ACTRON v3, ? (2017/09/19)
written and drawn by Stanley Lieber
THE SEPTEMBER THAT ENDED (2017/09/05)
THE SEPTEMBER THAT ENDED
by Stanley Lieber
30 September 2099
TAB2 sat in the house trailer and wondered why he had returned again to the only place where he had ever felt truly unlike himself. Who wrote this shit, anyway?
A quick sweep of the premises had yielded no comics or other items of interest. Switching to infrared: Same result. Why was he here?
This was not his home. Hadn’t even visited the place in years. When last he had bothered—the ninth grade?—Christopher had not even been home.
He rolled over on his pallet bed. Urine soaked trousers. Good thing he was alone. Stuck his leg out of his sleeping bag and felt for the gross carpeting of the living room floor.
It was there.
BLACK, YELLOW, PURPLE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY, WHITE,
BLACK, BLUE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK,
ORANGE, BLACK, YELLOW, ORANGE, BLACK, ORANGE, BROWN, WHITE, WHITE,
PURPLE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, PURPLE,
WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, WHITE, BLACK, BLACK, WHITE,
WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK,
BLUE, BLACK, BROWN, YELLOW, WHITE, WHITE, RED, BLACK, BROWN, PURPLE,
WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE,
WHITE, GRAY, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK,
ORANGE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BROWN,
WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, WHITE,
BLACK, PURPLE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, ORANGE, BLACK, BROWN,
YELLOW, WHITE, BLACK, PURPLE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY,
WHITE, GREEN, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, GRAY.
The black box attached to the inside of the front door emitted a long strip of white paper printed with an assortment of colored blocks. Also, sound. TAB2 listened politely for as long as he could muster before it was once again time to shut the box. He closed the lid carefully and sat quietly in the dark. Queasy.
His hands ached.
TBQH, all of him ached.
Flash on an image of his father being helped up, then down, the hospital hallway.
What was it Piro had said about these intrusive images? "Uriel was right," or something along those lines.
Well, he couldn’t remember.
Through the plastic window TAB2 stared at the horizon. The long, winding strip of colored blocks advanced, curling around his slippers, accumulating in tangles throughout the house trailer. Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out... There had been nothing in his pocket.
He poured a finger of RED KOOL-AID™ into his blue plastic tumbler and swallowed it in one gulp.
Along the wide horizon he sensed the approach of stiff, dark clouds.
"I can feel it die," he said to himself.
The gravel road stretched around the house trailer, curving gently into the wan light beyond the trees.
Eyes followed road. At the limits of his vision, just inside the horizon, he saw them.
One twister made of light too bright to look at directly. Beside it, seeming almost to be an after image of the first, a second twister, made of total darkness, nothing within it being discernible at all.
The two twisters were advancing toward the trailer.
Presently, the black box spoke to him audibly.
WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY, WHITE,
WHITE, GREEN, BLACK, RED, PURPLE, BLACK, BLUE, YELLOW, BLACK, BLUE,
YELLOW, WHITE, BLACK, RED, BLACK, BROWN, YELLOW, GRAY, BLACK, WHITE,
BLUE, BLACK, BLACK, BLACK, BLUE, GRAY, WHITE, WHITE, YELLOW, WHITE,
WHITE, RED, BLACK, BLUE, GRAY, BLACK, BROWN, YELLOW, WHITE, WHITE,
BLUE, BLACK, BROWN, BROWN, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, WHITE, BLACK, RED,
WHITE, WHITE, PURPLE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, GRAY, WHITE,
WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, WHITE, BLACK, ORANGE, BLACK, BLUE,
YELLOW, GREEN, BLACK, BLUE, YELLOW, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE,
GRAY, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, BROWN, WHITE, WHITE, RED,
BLACK, BLUE, YELLOW, BLACK, GRAY, RED, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, BLACK,
BROWN, PURPLE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE,
GRAY, BLACK, BROWN, RED, BLACK, YELLOW, YELLOW, BLACK, BROWN,
YELLOW, BLACK, BROWN, BROWN, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, WHITE, WHITE,
GRAY, BLACK, BROWN, RED, BLACK, YELLOW, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE,
WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, BLACK, BROWN, RED, WHITE,
WHITE, RED, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, BLACK, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK,
WHITE, BLACK, BROWN, RED, BLACK, BROWN, PURPLE, BLACK, BLUE,
YELLOW, BLACK, GRAY, RED, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, BLACK, BROWN, PURPLE,
WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY, BLACK,
BROWN, RED, BLACK, YELLOW, YELLOW, BLACK, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK,
BROWN, BROWN, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, WHITE, WHITE, GRAY, BLACK,
BROWN, RED, BLACK, YELLOW, BLACK, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, WHITE, BLACK,
WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, BLACK, BLUE, RED, WHITE, WHITE, RED,
WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, BLACK, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK,
BROWN, RED, BLACK, BROWN, PURPLE, BLACK, BLUE, RED, BLACK, PURPLE,
BLUE, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, BLACK, BROWN, YELLOW, BLACK, BROWN,
BROWN, WHITE, BLACK, YELLOW, BLACK, BROWN, RED, BLACK, GREEN,
BLACK, BLUE, RED, BLACK, PURPLE, BLUE, WHITE, BLACK, BLUE, WHITE,
BLACK, WHITE, BLACK, BROWN, RED, BLACK, GRAY, YELLOW, WHITE, BLACK,
BLUE, WHITE, BLACK, RED, WHITE, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE,
WHITE, WHITE, RED, WHITE, BLACK, WHITE, BLACK, BROWN, RED, BLACK,
PURPLE, GREEN, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE, WHITE,
BLACK, BROWN, BLACK, BROWN, RED, WHITE, WHITE, PURPLE, BLACK,
BROWN, PURPLE, WHITE, WHITE, BLUE, BLACK, BLUE, GRAY, WHITE, BLACK,
BROWN, WHITE, WHITE, GREEN, ORANGE.
The spiraling strip of paper continued to spool on the floor.
Came a knock at the door. Since no other human beings had fouled the Earth for some decades, the knocking could only have been caused by the wind. To wit: The apparently approaching twisters.
"It’s not even my trailer!" pleaded TAB2.
He grasped at his visor, his window to the world, panicking. Slapped at the black box until the lid once again closed.
But the problem remained. Not talking about it, not believing in it, had not made the problem go away.
"Magic without intentionality," he suggested, futilely.
He knew this was not going to work.
TAB2 approached the outsize projection television and switched on the attached SEGA MASTER SYSTEM™. He loaded a save state from a popular JRPG and wandered around the world map until he was killed by a (frankly) stupid looking monster.
Tossing the controller on the floor, he picked up the television’s remote control and attempted to—Right, no cable, no broadcasts.
At the window, the twisters had progressed on their journey down the road toward the trailer. Tom didn’t want to think about it, so he didn’t.
The house trailer rocked gently in the accelerating wind.
One day, Christopher’s cousin Jason had attempted to push the trailer over with his bare hands.
Standing in the unmowed grass wearing nothing but camouflage surplus trunks and a thick gold rope necklace, Jason had flexed his twelve-year-old muscles and pressed his hands against the side of the trailer until his face had turned red.
All assembled had laughed, as the trailer had not moved.
Jason had become angry, and the irregular corona of his curly brown hair had seemed to expand on his head.
Tom thought of this and smiled, uselessly.
The black box:
BLACK, GRAY, BROWN, BLACK, YELLOW, PURPLE, BLACK, GRAY, PURPLE, BLACK,
PURPLE, ORANGE, BLACK, GRAY, BROWN, BLACK, PURPLE, BLACK, BLACK,
PURPLE, BLUE, BLACK, GRAY, BROWN, BLACK, YELLOW, YELLOW, BLACK, GRAY,
GRAY, BLACK, GRAY, BROWN, BLACK, PURPLE, GREEN.
TAB2 was beside himself. There had not been enough warning. There would be no time to complete any of his several unfinished projects.
Additionally, the paperwork was going to be a nightmare. He found an ink pen on the kitchen table, clicked it once, then set it back down again. Swept his arm across the table, knocking the stacks of papers every which way on the kitchen floor. Fucking bureaucracy.
He glanced at the black box and then pressed his face against the plastic window, screaming forcefully, though no sound could escape from the tight seal formed by his lips. He pulled his face away from the window and stared at the ring of moisture abjured by his silent shout. The window seemed to be mocking him so he punched it, injuring his knuckle in the process. Even his invulnerability was no longer a certainty.
He considered the fact that his entire life had been a fiction, conceived hesitantly, in fits and spurts, with long gaps between installments, by a human being who could never find much time to write. He wondered what that guy was doing, right now.
Spurred by this thought, he flashed on a spontaneous idea. A solution? Traipsed through the paperwork and the coils of paper strips to the front door. Threw open the portal and shouted into the aether:
"I’m the protagonist, I can’t d—"
ACTRON v4, #13 (2017/08/31)
written and drawn by Stanley Lieber
colored by Pete Toms
THE GREEN ALWAYS GROWS (2017/08/25)
THE GREEN ALWAYS GROWS
by Stanley Lieber
"The cook must be in love."
Plinth Mold poked at his pad thai. Brittle. Dry. Overpriced. Inedible.
Still angry because the waiter had assumed he was a white man.
Plinth sighed and set down his fork. His shoulders sagged. "The median is the message," he conceded.
He looked up at the giant clam.
"What on Earth did you plan to do with characters like that, anyway," he asked.
"Harrrrrruuuuuuunnnnngggggggggggggg..." explained Ming.
"Of course," agreed Plinth.
"Tttaaaaaaaaaaabbbbbbbbbbbbbb Onnnnnneeeee..." stuttered Ming.
Plinth continued to stare at the jumbo clam, unsure of what he had just heard.
"Tttaaaaaaaaaaabbbbbbbbbbbbbb Onnnnnneeeee..." repeated the Clam.
Surprisingly, the precise repetition sharpened the intelligibility of his verbalization.
"Ah. Reassigned. I understand he’s planning a family, some decades down the line. In any case his services are better deployed elsewhere. I’m keeping him in my back pocket. For a rainy day. Tucked away, snug in a cliché."
"Ppppiiiooootttttrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr..." rasped Ming, seemingly depleted of the precious oxygen required for him to sustain such verbal communication.
"Fired. Rehired." Plinth paused and stabbed once again at his pad thai. "Haha. I guess you had to be there."
"Theeeeee Jjjaaaaaacccccckkkkaaaaaasssssss..." hissed Ming, inquisitively.
"Oh, you mean Slake? He accrued a large number of followers. Onolatry." And then: "But no man is a hero to his valet."
Both men laughed.
"I’ve considered it," explained Plinth. "War and peace—they’ve all been tried before."
Ming nodded, solemnly.
"What we need in this business is a sense of history, some semblance of respect for the work that has come before. The entities who made it all happen. But these characters..." he trailed off.
"Standby," he interrupted.
"All is buffering."
Ming produced from his shell a small projector, which he positioned at the center of the table and configured to display an aspect of Brandon’s realm consistent with the ongoing passage of time.
Gradually, the image resolved. Plinth Mold leaned forward to examine its contents.
"Wretchedly literal. Painting the whole world green."
"Fffffiiiiiixxxxx iiiiiitttt iiiinnnnnn pppppppoooosssttt..." erupted Ming.
"Black body radiation," Plinth remarked. "He’s caught steam off headlines and co-signs. But there’s no there, there."
Ming sat on his clam foot. He could only agree.
"Ah well. It’s his problem now."
Plinth leaned back, interlocking his fingers behind his head.
Meal concluded, both men replaced their cutlery and napkins and made their excuses to leave.
Plinth took care of the check.
As Ming rolled away the tablecloth snagged in his mechanism. A raft of plates, forks, spoons, glasses of ice water, pitchers, garnishes, condiments, toothpicks, various chunks of picked over foodstuffs, and other various and sundry food-related items tumbled to the cheaply carpeted floor in disorganized fashion.
Revealed beneath the tablecloth was the usual assortment of bland disfigurements, including a vaguely relevant (for our purposes) inscription:
Who Is Buried In Plinth’s Tomb?
THE HALF IS BETTER THAN THE WHOLE (2017/08/24)
THE HALF IS BETTER THAN THE WHOLE
by Stanley Lieber
From out of nowhere (his shoulder bag) Uriel drew his flaming sword and dropped to one knee, slicing the air in front of him and bifurcating Sam Walton at the waist.
"Sharpest sighted spirit in all of Heaven..." Sam trailed off as the two co-equal halves of himself thudded dully to the floor.
"No," said Uriel, flatly.
In that same instant Uriel found himself staring down the barrel of Piotr’s side-arm. The pirate had managed to train his weapon on the center of Uriel’s mass without alerting the Archangel to the fact that he had moved. Crucially, Piotr’s facial expression had not changed since early childhood.
"Apparently for some people hypocrisy in the name of gathering power is a positive thing."
Piotr did not snap at the bait. Nor did he relax his aim. Uriel stared deeply into his eyes, to no apparent effect.
This soul was not human.
The stalemate persisted for several more minutes, with each remaining more or less as they were, until Uriel at last began to wonder if Piotr had forgotten where he was, what was happening.
Finally, Uriel provided a prompt.
"Sometimes the painfully obvious solution can be hard to see, even for somebody experienced."
Piotr’s expression remained unchanged. His weapon did not move. Finally, he stuck out his lower lip and blew a tiny puff of air upwards, across his face, causing a loose fold of his long, straight hair to flip out of the way of his line of sight.
"Hehehe," tried Uriel.
Scrupulously, Piotr maintained his silence.
Presently, there unfolded a large, translucent display.
בְּכָל-צָרָתָם לא (לוֹ) צָר, וּמַלְאַךְ פָּנָיו הוֹשִׁיעָם--בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ וּבְחֶמְלָתוֹ, הוּא גְאָלָם; וַיְנַטְּלֵם וַיְנַשְּׂאֵם, כָּל-יְמֵי עוֹלָם.
Uriel reached out his hand and it passed through the barrel of Piotr’s weapon.
"The war is over," claimed Uriel, and vanished into the remains of the aether.
Piotr egressed the SAM’S CLUB, alone, sinking up to his waist in the street. Eventually his progress halted. Outside, visitors to the amusement park diverted around him, milling about, ingesting inscrutable foodstuffs and accumulating licensed merchandise. Unaware of the significance of their actions.
by Stanley Lieber
Dominus illuminatio mea
A ram’s horn trumpet split the curtain of silence, penumbra of so-called dignity discarded on the un-mopped floor. The Archangel Uriel appeared before them, there in the SAM’S CLUB, fully visible in all his splendor to the human eyes who gazed upon him.
"It is quite simple actually," said Uriel. "I hold the key."
Uriel descended the stale air of the manager’s office, seeming to pass through the drop ceiling without disturbing its corporeal aspect. He gripped the rusty key in his right hand, extending it for no apparent reason toward the ceiling he had presently traversed. Neither human understood the significance of the gesture. In point of fact, neither human had wondered after the gesture in the first place.
Sam Walton removed and then slowly replaced his meshback cap. His eyes narrowed as they tracked slowly, left to right. His panic was evident.
"You are not alone," Uriel assured him, easily.
"Why... You’re the drawing I made. Right here, in my notebook." Sam tore the page from his notebook and shoved it firmly across his desk at Uriel, ripping it nearly in half in the process. It wasn’t a handshake but it would have to do.
"One of the most important things in life is to know your limitations," said Uriel.
"I—I’m not much of an artist, I’ll admit..." stammered Walton. His mouth opened again and then he realized he had nothing more to say.
"Just because something is easy to do doesn’t mean it is a good idea," countered Uriel, gently.
"Simplicity is harder to reach than complexity," Uriel explained. "This is more an implementation detail than anything."
Walton and Piotr had not been sure how to respond to the sudden invasion of the manager’s office by this... What was he, exactly? Piotr’s incredulity was plain.
Uriel gripped Sam Walton by the shoulders and stared deeply into his gray eyes. "You do not know what you are doing."
"This is simply false."
"And you are wrong again."
Sam Walton stared back at him, dumbfounded.
"Uhu?" said Uriel. "I honestly and deeply hope you fail completely."
Sam shuffled backwards, landing awkwardly in his chair. His meshback cap felt heavy on his head. It jostled, fell flat on the floor.
"People are fucking stupid," Uriel revealed. "Morals are subjective and individual, and in many cases in conflict with the law."
Piotr tilted his head, as if considering the point.
The Archangel Uriel, steadily frustrated at Sam’s apparent lack of comprehension, reached into his shoulder bag for a visual aid.
Sam Walton, for his part, had run out of words.
SAM’S CLUB (2017/08/22)
by Stanley Lieber
"Mister Alamo," Piotr intoned calmly into the microphone.
New money was in play.
Gradually, additional staff made their way to the overflow registers.
Remarkably, Drumpf’s check had cleared. The unexpected windfall would all but ensure success.
Piotr’s little green men drifted in and out of SAM’S CLUB, replenishing depleted stocks and selecting new equipment that would be required for the upcoming mission. Commencement: To be announced.
Meanwhile, Brandon’s forces were known to be in disarray. Effectively missing in action for three decades, his knowledge of the situation on the ground was by now limited to open source reporting. Piotr allowed himself a smirk. Nothing like his father.
Here was Samuel Moore Walton: Grade school dropout, unlikely billionaire, leaning up against the service desk with a toothpick clenched tightly between his tight-grouted teeth. Unidentified detritus streamed like silt from the corners of his wide, thin mouth. Sam sighed, eyelids drawn close, surveying the expanse of his domain.
"We’ll need a lot more pallets," Piotr remarked. "These hand trucks will come in handy."
"Safety is our first concern, but customer satisfaction is certainly not far behind," Sam assured him. "Always."
Without further comment, Sam turned, replaced his meshback cap, and ascended the nearby stairway to the second floor. Piotr followed, as his men explored the vast retail environment, exploiting the opportunity to top off their personal inventories.
No one followed them upstairs.
COWBOY ACTOR #4 (2017/08/06)
by Stanley Lieber
LITTLE GREEN MEN (2017/03/23)
LITTLE GREEN MEN
by Stanley Lieber
Fred Drumpf had shit his pants.
"Cobalt, God damn it!" he bleated, referring to the popular toilet bowl cleaner. The old goat had succumbed to senility.
"If we need to bring in the big gun, we’ll bring in the big gun," Piotr said, dangling the plunger above Fred Drumpf’s waiting mouth. "You are helping the other side." Piotr tapped the side of the spotless commode with the plunger. Aimed it, again, at Fred.
Fred considered his predicament. Life in the Salt Pit had been something of a disappointment. Certainly, the facilities were in need of an overhaul. Pink sand filtering in from who knows where, coarse and irritating. He felt to some degree taken advantage of. Expenses had been, demonstrably, disproportionate to services rendered. What exactly he been paying for, all this time? To be fair, Fred was not sure what he had been expecting. Something... different? Anything but this dreary open plan prison he now called home.
Conditions were unsatisfactory. A rip-off.
At length, while obviously frustrated, Fred relented.
"Okay, sign me up."
Piotr jotted down Fred’s name and address, then asked for further identifying details, including information about Fred’s holdings and financial institutions. Baseline qualifications fulfilled, Piotr next presented a written request for disclosure of Fred’s citizenship status and any contractual obligations that might interfere with his ability to discharge the terms of the new agreement.
Fred placed his fingertip on the leaf. Removed it.
Piotr withdrew the leaf.
Finally, Piotr asked Fred if he was now, or had ever been, an employee or stock holder of UNIVERSAL MOLD, INC., to which Fred shook his head. And that was that: Mission funded.
Gradually, Fred realized that Piotr’s visit was drawing to a close and that there was no way of knowing when he might drop by again. As if triggered by some remote command, Piotr immediately egressed Fred’s cube.
That was abrupt.
Fred reclined on his bunk, resolved to try and get some sleep before the call to prayer.
You know what? Fuck that guy.
MING THE CLAM (2016/11/26)
MING THE CLAM
by Stanley Lieber
ROLAND NIP, JAPANESE MAN NUMBER TWO stood upon the deck of the USS JACK NIETSZCHE and wept.
"What am I supposed to do now?" he whined.
Ming the Clam’s inscrutable countenance held fast. Silence followed.
"You are going to tradecraft yourself into a God damned corner," said Nip.
Ming’s unreadable expression solidified. He stared at a point that seemed to be fixed, some way off in the distance. Nip tried and failed to track the blip. To his mind, nothing was out there. Fog, fog, and more fog. What in the hell was the clam looking at?
"Fucking clams," creaked Nip, his voice expiring under the strain of his predicament. He now faced early retirement at the hands of this... fucking clam. And on account of what? Indeed, it made no God damned sense at all.
Ming continued to stare. Was he smiling, now?
Nip fumed inwardly.
"Harrrrrruuuuuuunnnnngggggggggggggg..." interrupted Ming, suddenly.
Ming rolled, his underbelly seething as his single foot padded the steel deck of the ship. Nip could only observe the ridiculous pantomime as the six-foot clam egressed the general vicinity of his bad mood. Was it something he’d said?
"Aw, come back, I didn’t mean it!"
Nip scrambled after the outsized clam, unable to fathom what must be happening, but certain that the consequences of his words would be a disaster to his person.
"Hiiiiiiiiiiigggggghhhhhhh bbbbbbbiiiiiiiiiiiiiiddddddddd..." stuttered Ming, furiously.
Ah. The auction.
"There will be a reckoning," reasoned Nip. "But to be quite honest, I’m not sure if I will participate. In point of fact I’m not sure I understand the situation at all. What do clams even want?"
Ming motored towards the live area. Station joined, he commenced to chatter with his advisors.
Nip could only watch as his hopes and dreams unraveled before him.
THANKS, BRANDON! (2016/10/28)
by Stanley Lieber
Brandon stepped down out of the truck. coolguy98 had made the winning bid. Brandon was coolguy98.
“Payment,” directed Plinth Mold.
Brandon swept his hand through the air, completing the transaction.
Plinth nodded. Brief pause as the world changed hands.
Nothing had changed.
Everything had changed.
Brandon toured the grounds.
“Suggest some changes,” demanded Brandon, to his assistant, who was himself. The arrangement was peculiar in that it had persisted through numerous staffing changes.
Plinth stared at Brandon’s penmanship. Excused himself without further comment.
Brandon proceeded, undeterred.
First on the agenda: Cleaning house.
Things were going to change around here.
LATERAL DISCONNECT (2016/06/07)
by Stanley Lieber
She got mad.
The green doors all opened. Then closed, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically. Costumed partygoers scrambled for the blinking exits, but most stopped short as the portals once again slammed shut. In summary, few of the club’s members achieved egress.
Obviously, none of them had trained for the objective. Also, none of them understood what was happening.
Piotr tapped his ear. I adjusted my visor and the audio finally synched to his moving lips.
“…and then we’re all finished here.”
Nodded. Then followed him out of the club back into the ship.
“Boneyard,” declared Piotr into his collar mic.
The ship commenced the slow process of compressing the club for longterm storage. The club folded, then folded again. Shrinking. Denizens still trapped inside had by now achieved visible panic.
“What a time to be alive,” I lamented, and the membership, though none of them could hear me, seemed to agree.
Compression completed, THE RAGNAROK sighed and closed the file. Removed the temporary copy from memory.
Piotr sat down on the bed and removed his visor.
by Stanley Lieber
Clientele within the CLASS ACTION had exceeded Dunbar’s number. Piotr’s brass ceiling exacerbated the confusion. Next, the lights had flickered out.
Tangled relationships. Trading was affected.
Looking around, they were all wearing it. Costumes sagging. Static display of doll gape. Tapped my visor, switching command to internal. Obvious, now. The marks had been made.
We got into it.
Pockets, clutches, bags, wallets, rings, jewelry, cards, bills of all denominations, passwords, pin numbers, car keys, leaves, data gloves, visors. We negotiated each item swiftly but carefully, sorting all such matter into like piles.
Finally, Piotr grunted, “It’s not here.”
The green door groaned inward on its hinges, pre-signaling disappointment.
Incoming communique. Some kind of shorthand.
Piotr deleted his copy of the message, unread.
“Deeper,” he ordered, almost whispering.
Deeper it was.
THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE (2016/05/20)
THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
by Stanley Lieber
“I’ve had this haircut since 1920. It’s not my fault.”
Piotr didn’t respond, but continued to trace the shape of things to come. Along my back.
“That part of my back is haunted,” I claimed. “Yeah. Something nasty happened around those parts, some time in the past. We don’t go there.”
Piotr withdrew his fingertips. Pulled down my dress shirt and tucked it back in. He didn’t make a face, exactly.
Since the early 20s I’d been fighting them, off and on. But mostly on.
I didn’t care.
“How do you expect to ever recover?”
In any case, this diversion was distracting from work.
We let it drop.
BRASS CEILING (2016/03/01)
by Stanley Lieber
Around the room, displays flashed and fell dark. Save for dance of candlelight against the brass ceiling, illumination honored the void.
In point of fact the interference was locally generated. Piotr’s equipment floated near the darkly shining obstruction, negotiating constraints.
What was this? Difficult to move. Bumped my head.
The guests comingled. It was unusual to find them all here, conversing openly.
“Sometimes I suspect I’m the only man alive who doesn’t want to die,” I opined.
“You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it,” quipped Piotr.
But: Ingress only, for this lot.
I wondered how much they paid to get in.
ACTRON v4, #12 (2016/02/29)
by Stanley Lieber
Purple tape, gilded pillow.
“You’re cranky,” Piotr observed.
“I think we know who needs a nap,” I snapped, weakly, shuffling my legs above the pillow.
In this case he was right. I hadn’t slept for days. In fact, nearly a week. And my legs were cramping. But I wouldn’t let slip an opening. Not to him. Not ever.
“Anyway,” I said, “Fitness reports.”
Piotr relaxed his trigger finger, snatched the cassette. Unfolding my legs, I discarded the useless pillow.
Tense moments iterated. Nobody liked paperwork. Eyeing me, carefully. On my feet, I waved through the requisite gestures. Did Piotr smile?
And so: Job to do. Behind the green door punctuality reigned. This business with BLUEBIRD had lagged for years. Years that couldn’t be reclaimed. Well, here we were. Piotr had put on his face and I had put on my gloves. We made our way from the staging area to the operating platform.
The site lay essentially unprotected. Piotr dominated with his usual wit and charm. Even though I knew what was coming I was still taken aback by the smoothness, the professional sheen of his delivery. As expected, the program terminated abruptly as it had begun.
Piotr smashed the flickering blue light upon exfil.
DECK 25 (2015/12/29)
by Stanley Lieber
“Hand over the cassette.”
Piotr eased his grip slightly, feigning a check for compliance. The ridiculous largess of this pantomime was lost on the perp. Piotr would retrieve the cassette, one way or another.
“NO JOB IS SO IMPORTANT AND NO SERVICE IS SO URGENT THAT WE CANNOT TAKE TIME TO PERFORM OUR WORK SAFELY AND IN AN ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE MANNER!” the perp screamed.
“Man, this job never changes,” I remarked, speaking directly into my now empty coffee cup, dregs ringing my chin. Fucking regulations.
Piotr slammed the green door behind him. His patience finally and irretrievably lost.
Presently, an electronic interruption flitted the office network: FESTIVITIES COMMENCE AT 22:30, DECK 25.
Was not immediately clear if Piotr had been included on the distribution list.
The perp, awkwardly: “Uh.”
MORALE CHECK (2015/10/22)
by Stanley Lieber
“Buying soap will help set trafficked sex workers free. Find out how and buy some soap here →”
Oper touched the arrow, followed the black dog into the corridor. But something had gone wrong. Overlapping maps?
“Hesh? Hesh?” he called.
Hesh did not answer. The arrow had vanished. Oper wondered about the fates of the trafficked sex workers. Something familiar. Presently, his mind wandered.
“I’m not a dog,” said Hesh, finally.
“The costume,” observed Oper.
“Is not the costume of a dog,” said Hesh, perturbed. This seemed to settle the matter. At least, Oper had stopped responding.
Approached the entrance to CLASS ACTION.
“Comes the candidates, Oper and Hesh, to all of which they do solemnly and sincerely promise and swear…” The doorman trailed off.
Adjusting their masks, the men entered the nightclub.