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the abandonment of cruelty
the vicar of megatokyo | 1 | 2
thrice great hermes
bwhah @ fwc, portland
xenomorphs @ fwc, portland
katamari @ fwc, portland
tokyo art beat @ superdeluxe, tokyo
full of pryde @ fwc, portland
psychometry ii @ arratia beer, berlin
psychometry @ exile, berlin
found photos @ fwc, portland
rom spaceknight @ fwc, portland
caleb hildenbrandt, 2012
tokyo art beat, 2009
pete toms, 2006
by Stanley Lieber
IT’S YOUR FAULT THEY’RE DEAD
Present day. Present time.
Maude’s death at the hands of Piro had been another distraction in a long line of setbacks preventing her from attaining enlightenment. She realized her attachment to her son, such as it was, had resulted in her getting shot. But it was puzzling. TAB3 had still been taken away from her, and she had still been shot. He’d probably been shot, too. The transaction seemed lopsided, invalid by Milton Friedman’s standards.
She wasn’t sure where she was. They’d taken her out of the shipping container, sure. But what was this? Antiseptic smell. Everything was cold. Airless. She seemed to be still sealed on the card. Mint in package. Was Plinth trying to sell her?
The gods were about. Greater Mercury. Fucking Odin. Neither of them showing much interest. Frozen inside her plastic bubble there wasn’t much she could do about it. Did he know what he was doing?
Some of the other gods were haggling with Plinth, who was seated at his desk, posture neutral, pushing plastic but not overselling it. He seemed perfectly relaxed, ignoring her as well. The deal was afoot.
Maude surmised that she must be in Plinth’s office in the New Chrysler Building.
TAB2 was screaming, what else was new. Also ignored by the gods, but not letting it it deter him from whatever he imagined to be his mission. You had to admire his line of bullshit. Whatever else was true about him, he tried to make you believe it all. Next, Piro strolled in, his black gloves coated with something else black, distinguishable only by the comparative absence of reflective sheen. His face and uniform were likewise painted with the toxic seeming soot.
"Black mold," he said, by way of explaining his appearance.
"This! Him!" TAB2 shouted, volume increasing proportionate to how much he felt like he was being ignored. It didn’t make any difference at all.
For some reason it began pouring down rain inside Plinth’s office.
END MAUDE MOLD
by Stanley Lieber
ANTIGONE’S PLACE IN ALL THIS
Spiro found himself deposited at Granny’s. Not much different than most days, except that today his father was actually at home, next door, sleeping off an unplanned production surge. Dad was at home, but Spiro was here. The injustice burned, it was palpable, and it would not fall by the wayside, ignored in favor of slashing budgets, shipping units, domestic tranquility. Dad was going to wake up.
Everyone was supposed to call her Granny, but Spiro never did. The woman was actually his aunt, his mother’s sister, Antigone, and she was hardly old enough to be anybody’s mother, let alone their grandmother, a revered figure in their family hierarchy. Her stature in the scheme of things was distinctly unearned. The other kids at her daycare weren’t blood relatives, and probably wouldn’t have noticed the discrepancy even if they were. Spiro accepted that this level of inattention was, historically, the norm. Without automatic identification friend or foe it was no wonder there was so much incest in the world.
"Come to Granny," Antigone said, after spying Spiro frozen in the doorway, hesitant to give in. She reached out to him, awkwardly, her shawl an extension of her frail, spindly arms. In Spiro’s mind, a dead tree shrouded in a yarn tarp.
He could see down her shirt.
Spiro lay on the living room floor behind Eugene’s chair, face pressed against the register. The heat whistled as it ablated his cheeks.
It was hot, down there.
Eugene was home from work, no explanation asked or given. But that meant he controlled the telescreen, the lunch menu, and all other variables of the domestic battlespace. He’d already thrown out Spiro’s comic books, even the ones he’d stolen from under Eugene’s son’s bed. Scotty was going to be pissed when he got home from school. The joke’s on you, Gene.
Something about black mold on the telescreen. Everyone on Mars had to deal with it, sooner or later. Some people got sick. Eugene had lost his hair at the age of thirty, forever altering his performance of self. Maybe the fallout was moving again, and that’s why everyone was home from work.
At lunch Spiro made an ill-advised crack about [something] and Antigone had hauled off and slapped him across the face with the fly swatter she carried around holstered in her belt. He’d seen it used in anger before, but never expected to take a shot from it himself. He knew his mother would only take Antigone’s side of any perceived conflict, so he didn’t say anything when he got home.
Even so, he let himself out the front door while everyone was washing up. Careful not to slam the screen or rattle the floor boards on the porch.
Wandered next door to his house, his nighttime home, where his dad was still asleep.
Threw rocks at the window until his dad woke up.
by Stanley Lieber
THE DECORATION OF INDEPENDENCE
All through the raid TAB2 was confused, static. He just stood there while the other men ran through their program, knocking over furniture and breaking mirrors, laughing all the while. One woman found at the scene, bearing a familiar codename: Maude Mold, attempted passive resistance, stretching her body across a stairway that apparently led up to the childrens’ bedrooms. Piro dispatched her with his sidearm, punctuating the exchange with an obscure remark about the two-edged nature of freedom. TAB2 could only watch as the woman tumbled down the stairs, and then he continued watching her as she lay there, crumpled on the floor. He observed himself ruefully as his own calculated inaction formalized into the sort of dead-limbed cliché that had totally turned him off during his chance encounters with trash fiction. Already, he had problems with the script.
By the time they brought down TAB3 the boy’s father, TAB2, was fully beside himself, monitoring the scene at an increasingly helpless remove. He might as well have been on the other side of a telescreen, which, thanks to his visor, he was. Pointedly, he made eye contact with TAB3, but the boy chose not to acknowledge him. Piro cracked TAB3 over the head with his rifle, and TAB2 just kept on standing there, not breaking character, not doing jack shit about the in-progress rendition of his visibly pregnant son. Had they really just shot Maude?
On the way out of the apartment the men set fire to the building, trading jokes about TAB2’s flickering antique headgear, agitating for liquor and snacks.
Piro signed off on their timesheets.
Spiro Mold, deceased. Ever since he died he’d been mad at his mom. She hadn’t been his killer, per se, but he figured if he’d never gotten born in the first place then none of this bad stuff would have happened to him, so whatever transpired during the interim was at least partially her fault. The logic was unassailable, to say nothing of the premise.
He realized TAB2 could see him.
His mother’s body was rapidly decomposing to black mold inside the shipping container. Six men pretended not to notice the load getting ever lighter as their procession boarded the RAGNAROK via her aft cargo ramp. Make it look easy, but don’t make it look too easy. The aperture closed behind them, sealing the deal with a wink.
Black footprints throughout the apartment.
TAB2 was still standing there in the front room with Spiro, slowly inhaling the (for now) rare biohazard, with the realization slowly dawning on him that he no longer cared if this killed him. Spiro stared straight back at him, likewise surprised at the sudden collapse of TAB2’s usual jovial optimism.
TAB2’s visor crackled to life, a sound like your so-called best friend tearing the cover off of one of your comic books during a fight.
"Tom, get the fuck out here. The ship’s idling. It’s bad for the lawn."
Spiro waved goodbye to his friend.
by Stanley Lieber
AFTER THE DIVORCE
They had all moved in together. What with the rapacious inflation, the ever-present threat of violent crime, the increasing political divide in the country, the thought of their children having to contextualize all this, latchkey Internets wandering alone on the corporate mesh... All three women decided there would be greater strength in numbers, and so they pooled their resources, cohabitating a Greenwhich Village brownstone, sharing their dinners, their chores, and, of course, group-shouldering the ongoing disappointments wrought upon their kids by their good-for-nothing ex-husbands.
It ran for six seasons.
Maude, Kate, Allie, Emma, Jennie, Chip, and TAB3—the latter fresh from space, cranky and still very pregnant. "By my daddy’s beard!" Odin had said, when he saw the ragged wagon train merrily snaking into the apartment. Odin had killed his own father, whose origin was in any case obscure.
"You don’t live here, you know," Maude frowned, driving a boshi fist into his rib cage.
Odin threw up his hands, refused to defend himself. Ironcially, for a Norse god, he was at long last weary of the constant fighting.
"At least the Romans respected me. Hel, according to this alert in my visor, new CIA research can make me wealthy in seven minutes! I’m heading back to Germany, you ladies can piss up a rope."
Kate opened her mouth as if to say something, but after a sharp look from Allie she raised her eyebrows and decided to shut her mouth.
Maude frowned again.
THAT OLD GHOST TRILEMMA
At the onset of the seventh year, after the big blowup, Kate, Allie, and their remaining brood all safely moved out, Piro led a raid on the brownstone.
"No fee ’til victory!" he shouted, crashing through the front room window on the end of his favorite throwing rope. Shouting for the benefit of his men, rather than their target. Affirming their acquaintanceship with the rules of engagement. He wanted them all to get paid, even if they didn't really deserve it.
But Maude was already gone.
by Stanley Lieber
DISCOURSES OF THE VANISHING
The BKA man ignored Maude’s obvious provocation. Not that he wasn’t interested, but he was at work, which meant that he was also under surveillance. And he needed to keep this job. Most Americans didn’t realize (or care) that the Bureau of Kami Affairs was staffed almost entirely by gig workers, whom the government still forced, somewhat sarcastically, to pay for their own health insurance, Internet, and rent. Grab your mat and let’s get started.
"Ma’am, the secret record."
"Call me bitch," Maude snapped. Hell of a pronoun. Her bra had found its way onto the floor alongside her shirt. She squeaked out a bizarre yell, kicked over a chair, and laid all the way back, spread-eagle on the kitchen table. By all appearances ready to rock.
The BKA man made a sudden, sad face inside his bear mask. He could see now in his visor that he’d just been retasked with an unrelated job clear across town, even though he wasn’t finished here, even though several of his coworkers were already positioned nearby the service address, actually much closer than he was, and were in fact at this moment standing idly by, waiting for an assignment.
And just like that, he was out of the apartment.
OPENING THE THIRD FRONTIER
Maude’s basic programming statements were very simple and easy to understand. The friend of her friend was her enemy, and consent was implied.
It took her a few minutes to realize he’d gone.
This didn’t happen every day.
by Stanley Lieber
SECRET RECORD AT PINK MOUNTAIN
Spiro and TAB3 had not been her only children. Far from it. Her misunderstood, misbegotten brood littered the Earth as well as known space, populating both halves of many irreconcilable differences. The interbreeding was of course inevitable. The more, she figured, the merrier. Change your name and spread the blame. At least one of her offspring was bound to benefit from this security—through obscurity—in numbers.
TAB3 had been unique in that Maude had done the impregnating. When they’d finally well and truly fucked, TAB2 (the father) had put forward some unusual requests. Sure, why not, she had thought. It wouldn’t be any stranger than some of that shit Odin had asked her to do. (And really, he had been asking for it.) Nine months later TAB2 had birthed his baby in a New York apartment. Just don’t tell his wife how it all really went down.
Imagine Maude’s surprise when she discovered a detailed account of these misadventures written down on a scroll, well up the mountain, stuffed into a crack in the men’s room wall of Plinth’s shrine on Mars, several decades before any of it was due to actually happen. Of course she had pocketed the scroll.
TAB2 had still been a kid.
But in that economy? She didn’t let it bother her.
"Bureau of Kami Affairs, ma’am. We have reason to believe you may be in possession of certain documents pertaining to unauthorized religious activities at a government facility."
The man was already leaning halfway in the apartment door. He produced a replica pamphlet, quickly flipping through its brightly colored, computer generated pages by way of some kind of explanation, re: his inquiry. His badge looked real enough in the frankly inadequate resolution of her visor. Maude buzzed him in, illuminated his path to the kitchen. Made a note to upgrade.
"That elevator makes some strange sounds."
"Squash it," Maude said, tiring of the preamble. "Let’s get naked and make a deal."
She kicked closed the kitchen closet and unzipped her shirt.
by Stanley Lieber
ANCIENT LORE FOR A RECENT TRADITION
Leaving Plinth hadn’t been easy. When he finally found out, he’d simply had her name taken off all their accounts. She’d wave her hand at an official and nothing would happen, data gloves or not. Cute. And then there had been the small matter of getting off Mars.
Traffic at the test site was at an all-time high. Lots of gods and men in and out of the mancamp, all enjoying the benefits of different levels of access, eager to mint their own burgeoning legends, but wary of tarnishing their public-facing cover stories by publicly cavorting with the boss’ wife. On the other hand, most of them were quite lonely.
In her usual way she figured something out.
THE DIN OF THE RELIGIOUS MARKETPLACE
Back on Earth there had still been a lot of Plinth-y business to attend to. She was able to wring some residual clout out of their very public, well, in some circles, relationship, but word traveled fast in those same circles. Before long she’d found herself all but unemployable.
Nothing left but to join the church.
She hefted one of the outsized telephone directories out of her kitchen closet and plopped it down on the Formica® table with a thud. Let her fingers do the walking. It had been a lifetime since she’d turned to the Scriptures for guidance. Now, she couldn’t even remember her own telephone number.
She read out:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that information wants to be free, and that a computer can never be held accountable, therefore a computer must never make a management decision.
It made sense to her. There was something comforting in this affirmation of humanity’s priority atop the hierarchy of life forms kicking around the cosmos. Plinth, after all, was hardly human.
But enough with the staid contemplation. A soul could only stare for so long into its own contact information before some form of consciousness was likely to emerge. She returned the book to its home in the kitchen closet, realistically, probably for good.
It was going to be a long epilogue.
by Stanley Lieber
Exclusion had been the last straw for Maude. Contrary to legend, climbing up the mountain had not polluted the site, nor had it turned her into stone. Maybe her calves had gotten a little stiff, but still, she’d been able to keep walking, drawing herself up from base to peak, a familiar maneuver given the bent of her particular expertise. Discovered other women up there, too. Officiating.
Someone had been lying to her, and for a very long time.
So, this is where the men went when they were supposed to be working. All of the many design setbacks, launch delays, testing failures, budget overruns—all of it, all along, had been a made up ruse on account of their preoccupation with... whatever this was supposed to be. Admittedly, she could see the appeal. It was no wonder most projects never reached a state of completion. No wonder the contractors’ club in the mancamp was always deserted. How could anyone down there hope to compete with this? And on top of it all they drew a regular paycheck from Mold Industries, Inc. She paid their salary.
Nobody was happy to see her atop the mountain. Plinth, of course, was swaddled in sycophants, showing out in a repurposed shrine that now bulged at the seams with all his usual comforts. Postmodern furniture, but he’d tasked his personal narrator with documenting the event sans serif. She’d been taking all of this in when Piro snuck up behind her and slowly lowered a visor into her line of sight, like a blindfold, compromising her interpretation of the scene. Instinctively she blinked, her mind and body rejecting the instrumentation as one.
When her eyes popped open again she was back in her apartment, jacketed in black mold.
BLOOD POOL HELL
Her period had started up again for the first time in nearly fifty years.
Maude rummaged in the cabinets for a clean mug, toppling several wine glasses in the process. She crunched over the broken glass in her slippers and wandered into the living room, worrying absentmindedly at her tea. Collapsed onto the couch. Defeated, but still clinging to her numerous complaints.
Her visor chirped.
Mímir’s disembodied head appeared, floating before her, demanding a status update on Plinth.
by Stanley Lieber
Maude always got her cut.
It wasn’t child support, exactly, as her child was now a grown man, and anyway, her marriage to Plinth Mold had nullified such quotidian considerations as money out of hand. Alimony was technically disqualified on similar grounds. No, Maude’s interest in TAB2’s plan to save present day Earth by scooping drugs out of the future and depositing them back into the past had been established by sheer force of will. After her Dad had died, she knew that someone would have to look out for Antigone. And knowing was half the battle.
Her sister. Perhaps unemployable, she too was approaching middle age, whatever that might mean for all those who’d enjoyed sustained physical proximity to members of the curiously long-lived Mold family. No one in her household had aged visibly since the abandoned shopping mall they called home had finally revealed itself to be the submerged carcass of one of Plinth’s former space fleet. A variable-sized, giant pink triangle everyone in the food court called the RAGNAROK. Residents of the mall were abruptly obliged to GTFO, with no advance warning, and no prior arrangements made for WTF they were supposed to go. Dad just sat down on the curb outside and started crying. Maude found that it was her responsibility to step up and take care of the family. And that required resources.
Going on a hundred years ago, now.
Plinth must have seen it all coming.
by Stanley Lieber
"Sorry. I have to take this."
TAB3 was holding the thing, staring straight into its bright reflective surface. Something like a miniature explosion, or perhaps a 1980s television in the context of a dark room. He’d stopped responding, and Maude waited for what seemed like time better spent suffering through a full episode of M.A.S.K.
"Sorry. I have to go."
TAB3 turned on the heels of his lavendar combat boots and returned to wherever it was he’d come from, the day before. Tilted forward, head down, bulleting in a straight line along the narrow track of the sidewalk, he continued plumb off of the property. With his bedroll tucked under his arm, muttering into the palm of his hand, he seemed almost at home.
Maude let the screen door slam.
But she didn’t lock the deadbolt.
ACROSS STATE LINES
TAB3 had been tasked with a milk run running milk between 4086 (centuries after his death) and 1986 (just before he was born). Okay, he figured, there probably wasn’t much danger of running into anyone he knew.
Somehow he’d allowed himself to get roped into this, shilling his dad’s junk product through time and space at a moment’s notice. He wasn’t even (really) authorized to access this technology, it was just that his father had never met a rule or a regulation he respected. And who knew how all of this would affect the baby.
Accelerating smoothly, he transgressed the boundaries of the gray desktop background.
by Stanley Lieber
"Eventually, we just followed them into the mountains. There was nothing going on in town, anyway. Did I say tail? I meant trail."
Maude could see two gashes atop TAB3’s bald head. Healed now, but clearly the rough-hewn evidence of some severely memorable trauma. Like a comically botched restoration job, or maybe a giant snake had taken a bite out of his skull.
"Dragon, actually," TAB3 corrected her.
"Oh, I’m telepathic. Telekenetic, too. Inherited my Mom’s powers."
"Even though I’m your biological mother," Maude said.
"Kuzuryū works in mysterious ways."
Maude could feel her ovaries hardening even as the boy spoke. The mere mention of TAB2’s second wife, Eva Bright, had put her right off her morning tea. She tabled the saucer and cup, inadvertently nudging her signed copy of WITH QUARTER NEITHER ASKED NOR GIVEN: A SEXUAL BIOGRAPHY OF X-MEN WRITER CHRIS CLAREMONT.
She hated family stuff.
MISTAKES ARE THE BEGINNING OF SUCCESS
"We wandered up the mountain. Slowly, at first, but nobody seemed to object, so gradually we accelerated, amassing political influence, soon surpassing the speed of what is understood to be strictly legal business. Thankfully, the mountain was beyond the reach of government regulatory bodies."
"Yes, Plinth was fond of that joke as well," Maude allowed, and let it drop.
"So, we found the green door. It kept on getting darker and darker all around the path. Soon, everything went dark. The whole world. Togakushi, whatever. We knocked, but the old crone wouldn’t open up."
"How did you get her to come out?"
"We had to trick her."
Maude felt like she couldn’t wake up. Someone was pounding at the door.
"FUCK," she said, as she lifted the latch and light flooded in.
It was her son.
Holding a mirror.
by Stanley Lieber
The left of the left is right —Yoshio Hayakawa
ACCOUNTS OF NUMINOUS EFFICACY
5 January 2049.
Maude Mold watched the M.A.S.K. intro on repeat, jerking her arms stupidly each time the insipid song reached its screeching climax. Flames in the fireplace cycled inevitably through their finite quantity of discreet frames, mocking her attempts to exert mere human decision power over the intentionally limited choices on offer. Maude didn’t even like M.A.S.K., but this clip was just so easy to click.
The flames looped.
23 June 2049.
Somewhere in the global north...
"Yeah, I don’t really want to sell coke."
TAB3, just back from space. TAB2, his father, had seen neither hide nor hair of the boy for an untold number of years, and he had to be honest, he wasn’t exactly chuffed to see him now. Too many memories from a time before he’d straightened out all his own bullshit. His son had just... shown up, declared himself pregnant, and then proceeded to dig in his heels, staking out a disused corner of the living room for his bedroll. That was ten minutes ago. This all rang disturbingly familiar. The selfsame predicament TAB2 had found himself in, all those years ago.*
And now here he was saying he thought he was too good to take over the family business.
Well, like the RAGNAROK during her mid-career stint of labor activism, that just wasn’t going to fly.
"Son, it’s what we do. Ever since I was a boy. How do you think I paid for these tits?"
TAB2 lifted up his flannel shirt.
"Something’s happening in space. Everything’s turned inside out. The stars are black, the background’s all white. Like somebody was pressing on my visor." TAB2 lowered his shirt, walked back over to his pressboard desk and resumed his 8-bit gaming session. He was starting to lose interest in the conversation. TAB3 did tend to go on.
"This, too, is utterly expected. The stars invert. You’re not sixteen anymore, grow the fuck up."
"I’m keeping my baby."
TAB2 did a spit take, flipped out both sides of his mullet with his hands, then brought a fist down on his mechanical computer keyboard, showering the tiny apartment with a debris of murder.
"Not if I get you out of Indiana before the law finds out."
INVENTING A LEGENDARY PAST
4 July 2049.
Sparklers lined the sidewalk in front of Maude’s modest Midwestern home, fizzling in the boy’s ears as he approached. TAB3 didn’t get it. What if the lawn caught fire?
Maude was already on shift, waiting behind the front screen door as he made his way up the sidewalk. Yōhai—worshipping from afar?
"Dad kicked me out again," he said.
"I know," she said, but pointedly didn’t open the screen door.
He unrolled his sleeping bag right there on the porch.
* ACTRON V4, #14
by Stanley Lieber
tags: 1967, mars3, piro, tab1, tab2
He couldn’t remember much after that. The world seemed to shift, colors inverting like someone pressing on the front of his visor, but no one seemed interested in acknowledging any changes. Red became green, green became red. Political parties switched sides, bowed to their partners. Converse had always been at war with Pepsi. The war would go on and on. Right on.
MARS3 was already winding down. Together they’d scooped out all the drugs from under the site, undermining the integrity of the whole installation. Homes were starting to collapse, foundations hollowed out from the inside in a passable simulation of normal hierarchical dysfunction. All this without anyone having discovered the serious bug in host authentication that had been present in every new installation for the past several releases.
TAB2 couldn’t think.
"Hey, that black shit’s getting into the coke."
Dad seemed unfazed by social changes, but he did disapprove of miscellaneous debris contaminating his product. He ran over and swatted away the gathering particles from atop Piro’s fresh bales, concussing vortices of the dark whatever it was outwards in a radial pattern, frittering gradually away from his wares.
"Keep your sweat on, it’s just mold."
Piro still never blinked, his big black eyes punctuating any stare down with extreme prejudice. TAB2 caught himself wondering at intervals if the pirate was truly alive, or if he was simply an aggregate model of scraped tropes incorporated without permission from user contributions.
Dog barking, somewhere in the distance. Instruction tuning, persistence of time. TAB2 could swear he heard a lawn mower, but there was no grass on Mars. Only coke.
Although... Maybe up the mountain.
"I wanted to be at CIA, MTV, or Apple," TAB2 sulked, dropping anchor into the quagmire where his many paths not taken overlapped. There was no consoling him whenever he indulged thusly in his despair at the many years that remained on his sentence. And beyond grade school there would be high school. At least.
"You did good," his father said, not really listening. "And take off that fucking mask."
Piro started up the baling machine again.
by Stanley Lieber
tags: 1967, ragnarok, tab1, tab2
Before and after TAB2 visited the mountain, regardless of peccadillo, circumstance, or time period, these guys, these beings, not quite gods, had been up there. They just wouldn’t leave, and forcible measures had so far failed, not that they hadn’t been tried, so the government at length saw fit to cut a deal. These guys would stick to their mountain and the Air Force would stop trying to kill them. When no reply came the government declared victory and fucked off back to their test site, sealing off the area with impregnable red tape and instructing all personnel to avoid transgressing the boundary of the foothills.
Spiro Mold’s death had complicated the arrangement. TAB2, driven into the mountains with his apparent grief having eroded his already thin attention to the rules like so much desert topsoil in the infrequent rain, had stepped right into the middle of the dispute, unaware of his role in the continuing land withdrawal drama. The ascetics who sat immobile at the highest elevations shrugged and accepted him into their stubbornly stationary community, but only just. Maybe he could be ransomed? But that would require getting oneself up off of one’s beleaguered ass. TAB2 was happy to finally stop moving. It would be quite a few years until he came back down, even though he had only been gone a few hours.
Of course, bearing new ideas about the current disposition and eventual redistribution of test site resources.
"And just where did you think all this coke was going? Williamsburg?"
TAB1. His dad. Jerked a thumb towards the RAGNAROK, whom from all appearances had been packed full of ticker taped bales of cocaine and was ready for the journey back to Earth.
"I dunno, Palo Alto?"
TAB1 scoffed, suppressing a fatherly grin.
by Stanley Lieber
ESTABLISHING THE TRANSLOCAL FOUNDER
tags: 1999, earth, plinth_mold
Birds like flies near the top of the Chrysler building. Plinth Mold had just announced the next round of layoffs, and already they were circling, waiting to peel face-lifts off of overpriced faces. This one was going to be brutal. Even his wife had to go.
He pressed the switch on his desk, unsure if anyone was still out there, employed or not, on the other side of his big, green door.
She must have already cleaned out her desk.
Suddenly awakening in his very body, he placed the papers on his desk back into his safe, locked his office, and got the coffee himself. Things would run more smoothly around here from now on. No more substandard prompt engineering filling in the adult diapers with Balls Conkrite, pecker wheat, and scurrilous pablum. Mobile suit god damn.
Only six years into the new epoch and already he’d fucked it all up.
by Stanley Lieber
COLLECTED KEY SECRETS
tags: 1966, mars2, mars3, spiro_mold
From beneath the runway the surface appeared as liquid glass, shimmering translucent sheets he recalled skirting the grade school swimming pool, served forth from his ample memory of only yesterday. Spiro stared up at the exposed rafters, wondering if, as it had lately come to seem, grade school really was the whole wide world, after all.
Was he dead? Or had he just fallen through the ground?
Something about TAB2. Man, fuck that guy.
Everything here was covered in black mold, like the wet, mildewy maintenance manuals he’d found stashed in the basement of his old apartment building, or the worst utility closet ever. Spiro surfaced the runway, but it wasn’t much help. He was pretty sure he could see the mold moving in the air. What did it want? Had it always been there? No wonder so many workers went home sick, or never went home at all.
He thought about MARS3 and he was back at MARS3.
Mom was out. Probably at her new new job. He didn’t much feel like going to school, so he didn’t. New apartment, same as the first.
He thought about MARS2 and he was back at MARS2.
Children at play in the melting snow.
Covered in mold.
Why was he seeing this?
by Stanley Lieber
MAUDE’S NEW NEW JOB
tags: 1967, mars3, maude_mold, piro, tab2
"What ho, pirate!"
It was back to school for TAB2, the very next day after coming back from MARS2. No time off for bad behavior. Piro was still moonlighting as a bus driver, pretending nobody knew who he was. He nodded back at the boy, blank as a main sail, and the serpent’s mouth yawned, dilating in anticipation as TAB2 climbed aboard, Piro’s smooth facade still flapping in the morning wind even after TAB2 had taken his seat.
"Yisssssssss," the door hissed.
And they were off.
School at MARS3 was more of the same. Endless scroll backed by a slightly newer software architecture running on slightly older computers, both acquired through the usual combination of lowest bidding and standards compliant corruption. Dad had already made sure the company replaced his discarded visor, so the redundancy annoyed him. The beige boxes and clicky mechanical keyboards represented friction, the bane of harvesting surplus. Which he had thought had been the whole point of the exercise. This e-waste only served to slow him down.
The serpent spit him out at the front gates. Piro closed his flaps, flipping the serpent around and kicking up sand in the faces of nearby sand dunes as he slithered off in the opposite direction. TAB2’s gloves had already logged him in, so he was trapped waiting for his assignments to download. There was no skipping class now without violating the software agreement.
by Stanley Lieber
tags: 1966, Æsir, mars2, mars3, sue, tab1, tab2
Off by one.
The Æsir dropped him off back at the tail end of good old 1966, still nine years old, and Robert is your father’s nearest male relative. A serpent picked him up at the foot of the mountain.
Where was he going?
Spiro was still dead. The test site was still closed down. Or, whatever, he wasn’t supposed to be there. He was breathing hard in his respirator, pinching the bridge of his nose until it bruised. He imagined he could see the black mold orbiting, could see what Plinth must be up to. A lot of the workers were probably getting sick. Statistically speaking, somebody was getting sued.
He rode back home, ignoring the regular haptic alerts from his data gloves squeezing his fingers in an apparent imitation of a grinning superior’s handshake. When he could no longer keep his eyes open his unaugmented vision blanked, and so he nearly missed his stop. Sue nudged him gently when at last it was time to disembark, and he clambered off his transport almost remembering where he was going. He made sure not to leave anything behind, and rote learning from earlier in this narrative eased his transition from the solitude and 6XL attire of the mountain lifestyle back to the similarly rat-infested, contemporary walk-up apartment he shared with his father.
Who hadn’t seemed to have missed him.
"Get your go bag. We’re headed back to MARS2."
TAB2 rolled his eyes.
photo by momus, used without permission.
by Stanley Lieber
WHY WE CALL THEM BROTHERS
tags: 4099, Æsir, ants, mars2, piro, ragnarok, tab1, tab2
Gather round children for the tale of why we call them brothers. Many young folk employed at the ranges today are not aware, but ants were not always the dominant life form here at the test site. Before the expansion, before we emerged mandible-over-mandible out of the service namespace, lo, even before the Æsir interjected their moronic evangelism into our creation myths, human beings bestrode these same sands, dispensing their behavior surplus, neither aware nor consenting to its collection by hostile forces.
It was on one such day, oh, I’d say around three thousand years ago, make it late 1957, when TAB1 breached the big hangar on the south end of the runway, calling, as it were, to inquire after his partner Piro’s disposition. But Piro was not in attendance on that morning, gone these several hours pursuing a thread unrelated to our present narrative, instantiating some diverse resource fork, somewhere up the chain. Concurrently, not in parallel. Stipulate that TAB1 encountered an empty hangar. Empty as he understood it up to that point.
There she was.
RAGNAROK, children. The end of days.
Well, she was as beautiful as anything he’d seen. That certainly got his attention. She was long, she was sleek. Glistening pink. The microscopic, fractal triangles comprising her smooth skin reflected wideband, non-ionizing radiation at oblique angles, at least where it didn’t outright ingest it, leaving naught but a barrier of absolute room temperature air to coat her exquisite periphery, like the laminar flow of an air hockey table, or the active wing of a classified aircraft.
I tell you, not even an ant would have adhered to her surface.
TAB1 was smitten beyond words, and I’m not just saying that, I assure you.
Now Piro, born of the RAGNAROK, was a loyal and jealous son. He did not approve of unannounced visitors in the hangar, much less aboard his ship. Even if they were regular passengers. Seriously, he didn’t like it one little bit. He looked in on TAB1 and his mother engaged in... the act.
The RAGNAROK’s doors ajar, forward probes extended. TAB1’s khaki pants around his ankles, United States flag at full mast in the bed of his waist-mounted pickup truck fanny pack. Body parts appearing and disappearing according to some regular, structured pattern reminiscent of human music.
Based upon the immediate descent into silence all involved seemed to agree it was a bad look.
TAB1 had expected for Piro to somewhat pedantically point out the several violations of the flag code currently in evidence, but instead the lonely pirate simply turned on his heels and walked out of the chamber, pretending somewhat implausibly that he’d never seen what his mother and his best friend had been up to, there, inside her body, inside his hangar that was isolated from the rest of the base by a modest-sized marsworks of local dust and soot. If he’d felt some kind of way about it he never let on.
He never mentioned it to anyone.
Later on that same day TAB2 was born.