Machete Girl Issue 8.4 Cyberpunk Short Stories


In this special edition we have some great cyberpunk stories from the streets of the future from some very talented writers from Australia and the United States.


book 1

of THE




Eric richard gabrielsen

MARCH 2016 ISSUE #8.4


The Impossible Girl - datastream 05

Whisper - datastream 09

Private Sector - datastream 16

Street Clan: Homecoming - datastream 24

Deficient - datastream 31

Spawns - datastream 42

Black Bugs - datastream 50



This anthology is dedicated to

Lukas Mariman (1972-2016), who

was an important member of the

cyberpunk community. He will be

dearly missed, may his legacy carryon

within the binary.



It’s been a while but as you can see

I’ve gone through a few changes…

now fucking get over it.

In this special edition issue we’ve

rounded up some of the best independent

writers from around the

cyberpunk universe to bring you a

collection of short stories. From the

dark future world populated by psychotic

sex androids, tracking down

copyright criminals through vr, hunting

American expats through a futuristic

South East Asia, Wolf masks

and evil medical corporations,

Women giving birth to android eggs

in the street, to hunting down your

mark in a futuristic penthouse. Point

is the stories are all pretty exciting

to read.

Just some housekeeping and to address

any rumours:

- We will continue working on releasing

Issues with the special editions

continuing in the ‘8 series’ and the

full editions with Issue 9.

- The web series is still one of our

goals so stay tuned to the Hacker

Chronicles Facebook Page.



- Sara Elizabeth Joyce


- Isaac L. Wheeler


- Daniel Moore

- Sean P. Nolan

- Alex Chase

- Jennifer Blaesing

- Ian Winchester


- Charmaine Morgan





This issue would not have been

possible without the support of the

following people:

- Ville Vuorela

- Bryn Tilly


The Impossible Girl

By Sara Elizabeth Joyce

Belle was always on my mind. Everything, we did together.

From that moment, I knew this was something more

than just sleeping together. We made love while her body

glowed translucently until she changed. She just let the

idea of us just fade away into the illegal stimulants she

was consuming, which I could see was messing with her

programming, making her more paranoid.

She was the first artificial girl I’d ever been with. I never

expected to fall in love with an android, but my life with

her up until that point had made sense. I considered myself

lucky given it had been hard to find love as a transgender

woman. My sexuality had forever been changed

as a result of being with her and her interchangeable


It took me some time to get over the fact that she would

never love me the way I loved her and though I left her, I

felt like I was the one who had been abandoned.

I was at the enclosed pool park by the upper platforms of Gungho City sitting still with the fresh

memory and pain that relationship had caused me. I had fallen in love and now had to deal with

the consequences of that alone. So in my swimsuit, bravely daring the genetically modified public

water, I would swim trying to remind myself that love was something fluid, or something to that


I would regularly get a coffee by the bar after a long slow swim and this time I noticed a

girl smoking just inside the pool area. There was an immediate sadness about her. She looked my

way blowing out a puff of smoke in her sky blue swimsuit and clash t-shirt. I could see that her

eyes were an artificial blue, but other than that she appeared all human.

I walked over to her and asked if she had a spare cigarette and that I’d reciprocate with a cup of

coffee, though the coffee was free. She surprisingly accepted and got up with a childlike energy

and came with me to go to the counter. As I made her a coffee, she gave me a cigarette. I spilled a

bit of coffee on myself and we both laughed in sync.




Obviously, there was an attraction

there, though I felt it somewhat disingenuous

given I was still getting over

someone else, but she was definitely

attracted to me. She flicked her blonde

hair, took a toke off her cigarette looking

into me with those glowing eyes,

threw the cigarette on the cold hard

metal floor, and put her arms over my

shoulders. Slowly, she moved in and

kissed me. I softly kissed her back and

then for a moment she just looked at


“Come to my place,” she said, “and fuck

the coffee.”

“Sure,” I said, “but I gotta tell you something


“What that you’re trans? I saw you tuck

it in your swimsuit earlier. It doesn’t

bother me,” she said. “And you…”

“No,” she said, “I was born genetically

female apart from the glow,” she

pointed at her eyes, “and no I’ve never

been with a girl like you before.”

“So why now?” I asked.

“Cause you offered to make me a coffee,”

she told me.

We held hands walking along the cold

platform barefoot in the ever growing

dark, the glowing city far above the

lower levels away from the worst of

this impoverished nation, not saying a

word to each other. We exchanged the

occasional stare and smile as we came

closer to her apartment overlooking a

suspended artificial beach.

Her place was a mess with black clothing

mixed with a little colour strewn on

the floor, computers on the wall and

every kind of convenience. She took

me straight into the bedroom and laid

me down on her single soft bed. Sitting

on top of me, she took off her clash

t-shirt. I said I didn’t have any protection

but that I couldn’t get her pregnant.

She twitched a bit at that and then

leaned down and kissed me and said

she was safe.

“I’ve only ever fucked clean androids

and a couple of humans,” she said,

turning her head away. I pulled her

gaze back and looked into those deep

artificial eyes. I was so drawn in by her

gaze and her sound that I barely noticed

sliding into her. She was slow and

careful and gentle. Occasionally, she

lied on my breasts and we kissed each

other, as I held her into me. I may have

penetrated her, but in my mind, she

was penetrating me. The pleasure was

ecstatic but so different from being

with a multi-gendered robot. She was

so soft and gentle with me as we slowly

came together. She laid down on my

chest again still orgasming and held

me close kissing my skin. I couldn’t

believe what had just happened and I

didn’t even know her name.

Zoe and I spent the whole next week

together. Learning little bits about each

other, but mostly eating and walking

the empty and depressing streets of

the upper levels.

Occasionally, we stopped for a few

beers and some ramen. She’d ask

about my transition and I queried her

on her life, but often got obscure or

short answers. There was definitely

something or someone else on her

mind. I couldn’t really blame her as it

was the same for me.

She was so beautiful and intoxicating

I thought to myself not unlike an

angel sent from the black sky to heal a

wounded heart.We were again having

sex that evening after smoking copious

amounts of liquefied pot; in fact, we did

little else in her apartment overlooking

the projection of the artificial sea. She

orgasmed early this time and let out

a small belt of satisfaction. She was

always on top and I was content to let

her be. She leaned down and whispered

in my ear.

“I love you,” she said.

I said thank you, thinking about what

that may mean to me as my heart was

still very much in disrepair. She didn’t

expect a response. Though she said it

during sex, I knew she meant it, and, of

course, I felt the guilt creep in.

I got up, went to the kitchen, navigating

through all of her chemical food experiments

to make myself a late night coffee.

I loved her coffee as it was actually

from real coffee beans, or so she had

told me. She promptly followed me just

wearing my tee.

“Do you want one?” I asked.

She stopped at the doorway leaning

against the wall without any underwear,

“I didn’t upset you I hope and I

meant what I said.”

“I know you did,” I said.

“Then what’s wrong? I don’t fall in love

like this every day you know,”

down her arm. I went to hold her and

got her up into the bed holding her in


my arms as she cried. We didn’t speak

a word.

she sarcastically announced.

Several hours later, she got up

I’d have a better idea myself.

“I’m still getting over someone,” I told

in a daze and opened her top drawer

her, but the fact was that even though

and took a pill with a glass of water

It was difficult to sleep alone

Zoe was everything I could hope for,

from the bedside table. I realized they

that night. Tossing and turning holding

I hadn’t had the time I needed to get

were anti-depressants, but I hadn’t

my pillow, feeling horny, and missing

over the past. “I’ll make you a coffee

noticed her taking them before.

her. I watched a couple of porn shows

and we’ll talk about it,” I said.

on the net. I thought I might call her,

“Hon what’s wrong?” I asked.

but I knew I needed to give her time

We sat down on her salty

“Nothing, don’t worry about it,” she said,

to deal with whatever she was going

smelling couch with a view of the pro-

staunchly. “Listen I gotta go some-

through. I woke up late the next morn-

jected ocean in front of us. We drank

where, do you mind if…,”

ing and begrudgingly got up pulling

the coffee and then held each other.

“If I go,” I finished for her.

on the sexiest silicone clothes I could

I began to explain how I had met the

“Yeah, but I’ll be back later and I’ll call

find. I had to shave to get rid of excess

ultimate multi-gendered robot girl, who

you,” she said. I got up and got dressed

hairs on my face and put my makeup

was the first person I had been with

quickly and kissed her softly on the lips

on perfectly. I looked hot and ready

since the beginning of my transition. I

as tears silently fell down her cheeks.

and I was going to tell her today that I

explained how I knew it was something

“I’ll call you,” I said.

wanted to be with her.

that wasn’t going to last or be anything

“Okay,” she smiled as I left.

more than sex, but that I had fallen

I called her on the screen

deeply in love with her. Zoe stroked

My place was on a higher

which went straight to a picture of her

my hair as a mother would stroke her

platform a short distance over which

and her sweet voice saying she was

daughter’s and I continued on to say

normally I accessed by hovertrain,

unable to answer. I told her I was com-

how it all slowly and painfully wasted

but I decided to walk as the sun was

ing over and that I wanted to be there

away, but that I still cared for her so

blaring through the tall buildings of

and support her with what she was

deeply. We fell asleep in each other’s

this metropolis. I needed time to think

going through. I caught the hovertrain,

arms to the glittering ocean and a

all of this over I thought. I had to pass

pondering how I would need to be to

never-ending night.

through the lower levels to get to my

get her through this, how wonderful

zone and every character you could

we would be together supporting each

The next morning we both were

imagine was on the street peddling

other, and through my transition. The

abruptly woken by Zoe’s comscreen

their wares or selling dreams. Despite

future looked for the first time in a long

on the wall. She answered the call and

the mist and exhaust fumes of this

time to hold a rare happiness for me.

redirected it to her room. I was still a bit

dank and dirty underworld.

drowsy, but I caught something about

As I walked along the platform to her

the police.

I found it a peaceful and beautiful walk.

apartment block, I tapped on my ear-

I made out a few words the man said

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized

ring with her card to call her. I looked

on the screen, “They are closing in on

I had just spent a week and a half

out towards the holographic ocean

me,” he said, and something about

away, was wearing her clothes and that

from the deck overflowing into the city

the jig is up. Our perfect little world

we hadn’t spent any time apart since

streets below. And then right in front of

that I now realized we had created for

we met. A cold chill entered my spine

me, a body dropped onto the deck face

ourselves was suddenly fading into the

cold dark reality of the world around us.

Zoe shut the door to her room as

things got heated. By that stage I

was awake. The noise stopped and I

knocked on the door calling out her

name. I opened to door to see her

crying on the floor with her comscreen

as I thought what if I never see her

again. I was so caught up in my previous

“relationship” that I had given little

consideration to forming one with Zoe.

I decided to give her a day and then

contact her tomorrow and maybe then

down shattering their body, the blood

pouring into crevices of the replicated

shape of the metal platforms. It was

a girl with blonde hair. It was Zoe. I

stumbled towards her trying to say

the words but it only came out as a

mumble. I got to my knees and then

screamed for help.


smashed by her fist and blood running


At the local corporate military police

station, I was all alone in a darkened

room trying to explain to myself that

what had just happened was real

and just trying to understand why. An

officer then entered the room and sat

down next to me at the table.

He said, “ do you want to take care of

that before we begin?”

I looked down at my hands and arms

covered with dry blood. From her. It

happened. It was real.

I must have said that part out loud because

the officer said, “Yes, this is very

He leaned in closer and said, “Can you

It was Belle.

much for real. What was your relation-

think of any reason why she would just

“Hey lover” she said, “What’s brought

ship to the deceased?”


you down to my level?”

“I have no idea.”

“What the hell,” I said, “You’ve been fol-

“So she really is dead,” I retorted. The

lowing me?”

officer gave me an unimpressed look.

“Did you know that she had several out-

His shiny and sharp uniform loaded

standing warrants related to hacking?”

“Yeah, well. Just looking out for your

with a number of gadgets I couldn’t

“No,” I said, “She never seemed like that

interests babe.”

identify, blinking and blurring in my

sort of person to me.

wet eyes. “Um, I was seeing her for the

“What the hell does that mean!” I said.

past couple of weeks. We met by the

He continued on with ques-

“Oh, something along the lines of this.”

enclosed pool in section 8, over coffee

tions for the next hour, to the point

She punched me in the face and I was

and cigarettes.” The memory of it gave

where it felt like they suspected me of

knocked out cold.

me a smile.

pushing her. I learned later there was a

corroborating witness who saw both

I slowly came to and saw

“What was the nature of this relation-

me on the ground and her fall. I then

I was in a bunker of some kind. The

ship?” he said forcefully.

went in to see her, after washing off her

water streaming down the walls gave

blood from my arms and hands. That

me a clue. We were underground. Had

“We were seeing each other I told you.”

cold shiver was back as they pulled

this been where Belle was hiding? And

“The vid in that section does report that

back the plastic to reveal her sweet

slowly she came into view fading from

you were outside when the incident

face bruised and cut. I burst out into

her translucent shell back into human

occurred. I am sorry for your loss,” he

tears and wanted to touch her, but the

skin form. She was in heat mode.

said almost sarcastically, “However, I

coroner wouldn’t let me.


do need to clear up some things since

there’s been a lot of hacking of the systems

in that zone. Where exactly were

you when she fell?”

“I was right in front of her on the platform

below the apartment. She just

landed right in front of me.”

I walked out into the midnight streets.

It was freezing, but I was so frightened

by what I was told that I was still warm.

As I passed each corridor on the lower

levels I felt like I was being watched. I

took a shortcut to get to the hover train

elevator down a dark street and right in

front of me she appeared.

“Why the fuck am I here?” I belted out

through my bloodied nose.

“Ah, lover,” she said, “When you left

me I was lost. I didn’t know what else

to do. So I decided to look after you. I

started following you. When I found out

your new girlfriend was just trying to

hack your credits and getting to know

you for your details, I tracked down her

partner who she was secretly

contacting every night via the net and

I slit his throat, drinking his blood from

a gold cup.” Belle produced the gold

cup, “Here I saved some for you, my

love.” She forced the blood down my

throat. I coughed and spat out the cold

coagulated salty taste.

I was still crying when she offered me

a some of her coffee.


“You also killed Zoe didn’t you, you


“Oh yes. But not before I tasted her

too. I needed to find out why you liked

her so much. I needed to have what

you had. Once I had my way with her,

I kissed her deep just as you had, then

picked her up by the throat and threw

her to her little ocean.”

“You bitch,” I said.

“I was protecting you lover girl.” She

came close to me and licked the blood

off my face, then pulled off her jeans,

went translucent, and then started

kissing me. I had little choice, but to go

with it as I was tied up and her strength

was at least ten times greater than

mine. I cried as she penetrated me,

confused with the emotions I once had

for her, the horrible acts that she had

committed, and now was being done

to me. When she was finished with me,

I was gassed and tossed in the street.

I woke in the cold wet underbelly of the

city. Why I thought to myself, did she

let me survive. She knew I would report

her and that she would be tracked

down and hunted like the rogue robot

servants of old.

Sara Elizabeth Joyce - Australia

Sara is the Editor-in-Chief of Machete Girl Magazine, Transgender

Magazine and Republic Independent News. She is the

creator of Machete Girl and all its subsidiaries and Director of

Dark Media (au). A filmmaker, Activist for Women’s, Trans and

Aboriginal Rights and Issues. She also fights against homelessness

and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

I made my way back to the station,

where I reported everything including

her serial number, which by now she

would have burnt off. I was in the clear

and told to wait in the corridor. Sitting

next to me was a girl smoking a cigarette

and drinking her coffee.




By Isaac L. Wheeler

Whisper walked down a dimly lit access,

her red leather trench coat brushing

her calves with each step. Cold

penetrated her coat causing goosebumps

to cover her flesh. As she went,

she passed identical doors, differentiated

by glowing numbers affixed above

each entrance.

She gazed over the railing that protected

her from a fatal fall. Across the light

tunnel was an identical accessway.

High above, the light tunnel’s apex was

capped with self-cleaning glass which

allowed the sun’s rays to illuminate the

residential sector during the day without

the need for electric lighting.

The tunnel illuminated hundreds of

levels, each with identical accessways

lined with identical doors. People had


thrown themselves from up here to

escape from the monotony. All they

saw on the way down was more of the

same, whizzing by until their eyes went

blank, haunting them until the very end.

One of the doors was highlighted in

green by the augmented reality overlay

built into her artificial eyes. As she

stepped up to the door, she wrapped

her delicate fingers, shrouded in red

leather, around the unarticulated metal

handle. Her muscles strained as she

pulled open the heavy metal door and

stepped inside. “56 credits deducted”

scrawled across her vision. The price

has gone up again. Lights automatically

flickered on, illuminating the drab

grey room.

The door slammed shut behind her.

The sound was absorbed by concrete

peaks arranged evenly along the wall.

She pulled off the long red coat which

was lined with a black satin. Hanging

it on a hook by the door, it took on the

appearance of limp red skin. Beneath

it, she wore a black, long-sleeve t-shirt

which adhered to her fit form, along

with a concealed holster nestled in her


A bed made up with dark

gray sheets dominated the room, and

on one wall lived a small desk with a

dismally gray swivel chair. She stepped

into the small kitchenette immediately

to the right of the entrance and focused

on the 3DP Food Printer. Her warm

brown eyes lit up with blue light as an

itemized menu of options appeared on

her eye’s lens, blueprints for meals she

had purchased over time from the 3DP

Virtual Market. Asian, not in the mood

to wait. Hmmm... Ramen.

The selection for Ramen lit up, “.45

credits deducted,” popped up, and then

the menu faded. A processing sound

emanated from the food printer, and a

count down appeared above it: “3:00”.

Three minutes felt like an eternity as

she leaned against the cheap press

board counter on her elbows, resting

her breasts against it, watching the

countdown. “2:00, 1:59, 1:58,” finally

reaching 0:00. She opened the door

and pulled out the steaming contents.

The bowl was papery and warm.

She took plastic chop sticks that had

printed along side it and took a bite.

Salty heaven. She sat on the bed and

took another bite, savoring the noodles

and the broth they were saturated in.

She licked her lips to indulge in a final

taste, set the papery bowl on the night

stand, and laid down on top of the covers

without bothering to remove her

gun. Her brown, shoulder-length hair

spread out across the pillow, framing

her face. She stared up at the stone

ceiling, which was pocked with air

bubbles, then closed her eyes. VR, Last

Night Club.

The dark behind her eye

lids retreated and she found herself

standing inside the entrance to the Last

Night Virtual Club.

Her avatar was a younger girl in her

20s, though in reality she was in her


40s with the signs of age just begin-

Graves’ avatar breached the “realistic”

ning to show at the corners of her

rule set by the club by having eyes that

mouth. The avatar wore a suggestive

glowed white. His muscles were visible

she made eye contact with a lonely guy

white blouse with a deep v and tight

beneath the midnight blue shirt he

on the dance floor. His poorly rendered

red pants that extenuated her curves.

wore with three of the buttons unfas-

face brightened. Good deed for the day.

Her rich brown hair was replaced with

tened to reveal his defined pectorals.

vibrant green.

No way he looks like that in real life.

As Whisper reached Graves

she fell, throwing her arms around his

She passed the threshold of the

“One Black Opal,” said the

neck. The girl he was talking to made

entrance, a grand wooden archway

bartender as he set the drink in front of

an annoyed sound like a strangled

capped with a carved crescent moon,


puppy. Sorry bitch.

and “10 credits deducted” scrawled

“Thank you,” she said placing

across her vision. Electro-pop music

her hand at the base of the martini

Tonight, he’s mine.

washed over her as she stepped up to

glass. “8 credits deducted.” She took

the bar.

a sip of her drink; it had a berry flavor

Inaudible to those around them, she

to it, and the aftertaste was of heavy

whispered into his ear, “You’re guilty of

A young woman with long black hair

alcohol, probably vodka. She felt the

IP infringement. Care to go somewhere

and a shiny black dress vacated a

depressant effect almost immedi-

more private to talk about it?”

stool, and Whisper slipped into the

ately, code interacting with her brain

woman’s place gracefully. The bar ap-

telling it to make her feel intoxicated.

“What are you talking about?”

peared to be solid polished wood, and

Alcohol Purge. She needed a clear

he said, raising his voice so everyone in

the wall behind was a mirror bordered

head tonight. Graves was talking to a

the vicinity could hear him.

in carved, beautiful, baroque style with

blonde girl at the end of the bar who

cherubs eying the patrons.

was wearing a top that hid nothing and

“You can play me a song, or I

a short skirt in neon pink that barely

can make a different kind of music that

The bartender, a tall young

covered her ass. No way SHE looks like

will fry your brain,” she said matter-of-

man with a chiseled square jaw, wear-

that in real life.

factly, as she drew her fingers deli-

ing a tuxedo, stopped in front of her.

cately along his jaw. A tingling sensa-

“What can I get for you?” he

Reviewing Graves’s profile earlier in the

tion passed between her finger tips


day had revealed that he had down-

and Graves’s real body, where he felt

loaded a 3DP blueprint for a guitar

the tingle travel down his spine. Graves

Drinks Menu.

from an illicit server. Undoubtedly, he

glowing eyes widened.

was telling this girl how good a musi-

“I’d like the Black Opal please,” she said

cian he was, and how he was going

“Get off!” he yelled grabbing

giving him a smile.

to write her a beautiful song. Whisper

her by the ribs and pushing her off into

smiled. Time to get to work. She slid

the crowd, which happily embraced

“Coming right up,” he said

her arm along the bar’s polished

her. Graves’s avatar dissolved, leaving

with a smile of his own. Although there

surface in a faux fall and knocked off

his seat absent. Whisper stood, the

was no need for a wait in VR, the Last

her drink.

crowd releasing her.

Night introduced a wait to preserve

the authenticity. She surveyed the

The sound of shattering glass melded

“Thanks,” she blew them all a kiss. Exit

other patrons in the club, adorned in a

combination of formal attire and clubbing

outfits. Avatar Recognition, Peter

Graves. At the end of the bar one of the

patrons lit up green.

into the noises of the crowd and the

techno-pop music flowing through the

club. She stood up, pseudo-stumbled

a moment, and worked her way down

the bar, drawing eyes from the club’s


A seductive smile crossed her lips as

VR. Whisper dissolved away as well.

She opened her eyes, her youthful appearance

giving way to the deepening

lines on her delicately aged face. Got

you fucker. A three-dimensional map of

the residential sector popped up in her

vision as she sat up on the bed’s edge.

A room was highlighted two levels

down across the light tunnel and she


was displayed as a red dot.


site’s virtual environment was superimposed

over the bleak residential sector.

“Would you be a gentleman and tell me

She stood just outside of a visualiza-

where I can get such a fine blueprint?

tion of a vast web of connections,

She walked to the door, donned the red

I am just dying for a new instrument.”

apparently on an invisible plane. Search

long coat, and drew her weapon. The

She pushed the gun deeper into him,

“Guitar”. The web moved to engulf her

gun was sleek, with a long barrel for

forcing him to sink into the gray chair.

and one of the intersection points in

accuracy. The grip housed a magazine

“This one just drives all the boys away.”

the web came to rest just in front of

with caseless ammo and possessed

her. She was suddenly aware of many

the capability to switch between

“Yeah, YEAH. I’ll give you the server

different guitar styles and designs in

standard hollow-point and explosive

address,” he said, desperation plain in

her mind’s eye. She selected one at

rounds. A smirk crossed her features.

his voice. She removed the gun from

random. Download.

She pulled open the heavy slab of a

his temple.

door and ran down the accessway

A bar appeared in her vision

to get momentum. Finally, she threw

“Well,” she said, relaxing her

showing the download progress. Map

herself over the railing.


seeds. The web visualization

faded away, leaving the residential

The feeling of not touching any earth

“Here,” he said, alongside a

sector, and the three-dimensional

always filled her with excitement. The

sigh of relief. Graves sat stiffly in the

map appeared again with hundreds of

moment passed quickly as she plum-

chair trying not to provoke her further.

glowing green lines converging on her

meted the two floors. She landed just

A message pinged into her vision con-

position, some terminated in sectors of

past the railing of the lower accessway

taining an address.

Los Angeles and others outside of the

and, landing on her forefeet, rolled to

maps scope. Remove seeds outside

absorb the impact. Using the inertia,

“Peter, I can call you Peter,

the Los Angeles Arcology. She selected

she propelled herself forward into a

right? If this helps me find a new

the nearest one from the remaining

run. She raised her weapon as she

instrument, I’ll forget about your little

paths and followed it.

neared a glowing green door. Moirai

trespass and likely the others I could

override. The Moirai Corporation was

pry from your fragile mind. If it doesn’t,

She found herself leaving the residen-

contracted by the Corporate Congress

we will be having this same conversa-

tial sector and walking out into the

to enforce intellectual property laws,

tion again very soon. Trust me, I’ll find

“star-lit” promenade. The promenade

among other things. The door clicked

you and next time it won’t be so civil.”

was a large open park area in stark

open; her muscles strained as she

contrast to the monotony, a sea of

threw it open.

“When you connect you have to input

green grass and trees surrounded by

From the desk against the

a decryption key, or you won’t get

a vast sidewalk. On the fringes of the

wall a stunned Peter Graves, wearing

anything,” Peter said with resignation.

space there was a myriad of shops,

only his underwear and several days

A message pinged in her vision again

mostly providing services such as

unshaven, stared at the door in fright.

containing a long string of characters.

massages or fashion advice.

His musculature was less than impressive,

and his glowing eyes had been

“Thank you,” she said stepping up to

Ahead of her was a man

replaced with dull blue ones. Smirk still

him and kissing him on the cheek. His

wearing a loose-fitting red hoodie,

tight against her lips, Whisper stepped

stubble felt rough under her lips. “Hope

baggy torn jeans, and an olive-colored

through the door. To her left against

I don’t see you around.” She turned and

backpack, which was rigged with a

the wall sat the guitar. She picked it up

stepped out of the room back into the

number of black cords and had an


with her free hand.

Turning the instrument over

in her hand she said, “Fine manufacture,

too bad you didn’t license it.”

She smashed it against the ridged

wall, sending splinters across the

room. Whisper walked up to Graves

and pushed the gun against his skull

through his greasy hair.

sector’s monotony.

Whisper input the address Graves had

so graciously provided, and alongside it

she sent the decryption key in a packet.

She stopped and leaned against the

railing as the site loaded in her vision.

The surrounding area dimmed and the

erect antenna rising from its depths.

The glowing green line terminated at

the backpack.

Whisper’s vision came back into sharp

clarity beneath the artificial stars of the

promenade. She quickened her gait

and closed on the man. When it came


into arm’s reach she seized the pack,

some kind of oil. She looked up, and

her other hand pulling a knife from her

saw the man bounding away toward

belt. The blade, a single molecule thick

the far shops with the pack in hand.

scrawled across her vision, as the

at the tip, cut the olive straps with two

She pulled her gun out from its holster

file copied to her cloud storage. The

deft strokes.

with a smooth sound of plastic on

files finished copying. She fired into

metal and aimed for the man’s leg.

the server adding metal and plastic

“What the!” said the man,

Explosive rounds. A burst erupted from

to the gore covering the walkway. Call

whirling to see Whisper now hold-

the pistol. Blood and bone splattered


ing his pack in her hand. She smiled

the sidewalk as his leg exploded. She

broadly, holding the blade up.

pushed herself into a standing position,

“You should have some

feeling grit beneath her gloved hands,

medical assistance soon. Hope you

“It would make my night,” she

as the man collapsed and screamed

don’t get sepsis.” She turned and

said making intense eye contact. He

in pain. She leisurely approached him,

walked down the Promenade’s path.

had diminutive mousy features with

gun hanging loosely in her hand. Kneel-

Cross reference IP addresses with Los

sickly green undertones to his skin, and

ing beside him, she put her finger to

Angeles Arcology records. Whisper

patchy, unkempt facial hair.

her lips.

enjoyed the artificially crisp, cold air

of the evening. IP addresses scrawled

“Fine, take it!” he said, holding

“There, there. No more screaming. You

across her vision as the LA database

up his hands, which were wrapped in

might wake someone.” He cringed,

was compared to the list she lifted

ratty fabric, and stepping back slowly.

face turning white. She lifted the gun

from the man. Wonder what his name

Whisper sheathed the mono-blade and

and drew it across his cheek as he

was anyway? A short list appeared in

pulled open the backpack; inside was a

gripped the bleeding stump tightly,

her vision. Trace and map. Her vision

small server rigged to be mobile which

“Thank you for running.” Blood flowed

dimmed, and lines appeared leading

bathed the interior fabric with flickering

between his fingers and pooled on the

to the nearby IP addresses. They were


ground, soaking through his clothes.

color coded based on distance. She

She pushed the gun firmly against his

followed the green line representing

“Very clever,” she said aloud to

skull. “Explosive rounds,” she said with

the nearest one. She found herself

the man. She pulled a wire from behind

purpose. The man closed his eyes

reentering the same district as before,

her ear and plugged it directly into the

tightly. Tears escaped between the seal

returning to the monotony.

server. The man’s eyes darted from her

of his eyelids and streaked the sweat

eyes to the server and back nervously.

and grime on his face.

She stopped in front of one of the iden-

A login popped into Whisper’s vision.

tical doors. The door had no indicator,

She looked at the man, who had

“Tell me your login information, and you

as either available or occupied. Reserve

stopped backing away from her, and

get to live another day.” He opened his

391. The system returned, Room 396

was watching restlessly. Reset. The

eyes and stared at her in disbelief.

Reserved. Damn glitches. Cancel

login disappeared and a moment later

“Fuck! Yes! I’ll do it!” he said

reservation. Reserve 391. The system

the initialization screen appeared. Load


returned 381 Reserved. What the fuck.

Codux OS. Boot from Neural Mount.

“Thank you,” she removed the

Is room 391 available? “Room 391 is

The screen changed and opened in a

gun’s barrel from his skull and kissed

available.” Hmmmm... Moirai override

new operating system. Open file direc-

his sweaty forehead. He shuttered, and

391,” 390 clicked. Impatiently, she fired

tory. A searing pain erupted in Whis-

a moment later a message pinged con-

on the door. The door handle disap-

per’s head. As she stared at the man

who gazed back, her vision fragmented

and then everything went black...

Whisper opened her eyes. She stared

at the sidewalk, which was soiled with

taining the login details. She plugged

back into the server, and entered the

login. NeuroSys, !p53ud0p455? She

discovered a file called Black Book.

Open Black Book. A list of IP Addresses

appeared in her vision, with associated

aliases. Copy drives to Nimbus. She

stood patiently, a status indicator

peared with a small explosion, and was

replaced with a hole. She pushed the

door open; inside was the same room,

but this one had the walls plastered

with paper posters of animated characters.

Paper? Really? The room was too

warm; she could feel the heat escaping

into the cooler exterior. Beside the

bed were large server racks and wires


which spidered down to the bed and


Flagella unfurled, coating her hands

in a kind of fur. Jeffery’s eyes stared

up unfocused, as he lay limp beneath

her. She placed her disabled hand on

into the 3DP Printer in the kitchenette.

one side of his skull and then put her

corporate oligarchy because they plant

A malnourished form, on the bed

other on the opposite side. The flagella

a flag on it, and then post a guard? I

disappeared into the largest VR helmet

penetrated his skull like two handfuls

think not.”

she had ever seen. The kitchenette

of grass boring through either side of

was dirty and covered in garbage

head. Each flagellum wove itself deep

“We wouldn’t have the

from what appeared to be months of

into his neurons. Her vision faded until

technology, medicine, and luxuries we

neglect. Months? Could he really have

she floated alone in a white space, with

DO have if it wasn’t for that corporate

been here that long? She approached

a healthy version of Jeffery, both of

oligarchy,” she said, defensively.

the skeletal form and examined the

them naked. He appeared to be in his

servers. Hundreds of blinking lights

early twenties, with some muscle defi-

“We are inside a massive

bathed his pale skin in color, shifting

nition. His eyes were a brilliant green,

structure made of identical rooms.

from moment to moment. The bed

no longer glassy. His black hair was

We are allowed to spend a night rent-

side table was covered in plastic toys

now clean and close cropped.

ing one of those rooms from them,

of the characters that populated the

a transient home. Allowed to explore

wall’s posters.

“Jeffery, do you have a final

our dreamspace comprised of their

whisper for this world?” she said,

approved content. Do you think our

She holstered her gun and

embodied in her own younger vision of

corporate paymasters live in one room

stepped behind the servers. With

herself, complete with green hair.

spaces they can’t even call their own?

her knife she severed several power

Do you think they restrict themselves

cables in one swipe. The body on the

“Who are you?” asked Jeffery,

to politically correct virtual fantasies?

bed convulsed. She stepped out from

no confusion in his voice.

Do you think they deny themselves

behind the server bank and up onto

anything? We need a more egalitarian

the bed. Kneeling on the bed over him,

“Your executioner.”


she pulled off the helmet. Glassy eyes

stared up at her from sunken sockets

“You’re too late. The corpora-

“And you think yours is better?” she

flanked by matted black hair. Facial

tions took away our lives a long time

asked, raising a green eye brow.

Recognition confirms target: Jeffery

ago. We walk these bleak corridors in


dead subservience,” he said, looking

“Yes. We need a more open

around him as if they were standing in

society, and part of that is access to

“Well, not quite what I was expecting.

the Los Angles Arcology, rather than

information. It’s time we redefined the

Jeffery Thomas, you are sentenced to

floating in an equally dead, white void.

dialogue and create a truly free culture.”

termination for conspiracy to distribute

Vehemence burned in his eyes.

copyrighted materials.” A blast came

“You have been charged with building a

beneath the covers. Her left arm went

massive piracy network. You steal from

“Your vision is noble, but

limp, dropping the knife. The blade

the creators of that content. What do

people are too greedy for a system like

sunk into the floor and stopped at the

you have to say for yourself.”

that to thrive,” said Whisper dismis-

hilt. With her good hand she crushed

Jeffery scoffed, “That content


his wrist. Pulling back the covers

is everything. It is the collective knowl-

revealed a broken hand holding a 3DP

edge of our species. It is the food we

“We are brought up in a world of the


pistol. Add printing illegal weapons

to the list of charges. Blood soaked

into her jacket and she could feel its

warmth travel down to her finger tips,

dripping onto the bed sheets. Whisper

pulled the glove off of her flaccid hand,

and then with effort raised her bad arm

and removed the glove from her other


eat. It is the clothes we wear. Those

creators are not the ones who receive

compensation; it is the distributors

through their printers and VR headsets

who are stealing from everyone. Does

the entire universe belong to the

greedy for the greedy. They just need

a chance to see a different world.” His

eyes locked with hers, unwavering.

“I honestly hope your utopia

emerges, but today you become a

martyr to your cause,” she said, allowing

a kind smile to hover on her lips for

a moment.

“I forgive you,” he said, closing his eyes

and reaching out for her.

Whisper removed her hands from his

head, the flagellum unwove from his

neurons, and his head fell limply to

the side, eyes empty. The void faded,

leaving her alone in the dark room. She

stood up from the bed, one arm still

disabled at her side.

Whisper stared up at the stone ceiling

and curled the fingers of her crippled

arm into a fist. Tiny nanobots flowing

through her veins had begun to repair

the bullet’s damage. She didn’t even

have the pain as company. VR, Void.

The stone ceiling evaporated away until

she floated in a dark void, absent of

anything but her own awareness.


“Rest well.” She pushed her gloves into

the red coat’s pocket. The recording

of Jeffery’s last conversation was uploaded

to her Nimbus drive, alongside

all of the other whispers of the dead,

immortalized in a digital hell of quantum

information. She pushed open

the room’s door and let it slam shut

behind her, trapping the corpse on the

other side of three inches of metal. She

stepped to the walk’s railing and stared

down into the light tunnel’s dark abyss.

Bodiless, without an avatar, she stared

into the darkness until she fell asleep.

Despite her best efforts to embrace the

nothingness, her dreams were haunted

by the faces behind the whispers.

Whisper finally pulled her

eyes from the darkness. Reserve

room. One of the rooms, six doors

down lit up green in her augmented

vision. She trudged to the door, limp

arm lightly reminding her of its presence

against her hip with each step,

and then pushed her way inside. The

door shut solidly behind her, and she

methodically removed her red trench

coat. Attempting to mount her coat on

the hook by the door, it fell to the floor.

Fuck, whatever. She gave the kitchen

a cursory glance, and then walked to

the bed instead. Whisper removed her

holster and dropped it in front of the

night stand. She pulled off her dark

shirt awkwardly around her disabled

arm, beneath it only a black sports bra.

She undid her pants and let them fall

to her ankles, and then thumbed off

her socks with one hand. Leaving the

clothes in a pile on the floor, she laid

down on the bed.

Isaac L. Wheeler - United States

Isaac is a dedicated writer and cyberpunk whose writing

focuses on the intersection between technology and philosophy.

He is the editor for Neon Dystopia, a journalist, and has a

short story published in the anthology, Fields of Broken Steel

by Insomnia Publishing.



Private Sector

By Daniel Moore

Felt like I was still stateside.

I pulled up the contact’s name, scrolled

down to his number. Typed: Where are

Sidewalks narrowed. People shuffled


Slept all day. Didn’t mean to, just hap-

sideways to avoid one another, repel-


ling from tables parked at the curb

Seconds passed. The cell shook. Mes-

Set my lenses to update, put

and storefronts. Calls came from food

sage read: End of the block. Yum-Yum.

my body through motions to warm up.

carts, offering fishy curry. Sexy girls in

I hadn’t yet arrived. Physically I inhab-

tight skirts begged me to buy a pint at

Red and yellow blinked on me, flashed

ited a hotel room, but my head lived

their bar. They were persistent. I kept

down, repeated the sequence in rapid

two days in the past, still asleep on a

on walking. They got the hint.

succession. Girls in underwear, striped

hard black bench in an empty terminal.

with LEDs. Boys in tight denim. Lady-

The bits between—how I got on the

At the end of the row—the open mouth

boys in cocktail dresses. Skin and meat

plane, landed in BKK, managed to get

of Soi Cowboy—I hunted expats.

smiled it up for the tourists. They stood

myself indoors—all lost to me.

close and whispered and coerced with

Kept my hood low, walked along

During a briefing, six doors down from

light touches. Travelers responded with

Sukhumvit Road.

the cupboard that passed for my office,

cash and plastic.

I’d looked over SAT video and listened

February, somewhere in the middle of

to an abbreviated lecture on the Asiatic

A German pair posed outside XY with

their winter. You wouldn’t know it by the

For-Profit Conflict (corporate speak).

a tall girl—muscular with a baby face—

temperature. Head had been buzzed

Seemed like an easy place to hunt for

for pictures, blocking a procession

and dyed platinum back home, which

my contact. But navigating between

of Americans from continuing to the

let me breathe, but I stuck parameters,

go-go bars, strip clubs, food carts, and

leathered men dancing outside Burst

wore denim and leather so I’d be

compact boutiques I found nothing but

City. Around them was just enough

overlooked. The jacket was new, still

foreign faces.

room for me to get close to the little girl

creaked as I moved. Still, I attracted an

riding her infant elephant. Saddlebags


Most spoke some style of English, but

on either side of the animal offered

Europeans and different were in atten-

burners and chintzy cameras. The girl

Bangkok streets were flooded with

dance as well. Competing with techno

shouted prices to the crowd.


people, their walls and building facades

housed eyes pointing in every direction.

I lowered the sensitivity on my

lenses; the prosthetic pair found every

face interesting enough to zoom in and

inspect because they were inspecting

me. Somewhere overhead, LOOK

HERE flashed in neon.

and dancehall for attention, finding

the right concentration of sound was


I Grabbed the company cell, checked

the GPS. Tech promised monitoring

of company brands zeroed in within

a meter of the targeted employee. He

Sticking behind the trudging boutique

we made our way through bodies. The

Yum-Yum rainbow sat on the horizon.

They hung around with dancers, these

Japanese men dressed as old-world

gangsters. Tattoos covered all the ex-

was close by.

of his fingers to gesture as he spoke.

The heavy one to his side had given up,

one here cares about your business or

speaks enough English to make sense


kept cool behind his glassy visor, feed-

of it anyway.” He stuck out a hand,

back washing his face in TV blue.

waited for a shake. “Jay, but everyone

He ordered moo satay and Chang in

Dancers paid them little attention, fa-

uses the family name—Kahn.”

an accent that sounded native. The

voring a third—Korean, younger, shaggy

Jay was too relaxed. I was on edge. I

woman working at the blue cart treated

black hair down to his shoulders. His

denied his prompt; stuck to the script

him like one.

smile disarmed, radiated a relaxed

of false names and need-to-know.

state with a nuclear glow. He transi-

He handed me a tray of skewers, a

tioned between joking with the walking


beer, and pointed me down the tarp-

tattoos and charming the girls that

covered corridor.

crowded him, clinging to his clothes.

“Samantha? You’re my SA? Where’d

Trying to interpret the conversation, it

home office find you?”

“You American?”

seemed like he’d sealed the deal, and

the party would continue elsewhere.

“That matters?”

“From Portland,” he said. “Not by


I needed something electric with many

“It might. Last SA I worked with was a

teeth to cut through the fog of fun

hundred-kilo-plus Nigerian. On these

“Where’d you learn to speak Thai like

clouding them. I opted for a text: Black

streets, security is an issue. So it mat-


Jacket. Ready to go.


Jay tapped his head with a skewer

Rather than check his cell, he looked

“Well, they sent me. That’s going to be

tip. “They gave me the MLAT when I

around, annoyed as if watching out for

a problem?”

was seven. Did pretty well. Parents put

the insect nipping at his neck. He spot-

me in foreign language classes after

ted me, flagged me down with his free

“Just making sure you know the land.”

that. Since then, I just travel, grab the

hand. I didn’t budge.

Jay walked, gave me his back. “We’re

local papers when I’m there, talk to

headed to a club in Nana. Hope you’re

people. I just pick it up. Fun as a party

He gave custody of the girls to the

cool with the industry, because we’re

trick. People eat it up when you jump

tattoos. They objected at first but con-

gonna be deep in the element tonight.”

from Korean to Spanish to Japanese,

ceded when he pointed in my direction.

mimicking the accent as you go along.

The men took at as a joke. The girls

“The industry?”

Helpful in this job, but it’s mostly bor-

whispered. He half-bowed in apology

ing. What I’m interested in is what you

as he inched back my way.

He spun around, couldn’t believe what

know about the assignment.”

he’d heard. “What did they give you

With an arm draped around my shoul-

during your briefing?”

“I told you all they told me.”

ders, he whispered, “Play along.”

Away from Yum-Yum, back into the ac-

“I was told that I’d be meeting with you

“You knew?”

tive stream down Soi. Once we hit the

and you’d escort me to the location

road, back in the presence of less illicit

where I’d be taking possession of com-

“I don’t need particulars to do my job.

business, I shook myself free. He didn’t

pany property.”

Tell me where we’re going and what I’m

like the gesture.

picking up.”

Jay stopped a pair of women, said


something sweet in Thai. They laughed

“You don’t get points for being a com-

He pitched his head to the side like a

dog hearing a high-frequency whine.

“First time working international?”

His accent was pure California. The

Valley, I guessed.

“You don’t have to worry about cover,”

a little too loud, showed too much

teeth. The prettier of the two gave

him her cell. He swiped a few times,

handed it back, thanked them both

with a kiss on the cheek. “We’ve got

time,” said Jay, producing a fold of

cash, manifested from nowhere. “Let

me buy you dinner, fill you in on the


pany man, or lady, or whatever. You

should always look out for yourself,

know the particulars.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

“I was doing fifty-five in Victorville for

embezzlement—swindled a widow out

of forty-five million plus change.


he said. “This is neutral ground. No


“Which seems particularly stupid when

sixty-billion-dollar-a-year company that

specializes in prosthesis. Arms, legs,

you consider screening procedures in

eyes, skin, bones—if you break it, burn

Almost had a clean break, but I didn’t

this part of the world are some of the

it, tear it, they make a better version of

focus on the particulars and lost it all.”

harshest in the world.”

it. They’re successful at what they do,

“So you’re a conman?”

but with that money comes ambition.”

“For your average criminal smuggler,

“Artist, Sam. Few people do what I did,

yes. But with corporate connections

“Then they grow.”

and most can’t even imagine the same

you can move small parcels without

kind of payment. But no matter how

the invasive eyes of the EU. And once

“Where this strictly consumer tech?

good I was, I ignored the finer points

you’re back on American soil it’s just a

Maybe. Since it’s a select clientele they

on that last job.

question of the right sticker to get your

service, Arbor simply got curious.” Jay

bags past the TSA.”

asked for my cell. He typed in his em-

“When my wife to be found out that I

ployee ID, provided his face to the cell.

had emptied her accounts, she sent

“If they ignore the dogs that’ll be going

“There was a researcher in Bombay—

her son after me. Never bothered

crazy with the drugs we’re smuggling,

Arab by the name of Yusuf. He had a

to look in on him, which turned out

because I can’t imagine we’re picking

taste for the kahoeys, bringing him to

to be particularly stupid on my part

up anything else.”

Bangkok every other month over the

since her boy was a fed. Obviously

last year and a half.

prison life wasn’t for me, so when the

“We would never. You and I are em-

company offered to lobby the governor

ployees of a respected corporation

The company had been monitoring

for clemency and an expunged record

that owes about sixty percent of its

his travels. We guessed he’d be a

in exchange for a ten-year contract, I

annual contracts to the US govern-

good intel buyout, sell the information

took the job. And now that I’m on year

ment. They’d never deal in anything so

to competition back home. Then we

eight, I’ve had enough time to know

pedestrian. No, what we’re here to get

noticed—rather, I noticed—that not just

that working with them is the same as

is a piece of prototypical equipment.

him but a number of Arbor Medical

pulling a con.”

Know Arbor Medical?”

researchers were leaving India for the

Pacific. The difference was everyone


They gave me sight.

went straight to Singapore, but Yusuf

came to Thailand.”

“I triple check everything I’m told before

Atrophied nerve fibers and macula

making a move. I never let myself get

were the result of congenital defect.

“And he looked for the ladyboys?”

caught off balance. That’s advice you

By age six I’d been designated as

“That was my first suspicion, but once

can have for free.”

blind. The family went broke getting

the company started monitoring com-

lenses from the Indian biotech firm,

munications between Arbor’s main

Smiling while speaking, displaying his

but military contracts in the Eastern

office in New Delhi and the research

credentials, offering a helping hand—I

world made Arbor the ideal choice for

satellite in Singapore they found out

was pretty sure the artist was running

prosthesis. Couldn’t remember what

that the whole firm is on lock down

a con on me.

natural vision was like, but their hard-

since Yusuf went AWOL and took with

ware and software wasn’t something I

them the prototype for NC12.”

My skewer tray went into an open

could go without.

Jay was smug when he gave back the

trashcan. I took a pause because my


beer was next. “Tell me what I need to

If we were here to take from them, I’d


know, because this trip, for me, begins

and ends with a box.”

“Sammie, it’s more than a box we’re

grabbing. See, Bangkok is the capital

of Silk Road. Anything you want taken

out of Asia and to the Americas comes

through here.”

have to grab something for myself as

well. When would I get another opportunity?

“Doesn’t matter.” Jay waved his hands

about my face to get my attention. “All

you need to know is that they’re a

On screen, boxed in by Asian type my

lenses begged to translate for me, was

an open aluminum case. Gray foam

lined the insides, cradling canisters of

nitrogen emitting thick billows, veiling

the silver dome resting in the center.

Lights segmented its body, cut up like

the lobes of a robot’s brain.


I pinched and zoomed. “What’s NC12?”

think it’ll be our way to negotiating a

“’The alternative to man’s collective

contract. That’ll give us the opportunity

fate’. That’s the wording they used on

to stretch out into the Eastern market.”

memos discussing how to phrase it for

internal marketing. See, Arbor wants to

“Monopoly status.”

do away with decrepitude and death.

The theory is that the unit can record

“Close to it.”

information communicated through

synaptic neurons to collect memories

Draught and satay, courtesy of Jay

in a human brain. They’ve gone as far

who was explaining the different fla-

and implanting mice with the memo-

vors of street meat, how to determine

ries of other subjects. The implanted

legit sources from gypsy vendors who

mice recognized the donor’s mate,

hunt for pets.

eating habits, their unique grooming

patterns. And they were able to reverse

Hunger and thirst left me.

the process, select-edit memories,

which left the original mice forgetting

“If a technician stole NC12, why are we

everything they did, forming new habits

going to the red light? He may hang out

to fill that hole.

here, but he wouldn’t just travel with it

everywhere he goes.”

“Ultimately, what Arbor’s promising is

the ability to store memories, migrate

“Yusuf’s all alone,” said Jay. “No money

them to other subjects, or even outright

to spend, no family to call, trapped in

delete them. It’s an offshoot of their

a place where all there is for a Muslim

larger project: reverse-engineering the

to eat is fried pig on a stick. He’ll only

human brain.”

go where he needs to, and since all he

has is a very expensive, experimental,

“For what? Life extension? I’ve been

highly-sought-after piece of revolution-

He said the name like it was someone I

reading about that since I was little.”

ary hardware, he’s not going to keep it

should’ve known.

“We don’t have platforms to upload

in the hotel safe.

it. I mean, a mouse is one thing, but

“Mischa peddles flesh. Most are Rus-

implanting a whole life of memories in

“In Bangkok, there are only three people

sian girls, Uzbeks, Ukranians, Latvi-

another person’s head is another. So,

who’d be interested in what Yusuf has:

ans—easy pickings from back home.

for now, it’s a potentially dangerous

Triads, Yakuza, and the Russian mafia.

And normally this would be about the

way to mess with people’s heads.”

You saw me earlier with the Japanese.

time we’d just call Interpol with his

“And the company wants it?”

Those people are very pushy and

location and have them shut his busi-

sociable. Told them I was the nephew

ness down, but Mischa’s got family

“Arbor does. Their contract with Black-

of a boss out on Venice Beach and

ties to QRT Research Labs in Kiev. He’s

well Services is up at the end of Q2,

they kept inviting me out. Reject them

been supplying them with women for

and the chatter is they’re displeased

and I’m sure they would’ve checked the

fertility research, which is the com-

with the company’s security work for

validity of my story, which would’ve cut

pany’s concentration. But having this to

them in the past. After I reported Yusuf’s

interests and the company found

out about the missing equipment, the

decision was made to take possession

before the technician could put it on

the black market. The higher-ups

my time here short. Chinese, I cleared

out when I first arrived. They seem

clean. It wasn’t until the other night

that I tracked Yusuf down and saw him

with the Russians. Thanks to CCTV

and working girls with loose lips, we

now know he plans to sell to Mischa


offer them could open that company’s

field of research far beyond where it is

now, making Mischa into a king.”

“So where’s his castle?”

“Gothic Raygun.”



peepshow to leering eyes, pulling people

closer. Women called after us and

anyone they could see. They mimed

sex with their hands, promised they

Up another dark alley, through a slit

were capable of more vulgar things.

between apartment buildings, pale yel-

Away from the flashy showings at the

away from me and was now sitting

low lights on Sukhumvit faded. Dated

head of Nana, was Gothic Raygun. A

at a less populated edge of the stage.

rap music was drowned under broken

simple green sign presented its name

Before him was a single pole flashing

moped exhaust and honking taxis. We

in retro-future lettering with flanges on

gold, supporting a dancer with inflated

followed pulsing purple from the squat

their ends like a spaceman’s zapper.

breasts designed for some perverse

buildings ahead—the night-time sun at

Each rung lit before it fired, only to

cartoon. Her arms shelled in hard white

its peak.

recharge and cycle again.

plastic, smooth and glossed to the eye,

refracting gold onto Jay’s face.

“There’s usually a dozen guys working,”

Jay rapped on the door. A screen on

I took to the red square next to him.

said Jay. “All of them are family with the

the wall blinked into existence, captur-

Though he gave his face to the dancer,

exception of a few Thai that bus tables,

ing his face, calculating its vectors. I

followed her twists and turns around

work the bar. Gothic Raygun is the only

leaned away, tried to melt into shadow.

the pole, smiled when she brought her

Russian bar here. The others are Yaku-

Menus manifested. Jay tapped with

body close, his eyes roamed the room,

za-owned or local. It’s an unbalanced

the knuckle of his forefinger, swiped a

marked the exits, lingered on the Rus-

ecosystem where everyone watches

card through the reader when it was

sians drifting about the place.

the Russians all night long. So they go

time to pay.

in, cause no trouble and the others stay

“This whole club’s about stump wor-

happy. “According to what we gathered,

Three seconds of computing, then the


Yusuf’s spent the day being babysat by

doors opened.

the Ivans until his scheduled meeting

“They’re not handicapped,” said Jay. “I’d

with Mischa. And if I’m right, we’re early

Pink mist. It rained on us. The lobby

bet that half of these girls were never

by a few minutes.”

interior colored it, so did its screens of

sick or in an accident. I’d bet money

dancing silhouetted women, making

they weren’t modded before they got to

We crossed a strip of road to Nana

the place feel like a womb. The shadow

the city. Mischa’s got this technophile

Alley, following the flow of people

dancers pointed us downstairs, to

thing turned to eleven. Anything metal

between food carts. Excited chatter,

glass walls.

or shiny excites the guys. He finds

cheers and jeers.

the ones that cause the least amount

Music shook my face. What played

of fuss, leashes them on Special K,

Violet and silver flashed off walls, fun-

powered bodies on stages, in glass

maybe heroin, and it’s all over from

neling down to us in the center of the

cages. I couldn’t look away, not that

there. You get a girl addicted to some-

pit, machine-gunning to the tempo of

there were alternatives, but the particu-

thing, get her to live this kind of life, you

an angry electro beat. It peppered the

lar kink of this place commanded my

can get her to do anything.”

floor with light, flashing onto people’s


faces. Sticking close to Jay, we waded

With the tip of his nose he pointed to a

into a sea of bodies.

Matte fiber, polished chrome, exposed

woman one stage over. Her skin was

wiring—dancers were in a category

shelled in hard plastic and metal, lined

Bangkok had a general seediness to it,

above machine and below human. I

with running lights, segmenting what

the kind of stink that pulled me back to

understood the importance of pros-

were once major muscle groups. She


LA. Where we were was some place

more. Nana was its own world, cut off

from the rest of the city, casting the

hyper-sexual displays aside.

Unashamed nakedness. Smartfabric

woven into vinyl jackets windowed

brown breasts and bare laps beneath a

shifting collage of color. Transparency

thesis, but I’d never seen a fetish built

around it. And by looking at the crowd,

their fascination had reached a level

that would humble the religious.

Jay called to me. In my staring I’d lost

track of him, didn’t realize he’d slipped

was a toy gynoid that looked built for

war, but she seemed enraptured, shaking

her ass on a glowing platform.

“Alexandra Fedorchuck,” said Jay.

“Interpol has a fat file on her. I had to

lobby the company to get it for me. Apparently

she was the first of Mischa’s

girls that he pimped out back in Tallinn.

He got her hooked on something the

went from low to high, teasing a

Russians are cooking up and has been

cutting pieces off her here and there.

What you see on stage is what’s left of



“That nickname’s in her file?”

booth across from Yusuf.

“Her last surgeon in China—working

The brunette was serious. Her blink-

Options on my lenses were opened,

out of a black clinic, of course—said he

ing chest flashed on Jay’s face as

normal filters turned off. I switched on

left her with her five vital organs and

she pushed him onto padded booth

the glow. I squinted to limit the spread

not much else.”

seats. He reclined. The redhead was all

of blue light, hoping it wouldn’t spill

giggles. She patted the curtain, colored

out and alert the dancers or the house

Sensitivity increased, I used my

our booth for privacy. It’d turned pink,


lenses to look closer. I locked on Alex5,

much like the mood lighting from the

counted the augmentations to her

wall behind Jay.

Along the back wall, fixed in the left

body, following the running lights.

corner, was a break that curved just

The DJ switched the song, kicked up

I took her by the arm. “Make it clear

over the seats. There was the whistle

the tempo. Our dancer changed. Her


of a draft.

replacement was Thai with gray legs

and hinged knees ripped off an action

My authority wasn’t respected.

Didn’t take effort, the seats were hol-


low. They pulled away almost on their

The redhead looked to Jay for clarifica-


Jay slapped my thigh. “Hang out here

tion. He backed me up. Curtains were

for a sec.”

made clear again.

I hopped over and climbed into a space

that was low and compact. Fluores-

Behind his empty seat, in the corner

Seven minutes had gone by, still the

cent lights were humming straight

of the club, I saw Yusuf walk by, case

same song was coming from the

ahead. I pulled the seat as close to the

in hand. A no-neck Russian led him

speakers. I was grabbed at with artifi-

wall as I could.

by the shoulder through red curtains

cial fingers and pressed against altered


flesh. I played along, getting agitated

The hole in the wall led to a hallway.

sign that flashed its existence to the

only when I couldn’t see Yusuf’s booth.

Stacked furniture on checkerboard

rest of the club.

Dancers got intuitive, realized that my

tiles. Sealed unmarked boxes pushed

interest wasn’t on them. They gave up

to one side. I did quick check for

Jay returned, flanked by an East Euro-

on me.

cameras. Saw none. I took out my

pean brunette with a belly cased in sil-

cell, set it to Survey and pinned the

ver and a Japanese redhead, her eyes

Music changed to aged synthpop with

case’s magnet to the metal plate in the

glowing mauve, brighter than mine ever

boosted bass. Curtains parted and Yu-

breast of my jacket. Now I was being

could, the shade of her arms. I followed

suf stepped out of his booth. His hands

recorded—activity and vitals backed

Jay’s lead, put myself on the inside of

were empty. Satisfaction spread on his

up on a company server dedicated to

the redhead, let her clamp onto me.

face. We watched each other through

employee monitoring.

clear curtains. His face tightened. He

Sections of booth, curtained, dug into

buried his hands in his pockets and

I looked through boxes, behind furni-

the ground. The no-neck led Yusuf to

sped away. I looked for Jay some-

ture, pushed aside loose ceiling tiles,

a corner, sat him down. Yusuf hugged

where beneath robot strippers.

and every shadowed spot in the room.

the case to chest. The curtain was

I kept low to the ground, slipped out

No case.

pulled, its fringes patted. Transparency

gave way to opaqueness. The no-neck

made his way past me, grunting like a


I led the party now, took them to the

from under curtains and scuttled into

Yusuf’s booth.

It was like our own—plush red couch

curved around the walls and projectors

fixed into the seems for the floorshow.

That was wrong. Had to be. Yusuf

walked in with cargo, left without it.

The trick, I sensed, was low tech, likely

Back the way I came was a door, a

slab of black metal with an analog

lock. Why wouldn’t a mobster spend

a couple thousand on a digital fixture

that give an intruder a bit of trouble? It

was careless. A DO NOT DISTURB sign

would’ve been just as effective as the

copper-and-tin job keeping the door


staring me in the face.



I worked the keyhole with tools. I went

manual. TSA had given me trouble on

a flight to Seattle when they found the

lock-pick gun in my carry-on. I was instructed

that Thai security was stricter

still. Besides, working with my hands

kept me sharp.

With the lock turned, I opened the door

a crack. I listened for footsteps, music,

but most importantly I listened for


There were none. The land beyond the

door was barren. I pushed through.

Keeping close to the ground, I shuffled

in low light. The corridor had four

doors. One was for maintenance,

another for electrical controls, one was

unmarked, and the last was simply labeled

OFFICE. My destination couldn’t

be more obvious.

From the space between the door

and wine carpet, I saw no light. I took

a chance, tried the knob. Locked. I

checked the cell. The screen was peppered

with dots—cameras and sensors

were active in the room. That wasn’t

a problem; I could sense the package

out in the open. I was ready to go, but I

needed to secure my exit first.

I worked the keyhole with tools. I went

manual. TSA had given me trouble on

a flight to Seattle when they found the

lock-pick gun in my carry-on. I was instructed

that Thai security was stricter

still. Besides, working with my hands

kept me sharp.

With the lock turned, I opened the door

a crack. I listened for footsteps, music,

but most importantly I listened for


Lights switched on. Satay climbed up

my throat.

Russian muscle, a mountain of it,

stood at the door. His jaw went slack.

He shouted something he wanted me

to know. I didn’t understand, which

made it a little more terrifying.

He dove for me headfirst. I rolled over

the table and slipped past his big body.

There was no time to react. By the

time I crossed the threshold, he was

kissing the desk, his legs curving over

his head.

Music poured into the hall. Traffic was

increasing. I ran for my exit, ignoring

the rumbling behind me. Language,

rough and angry, cutting like a blunt

cleaver, transferred between them. I

sped down the hall, lugging the case

with some difficulty. NC12 was heavy.

It slapped my leg at every step.

I bashed the crash bar with my

shoulder, sending me into a slip down

a sewer channel, rolling in filth. Rusted

support beams crossed over my eyes.

Spiny feet dug into my face. Natural reaction

was to curse the rat crawling on

me, but I was high, endorphins surging.

I grabbed its dry fur tossed it somewhere

behind, got back to my feet.

My body compressed itself, making

me as small as possible, squeezing

through the tight pipe curving around

Nana. Russians argued rather than

try to fit in behind me. Their shoulders

wouldn’t allow it. Walking while

crouched, imitating a duck’s movements,

I could see the street. A few

more seconds and I’d be free of them.

They fired. Bullets tore through the

pipe, pinged off it, shaking me in my

step, tensing my back. Through rusted

wounds I could see people running in

a panic.

I squeezed through a crack between

carts, scratching the case and my

arms in the process. Nana Alley was

flooded with panicked bodies, their tide

washing over cars, bleeding in all directions.

Beeps from a weak horn called

to me.


Traveling down the hall and taking to

a corner, I found the first sturdy door

int he place. Heavy and red, secured in

place with a crash bar. The sign in its

center instructed on proper emergency

etiquette should a fire take place in different

languages. I felt between metal

and the rubber lining. The stick of sewage

poured in. Pressing a finger to it,

the door gave. Had I pushed the crash

bar it would’ve flung open.

Back at the office, I worked the lock. I

took a deep breath and switched my

eyes on. Once inside, I made sense of

the dark, spotted Yusuf’s case on the

Jay, sitting on the oldest motorbike in

Bangkok, waved me over.

pharmaceutical runoff. I swallowed

and winced.


I dove in, kept my focus on him.

Russian cut through the commotion.

Guns went off, people dropped down.

Japanese came next, followed by fire

of their own. The crowd found the motivation

to run further, faster. I managed

to stay afloat, pushed through to the

alley where Jay sat. I felt the rush of fire

whip past my face.

The Yakuza heavy was next to Jay,

visor perched on his head, pulling the

trigger of a long-barreled pistol with

cool calibration firing with calm.

Jay pulled me on the motorbike with

one arm and steered with the other.

Gunfire and angry language vanished

as we turned down Sukhumvit Road.

Jay secured the door behind us. He’d

been living in a Chit Lom high-rise. By

the look of the place, he’d been here a


From the kitchen window I could make

out the street. Nana was far away,

hidden behind highway lanes and

thousands of drivers. But still I was hot,

compressed from all sides.

Springs popped. The cell gave me

clearance—signals set to broadcast

from inside rerouted to company servers,

making them invisible to Arbor,

Mischa, or any other unwanted eyes.

The chrome dome sat in its nest, just

like the image I’d seen. I grabbed the

cell, prepared for the final step.

Jay grabbed the NC12, turned it over

in his hands, exposing its underside.

Connecting appendages folded inward

like crab legs. He swiveled them out of

place. They protracted, enlarging the

unit, opening it up.

“Imagine this digging into your head,”

he said, “plugging into you. Doctors

freak me out on their own, and now

they’ve got hardware like this.”

I reached up for the prototype and felt

a tear across my back. The pull of skin

off flesh burned with the disconnection

of nerves to meat.

Jay set the unit down and put his

hands on my back. With one long finger

he dug into a brand new hole in my

brand new jacket, touched the wound

beneath my t-shirt. “Looks like you got

grazed, Sam.”


Thought it was the sun burning my

face. Could have sworn I sensed the

Bangkok’s tropical heat. But it was

halogen in rod form.

My body communicated two sensations

at equal volume: restfulness and

pain. I could’ve been in a coma and

beaten everyday of it. I pushed myself

to sit up, used both arms to pull it off.

My ear had been pinned to my shoulder,

held in place by the hard black

bench I’d been sleeping on. Draped

over my legs was my jacket. There was

a hole in the back. I’d just bought it.

Above me, booming down in femme

android, was a sobering reminder that I

was sitting alone in a LAX terminal.

I put in a call to the home office,

listened and nodded mostly. I went to

the dining table, dropped everything

there, set up the cell to read the case

as I worked on the twin locks on either

side of the handle. Tiny German things,

complex by design.

Jay put a bottle of Singha betweeen

me and my work. “Drink.”

My hands shook at the locks. They

frustrated me.

“Boozin’ brings you back down. I’ve got

pills if you prefer that.”

I didn’t. I took a swig of beer to keep

him quiet, then regretted it. The brew

was bitter and chalky, a taste of

I turned to look. The wound was in a

spot that eluded my sight. “Is it bad?”

“Well, you’re bleeding a bit, and you’re

never gonna wear this thing again, but

there’s no bullet in you. It’s not even

that deep.” He pulled my jacket off, and

with it went my strength. “Let’s clean

you up.”

Jay offered a hand to help me stand.

I pushed it away, tried to lift myself

off the chair. My thighs shook. Knees

buckled. I fell forward, right into him.

Everything split, registering in my

lenses in triplicate. He talked to me,

sounded like shouts from underwater.

The taste of Singha flushed from my

tongue and washed the roof of my

Daniel Moore - United States

Moore is a freelance writer and

journalist from New York City. He’s

been a regular contributor to Neon

Dystopia, and has had works of

fiction published by Black Denim Lit,

Mystery and Horror, Afterburn Science

Fiction Magazine.



Street Clan: Homecoming

By Sean P. Nolan

What the hell am I doing?

What the hell is the whole frukin’ world doing?

Here I am. Back in the old neighborhood, slummin’

it with my old crew and the dope boys and all the

while trying to start a frukin’ revolution. My wifes

left me. Kicked me out halfway across the world

and here I am back where it all fruking started.

Fruk this shit. Sure, I’m comfortable. My family’s

here. My clan’s all here. They take care of me and

me them, same as always. But what the hell is that

all for? Didn’t I leave for something better than this?


What if that’s why she left?

What if that’s why she fruking took up with that prick Fredriksen damn near the moment I left

Kleria. Maybe that’s why she’s moving in with that fat mother fruker. That fat mother fruker who

played at being my best fruking friend in the whole world when I didn’t have my clan to lean on

when shit got tough. Maybe Fredriksen, being that hypocritical cuntbag he has shown himself to

be, played that shit up in hopes that he could move in as soon as I was fruking deported, thinking I

would just write it off as my clan taking care of my lady.

He forgot one frukin’ thing.

He’s not my boy.

He’s never run with my gods damned clan.

Mother fruker don’t know shit.


My crew wants to fruk his ass up something shocking. It took all I had not to jack in and

hack his frukin’ InfoNet file and notify his fruking boss that he’s boning another man’s wife. I’m

sure a Scripture teacher at the Cult of Athena Middle School shouldn’t be doing things so scandalous.

But fruk him.

I’m breeding revolution in the streets of Durik. Been gone for years,

hanging low, staying out of sight from the Central Gaian Intel Ministry and the fruking police state

they’ve enforced since The Wars, and you know what? Here I am, running with my boys, tweaking

and drinking with the dealers, just like nothing ever fruking happened. Here I am, back on my old

streets, seeing the jack-boot of the C-Feds pressing down harder than ever on our necks. Here I

am, with all my knowledge weaned from the fruking data-dreaming I did, surfing the InfoNet.

Here I am. Breeding revolution.


work as separate as possible from my

home life. Mom rarely asked where the

It’s about eight at night in the L.E. Sec-

credits for the food and rent had come

jacket over my shoulders and secured

tor when Manny rolls up in his sleek

from. No matter how tweaked I was, or

the clamps on my boots as their nano-

little Jimungan Hefflon Corp TX-2999

how good I was with an electro-blade,

machines clung to the form of my feet.

sports car. Two tons of sleek black mi-

Mom would have kicked my ass to Ha-

I checked my dreads in the window

cro-carbon-weave beauty encasing an

des if she knew that cash was hacked

to make sure they were in their proper

eight conductor JP11 engine. Manny

from the C-Fed Bank.

top knot and tied my blue holo-cloth

got it while I was gone during a street

bandanna over my forehead.

war with our rivals, The Grey Shunjini,

Even after being gone for

from 55th Street. Their warehouse was

four years, after having been in love

I paused to look at the man in the

ceded to our clan in the peace negotia-

and married in a different country,


tions, and since Manny had been the

after dealing with the isolation and

one who’d hacked through the security

nightmares from the guilt of exile,

The man I thought had been left

to attack it in the first place, he got

here I was again. Sitting in my room


first pick of the spoils. Now our clan,

in the tenement block. Mom sleeping

The Blue Katanas, was at the top of

on her cramped bed a few feet from

Fruk it.

the heap. I’d left right when shit had

me, and the blood-red sunset coming

started to hit the fan, mostly because

in through the window with the noise


of my connections to political dis-

of my boys coming up for our ride. It

sidents I’d reached through the Black

was coming home to another fruking

I went out the front door and

Net in order to get us arms.

life that I’d damn near thought was a

down the stairwell, all the while under

dream when I was in Kleria. It was the

the electronic eyes of three times more

Unfortunately, our Shogun

soggy smell of the afternoon drizzle

security cams than had been in my

had deemed the politics that had

drying up on the plascrete pavement.

tenement before I’d left. Sign of the

rubbed off on me as too dangerous for

It was the Pound Punk music from

times I guess. I paused on the bottom

a clan already being watched so heavily

across the street wafting over like a

floor to let the retina scanners run their

by the Confederate Government. Said

tribal dirge from the highland rises. It

lasers over my eyes. I had no wor-

that since Durik City State had been

was the shouts of Mike, our drunken

ries. The Shogun had set me up with

under military control since the end of

neighbor upstairs, yelling about his

some implants before I came home.

Seperation Wars, the C-Feds had been

days in the V’Halsen Army in the wars

No C-Feds were gonna get his boys.

farther up our asses than a recharge

and how the C-Feds were all a bunch

Even if he had to threaten his own with

jack in an android.

of fruking “cow’rds”.

his electro-blade for bringing down

so much C-Fed heat. Death before

I had been a liability, but now I had no

It was home.

dishonor. All that shit.

other fruking choice.

I was back.

Gods, I fruking hated it. Pulling the jack

Manny was waiting outside for me,

out of my neural port, I rolled up the

leaning against the side of the car, but

I heard the hum of Manny’s

chord and slid my data-pad under the

at the sight of me he whooped and

engine from my window at my mom’s

couch. I stood up and shook off the

rushed forward.

place. She’d just gotten off of a twelve

jack-happy endorphin rush that came

hour shift at the Cyber-Disease Rehab

House she worked at, and the crazed

jackers had taken a lot out of her. I was

glad she’d found the work, mostly due

to my clan’s help. She’d been unemployed

first due to the Wars and then

due to the recession that followed. All

in all that was almost ten years of being

poor and hungry for me and my kid

up on me like the tide with the moons.

I’d been chatting with some of the

dissidents on a secure Black-Net room

about some news from the burgeoning

revolution. News I intended to share

with my clan. Making sure my electroblade

was secured to the mount on my

forearm, I pulled my proxy-leather

“Sal! Mother fruker! How

you been?” he said, his brown dreads

trailing from his top knot in the wind

like rotting cables. We slapped hands

and exchanged the quick hug you only

see guys with knowledge of life on

the streets do. Brotherhood. Unity. I’d

missed that.


brother. I’d always kept my street


Pretty much everyone had been too

preoccupied with avoiding C-Fed

“You alright, Sal?” Manny shouted over

bombing raids and V’Halsen Militia

the music. I took out a cigarette and lit

enforcement squads to be moving in

“Not too shabby, Manny,” I said, grin-

up, turning down the stereo.

on each other’s territory. But now, no

ning for the first time since I’d been

one gave a shit.

back over the past few days, “Still

“I dunno.” Manny’s face went

adjusting. Y’know.”

blank, the dragon holo-tatt on his face

Luckily, the Vannies had left a

coiling up for sleep.

lot of unused military-grade tech when

“Frukin’ hell, Salmon,” he said, using

The Noble Lady, Lady Katra V’Halsen,

my nickname that I’d acquired due to

“Is it, y’know. Her?” I shook

was taken down by the C-Feds. Al-

migrating uptown for a certain lady a

my head and lied.

though she was the traditional leader

few years back. “Everyone’s gonna be

of Durik City State and all, I couldn’t

so stoked to see you, man. Seriously.

“Nah. Just still a shock being back and

have been happier when she got a

They’ve been stoked since The Shogun

shit.” Manny nodded and turned the

fruking death sentence for treason.

told us last week.” His bandanna turned

music back up, patting my shoulder

This was for two reasons.

into a swirling summer blue sky as the


holo-cloth read his excitement.

I guess now would be a good

One: Her Militias were full of

time to explain who “she” was and why

self-righteous assholes who busted

“Yeah...,” I said, tugging at my

I was still such a fruking mess over her.

my little brother’s knee caps for not

dreads. “I’m surprised he stamped his

It really came about as a fluke to be

addressing them “properly”.

seal of approval.”

honest. When the street war was starting

up with the Grey Shujini, I had been

Two: No-one paid attention to where all

“Meh. At least you’re back in.

busy hitting up just about every Black

the V’Halsen War Chest was going or

It’s been a few months since you’ve

Net feed I could to try and get my clan

where their arms were.

been back in the C-Fed, and I was be-

some goods. I was the hacker for the

ginning to think he’d never let you back

clan. The Shogun loved what I did. I’d

That meant money, mother fruker!

in.” I shuffled my feet back and forth.

gotten us enough credits from C-Fed

Years of guilt weighed on my shoulders

banks and megacorps that we’d all be

I spent most of my nights

like Athena’s scales. Manny put his arm

able to fund just about any venture we

jacked in and sliding around on the

over my shoulder, walking me to the

needed in order to keep our cut of Durik

Black Net to try and see where I could


City under control. My work had gotten

procure a decent amount of things

our boys false I.D. Tags, good electro-

such as EMP mines, sub-machine

“Come on, Sal.” he grinned,

blades with clean scancodes, and

guns, and stun grenades. Gods knew

adamantine teeth glimmering in the

enough dope to keep that cash flowing

there were plenty lying about in all

sunset. “Tonight, we party.”

in like Klerian sailors to a whorehouse.

the anti-government groups running

Manny blared his favorite Slimetechno

around the InfoNet in those days, and

band, Slave Port, the moment we

When we’d expanded our operations

Gods knew they all needed the cash.

got into the car. Accompanied by the

so much that even the police didn’t

In a few Net meetups with dealers, I’d

sludgy techno vocals and shrieking

want to fruk with us, the Grey Shujini

usually end up getting to talk with them

electronic soundtrack, the already sur-

got nasty. They wanted in. Their first

about politics. They sent me some

real experience of being back in Durik

strike was to cut up one of our clan

interesting stuff, especially stuff that

turned downright ethereal. We drove

dope boys and flay his hide across the

was found by a VHM hacker named


past sights I hadn’t seen in years, places

where friends had been arrested,

enemies cut up, and girls fruked. Each

street corner, each layer of pavement,

neon light and holo-sign told a story.

Held a memory. Memories that had

haunted me. Memories. More like fruking

nightmares. Man, I never thought

I’d see any of this shit again. Not since I

overpass that led into the L.E. Sector.

Just about everyone saw it. Fruk. Even

the InfoNet news feeds were streaming

footage of it for about two days when

it first happened. People got scared.

There hadn’t been a big war between

the street samurai clans in Durik City

since, well, before the V’Halsen Wars.


Gods-damned lunatic I had thought.

All that talk I started to get meshed in

with started to bring some extra heat

met her. Not since I loved her.

down on myself and the clan. The Confederate

Gaian Military Forces who had


pretty much put the City State on lock

south-western end of the Sector, by

down to make sure it wouldn’t break

Jerri-Boy, the baby of the clan. His mo-

away again. Their shadiest branch was

hawk bobbed from side to side as he

varying amounts of red stripes on the

the Black Ops, and the more dirt I was

ran up to me and gave me a rib crack-

sides of their bandannas. They were all

presented about them, the more there

ing hug, my arms pinned under his.

still soldiers, not full fledged samurai

were weird unmarked vans parked on

like myself or Manny. The mohawks

my street and everyone else’s street.

“Hey, kid.” I groaned loud enough to be

signified that. The red stripes signi-

Phones went missing only to show

heard just barely over the bone-shaking

fied something which was important

up the next day with some features

music blaring from the building. “You,

to each and every street clan in the

disabled and weird interference on

uh... Got strong, my friend. And, uh.

world’s many mega-metropolises;

certain calls. A few of my guys got

Big.” Jerri let go and laughed manically

the wounds earned through battle to

caught up at a routine check point into

and called over my shoulder to Manny.

become fully initiated. It took me three

the downtown Sector and detained for

years to gain the mandatory five. Jerri’s

seven hours. No reason was given.

“‘My Friend!’ The mother

arm was his fourth it seemed. When

The stress started to get to me.

fruker talks like a gods-damned Klerian

I left he’d only had one, and that was

I was worried about my mom and

now!” Jerri patted me on the shoulder.

just a cut to the leg he’d gotten in an



electro-blade duel. Now here he was,

just barely still an initiate.

I was worried about my clan.

I clutched my ribs and rasped, “Hera’s

tits, Jerri. When’d you get the augmen-

Hell. There were a lot of

Then I started playing around on a VR

tic work done?”

initiates all through the building. There

Wargame based off of the V’Halsen

were at least five times more mohawks

Wars. I was playing on the CGMF side,

“During the war with the

than dreaded top-knots. All through the

half in case the Black Ops were watch-

Shitjinis,” he said, using our derogatory

building, fresh faced kids only eleven

ing, and half because I still did not and

term for our rivals. He pulled back the

or twelve with one or two stripes on

do not have any love for those hijacking

sleeve of his jacket to reveal carbon

their colors flashed me the sign, drank,

V’Halsen bastards. That’s around the

nanoweave sinews glimmering in the

and popped pills. Like a ripple, they all

time she messaged me. Here. I still got

glow of the street lights. “Lost it running

seemed to notice me. I had no idea

the convo transcript recorded in my

into one of their houses. Took a double

who most were, if I even knew any of

internal CPU. Check this shit out:

shot gun blast of acid shot. Man, it

them. They sure as fruk knew me. I

Server: Mountain Front 23499

frukin’ hurt like ass when my arm fell

shot Manny a glance as we headed

off!” He paused and glanced at me, still


Room: CGMF Air Assault Base, Cafete-

doubled over and wheezing for breath.

ria Room

“Oh, shit man. I just got it last year.

“How do they know who I

Setting: Out of Character Discussion

Sorry.” He bent over and tried to help

am?” He grinned.

Users present: 05

me up.


“Jerri-Boy told all the new

“You got it last year, Jerri-Boy.” Manny

recruits after the war know about you.

said from behind us as we walked in-

You’re like a fruking hero to them, man.”


side. “That means you should be used

to it by now. Either that, or you’re a

“Why?” Jerri-Boy turned to

Sorry. I don’t think I’m ready to show

you that yet. Besides, the party’s about

to start.

“Sal!” I was greeted at the

door of our clan castle, a three floor

apartment building on the

fruking idiot who can’t get a handle on

augmentics.” We walked up the steps

and Jerri flipped Manny the finger, grinning.

I made the gang sign to the kids

hanging out on the stoop and they did

it back, grinning to each other.

They had mohawks like Jerri-boy and

me with an expression better suited to

a teacher talking to a dull student.

“Because you got out.” I

smiled half-heartedly and looked

around the room. What greeted my

gaze was a floor packed with raving

top-knots, a flurry of blue, green, and

yellow strobe lights, holo-dancers and


vids, and the full gut vibrating force


“Let’s party.” He walked away toward

of thudding sub-woofers. There was

a tub packed full of glossy metal beer

hazy and beginning to ache. I was bent

drinking and drugs here too, but in

bottles. Suddenly, the sweet smell of

over, hands on my knees, and I raised

even more massive quantities. Boots

perfume curled up my nostrils. The

my head just enough to glare at her in

pounded the ceramite floor with am-

room faded away in a hazy crush of

a way I hadn’t glared at someone in

phetamine-fueled fervor to the music.

bodies, colors, and music. A hand


Knots snorted lines of crushed pills off

brushed mine. The smell got stronger.

“Fruk you.” Her face twisted

of some giggling and nubile concu-

I was being circled like a wounded

into a mask of disgust, her eyes glisten-

bine’s stomach. Sweat dripped from

animal. Circled by a wolf.

ing in a way of truth, lips suddenly

under throbbing navy blue bandannas


as eighteen year-old street samurai imi-

“Hello handsome.” A she-wolf.

“Oi! Get out of here, Taina!”

tated fruking the sweet smelling teen

I turned my head just a fraction of an

Manny shouted from behind me, point-

girls in short poly-nylon weave kimono

inch and saw her face right next to

ing at her, bottles in hand. “He doesn’t

dresses to the music.

mine. White powder covered her high

want you right now!”

cheekbones, underscored by blush.

“Welcome home.” Manny

Blue glitter eye makeup blended near

“Oh, he wants me more than

said, suddenly next to me and with an

seamlessly with twinkling green eyes.

he knows, Manny.” She turned away to

arm around my shoulder. I stared at

Her brown hair, highlighted by green

walk off.

the scene.

stripes, was held back in a loose bun.

Her red lips brushed my ear.

“Fruk you slut!” She gave him the finger

“Yeah. Home.” Manny noticed

without looking back, her hips swaying

Jerri-Boy standing and gawking.

“Been a while, Taina,” I said,

beneath her kimono. Manny helped

“Hey! Get your ass down-

closing my eyes to fight off the wash

me up.

stairs! You know the rules.” Jerri

of pheromone-laced perfume, “Good to


see you.” She leaned in, only a sliver of

“Fruk her, man. You’ve been

barely felt air between our lips.

through a lot. You don’t need her cock-

“Seriously, Manny? I mean, I

teasing you again.” I managed a grin

wanna see-,” Manny hit him in the back

“Same, Jakk.” There were only

and took a beer as he offered it and

of the head.

a few people in the world allowed to

knocked back a large gulp.

call me by my real name: my mom, my

“Respect your fruking elders,

little brother. And my wife.

“No. No. I don’t need that

Jerri! Fifth stripe! No sooner!” Jerri

shit.” It was then when a seven foot tall

rubbed the spot on the back of his

“Shit.” I pulled away from her,

wall of muscle and augmentics in a


putting my hands up and fell away

leather jumpsuit walked up to the two

from the arousal inducing fog. She had

of us. The back half of his skull was

“I think I earned it for that...”

just been about to lean in for the kill

encased in a gleaming chrome cap

“What was that?” Manny

and was left off balance. She recovered

that was sutured to his bald head. A

snarled at him with his metal teeth.

with the trained grace of a concubine

twist of jack chords were held up into

and reached into her cleavage for a

a top knot. His eyes were nothing that

“Nothing,” Jerri said, heading

pack of cigarettes and lit up with a

could be described as such. They were


back down the steps. I watched him

walk away, shoulders drooped, wondering

if the reason he’d gotten his arm

eaten away by acid infused buck shot

was because he’d wanted to be able to

get his fifth stripe so he could welcome

me home. An irrational twist of the old

guilt wrenched my stomach.

sly grin. She blew smoke and called

out to me over the music which was

pounding away like the erection that

had suddenly sprung in my pants. “You

alright, sweetheart?” Taina said, walking

over to me but stopping outside of

the effective range for the perfume, “Or

did that Klerian girl take your dick along

with your pride?” My head was still

two mounted pinpricks of blue LED

light which gave the man before us an

otherworldly look and enhanced sight.

A long electro-blade katana hung at his

waist on his right side. On his left was

a holstered 211 Megamax .50 Caliber

Slug-Shot pistol loaded with incendiary

rounds. How’d I know it was loaded

with incendiary rounds, you ask? Be-

“Come on.” Manny said.

cause it’s the fruking Shogun. That’s


Manny prostrated himself on

the ground to show respect. I stood

and stared at the man to blame for

my altered life. He grinned, and an

enhanced voice box boomed out over


“Salmon. I see you’re still as

disrespectful as ever.” Manny looked up

at me.

“What the fruk are you doing,

Sal?” he hissed. I ignored him and

grinned back at the Shogun.

“Yeah, same old me,” I took

another swig of my beer, “What’s happening,

Shogun?” I punched him in the

arm playfully. The shogun took a deep

protracted breath.

“Yes. Disrespectful as ever,”

the giant said, with his giant voice, “Tell

me, Sal. Why do you think I brought

you back here?” I shrugged. Even

though I was playing the asshole, I’d

never truly thought about it. I was

already in such a bad way back in

Kleria with the whole divorce (it stings

just saying it) that I’d never questioned

the Shogun’s intentions for bringing

me back. I’d actually hung my head in

shame when I knew I’d have to be back

in the game, but alas, here I was. Again.

I had no fruking clue what I was doing.

I took a blind swing.

The party had come to a halt. We were

the main show now.

“So, what do you need me to

do?” I asked, not wanting to push my

luck unless I wanted my chest burnt

out to a husk by one of the slugs from

his pistol. He continued to circle me.

“Remember how you got your

name? Seeing that girl from uptown,”

he said, with a panther’s growl, “I

need you to see her again.” I suddenly

became aware of Taina’s eyes on me

from across the room.

“Yeah? What for?” The Shogun


“For what else? I need you to get something

for me.” My stomach dropped.


“Can I ask what it is?” I choked out. The

Shogun stopped behind me.

“No. That’s a need-to-know

matter for the time being. Something

dealt with better,” he laid his massive

hands on my shoulders, “in private.”

I took a deep breath. Revolution was

going to have to wait.

“Now!” he called out to the

whole room, “I thought this was a fruking

party!” Everyone jumped to their

feet and cheered. The music and dancing

started again. The Shogun leaned

into my ear.

“Welcome home, Sal.” He

began to lead me to the stairs for his

chambers. “Welcome home.”

“Because you need a hacker?”

The Shogun grinned a grin that made

corp execs piss themselves and cops


“Yes. Exactly.” He began to walk around

me, and I noticed that the music had

stopped and that the whole floor

around us was packed with the rest of

the clan samurai prostrating themselves

like Manny. Even the holo vids

had stopped.

Sean P. Nolan - United States

Nolan is an author and activist based in Cincinnati, Ohio. His book Shades

Of Grey is available on and Find the rest of

Street Clan on his blog,






By Alex Chase

Ezra’s eyes rolled back into her head.

Her body lurched and strained against

the stained sheets of the hotel’s bed.

The uploading of one’s consciousness

to cyberspace tended to cause bodily

spasms, her lithe body twitched for several

moments before finally lying flat.

Everything went white. As Ezra looked

around through the endless blank abyss,

streaks of color began slowly trickling

down from the top of her vision.

This part of the transference would always give her a feeling of vertigo, no matter how many times

she dived. Vertigo, she echoed. Would that even be the right word? It didn’t seem to do the feeling

justice: the disorientation upon having your consciousness ripped out of your head and put into a

worldwide collection of megaservers. There should be a word for that.

Moments later, the colors began to take form as Ezra’s avatar was loaded. Her extremities came

first, fingers and toes materializing out of thin air; then the top of her head, and so on until, finally,

an avatar that looked strikingly similar to her real body was formed. The space around her was

blank again -- white, unused. The impossible vastness granted by cyberspace used to excite her.

Now, she stared at it with dead eyes. Today she had come here, not to play, not to code, but for a

much more painful reason. She made a hand motion, summoning a lit-up menu display in front of

her. Upon reaching ‘Avatar Presets,’ she selected an option that caused her avatar to morph. Her

skin became gray, supple details removed, face distorted in a swirl of emptiness.

“Run cyberspace area 44e illicit,” She said in a garbled voice. “Interrogation Room.”

A ding echoed in the vastness. Lines of light drew themselves around the gray avatar, tracing out a

small room. The walls then began to fill in with lifelike texture and color, simulating something one

might find deep within the confines of a police station. A desk and a pair of chairs soon followed,

with another item spawning on top of the table: a pair of handcuffs with a bright red WARNING

sign circling around them in a ring of light. Ezra approached the cuffs and tapped them, quickly

moving through a prompted menu. The warning disappeared and a blue READY sign replaced it.

Ezra trembled. It was now or never.







back alleyways, you think you know

what is best for humanity. Your company

seeks to take evolution into its own

hands. Eugenics. Culling.” The man’s

“Execute program ‘mousetrap,’” Ezra

look of fear turned to guilty panic,

because the enigmatic avatar in front

said, her voice shaky. She almost

his gums showing through an over-

of him booted up a new program. In a

gasped at the sound. Her hands grew

wrought frown. He cast his gaze down,

matter of seconds, Ezra held a loaded

clammy. No turning back now.

his eyes darting frantically before once

pistol just inches from the man’s face.

A couple moments later, a ding once

again looking up. While it was obvious

again resounded, prompting the lines

he was desperately trying to put on a

“We are not negotiating. You will atone

of light to converge on a point a couple

calm face, Ezra could see right through

for the murders. The countless children

feet in front of her. Within moments,



an avatar that depicted a middle-aged

man appeared in front of her. He was

“What do you want?”

“Children?! Those things were

on his knees, facing away from her,

barely human! Autism, aspergers,

wearing sleepwear and looking bedrag-

“You’re going to announce to the

cerebral palsy -- deformities that would

gled. As soon as the avatar finished

public what you’ve done. What Aegis

have caused them to be useless in

forming, the man whipped his head

has done. Killing any children born in

society. Deformities that we’ve almost

back and forth. He whimpered -- the

your facilities that don’t meet certain

weeded out! Aegis is raising the bar

confused, panicked whimper of a dog

‘requirements.’” She paused. “Well, let’s

for what it means to be human! Those,

stranded on the roadside. The man

call it what it is. Murder.”

those things were --”

started to stand. Ezra quickly stepped

forward and touched the handcuffs to

“Look, you’re confused. I don’t know

“They were human!”

his wrists. With a mystical motion, the

what kind of technology you’ve used to

handcuffs sprung from her grip and

keep me from logging out, but if you let

“They were deficient!”

latched to the man, bringing his arms

me free, I promise to --”

together and violently forcing him back

Ezra shoved the barrel of the gun in the

down to the ground. Ezra’s heart leapt.

A jolt of electricity ran through

man’s mouth.

They worked!

the man’s avatar, causing his speech to

devolve into a wild scream.

“Don’t you EVER call Jack deficient!”

The man turned his head to view his

The gray avatar gasped and took a

captor. His blue eyes went wide at the

“You know, that wifi con-

step back. The man looked at her,

sight of the featureless avatar in front

nection chip you have implanted in

first in shock, but then with a look of

of him. White skin grew a shade paler,

your brain makes it ludicrously easy


and Ezra could have sworn that his re-

to do things like this. Hardwiring is

ceding brown hair shrunk back another

much safer, even if you have to have a

“... Ezra? That’s you, isn’t it? Ezra?”

quarter inch.

somewhat unsightly jack in your skull.

Let me tell you again in case you didn’t

A gunshot resounded. The man’s

“Wha-- who are you? What are these

hear me correctly. You are going to

avatar fell to the floor, life-like blood

cuffs? Why am I in cyberspace?” The

come clean. I’m going to start a record-

splattering behind him and seeping

man’s voice was frantic. Ezra would

ing and tag every major news station.

onto the virtual stone. Shit! The gray

have smiled, if not for her face being

You will tell all of them what Aegis is

avatar made a motion like it was pulling

devoid of features. Smile, me? She

doing.” The man’s avatar drooled as he

something from the side of its head.


thought. Not now. My joy has left me.

“We know what you’ve done,” Ezra

said, her voice masked with a state-ofthe-art

voice changer. “Aegis Medical,

the company you work for, is guilty of

playing God.

You make the final decisions, in the

stared at her, teeth gritted.

“My wife will have woken up because of

the dive spasms. If you let me go, I can

still tell her --” Once again, the man was

interrupted, but this time it was

Ezra felt an intense pain, as if someone

grabbed her by the neck and yanked,

hard. Colors swirled away from her in

an impossibly fast vortex before, finally,

she opened her eyes. The musty smell

of carpet soiled with vomit hit her like

a pillowcase full of bricks as violent

breaths overtook her. The world spun.

She threw her legs over the stained

lofty corporate offices, in the scummy

bed. Without taking so much as a

moment to compose herself, she

quickly grabbed her console and ran to


the window, opening it, hanging off of

the ledge. She dropped from the second

story window to the alley below.

Normally, she might have been thinking

Wolf: I have the next plan.

No doubt Alan was telling the truth --

about how much she’d like to shower.

his wife most likely had already alerted

Now, only one thought overtook her

Viper: What?

Centra security. A light rain pattered

mind. She kicked the dumpster.

against her long, braided, black hair as

Wolf: Got Mr. President’s home ad-

she whipped around the corner, going

“Fuck! Fuck! Shit!” Her boot

dress in the Crescendo.

from alley to alley as fast as she could.

slammed over and over into the metal,

She blinked and held her eyes shut

the sounds dampened by the storm.

Viper: You’re fucking with me.

long enough to make two deliberate

She fell to her knees, sliding down the

horizontal strokes with her pupils, acti-

front of the hulking metal box. Tears

Wolf: You paid well. Besides, I hate

vating her augmented reality display. A

joined the rain on her cheeks, running

Aegis as much as you. Well. Almost.

map of the surrounding district quickly

past her full lips. Sobbing restricted

pulled up in the corner of her vision,

her breathing until a mental command

Viper: So? The plan?

alerting her to nearby police presence

broke her suffocation. She breathed

with small, red dots.

deeply: long, desperate breaths. A

A sound of static and a low beep sur-

beeping sound echoed from her ear

prised Ezra, making her gasp.

Run signal jammer!

implants. Her AR display pulled itself

up. In the top right corner of her vision,

Wolf: Traced. Line compromised.

Ezra turned another corner and

“New message from ENCRYPTED”

Gonna have to come to me.

yanked the cover off of a dumpster.

flashed. She placed her hand forward,

She jumped inside and watched her

touching the air where the blinking but-

In the top right corner of Ezra’s display

display. Smells of rotted meat, mold,

ton was displayed in her mind. A text-

a “new coordinates!” icon popped up.

and soured milk hit her nostrils. Her

based messaging system appeared.

She looked back to the conversation

heartbeat pounding in her ears. The

window but it had already been closed.

world swirled around her as the stimu-

Wolf: What happened.

Shit. Ezra’s hands shook. She’d never

lus threatened to overtake her. She held

met up with Wolf in person. The plan

a hand to her mouth.

Viper: Complicated. Alen’s fried.

was just to pay him for some illicit tech,

and for her to get Alen to come clean to

Don’t puke. Don’t puke.

Wolf: There goes that plan. They’re

the world. Wolf pressed her when she

gonna follow you.

first bought from him, so she let him

After a couple moments, the red lights

in on the plan. That way he (or she?)

began to flicker yellow. The signal jam-

Viper: I planned on it. Jammed the

could tailor the tech to fit the situation.

mer did its job, and the police now had

signals, was diving from a hotel in

She couldn’t argue with the efficacy of

only a vague idea of her location. She

the slums. They’re probably all over

the cuffs or the room code. The gun,

would still have to move quickly. Secu-

the place arresting four different Dive

on the other hand, was something Ezra

rity measures would be implemented


wrote. In hindsight, a terrible idea, but…

in this district soon. The calm pitter

some things just couldn’t be helped. At

patter of the rain quickened against

Wolf: So what now.

least, that’s what she told herself.

the lid of the dumpster, turning from a

You giving up?

sprinkle to a pour. A sigh of relief trailed

into a coughing fit brought on by inhaling

trash fumes. She threw the cover

to the dumpster open and jumped out.

The scent of the rain mingled with the

rotted trash, making her grimace.

Viper: What the hell am I supposed

to do? The plan failed. Gonna have to

think of some other way to get those

assholes to come clean.

Wolf: Wipe em up, you might say.

Viper: Not in the mood for jokes. Get

Ezra mapped the coordinates

using her GPS program and set

up the route overlay in her AR. Wolf’s

place was in one of the many slums

of Centra, the sprawl that dominated

the greater middle section of California.

The closer you got to the middle,

Silicon Valley as it used to be called, the

ritzier it got. That’s where Ezra’s house



was… Was, she reminded herself.


another, and a door that lead to who-

“Yeah. I don’t suppose you have actual

booze here, do you? Or is that just AR

knows-where. The room smelled of

magic as well?” The man in the wolf

rust and sweat, completely betraying

mask reached under the bar and pulled

There was no going back now. The

her visual information.

out a glowing blue bottle, somewhat

Vice President of Aegis Medicine was

resembling a lava lamp, and poured a

dead. Her almond eyes narrowed,

Really gotta get those scent neutral-

shot. Ezra downed it without a second

the cool rain rolling down her cheeks,


thought. Her eyes were unfocused,

mixed with dried tears. Her black

staring past the walls as the alcohol

hoodie and jeans were damp with rain

A man sat at the bar, wearing a wolf’s

stung her chest. The biting warmth

and trash residue. She ran a hand over

mask and a stylish vest over a long

that crept down her throat and the

her face, wiping the rain and staring

sleeved button up shirt. Ezra raised an

chemical, almost medicinal taste

at the city lights through the darkened


certainly confirmed it was some type


of hard liquor. Ezra once again looked

I can’t stop now.

“Really? A wolf mask?”

at the Wolf mask.

After flagging down a cab,

“To be honest, I didn’t expect you to

“So you got Peter Armistead’s address.”

she was quickly on her way to the Ada-

actually show me your face. Figured

gio District. After tipping the cab driver

you’d have some sort of overlay.”


an exorbitant sum to have him keep

quiet about seeing her, she stepped

“Well, I’m a fugitive now, aren’t I?”

“The CEO of Aegis. You just happened

back into the neon jungle and strode

upon his private residence.”

toward her destination. A set of stairs

Ezra walked over to the bar and waved

led downward, cramped in between

her hand at one of the stools. It was

“Well, I didn’t just happen upon it. I did

two tall buildings. As she descended,

real, so she sat. “No need for all these

some sleuthing.”

a notification popped up on her AR

formalities. Plus, what the hell is this


room? You the kind of person that goes

“Why are you helping me?” The man in

to those Hippie Fairs?”

the wolf mask began to respond, but

Would you like to sync AR?

stopped himself. He looked down, put-

“Hey, its classy.”

ting his hands on the bar.

A virtual space, Ezra thought.

Should have guessed. She allowed the

“Sure. Anyway, I’m here, and I’ve

“We’re fucked, Viper. Well, not us,

switch to take place. The gray, concrete

damn near given up. I killed Alen,” Ezra

specifically. Our society. Our culture.

and metal scene before her slowly

paused. She rested her elbows on the

People are so god damned brain-

began to meld into something new,

bar and buried her face in her hands.

washed that they’ll let scumbags like

starting from the corners of her eyes.

“Maybe that’s enough?”

Aegis run rampant. They’re so bought

Through the doorway at the end of

into this idea of ‘national security’ that

the stairs she could now see a gaudy,

“Pretty casual about taking a life.”

they’ll get a brain implant installed that

retro-styled room- if one could even

will constantly surveil everything they

call it a “room.”

“When you work in medicine for long

hear, everything they see. You could

enough -- especially the type that Aegis

probably have made Alen say what you

Wannabe bachelor pad is more like it.

performs -- you start to get real accus-

wanted to and people wouldn’t care.

She strode forward, careful but pur-

tomed to death. I’d been ordered to put

They’re asleep. I’m not.”


poseful in her steps. As she stepped

onto the purple shag carpeting, the

door squeaked shut behind her. She

resisted whipping around. She didn’t

want to show any panic -- didn’t want

to show any weakness.

The space consisted of a

single room, an old-school flat with a

dozens ‘out of their misery.’ Would have

gladly done another dozen too, until --”

“Until it was yours.”

Ezra paused, looking into the wolf

mask, trying to scry its intentions. She

scoffed and looked away.

“Wait, you don’t think my plan would

have worked? Then why the hell did

you help me?”

“I figured if it worked, more power to

circular bed to one end, a bar to

you. If not, then we’d do things my way.



I hate them. So. Much.

“Okay, so what’s your way?”

Ezra screamed and threw the shot

it’s cheaper than outfitting all the outli-

“Do what they did to you. Peter Ar-

glass. It shattered against the wall,

ers with cybernetics.”

mistead is deficient. Not mentally, but

digging tiny shards into the carpet. She

emotionally. He, and the whole world,

stood up and started walking toward

“I mean, yeah, I heard but… no

need to be taught that humans can’t be

the back door, unzipping the front of

way that’s true.”

treated like cattle.”

her suit.

“You’d be dense not to believe

“So, what, pull Armistead into cyber-

“I’ll do it. Tell your boy to get chopping.”


space and cuff him too? No way in

hell he’ll ever say something like that

The world was foggy. A couple blinks

“Shit, I mean, even if it were

on live TV, I’ve met the guy. He’ll stick

didn’t serve to remove the mist -- a

true, what does it matter if the defi-

to his guns. Plus, his cybersecurity is

strain to focus seemed to make it

cients get offed --”

probably the strongest on the market.

worse. Ezra tried to lift her head, but

I’d end up killing the guy.”

immediately set it back down. Her

Ezra’s body shot up from the

whole body felt as if it was fighting

surgical table, tendon and wire flexing

“Exactly. But this time, we do it the old

against her. Her senses were twisted

and tightening. Before Wolf could blink,

fashioned way.”.

and backward, her skin alternating

his chopboy was being held a foot off

between tingling with sensations of

the ground, Ezra’s hand firmly gripping

“... What?”

heat and cold. The taste of iron and

his neck. The loose, stained gown Ezra

alcohol left stale on her tongue only

wore fluttered. Her skin shimmered

“You’re going to go into the back. My

served to further confuse her senses.

with an unnatural tint. Eyes that now

chop Doc’s going to do some work

Ezra turned her head. She could hear

glowed neon blue glared deep into the

on you. You’ll use the tools we give


chopboy. The man, eyes bulging and

you and break into Armistead’s house.

lips sputtering from the inhuman grip,

Kill him, record it. I’ll do the rest.” Ezra

“So what’s the girl gonna do

looked back with nothing but horror at

stared at Wolf slack-jawed.

with all this, anyway?”

his creation.

“I -- I don’t think I can --”

“She’s going to exact re-

“You might want to watch


your tongue. Viper, let him down. You’ll

“You know what you have to do. They

kill him.”

killed your son. You want revenge, and

this is the way to get it.” Ezra’s gaze

“On who?”

Something clicked. Ezra

fell down to the bar in front of her. The

realized what had happened and she

empty shot glass felt all too real in her

“Aegis Medicine.”

whipped her hand away, causing the

hand, smooth and still cool from her

back-alley surgeon to fall to his knees

drink. In the side of the glass, she could

“What, the hospital guys?

with a loud thump, coughing raucously.

see a small reflection of herself -- her


A stark difference from just moments

thin face, her dark, near-black eyes,

ago, Ezra’s head was now crystal clear.

her full, light-brown lips. Her heart was

“They killed her son.”

Her AR display was updated to show

beating hard and fast. Tears welled in

vital signs of those nearby, track heat

her eyes and her legs moved uncomfortably

as she fought back the wave of

emotions. A single sob escaped her.

I miss you, Jack. I miss you so much.

“You’re fuckin’ with me.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard the

rumors. Eugenics. Manual manipulation

of the human genome. They think

they’re gods, and any that don’t fit into

their human ‘mold…’ well, let’s just say

signatures, and some other applications

she couldn’t recognize. Her body

felt different. Strong. The chopboy

stumbled to his feet and out of the

room, still coughing and holding his




“How much do I owe you for all this?

The chop, the suit.”

“No charge.” Ezra frowned.

“What…” Ezra said. “How did I…” Wolf

over in her gloved fingers. The suit’s

stepped over to her and placed a hand

“Look, I’d rather not play the

material didn’t block her tactile senses

on her shoulder.

whole ‘owe you a favor’ game. Last

at all. It felt like she wasn’t wearing

thing I need when I’m trying to clear

anything. Pretty sweet.

“Don’t worry about it. He’s

out all my baggage. All I have is money,

a slummer, come back from worse.

and I won’t have that too much longer.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Ezra asked.

Those were your new adrenal ampli-

Ezra waited a moment, but Wolf didn’t

“Glad you asked. You’ll go to the resi-

fiers kicking in. You just got a cocktail

respond. “Also, are you gonna keep that

dence and locate the entrance. The

of chemicals that will send you directly

fucking mask on the whole time? You

windows are hyperglass, the frames

into fight or flight mode. Seems this

just saw me naked and cut up, least

magnetically sealed. Coincidentally,

time you chose ‘fight,’” Wolf pointed

you could do is show me your face.”

your fingers have been equipped with

to a desk in the corner, on top of

magnetic reversers -- just activate the

which was a folded-up black suit. “Get

Wolf fidgeted and then sighed. A

app through your AR and you’ll be right

changed. You might be mostly robot

hand accented with long, pale fingers

in. From there, it’s a simple assassina-

now but I’m assuming you still want to

removed the mask. The face that


cover up.” Ezra furrowed her brow and

appeared was one of a young man,

pulled at her surgical robe.

somewhere in his twenties. His skin

“You know, there’s one thing I’m still

was fair, unblemished- almost certainly

unsure about. How exactly is killing

“... mostly robot?”

altered, either genetically or cyberneti-

Armistead going to fix anything? I

cally. Green eyes and choppy brown

mean yeah, the VP is already dead so

“Joking. Only thirty percent or

hair completed the package.

organizing and promoting will be a pain


in the ass, but won’t Aegis just rebuild?”

The backroom was small,


“Oh, but you see, the assassination is

and it looked even smaller crammed

just the first step. That’s why I said you

with so much medical equipment. In

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Ezra took off her

must record it. I will take the deaths

the center was the surgical table, com-

gown. She wondered if she should be

and spin a campaign against Aegis

plete with an array of vitals-readers and

embarrassed, showing herself to this

Medical, showing what happens when

other clinical tools. There were several

man. Emotions like embarrassment

corporations try to play God.” Ezra

glass cases containing what Ezra

are just in such short supply when

mulled it over, but eventually nodded.

could only assume were quite illegal

you’ve… Even in her mind, Ezra paused.

“I’ll need a weapon.”

substances. She walked over to the

When you’ve given up. Wolf turned the

desk and grabbed the suit. It was made

other way, prompting a surprised huff

“And I’ll provide two.” Wolf produced an

of a material she’d never seen before, a

from Ezra. “How about a name?”

intricately designed handgun from his

metallic-feeling mesh, black and shiny.

“Is there a reason why you’ve decided

back pocket. Then, he pulled a smaller,

There was a long-sleeved top and a

to get personal now?”

stranger looking device from his op-

pair of leggings, both form-fitting, as

posite pocket. It looked like a miniature

well as…

“I’m probably not going to come back

staple gun.

from this. I figure I might as well die

“A mask?”

knowing the name and the face of the

“What’s that thing?”

guy who helped me.”


“Yes. You don’t want to look

like a floating head when you turn on

your active camouflage.” Ezra raised an


“Nice. How much?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does Aegis have any, say… memory

accessing technologies?”

“Oh shut up. Fine, no name. Wolf it is.”

“That would be preferred, Viper.’

She zipped up the front of her suit, but

still held the mask in her hand. Resting

“It’s something of my own design. The

Wracker. This will allow you to implant

a device into Armistead’s brain. Once

there it will interface with his wireless

VR chip and pull him into virtual reality

with no chance of escape. He will face

every kind of horror and torture available.

If anyone attempts to remove the

against the desk, she ran the mask

device, it will release a toxin, killing him.”

Just who the hell is he, anyway?


Not that it mattered. This was

her grave. If only I believed in heaven,

“That’s a bit… much.”

Jack. Ezra slipped the mask over her

A guard dressed in black stood at the

head and activated her camouflage.

doorway, a tactical vest covering his

“After everything he’s done to human-

torso and a rifle in his hands. He wore

ity? To children? No. This is just des-

Ezra carefully strode across

a military-style helmet with a binocular-


the street and made her way to the

like visor covering his eyes. The lenses

side of Armistead’s house. She used a

were colored red, but they switched to

“You know, I’m still not sure why you

thought-command to pull up a menu

blue with a click. The man gripped his

decided to help me.”

in her AR display and selected ‘bonding

rifle and bared it at Ezra.

touch.’ She put a hand to the wall. It

“I believe in your cause. And I believe

stuck. Carefully, she began to scale the

Shit! How can he see me?!

in you. Sometimes, in order to win, it

wall, using her suit to stick to the poly-

takes someone who is willing to lose

brick. The second-story window came

“Freeze --” the man began

everything. Of course I could just pick

into her view. Without hesitating for a

to say. He was interrupted as Ezra

up any lifeless slummer with nothing to

second, she activated her magnetic

dashed up to him, clearing the space

lose, but you -- you have conviction.”

reverser and touched the frame. A soft

in the small room in a split second.

“You just spent thousands of credits

click resounded. She slowly slid the

Her powerful, modified arms lashed

outfitting me with illegal tech because

window open and climbed in.

out, hands gripping the man’s jaw and

of my conviction?”

back of the head respectively. With

Ezra landed gracefully on a

one, swift movement, Ezra snapped

“I did it because you will succeed.”

floor made of hexagonal polymesh

the man’s neck. His body went limp in

and looked around. She was in a child’s

her arms. As she went to lay the body

Ezra half-smiled. She took the weap-

room. The small area was decorated

on the ground, a rustling of blankets

ons and holstered them, then put on

with posters, crayon drawings, and

caused her to whip around. The young

her mask.

toys. Sorrowful pain stabbed through

boy brought himself to a sitting posi-

her as memories flooded her mind. A

tion, rubbing his eyes and beholding

“We’ll see, Wolf.”

bed sat in the corner, a sleeping form

the scene playing out- which, to him,

underneath cartoon-character pat-

must have looked like his bodyguard

The rain came down in sheets, drench-

terned covers. Tears welled in her eyes.

awkwardly dangling in mid-air, being

ing the grimy city in a humid shower.

Try as she might, she wasn’t able to

held up by some invisible force. The

Ezra stood on the sidewalk of an

conceal a yelp. A soft beep resounded

child’s mouth opened to scream. Ezra’s

almost laughably pedestrian street. In

in her head, with a prompt showing up

vision slowed down.

a sprawl the size of Centra, most of the

in the corner of her vision:

cityscape was dominated with slums

Adrenal Amplifier: ON.

and densely packed industry. This

Regulate mood? Y/N

looked like a cul-de-sac from a century

Before she realized what was

ago, though admittedly, the houses

At first the message confused her, but

happening, she was across the room,

were more modern in design. Lot’s of

Ezra realized that it must have been

one hand tightly clasped around the

hyperglass and geometric shapes high-

a new piece of tech installed in her.

child’s mouth. In her haste, she had

lighted these buildings as heralds of

She snorted. So touchy that he had to

dropped her camouflage- the turmoil

Centra architecture. The elite could af-

install a mood regulator, huh? Not that I

in her mind must have tripped the AR

ford this kind of luxury. Armistead was

smart to pick a residential plot rather

than something gaudy like a mansion.

This was safer. Combined with the

stringent adherence to never letting his

address be known, the man was nearly

untouchable. Ezra was still baffled that

Wolf was able to figure it out.

can argue, I suppose. The thought “yes”

caused the prompt to disappear and,

in a matter of seconds, the waves of

sorrow that threatened to drown Ezra

subsided. She was calm.

Then, the door opened.


As she held him, her hands shaking,

she looked down into his blue eyes.

He was crying. Ezra’s mind was a

whirlwind. How much of this was her,

and how much of this was her new…




Was that what she should call it? Was

I am retribution.

Activate Magnetic Reverser.

she making these decisions, or was

her newly-implemented tech some-

As she walked down the second-story

The metal door clicked and slid open. A

how pushing her, pushing her to take

hallway, her camouflage once again

whizzing sound and a jet of air tickled

more drastic actions? The child put his

slipped over her, caressing her form

Ezra’s ear as a bullet flew past her

hands over hers, weakly begging her to

until nothing was left. She rounded a

head. A man and a woman, both in

loosen her grip. Quick, shallow breaths

corner, and two more guards came

pajamas, curled against their head-

pounded through Ezra’s chest. Her

into Ezra’s view. The end of the hallway

board. The man’s quivering hand held a

eyes darted back and forth across the

was a large metal door. The guards

pistol. Ezra walked into the room, drew

child’s face. What should she do? What

stood stoically, wholly committed to

the pistol that Wolf had given her and

was her goal, again? To kill?

their jobs. Probably programmed to be,

fired, hollowing out the woman’s skull.

essentially, guard dogs. Sorry about

Brain matter splattered on the man’s

To kill this child?


face. His hand lowered, dropping the

gun. Ezra’s camouflage receded. She

For a moment, the look in

Ezra flew forward, her footsteps loud

walked up to Peter Armistead, the man

Ezra’s eyes changed from one of con-

and reckless. The lenses of the guard’s

responsible for the massive scale of

fusion to one of conviction. Revenge.

visors turned blue as they were alerted

death in the name of evolution. When

That was why she was here. Armistead

to the sound. They bared their rifles

she was face to face with him, she

took her child. He deserved this. The

like teeth and barked, shots ringing out

took off her mask. Ezra’s eyes, filled

child looked up at her through clouded,

through the house. Ezra swiftly ap-

with lethal confidence, stared at Peter.

crying eyes. Ezra’s breathing reached

proached, bullets grazing her forearm

Her face was twisted and frowning.

a fever pitch before finally, she held her

and her side. An uppercut struck the

The elderly man, bald and brown-eyed,

breath. Eyes still locked with the child’s,

elbow of the right-most guard, violently

sputtered desperately, attempting to

she exhaled. Slowly. Calmly.

breaking his arm and causing splin-

speak. Ezra slapped him, causing him

tered bone and blood to fly. A second

to cease his gibbering.

Ezra paused. She shook her

volley of fire from the non-injured guard


prompted a spin from the intruder as

“Peter Armistead. We’ve met once

she crouched low to the ground. The

before. My name is Ezra Derringer, and

No. I am in control.

bullets peppered the other guard, lodg-

I used to work for you. For Aegis. You

ing themselves in his body armor, a

killed my son,” she paused and stared

She loosened her grip so that

precious few embedding themselves in

at Peter. He seemed to be grasping the

she wasn’t hurting the little boy. Her ac-

flesh. In a single, whirling motion, Ezra

situation, albeit with a loose, slipping

tions tonight would rip everything this

stood and threw a kick into the stom-

grip. “He was autistic. They diagnosed

child loved away from him. It wasn’t

ach of the firing guard. Twin smashing

it while I was still pregnant, but I didn’t

fair. She knew that. She was doing the

sounds rang out as the reinforced foot

want to believe what they would do.

same thing that they had done to her.

hit the guard’s torso and the guard

I thought, ‘I work here. I’ve done this.

But that’s what revenge is, isn’t it?

slammed into the wall behind him.

Of course they can’t kill him.’ And then

Besides, she planned on atoning for her

Too loud. Armistead must have heard

he was born. And then, he was killed.”

sins. All she could hope is that one day,

all that. More are probably on their way.

Ezra pulled out the device Wolf had


this child would understand. She set

her bionic strength to 10% and swatted

the child’s head, knocking him out but

hopefully not causing any permanent

damage. She stood up and walked

toward the door.

That’s right. I’m in control. This is my

decision. I have chosen to be the one

Ezra strode in between the incapacitated

men and touched the metal door

behind them. It was cold. She was surprised,

again, that she could feel so well

through her suit. A moment passed.

The smell of gunpowder mingled with

blood. Her arm and side ached from

the wounds.

given her- The Wracker. Stupid name.

“I am your retribution. I am going to kill

you. And here is the reason: you are


Upon hearing that word, Peter’s eyes

cleared. His expression widened

solemnly and he made a small nod.

A calmness passed over him that un-

to show this man his sins. I will accept

This was it. Retribution.

nerved Ezra.


Such an emotion was misplaced in the

The cold metal barrel kissed her

those like him.”

scene she’d created.

temple. Her eyes closed, tears now

leaking out from her eyelids.

Ezra cried. She cried because

“Yes, Ezra. I remember… it’s vague,

she knew he was right. Because as

but… I remember you,” Peter looked

“Wait!” A voice resounded in

much as she wanted to pull that trigger,

to his side, the dead body of his wife

Ezra’s head.

she could make a difference. Through

slumped over the bed, leaking vital

gritted teeth and drool, she spat a

fluids on the smooth linens. His cheeks



tensed, showing teeth. The look confused

Ezra: that was the look someone

“Ezra. You can’t.”


gives when driving by an accident, not

when their wife has been murdered

“Thank you… for everything

“Already sent.”

right next to them. He looked to her

you’ve done up to this point. But this is

with a calculating gleam. “You worked

the only way.”

Ezra leapt out of the bedroom window,

for Aegis. You must understand why

the magnetic reverser kicking in while

we do what we do.”

“No it’s not.”

she was in mid-air. As she fell, with

her body moving according to mali-

“I do. That doesn’t mean it’s justified.”

“I can’t live with everything

cious programming, her camouflage

“These are things that we have the

I’ve done! With this fucked up world!

caused her to blend into the rainy night.

power to change. We can help people

You said it yourself, everything has

The rain mirrored her tears as she ran

have better lives, as a whole. You don’t

gone to shit!”

toward the heart of the neon.

want to think of it like this, but if you

kept your son, he would have made life

“Ezra, listen, we can fix it.”

much more difficult --” Ezra pressed


the device against his skull.

“I’m not debating you.”


“I know you’re angry, but your experi-


ence with us must have taught you

that getting rid of these obstacles --”

“My name. Ben. Ezra, listen.

“Obstacles? You mean human lives?

This is only the first step. We can really

How can you talk about others like

change this fucked up world. With the

that? No human deserves to die.”

footage I’ve taken from your opti-

“Don’t broken toys deserve to be

cal camera, we can run a campaign

thrown away?”

against Aegis. The head of the serpent

has been cut, add this in and they’ll

Ezra grabbed the man’s face, covering


his mouth, and pulled the trigger on

Alex Chase - United States

the device. Peter’s body immediately

“And what about me?”

slouched down against the headboard.

Alex Chase is a writer and speculative

His mouth hung open loosely and his

eyes rolled into the back of his head.

Ezra turned and sat on the bed, her

legs dangling off the side of it.

I did it. Now, to finish up the job.

Ezra dropped The Wracker and once

“Remember what you just

did. You just broke into a top-security

residence and made short work of all

the precautions. You’ll be our enforcer.

You will be our revolution’s retribution.”

“But… Jack…”

fiction enthusiast who also delves into

game design and many other creative

fields. His debut short story, “Deficient,”

sets the stage for a strong legacy of

poignant tales with dark themes. Follow

along with all of Alex’s releases via

his writer’s page,


again pulled out her pistol.

“Don’t die in his name. Live to save


The gummy fluid transformed even


By Jennifer Blaesing

more now, attempting to match the

woman’s body shape and colors.

Her dress, vague shapes of eyes

Everyone walking the bustling town

center’s streets stopped and gawked.

It was one thing to witness a woman

giving birth on the sidewalk; it was

and mouth, skin tone, and blond hair

developed into mirror images on the

reflective surface. The woman lost

all fear. She reached for its hand as

another to see one give birth to a

it reached for hers. Once the form


touched the woman’s hand, it materialized

into an exact clone of her. They

The slimed, egg-shaped

chunk of lengthwise grooved steel,

the mass of a bowling ball, plopped

from the screaming woman’s skirt as

she sat on the sidewalk with her legs

spread eagle on the pavement, right in

front of Alana’s Boutique.

I sat a fortunate distance from the

incident, only to remain perplexed,

albeit stunned, and unusually still for

my twitchy self. The machine didn’t

frighten me, but the woman had me

connected eyes and shared a mutual

understanding – some kind of knowing

of their fusion. Then as identical twins,

they dropped their arms, turned and

walked forward in unison with poised

grins. You couldn’t tell one from the

other anymore.

“No! It’s not me! Don’t touch

it!” She crab crawled backward away

concerned. I had to admit she was

quite lovely, even crying in horror. Her

That’s when I ran.

from it on her hands and feet.

Now why on Earth would

anyone think it’s her?

floral pink and black mini-dress and

golden blond waves. Christ, Jack. Get

with it. The woman is in crisis and all

I sprinted and couldn’t stop.

I might have been traumatized after

you can think about is her pussy juice

witnessing such a thing. My body

The Sunday shoppers gasped

and bolted in the other direction, some

stopping for a moment in shock, looking

closely, doing double takes before

running. A mother walking between

her two children yanked the sleeves of

their matching jean jackets, directing

their attention to the Dalmatian tied to

a roped down sapling nearby.

slathered all over that device. That

lucky bastard... God damn, I’m an


“RUN!!” she howled. Anyone

standing within thirty feet jumped and

scurried off, more frightened of the

woman now than the funky object resting

just beyond her feet.

struggled to shove the images out of

my mind and I tried to focus on survival.

So I ended up running all the way

home. Once I walked through the door,

I didn’t even take my shoes off, loosen

my tie, hang up my jacket or anything,

I just collapsed into my couch and

stared into space.

“Help! Run away! It’s not

me, please!” She sobbed in terror and

I wasn’t sure whether she had been

pregnant with a human baby before, or

I heard a pop and witnessed

jagged cracks break deep through

the thick shell. Then one by one, each

piece dropped away and melted into a

There had to be some logic

to this. I suppose it was possible the

woman was a TruDroid, but I’d never

seen one have such an extreme emo-

she had somehow randomly dropped

thick, silvery liquid extending outward

tional reaction. Even though they’re


a metal egg from her vagina.

like a river forming an X, bonded in

the middle. In a fumbling fashion, the

molten substance peeled itself off the

concrete and faced the woman, who

was now dumbfounded in shock. She

had stopped screaming and crying.

Mesmerized, she watched it in silence

and stood up. The X reached a limb out

to her, which gradually formed into an


designed to think, feel and grow exactly

like humans, they’re usually pretty

stoic. Still, they never wanted to hurt

anyone. All they ever talk about is becoming

a real human. The humans are

the real assholes. They destroyed the

previous android generation - the Bots

- about eight years ago for stealing all

the jobs. They were short-lived.

Lying in bed to sleep, masturbation was

an automatic occurrence. Of course,

the crazy shape-shifting alien woman


lingered in the back of my mind, giving

my session a “fear for my life” sort of

sobs, and made me watch. Fucker

flavor. The worse part was, it turned

wouldn’t even let me look away without

spongy and tasted stale.

me on even more.

socking me in the face and breaking

my jaw. Had to tell Mom it was a slick-

I had to talk to her. It was kill-

The following day after work, I decided

boarding accident. To this day, I’m sure

ing me. I could help her. Maybe I’m the

to treat myself to dinner at Bakci Oxy-

I’d slice his throat if I saw him.

best one available to her now. Maybe

lounge. This was by far my favorite res-

I’m meant to help her.

taurant. Nano-infused cuisine plus pure

The woman still had that

oxygen pumped into the air equals new

same smirk. Does she even remember

This is stupid. I need to get a

life breathed into each dish continu-

that a robot was birthed from her and

grip. I slouched at my table and stared

ously over time. Steaks fresher than

morphed into her just yesterday after-

at the salad.

the moment the cow was slaughtered.


Glazed, dark walnut tables contrasted

“Can I get you anything, Sir?”

the white leather booth seats and chair

Pay no attention, Jack. This

The large African waiter wearing a

cushions. Thriving green ivy vines,

only leads to trouble. Just chill here,

white suit with black trim and white

so alive they almost spoke, sprawled

eat your fresher than fresh filet, and be

gloves seemed to appear suddenly.

across the ceiling and hung down the

done with it.

sides of the sleek, black onyx columns.

Could he? This nasty lettuce

Maybe she’s suppressed

could use some life. “How about some

They seated me in a corner

the memory herself. She sure as hell

cheese?” I shot a sarcastic grin.

booth with my back along the wall

seemed traumatized yesterday. Man,

sitting opposite an empty chair, next to

she looks even more gorgeous than

She remained in my periph-

two middle-aged men in suits cack-

yesterday. I didn’t even care that she

eral. A blur, nonetheless, but that didn’t

ling about their co-workers. Just as I

wore the same clothes two days in

stop the energy of her form from etch-

placed my white linen napkin on my

a row. She was dirty but had a glow

ing into the side of my skull, piercing

lap, I jumped in my seat.

about her.

through, begging for me to turn my

head. Fuck! I meant to glance for just

To my distant right, it was her.

Probably because she was

one second and look away, but she

Sitting alone at a booth in the corner of

pregnant not even 24 hours ago.

was staring right at me with this gaze.

the adjacent wall like nothing ever hap-

Was she? Yes. She really was. I hadn’t

pened. She even wore the same dress

Jack! Stop! Your addiction is

seen it before, the allure of her deep

as yesterday.

only trying to find justifiable excuses to

violet eyes. No, no. I had to look away.

talk to her so you can rip that dress off

Heart palpitations. Difficulty

later on after a couple bottles of wine,

I took a giant deep breath.

swallowing and instant sweats ac-

suckling on those delectable tits. Stop

companied by an itch-sting sensation

denying it.

Then gruyere plopped in front of my

shooting throughout my body. All

face with a head nod from the waiter.

symptoms of panic attacks potentially

What does it matter? Why do I even

related to PTSD. I was no stranger to

try? Sex has been the most common

Gruyere? What was I even

either of these syndromes. Half my life

addiction for the past two decades.

saying? I don’t need any cheese. Who

I dealt with images flashing through

Around 80% are inflicted and everyone

the fuck puts gruyere on a salad?

my mind of that fat, slobby, cocksucker

babysitter guy across the street from

my parents’ house who molested my

baby sister. Made her beg him for more

while she choked on her mucousy

makes a mockery of the issue. “There

certainly could be worse problems!”

But I know it makes me weak. There

are still those few of us who recognize


The Boston lettuce in my

salad was not quite as crisp and light

as it usually was. The leaves weren’t as

I was bored of food. I stood

up and walked toward her table. She

was smoking a cigarette. Approaching

her felt like I was in a movie.

“Hi,” I said.



“Strange?” There it was again.

“Why do you keep answering

my questions with other questions?”

“Me? Uh, I work in soundware. I’m a

“Hi,” she said, with that same mag-

She laughed and shrugged.

tech.” I nodded while fiddling with the

netism in her stare, like she had me

“I’m sorry, I guess I’m just fine. Nothing

napkin before me.

pinned. I didn’t even know what to say.


I couldn’t look at her, her eyes were like

“That sounds fun,” she smiled.

laser beams that I still felt even when I

I shook my head. “I could

Smile and nod. Look back at

wasn’t looking.

swear, she looked just like you. She

the table. Nothing yet. “So, what about

even had the same dress as you.”


“Sorry, I,” I said. “You look just

like this woman I saw yesterday, who

“Oh?” she motioned her eyes

“I’m a nurse.”

was in trouble.”

downward as though trying to peek

under the table.

A nurse. Of course, she had to

“Trouble?” She smiled with a

add that to my already vivid fantasy.

gleaming glamorous smile. A million

It was hard to decide what to

bucks, this woman felt like. But I had to

make of her. She was shapeshifting.

“So Jack,” she said, in a sort

fight that. My thoughts were painting

Maybe this was the clone woman?

of flirty whisper, “What are your dreams

her into a picture that I couldn’t tell if it


was real.

“Don’t you want to sit down?”

she asked me, rubbing her hands on

“My dreams? Uh…” I wiped

That’s how it works, the ad-

her legs beyond my sight under the

my palms on my jeans and swallowed

diction. It makes everything look like


the gulp in my throat. It was hard to

something to fuck. It gives everything

I gulped. “Sit… sit down? I uh…”

tell whether this woman was actually

a reason to fuck it and strive to fuck

I pointed and turned around to check

talking to me this way, or if I was just

it. That’s basically the primary way

on my seat. “I have a table already. Over

interpreting it like this. It was hard to

pleasure is defined for you, in all your


say if she was really this attractive

experiences. I know this now.

She giggled and smiled. “Well,

or not. This flirty or not. It was very

I don’t have any company.”

possible she was just as nervous as I

“Yes, but, maybe it was the wrong per-

was, and begging for help due to the

son?” I asked. Not sure why I asked it.

That, she did not. I took a

tragic incident she faced yesterday but

deep breath. “Okay.” I took the seat,

wasn’t able to speak about it. The only

She raised an eyebrow as she

stalling the situation by glancing back

reason she wants me to sit with her

turned her head like a question mark

at my own table, as though someone

is because I seem to know about this

was in her mind.

was going to clear it and take it while

incident and she’s praying inside that I

I was still waiting for my steak. “So…

help her.

I started sweating and shook

what’s your name?”

my head hard as to snap out of it.

That’s one possibility. That


the disease is painting the picture this

“Are you ok?” she laughed.

way. To make her an easier thing to

“Miranda. Hi Miranda, I’m

fuck. To show me more avenues. This

I looked up, but she was a

Jack,” I reached over to shake her hand

is my focus. Maybe she isn’t caressing


different woman this time. Not totally

different, just didn’t have the same

luster as before. The eye-fucking was

gone. She was still cute though, in a

more innocent way. It even seemed like

her sleeves were shorter before. But

this was definitely the same woman

that I saw yesterday. “You didn’t have

anything strange happen to you yester-

though I was tempted to kiss it.

“Hi Jack,” she shook back and smiled. I

turned and peered back at my table.

“So what do you do, Jack?

her creamy thighs beneath the table at

all, but wiping off her sweaty palms, like


Or maybe she is the clone

and she’s out for my blood.

Jack, what do you really want

from this woman? God, it was tough



The steak was perfect. Thank God.

not to gawk at the glistening of her

Snap out of it, Jack. Clearly I am not

The following evening while having a

cleavage, the sound of her heaving

at the point in my treatment to handle

beer in my sweats on my chenille, olive

breaths, the way her curls hung over

these situations. To try and perceive

green couch, flipping through channels,

her flawless succulent rack.

and treat women as real human beings

I shit you not, that same dweeby guy

with feelings and stuff.

she was seducing was on the news.

“My dreams are like, I don’t

No mistaking those glasses. Someone

know. Weird. A bunch of weird ass

Girls don’t make it easy on

got it on video. This dude was walking

shit all the time.” I turned to check on

us, that’s for sure. Women are addicted

down the street and suddenly grabbed

my table again, distracted by both the

too. All of them everywhere are easy

his balls, like someone kicked him. His

steak and her tits.

as pie. They want us to want them.

face scrunched in pain. He screamed

It kind of works as a perfectly oiled

in a high pitch, just standing there in

“Do you dream of swim-

machine, actually. But the problem with

the middle of the street. “My peenie!”


it all is the breeding. Everyone is always

His screams turned into little whimpers

having kids they don’t want, and no

and his mouth folded into a frown.

“Swimming? I did have a

one is into adopting trash babies. Hell,

Then he wailed and fell to the ground,

dream about swimming once, I think,

it’s not even all that crazy to see some

holding his crotch and sobbing. Just


woman giving birth on the sidewalk.

as with the woman, people scattered

Okay, maybe it’s a little weird, but still.

away from him. He unbuckled his belt

She flipped her hair back over

They are popping out kids in port-a-

and ripped his pants off, and even

her shoulder and gazed into my eyes

potties and behind dumpsters all the

boxers too. “Crap! Crap!” he screamed.

again. “Wanna know what I dream

time. Why not a machine? Who knows?

“Help me!”


No one questions anything. They just

You could see his belly begin

accept it as reality and move on. No

to swell. Very fast though. And the

“Sure.” I took a sip of water

surprises here.

swell rolled down from his belly down…

and realized it was hers.

There was a blur over his crotch, but

Still, I didn’t want her looking

his piercing scream and reddening

“Cock,” I had to force myself

at me. It was all over if I got stuck in the

of the blur told all. The thing came

not to spray her with the water I just

prison of that gaze. There would be no

blasting out right through his dick hole.

drank and coughed it down the wrong

saving her if I let that happen.

He lay on the ground, still screeching,

hole instead. “…tail parties,” she contin-


ued, “my, you’re jumpy!”

But then as I allowed my peripheral

to have a look at her, she was

Even men were birthing

I laughed and coughed. “It’s

hand-feeding a strawberry to some

these things, apparently. On the news,

sweaty in here!” I wafted the corner of

scrawny guy with coke bottle glasses

they said there were witnesses of this

my shirt.

and a comb-over sitting across from

sort of event happening on four other

her. What the fuck? Was she just some

occasions over the past 48 hours. The

“I bet you’re boiling,” she said,

easy whore? Whatever. She was a

woman I saw must have been one of

reaching under the table up the inner

robot now anyway, whether she was

them. And she must have made that

side of my thigh, and instant boner. I

the clone or not. I was better off leaving

man into another one of them.

laughed again and jumped out of my

her be and just letting her fuck that guy.

seat, hitting my leg on the underside of

the table and causing it to tip slightly.

Just then my steak arrived, giving me a

perfect excuse to leave. “I gotta go.”

Back to my seat. I hid behind the guy

next to me, trying to keep myself out of

her sight, lest she try to come over and

He probably has no clue, either.

I knew then that I had to leave the city.

This was going to spread faster than

anyone could handle. I hopped off of

the couch and frantically threw some

clothes into my suitcase.

Five incidents over 48 hours.

These things double up once they’re


seduce me there.

born, split up, and try to spread it to


laying around everywhere. Couldn’t

find a single piece of luggage in my

“Come on Jack, this is natural!”

initial ten-second search, so I grabbed

Unfreakinbelievable. I dropped

a trash bag and just started hauling his

the bag and bolted straight for the

someone else. Are they ever dying?

clothes in. Eddie just stood and stared

door, back to my car. They got Eddie

How can they be killed? Five after 48

at me, picking at his ear, and I peered

too? And the males were even trying

hours? At least five. Maybe more. If

up at him. “You coming with?”

to take other males? I guess that isn’t

each of those birthed another over

that weird. But Eddie?! Eddie has never

the next day, there would be ten, then

“Oh! Uh, well... You know,

shown any sign of being gay, so this

twenty the next day. And that’s if they

Jack, there’s something I should tell

was definitely not natural.

only birth one each. Maybe they get


many in a day. Who knows? How many

I hopped in my car and drove

are there?

My arms dropped. “Now?!”

off, no place in mind. Then I recalled,

an old friend lived out in the country

I stopped to get my neighbor,

He shrugged and stepped

about five hours east of here. Maybe

Eddie. He never watched the news. I

toward me, gesturing with his hand.

I could crash there. Had the infection

knocked on his door and he answered,

spread over there yet? I decided to give

hair all ratted up around his bald spot

“Well you know... Jack...” He kept

her a call.

like bozo the clown, standing in prob-

stepping closer, speaking in a sort of

ably weeks-old tighty whities and a

sympathetic tone. Was he finally going

“Leslie? It’s Jack, from St.

wife beater.

to apologize for all the times he locked

Xavier? Remember, the theoretical

himself out and had to crash on my

physics FAQ guy?”

“Hey man, I’m headed out of

couch? Even for three days that one

town. Have you seen the news? Heard


“Jack with the painted beard?”

about the spawns?”

“Eddie, whatever it is, you can

That’s right, she did always say that

tell me later. Now, we gotta go.”

about my beard - how it seemed to

“The what?”

have formed its own outline, even after

“I know, but...” He waved his

I shaved it.

“Yeah, didn’t think so. You

hand through the air as to try and get it

should come with me.” I stepped for-


“Yep, that’s right.”

ward partially as to enter and help him

“Everything’s cool, dude. Don’t

pack a bag, displaying the urgency of

worry about it. Just help me put your

“Ho… ly…. Wow, seriously?

the matter.

stuff together.”

How are you?”

“Wait, what’s going on?” He

He took a deep breath and

“Been better. Not sure if

scratched his head and turned aside,

placed his hand on my shoulder. Defi-

you’ve paid any attention to what’s go-

allowing me into his apartment.

nitely weird now. “Jack, you know, I...”

ing on over here in the city.”

He wiggled his fingers around as to try

“Spawns. People are having robot

and caress my arm.

“You mean the spawns?”

babies. They turn people into robots or

aliens or something that produce more

“Dude!” I yelped with a serious

“Yeah, so you did hear?”

robot babies. And they’re turning up all

tone and jolted back.

over the place.”

“Well I didn’t think it was real,


“Hmph.” Eddie didn’t seem too

concerned, he never seemed worried

about anything. I saw him go to work

in the mornings, but the remainder of

his existence consisted of porn and

delivery pizza.

I scurried around to find a suitcase in

“Just, you know we’ve always

been real close,” he said.

I flung his hand off my shoulder

and he looked up at me. Straight

into my eyes. Really deep, like the

woman at the restaurant.

“What?! You’ve gotta be kid-

is it?”

“Yeah!” I nodded aggressively,

even though she couldn’t see me.

“Yeah they are, totally a real thing, I’ve

encountered a few already myself.”

“Are you serious? What are


“I don’t even know. Creepy,

his wreck of a home, garbage

ding me!”

and it’s hard to distinguish them from

egular people. Even my grody ass

neighbor guy started hitting on me.”

“Fine. See you in a few hours.”


Leslie dated my friend in col-

“Would you know if you are

lege. She was always the smart and

one yourself?”

sassy type, wouldn’t let anyone get too

close. Her way of preventing the preda-

Interesting question I hadn’t

tory populous of the day from taking

thought about. “I’m not. Or… I guess I

advantage of her. Frat boys didn’t even

don’t know, actually. I don’t recall ever…

care that she was taken.

delivering… one of those robot things

but it seems their memories are re-

Her driveway went on forever. Over a

pressed after it happens. So I guess…”

full minute for sure. Then I pulled up to

a little log cabin.

“Are you calling me to see if

you can stay here? Because if you are,”

She opened the door, soaking

she sighed, “if you are, then… jeez, how

wet. A smile grew on her face and she

am I supposed to know if that’s safe?

threw her arms around me and yelped,

I haven’t even talked to you in like ten

her arms and chest imprinting water


spots onto my shirt. “Oh my god, I can’t

“Leslie, listen, I swear to God

believe you’re here!”

I am not infected, and if I am, you can

blow my brains out the minute I get

“I know, it’s been so long!”

weird, ok? I wouldn’t want to put you in

Leslie was always cute in a fierce


Once she released me, she

chihuahua kind of way. A petite woman

“And how would you know if I

noticed she had spread her wetness

with freckles and dark hair. She wore

had it? How would I know if I had it?”

to me. “Sorry, I was gardening and it

it chin-length and straight these days.

started pouring. Come in! Do you want

Back then it was long and wavy.

“You don’t really seem to be

some coffee? Or I have tea, too.” She

acting like the ones I met that had it.”

turned and walked toward her kitchen

“Yeah I guess I’m hiding out

and I followed with a big stupid grin on

now too,” I said.

“How did they act?”

my face. “Yeah, coffee’s good, thanks.”

“I can’t believe this is happen-

“Well, you’d be begging to

It was a rustic cottage with

ing. Well actually I guess I can believe

jump my bones right now.”

the logging exposed inside and a pot

it, not much of a surprise really, but it’s

belly stove heating the room from the

really happening now!”

“Heh, right! Nice try, dickwad.”

northwest corner. Couldn’t be more

than one bedroom, if that. It was puny.

“You’re not surprised?”

“No, seriously, that’s what they acted

“Wow, this place is great!” I took a seat

like. So it’s not a good thing if you want-

on her couch.

She sneered. “No, are you?”

ed to jump my bones. I repeat, for once

in my life, I do not want you to desire

“Thanks. Nothing fancy, but it’s a roof

“Uh, well, I have to say I never

my dick. You wanting my dick would

over my head.” She returned with a

suspected people would start having

now be a terrifying thing.”

mug of hot coffee she had already

robot babies.

“Ugh, Christ, do you have to

brewed before my arrival and sat next

be so vulgar?”

“Can I please come by? For just a bit so

I can figure out my plan? I don’t know

what else to do and the thought of

staying in a scummy old motel in the

boonies somewhere is freaking me out

right now.”

to me. “Besides, I spend most of my

time outdoors.” Her eyes were dark

brown, could barely see the outline of

her pupils.

I nodded. “Hiding out?”

She smiled. “I guess you

Men .... having... robot babies.” I gulped,

unable to get the image out of my mind

of that guy pushing that egg through

his member.

“Well, it seems obvious to me.

I mean droids were designed to be like

us, even in their motivation. Of course


could say that.”

they want power, everyone wants


“No kidding? Anyone new these days?”

my head and harshly blew it back out

Foot in mouth. Who was I

again. My mind didn’t even want to go

power. And with everyone all sex-

fooling? I knew where these questions

there. I hated thinking about that.

crazed egomaniacs everywhere, well...

were going. You’re a piece of shit, ass-

They want to be like real humans, and


All those memories con-

now they are. It’s just a natural conse-

She sat beside me. This time,

stantly flooding my mind, stinging me

quence. And honestly, the engineers

a little closer than last, facing me with

constantly like a million little piranhas.

are fucking idiots for not realizing this

her hand propping up the side of her

The thought of that question oddly had

would happen.”

head, her hair interlacing her fingers.

that feel of drowning to it. The disap-

I could see my own hands in her hair,

pointment and despair. The endless

I was stunned. “You’re a ge-

gripping at her scalp, pulling her body

searching. Sometimes I wondered

nius.” She always was, too. I am a fairly

towards me with each thrust...

what I was searching for.

smart guy, but Leslie always seemed

light years ahead of me. She under-

“Nope, no one new,” she said

I wanted to lie to her and tell her about

stood people and the world better than

after a pause. Damn it, she was even

Nivena, or maybe Danica. Those were

anyone else I’ve ever known. I just

smiling at me a little. Was she, really?

probably the closest. They were great

know numbers and laws of physics.

Please god no, how am I ever going to

lays. And they were cool too. But even

work through this? “You?” She started

after just a few months, the novelty

She shrugged her right

speaking in a sultry-sounding voice.

of their squirting and dirty talk talents

shoulder. “Not as genius as the droids.”

But again, could be my imagination.

wore off. But the way her eyes scanned

An awkward silence accompanied the

me for a thread of dishonesty informed

sudden knowing in the air - that I was

Gah, damn it, Jack. Why the

me that was a bad idea. “Not really,” I

there because I was running away

fuck does it always have to happen this


from potential apocalypse. I scratched

way? The biggest reason it’s tough to

at a spot on the rim of my coffee mug,

let go of the illness is because some-

Her gaze shifted to my hair,

but it was only paint. “Do you think it’s

how, it seems to give you this power

my ears, my lips. “I always thought you

safe here?” I asked.

over pussy. When you give in to the

were cute,” she smirked.

illness, you become a pussy magnet.

“Hard to say.” She stood up

It flocks to you, and getting amazing

That was it. My body lost it

and headed toward the stove to push

women to suck your dick and want all

and I grabbed her face and pulled her

around the wood inside, and there it

the rest of you to themselves is effort-

lips towards me and she practically

was again.

less. Why would anyone in their right

sucked my tongue right out of my

mind resist this?

mouth. “Yowza!” I yelped, my mouth

Jesus, look at that tight ass...

still entwined with hers. I had never

Come on, Jack, not Leslie!

“Not seeing anyone at the

said yowza before. This woman was

She was like a sister back in the day.

moment,” I informed her.

hardcore. It was clear she hadn’t gotten

Still the x-ray vision clicked on and my

any in a long time. It had only been two

mind’s eye saw her in a lacy black bra

“Has anyone special come through

days for me. I grabbed her hair just as

and panties with back seam stock-

your life? Someone you’ll forever com-

I imagined earlier and tried pushing

ings... Argh.... Hearing her moans in my

pare everyone to?” Her eyes were sym-

her downward, but no effort was even


pathetic like she wanted to get to know

required. She was already headed that


Get a hold of yourself, Jack!

“So, whatever happened between you

and Felix?”

“That guy? We split when he

graduated. We always planned it that

way anyway. We still talk. He has two

kids now.”

a different side of me I never showed

anyone back then. Leslie liked to get

into everyone’s deep dark secrets but

bit the heads off of anyone who tried to

get into hers.

It was a question no one had

ever asked me before. The thought of it

made me breathe in what seemed an


Who’d ever thought I’d be here at Leslie’s

cabin in the woods, getting a world

class blow job from her, ten years

down the road? Jeez, she had a mouth

like a vacuum cleaner, god damn! Girl

must be hungry as fuck!

infinite amount of air before I dropped


On top of it all, it happened to take

place while I was running for my life

from sex-crazed robots at home. And

here I was in my safe haven with the tip

of my dick being massaged by Leslie’s


“Awww!” My eyes almost

bulged out of my head as I gasped in

horrific pain. What the fuck? It felt like

the bitch had stabbed right through my

shaft and wasn’t letting go. I couldn’t

breathe. Shit! Shit! You stupid dumbfuck,

Jack! How did I not see this?!

Jennifer Blaesing - United States

Jennifer is a lifelong writer, weaver,

and tarot card reader from Chicago, IL.

She is currently finishing up her debut

novel and plans to launch early 2017.

Find more about her work at her blog

Slowly she released her lips

from me and pulled her head back

while I was already in tears. Her tongue

had taken the shape of a sort of scaly

pewter snake tongue that she had

stabbed right into me. She retracted

her tongue and looked up at me with

her blacker than ever eyes. “Gotcha.”


The nightmare was only



Black Bugs

By Ian Winchester

This wasn’t supposed to be my job.

The step van’s doors popped open and two of

Mao’s heavies jumped out to secure the area. Tachi and

I waited inside. This sort of work was supposed to be reserved

for people like them. People who install strength

enhancements in their prosthetics, carry an arsenal of

weapons under their black coats and wear mirror shades

on rainy nights like this. People like that are meant to be

the stars of this kind of show, I’m just a backup singer.

One of the heavies, the woman, voiped the all clear. The

technicians began their work, setting up their equipment

in the back of the off-white van while the heavies waited

out in the rain like chrome gargoyles wrapped in pleather.

A battery of sealed containers, each one with a big red

light in the corner, formed a wall between the cabin and

the back of the van.

The van and the navy blue uniforms we were wearing had all been borrowed from a small electrical

company Mao had a grip on. Even with my eyes closed I could tell they were a matching set,

the AC in here had blown out an eon ago and the smell of burnt plastic clung to the fabric like a

baby sloth.

Tachi glared at me from the other side of the van. He was not happy. He’d traded in his

powder-blue tuxedo for a fluro safety vest, a set of grubby coveralls and an electrician’s belt. None

of which matched with a face that could lead a Hong Kong romantic comedy.

“What happened to no strings attached?” Tachi said over the cyber-voip. His lips never

moved but I heard his voice as though he was speaking right into my ear. His voice didn’t match

his face either. Tachi’s voice betrayed his Oxford education. Sometimes by speaking, usually by

just telling.

“I say a lot of things, Tachi. You can’t expect me to be right all the time.”


“Ha! Once would be a good start. Wake

up Dust, we can’t afford to be doing

“So now that’s Mao’s run out of blood-


this, we have too much to do on the job

relatives he’s started on his old war

we’re already on.”


sending the pictures from my wet drive

“The program has changed

Tachi still hadn’t looked at me.

over to him.

Tachi, get with it. We need someone to

I saw him clench his hand into a fist

hack for us on the Hamilton job. This is

then slowly open it again.

“What the devil?”

how we get that someone.”

“Would you please relax?

I shrugged. I couldn’t blame

“And what if something goes

Tachi, I’d asked the same thing when

wrong? The Hamilton job is a delicate

Mao’s done the hard work already. I

I first saw the pics. Mao’s mark had

operation, especially compared to this.

checked over every inch of his recon

undergone extensive cosmetic surgery.

We can’t afford to waste time.”

work and it’s every bit as good as it

He’d bleached his skin milky white and

was when I served under him. All he

had colour-changing contacts installed

“I already told him that.” I said

needs us to do is stick to the script.”

in his cybereyes. From Mao’s info, the

scratching the stubble on my chin.

mark’s eyes would turn from an eerie

“Mao promised me this would be a

Tachi lazily swivelled his head

gold to dark red on mental command.

one-night job and provided we come

back my way. “Oh yes, the script. That

His hair could change colour too, the

back alive he’ll put us in contact with a

is not a two-man job Dust.”

long white locks turned to black as

hacker who’s done good work for him.

the wearer desired. Some reinforced

All we have to do... is retire this one

“No.” I said. “It’s not. It’s a one-

fangs and hand-rippers completed the


man, one-cyborg job.”


Tachi leaned back in his seat

and crossed his arms. “I don’t like it,

Tachi may have looked like

Tachi didn’t say anything.

just waltzing in, bold as brass and plug-

any other suave, unreasonably hand-

The techs did their signal checks

ging the mark in his own office. It’s so…

some bastard, but everything from the

for the cybervoip. The lights on the

uncouth. Like a common thug.”

brain down was a prosthetic. He was

boxes flicked from red to green and a

a collection of vital organs in a biopod

swarm of micro-drones crawled out

I held back a sigh. “I didn’t ask

controlling a replicant human body

of their containers and into the alley.

you to come with me.”

from inside the torso. They were all the

The drones looked about the size of a

rage in Japan.

large cockroach, the kind you’d get a

Tachi snorted, ran a hand

hammer to kill, just in case. But they

through his painstakingly perfect hair

Me? I had the standard Australian

resembled ants in design. The swarm

and looked away.

Army Augmentation Package (or AAAP

crawled down an open drain and made

for short. Unlike the US the Australian

their way into the mark’s building

“Thuggish and blunt are how

Army doesn’t base their acronyms on

through the utility pipes.

Mao wants it. He’s making an example

what would make a better G.I. JOE toy).

of the mark so he needs it to look like a

So I had a string of interface plugs

And then finally, once all the drones

mob hit.”

throughout my body and a pain editor

were in place, they gave us the green

in my neural processor. That and lots

light too.

“We never go in blind like this Dust. Do

of squishy, squishy flesh. That may

you even know why your ‘friend’ wants

sound like a lot, but I’ve worked along-

According to Mao’s briefing,

him dead?”

side 4RAR Commandoes, those boys

the mark had holed himself up in a

“It’s a family matter.” I said.

“The mark killed Mao’s daughter, then

his son went after the guy and wound

up dead himself.”

and girls have chrome on their chrome.

“Do you even know what the

mark looks like?”

“He looks like this” I said,

private office he operated out of on the

top floor of a backpacker’s hostel. After

Mao’s son had his turn at killing the

mark, the Dracula wannabe had hired

a squad of muscle boys to look after


I had to confess, Tachi’s incessant nag-


ging was justified.


patched over, but the smaller ones

moment you hit the emergency stop

were untouched.

Any other day of the week if I walked

button the lift makes a phone call to

Two of the Mark’s goons

into a job like this one I’d walk straight

the security office or reception desk

were waiting for us at the elevator.

on out again, wouldn’t even wave

and you find yourself talking to the air

They were the scary type of personal

goodbye. And yet here I was.

while they ask you what the problem is.

security with the shaved heads and

Some even have security cameras in-

the tattoos. Mao’s feed showed them

Lieutenant Stephen Mao said jump and

stalled. If the mark’s upgrades included

turn towards the door and tense up.

I paused just long enough to ask how

a well-hidden camera, we were dead

I couldn’t see a weapon of any kind



yet, but Mao probably couldn’t get the

Tachi and I crossed the street.

That last thought didn’t help.

drone in any closer without alerting

I took a deep breath at the doors and


walked into the lobby. At this time of

I slipped my Tech Specs over

Which gave me an idea.

night, there was no receptionist at the

my eyes and set them to magnify. Un-

front desk, only an outdated robotic

like Tachi, my augmented vision came

I slipped my pistol from its

vending machine advertising a million

with a battery life.

holster and began screwing the sound

different ways to distract yourself dur-

suppressor onto the barrel.

ing your stay. The sort of thing a bunch

My powered screwdriver had the lift’s

of fliers used to do in ages past. The

control panel open in a few seconds

“Hey Mao, can you use the

barely contained noise of the nightclub

and I managed to wedge it into the

drone to get the guard’s attention

next door conjured images of cavorting

tamper-switch, hopefully before

before we open the door?”

German backpackers and other good

security was notified. With that open I

times inside.

began splicing wires and hooking them

“I can.”

up to a wireless router the size of a

I hit the button for the lift and it opened


Through the control, our

straight away. It was little more than a

installed router gave me I brought the

box of once-polished steel. While Tachi

The fibre-optic line the lift used to

elevator right up to the top floor and

got the lift going I keyed into the tech’s

inform the building’s maintenance of

held the door closed. As Mao moved


its status gave me a back way into

the drone into position I saw the guards

the card reader and the other system,

exchange fleeting glances. They’d seen

“How’s it look?”

which turned out to be a fingerprint

the numbers count up to the top, but

scanner. With the install finished I

now nothing was happening.

Mao’s voice replied over the

sticky-tacked the router to the inside

cybervoip. “The target doesn’t have

of the panel and screwed the faceplate

Then Mao positioned the drone right

many lights on so we’ve switched

back into place.

above one of their heads and detached

most of the drones over to night vision.

it from the ceiling.

Target appears to be working quietly on

“We have control of the eleva-

a laptop in his office.”

tor”. I reported.

With a smirk, I opened the doors. Just

as they parted we heard the unfortu-

“Gimmie the floor plan.”

“Good.” Mao didn’t bother to conceal

nate guard release the first of a long

the relief in his voice. “Get to the pent-

line of expletives. His partner turned to


“Coming up…there”

I accepted the picture message

and organised the display so it

sat in the corner of my vision. Then

I checked out the lift’s control panel.

Every building’s system is different, if

you bring a lift to an emergency stop in

some buildings you’ll be lucky to be out

house floor, I’ll patch you into the feed

from the drones”.

The Penthouse floor was not

a fancy as that word normally suggests.

The fittings were okay but the

carpet had seen better days. A strip

of maroon separated the plaster wall

panels, the more obvious cracks were

help him just as Tachi and I stepped

out with our pistols up. I sighted up on

the guy without the robot ant crawling

down his back and tapped two rounds

into his face. He toppled like a felled

tree. Beside me, Tachi silenced the

panicking one. And he joined his friend

face down on the musty carpet.

by next morning. In others, the

“Anybody hear that?”

managed to secrete his drones into.


Mao cycled me through

We’d gotten most of the room from the

a bunch of different streams from

earlier shot. Some business furnishings

around the building. “If they have

lined the walls but the couches and the

the flesh. The milky white skin and hair

they’re keeping it to themselves.”

big desk took up the majority of the

were as pale as the moon and offset

middle. A small shower room lay to the

his golden eyes in a way that was

Tachi jumped in. “Where are

right of the desk and a picture window

downright creepy. The whole package

the rest of the guards?”

took up most of the wall opposite it.

(especially with those full-inch canines)

would have been awe inspiring if I

The screen in my vision split

I readied myself at the latch of

couldn’t detect the faintest hint of urine

into two. “Most of them are down the

the door and Tachi raised his free hand.

in the air.

hall, two of them are with the mark in

He held up three fingers and counted

his office.”

them off.

I centred the crosshairs in

the middle of his face and tensed my

I looked at the thumbnail



screens. The majority of the guards

“Wait!” Mao called. “I need to

were sitting around on a couch in a


verify his identity.”

common room, watching the Maroons

slaughter the Blues. The two with the

Tachi threw the latch down

Relief broke out on my fore-

mark were standing around uncom-

and we burst into the room. I put the

head. “Waiting on you”.

fortably while the Mark got up from the

first bodyguard in my sights just as he

couch in his office and moved over to

went for his pistol and tapped out two

The video feed shook itself

the heavy-looking, rosewood panelled

quick shots and then another two until

to crap as the drone scrambled across

desk with the lion’s feet. His office had

he fell down.

the ceiling. The mark cautiously looked

a couple of black leather couches fac-

up at me, tears streaming down his

ing each other before the desk, making

The mark dived off his chair while


it looked like it doubled as a living

Tachi filled the second bodyguard full


of holes. While Tachi’s target crumpled

I remained motionless, a

against a display case full of what

statue brandishing a pistol.

I couldn’t see it clearly from the small

looked like taxidermied rodents the

screen but something about the Mark

mark dashed across the carpet and

He slowly started to back

looked off. I expected someone who

into the shower room.

away from me, until he reached the

dolled himself up like a creature of the

shower and ran out of space.

night to be more theatrical even when

“They’re alert.” Mao warned.

I remembered the snarling, ravenous

it was just him and his people. This guy

“He must have a silent alarm.”

beast from Mao’s picture. This could

seemed quiet, almost reserved.

not be the same person.

“I’ll block the door,” Tachi said.

Tachi and I crept through the

“Hurry up before he panics. Is

corridor towards the office. Just in

I raised my pistol. “I’ll finish

it him or not?”

case, Mao had slipped up somehow

the job.”

and missed some extra guards.

“It’s him.”

I cautiously slid open the door

We reached the office door

to the shower room and aimed my

I pulled the trigger.

and took up positions on either side of

it. “Give us the layout of the room Mao.”

Mao switched both feeds to

the two side of the room he’d

pistol inside before following it in. There

was the mark, sitting in a ball on the

floor, covering his head with his arms.

Evan Mao’s photo hadn’t

prepared me for meeting this bloke in

“Something’s happened!” Mao

gasped. “Get out of there right now.”

I was already moving.

I rushed back into the main room and

saw Tachi stack the second couch in


place. With both couches and the


I’ll ask again.”

Another heavy blow landed on the

door, this time it was less thump and

“I can’t say anything,” I replied.

more snap. The couch on top teetered

“My employer has a drone in this room

over the edge of the stack.

fancy desk up against the door even

listening to our every word. Even if I

augmented guards would have dif-

wanted to give him up, I wouldn’t make

Tachi turned to me again.

ficulty getting through.

it to the end of the street.”

“How strong do you think that window

“So we’d locked ourselves in,”

“If you don’t, you won’t make


Tachi said. “Now what?”

it to the end of the room.”

I glanced over my shoulder. “Tempered

Then a voice through a

I shrugged. “Don’t see that it

glass.” Then I looked at my pistol. “.45

speaker stopped us both in our tracks.

makes much difference.”

ACP, it’s worth a shot.”

“You’re different from the last one.” The

male voice said in a Baltic accent. “I

“I’m sorry you see it that way.”

Tachi and I pumped every round

wasn’t expecting a Caucasian man.”

Tachi looked at me. He looked

we had in the mag into a nice, tight,

as worried as I felt.

8-inch group in the window. The glass

“That’s not possible.” Mao

spiderwebbed around the impacts and


“I’ve got a way out of this.”

turned a bright white but didn’t actually

“I want you to answer a ques-

Mao said.

crack. While I reloaded my pistol Tachi

tion for me.” The voice asked. “I have

grabbed a chair and took a running

a team of armed men in the corridor.

“I should hope so.”

slam at the grouping that broke the

If your answer pleases me I might

wheelbase clean off.

persuade them to let you live.”

Mao’s voice came back on

the line. “Give me a minute.”

The window wobbled a bit and some

“But you just shot him?”

shavings of glass came loose, but we

A loud thump sounded from

hadn’t actually succeeded in creating

“Wake up!” Tachi said. “He

the other side of the door, followed by

a hole.

said he had a hit squad next door.

the crack of fibreboard and punctuated

I locked the slide forward on

Does he?”

by a puff of sawdust.

my pistol again. “Wasn’t looking forward

to shimmying down the drainpipe

“They’re rushing over from

“We don’t have a minute


the other room.”


The sound of tearing fibre-

Another thump sounded, this

board brought out attention back to

“Who sent you?”

time the couch on top of our stack

the door and the squad of goons about

jumped an inch.

to come through it. The top couch

I didn’t say anything.

dropped down to the floor. “Mao, what

“It’s a shame.” The voice

the hell is this plan of yours?”

“Who is this bloke anyway?”

continued. “I was hoping I could return

the favour to your employers, I guess

“We’re about to switch off the

“That’s the voice of the man

another team of hitmen disappearing


you just killed”

into the ether will have to do.”

“What do you want us to do




“Who... sent... you?”

I could feel a single drop of sweat make

its slow, pondering way down the side

of my face. I glanced at Tachi.

“Only with your cooperation

Tachi glanced up at the ceiling.

“Likes to talk, this one”.

I winked at Tachi. “The welldressed,

articulate ones tend to.”

Tachi gave me an unimpressed look.

“Now?” He said. “Really?”

Then the second couch got

kicked straight off the top of the desk

and we got a clear look at our adversaries

and vice versa.

Then the lights went out.

I strafed to the right, putting round

after round into the space where the

can you hope to leave this room alive.

doorway had been.

I switched on my Tech Spec’s low-light

vision and in the green light I saw the

first bodyguard slump onto the desk,

dead. His comrades pulled his body

back into the corridor. I knelt down to

improve my firing position and saw a

flicker of something pass through the


A second later I heard something

hit the carpet and then the flash

bang detonated.

Blinding light turned my world

an agonising green. I tore off my Tech-

Specs and jammed my eyes shut for a

second’s relief. I cautiously peeked one

eye open and tried to look around, but

a black and purple stain appeared in

my vision wherever I tried to focus.

Hearing more bumps and

thuds, I tried to shift my turn my

peripheral vision towards the door and

could barely make out three figures

vault over the desk and join us in the


I opened fire, trying to use the

edge of my vision to aim but my shots

went wild. The nearest goon charged

headlong at me with a retractable


Whatever our Dracula wannabe was

paying these guys it wasn’t enough. I

got to my feet and tried to hold him off

with my free arm so I could bring my

pistol to bear.

He brought the baton down

on me and I put my forearm in its way.

The solid steel stick bounced painfully

off the bone before my pain editor went

to work. I pulled the arm away to protect

it and squeezed off another shot

with my pistol. When the next thing I

felt was the baton smacking me across

my gun-wrist I knew I’d missed.

The pistol fell from my grasp and I

threw a wild punch at where I could

only guess the goon’s face was. He

slipped past my hand, grabbed me

around the waist and pulled me off my


With barely a heave of effort, he threw

me to the ground. I tried to distribute

the impact evenly across my shoulders

and brought my arms back up to

protect my head.

More pain flared in my

forearms as his foot stomped down on

me. I grabbed his shoe before he could

retract and threw it hard to the side

before kicking out his other foot and

toppling him forward.

I caught him as he fell on me. Pulled up

my hips and rolled him over until I was

on top. He wrapped his legs around my

hips so I couldn’t move any higher up

his body and swung at me again with

the baton.

Somehow in the middle of all this, I had

an idea. I pulled my head out of the

way of the swing and jumped on the

voip. “Mao. Can you turn the lights back

on for 1 second?”

“I can”.

“Tachi, close your eyes.”

I did as I’d advised and felt

the world outside my lids flash red for

a moment. When it was dark again I

heard the goon beneath me groan and

saw him covering his face.

I fell onto the arm holding the baton

and pinned it to the floor. The guy tried

to grab me so I raised my hand high

and brought it down in a hammer-slam

on his nose. Two more of those and his

grip on the baton loosened enough for

me to yank it out of his grasp.

One backhand across the jaw later and

the guy’s legs went limp. I extracted

myself from his hold and stood back



My vision was mostly back now

though it was hard to tell with just the

streetlight bleeding in from the picture

window. A lone figure stood to the side

of me.

Mao kindly turned the lights back on

and I saw Tachi standing over the

broken bodies of the other two goons.

The knuckles on his prosthetic fists

dripped with blood, but his synthskin

was bruised all over.

He looked up at me and

blanched. “Is that you Dust?”

I rubbed my hand across my

face and discovered a broken nose and

a lot of blood. “What’s left of me.”

“Well.” The disembodied voice

said after a while. “That was disappointing.”

I looked around on the floor

for my Tech Specs and pistol. The .45

was okay, but at some point in the

excitement, someone had trodden on

my specs. I policed them up anyway.

“This is not over.” The voice

began. “I will find out who you are and

who your employer is. That is only a

matter of time...”

“Come on,” I said to Tachi.

“Let’s get out of here before he starts

yelling that he’s gonna get us and our

little dog too!”



Ian Winchester - Australia

Like every author says in their bio, I’ve

had stories bouncing around in my

head for basically forever. Action and

conflict have always fascinated me.

People who put their lives and bodies

on the line to take up arms against a

sea of troubles as the immortal bard

said. And so, like any good author, I

did my research. But I don’t learn from

books and interviews as effectively as

I learn from rolling up my sleeves and

getting my hands dirty. With the aid of

some filmmaker and stuntman friends

I’ve made over the last decade, I’ve

been doing my research at the sharp

end. I release all of my work for free on

my website at at a

rate of 1000-odd words every couple

of days.









More magazines by this user