Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

What’s under a buck? Deer balls. Oh, and Working Stiffs.



The line at the clinic stretched along the sidewalk for half a block. Located on Wentworth, on the opposite side of the street from Chang’s store, the clinic occupied a building that retained traces of the original Chinatown architecture. Faded, ratty signs written with complex Chinese characters decorated nearly every storefront. We joined the line in front of what was once a US Post Office, closed like the rest of them. Somebody had spray painted the words, Sorry, the rent check was in the mail. Under that, another tagger added, All postal employee termination notices sent by email. Thank you, USPS.

A faded-out For Lease sign hung in the window, taped inside the glass. It had been there for all six years I’d lived in the neighborhood.

“What time did you say your appointment was?” I asked Chelle.


I reflexively glanced at my wrist before I remembered my IT service had disavowed all knowledge of me after the sixth disconnect notice. I asked a chubby guy ahead of me for the time.

“Nine forty,” he said from behind his surgical mask. I nodded my thanks.

“Damn, Chelle, we’ll never make it on time.”

“I told you to hurry up and get ready.”

My part of getting ready had taken all of ten minutes, thus screwing up the atomic clock by which Chelle ran her life.

At least we had nice weather for standing in line. Late April in Chicago was hard to beat, mid-sixties, blue sky, a few fluffy clouds . . . What more could you ask for? In February we’d be standing out here turning to popsicles. The homeless and unemployed were out in force, droves of them meandering, begging, pilfering and picking through the trash lining the gutters. In other words, doing whatever it took to get through another great day in the Windy City.

Speaking of popsicles . . . My stomach grumbled, reminding me two pickles for breakfast was a rotten trick to play on it. I eyed Chang’s front door and considered creative credit terms: zero down payment, two pocket spending limit, and a forever repayment term. Penalties may apply.

I didn’t see the dead woman until she was almost on us. A Revivant, shuffling along the line of patients, handing out paper flyers. Female, about twenty or so when she died, dark-skinned and slender. Pretty once, I supposed, with a good figure, full lips, and dark, almond-shaped eyes. The owners had dressed her in a sexy maid’s outfit with high heels and a higher skirt; the light breeze brushed it above her panty line every few minutes. The nanos running through her were having a hard time managing the heels, and she scuffed forward in wobble-steps in a parody of a sexy sway.

My empty stomach bubbled with acid.

“I hate those things,” the guy with the mask mumbled.

“Yeah, me too.” I accepted the flyer the Revvie handed me without looking at her. “They creep me out.”

The man’s mask crinkled when he grimaced. “What I want to know, how do they make them look so alive?”

The line had grown behind us. A couple of dropouts from the School of Morons had joined the tail a few minutes ago and entertained everyone with a steady stream of obscenities laced with curse words. Hey, I’m no saint when it comes to foul language, but still, there are limits, right? The taller of the two mental giants shouted out, “Woo-hoo, lookit dis fine bitch!”

“I hear dead pussy’s mighty cold,” his running buddy claimed.

Both of them were racially ambiguous teens (their parental gametocytes swam in a diversity stream) decked out in trendy grunge clothes and wearing the flat-brim, Amish-style hats favored by the discerning hoodlum. Without squinting, I could count another score of hoodlums exactly like them within a two-block radius, poised like IEDs, waiting for the unwary so they could explode with uncontained violence.

The taller one, in a Bear’s T-shirt, cupped the crotch of his basketball shorts and shook it. “Hey, Dead Mamma, izzat true? Lemme see how cold yo pussy is.”

His buddy, in a green T-shirt and plaid boxers, reached out and clamped a hand on the dead woman’s breast. “Oooh, Sanjay, you should be fillin’ dis. It fills goooood,” he crooned.

The Revivant woman stumbled and would have fallen hadn’t the one called Sanjay grabbed her around the waist. Her dull expression never changed. She wobbled in place the way a drunk might, if you squinched your eyes and pretended she wasn’t dead and reanimated with a gazillion tiny machines running along her arteries.

“Fly-er, sir?” she dead-panned.

The morons laughed and pawed at the woman’s chest, clawing at her top.

I ground my teeth and looked away. Don’t get involved in fights you can’t win. That was my creed, and I planned to stick to it. My new friend with the mask caught my eye and grimaced. His expression said: Look at what the world’s coming to when dead people can’t even walk the streets. Tragic.

The line crept forward a few feet, and I tugged at Chelle’s hand. She didn’t budge.

“Look at those two,” she hissed. Staring at the twins from Stupidville, her jaw set in a hard line, Chelle sounded mad enough to chew nails and shit steel wire.

“Yeah, I see ’em. Let’s go.” I tugged her hand again, but she refused to budge.

“That’s disgusting!”

The twins had the Revivant woman’s outfit yanked down to her waist and were commenting—loudly—on the size, quality, and firmness of her breasts.

“C’mon, Chelle. It’s none of our business.” I pulled a little harder. It was like trying to move a fencepost. “Chelle . . .” I used my stern voice. “Don’t start—”

“Hey, fucktards!” Chelle barked. “Leave that woman alone!”

“—any trouble.”

The fucktards in question snapped to attention and pinned Chelle with twin feral stares. Werewolves, scenting new prey.

Sanjay shoved the Revivant. She fell in the street, landing awkwardly on her butt, hard enough to make me wince even though I knew she felt no pain. Her breasts bounced, and the flyers she carried scattered across the pavement.

“Who you callin’ a fucktard?” Sanjay demanded. “You wan’ me come up dere and split you open?”

Chelle glared at me with an Are you just gonna stand there? challenge. Her eyes narrowed when I failed to immediately leap into my Superman unitard and smack some ganstah ass. She snarled at Sanjay instead and pointed at his crotch. “You’d have to get it up first.”

That did it.

Sanjay and his buddy stalked forward past a line of suddenly disinterested, blind, deaf, and mute people. I was not ordinarily a violent person. The reason I avoid fights: I learned at an early age everyone in an eighteen-square-mile radius—including grandmas and small children—could beat the dog snot out of me without breaking a sweat.

I gave Chelle a nice knowing you smile and prepared to die.

“Hey, Sanjay, look . . .” I started forward, hands spread in supplication. “You know they can’t treat it here, right? This clinic doesn’t do that kind of medicine.”

“Da hell?” Sanjay’s eyebrows twisted together in a knot. He and his pal were close enough, I could smell the stupid rolling off them in waves, like the smell of unwiped ass.

“They can’t fix burst testicles,” I said and kicked him with maximum applied force in the nutsack. When you don’t fight well, you learn to fight dirty.

Sanjay folded like a cheap lawn chair. Which left Fucktard #2 to take the lead in beating the shit out of Mean Joe Warren. Within half a second, I ate three punches in a row, all of them hard enough to rattle my brain and loosen a few teeth. The world spun—Look! Pretty colors!—and tilted under my feet. Legs wobbling worse than the Revvie on high heels, I bumbled around in a dizzy circle for a lost moment in time, then whap!-thud!-smack! Three more punches knocked me to the ground.

Pretty ground. Concrete. Old chewing gum. I like it down here. I think I’ll stay.

Some other Joe Warren living nearby reported that Chelle had taken a piece of the action and was going all Loud Bitch Kung Fu on the green-shirted gangster, shrieking and clawing and kicking and spitting. Probably biting too.

I hoped she had her tetanus booster.

This all happened from far away, in a distant galaxy, with swirling stars and muted sounds. The other Joe told me the female Revivant had gotten to her feet and was wandering away. Her maid’s outfit hung from her waist, leaving her topless. She didn’t seem bothered. (“Fly-er, sir?”)

“Bye-bye,” I muttered, my breath blowing dust and candy wrappers away from my face.

A shadow eclipsed the sun and a pair of black boots stopped in front of my nose. The soles were really, really thick.


The dull, meat-like thud of hard object meeting soft skull sounds like nothing else. Once you’ve heard it, you never forget it. The gangster fell on the other side of the black boots. His right eye appeared to bulge from its socket and there was a crease on that side of his head.

I forced my blurry vision to track upward to the source of that sound. A couple of years later, I found the top. Black boots, as noted already. Black pants bloused into the boot tops. Belt with a hardware store and armory attached. Black shirt with bright blue patch on the sleeve. Badge. Riot helmet.

Homeland Security, to the rescue.


Night-night, Mr. Police Officer.



From now through May 9th, I’m giving away three signed copies each of my four published novels through Goodreads.

Beginning today: Yeager’s Law and April’s Fool

Beginning April 24th:  Yeager’s Mission

Beginning May 1st: Working Stiffs*

*I’ll add the link when the giveaway goes live.

(You’ll need a Goodreads account, but they’re free for the price of a click or two.)

Now available for pre-order from Amazon, Working Stiffs. Here’s a look…

Chapter Three: I Can Quit Anytime I Want.


Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee. Where was the fucking coffee?

We had coffee yesterday, didn’t we? I rummaged through the last cabinet in the kitchen, the one where we kept the dishes, as if the packet of coffee might have snuck under a chipped plate or snuggled down in one of the three mismatched cups. All the other cabinet doors hung open, having been raided, pillaged, and left for dead.

No coffee in the plate cabinet, either.working-stiffs-sci-fi-2-draft

It’s a law—federal, state, and natural—when in doubt of an object’s location, ask the woman. “Chelle!”

“Joe!” Her voice came through loud and clear from her permanent place of residence in the john. In a three-room government apartment with Xerox-copied walls, we did not need an intercom to communicate.

“Where’s the coffee?” While the question traveled across time and space, penetrated Chelle’s hard crust of annoyance and generated a response, I checked under the sink. Nothing except for a bottle of liquid soap (so old, it had cemented itself to the cabinet floor), some Drano, a can of unopened greenish powdery substance (for cleaning?), and an empty box of scrub pads.

Somebody should throw that out.

***A short story I dug out of the archives; Hard Reset is modern riff on Noah’s Arc.***

Journalists jammed the conference room, a wall-to-wall crowd of tweed, denim and khaki writers intermingled with blow-dried, razor-sharp, tailored TV people.  Cameramen lined the back and sides, while a gaggle of photographers sat cross-legged at the front, hi-tech cameras resting in their laps.

From the open side door, Sal Raza paused, leaned close to his wife’s ear and cupped a hand over his mouth.  “Did you know why journalists sleep longer than lawyers?”

Toni shook her head.

“They lie better.”

His wife of twenty years rolled her eyes and gave him a gentle push in the back.  “Smartass.  What are you so afraid of?”

“This is a very big thing to me.”

“Go on.  They won’t bite.”

“No, but they might sting.”  Sal dug a finger under his damp collar and tugged.  He resisted the urge to wipe his face, straightened his suit and strode to the lectern like he owned it.  Although, considering he owned the hotel and convention center in which it resided, technically he did own it.

The room quieted.

Sal held the lectern in a white-knuckled grip and said, “Good . . .ah, good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I will make a brief statement then take a few questions.”  Why am I so nervous? I’ve done a thousand pressers and make high-priced attorneys pee their pants.  This should be a cakewalk. 

The flashes popped and made his eyes water.  “Today I am announcing the greatest undertaking this planet has ever seen.  In an effort to populate worlds yet undiscovered, Raza Industries will begin construction on a 450,000-ton spacecraft.  Construction will take place in orbit, built by a crew living in our privately-owned space station.  The modules of this station have already been lifted into orbit by Raza Industry rocket boosters.  The station will be assembled over the coming twenty-four months by a team of contractors, former NASA engineers, and astronauts.  After that, we begin work on the ship itself.”

He paused to sip water from a bottle under the lectern’s top shelf.  A babble of voices broke out and Sal held up a hand.  Would they notice the tremble?

“Further,” he continued, “Raza Industries medical divisions are collecting the DNA of every . . . species . . . on the planet.”  A rustle of excitement moved across the room.  “With our patented process, Raza can generate living creatures from a tiny sample of their DNA.  This has allowed us to consider, for the first time, how mankind might propagate the vast reaches of space and spread throughout the galaxy.”  He stopped for a moment; the journalist waited, silent but for the whirr-click of the cameras.  “I intend to build the first interstellar voyager, complete with the DNA of the entire planet—or as much as we can reasonably obtain—and set out on a mission of discovery.  Human fate should not be at the mercy of one global catastrophe.”

Into the stunned silence of the audience, Sal said, “I will now take questions.”

The room erupted.  Sal pointed at random, from journalist to journalist and let the questions fly.

The first reported asked, “Why does Salvador Raza, the eighth richest man in the world, want to build his own space ship?”

“Why not?  Next question.”

“What’s the ship’s name?”

A New Hope.”

“Isn’t that from Star Wars?”

“Yes.  Next.”

“How long will the construction last?”

“Two years for the station.  Fifteen to sixteen years for the ship.”

“What’s it going to cost to build it?”

“What will it cost if we don’t?  Next.”

And so on until Sal had had enough.  “Last question.  Yes, you.  With the striped shirt.”

A thin kid, barely out of college, who looked to Sal more like Shaggy from Scooby Doo than a real reporter, stood and asked, “Is it true that early on, before this project began, you told some friends that, uh, that God had spoken to you and told you to build this ship, the same way He instructed Noah to build the ark?  And for the same reasons?  That God was going to bring down another flood and you were to preserve life on Earth?”

Sal blinked in the harsh light and heat crept up from his neck.  “No.  That is categorically untrue.  I have no idea where you’d get an idea like that.”


“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.”  Sal exited, stage left.


George Grilli snapped the television off and threw the remote into the sofa cushions as hard as he could—it was the only remote he had; he wasn’t stupid enough to break it.  The sour milk in his bowl of soggy corn flakes sloshed out, drenching his other hand.  George set it on the coffee table with a curse.  Dried his fingers on the carpet.

Marco, his black Guess-a-Dog mix, got off the floor and stuck his nose in the bowl and lapped the last of George’s food.  The last food he had left in the house.

“You know what, Marco?” George said, “Salvador-Frickin-Raza is building his own private space yacht.  I’ll bet he builds it then fires all the people who worked on it.  Fires ‘em all and gives ‘em two week’s salary.  Two week’s.”  He held up two fingers to illustrate, in case Marco was confused about higher math.  “That’s it.  And you know that’s why she killed herself, right? Sharon.”

Marco ignored him, intent on chasing the last drops of Borden’s finest.  The bowl scooted across the table as he nosed it along.

“Mechanical engineer,” George muttered, head down, staring between his feet.  Hunched over.  Beaten.  The white-spotted dog, who’d heard it all before, licked his chops and studied the bowl, waiting for more tasty milk to appear.  “Sixteen years at Raza Aerotech.  Two week’s severance.  It was the last straw.”  George snorted, shook his head.  Stared at the picture of Sharon in her wedding dress on the coffee table.  “You know what I ought to do, Marco?”

George stood and hitched his boxers up.  The green plaid ones.  His afternoon attire.  He headed for the toilet.  “What I ought to do, is get hired on there with Raza’s people, wherever they’re building this thing, right?”  The last he said louder, in case Marco couldn’t hear his reasoning.  He didn’t bother lifting the toilet seat when he unlimbered the tackle and aimed it more or less at the bowl.  “Ahhh.  Anyway, I get a job there, you know?  And I bide my time like a good little Do Bee.  I go deep undercover.  Do a little of this, a little of that.  Then, when the time comes—BAM!—I take out old Sally and his ship of dreams.  Serve the bastard right.”

He shook off and padded back to the living room, where the dog had curled up in his spot on the sofa.

“What do you think, Marco?  A good idea, or not?”

Marco opened one eye and agreed with a half-hearted woof.


Sal pressed his nose to the tiny window of the shuttle Skywalker and held his breath to keep it from fogging the glass.  “There it is!” he squeaked.  His throat was so tight, he sounded like a cartoon squirrel.

“Calm down, Sal,” Toni patted his back.  “Your heart.”

“It’ll last a while longer,” Sal said without peeling his face away from the sight drifting into view.  “I happen to have that from a very good source.”

“Oh, please.”  He could hear the smirk in her voice.  “Not again.”

Sal mentally shrugged and let it go.  The sight of A New Hope, tethered to the space station, left him too excited to fight.  The starship gleamed, brilliant white against the contrasting blackness of deep space.  Eighteen years in the building, four trillion dollars of expense, with a fully-loaded mass of more than a pocket cruise liner, A New Hope was ready to assume her duty.  The hand-picked crew of one hundred scientists, doctors and engineers were aboard.  DNA samples, sometimes multiple samples, of millions of plants, animals, insects, birds—all the flora and fauna of Earth, including mosquitos though Sal had argued against it—were carefully labeled, checked, frozen, double-checked, stored and triple-checked in a filing arrangement more complex than that of the Library of Congress.

Final goodbyes had been said.

It was time to go.

“And not a moment too soon,” Sal murmured.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, dearest one.”  Sal pushed off and floated back to his seat.  Toni was, of all the damnedest things, knitting a sweater.  Knitting.  In zero-G.

A week after her 75th birthday party, his wife could still make his heart thump with desire and generate a tingle in regions farther south.  Sal grinned so wide, he thought his cheeks would split.  He looked “up”—at least toward the shuttle’s ceiling—and winked. I told you I’d get it done.  Didn’t I?  How long ago was that?  Twenty, twenty-one years ago?


Sal’s office aboard A New Hope wasn’t nearly as opulent as the one he’d left behind.  Functional, but not austere.  Wood appointments wherever practical—for who knew when he’d ever see real wood again—furniture fixed to the floor as well as other accommodations for a metal building orbiting the Earth.  Until they got under way and were able to spin the ship, they had to tolerate zero-G.

Sal strapped himself into his desk chair and turned on the computer.  His reflection in its black screen made him chuckle.  With his hair floating around, he looked a little like those pictures of an old Albert Einstein. Would that we had him here!

A knock at the open portal and Sal’s head of security, Gordon Dixon pushed off from the frame and floated to the desk.  He hooked his feet in loops so he could stay more or less stationary. Dixon’s hair was clipped to molecule length; he had no problem with Space-Head.

“Sir,” the security officer reported.  “We have uncovered all of the engineer’s sabotage.  All his devices have been found and neutralized.”

“Good.  And Grilli?”

Dixon hesitated.  “Still at large.  He made it back to Earth before we figured out who was responsible.”

“Well, don’t worry about him.  His fate is sealed.”

“Uh, yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Gordon, you may go about your duties.”

The man nodded in a formal, precise, military manner and pushed off for the door. Dixon, like the other crew members, tolerated Sal’s biblical pronouncements and treated him like a loopy uncle.  No doubt Dixon would share tight smiles and eye rolls with the other crew members when they thought Sal wasn’t looking.

No matter.  The promise of a fresh, unspoiled planet, where the human race could get a universal mulligan, a big, whopping Do-Over—a hard reset, as his techies said—had been an easy sell for the crew.  No matter if they thought the owner was a little goofy, if it bought them a ticket to the biggest ride in human history, so be it.  Even being put into a medically-induced coma for hundreds of years hadn’t deterred millions of applicants seeking a shot on Raza’s mission.  Sal chose who went, and he hoped to God he’d chosen right.  Grilli, obviously, had been a mistake.

“Well,” Sal said, “they’ll get a fresh, new planet.  Just not the one they think they’re getting.  This’ll be the longest round trip to nowhere on record.  The floods will come and wash everything clean down below and the human race gets another shot at life on Planet Earth.”

The intercom beeped and Sal pushed a button.  “Yes?”

“Mr. Raza,” the ship’s captain said.  “All systems nominal.  We are go for launch.”

Sal glanced at the clock.  “Right on time, Captain.  Please . . . how do you astronauts say it?  Light this candle.”

“Roger that.  We will ignite main thrusters in T-minus ten minutes and counting from . . . mark!”

There were no portals in the office.  No portals anywhere, in fact.  So Sal closed his eyes and pictured Earth in his mind.  “Don’t worry, old girl.  We’ll be back soon.”

Ten minutes later, the world went white and A New Hope evaporated in an expanding ball of plasma, eliminating every trace of life aboard the spacecraft.  No warning, no mercy, and no second chance.


George Grilli shouldered his pack and stuck out a thumb, but the sleek new Cadillac didn’t slow.  Its wash of cold air blew over him and he shivered.  Forty miles outside of Memphis, Grilli hiked over the pea gravel and busted bottles alongside a two lane state highway.  He had a few bucks—enough for a meal in a fast food joint—the clothes he wore, and the odds and ends he’d taken from Raza’s space station.  Nothing else.

He grinned anyway.  Threw back his head and laughed aloud.  “Who gives a shit!” he yelled at the sky.  “I have the best gift of all.  Fuck you, Raza!”

Grilli pointed a two-fisted double-bird salute at the overcast clouds.  Too bad he couldn’t be near a TV right now.  All the news shows had been running up-to-the-instant coverage of Raza’s Boldly Going Where No One’s Gone Before.  Unfortunately that meant they were also showing Grilli’s picture every time they ran out of gushing metaphors and hyperbolic adjectives.  George Grilli, the known saboteur, the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench.  He laughed again, remembering the sober face of that prick Dixon staring into the newscaster’s lens.

“The suspect, Grilli, is on the run.  We have found and dismantled all of the explosive devices he planted, thereby neutralizing the threat to this crew and this ship.”

“No you didn’t, jackass.  You only found the one’s I wanted you to find.”  As an engineer assigned to metal fabrication and fitting, Grilli could roam the ship at will.  He also discovered a way to roll thin sheets of plastic explosive—mixed in the tiny kitchen sink of his locker-sized room on the space station—and sandwich them between certain critical metal plates.  And hide them in places where they’d do the most good.  Like near the O2 containers.  Wiring those special plates to the main ignition breakers had been a real pain in the ass.

“No way they’ll find my little surprises.  They’d have to dismantle half the ship to get to the O2 tanks.  As soon as Captain Twit toggles the ignition switch . . ..”  Grilli cackled and threw his head back.  “Kablooie! A New Hype will be blown to shit.”

The wind blew stronger, flapping the tails of Grilli’s coat.

A fat, baseball-sized dollop of rain splattered on his bare head.  A dozen more fell around him, sounding more like pistol rounds than raindrops.

Then more came.

And more.

Robotic Animals Televisions Which Reveal Alternate Universes Inanimate Objects Brought to Life People Struggling to Survive in Apocalyptic Wastelands Sentient Cutlery and much, much more. Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails is a collection of dark speculative fiction whose stories all focus on themes of loneliness, isolation, and abandonment. Enter into strange worlds envisioned by some of the most inventive authors writing today. A portion of the proceeds of each sale of Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails benefits the Last Day Dog Rescue Organization.

My short story, Government Waste, is the last one in the book.  (What can I say?  They saved the best for last.)

There’s a link to the book on the left.