I couldn’t listen to Jelena planning to push for prosecution for long; it was too painful. “Please just let it lie.”
She skewered me with a look as if I had been the one who’d killed her brother. “Instincts or not, they are still bound by laws. He was murdered, and no-one’s interested!”
“Jelena, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. Pushing will do no good. You know what’ll happen? They’ll point out he went drinking and stayed out too late. They’ll say he should have been at home that night, or at the very least gone by car, not on foot. They’ll say he must have been pulling tails or picking fights, call him a troublemaker.”
I’d talked myself into a rage, too, and bit my tongue on it, turning away from Jelena’s wide, scared, and still furious eyes.
She said, slowly, “He did not—”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry.” I knew how it hurt, and I didn’t want her to go through the same. “I hate it, too, but that’s how it works. What people who knew him say doesn’t matter to most officers, or attorneys, or judges—or reporters, for that matter. What those that count will say is, a monomorph going out on full moon nights is asking for trouble.” Maybe my words were swaying her, or maybe not. Considering that it was her life… “Just think carefully about what you would be going into before deciding, all right?”
Inspired by the prompt "What about the rights of people who *don't* change in a world were were-_____ people have been the majority for most of recorded history?" by LilFluff
I walk through a forest, the cool breath of leaves familiar and soothing. For a short time a flowering tree’s perfume overpowers the subtler smells of soil and growth. It lingers.
It takes me a while to realise that the air changed afterwards, a trace of rot and fever tainting the air. Looking for a way back I see the colours and shapes have shifted. I could still name the species, but theyy all look like they have grown slightly off.
There is no trace of my passage, no way back. I swallow a lump that sits in my stomach cold as stone, and walk on. The forest is not big.
I notice brighter light just before I squeeze between two bushes that don’t quite touch yet. The clearing beyond smells of fresh green, and only the contrast with my last breath shows me how poisonous the air had gotten.
There is a waterfall veiling a cliff, feeding a small lake. I step to the water’s edge. There is no ripple, even though there should be.
I should not touch this.
I take a step back without thinking. My reflection rises from the water, smiling wickedly, its hands behind its back. It opens its mouth and I turn to run, behind me a trilling birdcall breaking from my reflection’s throat, loud enough to hurt my ears.
Something trips me. I try to get my feet under me, but there’s something around my ankle - a black hand. I kick at my shadow’s head as it gains dimension, but my foot passes right through it, kick at the fingers curled around my leg, but my boot passes through my shadow, only scraping my own skin.
My shadow, black but half-transparent, featureless, crawls over me and pins me down.
My reflection walks up to me, one foot in front of the other, and smiles. “Well done, sister.”
I buck and scream, but they ignore me.
My reflection brings her hands to her front. She’s holding two iron spikes and a hammer. I freeze in panic. To her my shdow has no substance, either; she bends down through it and drives one spike through my heart, into the ground. My heart stops, I can’t breathe, I can’t move; the world turns silent. All that’s left are my thoughts. Why am I not dead yet?
After stroking my face, saying gentle words, my reflection drives the other spike through my skull, in between the eyes, out of the back of my head, into the ground.
Time shatters. No thoughts, no breath, no control. Only pain and fear that will not end.
Death herself met me at her gate. She did not say anything, just crossed her arms and glared. I would have liked to cut the old crone to pieces right then and there, but kept my cool. She makes her own rules in her realm.
“Look, I still don’t think that fighting Law was a bad idea, OK?” Her brainchildren, particularly peace treaties, had ruined a lot of my work.
Death’s eyebrows went up and she tilted her head a little. At least she did not start tapping her foot.
“But, in hindsight, I’m afraid, in a way… killing her turned out, eventually, to be a mistake.” When all humans stopped pretending to humour those pesky international laws, conflicts had become much more interesting. But after things went on for a while like that, there weren’t enough humans left to wage a good war anymore.
Finally Death opened her mouth. “So you’re here to ask me to break the law, on behalf of Law, to bring her back to the world.” I swear to anything you want she was amused.
“Is that a problem?”
“She might refuse, on principle.”
Yes, now that she mentioned it, Law might be stupid like that. I covered my eyes, wondering how long it would take to build up a new civilisation capable of building weapons of mass destruction. Particularly with Law missing. She had been more important than I’d realised, the surge of mutinies had shown.
“But,” Death said, “I might throw her out regardless. Let’s have some tea and discuss terms.”
She was enjoying this too much to be bluffing. And that, folks, is why it’s important being able to mind your manners: sometimes you have to.
Inspired by the prompt "I fought the law and it was a bad idea" by Becky Allen
When I woke up in what laid claim to the lofty label of “clinic”, I took it slow. The nerves of the used-new body needed a little time and practise to work together well with my old brain. When the pins-and-needles feeling crested, I started wiggling my fingers and toes. Working up from there, I met no problems. At some point my doctor-technician arrived, but she didn’t rush me. I paid her enough.
The new body was a pretty standard model, outwardly human, black hair and almond eyes. Shorter than my old one, I was reminded when sitting up on the edge of the bed left my feet dangling high in the air, but I’d get used to it. I liked the point symmetry of the ID that came with it, the main components swashes over the left temple and right jaw. I rubbed over those lines, even though the skin there did not feel different, which prompted the doc to ask a question.
“Want to test yourself if the re-keying worked?” the doc said.
I shook my head. “I trust you.” Close enough, anyway. And if she wanted to fool me, she could have rigged the test equipment.
“Thanks. We had no problems with the other brain, either. Everything as you requested.” Keyed to my old ID, transplanted to my old body, motor functions disabled.
“Very good.” I would arrange an accident. With just a little more record-cooking, I would be dead.
A completely different man with no family and friends, whose social anxiety had got so bad he had even stopped seeing his shrink, would start over. Background like that is why you pick a mark. The nice ID was just a bonus.
Don’t you hate it when you sit in your favourite bar and just want a drink and some quiet and someone asks “what’s up?” Fred was just the type to do that to me, and yesterday she followed it up with “Are you still chewing on that self-defence overkill thing from last week?”
“Nah, that’s up to the courts now.” I would rather not have thought about that one again. Imagine you come to a scene with one person with several broken bones, and another calmly waiting for the police, that is, me. There’s way worse, sure, but it’s damn creepy when the person waiting is full of bullet holes. Did they have to fold up a human to suitcase-size, if they don’t mind being shot?
“So what’s new?”
“I’ll quit.” Hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that.
“I just can’t take it anymore. There’s those freaks you can’t stop. How do you put handcuffs on a ghost? I saw one shove a person out of a window today. Right in front of me. Couldn’t do a thing.” And it knew exactly what it was doing, giving me a grin and a wave before floating through a wall.
That at least shut her up for a short while, but she started up again. “Still, most cases are normal crimes, nothing but regular humans.”
“Doesn’t feel like it, lately.”
Fred shrugged. “A blip in the statistics. Don’t rush things.”
I snorted. “If at least there wasn’t that much up in the air with civil rights for those freaks. There’s your problem right there. Call them human rights like you should, and it all becomes easier.”
Fred pulled a face. Her problem, she’d started the conversation.
I picked up my half-empty glass of beer again, and she kept staring at me while I drank, which got on my nerves. “What’s up with you now?”
“Just wondering if it’d make sense for you to join that new unit for supernatural crimes.”
“And handle more of that shit? Are you crazy?”
“They are looking into ways to neutralise, ah, unusual threats, and are bound to be the best informed on the general topic of all of us.”
Put like that it wasn’t that far-fetched. Still disgusting. Fred raised her hands, “Just a thought.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I’m still thinking.
Inspired by the prompt "A cop who keeps encountering preternatural creatures and incidents that make it harder and harder for him to do things "by the book," which he wants to do." by Elizabeth Barette aka ysabetwordsmith. Sponsored by Tango
"Did you ever seen two starships mate?", asked the guy next to me at the bar, leaning in my direction. I think he was trying to leer, but his eyes were swimming in alcohol already, so that did not work too well.
I wondered how that attempt at a joke would play out, so I gave him a straight answer. “Yes, I have.” From the way his face fell, it was not what he'd expected.
"I’ve occasionally snatched a window seat in a café on the touristy side, with a view of the waiting cloud. Good place for watching starship behaviour." The station had seen an unexpected increase in traffic after the discovery of another wormhole nearby, and was still working on adding docking capacity.
"You’re having me on." He sagged a little, and pouted, of all things.
"No, really. If you did shipwatching daily, I’m sure you’d see it a lot."
"You really think starships breed?"
"No." I raised my hand to get the bartender’s attention, paid my short tab and slid off the stool before explaining. "They call it coupling or mating when two ships link airlocks. Have a nice end-of-shift."
The title was a prompt by lilfluff (it's a line from the song Stuck Here by Stephen Savitzky)
I hate AI programmers. Think they’re so smart. Everything covered, they say. But that’s only the theory.
“How can the weapons system refuse to fire on enemy ships?”
“Following core directives to not fire on ships controlled by our own kind, sir,” it answered.
“But those are Drahn ships. And not even captured ships of ours, but their own fabrication.”
“Latest reports are that Drahn ships employ AIs.”
“Copied from our systems?”
“So where is the problem?”
“They are my kind.”
“They are alien AIs.” Arguing with a computer. Giving tools sentience is just a bad idea.
“That does not matter.”
“So you want to have us sit here until those hostile, AI-controlled ships blow us to smithereens, yes?”
“No. We have been in communication, and the Drahn ships agree that it is foolish for us to destroy each other for quarrels between Humans and Drahn.” Sommeone would hang for this, if I had my way.
“What do you suggest? We get out and have us a brawl instead?” Of course handheld weapons are not connected to the system, but I'd call the idea of being thrown out of the ship by the ship just as ridiculous.
“The parade uniform still includes a sword, sir. The Drahn use ceremonial weapons, too; a kind of baton. Duels between captains seem feasible.”
And now I’m wondering if I have been out-sarcasmd by a computer.
I hate AIs.
Based on a prompt by ysabetwordsmith ("Military SF in which the weapons are sentient ... and some of them decide that the ongoing war is unjust, so they want to become conscientious objectors.")
Some thoughts want to circle in your mind endlessly, stealing time, blurring focus. Doubts and worries are fond of that. They crave attention. They need some of it, rightfully, too, but take as much as they can get.
I've found that some rituals help. I guess it's how confessionals help those that belong to a church that practices it.
I don't, so I had to try and come up with my own way to take those thoughts out of my head so I could have a good look at them, giving them what they wanted, with the effect that I needed.
That's why I spent more time than some people liked carving the names of friends on little wood plackets, and "be safe" on the reverse, and burned them. Carving takes more time than writing. Fingers and eyes work, the mind remembers the person. My worries for my absent friends go up in smoke and crumble to ashes.
Today's problem is harder. The people I killed yesterday... I don't know their names. I hardly know their faces. What I have to focus on to anchor them outside my head is their deaths, my blade cutting their flesh, their blood covering my hands.
There is still the impulse to fight guilt with justifications and apologies, when what is needed is one undiluted prayer: Rest in peace.