August 2012


Ever wonder how the tollbooth attendants get into their booths when there’s no door? They used to use a ladder to climb to a crawlspace above or below the turnpike or hidden doors carefully machined into each booth, but those were cumbersome solutions, especially given how hard it is to find attendants to work the late shift to say nothing about the danger of being pasted by an oncoming car.

Now they’re born there and only let go after they’ve earned a million dollars for the city.

Every turnpike booth is fitted with a GesteCo BioWomb™ that produces a pod to fill every vacancy, with workers born at the physical age of eighteen with training and procedures already implanted in the cerebral cortex. They’re ready for business the moment the pod bursts and the patented BioGel™ drains through a sluice in the floor. Each booth is equipped with a TV tuned to city programming, a counter with their total money earned to date (less taxes and fees), and a tray that is filled with nutrient-rich GesteCo Replace-A-Meal™ paste three times a day. A colostomy tube does the rest.

Thanks to state and city ordinances, after the million dollars is earned, the attendant is flushed out of the booth through the sluice, landing penniless in a nearby storm drain. Most, weak and overweight after decades of inactivity, are quickly run down by motorists or eaten by wolves; the maimed survivors generally find work as cybernetic street sweepers. Many of the lucky few that survive intact opt to go into city politics.

A fresh pod is provided to replace them, and the cycle begins anew.

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“Well, we lost contact years ago. We’d grown up nearby, gone to the same schools, same college, but he was never interested in taking it any further. Said I was like a sister more than anything else, and if you know anything about relationships you know that’s the kiss of death.”

“Fair enough. But why contact you when he died? That was decades ago, wasn’t it? What about his family?”

“He doesn’t have any. Not anymore, anyway. His parents were only children and his brother developed paranoid schizophrenia his sophomore year. He’s in no shape to do anything even if he’s still alive.”

“Why not someone else then? I just don’t see why he felt the need to rip you away from everything here when there’s so much water under the bridge.”

“I…the officer said they didn’t think he had any friends. He was…basically a shut-in, doing all his work over the internet from home.”

“So?”

“My number was the only one they could find in his house. It’s how the police were able to track me down. It…it kills me a little, you know, to think that he might have been carrying a torch all those years. He had his shot and he blew it, but nobody, me least of all, wants to be the thing that drove someone to die so lonely and alone that they were discovered a week later by the mailman.”

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“Good morning, stockholders,” said Daniel Ellis Washer IV, president and CEO of Washer-Allen Paints. He strode into the boardroom as quickly as his advanced age would allow, passing in front of a massive oil and canvas rendition of the famous Washer-Allen logo: a paint bucket pouring over a globe to form the words “Coat the World.”

Washer shuffled papers in his hand. “I’ve got quite the major announcement for you all today,” he said, his voice as commanding as ever. “We’re poised to fulfill a long-held dream of-”

He was shouted down. Board members kvetched in a discordant hubbub about labor difficulties, unfair competition from Chinese paintmakers, the proposed merger with Belgian Boy, and a host of other piddling issues that didn’t interest Washer in the slightest. He banged the gavel for order, but was ignored. In disgust, he gathered his papers and walked out.

As the noise subsided behind him, Washer paused to look once more at the plan he had assembled to being his great-great-grandfather’s dream to fruition. A dream expressed simply and brilliantly in the “Coat the World” corporate logo that was to have served as a backdrop for the announcement.

Washer sighed as he looked at the plans for the Washer-Allen PS-1 Paint Satellite, an orbital device to convert cosmic dust and radiation into paint and dispense it on a slow drop from orbit. Ten hours after launch, the system would be capable of covering every square inch of the planet’s surface with green paint.

“Soon, my dear,” Washer cooed. “Soon.”

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The Other Book of Changes
Codex Entry #497

The causes are pretty straightforward: the natural spring empties into an enticing pool connected to the ocean, ringed by white sandy beaches and easily visible from the road between the conservative megalopolises of Eastern Empire and the high tech universities and employers in the Beral Lands. Many travelers on the road, after a long day in the saddle, will pull their wagon, horse, or 4×4 over for a quick dip in the azure waters.

Of course, these travelers, be they Berallandians headed to visit home or Eastern Imperials in search of opportunity, rarely read the signs that warn of waters tainted by a subterranean vein of raw and chaotic magic. Young Brea Ladlesuns was headed to the Berals for no reason other than wanderlust when she pulled her red Edison Raceabout over to refresh herself in what the sign charmingly described as the Gecko Springs or Gecko Pool.

Naturally, when wading in a mysterious spring, most people would be rather put out if their hair suddenly and inexplicably got shorter and shorter, going from shoulder length to a bob to close-cropped to stubble to gone. To say nothing of suddenly shrinking and vanishing ears and nose, growing climb-anywhere pads on hands and feet, losing a bikini bottom to a sudden tail, and of course a twice-body-length tongue. Brea was startled at first, as anyone would be, but upon reflection she saw her sudden geckoification as just the opportunity she’d been seeking.

In fact, in between gigs as a window washer in the nearby town of Harbin, Brea was soon attending meetings of Geckos Unlimited, made up of others who had been transformed by the Gecko Springs. Harbin was something of a mecca for such, and led the Beral-Empire route in job opportunities for lizard-shaped people (or is that people-shaped lizards?). Locals still laugh about what happened next.

At a Geckos Unlimited meeting, just as it’s her turn to tell newcomers how much being a gecko had changed her life for the better, the magic of the springs ran out and Brea reverted to her human form. She apparently hadn’t realized that the magic needed to be refreshed with additional trips to Gecko Springs; finding herself completely embarrassed and out of place (pink, naked, and with hair) she charged out into the streets of Harbin with nothing but a Geckos Unlimited brochure.

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Long ago, before life on Earth had even begun its rise from the primordial ooze, a great civilization flourished throughout the galaxy. Its achievements in technology and biology were such that its members could rightly claim to have infinite control over life and death. Members of this civilization were all but immortal, and the power of a single individual was said to be enough to extinguish a sun. They transcended matter and space.

But these creatures, whose name will ever be unpronounceable, were not content. They bickered among one another over trivial matters, hatreds were born and simmered over millennia. When open conflict broke out, it was as if nature itself had gone mad. By all available evidence, the event lasted barely an Earth week. In that time, however, the galaxy was torn asunder. Entire solar systems were flung across space as weapons, and thousands of suns were detonated in spectacular supernovas. In the end, the race that had once held sway over the Milky Way drove itself to extinction. All that is known about these creatures has been gleaned from the few crumbling ruins they left behind, as well as enigmatic rumors of survivors.

In time, however, the galaxy’s wounds healed, and another race began its ascent: humans.

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Airports were such seas of harried and unfriendly faces. Maya was shy at the best of times, but in major airports she tended to look at the floor while hurrying from gate to gate rather than risk getting a nasty look from someone having a bad day. It occasionally disconcerted other people, but on the other hand she tended to find a lot of change on the floor, even if it was often too hazardous to retrieve.

Raleigh-Durham wasn’t the worst offender among the airports she frequented; that was O’Hare, or as she sometimes called it, O’Harried. But with a divorced parent on either coast and a scholarship to Southern Michigan’s pharmacy program, airports were an unfortunate necessity of life, as were the frequent layovers at various hubs.

Near Gate A13, Maya noticed an earring on the floor near one of the peoplemoving sidewalks crowded with those who probably could have used the exercise. It looked like costume jewelry, with three bright crystal beads around a central wire and a bangle of black-veined red at the end. Maya thought of picking it up and turning it in to the docent at the nearby Super Executive Platinum Club, but the swarm of people about it, and the notion–somewhat irrational, in light of that interesting bangle of stone–that it was a cheap fake. She passed, and continued her downlooking way toward distant Gate A113.

After passing about three harried families shouting in foreign tongues, Maya came into an open patch between throngs across from the River Rock Books by Gate A31. She was startled to see, nestled between a discarded ticket stub and a gum-filled wrapper, the earring’s twin. Curled up around itself and dusty, but unmistakable.

“Huh,” Maya said to herself. “If I’d picked up the other one I’d have a set. Oh well; who cares about an earring on the floor anyway?”

Eighteen gates later, she nearly collided with the hurrying form of a man in a kilt. Maya muttered a passive-aggressive threat and continued on her way. Ulberth the Stone-Shaper of Dumfries did the same, frantically searching the ground. How could he have been so careless?

The Chaos Earrings were lost, and the fate of the universal balance hung on their safe recovery from the Raleigh-Durham airport’s cheap tiles.

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