“I was top of my class at flight school, and I woulda had my schooling, and my ship, paid off within five years.” Stella kicked up her boots and put them on the table. “Care to guess what happened?”

“The galactic teleporter?”

“THE GALACTIC TELEPORTER.” Stella kicked her drink back. “Now the only business I can get is short-range milk runs to places when their teleporters are on the fritz or under construction, and a few luddites who don’t want their molecules scrambled. You know how long it’ll take to pay off my loans at this rate?”

Whitaker never took out loans, as a rule, but then again he’d never had to. He shook his head.

“127 years. Thank you very much, Geste-fucking-Co.”

“So you’re saying…?”

“I’m saying that GesteCo LLC GmbH had better be willing to put up the cash, in advance, at a markup,” said Stella. “And GesteCo LLC GmbH had better be willing to put up with a lot of lip, too. Because I may be desperate but I also hate you.”

“Done,” said Whitaker. He put an e-ink form before Stella. “Fill in whatever amount you’d like. We’ll calculate additional expenses at the conclusion of the voyage as enumerated in Section III.”

The boots were off the table now, and Stella was reading the e-ink with rapt attention. “And the lip?”

“As an outside contractor, you are not subject to GesteCo LLC GmbH’s Professional Conduct Policy,” Whitaker said. “You’ll be responsible for the consequences of your utterances without access to GesteCo LLC GmbH’s legal team, of course.”

“You really are serious,” said Stella. She signed the form with a flourish and a fingerprint. “What could possibly be so important that you don’t want to just teleport there in this day and age?”

“Just a hunch,” Whitaker said. “But if I’m right, you might be seeing a lot more business very soon.”

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“It’s all right,” the docent said. “You’re all right. Thank you for using the GesteCo Galactic Teleporter Network.”

“Wh-what?” the woman said. “Where am I? What is GesteCo?”

“You’ve just experienced a rare but significant side effect of galactic teleportation,” said the docent. “You’ve materialized in a nearby quantum skein.”

“A…a what?”

“A parallel dimension. Come, let us get you to the GesteCo Recovery Room and talk about your options.”

Whittaker shook his head. “Shouldn’t they just be told about the parallel dimension first off? What is this ‘quantum skein’ nonsense?”

“We’re trying to keep them overwhelmed and confused until we can get them to sign the waiver,” said Mattheson. “Once GesteCo LLC GmbH has been relieved of liability in perpetuity throughout the multiverse, we can be a bit more real with them.”

“What’s done with them?” The executive watched the woman being led away. “Are they sent back?”

“It depends,” Mattheson said.

“Depends? Depends on what?”

Mattheson had the look of someone discussing an unpleasant memory or an upcoming colonoscopy. “Well, some of the…travelers…are from realities that are incompatible with their form of life. They of course are usually terminated through natural causes and taken for study. The others are given a thorough interrogation by GesteCo archivists and intelligence officers—the more you know, right?—before we attempt to match their quantum resonance to a carrier wave to send them back.”

Whitaker looked Mattheson in the eye. “And does it work?”

“Hell if I know. But they’ve never come back, so we have to assume that the problem has been handled. And GesteCo LLC GmbH has no liability either way.”

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I looked at it, hypnotized, as it gave off a warm glow that illuminated a large corner of Presdigo’s atelier. The lambent worms, glowing a pale blue, rose to the top of the flask, ate their fill of the meal bobbing at the surface, and then turned a satisfied yellow before sinking to the bottom.

“You like that, do you?” Presdigo said, thumping over with his wizard’s staff, my surrendered sword still in his hand.

“It’s mesmerizing,” I said.

“Yes, the lampyris noctiluca phantasmagoria is a sight, isn’t it? The young are these glowing worms, and the color of their glow reflects their satiety. I suspend them in nutrient-rich water, put feed at the top periodically, and they’re happy to light my way.”

“What do you call it?”

“It’s my larva lamp,” said Presdigo.

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Happy Apocalypse Friends Animated Series Pitch
Paul McGonnagall had a long, rough night of drinking, and missed the alert of an incoming, mysterious, thermonuclear weapon. The city was totally evacuated into bunkers by the estimated Missile impact at 12:47, but MC doesn’t wake up until 3:15. Luckily for him, the Missile was a dud, city’s population is in long-term shelters underground with no way to get through to them

Paul McGonnagall– Hung-over twenty something who turned to drink to cope with the tedium of office job, slept through the apocalypse

Clara Gross – Love interest, ladytype from a couple doors down who worked in nuclear physics – another heavy sleeper

Forrest “Twig” Schmidt – mid-40s redneck doomsday prepper which didn’t pan out quite as he planned – had his own one-man bomb shelter

Cyrus E. Johnston, Jr. – crotchety 90-year-old WWII vet who was in a medically-induced coma and so unpopular with the nurses that he was left behind, but is excellent at scavenging and surviving

Maya Shivaprima – lady programmer by day, hardcore gamer by night, was deep into a “hard mode” run and missed the evacuation but has to come to terms with the total lack of computer systems

General John J. O’Neill (retired)
– Bumbling sheriff-type, ex-military man who was left in nominal command of the city and sees the disaster as his chance to impose his own vision of extremely petty law and orders. Has gathered other survivors as followers, mostly cooks and laundry workers, but has no access to weapons and mostly relies on harsh language

Series Outline
Main characters’ goal is to reach the bunkered survivors, disarm the nuclear dud, and get everything working again before the city’s infrastructure decays beyond repair. They are opposed by the villian’s attempts at frontier justice and their own bickering over supplies and encounters with other “sleepers.” Each episode is almost like “The Walking Dead” but with the twist that nothing is THAT wrong and nobody has actually died.

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The briefest month, in fullest flower
Briefest of sun, briefest of hours

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“Hey man,” the bartender said. “Welcome to the Squinky Flippet. What’ll you have?”

“That’s a funny name, isn’t it?” I said. “Where’s it come from?”

“Oh, the Squinky Flippet is a bar where everything has a name generated by a neural net, including the place itself,” the bartender said. “Can I get you a nice Luzdl Snick? Or maybe some Velvet Fill on tap?”

“Uh, what’s in them?”

“The Snick is dust and gold with powdered sugar, served with a fruit slice–lemon, in this case–and garnished with a large flintlock. The Fill is ice-squeezed ice over ice on the rocks.”

“Uh…huh,” I said. “Are the drinks themselves generated by neural nets too?”

“Of course not.” The bartender looked up, quizzically, from a drink he was making by stirring gin, brandy, cream, sugar, Tabasco sauce, and Egyptian noodles. “Now if you’re not going to order anything, I have to finish making this Ral Chonk and get started on mixing a Dinosauste.”

Inspired by this.

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With gentle hands she runs the tap, and surging springs lull you to a nap
The water and steam her form to hide, and as you sleep her time she bides
Til the others bathers, one by one, depart for whence they once have come
She slides in then, all pearly white, her robe and skin by bathhouse light
Hair done up and held with sticks, moving fast and striking quick
You don’t feel a thing as the fangs slide in, skin by steam made so very thin
Blood spills in the pool, but just a drop, the rest sucked up, a harvested crop
She smiles with crimson upon her lips, and walks with a swagger in her hips
Drawing lifeless form upon the floor, dragging you out a hidden door
When they find you five days hence, they’ll say you died falling o’er a fence
So cleverly her trail she hides, in not one soul does she confide
Sapporo’s bane, its living blood, drawn out in form of living flood
But worry not if you’re afraid, for one small fact may give you aid
The vampiress in spotless white likes victims in a certain light
Only vile sorts, mean-tempered and rude, are suitable to be her food
So if you find yourself in need, while bathing do this warning heed
Be kind to all and pleasant too, and nothing foul or evil do
And you’ll find that you will never meet, the vampiress so swift and fleet

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