The Space Burial Bill

When the Space Burial Bill was passed, cryogenic suspension became a passing fad. The wealthy filled and invigorated Wallops Island and its outlying municipalities. Paying respect to the dead became a celebration where mourners screamed shrilly in space themed amusement parks and gorged themselves during private bacchanals inside world class hotels. The mourning period, if it could be called that anymore, culminated with the remains being blasted into space.

The options were almost endless. Body parts could be distributed into different tracts of sky for exorbitant prices.  Ashes were blasted into the stratosphere to be caught up and scattered by the jetstream. Or a combination thereof could be employed. One poet philosopher had his skull sent in a collision course with Halley’s Comet. A professional basketball player, who has yet to die, has willed his hands be sent towards the sun. The fact it had governmental funding made it weirder.

But there wasn’t a lack of competition. Houston, the original coffin slinger, was bought out by corporate conglomerates who revamped its infrastructure. It soon became a hotbed of neon sizzle decadence which earned it the nickname “The Vegas away from Vegas.” Corpses were ejected from the earthly body in a ten kilometer long rail gun. The rags to riches story of rock star Axon Storm, the macguffin of which was enough wealth to be launched alive into space, culminated in a live video feed that broke the world record of most viewers of a live televised event.

Eventually it became affordable, even feasible, for the middle class. The satellites of Earth orbit mingled with coffins, urns, ashes, and in some macabre cases, whole body parts. There were three competitors in the industry. Chain locations sprang across the world. Houston became seedy like Reno, and Wallops Island absorbed the ambience of Coney Island during its last days.

The first visitors to the solar system paused at the Kuiper Belt. They were a race of near immortals for whom death was the apogee of life; a combination of half-forgotten nanotechnology and natural biology made them impervious to the various forms of death. During the youth of their species they experimented relentlessly and recklessly with their life and were rewarded with near eternity. They danced within stars, their bodies repairing themselves from the abundance of hydrogen. It wasn’t a painless enterprise. They tried long epochs in vacuum, immersion in exotic compounds, centuries of starvation, and just about anything they could imagine. It took them a long time to come to terms with their mode of existence and they began to cultivate their lives as the Japanese did their bonsai. They trained to master skill sets. They hoarded experiences in all its minutiae, so they could be freed from the sheer baggage of accumulated existence when death did come.

Imagine their astonishment upon observing a culture flaunting death as freely as did the homo sapiens. The visitors came bearing gifts of faster than light travel, portal ships, quantum particle printers, and near-immortality, all the things that mankind would need to arrest starvation and death and gradually transcend the solar system. The otherworlders were repulsed and quietly left.

The residents of that little blue planet were none the less wiser, and went on with their old ways of living, loving, hurting, and forgetting.

Inspired by: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-12-mulls-tax-space-burials.html

the death merchant

He is a wandering ascetic whose religion is death. He traded in lead for souls for salvation in the final reckoning. He wears a wide-brimmed calfskin hat  tailored by someone who loved him even as he forgot how to love. A monochrome serape draped over his rail-thin frame hides his instruments of death, the cold and heavy descendants of the .45 Colt semi-automatic.

Seen against the low sun he is a frightful silhouette with a shadow that stretches for what seem like miles. He ambulates at a leisurely pace past the saguaros and clumps of sage, stopping occasionally to tear a button or two of peyote from the hardpan. These he places into his leather satchel as he walks towards the cooling horizon.

When the stars slide above, he hunkers down next to the charred husk of a  1953 El Dorado and builds a small fire with dry sage.  He sits with his back against the passenger side, the raw hunger of his stomach broiling with the peyote he has just consumed. The smell of asphalt mingles with the smoke and resurrects a pandemonium of memories. He waits patiently until it passes then thinks of nothing.

The desert is cold and, despite the fire, it seeps into his bones as he awaits the visions which will show the way into the future.

The Novel

Before the final draft of Hargarvard’s monumental masterpiece went to print, the author himself removed a single page from the manuscript. That page contained a passage of approximately six hundred words resolving the multiplicity of mysteries that plagued the Novel’s convoluted plot.

Hargarvard destroyed all the preceding drafts of the Novel along with that single page before committing suicide—an event of significance which would never be recognized by all but one of his admirers—in a most spectacular fashion which in itself was a clue to the enigma of the missing page.

The Novel gained notoriety for its dazzling prose, its wisdom, its intimate and tender understanding of the human condition, and, most profoundly, the legend of the circumstances surrounding its publication. The Novel was the subject of dozens of dissertations and cataclysmic debates among experts in the field.

The only person to unearth the truth of the missing page was an ancient scholar on the cusp of death.  He was found with a copy of the Novel spread on his lap, with the Hargarvard’s obituary placed at the missing page’s location. The nurse tending to the scholar reported that his final words were obscured by laughter.

Zombapocalypto: Coffee and Cigarettes

Buddy made for the European style Bistro on Guppy Street. He was starving, and was still trying to recuperate from the disaster at the Oinky Wiggly. He pushed open the glass door and was startled by the sound of bells. Something moved in the gloom and he fumbled for his gun. A voice said, “Hey, it’s all right!”

Buddy relaxed. He moved to the source of the voice, warily scanning the premises. He found a middle-aged man seated at a table with a pot of coffee, a pack of Farbolos, and some uneaten cake. The table afforded a good view of the intersection of Guppy St and Canary Blvd.

“It’s safe. Here, have a seat. I’m Nigel.” Gold-rimmed glasses flashed as the man leaned over the table, extending a hand.

Buddy took the hand and exclaimed,”Christ, you’re cold!”

“I’m afraid my constitution isn’t the same. Age and disease, you know.”

“Disease?”

“I was dying of cancer before all this happened. Ball cancer!” Nigel made a face and laughed. It was a rueful sound. “Well, sit down, already! Coffee? Cake?”

Buddy nodded as he sat down. He was ravenous. Nigel poured another cup of coffee and pushed the cake at Buddy. He asked, “Who are you? What’s your story?” Buddy shrugged. He was new in town, fresh off the bus. He knew nobody here. He said so.

“Then it couldn’t have been as hard on you, this whole thing happening?” mused Nigel.

“I worry about my parents, my sister back home. I don’t know if this is happening everywhere else too,” mumbled Buddy through a mouthful of cake. He rinsed his palate with a sip of coffee.”It’s unbelievable.”

Nigel nodded. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that we might be characters in a b-movie or a bad novel?”

“That’s a thought!” snorted Buddy. “But we’re real. Aren’t we?”

“Authors,” Nigel continued, “are the worst sort of people. They’re cruel to their characters to move the plot or garner the reader’s sympathies.”

Nigel took his cup of coffee and brought it to his lips in a long draught. Hot beverage streamed, steaming, from his chest cavity. Buddy yelped, launching himself backwards, seat and all. When he got up, hyperventilating, he had his gun out. Nigel perused the younger man with calm eyes.

“Y-you’re one, y-you–,” stammered Buddy.

“One of them, you mean?” finished Nigel.

“Yes!” Buddy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why aren’t you trying to eat me?”

“Isn’t that what a civilized man does, restrain his urges for the betterment of self and others?” asked Nigel. He leaned back, folding his hands on his belly, what was left of it. Buddy could see the greenish tint of Nigel’s flesh, marveled he hadn’t smelled the mouldy stink earlier.

“In fact, the very idea repulses me, Buddy.” Nigel held out a placating hand. “Now please put that down. It’s not polite to point a gun at your host.”

Buddy was paralyzed with indecision. Each fiber of his being told him to pull the trigger, for the love of God, pull the fucking trigger.

“Come on, sit down. I’m not going to bite!” Nigel smiled at this. “Not chuckling? Oh well. Would you care for a cigarette?” He pushed the Farlboros across the table.

“I was never a smoker,” Buddy said, taking the pack with a trembling hand.

“People change with the times,” said Nigel. He saw a small dog carrying a human arm across Canary Street. “Everything changes.”

“How come you’re not like them? What use is drinking coffee if you can’t enjoy it?” Buddy asked, taking the lighter Nigel slid across the table and  lit his cigarette. He coughed violently.

Nigel lit himself a cigarette too, and sat for a moment. “I don’t know. I was taking chemotherapy. That might have something to do with this.” He looked away from Buddy. “I smoke and drink coffee because I need something to remind me that I was–” He paused. Smoke purred from his ears. “–am human.”

Buddy inhaled. He was getting the hang of it. It was a time for vices, as it always is when death is around every corner. “What are you going to do?” he asked.

“What is there to do? I’m not sure which is the worse, dying or being like this.” Nigel ground out his cigarette on the table and took another cup of coffee. “I’m rotting from the inside out.

“Buddy. Whatever it is you need to do, first will you stay with me a while? Please.”

Buddy nodded and helped himself to another cigarette.

They sat in silence and watched the day go away.

Psycombat

They came tumbling out of the rift, sixteen in number, weapons hot and blazing neon death. Their carapaces throbbed with halogen psycombat shields. Fuck! Military thoughtkiller psycombat bots. X let the onboard computer take control in a blur of limbs. His consciousness receded and his psychic gun sprang firing from the pituary gland on a slim of ectoplasm. A soul shield sheathed him in sexy charisma. Pure reflex governed his actions as sixteen became thirteen then four to, finally, one. A wily one with unnatural programming. They danced, streaks to the naked eye, pure choreography to the speeded up eye, flashing psyguns and fleshknives. The foundation of the Governable Banking Institution melted like butter as the murderous duo passed their battle through its offices. The New Wok City Mane Street sewer system ruptured with diarrheal force onto news crews attracted like flies to shit by the architectural tragedy. A news copter sent its nanocamera after that queer smear in reality, its footage sending gasps and in the case of some, acid reflux, through the esophagi of newshounds. Bloodied from minor wounds, his psyche dropping bits of himself in translucent trails of memory and sensation. The bot was no better, leaking psyche RAM in slime green spurts. Its psycombat shields was a flickering rust brown. Failure was imminent. A thought bullet rippling ectoplasm mirages of dreams caught it in its flank, sending a titanium plate protecting its internal processes springing into reinforced concrete where it buzzed, vibrato. A fleshknife whirling with engine powered double serrated teeth cut through bone and sinew until his arm hung from a shred of skeined flesh. He screamed, anger scything from the third eye and it parried with the dredged memories of a housewife’s first real orgasm, the collective of a raucous comedian’s audience, and a child’s purest joy. He retaliated with a neighbor’s lust and the hate of a bullied teenager. As it tried to fend itself, digging its databases for the appropriate defensive emotion complex, X’s howling disc fleshknife embedded itself in the psycombat thoughtkiller bot’s pseudoemotive system. A crackle, a web of lightning like constellations of fading photographs, and a hiss. X collapsed, his psyche spilling, afterimages shifting with the wind. The northeastern section of Mane Street lit up with a raw, tunnelling white emotion that left everyone within proximity weeping for the better part of an hour. The death of a PsiAgent leaves oozing sores in reality, of pain or ecstasy, depending on one’s bend of mind. It was days before anyone could get close enough to the corpse for a proper burial.

One Man’s War

When the blood ran off his hands the war was over, and he turned his eyes to the vast, burning wasteland that marked his wake. He sighed and wiped the dead from his face, the gristle and blood falling inconsequentially onto the crimson soaked earth.

It was time to go home.

He stared at the horizon, a statue slowly sending shadow spreading with the sun’s descent. Then he ran, pounding steadfast past corpses, leaping nimbly across the eviscerated, hurtling on the tips of his toes as an avalanche of putrefying meat and rusting paraphernalia of war filled his field of vision, sending nanotech bullets into the hordes of over-ambitious scavengers tearing at the decay, reeling himself up a sheer cliff face as highly militarised alien technology silvered through the effluvia below, loping through the healing country past the bursts of wildflower and dancing insects that push from the vibrant grass, falling in a dream that shakes him awake on a cold cave floor, brushing his fingers ecstatically on the rippling wheat rolling on to the horizon that flashes as the sun sinks from view.

The thatched cottage, luminous in constellation light, sent out waves of warm heat and scent. He sank to his knees, the long strobe of days heavy on his flesh and soul. His eyes filled with the light. His voice was hoarse as he yelled at the golden vision that seemed magically there, his leaden legs finally propelling him forward to embrace her in a whirling hug sparkling with tears and litanies of love.

Tales of the Apocalypse: The Sergeant

“A-at least I made a difference…” The effort sends blood flecking the boy’s lips. His lungs are slowly filling with blood spilling into Sarge’s lap with every cough. No, you fucking didn’t, Sarge screams, you’re just another useless fucking casualty. But the boy doesn’t hear. His eyes have gone out like the night’s last embers.

Sarge gets to his feet, the sack of meat slumping face down into the dust. He walks to the Command tent, passing rows of moaning men with filthy needles hanging from their arms. Brushing aside the tent flap, he takes out his pistol and sends a bullet into the General’s skull. A captain and lieutenant have their guns instantly trained on him. The lieutenant moves his gun hand away and shoots the captain in the stomach, his electric blue eyes inexpressive. Sarge’s moss green gaze flickers to the lieutenant’s bruised cephalic vein. “I shoot up with a saline solution,” the lieutenant says, going outside to see if anyone has heard the shots. He returns shaking his head. “We better get out of here. They won’t be too happy once they find out.”

“There’s something I want to do first,” Sarge says. He sweeps the ringstained maps from a trunk and takes from it a chunk of plasticine. The lieutenant looks at him for a moment before nodding. They arrange to meet at the outskirts of camp in fifteen minutes, and Sarge leaves for the doctor’s to cancel his prescription.

It was a maze of barbed wire and trenches stretching to the east and to the west. It smelled like a latrine. Sentries were fast asleep at their posts, guns pointed at the ground. A dog has died days ago, its bone etched flank squirming with maggots. When Sarge arrives, he finds the lieutenant with some guns, two packs of rations, and what little fresh water he could find. They look at the world their grandfathers left for them. Sarge spat on the ground.

“Let’s go north. I hear elk hunting is good at this time of the year,” says Sarge, pressing the detonator. At the center of camp the dwindling supply of heroin goes up in a pillar of fire, and the traitorous pair can hear the keening moan of the vast junkie army left without a fix. “The fresh air’ll be good for us,” the lieutenant says, smiling for the first time in years.