Don’t you want somebody to love?

[Estimated reading time: 4 minutes]

Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love
Wouldn't you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

I hang on to a lamp post and cough, and it feels like I hack up half a lung. I spit and the red blood mixes with the brackish water in the gutter a few feet away. I analyze the spit for a moment, see that there are no large chunks in it, and continue walking.

The rain is relentless as it pelts me, but I barely notice. It's been hours, days, weeks like this, and I'm tired of caring. I turn up the collar of my jacket, pull my hat down tighter, and just try to concentrate on walking.

A street sign says I'm passing 480th. I look down and continue to put one foot in front of another, another shambling mess out on the city streets. The perpetual gray of the city is an oppressive blanket, and I'm wallowing in it.

I walk past a neon travesty, a pachinko parlor that's hoping to provide their clientele with the skin cancer they're missing out on by staying here below the clouds. I stare a bit too long and a pink neon elephant sign is permanently burned into my retina.

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In the Clouds

[Estimated reading time: 15 minutes]

We reach the coast just an hour before sunset. I look back and note our path, a long swath of dust rising slowly in the calm windless air, illuminated a dazzling gold by the setting sun. The dust twists for miles, then disappears behind a small hill. With a little light remaining, we set up our camp.

I pull my pop-up tent from my hover-bike, unravel it on the ground and check it for holes, tears, scorpions. I then straighten and connect its carbon-fiber ribs and plug the tent's power into my bike. While the tent inflates on its own, I go through the bike's maintenance menu and start a cleaning and fine-tuning process. I send up a dozen fly-sized drones to watch over us. I can check what they are seeing around us, but I don't feel like it and just leave them to their task.

Pops dumps his sleeping bag by the ring of rocks that's going to serve as the campfire. He pulls out some kindling from the bike's side bag, small twigs and branches that he gathered every time we stopped, and starts building a small well-ventilated structure. He adds larger branches and pieces of wood, then gets the fire started with some flint.

He's in charge of the common camp space today, while I'm cooking. I've been enjoying these moments for their pure simplicity.

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Alonzo (Part 2 of Surfers)

[Estimated reading time: 14 minutes]

Writer's note: this is a work in progress.

Previous chapter: Jaz


"First thing first, what's your name?" I'm struggling with anger and grief, interspersed with curiosity.

"Kieran, of course. Alonzo is my cover. But if it helps you, you can continue to call me Alonzo." He almost makes that sound normal.

"Where are you from? How are you Kieran?"

"I'm from a universe similar to this one. Our reality split off from yours - or yours spawned from ours - thirty years ago." Alonzo speaks these words and watches my face, my eyes. He's looking for recognition, nods when he sees it. "That's right, it was your mother's disappearance. I remember standing with you in the lab, watching the Hermosa start up her engines, and disappear. You saw the Flash. That other Jasmine saw the birth of a star."

I'm holding onto a railing, and I'm grateful for it, as my head is now spinning. "Pearl, give us gravity. And let's starting heading toward that storm." I'm not sure if I should trust Alonzo, but I think catching up to the storm is not unreasonable, under the circumstances.

The ship slowly accelerates. Both I and Alonzo gently fall toward the floor, feet impacting first, and we cautiously stand up against the artificial gravity.

Alonzo looks into my eyes. "I didn't kill your father."

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Prologue (Part 0 of Surfers)

[Estimated reading time: 11 minutes]

The ANN Greer began its life as a an ancient Stream mega-transport. This was in the early days of Stream exploration, before the tech shrank and became reliable, so the transport had multiple overpowered reactors and vast spaces for all manner of cargo.

The Stream tech kept improving and quickly it became much too expensive to power the Greer, and so much cheaper to jury rig a Stream reactor to a smaller craft, a shipping container, an ATV, or even a tractor. After a bit less than a century of ferrying mega-tons around the Solar System, Greer was repurposed as a travelling research lab and long-term transport.

At the moment, she's sailing across Saturn's face in strange non-orbits, orbits that can only be attained (cheaply) with the Stream tech.

Kieran watches the muddy yellows of the gas giant being stirred up by a storm that cuts across the planet from east to west. It will soon reach its tail, the earliest disturbances the storm caused in the atmosphere as it circles the planet.


Saturn storm
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Jaz (Part 1 of Surfers)

[Estimated reading time: 26 minutes]

Previous chapter: Prologue


30 years after the mysterious disappearance of the ANN Hermosa

It's my last day at work, for a while at least, and it's as hectic as usual. My lead, Magda, is running around as if her head was on fire, but this is her MO. She just enjoys being overwhelmed, double-booked, and pushed up against a hard deadline.

From Jaz To @WorkSocialGroup Congrats on the great job! I'll miss you all. Lukewarm Spiders Meme See you at the club!

I hand off the last touch-ups of my set of holos, the last updates we'd discussed just an hour earlier, send them on to my lead. Magda notices and shouts, from the other side of the large space we occupy, a thanks and a "have fun", and she's gone again, diving back into some work-fire.

From Minear to @WorkSocialGroup: Dragoons! Dragoons #19 meme

The rest of the group echoes back, memes start flying through my vision, great big hulking sumo wrestlers are toppling buildings over and over again.

Through the carnage I notice that Gabe is walking with determination to some point in front of me, between myself and the exit. There's a holo in his hand, but it looks strange, its colors have gone neon. Gabe is creating a Vatican art exhibit, so this is probably a "Gabe problem" that he's making a "Jaz problem". Gotta love the interns, their moves are so predictable.

I side-step just in time to avoid colliding with Gabe, then watch with mild amusement as he gets tangled in the furniture. "Looks like your colors are all off. Talk to Minear, he had a similar issue when...", I pause and dredge up the memory from a few months back, "he worked on the Caravaggio sets."

The team is all ragged smiles. We've delivered on the promised courses, even with the last-minute changes, and everyone's feeling nice and accomplished, but dead tired. We pushed ourselves for this one. I continue making my way out through the blizzard of farewells and memes and wave my goodbyes. Gabe beams and waves from the floor, then gets back to his struggle.

From Pearl to Jaz: Break a leg!

From Jaz To Pearl: Policeman flipping the crux at the photographer

I run for the closest outer shuttle, slump into an open seat by the window and wonder if I forgot to do anything. I'm sure I did, but it's not like I'm going into hibernation. I queue up something from my high-tempo collection and techno floods my head, the subdermal speakers thrum my skull. My heart-rate increases and I smile.

Playing: "Call me Ishmael" by Lukewarm Spiders

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S&G

[Estimated reading time: 7 minutes]

[Author's note: this story is set in December 2020.]

I hop the train before texting, sure of the outcome already. Kevin will see the text, will debate himself, will lose, and we'll have a fun night in. It's that simple. I know the exact train, so this is a photo finish as I'm the last one aboard.

In the train, I find a seat behind a yuppie couple. They are heading back from their "First Time in the Big City", it's written on their faces. They smile those idiot grins, but only for the first couple of days, then they pick up the "local look", and panhandlers know to avoid them.

I set the sting on them, leave it running in my backpack. On my phone I watch their internet traffic and wonder who these two are.

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Memory Fail, 4

[Estimated reading time: 4 minutes]

Sarah's SUV speeds through forests and along lakes, eventually bringing her and the driver to the Olympia Veterans Affairs offices. The building doubles as a live-in facility as well. They park the car in the sparse but expansive lot, this one next to a sprawling corn field so large they are unable to see any other edges, and enter the administrative building.

Captain Wilcox is there to meet them. He is the ranking officer of the staff and will be helping with today's drill and session.

VA was told this was a new form of exercise-based therapy, they went along and supplied volunteers, soldiers who were willing to try just about anything. These were typically soldiers suffering from severe cases of PTSD, the trauma from their time in the military ruining any chance at a new life.

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Voice

[Estimated reading time: 19 minutes]

Author’s note: this is a work in progress.

"I don't normally do unpacking videos," I speak from behind the camera, "but this is like something out of sci-fi, so let's do it!

"OK, the box is out. Not too big, see. Not exactly what I was expecting, but no matter. Here's the collar, charging brick, cable. Hmm. And a cute little informational pamphlet. Let's forget about that for now.

"Thor, come here buddy! Yeah, who's a good girl? You are! Gosh, you just know when the camera's rolling, don't you? Of course you do! You're gonna be a star soon, gonna need to get you an agent..."

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Commute

[Estimated reading time: 6 minutes]

The red-and-green highly visible headphones are my protective shield as I walk past barely-shuffling heroin user and the teenage runaways. The song changes to "Lady in Black" and there's a spring in my step. I descend the marble stairs - instead of taking the escalator with its "everyone knows you're high" stickers and the luggage-lugging tourists - and sing along under my breath, a 21st century chorus to an immortalized 1971 version of Uriah Heep.

A short walk on this connecting platform, also marble, and a swipe of the fare card sounds a familiar beep, an announcement to the whole station that I've paid my way, nothing to see here folks. I fly down the stairs, the soles of my shoes barely making contact with the steps. After two or three of these, my feet lift off and I'm leaping, descending past a dozen hard hard marble outcroppings. A voice screams inside my skull, a few beats too late.

I'm falling, the ground is coming up awfully fast, there's a gasp from above but I can't look up, can't look away from the nondescript spot on the floor where I anticipate to make my painful landing.

But I don't fall. The ground isn't flying up to smack me in the face. It was, but then rethought, changed its mind, and receded from me instead.

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