By Prescription Only: Themed Writing

Warning Label: The following short stories are entirely works of fiction. The following nonfiction essays express the views of the authors and not necessarily those of Drugstore Books. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination, are used fictitiously, or are used referentially. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction and/or nonfiction as applicable, which have been used without permission. The use/publication of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Other works cited are referenced and valid as of the time of posting and/or publication, where applicable. Some stories and/or essays in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

Okay, now that that’s done, enjoy these contributions from our readers!

Hollow: The Master of All Easter Eggs by Nick Cody

Namaste, YouTubers! CineSeekers here with more commentary on everything movies. Remember to click “Like” and “Subscribe” to get our latest posts!

Remember that clever hoax from 1999 convincing the entire world that Stanley Kubrick had died? The pranksters must have been betting that the uber-famous director’s reclusive nature would help perpetuate their game. To this day no one knows who did it or why. Or, more accurately, loads of conspiracy theorists claimed to know but all failed to convince the general public. When one of those vloggers came out with the idea that it was Kubrick himself who launched the original announcement of death in order to promote his movie Eyes Wide Shut, the great director stepped forward and quashed all rumors with a live interview on CNN wherein he quoted that great line by Twain, drolly delivered: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”…

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Hollow: Paper Boats by Paul J. Rogers

Human beings are malleable and vodka should be banned. Perestroika Vodka definetly should be banned (without question), and everyone has something they dislike about themselves (if they’re honest). Those thoughts, more or less, had strobed underneath each eyelid as Nikki Baxter had woken to the world this morning. She’d then vomitted her morning coffee and gone back to bed.

Her latest attempt at getting up was proving more fruitful. Seated at the kitchen table, a towel wound around her head after showering, she spun the coffee dregs inside her cup. (That coffee, by the way, was a fresh cup, the contents of the first having left the house via the plumbing several hours ago as mentioned.) She reached for her phone and then an eyebrow arched as she examined the browser…

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Hollow: Let’s Hear It for Sam by Andrew Oberg

Spring never came for Sam. The weather got warmer, of course, but his mood was not subject to the buoyancy that such seasonal changes typically brought. He told me, standing there with his brown eyes peeling and tall, rotund frame as unsteady as an ice sculpture forgotten in the sun…

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Hollow: Gabriella by Hamish Spiers

About 2.5 million years ago, magma rising through the Earth’s crust about a quarter of a mile from here caused it to expand, forming a mound that increased in size until it became a mountain. It then exploded in a violent eruption, so I’ve read, and has been silent ever since.

There’s a village just a few miles from its base these days, a little to the west of where I’m sitting right now, and many little farms scattered about the rolling foothills and picturesque plains surrounding it. The locals wonder what I’m doing here. I wonder that myself…

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Regret: Drinking Urine and Eating Livers, or “Oh no! What now?” by Andrew Oberg

Regret is a complicated, sticky thing. It can either be used in reference to our behavior or our situations, although typically when we say that we regret something (or that we don’t) we do mean what we’ve done, or, more likely, what we haven’t done but wish we had. We describe feelings of a sense of sorrow, disappointment, and/or loss, pointing to the past to explain that emotion at present. It’s a troubling “what might have been”, a haunting specter that we carry around with us, that we find very difficult to exorcise (for some of us, anyway), and that clouds our current judgments and interactions with others. Perceptive readers will notice something else in play here; if we just add a sense of transgression to our feelings of melancholy and failure then this same description could be applied to another emotion: guilt. Like regret, guilt too is a remorseful “what might have been”, an “if only”, tying up the present with the past, following after us and making the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end, though we don’t dare to turn around and look at it. Regret and guilt get mixed up inside us, often overlap, and lead us to talk about them in ways that don’t make it clear just what we mean. It’s true that the former is usually employed when we wish we’d done something differently and the latter when we wish we hadn’t done something that we did, but as we’ll see a little later on, even this doesn’t make the case cut and dry. But maybe we’re overly confusing things. Guilt, after all, carries with it a sense of responsibility, of having committed a wrong, whereas regret doesn’t. Or does it? If regret is usually about what was left undone, can we be responsible for that not done? If we should have acted but we didn’t, do we really think of that as being an offense?

To approach this in a somewhat roundabout way, consider the highly influential 1884 case of Regina v Dudley and Stephens, which involves not a failure to act but acting under duress and the question of mitigating circumstances.* After their ship sunk en route to Australia in the South Atlantic, Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Edmund Brooks, and Richard Thomas Parker found themselves adrift in a rowboat with two tins of turnips, no water, and no hope for rescue anytime soon…

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*For full details of the case, its aftermath, and legal result, see here: Lloyd Duhaime, “Cannibalism on the High Seas: the Common Law’s Perfect Storm”, Duhaime.org: LawMag, August 20, 2011. http://www.duhaime.org/LawMag/LawArticle-1320/Cannibalism-on-the-High-Seas-the-Common-Laws-Perfect-Storm.aspx.

Regret: Biscuit in the Lovespace by Nick Cody

In the summer following the seventh grade I tried to summon a demon. I’d read about the art of conjuration from a book in my middle school library. Its black spine caught my eye one day as I wandered the stacks during study hall while waiting for my turn to play The Oregon Trail.

Fingering through the hardcover tome I thought all of the contents in it were real. The ology of its title, Demonology, must have given me that impression. I was too young or too stupid (perhaps both) to know better. The drawings that captivated me made one thing clear: the horned, smoldering forms rising from pentagrams were not metaphorical. These slavering things with their drool and their fangs were not symbols for something else like ailments, vices, or sins in any sense of the word. These beings screamed agency, and behind their eyes gleamed the spark of intelligence.

Astrology, biology, cardiology: to my impressionable mind these were all equally the study of real things. Ditto for demonology. Here is another example of my youthful acuity at work: once in science class Mr. Giving pointed with his gnarly index finger to a word on the blackboard, ecology, and called on me to define it. I said, “It’s the study of sounds sent out that come back to you.”

So it has been established that I was not too bright. Yet I was content in my dumbness: let the smart kids perform chemistry experiments with their Bunsen burners, I’d thought. For better or worse, a major strain in my character always preferred séances to hard science. After reading the black book and others adjacent to it, I wanted nothing more than to open a portal to another dimension and see what would come through…

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Regret: The Karachi by Hamish Spiers

The orbital docking rings of Keplar 186-F can challenge even seasoned pilots. The world that I’ve called home for the past five years is one of the earliest Terran colonies and its facilities, while adequate, are often antiquated and the docking rings are so much so that they are almost incompatible with modern vessels. As such, most visiting ships’ agents will pay a small fee to have a local pilot dock their precious freighters and transports for them. For the operator with a ready supply of good pilots, it’s good money. Especially when the large freighters come in as so happened that day.

With most of my other pilots otherwise occupied, I sent out Johann, a newer pilot on my staff but a man who had shown a real aptitude for the work. He was a quiet man, always keeping his own company and, for a fresh-faced youth at the peak of his physical health, he seemed oddly withdrawn, eschewing the pleasures and pursuits of others his age. I wanted sometimes to break him out of his solitude – but for his sake, not mine. I never held it against the man.

That day I watched on my viewscreen as Johann brought this particularly large vessel in, hooking it up with docking clamps with deceptive ease. A less sure hand could easily have breached both the hull of the ship and the walls of the docking rings but seeing Johann as he came back into my office to collect his commission, I doubt he broke a sweat. I watched with no small measure of pride as he left, thinking that here was a pilot with a promising future, when I saw another man just entering the office, watching my own gaze and then glancing at the retreating object of it.

To my amazement, I recognized the new arrival and I extended a hand in warm greeting. “Bernard. I didn’t know you were the ship’s agent.”

He smiled. “And I didn’t know you sent the pilot, Philippe.” He glanced over his shoulder in the direction that Johann had gone. “Have you had that man long?”

His tone gave me pause. “Why?” I asked, feeling somewhat on guard. “Was there any problem with the docking? Was he rude to you in any way?”

Bernard frowned and shook his head. “No. No, I can’t say there were any problems. I have no complaints but I do wonder for your sake. We go back to the academy, you and I, and although we’ve clearly taken our careers in different directions…”

“But we’ve both squandered our piloting skills,” I said, smiling.

Bernard’s frown faded for a moment too. “Yes, we’ve certainly let them go to rot, haven’t we?” The levity, however, didn’t last. “But I think you don’t know who that man is.”…

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Regret: This Is the Air by Paul j Rogers

I don’t give a crap about mushrooms. But people who do will tell you that if you’re after a decent yield then you’ll need special sheds as temperature and humidity (not light, as many believe) are the most important factors. They’re grown indoors because the climate isn’t conducive to year-round harvests. Mind you, the climate in South West England isn’t conducive to anything, except, perhaps, boredom.

Like I said, mushrooms blow and all I do is pick them – button, chestnut, flat, portobello – I’m a part-time harvester, seven-till-seven, three nights a week. Still, it pays pretty well. That’s the only reason I do it. I harvest mushrooms three nights a week in cold sheds so that the rest of the time I can do as I please.

When I first started, they taught us about the different species and how to de-stalk them with a mushroom knife. My shifts were pretty haphazard back then, mostly covering people’s sickies. After that, I worked one day on, one day off. Now, though, after a year of sliding along aisles on a trolley in the dark, my week is nicely blocked. Sunday to Tuesday and then I’m done. In a neoliberal society that couldn’t give a toss, it’s the best deal you can hope for.

Which is why I always leave home in plenty of time before a shift…

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Faces: Generating Fast Faces by Paul j Rogers

The following story is a “Google cut-up”.
The writer searched “faces” and then cut and pasted one sentence from the first 100 websites. (*Where possible. If only a few words were available, the writer cut and pasted those.)
The harvested text was then cut and spliced to make a narrative.
Harvested text could only be used once.
No new words were written.
Only punctuation, capitalization and spacing were altered.
All 100 harvested text cuts were used in some way.

***

Alive with web-based applications, a modern city is a massive and ceaseless information producer. Urban neighborhoods with pervasive unemployment and poverty are home to the hungriest. One in 60 babies is born with some type of disorder. If you are fun-loving and outgoing, this is the place to be. This sunflower is thrilled to be decaying.

Dr. Seymour J. Rydal (PhD, Biochemistry) has a large jaw; it looks almost ogre-like. (The guy’s skills: restaurant health inspection, the best rock & roll, and scamming tourists on the side.) This experimenter celebrates the process, not the tool.

With the private jets, drink, drugs, clothes and haircuts, Vakula is a name that needs no introduction. She serves as a symbol for the rebellion, a role model for girls everywhere. She also shared several screenshots of their conversations via Facebook that detailed their plans to meet up.

“I don’t know what it is about your face.”
“Seduction is treachery.”
“If you’d like to complain, I’d be happy to listen.”
“This ain’t my first rodeo, cowboy.”

Quick-drying, liquid liner sparkles with tiny hits of glitter. She’s been lucky to have cover stories for Newsweek, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and Men’s Journal. Having fallen in love with three brothers in an Italian neo-realist film, her potential to befriend groupies ripples under the surface. He has just shot a hippie; it’s been chalked up to miscommunication…

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Faces: Report From Agent Gamble by Nick Cody

“Antipathies lead to animosities. Nip it in the bud.” It took a while for my swimmy vision to bring her note into focus. By her, I mean my wife Lisa, who had scribbled the message onto a yellow note, peeled it off the pad, and then attached it to the one place I was sure to see it: my alarm clock. She gets up early but I always sleep in late. The “it” in her note referred to my resentment over a “little mission” I was given recently. I’d stayed up last night and railed against my rotten luck. Lisa listened and commiserated, nodding at what I felt were the ace points in my argument, points emphasized by pounding my fist into my palm, and then she nodded off completely. I must have continued shadow boxing for another full hour before I noticed that I’d been talking to myself. She was out cold.

I joined the Movement about six months ago and the assignments I’d been given did not exactly match my initial expectations. Read Rudolf Rocker. Check. Meet another Movement noob at the Jumping Bean café to discuss the latest work of Noam Chomsky. Check. Write a check to support the DemocracyNow fundraiser. Check.

The reading I didn’t mind. It was something I had taken for granted, a necessary blade in the armory: get the facts! And given my net worth, funding this or that group was always going to be part of the game. As far as Ethan goes, that’s the guy I met at the Park Slope café, he’s plenty smarter than me. He just needed some help getting his head around Chomsky’s critique of U.S.-Israeli policy, and that stuff has nothing to do with the intellect. Reading, meeting, discussing, all well and good, but none of it seemed like action. I’d hoped for something bad ass, like Code Pink or WikiLeaks. Instead, it was turning out to be more like book clubs and cocktail parties.

So three days ago I received my latest directive via secured email: Accept your invitation to the Koch brothers’ Halloween party in the Upper East Side, bring a costume, 1 guest…

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Faces: MSP by Andrew Oberg

‘All of these people. All of these people busy about their days. Big ones, small ones, tall ones, short ones, young ones, old ones. Nearly every one of them with their faces in some device or some device in their ears. They have no idea that they are about to die. They do not know that I am about to kill them. That the very technology that has made their lives meaningless and the modern world inhuman will be used against them. It is a necessary sacrifice. Their lives and our lives will make the world whole. I am sorry but we cannot wait. Evolution takes time, time that we do not have. The world could end at any moment unless humanity wakes up. I will wake it up. I and my brothers will wake it up. Our Good Guide has shown us the way, he knows the Divine Words by heart and knows how to interpret them. He has assured us that we are right and that the Holy One will bless my mission and its counterpart hundreds of others. Together we will bring these technophiles to their knees so that they may at last raise their gaze to the heavens. Our sacrifice will show the truth of The Path, and those who die with me today will become the unknown catalysts for the change that must occur. They will be remembered in their number and by what resulted later but not by their names. Our names too will quickly pass from history, but our sacrifice and our faith will not. It is enough…

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Faces: The Quiet Man by Hamish Spiers

Elena Mihaylov lived without companionship. She shared no meals nor laughter with friends and nor did she work. The lameness in her left leg that had troubled her since she was a child prevented her from that.

To the casual observer, the fact that she could limp to the market every day and keep food on her table and logs in the fireplace was an unsolvable mystery. But the person who watched her for some time would observe that every week she went to her letterbox, pulled out an envelope and within it she would always find the means to survive. To keep going. And on the back of this envelope there was never any address. Just the name of her benefactor, Iosif Yakovlev. And for the keen observer that would be the sum of what they could ascertain with regards to the mystery of how one Elena Mihaylov, ageing widow without any income of her own, could get by and make it through each day that remained to her.

As to Iosif Yakovlev, one could credit far more enigma to this man than Elena Mihaylov carried about her person, with the first striking fact being that Mrs. Mihaylov had never laid eyes on him. All she knew was that, not long after her husband had died, this man, whom she had never met, had started leaving her money. He was her saviour. The one man in all the world who cared for this poor ageing widow…

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Space: No Contest by Nick Cody

Space had become a problem. There simply wasn’t enough room for all the entries piling up, the stream of shitty stories pouring in, flat in manila envelopes, or folded by idiots who had either ignored or failed to read the guidelines, the very clear guidelines for the 36th Annual Lowe Short Story Contest, hosted and judged by one Halford P. Goodreads.

Stacks of unread stories leaned Pisa-wise on the floor. Other piles grew in corrugated formations along the bookshelves and on his office desk. In the weeks leading up to the deadline elaborate columns of A4 paper, in Times New Roman, 12 point font, double spaced or DOA, curled around his desktop monitor, nearly encircling it. He cast a cold eye on these heaps. To him their layered forms resembled the erratic patterns of wind erosion on desert rock.

Tomorrow he planned to seize at random a couple of these encroaching stacks and throw the lot into a cardboard box and then mail it off to a colleague and fellow contest judge in upstate New York. That would be Jude Heade, Associate Professor of English Literature at Stoneybrook. Once he’d been recruited, Goodreads liked to call him Judge Jude. First, a word on why he was recruited in the first place, and then how Goodreads went about doing it…

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Space: Please Assemble by Paul j Rogers

The empty waiting room was all white, or all Wong, depending on how you look at it, and looking at it made me feel sick. This room, completely without furniture, was all white in terms of pigment — ivory floorboards, feta cheese walls. It was all Wong as it was the creation of those maddening deconstructivists Caspar & Wong, which, rather worryingly, was the only fact about this company my mind had retained, despite spending hours perusing their pretentious website. I probed my useless memory for more info, such as the number of employees or the current share price, yet the only information to materialise (in crisp Helvetica) was this: “Our deconstructivist headquarters, designed by Caspar & Wong, are located in the historic city centre within strides of the eco-friendly Park ’n’ Ride and a stone’s throw from the Organic Farmers’ Market. Throughout the day, the aroma of dark roast beans drifts along the wharf from Espresso Eva and invigorates all who rest in our office garden. For the team of dedicated professionals at Macfarlane Joseph, this building is much more than a workplace. It’s a lifestyle.”

Still loitering by the doorway, my fingertips brushed the name badge they’d given me, smudging the first “R” in “Renner”. The badge (or pen) must’ve been faulty as the ink had easily had enough time to dry. Enraged, I rummaged for tissues to wipe my fingers, but, of course, there were none. What kind of room was this anyway? Not only did it lack furniture and natural light, it also had no straight lines to speak of, and whether this set-up was Wong’s idea of feng-shui or Caspar’s idea of a joke I couldn’t be sure. At my last place (before they laid waste to our department), the sales team had been shoehorned into indigo steel booths. Yet here, at Macfarlane Joseph, the successful candidate for regional sales manager would soon, no doubt, be drafting reports and planning targets from inside a carbon fibre egg. That might impress some people, but my only interest was the pay cheque, which, after all, had been my sole reason for sliding into such unfamiliar skin most mornings since leaving university. (How does a graduate of modern poetry end up in sales, anyway?)

Fingers stretched apart, bat-like, my heels cracked on wood towards the cloth shapes at the centre of this windowless white womb. From a pace or two away, it became clear that the objects were large containers, chrome frames with linen panels, giant minimalist laundry bins arranged in a row on the floor. ‘Please Assemble’ was printed on laminated cards taped to each fold-back lid. I folded back the centre one and inside the bin were brightly coloured plastic shapes — frames, with interlocking joints, axles and wheels, adult Lego. When I folded back the canvas lids adjacent, the contents of the other bins were similar. My eyes flicked across the walls, neck now craning to examine the ceiling. The interview had begun, then. I was being assessed, hidden cameras, or perhaps the hiring committee were observing through the skin of these Wong-shaped walls…

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Space: Halfway Through Space to the Limits of Language by Vernon Burn

A coiled rattlesnake thrashed its tail as the two men rode past.

“Ayh teyll you, this cunny better be good. Real fuckin’ good,” Mungo was saying for the umpteenth time. His horse neighed and nodded for emphasis.

He went on, “But ayh don’t in heyll know why they’d have this bordello in the middle of the stinkin’ desert. All ahm sayin’ is that fer yer sake, this better be the best goddam pussy ah ever did taste. Or there’ll be a reckonin’.”

The threat of violence was ever present and real with Mungo. He used it like other people used small talk and pleasant conversation. For him it was just another form of communication, an effective one. But even that smallish brain in that large, vicious body of his was starting to sense something was amiss, especially when the desert started to really heat up a few miles back.

With faked irritation, Jim said, “How many times do I have to tell you? This fuckin’ place is at a crossroads between the gold mines and the cities yonder. It’s in the middle of the fuckin’ desert, a’cause it has to be. You saw the train line they started buildin’, you numbnuts.” The dry throated voice he said it in was real enough.

Angered, as he so easily was, Mungo replied in a quiet way, bubbling with threat, “You better watch your goddamn words with me. Ah’ll smash yer head.” He punctuated this by spitting out a brown shot of sticky phlegm.

Jim acted a credible mix of apologetic and sullen, “I didn’t mean nuthin’ by it. I just don’t see why I have to keep tellin’ you what iz when it iz. You ain’t got no reason for disbelievin’.”

Their relationship after running in the same gang for a number of years was such that Jim’s pretence mollified the anger of the brute, who took to muttering under his breath with lots of “goddamns,” “pig’s messes” and “stoopid sunsabitches” thrown in about how he was sick and tired of rutting on and beating up the same small town whores night after night. He wanted something better. And he might as well get that before they robbed the place. But while he may have felt something was odd about their quest, he had no clear idea of what exactly. He still thought he held the club of fear over Jim’s head…

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Space: Our Present Absence by Andrew Oberg

The university where I work recently expanded its main campus and our department moved into a section of the new building. Our offices are smaller now, but carpeted, and came equipped with new industrial style bookshelves along with the old desks and tables that appear to have been with the department for many years. Some professors have complained about the reduced personal space, and judging from the amount of things crammed into some of the offices around me I can understand their grievances, but I have the opposite problem. Three of the four walls in my office are lined by those cold steel bookshelves, and well over half of them sit completely empty. Students that come in to see me are usually kind enough to remark that my office is “tidy” but others have been more to the point and told me that I need to buy some more books or at least knickknacks. Were I here for longer I could no doubt find ways to fill up the space that’s been lent to me, but due to a number of pressures universities in Japan have for the past decade or so primarily only offered limited-term contracts to new hires; once in a great while you can see a permanent position advertised, but by and large we are given four to five years to work at a place and then politely shown the door. This of course means that we all have to be prepared to move around a lot, which in turn means that it’s probably a good idea to keep one’s office “tidy”. The place does feel barren though, and were I of a different mind I might make more effort to at least decorate. The mind I am of, though, tells me that all this empty space is not such a bad thing, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. In the following I’d like to make the claim that not only is empty space potentially positive but what affects us, what touches and compels us in our surroundings and even in much of our aesthetic pleasures, is that very emptiness — the spaces between…

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NOTE: This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article whose final and definitive form, the Version of Record, was published in the journal Surugadai University Studies, 48 (2014), 133-145.

Space: An Adjournment in Saturn by Rian Davis

If someone were to remind Kaspar Goodsmith of all the useful advancements and general good service to the Central Order that he had been responsible for, he would have scoffed in a most humble fashion. He felt his life — though highly accomplished for a Dessalian — had been wasted. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The usual repressives — those artificial enhancements piped to the bloodstream through his SIC visor — were of course not the cause: he hadn’t been taking them — though this was, of course, contrary to the law. In fact, if he had, he may not have felt so utterly empty.

Once, while returning to his living quarters he looked out through the window of the CAV — or Condensed Automated Vehicle — and saw the oceans of Saturn in all their violent glory. Surrounding the CAV, which held about one hundred people, but probably had almost twice that at the time, were oceans of amber mixed with bronze, topaz, scarlet and silver. There were no fish in these oceans, only sparkling anomalies of what were identified as dragon tails — or better known in the scientific community as Sub Atomic Traceback (SAB). They had been first discovered nearly fifty years before by accident. Some argued that they were merely static from the powerfully enigmatic core of Saturn, but others said that they were life in their own way — pure, chaotic life. They weaved through the thick hydrogen soup that surrounded their living station for hundreds of thousands of miles — an ocean of colorful desolation. Blinding flashes of dynamic azure marked the presence of the dragon tails. There was no knowing where they would hit or when, but one thing was certain: they were deadly to anyone, Dessalians or non. Mostly, they struck well away from any of the places where the colony dwelled. But there had been some close calls — and of course the reason how they had known that the dragon tails were deadly. One had struck a wayward scouting vessel. Of course the driver had been foolish — it had been one of the fractals, after all. Fractals, as Kaspar well knew, were those who had undergone minimal genetic modification and grooming.

The scouting vessel nonetheless would have been safe if it hadn’t been struck. Internal tapes revealed a sudden surge of all computer systems inside. The lights went on, blinding the passengers if they hadn’t been killed already. But the worst of it was that the craft had been utterly preserved in every way — except for the bodies inside and any computer systems. All had disappeared…

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Space: World Inside My Head by Hamish Spiers

“Where are you now?”

I looked at the man sitting in front of me in the little room we shared. Mike Enrique Rodriguez. The first man to fly a mission to Mars, he never set foot on its surface but he completed the first manned orbital survey of the red planet and spent an unprecedented eight months in space to do so. And he did it solo.

It was a remarkable achievement and one that involved considerable risk. At one point the shielding unit failed, exposing Rodriguez to intense levels of solar radiation that would have killed him if he hadn’t got it fixed in time – and that was just one of the many near disasters. However, despite the myriad of technical challenges he had to overcome and the physical endurance he demonstrated both in surviving his mission and recuperating from it afterwards, it was his mental endurance that impressed so many of his colleagues. And that’s what impressed me. I can only imagine the loneliness and sheer boredom he must have faced, confined in a tiny capsule further from home than any explorer in human history. Yet he not only survived with his sanity in one piece, he developed an incredible gift. The freedom to be anywhere he wanted at any time, despite whatever circumstances he found himself in. To have imaginary experiences so vivid that they are as real to him as the tactile experiences of life are for the rest of us. To have the whole world inside his head, in all its infinite wonder.

And today, Rodriguez was attempting to show me a little of his method, providing me with some key with which I could open the doors to the world inside my own mind…

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Expectation: Backward, Edward, Forward by Nick Cody

A character should have a name, but this one does not yet. He is moving fast, feet pounding a descent down the stairs and echoing his loud, panicked heart. When we catch up to him outside he is on the verge of tears. There, in fact, crying. He holds a note in his right hand, sullying it with sweat. From this position, we can’t read it, and besides he won’t sit still. He is thinking, ‘Bus or run?’, and decides to run. It’s two miles to his office. One wonders if he sees the cars, meaning the individual automobiles, or has his state of mind reduced the scene to one, blurry, collective hum of traffic? He almost certainly doesn’t see the boy ahead, standing on the street corner at the convenience store, sandwiched between his mom and the Popsicle freezer. The mom is not attractive. I mean, not attractive in his eyes. But the boy definitely notices him. Between the hoot of an accelerating motorbike hauling pizza and the blare of a bus’s horn, we hear the boy saying, “Mom, I want some ice…” and freezing when he catches sight of the racing, anguished man in tears.

The note. It is yellow, the size of an index card, and was posted on the side of his personal computer until about eight minutes ago. It was peeled off, read, reread, crumpled and then unfolded. After that, the creases were fingered again and again to no avail. It would never be smooth again.

He goes another block, a block and a half, and then backpedals looking for a bus. He won’t take a taxi. It’s only about 18 more blocks to the Writer’s Center, virtually in a straight line, and he has always felt embarrassed asking cabs for short rides. Coincidentally, just a few moments later, bus 36 converges at the Dutch Avenue bus stop with the man holding a yellow note. He is also wearing a suit. Kind of a fancy blue one. The note has been in and out of his jacket’s side pocket several times already. He has stopped crying and boarded the bus. When he takes his seat and retrieves the pocketed yellow note once more, we finally discover his name…

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Expectation: Seeds and Stones: Part 2 by Paul j Rogers

Kona Fiveheads wasn’t shy with the accelerator pedal. That little buggy must’ve been greasing forty through the pumpkin plantation. Rudy glanced at her bare knee as she lifted her work boot off the juice to take a corner. Right now, they weren’t speaking, communications severed upon the discovery that they disagreed about certain scientific principles.

It’d started when Kona had told him, in language peppered with master’s degree terms, that conventional cloud seeding did not, as was commonly misconceived, take rain from one region to give to another. According to her, downwind rain, precipitation as she’d called it, actually increased after an area had been seeded, but that data was obsolete as nobody would ever seed without illegal coalescing chemicals and super-sulphates because the yields were negligible. Anyway, since the ammonium fallout scandals, nobody seeded in summer anymore, just the big government winter programs, silver iodide sticks at high altitude to increase snowpack. Rudy had just listened in silence to all that because he’d watched rain dropping off ever since he was a kid. Besides, he’d seen The Corp’s pickup. When she was done, he’d told her that the universities must be polluted, just like the internet, polluted by corrupt governments and big business. The Corp paid agriculture and biotech students’ tuition fees. He’d even bet that her professors were on the payroll.

They zipped through a sector gateway onto the main artery through the west of the plantation. As the cart hummed, still no conversation in the cab, Rudy wished he were back at Glasshouse 19 picking romaine because the atmosphere in here was choking him. Kona lifted both work boots onto the dash and let the buggy glide.

“Rudy Cam, you don’t seriously believe what you said back there, do you?”

“The Corp are stealing our rain,” he said. “There’s no other explanation.”…

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Expectation: Seeds and Stones: Part 1 by Paul j Rogers

Rudy Cam steadied his rucksack when the transport cart hit another divot. He cursed the driver under his breath so that nobody could hear. Inside his bag were the components for a fertilizer bomb, ammonium nitrate sealed in an easy-lock container and a small can of machine oil he’d bought at the hardware store in Haine. Other contents included an old ice cream tub to be used as casing and a length of braided cotton soaked in lighter fuel for ignition.

The asphalt lanes of the Kent Facility were usually nectarine-smooth, but out here, beneath the floodlights of the Easyripe tomato plantation, there must’ve been some kind of spillage because the ten-seat vehicle was pitching and sliding. To make matters worse, the driver had shown up two minutes late at the rest area and he was tanking it. The picker next to Rudy hit his head on the canvas roofing and then slammed back onto the moulded plastic bench. He grumbled to the driver, told him to ease off on the juice, but the driver was wired up to his headset and didn’t hear a word of it.

Rudy had only been at The Corp for a week but that was long enough to know that the start of a shift was never optimistic. Some pickers got lost in thought, others lost inside their headphones. Only the immigrants seemed contented. Going by their faces, picking Easyclean potatoes, or whatever The Corp had scheduled them for that shift, must’ve been a good gig compared to what they were used to. But harvesting genetically perfected produce for use in the readymade and canned food industries didn’t satisfy Rudy Cam. After all, he had a bomb inside his bag. Besides, he was born and raised in Orb, at The Co-op, a sixth generation organic peach farmer from up on The Steeps…

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Expectation: One Road Home by Mark Porter

He looks out of the window every few minutes now. The gravel buried driveway snakes to the road beyond the mail box and cars pass in either direction; somewhere at the edge of his vision, chrome and glass glints. The day is already humid. Heat shimmers across the surface of the land and he knows the dog will be hiding beneath the porch, sleeping or panting.

He looks again at his daddy’s photograph. He tries to remember what he sounds like in person, in the room. The phone calls have been infrequent. His voice, broken with static and distance has become fractured in his memory. He wants to be lifted by daddy’s hands, thrown into the air and caught again. He knows daddy would never let him fall.

Outlined against the sunshine and dust motes, the boy’s mother stands in the living room doorway. Her size offers significant clearance between her and the frame. His mother is a small woman but this morning she seems larger, more confident. This morning she wears a perfume that Leon has not noticed in a long time.

“Leon, baby. The wait will be longer if you’re sitting there all day watching for the car.”…

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Expectation: Star Frontier: Hindsight Part II by Hamish Spiers

“I’m all right, Father,” Laila said, crying a little from the emotion she felt at seeing her father in such a state and blushing from the embarrassment his repeated embraces caused her. “The medics said I was in very little danger.”

“I thought that you had been taken from me. That I would never see you again.”

“But I’m all right.” Laila hesitated for a moment as she looked at Jarekeiv. Despite the fact that it was she who had been unconscious in the medical bay for the past three days, it was her father who looked the worse for wear. His posture, once so proud and erect, was now slumped and defeated. He was even noticeably thinner and his gaze had lost all of its former strength. He looked worn and haggard.

Laila reached to him, placing one hand gently on his cheek. “I’m all right, Father. Do you understand? It’s all right. And tomorrow, we will reach Saeban. Then we will be able to decide what course we shall take.” She turned around. “Isn’t that right, Mother?”

“That’s right,” Katraezyna said with a cheerful smile. “We’ll be all right.”

“And there was nothing for us back home, Father,” Laila insisted. “I know you tried to hide it from me but it was as plain to me as to you and Mother that the life we had there was over. War or no war, this is where we will forge our future – and, Father, it matters little how terrible the Levarc may be. No war lasts forever.”

“Laila’s right,” Katraezyna rejoined. “Jarekeiv, we will find a way to rebuild what we have lost.”

Neither Katraezyna nor her daughter noticed it immediately but later they realised that after he had told Laila how worried he had been, Jarekeiv did not say a word all day. Or the next…

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Expectation: Star Frontier: Hindsight Part I by Hamish Spiers

Preface:

This is a short story related to my Star Frontier series, one of many in a growing collection that I intend to one day publish.

However, I believe that this particular story gives interested readers a nice little taste of the Star Frontier universe, as well as fitting the theme of ‘expectation’. Naturally, I believe the actual novel ‘Star Frontier’ is the perfect jumping in point but ‘Hindsight’ might be a good way to get your feet in the water, so to speak. It’s set twenty–eight years before the events of ‘Star Frontier’, early in a decade–long war that heavily shaped the nations and regions that feature in the series. Those who have read ‘Star Frontier’ will probably work out who one of the characters is and those who have read its immediate follow–up ‘Star Frontier: Beyond the Veil’ will instantly recognize her. However, whether you’re already familiar with the Star Frontier series or are just checking it out for the first time, I hope that you enjoy ‘Hindsight’.

***

Hindsight: Part I

257 Corsidan Standard

“This is nothing less than a conspiracy hatched by Lord Eras himself.”

The man was strong, broad shouldered, with a rich tan and thick hair of an auburn hue that was more red than brown. Although he was now in his forties, he was nevertheless the picture of youthful strength – but his voice faltered as he spoke and his gaze was unfocused.

Beside him, his wife heard and saw these things and looked on him with concern. She too projected the strength and vitality of youth and she was a woman of beauty to equal her husband’s, though hers was of a markedly different kind – with dark eyes, alabaster skin and light blonde hair.

“Jarekeiv,” she said, her tone soothing. “Tell me. What is the matter?”

“It is clear as if it were written before my very eyes that Lord Eras has assisted the Taelemeirs at every step along their path. The Swift Hawk is mine. It –” Jarekeiv broke off. “For years, my staff and I…”

“Tell me,” his wife said. “Just tell me what happened today.”

“We lost the industrial espionage case against the Taelemeir Ship Building Family,” Jarekeiv said at last, tears welling in his eyes. “We cannot manufacture the Swift Hawk and it is now we who must provide compensation commensurate to the losses of… We, I ask you!” He sat down and held his head in hands. “Katraezyna. My sweet Katraezyna. We’re ruined.”…

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Expectation: Applying One’s Self by Andrew Oberg

“Just what do you think will come of this?” Davis asked, setting the essay down on his desk and moving his coffee mug to one side. He would have liked to move the student opposite him to one side too, but his office was too small and too cramped with books for that.

“What do mean, Mr. Davis?”

“I mean, do you really think North Woods State will take this seriously?” He stared at the man — the boy — unsure whether he should try to hide his irritation or not. It could be a useful motivator, but what was the point? How many more students did he have to see this afternoon… December was always his busiest, and worst, month.

“I’m still not sure what you’re getting at, Mr. Davis. Why wouldn’t they? This essay is what they wanted, or at least the kind of thing that they asked for. And I also completed all the required forms and included my transcript. I think my application is pretty solid.”

“Derek, this essay is titled ‘Singularity: Black Hole Existence’ and seems to be a kind of quasi-mystical study in ontology. The application package calls for you to write on why you want to attend the university, what you can contribute to its academic community, and what you hope to get out of it.” He leaned back in his chair, raising his glasses slightly and rubbing the bridge of his nose as he did so. If the boy hadn’t noticed his frustration before then he certainly should have now.

“But my essay discusses all of those points. Maybe not in the most straightforward manner or in a way that is conventionally comprehensible, but it speaks to those issues nonetheless. And it does so through the use of words and nonwords, I might add. Did you try reading it sideways? I worked quite hard on its structural balance, you know.”

“I don’t doubt that you did, Burroughs put a lot into Naked Lunch too. Your essay really is very good, at times even brilliant. But it’s just so…” Davis sighed. “How can I put this? It’s just so off topic.”…

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Privacy: The Octagon by Paul j Rogers

We were moved to the garden because our custodian said we didn’t like the air conditioner. Before the heat came, during the exploratory licks of spring, she’d asked her spouse, that model-making buffoon, to build us an aviary out of wood and metal. But the great oaf had complained he had much work to do (balsawood trimming and squeezing microscopic globules of adhesive from small tubes), so it was agreed that when the time came he’d lay some base slabs and fetch something from the pet shop in his wagon. Despite her chaff about our wellbeing, we, the Aves, knew her motives were murkier, for we’d comfortably survived the manufactured chill last summer; indeed, some of us, myself included, greatly preferred that cool filtered air to the odour of her burnt patties and the model maker’s bovine flatulence. No, the only reason she’d moved us outside, as we all knew, was for her aggrandisement in the local community, of which she was a prominent member.

From the outset, security was tight. The aviary she’d purchased was an eight foot tall octagon, which the model maker mounted on concrete slabs placed near to the cherry tree that dwarfed their cheerful townhouse. Being larger birds, the Blue-and-yellow Macaws took the most desirable perch, so I, rather casually, acquired the horizontal perch beneath them as if that’d always been my preference. Simeon, a white Goffin’s Cockatoo and the smallest of our quartet, took the modest perch adjacent to my own, which seemed logical to all. Our new abode gave us every confidence: after all, this stainless steel fortress was impregnable. No, we never once feared assassination by fox, cat or airborne cannibal.

The parrots—macaws, as they prefer—took to our new surroundings immediately. Webster, the larger of the two, declared that we’d finally arrived, that we’d made it to the big stage. As he shuffled along his beam, he pumped his saffron chest and spread his cape that glittered like a swimming pool glimpsed through the leaves of a banana tree. Fernando, his sibling with identical markings and an extrovert whose vanity could only be rivalled by his brother’s (such egoists, like all parrots), seemed especially suited to our new life in the public eye. My take on all this was that the new set-up was an improvement in terms of space and facilities, and that being outside was more clement, but I’d reserve my full judgement until a reasonable time period had elapsed. Simeon, in his understated way, organised his water bowl and seed tray, adjusted his mirror to inspect his magnificent rockabilly quiff, and then mumbled that he was comfortable…

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Privacy: Excuse Me Sir, Do You Have Some Space-Time? by Rian Davis

Michael Bragg moved slower on the treadmill as it hummed along in its cycles. Every step was monitored and recorded by the machinery; his heartbeat was measured by the metal receiver attached to his right palm. Two cameras—as soulless as a glass eye—floated just above his forehead and out of reach, each one positioned on either side. He had been running for five minutes when he suddenly stepped on the track wrong and nearly fell over, but the safety lever came on just in time to prevent him from falling, saving him from a nasty fall which would have probably done some serious damage to his legs and back, not to mention his transplanted heart.

He reached for a towel, which was sitting on a plastic chair next to the treadmill. Then he activated the small metal box that checked his body’s vital signs. It had a particularly droll sound to it, and when it was operating, he could feel the small vibrations just inside his chest like a restless snake.

That thing had better not quit.

Once finished wiping off his sweat with the towel, he moved to the shower to shower and change. It was exactly seven thirty on a Saturday morning, and he would be at his desk long before eight.

The coffee machine jingled about an hour later: the pot was done. As usual, there was no one around. During his five years at Bane and Shelley Corporation, he had never known more than a few people to ever gather around. In fact, as he looked around him, he could see very few desks lighted up. Despite the weather being sunny, rows and rows of dark cubicles stared back at him like lightless eyes from the shadows…

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Privacy: The Heavy Reverb of Devil’s Trumpets by Vernon Burn

“If you don’t want anyone to find out, don’t do it.” – Chinese Proverb

***

Those Chinese were on to something there.

I suppose the place to take up this particular tale would be a little after midday on Saturday, September the eighteenth:

“So, everything’s sorted then?”

“Yeah. Pretty much,” he said.

“Pretty much?”

“The acid hasn’t come through yet.”

“But it will, right?”

“He told me it should do.”

“Good.”

It was to be a day of setting our minds free, a day of audacious letting go. A time of psychedelic-chemical adventure and educational exploration — albeit down a path well-trodden and in the civilised setting of a friend’s flat in the city centre. Yes, a day of altered perceptions and probably computer games. It was also, in a rather fortuitous coincidence, my birthday. I was thirty-three…

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Privacy: This has got nothing to do with George by Andrew Oberg

I don’t mind being surveilled. It’s inevitable anyway; every corner store, every parking lot, every train platform, every public entrance and exit now have security cameras squarely stationed to do what those Orwellian black helicopters were imagined to accomplish, but with far more efficiency, and, one likes to think, less waste. As early as 2006 the UK had about one CCTV camera for every 14 people (“Britain is ‘surveillance society’”, BBC News, 02 November 2006.), and that that country now has the most watched citizenry in the world has become something close to common knowledge. I imagine that even there though most don’t spend a great deal of time talking about the ubiquitousness of their friendly neighborhood unblinking eyes. Still, it’s not like answering “Which country has the most security cameras?” would win you a big cash prize at your pub quiz night. It’s one of those things that nearly everyone knows and no one seems to really bother about. And as similar public surveillance systems increase in countries around the world they are being met with equal listlessness, but why are we so blasé? Isn’t this an issue we should care deeply about? Shouldn’t we be feeling that our rights are being trampled upon, our inner lives invaded, our hard-won liberties unceremoniously tossed to the wind? In the following I’ll argue for a viewpoint in which, if adopted, feelings of blasé may not be the best response to this trend of increased surveillance, but are nevertheless not altogether inappropriate. To my mind, the issue here boils down to one of self, and to where one sees one’s self extending — it is that border that makes all the difference between those thin rectangular boxes aimed down at us requiring an act of doublethink or simply tacit acknowledgement of potential profitability…

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NOTE: This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article whose final and definitive form, the Version of Record, was published in the journal Think, 13:37 (2014), 47-55. The copyright for the Version of Record has been signed over to Royal Institute of Philosophy as per the journal’s policy.

Privacy: Charlie by Hamish Spiers

If Charlie were to be honest with himself, he would have to admit it had been a slow month. If he were to be completely honest, he would also have to admit that was understating things quite a bit. The month just past, along with the six months preceding it, had been a veritable dead period in his life.

Last October, he had worked a big case. His client had been the heiress of a wealthy industrialist and she had been more than generous in her terms. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her, his little business would have gone under in time for New Year’s, which would have been a great way to kick–start the proceedings.

However, that good fortune had only got him so far and now, the last of those funds were beginning to dry up. He was good, he knew that. He was good at what he did. It was just that right then, nobody needed him, aside from that… client.

That was the most charitable word Charlie could assign to the man who had come in last week. He didn’t like him one bit, he had little doubt that his wife was cheating on him and he wouldn’t blame her if she were. The man was a creep. However, he was a creep with money and as much as Charlie would have loved to turn him away, he needed money. So now he was on the case, looking for the evidence he needed to confirm the man’s suspicions – and his own…

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Privacy: Excerpt From The Wonders Of Cata by Nick Cody

“I’ve never been with a 10, but one night I porked five TWOs!”
George Carlin, comedian

I am reliable. That’s probably the reason why I got this job in the first place. When the agency in Cata called my last employer, The Light Way Language Academy in Taiwan, they didn’t want to interview me and they spent a grand total of ten seconds on the phone asking the receptionist about me: “What were the results of his drug test?” and “How many days has he called in sick?”

The oddity of it doubles and even triples when you consider the fourteen-page job application they had sent me when I applied. It required handwritten replies only. Questions ranged from, “What’s Your Favorite Movie?” to “How Do You Feel About Scorpions?” But the salary was a grotesque figure that would easily triple and nearly quadruple my current modest income. So I answered every question, dotted every i and double crossed every t (personal flare), and whammo! there I was, bound for Cata. I guess the few indiscretions I had had were compensated for by my perfect work attendance. So long Light Way! You won’t have Dick Covey to kick around anymore.

Having mentioned the handsome remuneration, I should now in the interest of full disclosure admit that the job applicant harbored a more secretive reason for pursuing employment in Cata. Surprise, surprise, it had nothing to do with the job profile (weekly contract hours: 9; paid vacation: 18 weeks) or money. Everybody knows about the number of hits the phrase “Catian Women” gets on BlueTube. Furthermore, everybody knows that you don’t see much skin. Despite having only a handful of authentic videos uploaded, the number of total hits that tag amassed last year easily jetted it up the ranks to surpass the long-time leader, “California Girls,” which has over a zillion different models, uploaders, and videos.

The videos of Catian Women, on the other hand, come NOT ONLY from a single uploader, member name “Catian Uploader” (you can’t make this stuff up!), but also from a single year. The last I heard, before I moved to Taipei to join The Light Way, the account was disabled. I guess the government found out and put the kibosh on it. By government, I mean the Catian Counsel, and not the obese oligarchs in Washington, D.C…

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