Play The Familiar here.
She warmed my best blanket in the machine – the one that scared me so much when I was little but became my favourite after I found it made all the clothes so very, very warm – and wrapped it around me. Oh, it felt so good against my aching bones. She gave me some cold milk; the kind I like, rich and creamy and all I could drink. Gently she picked me up, and held me close. Sang to me, softly, and told me what a good boy I was. I think I was, mostly. I know I did bad things every once in awhile, but who doesn’t? I tried, though, and I know she loved me because I tried.
I hurt, now. I hurt all over. I lived a good life, but it’s over. It has to be. I’m not mad at her – I love her – and I’m happy she helped to end the hurting. I understand why she took me to the needle doctor. I was looking forward to it, truth be told. She held me, and cuddled me, and pet me, and stroked me, and I purred for her the way she liked, and nibbled her hand the way she liked, and told her I loved her as I got so very, very tired.
She killed me, and I loved her for it.
She crouched on her heels at the top of the pass, silhouetted by the light of the setting sun. Her wide-brimmed hat pulled low, she waited and watched the weather-beaten road. Wouldn’t be long; the coach was nothing if not reliable in their schedule. One of the reasons they did so well on this route. One of the reasons they charged so much.
On the other hand, some of the reasons they had so little trouble included the strength and number of protective spells they laid on the stagecoach. The journeymen wizards they employed to protect the passengers and their cargo. The sharpshooters who rode shotgun behind the horses.
When she spied the cloud of dust on the horizon she pulled her gun from under her poncho. As she watched their approach, she loaded the pistol with the ammunition she’d bought from the technomancer; bullets infused with a temporal anomalic enchantment that would get past any shielding the coach was likely to have. She hoped she wouldn’t need it today. They were expensive as hell and in any case she didn’t like killing people, even when necessary. Killing was sloppy; she was anything but.
Activating a feather-fall charm, she jumped from the top of the pass to the road below. When she judged the coach was about thirty meters away, she tossed a Summon Small Animals cantrip in front of the horses. As she’d expected – hoped, really – the cantrip was judged by the shielding as harmless and passed through. Also as expected – hoped, again – the gophers it summoned appeared suddenly enough to spook the horses. Rearing, they came to a halt.
“Hand over the gold,” she said to the coach driver. He only goggled at her, so she repeated the order to his partner.
“Yeah? Oh, of course” he said, gesturing behind him to the wizards seated in the coach. “Allow us to hand over the gold and any other valuables we have. Would you like them placed together in a chest for your ease of transport? Or would you like them simply enchanted as to fit in your haversack there?”
“All together will be sufficient”, she said, watching the wizards exit the coach.
“Of course, of course. Dall,” he said, looking back at the shorter of the two wizards, “please assemble the gold for the lady here, if you’d be so kind?”
“Certainly”, he grinned, raising his staff.
“Look, don’t bother, all right?” she said. She raised her pistol. “See my gun, here? Temporal anomolic ammunition. I’m also armed with a transposition charm pre-set to a null magic zone not to far from here. Can’t track me there. If you force me to, I’ll use it, return here tonight and fire off my gun to kill you all where you stand right now.”
The wizard paused. “You have that?”
He took in her worn boots, undyed poncho, dusty hat. He thought for a moment, then smiled. “Bullets like that cost a lot of money. More than a indie like yourself is gonna have.” Quickly, he raised his staff and started chanting.
In a crackle of blue-tinged sparks, four bullets appeared from within the coach’s shield and struck each man in turn, dropping them to the dust. With a sigh, she stepped across the now defunct shield’s perimeter line and, after a quick search, hoisted the chest of gold down off the baggage area and into the dust. A quick incantation and the chest was stowed within her Haversack of Holding.
“Assholes,” she said down to the bodies lying in the road. “These bullets are expensive. I didn’t want to have to use them.”
Carefully marking the locations of the bodies in the road, she headed off to her shack in the desert. She’d be back there tonight, to fire the gun.
“What’s this? What’s this?”
“Corn.” The large grey squirrel looked across at the smaller one with distaste. “You bring me corn. What the fuck did I ever do to deserve you bringing me corn?”
The smaller squirrel looked up nervously at the larger squirrel on the branch above. “I’m sorry, Boss, ” he squeaked. “That’s all there was, I swear. This lady, see, she only put out this dried corn this time and there just wasn’t – ” He fell silent as the other squirrel held up one claw.
“Red, Rocky, listen to this guy,” he said to the two bruisers flanking him. “He tells me there’s only corn in the feeder. Red, ” he growled, “check that joker’s tail.” He gestured at the grey squirrel’s tail. Red nodded, and jumped down beside the quivering grey. Offhandedly, almost gently, he raked his paws through the grey’s tail. A single sunflower seed shell fell to the branch.
“…the fuck is this?” the Boss growled. “You eating my seeds and passing corn off as my take? Is this what this is?”
“No, Boss, you got it all wrong! It’s not what it looks like! I swear – ”
In a flash Don Squirrel was down from his branch and had his paw twisted in the fur on the head of the smaller grey. “You fuckin’ with me? You fuckin‘ with me? Look!” he roared, twisting the smaller squirrels head to the left. “You see this?”
“This! This is all my territory, you understand?” he roared. “This park? My park! This neighbourhood? My fucking neighbourhood! This tree? My fucking tree. Look down!” He twisted the grey’s head down towards the ground at a cat pacing back and forth at the base of the tree. “That cat? My. Fucking. Cat!” He slammed the smaller squirrels head on the branch. “Those seeds you fucking ate? MY fucking seeds!” He pulled the other squirrel’s head level with his. “Now. You know what you are going to fucking do?” he asked. The other squirrel stood mutely, eyes wide, tail shaking. “You are going to go back to that house, and you are going to get more seeds from the old broad, got it?” With every word he stressed he bounced the other’s head off the branch. “I don’t care how you do it, whether you have to roll over and play cutesy-wutesy squirrelfriend or if you have to run up her leg and bite her on the ass! You are going to get me my seeds!”
He let go of the other squirrel’s head so abruptly he fell into Rocky. The other squirrel roughly shoved him away. “Y-yeah, Boss, you got it. I’ll have those seeds for you by sundown, I swear.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you fucking will, you waste of fur, or my cat down there will have himself some junk food tonight.
“Ten seeds. Sundown. Now fuck off and get to work.”
There is a story about fear, drug addiction, and a biotechnologist – and it’s a story not worth telling.
It’s the same old shit. Hotshot geneslinger comes on board, ready to change the world and make new friends, from scratch if necessary.
Works twenty hours a day. Creates new therapies, saves millions. Gets lauded as a hero, a celebrity. Has her face pasted on every screen and her name on the lips of every faceless news personality.
Gets tired. No one can maintain the pace she sets herself, not for long. Not even with the ‘helpers’ she creates for herself in her lab. Flesh and blood eventually hits a wall and in every case leaves a mess for someone else to clean up.
Gets scared. Memory starts to go, thinking gets fuzzy. Helpers aren’t helping, and she won’t listen to those that tell her that they never do. Doesn’t yet realize that they’ve been where she is, splicers at the ready, playing as gods in bondage to the people. Doesn’t see them shake their heads as she brushes them off, knowing that she’ll never listen, not until she’s one of those telling the fresh young meat to slow down, take it easy, Eden wasn’t built in a day. Assuming she lives that long.
Gets herself a silver elbow. Chemtrails streaking up her arm, down her side. Bloodroad becomes too obvious, turns to less visible means of drug intake, but no less harmful. It’s all right, though. She didn’t want kids, anyway. Needs more and more to do less and less. One day, she throws out her chair and starts working standing up. The greyhounds shake their heads, but say no more. There’s nothing more to say.
Soon after, her mistakes get bigger and harder to hide. More cost. More ethically dubious to put down. Start to draw the attention of the exec. Gruesome horrors not meant for the sight of Man tend to do that. Another discussion begins.
And ends in the same way. Fine work in the past, no complaints, but our return on investment is no longer at a level we’re satisfied with. No reflection on yourself. Services no longer required. Redundant. Let go. Please leave your prox card on your desk, and clear out any personal items. Not that there were any. No one watches her go. She left years before.
Another biotech dumped to the curb. Another clean crackerjack swaggering through the door, ready to change the world and make new friends, from scratch if necessary. Just another chapter in a story not worth telling.
Another fucking day in this godsdamned hellhole. One more year, one more year, one more year…..
“Hey, Bloodhammer! My fucking cat’s got missing, you have anything to do with that?” I sigh. Again. “I told you before, Andrew. Orcs don’t eat cats. Orcs don’t eat pets. They’re Orcs, not animals!”
“Yeah, fucking right they aren’t. I better not find my cat near your house, Blooddick. Got that?”
I say nothing, but move on. I could probably break that Elvish piece of shit with one hand, but my dad, scrawny Human that he is, doesn’t have any real protection against Elvish magic, and who knows what Andrew’s parents might do if I break their son in half and ‘accidentally’ lose a piece or two?
“…and the wars between the Dwarves and the Dark Hordes were begun on…anybeing? Anyone know? The first of August, 1973, of which consisted of the Council of Seven against the…anyone know? Anybeing? Anybeing? The Goblin Alliance and the Orcish Corps. The Orcs and the Goblins, being of low intelligence and poor leadership….”
All eyes swivel to stare at me. I drop my gaze and examine my feet. “…were quickly destroyed by the superior tactics of the Dwarven People…”
Fuck, I hate being here.
“I told you before, my mom’s a sweet lady.”
“She’s an Orc!”
I grind my teeth. Even my smallish tusks. A dangerous sign. “Yes, an Orc. She loves my dad and he loves her! They’re a fucking fairytale, all right?”
The little gnome girl is completely oblivious to the growling starting to come from the back of my throat. “Yeah, but…”
I stand up quickly and get my backpack from where it’s leaning against the wall. “Drop it, will you? It’s none of your business.”
“I said, it’s none of your business!” I shoulder the bag and stride away. Dammit, mom, dad, you should see what my life is these days.
My dad walks into the house, and gathers Mom up and swings her around. She giggles and nuzzles his cheek with her left tusk.
“How day was?” she asks softly, embracing him gently as she’s learned to do over the years.
“Fair. Missed you, green lady,” he smiles. “And how was your day, Thrall?” he asks me.
“All right, Dad. Same as usual.”
His smile disappears. “Sorry to hear that, son. I know things aren’t easy for you as a half-Orc, but it will get better, I promise. Heck, our best guy on the line in the field is a half-Elf; had it rough, too, growing up but nobody cares once you’ve graduated and are out in the world, you know?”
I nod. I hear that all the time, and maybe it’s even true. But damn, until then, until then….another day in that godsdamn hellhole.
“Welcome back, Ms. Thurott. I am Alia-141, a Non-Biologic Sentience in service to Cryogenic Hospice number 361. Please, do not attempt to move as the revivification process has not yet completed. We have disabled all neural control to your extremities temporarily while we complete all active consciousness checks and verify all neurological functions are within parameters post cryogenic somnolence. This is for your psychological comfort. You will not feel physical discomfort during this process.
While you undergo this analysis, we would like to apprise you of the following:
Your current age is…currently biologically 27. We have normalized your biological age to conform to current population norms.
Your current sex is…unaltered as female.
Your current economic status is…unverified. You will be assigned an economic adjustment officer upon completion of revivification.
Your current educational status is…unverified. You will be assigned an educational assessment officer upon completion of revivification.
Your current physical health is….within population norms. All abnormalities have been excised.
Have you any questions?”
“You have been in cryogenic preservation for 217 standard years. The Terran year was adopted as the standard year by the Treaty of Saturn in the year 2133 CE.”
“All biological relatives on record are now living within Singularity Gamma in the Tau Ceti star system. I have placed a note on your file. You will be assigned a resettlement officer upon completion of revivification.”
“Reference protocol override. Records indicate that you were a resident of the territory known as the United States of America. Records indicate that at the time of cryogenic preservation this territory was the last to impress currency for medical care from the individual. Records indicate this practice was discontinued in the year 2047 CE. I have placed a note on your file. There is no longer a monetary cost for biological essentials.”
“Revivification proceeding normally. Neural control will be returned in 288 seconds. Cryogenic chamber will be unsealed in 282 seconds. Pol-23, a Non-Biologic Sentience in service to Cryogenic Hospice number 361, will be waiting to guide you to the receiving facility where you will begin reintegration to humanic society.
Once again, welcome back.”
They talked about the house in quieted tones, when they talked about it at all. Children were hushed when they questioned their parents; uncles and grandfathers gleefully made up stories for them about the place when they got drunk enough. No one wanted to acknowledge the house; everyone took the time to walk by it as often as they could, heads immobile as they walked, their eyes following the building until they were past. Hungry for anything they could get. Ashamed of themselves for wanting it.
The house decked in silver glitter. The disco ball hanging over the front door, the spotlight casting points of light into the bedrooms of the neighbours to either side and across the street. Not that anyone complained to them, no…they complained to each other and grappled with each other when the sun went down and the only light was the dancing stars cast through their windows as they writhed and gasped and silently screamed while biting hard on shoulders and knuckles and still softer parts, to fall apart and come together again and again and again. To then complain to their neighbours on the next morning with a knowing look and an invitation in their eyes, to the jealousy of the street.
The beautiful clothes of the people who lived there; how do you explain to a child why they cannot have the stripes or the sequins or the beautiful glittering patterns on their own shirts and dresses and braids? How the parents were angered at the flamboyance on display, how they condemned them to their children as they secretly longed for it for themselves. The hair. The glasses. And the shoes….oh, the shoes!
The curtains of the house were kept drawn; none of the crowd who happened to throng past on their way to the store, to work, to have hurried and sweaty tea with yet another neighbour saw much to gossip of; just strains of music from the cracks in the windows – Dancing Queen, Waterloo – and oh, the knowing smirk from the men and an artfully downcast blush from the women when Slipping through My Fingers played – Chiquitita and more. Everyone, of course, hated the music. All knew it by heart.
I, too, condemned the Abbatoir, loudly and vehemently to the men at night, as they grunted and thrusted and agreed with me wholeheartedly from their position atop me, to the women as they writhed and gasped and screamed how right I was to the heavens from beneath. To the children who giggled and shrieked and hid from the stories they heard as they sat around the bonfires in their back yards while AngelEyes drifted over the night air. And how I longed – so very much – to be a part of it.
Play Writerdome here.