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.

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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?

Inscrutable.

"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.

"What?"

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.

"What?"

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.

Flummoxed.

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THANKS, BRANDON! (2016/10/28)



THANKS, BRANDON!

by Stanley Lieber

Brandon stepped down out of the truck. coolguy98 had made the winning bid. Brandon was coolguy98.

“Payment,” directed Plinth Mold.

“No shit.”

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.

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LATERAL DISCONNECT (2016/06/07)



LATERAL DISCONNECT

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.

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EH2ME (2016/06/06)



EH2ME

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.

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THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE (2016/05/20)





THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
 
by Stanley Lieber
 
Hokkaido. April.
 
(Though it felt like summer.)
 
Prince Rogers Nelson scaled the Black Gendarme, wind biting at his unprotected neck and face. His telepresence flickering in and out of apparent corporeality. His mascara running down his face.
 
“It’s windy now,” he remarked to himself from between clenched teeth, “But it’s gonna be okay.”
 
If only that had been the case.
 
Stilletto heels stabbing dark ice, Prince wondered at the whistling of the mountain wind. He observed each snowflake as it slowly drifted down the Black Gendarme. The snow was mounting beneath him, just as it had happened in his dream.
 
“Avalanche,” he predicted.
 
And then: “Oh.”
 
He stared at his hands as his fingers slipped from the black rocks. His body peeled slowly away from the mountainside, and his telepresence appeared to change color as he fell. This had not been planned, and did not at first seem to be a new idea wrapped in a so-called happy accident.
 
No such incident had occurred in his dream.
 
Down, down, down.
 
Dawn.
 
Prince’s telepresence resumed at the base of the Black Gendarme. Sunlight glinted on murky water as he waded hip-deep into reeds and rushes. Prince observed the river rising to soak his armpit-waisted, black silk trousers.
 
“Bullshit!” he protested, rather too loudly.
 
He seemed pleased when ambient volume adjusted itself automatically to compensate for the outburst.
 
There could be children watching.
 
Gradually, Prince made his way to the opposite river bank, where he pulled himself up to his full height atop three-inch heels. A flourish of expressive dance dispensed with the excess river water that had been absorbed by his uniform. He hoped that it all seemed intentional.
 
He smoothed down his black silk shirt and loosened his apache scarf. The trousers seemed ruined; or at least, had seen better days. Abandoning protocol, he discarded them casually on the riverbank. Damp, his black stockings glistened in the afternoon sunlight.
 
“All I ever wanted was to be left alone,” he claimed, to no one.
 
The Black Gendarme, the river, and the valley beyond offered no objection to this obvious lie. What could they have said?
 
Presently, Prince’s gaze shifted to the heavens above.
 
Scanning.
 
Compilation of his new album had been completed before he’d set off for the Black Gendarme. In his absence, album art had been prepared by his staff. Settling his focus mid-field, he reviewed the material for several seconds before gesturing to expand the playlist:
 
        1. June
        2. U KNOW
        3. BREAKFAST CAN WAIT
        4. WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
        5. affirmation
        6. WAY BACK HOME
        7. Time
       
This would do.
 
Seemingly satisfied, Prince authorized the release with his thumbprint, then shifted his gaze back to the river, adjusting several of the microphones that had lately come to hover in the vicinity. Preparations completed, he waded back into the water, proceeding in a straight line until his apparent body had submerged completely beneath the mossy sludge.
 
Telepresence sustained.
 
From below, Prince regarded the shafts of sunlight that penetrated the river’s surface, and he smiled, sweetly, at the successful transliteration.
 
Who would be listening?
 





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UNDERCUT (2016/03/16)



UNDERCUT

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.

Back demons.

Since the early 20s I’d been fighting them, off and on. But mostly on.

“Your posture.”

I didn’t care.

“How do you expect to ever recover?”

In any case, this diversion was distracting from work.

We let it drop.

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BRASS CEILING (2016/03/01)



BRASS CEILING

by Stanley Lieber

Around the room, displays flashed and fell dark. Save for dance of candlelight against the brass ceiling, illumination honored the void.

Programmatic barrier.

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.

Brass ceiling.

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.

Too true.

But: Ingress only, for this lot.

I wondered how much they paid to get in.

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ACTRON v4, #12 (2016/02/29)



ACTRON v4,

written and drawn by stanley lieber
colored by pete toms

cbz | pdf

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<br

BLUEBIRD (2016/02/08)



BLUEBIRD

by Stanley Lieber

Purple tape, gilded pillow.

“You’re cranky,” Piotr observed.

This guy.

“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.

“Right.”

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.

Switched on.

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.

Extravagant!

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DECK 25 (2015/12/29)



DECK 25

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.”

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MORALE CHECK (2015/10/22)



MORALE CHECK

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.

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<br

ACTRON v4, #11 (2015/06/28)



ACTRON v4, #11

written and drawn by stanley lieber
colored by pete toms

cbz | pdf

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<br

LOYALTY DAY (2015/06/27)



LOYALTY DAY

by Stanley Lieber

“If I had all the things I deserve, my net worth would be incredible!!”

Six hours back on Earth.

“Workers are in the streets,” I observed, gesturing toward the nearby the window. Annual parade. My wry humor.

Piotr stared at the parade. Clicked back to situational awareness. He giggled, reaching for the obscured knob of the hidden door just as it opened slowly from within.

“You’re hired,” said the man behind the green door.

We entered, gladly.

Omnitasked.

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THE FOURTH MAN (2015/05/03)



THE FOURTH MAN

by Stanley Lieber

The Fourth Man arrived just as we sat down to breakfast. Picked through his worms and eggs.

“You don’t have to eat the eggs,” I explained.

“What’s your desktop environment,” asked the Fourth Man.

Gray Gloves waved his gray gloves, blasé blasé. I tapped my own visor, settling the matter.

“Those guys don’t have time to argue with me. AWESOME.”

Finished my worms.

Excavation approached completion. Some brief controversy as an analysis of weathering on the newly unmarsed sections of the hull suggested she had been in the ground a lot longer than what we all knew to be the case.

A lot of these guys were cranks.

Closed my eyes.

Saw more pink.

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GRAY GLOVES (2015/03/22)



GRAY GLOVES

by Stanley Lieber

Head out of the sand. High enough to get a signal.

Gray Gloves, en route.

Get her started. Open her up before they arrive.

Wait one.

“We need to move her out of here.”

“Agreed.”

Absence of internal conflict. Working alone was easy.

Resume.

Black gloves. Technically adept but too involved. Expose yourself to their entanglements. White gloves. Slaves to bureaucracy. On the other hand, nobody ever got fired for turning in the right forms.

Gray Gloves. Quiet professionals. On the list of approved vendors. Best of both worlds.

Well, that was what their brochure had said.

The Gray Gloves rep emerged from the sand, leaf in hand. Dusted off his sleeves and trousers.

“Before we get started,” he began, “I’m required to inform you that our corporate branding is provided by MEGAWATT SIMILE, INC. The artist was Amy.”

“Authorship is censorship,” I agreed, nodding. “When does your crew arrive?”

“There’ll never be enough of us,” he opined, looking around. “It’s just me. The tyranny of adequacy.”

I knew the feeling.

“Anyway. Let’s dig her out,” I observed.

“Yep.”

Immediately, we got to work.

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THINK OF THIS (2015/01/18)



THINK OF THIS

by Stanley Lieber

Test articles should be hangared during periods of foreign
reconnaissance satellite coverage (NIGHTSHOT Condition), or when
uncleared personnel are known to be within sight of the airfield or
the Test Site skyline (Condition WATCHDOG).  When WATCHDOG is in
effect, the Director of Operations or Supervisor of Flying may approve
or cancel approach of test articles or other aircraft to the airfield.
If approach and landing are waived off, test and support aircraft may
be diverted to contingency landing sites.

Mars.

Awake in the sand. In my hair. Dust off shirt and trousers. Over a dune, there, on the desert floor, the carcass of Slake Bottom.

Remove the golden donkey helmet. Dog’s head. Remove the dog helmet. Elephant’s head. Remove the elephant helmet. Turtle’s head.

Turtle after turtle after turtle. It’s turtles, all the way down. Misdirection. Onolatry. Ridiculous.

Abandon the corpse and helmets, traverse the next dune. Pink triangle, emerging from the sand.

Reconnoiter.

Confirmed. It’s her.

Amidships. Systems cold. Low light. Onward to extremities. Everything checks out, all decks. Asleep, but alive.

Stuck.

Seen this before. Hold down the power button. Keep holding. Eventually, she powers off. Depress power button again. She powers back on.

Awake in the sand.

“What happened?” Modulating my tone.

“Try not to think of a polar bear,” she said, and rolled over.

Came the call for NIGHTSHOT condition.

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<br

ACTRON v4, #10 (2014/12/05)



ACTRON v4, #10

written and drawn by stanley lieber
colored by pete toms

cbz | pdf


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<br

THE FABLIAUX (2014/11/28)



THE FABLIAUX

by Stanley Lieber

Violet sky, red on blue, copying and melting. Sparkling. Wax drops on desert floor as the lights fell out, one by one. Impressions in sand.

The pink mountain continued to shrink. She was almost under.

Slake drew his fingers along the cracks in the sidewalk, feeling for debris. Spiraling fossil. A shell. Sidewalk curved, terminating in dune.

He could still see the house, the remaining wall, the painting, although it was no longer there. Sky’s curtain had turned and cycled against cold vision. Illusions drawn.

Cheek scraping softly against rough sand.

Alpha empathized, nuzzling the back of Slake’s head. Then, gripped the neck of his green jacket with silent jaws and drug him away from the ruins. Slake stirred.

“I’m so sorry,” Slake said, and Alpha believed him. For what, he couldn’t know. Sufficient?

Panic receded as Slake transitioned from purple to scarlet. Calibrated to the dying woman.

“Low light,” murmured Alpha.

Blue shift, silence, and then she was gone. Last bright corner having slipped beneath the sand.

Slake tried but he couldn’t remember.

From everything, there was nothing.

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YOUR DENSITY (2014/11/27)



YOUR DENSITY

by Stanley Lieber

Fine sand, hard-packed. The RAGNAROK was up to her neck.

Winter on Mars.

Slake reached out, but his arm passed through her hull. Confounded, he nearly fell to the ground.

“I’m…” she whispered, exasperated beyond consoling, “I’m your density.”

Slake stared.

Out, into the snow. Kicking pebbles over frosted runway. Deserted desert.

Thin end of the pink wedge, sinking in the sand.

Slake lit his purple cigarette, wandered through a hole in the fence. Continued beyond the restricted area.

The spiral stones.

She was dying.

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