Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range first appeared in Chiaroscuro.
Death comes swiftly on the teddy bear range when the night devils' silhouettes mar the purpling sky. I shiver in the chill nightfall. Muffin turns his back to me, lights a cigarette as if to ward off the darkness.
"Get the little ones inside," I say. "We're burning the fires bright tonight."
At our feet, the wind blew in a piece of red yarn tangled in a few strands of yellow fur. After a quiet couple of weeks the bastards are feeding again.
"Venusian?" the woman asked, poppy smoke curling out of her nostrils. She took another drag on the cigarette and glanced over her shoulder at the spare, short man with a big nose standing respectfully behind her. He smiled, displaying blunt, nicotine-colored teeth.
"Martian, Countess Felluci."
"Of course. So easy to get those fellows confused, donchaknow." She looked up at the strange, metal mechanism hanging from the ceiling of the dirigible hangar and waved a gloved hand for emphasis. She wore military jodhpurs and a lavender Hussar's jacket, buttoned to the neck. Leather gloves and knee-high riding boots completed the ensemble. It contrasted sharply to the little man's own rather hum-drum appearance. He could've been a banker or a lawyer, rather than a scientist.
Episode 3 - Suicide is Painless
First Published: March 1st, 2010
Written by Don Norum
Read by Paul W Campbell
Lucia got up out of bed and stood naked in front of the mirror to examine her body in the dim light. Alexander Perez pushed the sheets down to his waist and sat up on his elbows, watching the gentle bulge of neuroptic interface clusters beneath her skin, sockets glinting like diamonds as they caught the gentle glow from the edges of the ceiling. She held her arms out straight from her sides and worked them through their range of motion.
First the fingers on her right hand, then left. From there on up to the wrists, the jewels in the palms of her hands spinning in small circles as her exercises moved up to her forearms.
"I was awake for the procedure, you know," she said to the gloom. "It was an odd feeling, to have my flesh sliced open and the circuits put in, little antiseptic globs of plastic bonded to my bones to keep them in place. I could feel them itching as they knit around the anchor posts - it was worst in the lower back and hands."
Fluffed up blonde hair, baby blue eyes and lips red like the cherry she still has, Britney’s working that street corner like she’s been doing it for years. Fifteen going on twenty, she has the pimps wrapped around her finger so we can stake out this spot no trouble. My best friend since infant school, she’s always been the leader, she doesn’t feel the fear that crawls in my gut. She sticks out a skinny hip and wiggles at a lone car as it cruises past, swinging her bulky shoulder bag like a flag.
The streetlight flickers, illuminating the broken down houses, the street littered with rubbish. Peeling posters decorate the brick walls, photos of missing children with lank hair and dead eyes. A black triangle symbol is sprayed over them, a red five inside the shape.
Another car crawls past, slithering like a slug, the driver not liking what we’re selling. Rainbow neon disguises the colour, but not the age. Rust drips, a geriatric skin disease. Everything here is old, except us.
Alex was running along a deserted beach in a quiet cove. She knew that if she stopped and turned, she would be able to see the tops of the Institute's chimneys showing above the trees. But she did not stop or turn because she was enjoying herself. She ran for the joy of running, feeling the burning muscles of her legs and the biting wind in her face as she pushed herself across the pebbles.
After she had run to the end of the beach, she walked down to the water. With her hands in her pockets, she pursued the waves up and down, following the water as it was pulled away, walking away and back up the beach as it came in. A simple game, even childish, but she was no longer child-like enough to commit herself fully to it. There were no more squeals of pleasure or excited dashes for her in human form.
As Alex stopped in her dejection, a wave broke gently over her shoes. She looked down at the water, almost dazed enough by her emotions to forget why she stood there. She turned and walked up to the top of the beach, passed the high water mark. A flutter of movement up on the path caught her eye and she looked up. There was Olsen, his overcoat flapping in the sea breeze, brief-case in hand. She could not quite see his expression, but his stance was relaxed. For a moment, she allowed herself the illusion that someone out there did care about her.
The cop was bluffing—you didn’t have to be a psyche to work that out. With three spades already on the table, she was trying to fake a flush, but her eyes betrayed her: too manic, too desperate. Mink sensed the cards she clutched were a nine of hearts and an ace, probably a spade. That’d get her a pair of nines—an okay hand, sure, but not when Mink’s employer could make the straight.
Mink smiled and slid a hand under the table, pressing her knuckles twice against Sampson’s upper thigh. It was a prearranged signal, something she’d worked out with the conman months ago; it meant: Break her.
‘I’m feeling lucky,’ said Sampson. ‘Maybe I’ll call you.’
When I was young, mortality seemed tremendously romantic. I left the Mountain of the Gods when I came of age, filled with youthful wanderlust and strong desire to thumb my nose at my family, though I wouldn't have admitted it then. I wasn't a goddess yet. Most humans think all immortals are divine, but within our pantheon, men are born gods, and only the women who marry them become goddesses.
It wasn't until much later, after I'd married a human I loved and began to age, that I questioned the wisdom of my defection. Now, after sixty human years, mortality looms. Saulos knows my dilemma even though I have not spoken a word of it. He knows, as I pack my small satchel with a favorite brush, a pair of comfortable slippers, a bit of parchment and a wellworn quill, that I may not come back.
"Do you have a gift?" he asks, knowing I rarely think of such things. I was raised with the gods, and we don't give gifts; we are the gift. Old habits die hard.
They come at night, of course. Infra-red vision gives them yet another advantage in the chaotic dark, and perhaps they believe they cannot similarly be seen under night's black blanket. They hit the shanty-town with three auto-striders left over from Stupid War II. Behind these are the troops with their night goggles, keeping their distance not because they fear the townsfolk, but because the striders have been set to fire at movement.
The robot gun platforms pick their way into the town with exaggerated, nimble, three-legged care. They follow pre-programmed patrol patterns that will keep them at a safe distance from each other. They are mechanized-ankle deep in the litter and rubble before it happens. Maybe it's a dog. Maybe it's a plastic bag shifting in the faint breeze. Whatever it is, the mini-guns on a strider churn into life, and that chattering bark wakes the town. Scant moments later the darkness is alight. 'Houses' made of tin and canvas are swept away by streams of thrown metal. The people break cover screaming, and pour out into the passageways like ants from a disturbed nest. Caught in the gorgon gaze of the auto-striders a person, a man, a woman, a child, decomposes like one of those fast-forward-films of a carcass being stripped by bugs. They stumble over each other and over the piles of steaming meat that were once their families, and cram into the narrow streets, forming tidy rivers of scrambling people that the auto-striders hose with hot metal.
The troops watch through their night vision, laughing and whooping, and making bets on how far this or that person will run. These are the same boys and girls who grin in dress-uniform from photo-frames on parental and grand-parental fireplaces.
What was wrong with Melanie was that nothing looked different. When you see someone for the first time in a long time, your eyes don't match up to the memory: if it's an ex-girlfriend in winter, she looks paler; an old friend looks balder, softer; a parent looks impossibly old, like a grandparent, like someone who's about to die. You're confused then—sad? Like you're saying goodbye again to someone you used to know. I felt none of that for Melanie, but it wasn't my fault. From down the train platform, she turned her head—she'd dyed her hair red again and she stood out from the commuters like a burning house—and her face was drawn, I could see her forcing this new me over the me she'd been seeing when she remembered. She hadn't seen me in eight months. I hadn't seen her in three days.
"Tom." She pulled back, palms hot on my cheeks. "You're thinner."
His name was Sergio Oliva, and the other children called him "Pollo." "Chicken."
Melanie Rankin was sitting beneath the ancient elm in the southeast corner of the schoolyard, reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (for the third time), when she heard Sergio wheezing heavily while trying to keep up with the other eightyearolds who were running riot throughout the playground. He tried to emulate their joyous cries and the abandon with which they chased one another, but the best that he could manage was a kind of wan laughter as he hobbled behind the noisy group.
Melanie thought that Sergio was a beautiful child, with the largest brown eyes she had ever seen. But his right leg was badly misshapen at both the knee and ankle, so that even with a brace and several past surgeries, he was still forced to throw his arms away from his body in a desperate effort to maintain his balance with every step. The action reminded the other kids of a bird flapping its wings.