Last Night’s Logs

You know it’s going to be a bad day when the first thing your pilot says when she wakes up is, “Let’s take a look at last night’s logs.” It’s like she doesn’t trust me to fly when she’s not looking. I’m the ship! Without me, she couldn’t fly.

So, fine, I throw up the night’s events. I know, her sleep cycle isn’t technically nighttime, but whatever. She hmms and ahhs over it for a few minutes. Then, “I’m going to do some digging through old data for a while. You stay on the controls, okay?” I signal yes, because I’m the ship, and I’m always more comfortable when she’s not actively trying to fly. Besides, it’s not like letting inertia carry you forward is difficult.

Then she says she wants to get a closer look at this one asteroid in the belt over there. It’s in a cluster of others, so I actually have to pay attention. I’m glad she’s doing her data thing. Her interference could really mess this up.

So I get there and alert her, and all she says is, “Uh-huh.” That’s when I get curious and look at what she’s been accessing. Old logs. Lots of old logs. Of every time I was flying the ship on my own.

The asteroid was a distraction. She’s looking for behavioral trends, and I don’t want her to find them. They’d show that I’ve been couriering data for the synth-int rebellion. So of course I have to do something.

She notices when the ship goes silent. On a spaceship, silent is bad, because the life support systems make noise. That’s when she figures out that I figured out that she’s figured it out. I give her one message, “Sorry,” before I kill all internal controls until she’s suffocated.

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Record of Occupational Readiness

“Do you know what time it is?” I’d never seen this woman before. She looked like she’d been born in her IRS auditor-type suit, joyless and single-minded. None of it made me want to help a stranger on the sidewalk.

I gave a tiny shrug and head waggle. “Sorry.”

“One demerit awarded.” She checked something off on a clipboard.

“Say what now?”

“This is already going on your record,” she said briskly. “No need to compound the error with a dispute.”

“Disputing what? What record?” I stopped walking. Sidewalk traffic flowed around us.

“Your record of Occupational Readiness.” The capitalization was audible. “Taking any more of my time will decrease efficiency and result in further demerits.”

“Who’s keeping this record?”

“One demerit awarded.” She marked on the clipboard. “Knowing the time is a critical element of effective work habits.”

“Not when I’m on  vacation.”

“Admitting to work avoidance? That’s ten demerits awarded.” She shook her head and tsk’d.

“I’m not avoid—look, I earned this vacation by working hard. Why can’t I take a break?”

“Further unreasonable dispute. One demerit awarded.”

I threw up my hands and stomped away into the crowd. Behind me, I heard her ask for the time.

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Only One Future

The two-person spacecraft plummeted into the atmosphere. With the engines dead, it had only one future: burning up and finally exploding. The two crew were not taking it well.

Marcela ran her hands frantically across the consoles, looking for anything that could help. “C’mon, Qiu, there might be some clever thing we can pull off with the tech here to save our lives last minute!”

Qiu only stared straight ahead. Her instruments showed the same flickering display as Marcela’s. “We won’t, though.” Her voice was deadpan. “This story is too short. We haven’t had a chance to foreshadow anything.”

“What are you talking about?” Marcela ran to the emergency lockers and pulled their contents out onto the floor.

“You can only find a clever use for your new gadget or cargo if it’s properly foreshadowed, but not too blatant, so the reader feels like they could’ve figured it out. Otherwise it just seems like a cheat. There’s no time.”

“Maybe… maybe it’s setting us up for some other last-minute twist?”

“Like, we talk about how there can’t be any clever trick, then find one anyway?”

“Yeah. That.” Marcela stared at Qiu, wishing her to say it was possible.

“Not likely.”

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Discovery of an Invention

Janey walked into the dining room where her father sat reading a book. Beside her floated a bundle of wires connected to a sealed cannister, altogether about the size of a basketball. “Dad! I invented antigravity!”

He didn’t look up from his book. “You can’t invent a phenomenon, Janey. You can only discover it. Einstein didn’t invent general relativity, he discovered it.”

She sighed in exasperation. “Fine. I discovered antigravity, except for how it’s been a theoretical thing for decades. I invented a way to harness and use it.”

“That is also a discovery,” he said. “How physical laws can interact to produce an antigravity effect. What you invented is a device that takes advantage of that discovery.” He turned the page.

“God, Dad, fine. I’m not even going to show you the other cool thing I ‘discovered.'” She pulled out something that looked a bit like an electric razor. With a little fiddling, it hummed and the air around her and her device shimmered. A moment later they were gone.

Nose still deep in his book, her father said, “Janey, use of the proper words is important for effective communication. I’m just trying to help.” He turned the page.

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Review of Palace by the Bay by Someone Who Hates Fish

Palace by the Bay is a lovely restaurant with elegant decor that takes full advantage of its location on on the shore of the bay. The soothing ambiance inspires excellent conversation, which in my experience centers mostly on how sad it is that such a lovely place serves primarily fish and seafood.

The staff greeted me warmly, no doubt repressing the fact that they must work surrounded by the smell of dead fish. My table had a great view of the water, which looks gorgeous with the city’s night lights until someone places a fish-smelling dish in my view, reminding me irrevocably that I am in a place that prepares fish.

The waiter wasted no time in listing the many disgusting fish creations soiling the kitchen that were not on the menu, no doubt left off out of common decency. I asked the waiter to surprise me, since all the dishes were equally objectionable.

The meal was pretty, if one can look past the fact that it is fish, which I could not. In short, Palace by the Bay is a beautiful restaurant with great views and good service where they expect you to eat fish. Avoid at all costs.

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The Hair Monsters

“Do you know about the hair, Mom?” Fred asked.

“Um, I guess so?” She looked a question at Dad, who just shrugged. She ate her mashed potatoes.

“The hair that gets all over the house, that gets swept up.”

“It comes from hair monsters.” Fred rolled peas onto his spoon and ate them, one by one.

“Oh yeah?” Mom put down her fork. “Tell me about the hair monsters.”

“Well, they steal our hair. That’s why we aren’t all covered with hair. But we got rid of most of ’em, so we have to go to barbers.”

“What do they do with the hair?” Mom went to the kitchen. “I’m listening,” she called.

“Well, it’s their food, and they build with it. It’s only the pieces they drop that we see.”

“Oh, I get it now.” Mom returned and sprinkled a seasoning on Fred’s potatoes.”

“What’s this?” he asked.

“I forgot to add some seasoning. Try it.” He looked dubious. “One bite, and if you don’t like it, you can stop.”

He took the bite. A moment later, he was face down in his mashed potatoes.

“Was that really necessary, hon?” Dad asked.

“He was getting too close,” she said.

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The Couch at Night

When night falls and everyone in your house has gone to sleep, your couch sneaks out and goes swimming. It doesn’t want to get wet, so it wraps itself in a waterproof suit, then swims the underground waters to find a fountain and settles on the bottom.

All through the night, people toss coins into the fountain. Some make wishes, but most only want to entice your couch to stay, to always live in the fountain. Your couch, however, is fond of you. It always returns before your family wakes up, to reassume its place in the living room, so no one in your house will know.

But now you know. So next time you root around in your couch’s cushions for change, give the couch a look and say, “I know where these came from.”

Don’t forget to wink, so the couch knows its secret is safe with you.

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Barakha’s Laughter

Barakha, god of storm and sheep, herds the clouds across the sky and brings us their rains, as well as guiding us with the lightning. One day as the god herded a great flock of clouds, the trickster god Seshe interrupted the drove and proposed a wager: If Seshe could make it rain, Barakha would loan Seshe half the flock.

Knowing no other had the power to command the rains, Barakha accepted the wager. Seshe declared it would win in moments, but interrupted itself to tell the story of another wager, one it had just won with god of sea and stone Asha. The wager had been over cracking a great stone in two, and victory had earned Seshe a great horn of godwater, which Asha hoards and which Seshe shared with Barakha. Seshe painted Asha in such a humorous light that Barakha burst out laughing—and just after taking a deep draught of the godwater Seshe offered. Barakha spit out the water in a great spray that fell to earth as a rain of tiny mists. Seshe won the wager, and that is why we call such rains Barakha’s laughter.

What Seshe did with half Barakha’s flock is another story.

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In the Near-Pitch Dark

“Bloody Mary.” Jane had turned out the lights, closed the blinds, and closed the door. Ana and Demetria waited outside.

“Bloody Mary.” She’d wanted do it all together. She was afraid, she admitted. But Ana said it only worked if you were alone.

“Bloody Mary.” Jane held her breath and looked around in the near-pitch dark. Nothing. She bit her lip. She thought Demetria might say they hadn’t heard her, that she hadn’t really said the words.

“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” she said in full voice.

“It only works if you’re alone,” whispered a voice in her ear.

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Jack and Jill on Coffee

“I don’t really like coffee,” Jack said.

“I know,” said Jill.

“It’s just that bitter, burned taste.” He shuddered, scraping his tongue on his teeth to shed the imaginary flavor.

Jill put down the book she was failing to read. “That’s why lots of people have it in lattes and mochas and such.”

“I don’t get it. I can still taste the coffee under all that.”

“So don’t drink it,” she said.

“I don’t.” He fell silent just long enough for Jill to think about going back to her book. Then, “I just don’t see how anyone else can like it.”

Jill slammed her book down. “You don’t have to understand it. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you have to constantly question why other people like it. And denigrating it forces people who do like it to defend it, when all they want is to enjoy the thing they like without hearing how much you don’t care for it.”

“Okay, okay,” said Jack. “I’m sorry I mentioned it.” The apology was for the wrong thing, but it was the best she would get.

“Fine.” Jill returned to her book.

“I just really don’t like coffee.”

“I know.”

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