September 2016

“Steel wool,” said Carrie.

“Steel wool,” agreed Mick, adding it to the ledger.

“Apple cider vinegar,” said Carrie.

“Apple cider vinegar,” Mick repeated, his pen dancing.

“Two ceramic tiles,” said Carrie.

“Two ceramic tiles,” Mick said. They were duly added to the ledger.

“All from Peterson?” said Carrie.

“All from Peterson.”

Carrie looked at Mick. “I don’t think Peterson understands how sandwiches work.”

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For want of a circuit the coffee pot was lost
For want of a coffee pot the coffee was lost
For want of coffee the temper was lost
For want of a temper the argument was lost
For want of an argument the contract was lost
For want of a contract the firm was lost
For want of a firm the jobs were lost
For want of a job the livlihoods were lost
For want of a livlihood the economy was lost
For want of an economy the country was lost
For want of a country the thermonuclear arsenal was lost
For want of a thermonuclear arsenal, the world descended into a period of anarchy and nuclear winter from which there was no return until the sun expanded in its red giant phase and swallowed the broiling Earth
All for want of a coffee

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The shabby but otherwise nondescript house was riddled with bullets. From the look of it, an enforcer squad of the Las Cinco Muertes cartel had driven up and attempted to massacre the inhabitants of a drug lab hidden within. The lab had been well-armed and well-protected, and in the ensuing shootout all the survivors had bled to death.

A homicide detective, wearing gloves, picked up a cell phone from one of the enforcers. It had, as its last message, a text reading “WE ARE KEEPING THE STUFF.”

He compared it to another phone, already in an evidence baggie, from the drug lab. Its last two outgoing messages were “WE ARE KEEPING THE STUFF” and “UNTIL TOMORROW MORNING WHEN WE DELIVER IT TO YOU.”

The latter text had failed to send.

“This is what happens when you don’t have reliable Wi-Fi,” said the detective with a rueful shake of his head.

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No one knows how they were able to enter Japan during the depths of its isolation. Perhaps Dutch traders, but they were scarcely better-acquainted with it than the Japanese. A British invention through and through, and one which hadn’t spread worldwide before the 1830s at the earliest, its presence in the Home Islands remains a mystery.

Neveertheless, by 1800 the cupcake had gained so many adherents in Japan that a grand Cupcake Pagoda was already under construction.

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“Hello, <>. Please be advised that the next evacuation leaves in <> minutes. If you have missed your scheduled evacuation, you may board a later one on a first-come, first-served basis only.”

A shape was barely visible to Nerissa through the salt and grime. It might have been a person, like the ones on the little screen Steamy had kept working for her.

“Please,” said Nerissa. “Please. I need to know where the red flowers came from.”

“Query: <>. Hello, <>. You may be looking for the <> Botanical Gardens. They have an exquisite strain of <> on display right now.”

Nerissa looked to her left. Through rusted and broken doors, a tangle of wild red flowers that had long since overgrown their planters was visible.

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Lucky Tentacle Penetration Pops
These frozen treats are named after the Lucky Tentacle children’s anime, about an ice cream store whose fortunes are turned around by a magical shapeshifting squid girl. The “penetration” in question is the act of putting the pop in one’s mouth. A disastrous test marketing in Seattle circa 1991 convinced Oksuka Pharmaceuticals that the product was best left in Japan.

Cuko Cucumber Breakfast Chips
Shaved, dehydrated and cut cucumber slices in milk. In the abstract, no different from corn flakes, especially since manufacturer Cuko created them as a way to use up excess product. The #1 breakfast cereal in Hokkaido for many years due to its low cost and sponsorship of the manga Ezo Kyōwakoku No Monogatari. Cuko tried to bring the cereal to the US in 1999, but rather than pitching it to health food stores, they attempted to sell it to children. They found few takers.

OctOK Stuffed Cepho Balls
Matsumura Fishworks turned octopus bycatch into an essential menu item for pasta, topping for pizza, and ingredient in kebabs. Shredded octopus meat stuffed into octopus-skin casings in the manner of sausages, Cepho Balls drew enthusiastic reviews from westerners in Japan, but the resulting attempt to introduce them stateside was stillborn. Rather than setting up a factory in the USA, Matsumura simply froze their balls for shipment, leading to many complaints of food poisoning and destroying the already limited market for minced mollusk.

Panda Nuts
A mixed nut snack primarily notable for sweet rather than savory flavors (like custard, caramel, and French vanilla), the adorable Padi Panda mascot helped boost domestic sales of this treat. A planned release in English speaking territories was canned when executives learned that “nut” was also slang for “testacle” in vernacular English after printing 500,000 labels for “fresh-cut, fresh-roasted, sweet, roll-around-in-your mouth Panda Nuts.”

Curry Kimchi Choco Nubs
A rather standard bar chocolate, Choco Nubs prided itself on spicy flavors like Korean kinchi, Indian curry, and pad Thai. A partnership with Cadbury to import the sweets to the UK in 1985 became an expensive disaster after the English-language labels simply listed the Choco Nubs as “savoury” with their actual flavor denoted only by color. Londoners were quite put out to find that the red-packaged “savoury” Choco Nubs had a strong taste of boiled cabbage about them.

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“Okay,” said Jen. “I was able to splice together a connector and get the RB-1 to dump its raw data to my laptop. I’m running it through some things to put the machine code into a usable form.”

Yuri laughed. “It’s all gibberish to me. My skills are in the areas of keeping warm and making meals.”

“Just keeping warm and making meals?” Jen said.

Yuri opened one of his packs and removed a pistol. “Among other things,” he said, inserting a magazine and racking the slide.

“What do you need that for?” cried Jen, alarmed.

“Bears. Wolves. Humans who overestimate their importance.”

“Do you really think we’ll meet any of those?”

“Until the helicopter comes back, I don’t intend to take that chance,” Yuri said. “What do your things say about the machine code?”

Jen turned to her screen. “Two plaintext messages encoded by the RB-1’s standard software. I can’t read them though, since they’re in Russian.”

Yuri pocketed his gun and leaned over. “Pomogi nam. My idem. Oni idut.”


“Help us. We are coming. They are coming.”

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The love of
My life
Left me for a
Serial killer

He says she
Challanges him
He says she
Loves her job

Now he wants
To carve out
My heart for
A wedding ring

When he said
Baby, I want to
Tug on your

This was not
What I had
In mind
At all

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“Mercedes,” said Cooke. “What about ‘stay in the cabin so you won’t be shot at or taken advantage of by desperate men’ was unclear to you?”

“I heard shouting,” said Mercedes. “I thought I could help.”

“Yes, for God’s sake, help us!” cried the merchantman’s captain.

Cooke sighed, drew his flintlock, and shot the captain through the chest. Before he’d had time to crumple to the ground, he was over the gunwhales and into the sea.

“I told him if the next thing out of his mouth wasn’t a list of valuables that we’d promote his first mate,” said Cooke. “And I meant it.”

“Th-there’s a strongbox under the decks of the great cabin!” cried the mate in a panic. “There’s not much there, but it’s all we have!”

“Excellent,” said Cooke. “When you get into port, be sure to tell them how bravely you resisted us and maybe the promotion will stick.” Turning to Mercades, he added: “Was that the sort of aid you intended to offer?”

She could only mouth wordless sentiments, pale as the white shirt she was wearing.

“I warned you to stay in the cabin,” said Cooke. “And I warned you that this jolly crew wasn’t always merry. Let that be a lesson for you to take me at my word.”

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“As our prior association has been dissolved by our late misadvetnure,” Cooke said, “We need new articles, which you can see that I’ve drawn up. The terms are one share for each man in the promised reward for returning…ma’am?”

“Maria de las Mercedes Ximénez y Nereida.”

“What she said. One share for seamen, two for mates and the navigator, three for the captain and quartermaster. This will cover any incidental claims along the way as well.” Cooke signed the paper with a flourish. “As captain and owner of the Fancy Rat, I invite you to come forward and make your mark.”

The men fell to speaking and squabbling among each other. “What do you think, boss?” said Hume. “Will we get enough of a crew to man the Rat?

“Well, there are plenty of considerations around that fact,” said Cooke. “Not least of which is that we’re the only ship in the harbor and the only escape for anyone who might not want the Spaniards to find them here.”

“Granted. What else?”

“You’ll note the unusually low shares that I offered for officers, so the men stand to make more than they otherwise might.”

Hume grunted. “I can think of a few things to set against that.”

“Like what?” said Cooke. “You know I always appreciate your grumpiness, Hume. It’s a fine antidote to my own sunny outlook.”

“First: ladies onboard. It’s bad luck.” Hume said. “Even if I don’t believe it, half of them will.”

“It’s a good thing we have but one lady, then, and needn’t fear more,” Cooke replied.

“With a ship full of men and one woman, you might find that they multiply rather quickly,” Hume said. “Assuming any will sail with her at all.”

“It always struck me as rather curious,” replied Cooke. “Half of them were born in the New World, how to they suppose their mothers got here? On a horse?”

“Second,” Hume continued. “Pay. It’s a paltry hook to hand a crew on, the promise of Catholic gold in return for a woman who for all we know may be bluffing.”

“Crews have been hung on much less,” replied Cooke. “Literally as well as figuratively.”

“Third: the Spaniards wanted her for something. They will come looking for her, and I doubt that we will be as lucky as we were this time, without a fleet to back us up.”

“On the contrary, Hume,” said Cooke. “I think we’ll be considerably luckier without a fleet to slow us down.”

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