent that,” Alan said sharply. Then, with a sly smile: “Zombies are made unwillingly. If it’s willing, he’s a lich.”

“A lich, really?”

“Hell no!” Alan said with a laugh. “Look, Mr. Hastings is very much alive, and he is nothing for you to worry about.”


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I hope they are right recently
When they promise victory
By good over evil, decency over tyranny
I hope we are not that person
Who, naively trusting
Brings a court order to a gunfight
Confident that outlaws will honor it

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Name: Kishū, after the historic province on Honshū
Type: Yamato-class battleship
Primary Armament: 3 × twin 51 cm naval guns
Secondary Armament:
4 × triple 15.5 cm guns
6 × twin 12.7 cm guns
8 × triple 25 mm AA guns
2 × twin 13.2 mm machine guns
Propulsion: 4 steam turbines driving 4 shafts; 27 knots top speed; 16 knots cruising speed; 13,300 km range
Complement: 3,067

Laid down at Kure Naval Arsenal on 7 November 1940, Kishū was the third and final Yamato-class battleship completed (not counting the Shinano, converted into an aircraft carrier before commissioning), and the one about which the least information is available. Indeed, some sources claim it was cancelled in March 1942 (when about 30% complete) and broken up in place. This appears to be confusion caused by conflating the Kishū with the canceled Ibuki-class heavy cruiser Kashū, which was laid down around the same time and canceled in March of 1942 and would have been visually quite similar on the slipway.

Several differences characterize the Kishū with regard to her sisters. The first and most significant is her armament: rather than the 46 cm main guns that were typical of the class, Kishū mounted 51 cm guns in modified turrets. These were test guns initially constructed for the cancelled Design A-150 (“Super Yamato“) battleships; by installing them and marshaling all available test ammunition from the naval proving grounds, the construction process was able to be accelerated considerably. This allowed the ship to launch in mid-1943, though the exact date is open to some conjecture.

Also open to conjecture is the ship’s ultimate fate. It is not recorded in any American reconnaissance images after summer 1944, and Kishū was not present at the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea or Operation Ten-Go. The deliberate destruction of Japanese naval records after the surrender further obfuscates matters. Some naval historians believe that an unidentified battleship reported as torpedoed and sunk by the USS Dugong in late 1943 was the Kishū, but the information is sketchy and incomplete. Dugong‘s patrol route in the sub-Antarctic also seems to make an encounter with a battleship unlikely.

In any event, Kishū was not formally struck from the Naval Register until December 1945, as part of the general postwar cleanup and decommissioning of damaged, missing, and under-construction ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy. As this action was taken under occupation authorities, some sources do not accept it, and some Japanese far-right nationalist groups continue to regard the ship as still in commission and missing–a naval equivalent, perhaps, of a holdout like Hiroo Onoda.

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