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Sindome Shorts
A continuation of Sindome Stories

So, everyone. I thought we'd have a bit of fun and try something if people are willing. Create a one-page short story involving your character that doesn't pertain to anything that is going on plotwise. How about it?

Here's mine:

"Anything?" Johns asked, indicating the stained cardboard box in his hands.

Margaritta grimaced, eyeing the box with the disdain of a woman who has seen everything but never expects to see it more than twice. With a plastered smile, she declared, "Everything, sir. You just give me two hundred creds and--I expect that is the item, correct?"

"Yeah," Johns muttered, shoving the box across the counter of the gift wrapping station. "Wrap it up nice and pretty, if you will."

"I'll need the fee, sir," Margaritta rushed, looking desperate to have Johns clear of her work space.  People were by this point beginning to stare.

Grudgingly, Johns shoved his hand into a pocket, pulling a thick, mashed wad of hard currency from within. With a lick of his fingers he flipped out a number of bills and set them down onto the counter. "You can keep the change, for what it's worth."

"Sure, sir. Whatever you say! I have a number of styles and patterns from which you may choose so if you will simply tap the style and pattern you like on the screen--" Margaritta gasped.

"Do you have anything in blue?  I know she likes blue."

"Blue?" the younger woman blurted. "Why, of course. Blue. Any pattern?"

"How about somethin' shiny. Yeah." Johns scratched absentmindedly at his beard. "Do you have shiny blue?"

Margaritta scrambled to tap a number of buttons on her terminal, calling up a printout which spat out of the wrapping machine like a frosted piece of ice. "We have this. It's a reflective blue with holographic shimmers!"


"You want this?"

"That'll do."

Quickly, Margaritta slotted Johns' money into the cash draw will shoving the cardboard box onto a conveyance belt. With the tap of a button the box shot into the machine and with an audible whine belched out of the other side shrink wrapped in shiny blue paper. With a flourish she tossed the box to Johns, its contents sloshing haphazardly.

"Hey now, miss! Don't be hassling the gift. It's important it stays in one piece!" growled Johns, clutching the box close to his chest.

"Just go!" Margaritta shrieked, pointing wildly off in the distance. "I don't give a fuck about your goddamned gift. Take your gift and your Limburger stink anywhere but here!"

Johns harrumphed, heading into the flow of the Cordoba mall crowd. With a laugh and a yell, he shouted, "It ain't Limburger! It's sewage! And it ain't a gift! It's her partner's liver!"

Bleh. Please move this over to the Fucking Fat Fuck thread.
Withmore Federal pen. That's where the WJF dumped me. I'm glad they finally made up their mind. For awhile they were tossin around Banishment this, cryo that. They decided letting me rot would be the best way to handle me. 25-life, all over gettin busted brining in SMG's and grenades to the sinners, with a few murders here and there, and the cherry ontop, bringing back in some banished persons. With all the failed Rehab psycho's runnin about, the WJF finally had an effective idea. Put someone in prison.

But I'm livin good. The Prison economy is thriving. I fell in with the Sinners. Chaim Said he'd take care of me since I didn't drop any dimes and they made the most orders. Yeah, It's like I moved into a fortress. The fuckin Russians can't get at me as easily in here. I hang out in my cell all day, callin the shots, and goin out to the yard an hour a day. I got Lil Jit and rey-rey watchin my back from that Art that got 71 murders put on him, and those other chummers I gotta share this place with.

The guards can be bought, just like anywhere else. Gotta sell the marcy at 500% markup in here just to pay em though. But hey, the people in here will pay it. Sometimes with chyen, sometimes with small favors, like gettin me a progia, or even one of my boyo's a shank.

Ya, three meals a day, 765 channels on TV, more respect then I had on the outside...ha! Fuck Cryo and fuck the wastes! Prison is the way to go!

Smells better then the mix too.

Haha, nice.
Chaim got word to me through a new script that got dumpd in here. Rey-rey's a fuckin snitch, told the jakes where Asong kept the heater he did in a Judge with. They found it, and cut Rey-rey a deal. They's gonna let his cain ass out in three months. He think I don't know.

The script earned his fuckin stripes. We were out in the yard, I cut a deal with the guards to go take a long shitter break. Had to flash em 5k a peice. The Arts were more then willing to supply the shank once they heard what was going down.  Script walks up and gives Rey-rey some dap, and they start to do their excercise routine. As Rey-rey's pumpin some iron, Script burys the shank in his neck. Rey-rey spazzes out for a bit, and the script passes by a Snake watchin his body twitch. Script plants it on his baka ass like it's nothin, and when the Guards search us, well, another snake just got an extra 5 tacked on!

Been on my toes though. Word on the block is they're transferin an old associate of the Russians over to A-block. I fuckin hate them Russians...

� � Illigitimate sons an daughters, all of us. �Not a one planned, just the offspring of a society aimin for nothing but the fuck. �Can't bend over without someone's prick perkin up, ready to fuck ya. �Makes me sick man, just disgusted with it all.
� � Owe too much paper, every breath costs another script. �Got no job. �Got no life. �Got no pussy. �Miss the old days, when the hookers didn't take cred. �Simpler times. �Still feel sick. �Bad smoke and loose morals, perfect combination for the end.
� � Looking down at the crowds like they was ants, tiny specs of nothing, trapped in traffic. �Walking left and right, minds connected to the network, no more independence. �Dirty pieces of filth, unwashed even in the rain, as if acid was too weak.
� � Puke over the edge, splat, hooker gets some flavor. �Pimp busts off, misses, I laugh. �Baka, pistol don't shoot that far. �This does. �Take aim, he runs, circle of street opens where people were. �Bang. �Number six. �Judges must be busy.
� � Minutes pass, circle fills in, people forget. �Its fast. �Don't remember number one for the day. �Bodies disappear, food for the needy. �Giving back to the children, one bullet at a time. �Hot meal, pimp stew, call me generous. �Hope they appreciate the sacrifice. �Bullets aint cheap.
              Blood rains down on the streets and another body falls.  Grey and red swirl together, spiraling in shallow pools amidst motionless splinters of what was once a processor and skull.  Its sort of beautiful really, like rivers carving out their place through the concrete, to someday leave canyons in their wake.  If only there was more blood...  I suppose it takes an ill mind to appreciate such art.  Doubt Elzar Agen share's my entheusiasm, the work I'm admiring was the bullet that emptied his skull.
I kneel down, running my fingers along the thinning liquid, smearing its cool over my thumb.  Shot in the rain.  Its like an old movie in my head, a slow sonata plays as trembling knees are forced to the cold, wet ground.  The hammer pulls back and the last bit of adrenaline kicks in, slowest moments of your life ironically become your death.  We reach the climax, all the instruments play sharp and the hammer connects.  For a brief moment the mind invisions a dry click, hoping against hope.  This can't be it, this can't happen to me, this is my story, someone save me!  Not this time Elzar, no more takebacks, no more begging, no more bribes. Close your eyes, God isn't here friend.  The hammer connects and you hear nothing, see nothing.  The last thing your mind registers is the sharp crack of your skull.  
Everyone's crowding the scene, hundreds of eyes staring at the mean old judges and their big guns.  They're pissed we came so fast, hardly enough time to strip the body bare.  They know better than to step over the line tonight though.  We don't fuck around in the rain.  We don't come down for nothing.  We don't give a fuck about them and they know it.  We silently dare them.  Elzar was a piece of shit who's favorite passtime was fucking teenagers and blackmailing their parents.  His character isn't why we're soaking on Fuller though, Elzar wore the chrome earlier this morning.  Judge Agen, pronounced dead 3rd of October, 2094.  Someone's going down, they always do, hope its the right guy this time.  Fucking tired of making evidence. posts on here haven't been my characters heh.  Just shorts :/
I was tucked into a hollowed a/c unit on the roof of this old building.  It was my home, been sleepin here fer round three months now.  Tonight though I woke up to the sound of harsh laughter and pounding feet in the alley.  The slapping footsteps stopped and more laughter followed  the sound of ripping cloth.  I slipped to the edge of the roof and peeked over the edge to see four men, dressed in threnches and hoodies.  They moved in and out of the shadows like shadows themselves and I could hear their breath from where I was perched.  The object of laughter was in the middle of the alley.  A young girl, bare skin shone pale from the distance streetlight.  There was another ripping soung and the girl gave a soft cry that ended in a choked sob.  The others watched and talked in low urgent tones with each other, wearing hard hungry smiles.  I couldn't understanad them despite being directly overhead.  Must be speakin mash.  Still didn't understand that shit, but I've only been in Withmore for about a year.  

Anyway, I'd been chased before at night, several times.  I'd been caught only once, about 6 months ago.  I'd taken to the roofs not long after that.  Looking down I was suprised to find a brick in my hand, ready to throw.  Then I paused, looking back to my home.  Everything I owned was stuffed deep down in there.  I was mostly safe here.  Even if I hit one of them, the others would find a way up here, even though the fire escape was a death trap of rickety and twisted metal.  Even if I managed to get away, I wouldn't have anywhere to go.  

I set the brick down and creeped back over to the unit, crawled inside, pulled the side back over, ducked my head under my blankets and clinched my teeth, trying to shut out the low rumble of conversation, cruel laughter, and quiet hopeless crying from below.  I guess a year in this shithole has changed me more than I had thought...

Magnificent Vega!  Loved it!
"Catch," he declared, tossing the hand gun into the reluctant, fumbling hands of the ganger.  "Call it a souvenir."


He bends down, scraping the dead agent's shock baton from the ground, rubberized grip still warm to the touch, just about as warm as the man who died wielding it.  "A memento, if you will. Felony organic damage one, willful intent to inflict harm. Your first perhaps?"

"Hey man, I don't want this!"  The ganger pleaded, dropping the weapon onto wet asphalt with a metallic skittering as it bounced and slid into a nearby pile of trash.

"I doubt you do, my friend," he grinned behind his mask, advancing such that the ganger backed himself into a wall.  "But unfortunately, this is one gift you simply cannot throw away."

"You murdering fuck, you're not gonna pin this on me."

"Of course I am," he replied with a flick of his wrist, sending the shock baton crashing into the ganger's scalp.  "I'm starting a war."

"You've got fifty different cancers vying for the top spot in your genetics, my friend."

"I'm dying?"

"Fuck no!" he replies. "The cancers want to adapt you. You got some of the wild variants on the way in, probably.  That's nothing some virals won't cook in a jiffy."


"I'm going to infect you with some anti-traits to counteract your tumor load.  Should get you patched up pretty well, and innoculate you against some of the more common vectors.  I swear, my friend, I haven't seen such a level of immunodeficiency in a very, very long time."

"Well, I'm not from around here."

"Ain't that the truth!"  The doctor laughs as he jabs a large needle into him. "Oh, don't pass out now.  It's not that bad."

Substrate - Radio City

   He found the youth loitering among a group of roughly ten even younger street children, standing nearly a head taller than the rest.  Carter negotiated his way through the torrent of human traffic until he was standing not far from the patch of turf the urchins had staked out on the sidewalk, waving the youth over with a flash of movement denoting both cash and information in the language of the slums.

   "You dress too well to speak streetskrit," the youth called out suspiciously.  Shrugging his myriad layers of clothing about himself, he broke free from the amoebic embrace of the group and sauntered over to eye Carter casually.  Cocking his head to one side, he flashed a bit of skrit denoting authority.

   Carter shook his head, declaring, "No, not a cop. Not protective services either.  But I'm looking for someone."

   "Plenty of somebodies down here. Plenty of nobodies too."

   "You know a somebody I'm looking for."  Carter fished a flat credstick from a pocket and tossed it to the urchin, who deftly plucked it from the air and flicked it into one of his pockets with practiced nonchalance.

   "Yeah?" The youth flicked his gaze up and down the street, stepping closer as he replied,  "Three thousand for a go-to."

   "There's more than that on the stick."

   The youth's eyes widened theatrically for a second before he gave a curt, serious nod.  "This somebody got a name?"

   "Helmond. Goes by The Doctor. Does mostly neural jobs--splices, imprints, implants, and the like.  You got a name, kid?"

   "They call me Nuncio," he replied, turning to walk down the sidewalk. He flicked a bit of skrit to his nine cohorts, giving them a sharp glance as he declared, "Stay here. I'm going for a walk."

   Carter watched as eagerness drained from the faces of Nuncio's acquaintances, and he knew their hunger.  He locked step with Nuncio as they edged back into the compact mass of street life surrounding them, counting on his guide's navigational instinct to take them where he wanted to go.  

   Their movements became a dance as Nuncio, ever the street dancer, guided them through the river of organic flotsam, seeking out the islands and thoroughfares guaranteeing safe passage.  He made surreptitious inquiries, flicking rapid-fire questions in streetskrit to one slummer or another, then listened and watched for the fluid movement of their responses.  Often there was an exchange of thin sheaves of hard plastic currency or promises of favors as Nuncio led Carter further into the slums, past sprayprinted glyphs of of the same skrit scrawled across everything.

   Eventually Nuncio guided them through a warren of shops and mini-bazaars situated in a cul-de-sac of modular highstack buildings.  From there, they made their way onto a festively lit side street that was crowded with party-goers. Gigantic neon and plastic Chinese dragons pinwheeled through the crowd as fireworks exploded like fusillades of automatic weapon-fire, the smell of cheap gunpowder and opium smoke co-mingling with the scent of curry, incense, and human sweat.  

   "Street of Holidays," Nuncio declared as they cut through the crowd, picking their way toward a junction of side streets.

   Carter was attracted to an elderly woman kneeling atop a blanket, thin strips of painted wood arrayed on top of the warm fabric before her.  Intricate scrollwork denoted proverbs in looping whorls of Cantonese.  Heckling Carter, the ancient woman motioned through curls of pungent pipe smoke for him to approach.

   "Tell your fortune?" she crooned, waving the thin stem of her pipe at him.  "First fortune free!"
   Carter paused, squatting down before the blanket to peer at the pieces of wood.

   "Do it," he declared.  The old woman scooped the wood into one hand then tossed the strips into a dented and battered coffee can. Shaking the container several times, the fortunes rattled dully within their confines before the fortuneteller unceremoniously tossed them onto the blanket before her.
   Motioning with one hand, she declared, "You pick one face up, yes?"

   "What does this one mean?" he asked as he slid a fortune from the pile and handed it to the woman.

   The old woman clucked, eyeing the fortune casually.  "Say good deeds not always good, and bad deeds never make better deeds."

   Carter laughed, standing as Nuncio slipped beside him.  

   "That's not a great fortune, lady."

   "Fortune not always good!" the woman called out over the din of the crowd.  "You want better fortune, maybe you pay?"

   "Maybe some other time," he replied, motioning for Nuncio to lead the way.

We're travelling through a perfectly rectangular tunnel cut and scored through granite and limestone, and far ahead light permeates a way out, a door that fits squarely into the dimensions of this tube of rock.  There are few of us, so very few from so very many, but we've made it, almost.  We can hear it coming from far back, in the darkness.  Maybe it's shrinking back as light from the world outside creeps in through cracks in and along the edges of the door.  We finally make it to the end, the terminus of this journey, with the beast howling in anger far back in the darkness, fearing what it doesn't know.  But that's our tactical advantage.  We  know what's outside, and can feel it, the warm rays of sunlight crying for us to come closer and feel them, to bask in them, to escape the confines of the hell we've experienced for so many days, if not weeks.  But as we pry open the door we are met with something cruel, and hard, and unmoving.  The way is barred to us even as the beast behind us draws up courage enough shuffle into the farthest reaching rays of light and lose some of its fear.  We scramble toward the light, packing in close even as Raymond, our de facto leader yells for us to move back, back enough that he can beat at the bit of steel wrapped through loops of dull gray chain link to hold fast the gate.  With each strike of his implement, the beast pads closer, closer, and soon close enough that its eyes blaze with the reflected brightness of the sun.  Stuart, always quiet, pushes the rest of us toward the light as he turns his back, descending alone to meet the beast with a sharpened wedge of lead pipe in one hand.  He does not look back, and soon disappears even as his screams and the anguished howls of the beast commingle.  He buys us precious time as Raymond pries loose the chain link barrier, and soon we are fleeing into brutal, blinding light so bright it hurts.
The Census

The scorched and baked sand fled for miles in all directions, even as the crawler moved inexorably along ancient asphalt covered under half a meter of hard-packed silica.  Outside, the temperature soared to such an extent that water evaporated quickly, even in the densest shade afforded only by towering barrel cacti and the occasional hardy bit of scrub plant.  Ben Gallop, confined to the temperature-controlled environs of the crawler, gazed through an armored slit of polarized glass at the expanse of desert known as the Delas Basin.

"And the reports indicated there are actually people out here?" he asked incredulously, peering over at his sand-smocked colleague.  Jordan Keenes, shifted in his seat as he poured over the contents of his kitbag and fidgeted with the dirty hem of his tunic.

"There are about a hundred from what the satellite surveys can tell us," Jordan replied.  "They are interspersed between several fixed dwellings along a shallow river in the area known as the Trinity.  The anthropo's think they're nomadic for about half the year when the river basin runs dry."

Ben squinted through the glass, trying to imagine who they were, these hot-dweller nomads who had for the best part of a decade and a half eluded investigation.  Hot-dwellers by definition were a rare commodity when nearly the entirety of the globe huddled in their dark, secluded cities, eating vat-grown food, breathing recycled air, and drinking water that had passed as fluid through thousands, if not millions of people before them.

How do they survive? he thought.

"So strange," he sighed, shifting to face Jordan, "That after five hundred years we are not the epitome of resource management, that a handful of people--mere thousands really, tens of thousands--are surviving in terrain that our best scientists have declared nonviable."

Jordan snapped his kitbag shut, peering up at Ben as he declared nonchalantly, "If that were truly the case, then there would be no hot-dwellers, and we wouldn't be taking this godawful trip at the height of the hot season to perform a census."

"At least we aren't being embedded with them," he replied, grabbing quickly at the arm of his chair as the crawler hit a soft patch of sand and broke through to the ancient road buried beneath with a wild lurch to one side.  Jordan grimaced, cursing as the storage compartment above his head spilled open, dropping numerous loose articles onto his shoulders and the floor at his feet.

"Why must we take ground transport?" he groused as he accumulated several of the items and settled them into the seat beside him.  "We could have utilized one of the hoppers and been there hours ago."

"Maybe," Ben replied,  "But we don't know where these hot-dwellers stand technologically."

"Don't want to scare the natives, eh?"

"Something like that."

   He is hovering in microgravity, and stencilled above the bay door is a mantra from some sixty years ago.  This is the highest step on Earth, it reads, but beyond the metal struts and bulkheads the horizon is too far, the contrast between the curving blue marble below and the blackness of space above too steep.  He is no longer on Earth, but high above it, waiting, in reality falling so fast that his suborbital is barely grazing the upper atmosphere.  Out in the bleak cold, the gondola awaits.  It is essentially a conical section of ablative shielding, the underside of a modified reentry capsule with basic navigation and maneuvering.  Rather than a seat, four metal pads with docking brackets clamp to his boots and the knees of his EVA suit.  Lights above the lock transition from red to green, and he steps out into space, launching himself toward the gondola.  Several cameras mounted on both the suborbital and the gondola swivel to catch his movement, and an image inset into his visor shows something lithe and insectile catapulting from the craft.

   "You look like a grasshopper, Babylon," a voice crackles into his ear bud.

Substrate - The Fragmentation Dilemma

   "You do realize that increasing the throughput could lead inevitably to fragmentation?"

   Carter laughed, leaning his head back into the business end of the apparatus. He felt hairs rising across the top of his scalp and the back of his neck where skin came into contact with warm, faintly vibrating metal.

   "If that was a problem," he replied, shifting atop the cracked plastic of the dentist's chair, "Do you think I'd really be here? Besides, you've probably seen it already."

   The doctor paused, licking his lips. "Late stage terminal cancer from the looks of the brain scan.  Still, I'm quite certain the nanite load coupled with the number of quantum gates you want installed will cook you before the cancer does.  Are you still sure you want to go through with this?"

  "You've asked two questions, Doctor," Carter groused.  "Intimating that I don't know what I've gotten myself into.  To be frank and equally honest, intuition tells me that you're afraid."

   "I've learned that cowardice does have its merits," the doctor declared as he began preparations for the procedure.  "The price you pay me will be far less than the price your body will pay once you and I have parted ways. But--as far as I'm concerned--I'd appreciate it if you choose to drop dead well away from my doorstep."

Substrate - The Walking Dead

   Carter stretched out, slouching into the plush burgundy synth-leather of the seat. With a quick flourish, he tapped a pair of cigarettes from a crumpled hard pack, lighting each with the flick of a cheap plastic piezoelectric lighter. Puffing quickly on his own, he leaned forward and handed the other to the woman across from him. The woman gazed quietly at him, her dark eyes prowling studiously across his features as she drew a lungful of carcinogens from the cigarette. Curls of smoke were tinted brightly by meandering holograms that slid past each window like glowing moats of quicksilver as the limousine sped through the night.

   "Tell me how it happened, how you," she exhaled, waving the cigarette toward Carter for emphasis, "Became one of the walking dead."

   He flicked a glance toward her, calculating for a moment before he let his gaze slide to the glowing orange cherry atop the cigarette in his hand. On impulse, as though he had forgotten how to breath momentarily, he took a quick drag from it, blowing plumes of smoke from his nose.

   "You know me already, Elise," Carter declared.  "You and your data bankers know everything about anything and everyone--myself included."

   "Ah, but of course.  You are correct," Elise replied, pausing to draw once more on the cigarette.  "Bureaucracy and the machinations of state secrets.  Such a death is quite fitting."

   "No, it isn't."

   "Still, my friend, state secrets do tend to kill those that harbor them, and you are just such a man.  I and those in the cabals to which I am a member have estimated just such a thing, that your former alliances might do you in." A small, coy smile stole across her face, the corners of her mouth turning slightly.  "I sense an irony in your situation that would be almost tragic, were it not that I am talking to you, and not someone else.  What do you want, Carter?"

   Snubbing out his cigarette, he leaned forward, gazing steadily at the Frenchwoman as the limousine pulled out onto one of the superhighways, a twelve-lane road heading east, away from the coast.  He could barely feel the subtle shift from city roadway to smooth, blank interstate highway, that itch of asphalt giving way to electrocrete.

   "I'm calling in my favor."

   "Well, that's obvious, isn't it?"

   "And," he continued, his eyes never leaving the darkened pools sunk into Elise's face, "I'm giving you a warning.  I'm taking down the Trust."

Substrate - Cenotaph

   She pulled the hard, blunt wedge of parcel, wrapped tightly in wax paper, from her father's cenotaph--his only memento.  She hefted the weight of it, feeling instead the weight of time and memories.  She slid the parcel into her rucksack, then rubbed her fingertips across the plexiglass encoated portrait, feeling dead eyes gaze back, transfixed in one eternal moment.

   "Papa," she whispered once, closing and sealing away her memories once again as she clicked the thick steel and marble face of her father's grave closed.

   "Find what you were looking for?" Strawberry asked.

   He was leaning his weight against the more massive bulk of his sedan as Joanna pushed through the doors of the memorial tower and stepped out into daylight gone monotone with heavy gray rainclouds. Clutching her rucksack close to her chest, she descended worn concrete steps until she was facing the older man, whose head swept back and forth in time with roving bursts of light from his headset.

   "How could you tell?" she asked, peering into the blind man's face.

   "Caught a whiff of your shampoo on the wind," he declared, pushing himself away from the side of the car.  He gazed fixedly at the rucksack hugged tightly in Joanna's arms for a moment before sauntering around to the driver's side door.  With a bob of his head, he declared, "Hop in.  We need to go somewhere and think."

   Pausing as the heavy passenger door of the sedan clunked open, Joanna asked, "Where?"

   "Place called Malloy's," he called from within the passenger compartment.  The car growled to life as she slid in beside Strawberry, then sealed shut with a hermetic thud as the door closed.  The vehicle pulled sedately into afternoon traffic, the car's autonav queuing them into one of the lanes leading toward the Burroughs.

   "Malloy's," Joanna mouthed the word quietly.  "He used to go there, when I was a child."

   Strawberry laughed, his voice booming, "Honey, you still a child. But you're right. Your dad used to drink there all the time."

   "And we are going there to think," she replied.  "I thought this was going to be more-"

   "Direct?" Strawberry continued.  Holding up a single thick, sausage of a finger, he declared, "In times of necessity, find refuge that is out of sight and out of mind of potential adversaries.  You're dad wrote that."

   "But I'm not my dad."

   "No," he replied, cocking his finger toward Joanna, "But he did teach his men well, and I'm pretty sure he taught that to you, too, among other things."

   They rode in silence for a while as Strawberry's sedan flowed down the road and wove its way through traffic like a black drop of ink in a metal concourse. Swollen gray clouds condensed, darkening and growing until their pregnant bellies were pierced by the tops of nearby arcologies, and soon after rain fell in sheets that bounced and ricocheted off of everything like hard wet bullets.

The earliest moment in time that Ezekiel Crane could recall was somewhere around the moment that he died and the moment that the reanimators cracked open his cryogenically frozen sarcophagus and revived him.  He wasn't too happy about that, waking up so soon after thawing, as the team of surgeons, all dressed in red smocks, black masks, and plastic eye guards  with microscopic pen-lights strobing on either side of their heads, were in the process of hacking his brain from his cranium at the time and digitizing what memories he had left.  The process was right out of the Verner Vinge manual for brain-to-box transfers. Basically, they were using the laser equivalent to a meat carver, planing slices of gray matter a molecule's thickness across and scanning the static state of his brain.  The funny thing was that Ezekiel wasn't so much awake as being emulated to some degree. He was already inside the box, his core memories intact, watching as the last bits of his gray matter were sliced like so much pale tapioca-kim chi hybrid.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Ezekiel tried to shout, only to find that the I/O port for voice was dead for the duration of the procedure.  He tried another output, streaming obsenities across a nearby wall screen the likes of which the practiced reanimators had heard hundreds of times before from other recipients of their care.

"You shut up now," declared one surgeon, "We peeling last of motor cortex. You wanna walk right, yeah?"

The other surgeons laughed as the last of Ezekiel's brain was sliced and extracted from the semi-frozen cranium of his old body, moved to glassy slides, and run through a series of scanning devices before being dumped unceremoniously into a trash receptacle along with the rest of his central nervous system.

That's my goddamned brain! Ezekiel typed across the screen.

"So?" retorted the red-smocked scientist again as he tapped a button on a nearby panel. Suddenly, a hole in the floor at the foot of the surgical table opened and in one swift motion Ezekiel's old corpus, frozen for nearly a hundred years, slid like so much trash down a metal chute and out to Gods know where. "We grow you new one."

That's my goddamned body too, you fucking bastards! What the hell do you think you're doing? I'm a rich and powerful man and I demand-

"Stupid Popsicle, you not rich or powerful."


The surgeons all laughed again as the lead scientist declared, "You broke. Got no money. This a charity case. You be quiet now."

But, what about all of my stock options? Where did all my money go? This can't be-

"Mister Crane," the scientist remarked as he cut Ezekiel's communications output. "Stock market fall out two decades after you die. Rule number one: never put all eggs in one basket, especially when basket named Microsoft."

After a while of wordless screaming and ranting, Ezekiel fell into an approximation of deep sleep punctuated by bizarre, half-formed dreams and lucid thoughts.  He eventually found himself strolling around a fountain in a square that was reminiscent of a very similar place from sometime in his distant past.  He was talking with a woman whose curly red hair was plastered against her pale white skin because she was damp from head to foot. He remembered then that she had fallen into the fountain, and this very lucid approximation wore her very wet summer dress like a tight, thin second skin.

"You've counted the aureoles on the right nipple of this avatar's breast ten times in the past minute, Mister Crane," the woman finally declared.

"So it isn't a dream, then," he muttered, peering curiously at the creature who wore his ex-wife's memory like a Halloween party costume.  "This is a simulation."

"Correct," she replied. "This is a simulacrum of a specific anchor memory--a pleasant experience which we thought you might find appealing after this morning's incongruities."

"Is that why I'm sporting an erection the likes of which I haven't had since college?"

"That's a simulation as well," she declared as a perfunctory matter of fact.  Extending his former lover's slim, graceful hand, she declared, "You may call me Sil. I will be your transitional adviser while you grow used to your new environs as well as your new body."

Again, he peered into Sil's simulated face, noting minute differences between the approximation of his wife standing before him and what his memories were telling him.  The eyes were right, and her hair was just the right shade of ginger, but Ezekiel swore that several of the freckles dusting Sil's face were off kilter. Grasping her hand, Sil's skin was warm to the touch, her digits and the shape of her fingernails exactly duplicated as he remembered, but the faded telltale scar that was etched into the meat of three of her knuckles was just the wrong shade of brown.

"Almost, but not quite," Ezekiel murmured, releasing Sil's hand.

"It's never perfect, Mister Crane," Sil surmised. "Memories are just a composite of differing viewpoints in time."

He took a moment to turn full circle, taking in the people, the fountain, the movement of pidgeons as they pecked at bits of gravel and trash not far from one of the benches surrounding the fountain, the feel of summer heat cooking the sweat off his brow, the awkward giddiness welling up from deep inside his gut as his youthful twentysomething hormones raged at the sight of a lithe, wet-

"This is a pretty good composite, then," he replied slowly, casting his gaze aside to stare at one of the more bloated pidgeons waddling among the refuse.

"We can build structures based upon them," she continued, tossing him a half-smile while holding a thumb and forefinger apart,  "But because memory is inherently faulty, we can only come so close."

"Am I awake, or is this a dream?"  Ezekiel motioned with his hand, encompassing everything. "This isn't real, and as of the moment I woke up, I wasn't real either.  I perceived myself, that is, my body, being trashed. So how will I be able to tell the difference between what you show me here, and what you say the real world will be?  How can I tell if you are real if you're wearing my ex-wife's skin from fifty years ago?"

Sil paused for a long moment, then turned, ambling slowly toward one of several buildings ringing the fountain plaza. She took a moment to scoop up a pair of red sandals that were haphazardly tossed onto the ground and continued to saunter barefoot toward a broad three-story affair.

"Come on," she finally replied, tossing her hair to one side as she gazed back at him.  "I'll show you."