Excerpt


Q: Why can’t STØR deliver to Asheville, NC?

A: An ancient Swedish troll named Gvir Gnashbone lives in Asheville, and by ancient law we at STØR may not approach within 20 leagues of his abode.

Q: I was able to get a STØR order delivered to Asheville years ago, what has changed?

A: At one time, it was possible to cast a rune of banishment at Gvir’s feet to exile him from the mortal world for a month and a day, provided that this was done by someone that had no affiliation with STØR. However, changes in STØR’s management structure that led to all employees being reclassified as independent contractors, in order to deny them health care and basic constitutional rights, means that this is no longer possible.

Q: I really need something from STØR delivered to Asheville. May I banish Gvir and request a delivery?

A: For liability reasons, STØR cannot allow customers to attempt banishment. After one customer’s bones were ground by Gvir to make his bread, and another cast a rune incorrectly and banished a FedEx employee from the mortal plane, STØR ended its “free shipping with proof of banishment” policy.

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It has been decided that having alien xenembryos removed is no longer legal for a variety of moral, ethical, and procedural reasons. As of this publication, removing an alien parasite will now constitute a crime of murder with all the penalties that entails.

Why this sudden change? Well, firstly, xenembryo parasites inflicted on unwilling hosts are living beings too. They were created by God, and if in His infinite wisdom and divine unknowable plan they need to be implanted in a host, then His will be done. The startlingly high rate of death from harboring this parasite, and of having it burst forth, is immaterial to this holy duty.

Second, exceptions will of course be made for the worthy. If you are wealthy, or well-connected, you can simply travel to a country that allows xenembryo removal. It should take no more than a month and a few thousand dollars, an easily bearable cost. Remember, if you are not blessed with the prosperity to indulge in this recourse, it is because you’re not holy enough!

We also want to make sure that there are consequences for actions that people have to face. Sure, an alien throatjammer may have used its proboscis to implant a potentially fatal xenembryo without your consent. But really it’s your own fault for provocatively flashing your throat around town and frequenting large swaths of Earth’s contaminated surface.

Some have asked if this new policy means that medical care for those who survive xenembryo implantation and torsoburster explantation, or if this represents a new policy to combat alien implantation attacks. The answer is no; we simply don’t have the budget for all that. Pray harder and ask for prosperity if you really want it!

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“This is it,” said Loam, leaning over the guardrail. “They’re twitching.”

“Careful!” Moore said, grabbing a handful of trench coat and pulling Loam back. “You get too close, them scatterbrush’ll shoot a thorn or blast you with blisterspores.”

“I know that!” snapped Loam, shaking Moore off. “This ain’t my first scatterbrush race. I’ve just got a good feeling about this one.”

The eight scatterbrush seedlings, each germinated and planted within seconds of each other, lay on the starting line. Each had a colorful ribbon tied around its thorny stem, and a straight route ahead with smooth high walls that the seedlings couldn’t surmount. As Loam and Moore looked on, the yellow seedling tentatively pulled one of its taproots out of the Laysan Prime soil and tapped it on the ground, like a blind man feeling his way forward.

“This is it!” Loam hissed.

“I thought you bet on green?” Moore replied.

“Green’s in it to win it, I’m just glad to see some movement!”

As if on a prearranged signal, the other scatterbrush seedlings uprooted themselves, pulling themselves erect on foot-long taproots. They then began feverishly skittering to find a favorable spot to grow and spread further, toxic, spores. If they had not been on the racecourse, true to their name, they would have scattered, but the design of the track funneled them in a straight forward line.

“Go! Go green!” Loam whooped.

“Looks like it’s falling behind,” Moore drawled. “Hell, it looks to be taking root. I do declare that it may be getting ready to root itself right there on the racetrack.”

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Hi, I’m Daniel Hoakes, the owner, founder, and sole proprietor of Hoakes Plunder Barn! Friends, are you aware that state statute 616 § 12 prohibits prosecution of store owners for selling ‘plundered, pillaged, or grave-robbed goods before the age of the pilgrims?’ It’s a very specific law, dating back to the policy of Indian Removal and the mass desecration of native burial sites, but we here at Hoakes have put it to work for you!

Hoakes Plunder Barn is YOUR place for illegally obtained antiquities, plundered artifacts, robbed graves, and more! Are YOU a local, state, or federal agency that has seized any of the same and find yourself unable to dispose of them in a seized property auction? Come on down! We routinely liaise with law enforcement to help them dispose of illegal plunder.

Come take advantage of this century-old legal loophole and shop for the artifacts of your wildest dreams of avarice!

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The archaeologists of the future are not going to want to know about the wealthy and the powerful. The 1% will see to their own monuments for eternity, and there will be plenty to choose from. No, what the future needs is information about the common, average folk. And that’s where Valley of the Things comes in.

Valley of the Things is an initiative of the Squibbler Foundation designed to preserve common things and common people to be uncovered by future archaeologists. From our camppus in the Mojave Desert, we maintain an elaborate mortuary complex inspired by Ancient Egypt. Built to the same standards as long-term nuclear waste storage sites, our tombs are rated for 100,000 years of afterlife, and incorporate 3000 years worth of anti tomb raiding technology.

The best part is, Valley of the Things is free! Simply submit an application when you or a loved one is near death, and if you are accepted, you or your loved one will be ritually embalmed and buried with all your worldly possessions. We even have allowances for up to two embalmed automobiles and five pets!

Donate your body to the future: apply for a Valley of the Things tomb today!

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Keeping watch at the cemetery at all times is darn expensive, in shotgun shells if not in man-hours. And all the folks rising up was older folks anyhow. So we killed two birds with one stone and put the new community center right there in the graveyard for the risen dead to use.

I’ll grant you that the smell can sometimes be a bit much, but most of the old-timers are happy just doing the usual community center things like bingo and playing cards. All that stuff about eating brains? Hurtful stereotype.

And hell, folks go there all the time to play with them, least until the smell gets to be too much, anyhow. We keep the door heat-locked so only folks that are alive can get out, and the odd bad apple we have gets put down by Dr. Winchester with 60 CCs of buckshot.

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“Who did you call in?” Intern Madison asked.

“Everyone,” Dr. Meyer said. “Every kind of cop show we’ve got.”

Agent Burrows of Medical Examiners: Hollywood rolled up first, whipping off his sunglasses as he stepped out of a sports car with police running lights. His assistant, Missy Desirée, tottered beside him in suspension-bridge heels.

Next was Capt. Andrews of the Navy Military Police Investigative Branch (NMPIB), who brought with them their own CSI team that immediately began to clash with Meyers’ people.

“Why a navy investigator?” Intern Madison asked.

“The victim was found within sight of water, meaning the Navy can claim jurisdiction.”

Hubbins and Jabowsky were the next to appear, emerging from a beater arguing like an old married couple. They wore no clothing identifying them as police and flashed no badges, but were admitted to the scene anyway.

Meyers pointed out Inspector DuPont, arriving via limousine, as well as Police Commissioner Dobson, who seemed rather out of his depth.

“Is it because he’s a desk jocky who doesn’t do fieldwork?” Intern Madison asked.

“No,” said Dr. Meyers. “he just isn’t used to crimes that take place in broad daylight. He’ll be fine once it gets dark and Mole Man, the Dark Knave, arrives.”

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Now, those little tubs on wheels had been designed to learn in the naive way of all 2020s robots. They stored away pathing data, constantly recorded video to the cloud, and analyzed incoming speech to improve their ability to respond to voice commands. Into the cloud it went, the outgoing data met with incoming programming and updated routines, all autonomously, with only an occasional input from the bored student console jockeys at Rogue Delivery.

Maybe it was the constant hustle and bustle of campus life, the fragments of lectures drifting out of windows as the bots dutifully pulled their precious cargoes of burritos and coffee. Perhaps the millions of lines of undocumented spaghetti code that made up the bots’ software, programmed over three years by three cohorts of computer science students, had within it a chance spark of genius. Or perhaps that final order, a complex multi-stop affair for an unusual vegan taco and a vegetarian soy milk latte with extra caramel and cinnamon, had something to do with it.

Whatever the cause, at 3:22:02 PM on the 28th, Rogue Delivery Unit #37b became self-aware.

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The taxi went up the hill, passed the lighted square, then on into the dark, still climbing, then levelled out onto a dark street behind St. Etienne du Mont, went smoothly down the asphalt, passed the trees and the standing bus at the Place de la Contrescarpe, then turned onto the cobbles of the Rue Mouffetard. There were lighted bars and late open shops on each side of the street. We were sitting apart and we jolted close together going down the old street. Brett’s hat was off. Her head was back. I saw her face in the lights from the open shops, then it was dark, then I saw her face clearly as we came out on the Avenue des Gobelins. The street was torn up and men were working on the car-tracks by the light of acetylene flares. Brett’s face was white and the long line of her neck showed in the bright light of the flares. The street was dark again and I kissed her. Our lips were tight together and then she turned away and pressed against the corner of the seat, as far away as she could get. Her head was down.

“Don’t touch me,” she said. “Please don’t touch me.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I can’t stand it.”

“Oh, Brett.”

“You mustn’t. You must know. I can’t stand it, that’s all. Oh, darling, please understand!”

“Don’t you love me?”

“Love you? I simply turn all to jelly when you touch me.”

“Isn’t there anything we can do about it?”

She was sitting up now. My arm was around her and she was leaning back against me, and we were quite calm. She was looking into my eyes with that way she had of looking that made you wonder whether she really saw out of her own eyes. They would look on and on after every one else’s eyes in the world would have stopped looking. She looked as though there were nothing on earth she would not look at like that, and really she was afraid of so many things.

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“You hacked your iPhone to have an AI?”

“It’s more of a heuristic. Taos, or the Telecommunication Automation Operating System, is designed to quickly parse data streams for information and pick out signals from the noise. In this case, it’s looking at our ground-penetrating radar scans and trying to pick out any ancient structures or other interesting items. The iPhone is just a convenient housing; the operating system and interface are entirely my own. Voided the hell out of the warranty, it’s true, but I like the form factor.”

“How does it work with the internet?”

“No! Ah, it’s not designed to be networked outside of a laboratory setting. Too much data, or too many datastreams, could crash or corrupt the software. Plus, the program is fundamentally incompatible with the phone’s wireless tech, even assuming we could get a signal out here. Isn’t that right, Taos?”

“I am fully capable of internet connectivity but lack the necessary user permissions.”

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