Outback

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

[This is a work in progress.]

The jeep bounces over uneven ground, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it. The driver's hands dance on the steering wheel, never gripping it too tightly, just nudges here and there, the fingers push and pull at the dusty leather that's been smoothed over by the decades of continuous use. The driver reaches into the side console and pulls out a tape with a faded label ("Safari Song") and jams it into the car's stereo. Old world music comes out of after-after-market speakers and sounds exactly like a landslide of a thousand tons of broken glass.

Today there are three passengers. Seated next to the driver is a nervous-looking bespectacled Anglo with a wild mustache, and sharing the backseat are two Asian ladies decked out to the nines in unblemished designer gear that must have first encountered dust and sweat just this morning. They arrived at the Outpost on the cross-continental train a few hours ago and paid handsomely for the ride. The driver has stopped glancing in the mirror, he's already seen all he needs to see, knows everything and nothing about his fare.

"...then the locals stormed the palace and carried out the gov'nuh on a rail. Honest injun, I was there, never seen anything like it. No one wanted another repeat of the Winter Solstice Incident, so we just elected a new gov'nuh and pretended we'd never heard of Old Gaspar. Now, his son..."

The driver is talking to himself more than anyone. The passenger next to him is tuning him out, just staring at the wild expanse of emptiness around the jeep. The ones in the back are asleep.

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Hero

[Estimated reading time: 17 minutes]

A new day is a new chance to become our better selves, my mother used to say. She still says it, but she used to say it, too.

I think of the strange but loving woman and her weird obsession with us bettering ourselves, and hope that today makes me a better self. I say a prayer to Kaleel, and to Tomoy for good measure, and push my boat off from the shore.

The first few strides are across soft sand, and I sink a little as I push the boat away from the shore, then I hop into the boat and row hard and fast, and just manage to avoid an underwater rock I'd not noticed until now. I curse the unfamiliar beach and long to be back home, to set off from the shore that I know so well.

Better self, I repeat to myself, and set off toward the rising sun. The cool blue light illuminates the shore and glances off the ocean waves, flits across the ripples, and ignites my soul. I hold steady and row straight out toward the sun, watching as the shore recedes and clear features disappear into a strange blend. I concentrate on rowing for a while and only look up again after a few miles. The island, from this distance, looks like a moss-covered rock, the jungle's thick canopy of greens and yellows blend together and it's hard to make out individual trees.

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Coward

[Estimated reading time: 10 minutes]

"That fucking... the stupid son of a bitch... I'll show him... he's gonna eat his words..." Felix mutters as he stomps his feet, his mind not on the rainy walk. He is almost run over at two non-consecutive intersections. Each step comes down and causes a localized tsunami that threatens worms and leaves, splashes Felix's pants and drives his thoughts further toward madness.

Felix is so absorbed in his thoughts of retribution and destruction that he actually walks a block past the halfway house. When he realizes this, he lets out a growl of anger that startles a handful of birds who are hiding out from the rain in the branches of a heavy oak.

He runs into the house and doesn't bother to take off his shoes, just stomps into the basement, ignoring Mildred as he does this. He's not sure what she's saying to him and he doesn't rightly care. He goes to the small double room that he shares with Buddy and is happy to see that he's alone at this moment.

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Incursion 2

[Estimated reading time: 17 minutes]

I step through knee-high water, a department-issued service weapon in hand. The watertight boots curve and bend around the uneven and slippery ground, so I have perfect form. I crawl another dozen feet down the disused ventilation tunnel, stop and listen. Something like human speech reaches my subconscious, a ghost whisper that's too quiet for the real world.

I hear the sounds of water first, then finally a human voice pierces my consciousness and I realize that someone up ahead is asking for help. I creep around a turn in the tunnel and see a large empty space. It must be another interchange, a point in the system where multiple of these tunnels meet up.

There's a bumpy shadow in the crook of the tunnel, where the ground reaches up and disappears into darkness far overhead. The shadow moves and at the edge of my hearing I barely detect a cough.

Poor bastard must be near death! I realize. I have to help, right?

"He is somebody's son, perhaps somebody's father," I whisper. I'm talking to myself, of course.

I'm on a mission, but does that mean I have to ignore a dying man?

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Incursion

[Estimated reading time: 15 minutes]

The dream, when it comes, is as alien as always. I'm at the Kenyan Floyd concert, they're going through The Wall highlights, playing familiar songs with their own flair and unique rendition. A huge inflated balloon in the shape of a zebra floats through the stadium. The crowd hums and thrums, sings along to the decades-old songs as if this was opening night.

There's an aquarium on stage. A fish about twenty feet long swims upwards through a torrent of air bubbles. Two men stand at the bottom of the aquarium, their hair moves back and forth with the currents, as they describe their account of the grizzly murder scene to a single blue-hatted police officer. The victim lies at their feet, its robotic body mangled and torn at random spots, its right arm hangs by a single power cable.

Six green laser paths hang in the air over the audience and vibrate whenever the Gilmore-masked band-member strums his guitar.

Dog-headed Anubis stands on a cliff high over the crowd and holds a fishing rod, trying his best to catch the more out-of-it members of the audience.


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Dollhouse

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

This is a work in progress.

Anna and her husband Tom watch helplessly as their friend Walter slips on the wet rocks and goes head-over-heels into the airy void. They're at the top of American Falls some four hundred feet above the gushing river. Walter's falling form disappears into the mist and after a second the scene goes back to its idyllic state, unblemished by the temporary tragedy.

Anna lunges for the edge, her right arm stretched out to grab at the receding form. Tom holds her back from the treacherous edge, "Careful, don't slip!"

"We have to get down there!" Anna is frantically looking around, searching for a safe path down.

Tom pulls her close and holds her, strokes Anna's hair. "We will. I'm going to call this in, first."

Anna buries her head in Tom's vest and cries. She knows they're not going to find Walter.

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Old DC

[Estimated reading time: 6 minutes]

Billy leaves his hotel after breakfast and walks the few dozen blocks to the museum.

The streets of DC look strange, uncluttered by the automobiles of Billy's youth, a ubiquitous sight that was already on its way out when Billy was born. Here in DC, much like most other US cities, the last of the Auto Century roads have been repurposed and transformed into wide and infinite-seeming parks that cut across each other in strange orientations.

Even a decade or two back, Billy would have needed to make a number of breather stops. Benches line the miles of park, but Billy walks past these. It's the best he's felt in a long time, and the sole reason he arranged a hotel so far away from his one and only destination here in DC. He wants to enjoy walking in the city of his birth, just this one last time.

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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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