Welcome to your future.

Spaceships. Jet packs. Laser guns. 


Fifty years from now, the future will still be shaped by the mundane, the stupid, and the petty, living side by side with the Big Ideas. Dirty, shining, poor, glorious, filthy, and wonderful. 50.YFN is where we tell our future's story, hangover and all.

In its short life,
50.YFN has already become a very sharply defined setting, with unique language and history. Because of the ongoing storylines and broad geographical setting, we strongly recommend using the archives and category tags before throwing yourself in the deep end. Read the guidelines, take a look around. There's a truly talented pool of creators breathing life into our world Fifty Years From Now.

You are welcome to be a part of it.

And remember:

This is not a land-grab. There's no turf.  If you're a new writer, you have the same access to Brooklyn as I do, and as much an opportunity to leave your imprint on it. Don't be intimidated. Leave your brand on the future alongside everyone else. It's your world too. 


The Living Tattoo | Binghampton, NY

by R. Soon, Atlanta, GA, USA

“Aaooooo…ahhh….ow! OUCH!”

“Hold still if you’re gonna make a racket, at least.”

“Goddam, that HURTS!”

“Didn’t I warn you it’d sting? Eh? I got a signature says you’s aware of potential discomfort, now you didn’t want to go under and I’m not gonna pay the price hearing you bellyache all night, so pipe down!”

“Shit, alright already, I’m piping down. If I knew you’d be stabbing me like that I’d’ve sprocketed up—”

“Bring that shit in my lab and I’ll kick your ass, beanie. Hold still. Now, after we’re done, you can shoot whatever you want, but whatever this stuff does, you’s to blame. You signed, you know the rules….”


Welcome to the World Languages & Cultures Database of Los Angeles, the only free and uncensored encyclopedia on the open ‘net!

(This site is being rendered in the high-resolution nanonet protocol. Here is the low-resolution http mirror.)

Your query for “livetattoo history” returned 643 results. Your filter “100% match” returned one result. Congratulations!

Livetattoo: body modification, external, primarily cosmetic

Top 3 related items: moveable tattoo, mindtattoo, net-tattoo


The first step towards the invention of the livetattoo is documented as having been realized in Binghamton, NY, in the year 2019, by a freelance biochemist named Berto Gomez. The first recipient, Atreo Pasquál, was a used car dealer at the time but eventually became an assistant to Gomez and continued his research after his passing in 2026.

Gomez first achieved his goal of a consistently moving tattoo image by mixing the latest dyes with components of a non-toxic, solarcatalytic chemical reaction. His first tattoo depended heavily on sunlight for catalyzation and quickly depleted its reactants, but subsequent efforts with newly developed organic capacitance, more efficient reactions, and specially formulated dyes brought far superior results.

By the time of his passing, Gomez was hailed as a pioneer in scientific and commercial industries, his breakthrough having won him the Nobel/Hawking Prize three months before his death. However, Pasquál took the original concept of the moving tattoo in an entirely different direction, convinced that advanced computer processing and miniaturization were the way to go. With the collaboration of a variety of software programmers and computing hardware designers and by experimenting liberally on himself, Pasquál eventually fathered the forerunner of the now widely popular livetattoo.

By far the most widespread permanent livetattoo configuration at present is the basic programmable organic dermal circuit layer (ODCL). By means of an integrated short-range transmitter, the user can design or upload images with most personal computing devices. The ODCL format was the first one to be standardized and made available commercially.

Also commonly found now are livetattoos that feature integration with various parts of the body, such as those that detect specific neurotransmitter firings (in effect displaying mood) or brainwave patterns, tie into the visual nerve bundles, or respond to touch, and translate the received data to visible patterns by program rules equally as available as common image packs. Numerous other configurations are possible, and thousands of ‘net sites are dedicated to them.

A more recent commercial development is the moveable livetattoo, similar to the ODCL model but attached to the epidermis’ exterior by adhesive and ergo designed to withstand the typical abuses to which the human skin is subjected. ODCL livetattoos, in contrast, can only be safely removed by a licensed surgical technician.

Very recently, spates of livetattoo hacking have swept cities worldwide, but have been considered a minor problem given the extremely limited scope of possible damage, and as of yet no livetattoo manufacturers have reported taking steps to remedy the issue. Additionally, the city of Nagasaki, Japan has explicitly authorized commercial retailers the use of localized livetattoo transmitter overrides for advertising purposes, and also boasts a flourishing industry of full-body advertising. (end abstract)



The People’s News - Optical Feed Edition (Brought to you by US.Net)

Your region: SE United States

Today’s date: 3 Sept 2049

You are reading the top story for this hour.

More rumors of scientist sightings

The latest sighting report for missing scientist Atreo Pasquál has come from Taos, New Mexico. Three pedestrians in downtown called authorities around the same time, giving search teams confidence that they were on the right track.

At this time, however, no more evidence of Pasquál has surfaced, and the federal manhunters’ newfound gusto is fading quickly.

Atreo Pasquál is regarded as the father of the modern livetattoo and had dedicated his life to furthering their development ever since he began work with mentor and collaborator Dr. Berto Gomez in the late 20-teens.

Circumstances surrounding his disappearance are murky, and federal authorities are not at all forthcoming. A popular, though unverified, story mentions livetattoo-based camouflage technology that Pasquál had been researching and that a private military firm (unnamed here to prevent libel) had threatened to take by force; as it goes, he covered himself in the camouflage, destroyed all records of his research, and subsequently took to the shadows. It bears reiteration that this allegation does not have fully verified sources.

But whatever the cause, Pasquál has evaded discovery with apparent ease so far, and the nationwide manhunt continues.


The Man Who Couldn't Look You In The Eye

by Nicolas Papaconstantinou, Southampton, UK of elephantwords.co.uk

"Seriously, though, look," your partner said to you, pulling down bookmarks and selecting the site in question. Within seconds, there was a guy on the screen, mid-twenties guy, an everybloke with a classic cut-and-goatee. Right there, looking out at you both, smiling, eyes flicking to one side.

Nothing much was happening, and you started to ask her "what?" But of course, you knew exactly "what?" - it was all she had been talking about for that past half-hour. Details started flickering into view, almost at the same pace that the everybloke started an accumulation of flickers himself, lids heaving, lips licking... low murmurs bubbling up to his mouth from the general area of his off-camera libido. You saw that his hair was flat against his face, he was hunched oddly, and, of course, it was because he was on his back... the camera, your eyes, looking down at him from the ceiling.

You and your partner, sitting there on the corner of the bed, fixed to the screen but not really, her casting nervous but not really nervous glances at your face every few seconds, trying to get a sense of your reaction. Both of you, stuck in place, for the five minutes and eleven seconds it took the unfamiliar man to reach orgasm.

"Like I said," she said when he was done. "Isn't it strange?"

"Isn't it though?" you replied.

"I mean, that this has been out there all this time, all these people, and we didn't even know?" she clarified.

"Hm," you said, but you weren't really sure that you felt it.

You never really considered yourself kinky, but really, what counts any more? You sense that the strangest thing about your sex drive is that you have to pretend to be turned on by the ever more complicated pornography that your partner nightly finds for you both. You haven't had the heart to tell her that for the last six years of your seven year thing, you've found sex with her to be quite arousing enough without it.

But that video, what it signifies, and the conversation following it, has stuck with you down through the weeks since.

"All those people, just... wanking themselves silly. For no reason other than to do it. As if they needed to prove that they did it."

Maybe back then, you suggested, they felt that they did.

"True. And... this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is from thirty years ago - people are still doing it now!"

Your partner was pretty blown away by the rush of discovery. The two of you watched seven more videos that night. You spent the next day at work red-eyed and vestigially horny. More than that, you were preoccupied with the thought that this was something out there, something that so many people must know about, and yet you'd been oblivious all this time.

Not kinky, no, but one thing you are, you are queer for patterns. And data? Data breaks you.

Since the turn of the century, people laying it all out on camera, slipping under the radar simply because they weren't naked on screen? What, how many, a hundred odd that first year, three hundred the next? And that's before the surface tension broke, between it being on the sub-cultural boundaries and it becoming vogue. Historians talk about the 'net being the beginning of the end for societal attention span, but one thing you notice, you notice patterns, and as far as you're concerned, on the 'net, no trend ever dies. Between the bleeding edge and the place where your grandparents are over it, an idea can last decades.

Your guilty secret quickly became that you were watching the vids sans partner. She wouldn't have minded if she knew, but she might have started to question the fact that they were no longer turning you on. You were becoming obsessed, and you knew it, but you figured, hell, it's supposed to be a valuable quality.

The men in your family, two or three generations back, had what would have been called hereditary mental health issues - OCDs out the arsehole and an attention to detail at the expense of all else that bordered on autism. In the new England of the early century, though, where nobody really knew what they were supposed to do or who they were supposed to be, your smart old grandad gift-wrapped his dysfunctions and became a vocational data-miner for one of the hot-shit new corporations coming out of London-as-was.

This is how it is and how it always has been in this country, as far as you know - one person does it well, they're made employee of the month. Just one of their offspring does it too, suddenly it's a family tradition. The English don't have much to offer the world these days, but we do have an ingrained willingness to become really very good at doing jobs that nobody else wants to do.

So you watch and watch and watch these videos of ordinary people orgasming, you've got them running in the background while you're at work, while you're brushing your teeth, and pretty soon you've seen thousands. You daydream about millions of these noisy, silent, wet, shy, invigorating cumfaces, gasping and crying across the 'net.

Then one day you're in a meeting with your supervisor, this dour old lady, in her fifties. And you realise that you've seen her cum - that she kept sweeping her then-long and flowing red hair out of her eyes as tears rolled down her face, smiling at you the whole time.

Once you notice her, you start to notice them everywhere, the familiar faces. Really, everywhere. But no one mentions anything, like they filmed their own, but never watched anyone elses'.

So now you're the man who can't look people in the eye. And they are starting to find it strange.


King of the Californias, Pt VI

by Monk Eastman, New York City, USA

There is a story about Cecilio Goncz that comes to me as he rushes from the bedroom, chrome pistol in hand. It's a second-hand story, something I heard from a survivor in the Watts Refuge about three years ago.

The first wave of emergency workers descended on Southern California shortly after the Little Big One. Historically, the area known as the Inland Empire suffered the worst casualties. Nascent attempts to coral survivors into 'rescue stations' soured relations from day one. The Sharon J. Carter Center's archives have survivors' video records that show crowded camps hemmed by razorwire, without plumbing, electricity, or potable water. Security was provided by a dozen private firms, which in the days before the United Nations Private Military Oversight Committee, were quite literally at war with each other in hot zones across the globe, and only barely committed to defending the rescue effort. Such conditions made a difficult relief effort almost impossible. Movements such as the San Bernadino Popular Front, Claremont Defense League, and Twentynine Palms Irregulars were born in those days. But before Tweaks Neuman armed his first IED, or Kelvin Black organized his first slaver ring, there was the Moreno Valley riots, where BRK private security killed over 143 people, in full view of a busload of refugee children, up from Pico Union. By nightfall, those children were cycled into the camp's general population, while camp veterans were forced to pile their dead neighbors into funeral pits at gunpoint, and spray them with decompiler foam. It was all very unsubtly painted over. News was sequestered, video lost, blogs blocked by service providers. In later years, we would discover these were not isolated incidents. The ineptitude and corruption were persistent, institutional malfunctions that contributed more to the President's famous 'Southern California is no longer viable for reclamation' than the actual earthquake.

As the abuses at Moreno Valley continued, the children took it worse, without guardians or legal status. In the aftermath of the riots, these orphans were known as los polvos, dustbabies, raised on casual violence, systematic brutality, and sparse rations. Southern California had a tradition of gangsterism known across the globe, but its latest iteration, remixed in the deep shadows of the rescue stations, was perhaps its most vicious. Initiation rites were not complete until a child had taken the life of at least one person from their camp, with proof of kill. Rewards were usually meager: an extra ration bar perhaps, or a new blanket.

It is said that in exchange for a teddy bear, the sole reminder of his dead parents, a ten year old Cecilio Goncz returned one night with a guard's genitalia, removed with scalpel precision.

And that it, along with the teddy bear, is the one souvenir he left Los Angeles with when the provisional government took over.

Some take this as a tale of sentiment, or innocence lost.

I take it as a cautionary tale, of a man who knew even at ten what he wanted, and was quite capable of anything to get it.


The Working Man's Blues Pt II | Cleveland, OH

by R. Soon, Cleveland, OH, USA

The little boy kicked a big, dry stick at the menacing green dome, shining with a peculiarly dull gloss and bearing warlike squared patterns. “Come outta there!” he yelled at it, angry that the fearsome beast would appear out of nowhere, then taunt him instead of attacking like a monster is supposed to. Nay, so far from ferocious talons and ghoulishly large and sharp teeth, this despicable offspring of evil wore merely an armored portcullis beneath the roof of its daunting fortress, and remained still, terrifyingly still.

Not that the little boy didn’t know his own name, but he knew that no name given him by mere mortals would suffice. Instead, he realized of himself, while out protecting his glorious homeland from the beasts of the wilderness, that he was the Guardian of the Dawnbreakers’ Legacy, a mighty name for a mighty defender. And thus, he was no little boy at all, but a fearless warrior redoubting his broken band of clansmen.

Yet this immense, unmoving foe unnerved him thoroughly.

Ever since he could remember, he had been doing battle with all manner of uncanny hellspawn. Every new encounter he made, he would fight bravely, and once victorious (for he was always victorious), he would ask his elder tribesman mentor of the type of demon that he had just vanquished: “Dad, what was that??” And the wise elder would consider the description yielded him, and maybe consult one of the precious few books he kept in a storeroom hidden far beneath Shaker Square, and then tell him, “Saif, that was a meerkat.” Or a white lab rat, or a ferret, or a squirrel-dog hybrid, or a skunk (a beast that fed on the souls of the unwary, did ye but know), or a miniature baboon, or a glowing designer cat, or one of so many other wicked opponents.

'Where did they come from, and why did they attack with such fury?' the Guardian asked the man of great knowledge. He had asked many times, soon knowing the gist of the answer by heart, but he loved hearing the story of the Tower of Case Western Reserve, a den of evil and madness that blighted the land. His father began the same way every time, “You see, Saif, years ago there was a great university not far from here, a place people came to from all over the world….” And the Guardian would sit rapt as the tale was told, and one or two enticing new details revealed about the Case Riots, and the discovery of the experiments carried out in Case’s vile dungeons, and how the huge and ghastly creatures that escaped spread out quickly and terrorized the hapless.

Not that there were all that many of the hapless out there for them to terrorize. “Saif, the wildlife aren’t the only things to be careful of out there,” the elder told him once, not long ago--

Had the soulless green thing moved? The Guardian was drawn back to the present; he had been letting his thoughts drift as he kept his eyes intently on the silent hulk. But no, he decided, it was surely still preparing a disastrous attack for him to overcome. He continued to concentrate on the patterned beast.

Just once, and recently, had his father declined to tell of the fall of Case Western Reserve University. The look in the wise man’s eyes had transfixed him, and he remembered his words too clearly…for the story told instead was very different, and his tone of voice very different.

“Son, there are people out there, bad people. They want to take you away, like they took away your cousin Farshad. Do you ever wonder why we only leave the Square when it’s late? Do you remember when we went to Thistledown, and we didn’t meet anyone till we got inside?” The Guardian nodded mutely each time. “There was nobody to meet, Saif. Those bad people took some of them, and the rest ran away so that they wouldn’t be taken, too. Those people are much worse than even the big bad skunk, you see…we’re trying to escape them too. We’re trying not to be caught by those bad men.”

His father’s expression was scarily intent. Saif had managed a voice, albeit a tiny, shaky one. “But Dad, why don’t we get out of here if there’s bad people?” And the elder revealed to him a great revelation, that the bad people had taken away a member of his clan, long ago. The man was the father of the father of the sage one, and ergo an ancestor to the Guardian. “Saif…your great grandfather’s name is Barry. And the name of the bad people who took him like they took Farshad, they’re called Halliworks. We’re still here because we’re going to rescue Barry, and we must show Halliworks that they aren’t welcome on our land and in our city.” And the great man fell quiet, and then just as quietly shooed the Guardian away.

The words shook the little boy, as little of it as he even really understood. For a couple of days afterward, he didn’t leave the bunker at all. But duty called, and he eventually took again to patrolling Shaker Square for freakish assailants to defeat…although he began to keep an eye on the streets out around the square, too, out beyond the camouflage line.

And the latest devil’s seed to appear, clad in a maddeningly textured armor, filled him with loathing in its nonplussing outward slumber.

“Oh!” a voice behind the Guardian exclaimed. It was his father, the wise leader of their small band of remaining family. “Well, Saif, seems like you caught a box tortoise! I haven’t seen one in years…and it’s huge!” He laughed while striding forward, picked up the beast with both hands, and peered at the drawn gate at its fortress-like front.

And the Guardian filed this newest adversary away in his mind.


In Search Of...Pt II

by Chris Beckett, Hampden, ME, USA

“Mr. Kaczmerak, you better come down and see this.” The crackle of the radio irritated Elijah every time it squawked. If he wasn’t already in a foul mood, it usually pushed him over that edge.

“I’ll be there when I can,” he spat into the comm. Sliding his finger forward, the old chair came to life and shuddered ahead, its nervous ticking announcing his passage.

Minutes later, the old man rolled into the large atrium at the front of the house. He could feel his ears starting to burn. Standing at the door, which was still ajar, was the captain of his guards, Seth Palmer. Slumped beside him, dark blood dried on one side of his face, was Dale, the one Elijah had sent to watch Karen.

“What the fuck happened here,” rasped the old man, his gnarled voice raising the hair on the back of Dale’s neck.

I lost her,” was the guard’s feeble reply.

“What? I can’t fucking hear you.” Elijah lurched the wheelchair forward, stopping three feet from the two men. Lifting himself out of the seat, he leaned over, holding a hand to his ear.

The Captain shoved Dale harshly, sending the injured man to his knees. “Tell Mr. Kaczmerak what you did.” The Captain’s tone was heavy and even.

“I-I-I-I lost her,” he sputtered, hands shaking feverishly as he clasped them together to try and make them stop.

“You. Lost. Her.” Elijah’s eyes bored into the quivering guard as Seth took a spot beside his employer.

“Do I not pay you enough?” Elijah fell back into his chair as he spat the last of this question out, a coughing fit racking his upper body. Despite this, he kept his eyes squarely on the shivering excuse before him as the coughs passed.

“Yes, sir. You pay me good Mr. K.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Dale added, as if this made any difference.

“Have you ever been paid better?” Elijah acted as if he’d not heard the statement, his voice rising once more.

“No, Mr. K.”

“No!” The word landed like a hammer.

“And yet, you lost my daughter. How does that happen?”

“I don’t know, sir.” Dale was now prostrate, arms outstretched with clenched hands begging for a reprieve.

“Honest answer, but the wrong one,” said Elijah. “Now, take your gun out.”

Dale looked up, confused. His mind went over the old man’s words again, but he was unable to act.

“Take the fucking gun out, son.” Elijah’s tenor faded slightly. Dale did what he was told.

“Good. Now, eat that fucking gun or I will rend the flesh from your worthless hide.” Dale searched the old man’s eyes, but they didn’t waver.

“I SAID EAT THAT FUCKING GUN!!” Dale fell back before Elijah’s volume as another fit of coughing overtook the old man. Unable to process the absurdity of the order, Dale remained motionless.

After a long minute, Elijah finally relaxed and leveled his eyes at the cringing man one last time. “I need to keep order in my house. That is part of the reason for your substantial retainer. If you are going to fuck up royally, I cannot keep you on.

“So, eat. That fucking. Gun.” Elijah sat back, contentment finally crossing his withered features as he slid one hand up to the palm console of his chair.

Dale looked at Mr. Kaczmerak, then at Seth, and back to Mr. K once more. Neither one flinched, and Dale understood.

Instinctively, he turned the gun on the two men before him, and just as quickly, Elijah tapped a switch resting beneath his left index finger, sending a signal to microchips implanted within all the weapons in the house.

Dale’s gun did not discharge. He pulled the trigger multiple times, the frail click dissolving what hope was left.

A smile split across Elijah’s face. “I control everything in this house. You would have done well to remember that, you dumb shit.” The old man continued to stare at Dale as he reached across and pulled Seth’s own gun from its holster. Leveling the heavy weapon at the sobbing man in front of him, Elijah Kaczmerak quickly tapped the switch beneath his left hand once more and fired with his right.

Dale fell back, blood seeping from his midsection as he convulsed spastically, tears running over the dried blood on his face. He worked to say something, but the effort was too much. It was another fifteen minutes before he properly expired, but his last words had already been uttered.

“Shall I take care of him sir,” asked Elijah’s Captain.

The old man looked up with weary eyes and shook his head no. Then he raised the gun and shot Seth as well, point blank, blood and bits of skin spattering across Elijah.

“Ultimately, are you not responsible for your men?”

Dropping the gun, Elijah activated the comm-unit to speak to his butler. “Gregory. Get a cleaning detail to the atrium, please. And see if you can’t find a good investigator. I want him here by the end of the week.”

“Yes sir.”

To Be Continued . . .


Melting Pot

by Adam Mayes, Copenhagen, Denmark

"BANGLADESHI?!!?" Rajah screamed.

The other gang-members flinched and edged closer to the fire. They'd not seen him his angry in months.

He stabbed his stubby fingers at the paper. "Do you see what they're writing about us? Do You!? We're not Bangladeshi! We're American! I'm fourth generation!"

"But Raj." A foot soldier who spoke up. Raja thought it was Abdul, but, really it didn’t matter. "We're proud of our heritage. We keep talking about the Motherland and…stuff."

Raja glared at him. "That doesn't matter! It's bad enough that they call us midgets! We're LITTLE PEOPLE! They're profiling us! Trying to set us apart. It's Racist."

Raja stomped across the yard. The paper he was carrying was a broadsheet, and his feet caught the trailing edge. He stumbled, and the paper ripped in his hands. He screamed in frustration, pulled a box over to a set of palettes and scrambled up. "Look at us - we're American's. We're not an invading army. Americans! We're as American as meatballs, as...as Bagels. Hell - we're as American as The Statue of Liberty!" He pointed a small finger at where he assumed it was.

One of the gang looked confused and drew a breath as if to say something, but another nudged him and shook his head.

"That bastard wants it like that, does he? We'll give him profiling."


Lacey stood in the old neighbourhood. It was a risk coming back to The Bronx, but she couldn't come without seeing where she escaped from.

She took a deep breath, coughed at the stench until her eyes watered and she thought she was going to be sick, then fitted her nose filters and tried again.

She looked up at the smog cloud - the blackouts had stolen the dull orange glow of her childhood. She looked at the broken rooftops, trying to make out landmarks from her youth but she didn't recognize a thing.

It was a waste of time. The Bronx had been taken from the girl as much as the girl was taken from The Bronx. She turned to go and collided with something. Looking down she saw a midget.

She started to apologize when another barrelled into the from behind, taking her legs out and pitching her backwards. Her head hit the ground with an alarming crack. She kicked out - her heel catching something soft that screamed. She rolled onto her hands and knees, and felt her head spin. She must have landed harder than she thought.

Someone hit her, then another. A third climbed on her back. She felt short, fat fingers press into her ears, another into her nose snapping her filters, which sliced both the invading hand and the lining of her nose. She heard someone cuss; slip the fingers away allowing her to
blow the bloody shards out. Then the hands were on her again.

She gasped for breath; she tried to stand.

But they were on her like rats. The combined weight of the gang forced her down.

There was a crack across the back of her already injured head and everything went black.

When she woke she was tied and gagged. She didn't know what was in her mouth - and she didn't like how it tasted.

She couldn't feel her legs, in fact, nothing below the knee. She tried to turn and see why but her hair was also tied and any movement was agony.

One of the midgets came up to her, grabber her hair and forced her head back. The gag stole her scream, but she coughed and choked.

He looked into her eyes and screamed. "You listen. You listen and remember this. Tell Ranjitsinhji that we're fucking American. Not Bangladeshi - American." He sprayed flecks of spit into her face.

Raja waddled over to a low table and picked up something sharp and metal. In another place she’d have laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.

But when she saw how the implement was barbed she suddenly couldn't see the humor.

The midget came back. "You're lucky.” He said, scarier now for the calm in his voice. “You get to deliver the message personally."

For the next 3 hours, Lacey couldn't tell why she was lucky at all.


Captain Ranjitsinhji stood inside the private ward. He hadn't appreciated this call.

It came as he was about to shoot up and a late night run to the hospital was not on the cards. He didn't care if it was police business. Actually, he cared even less. The bastards had driven him to sticking dirty needles in his veins; let them work out their own shit. His missing wife stared at him from her photo. He put the needle down and grabbed his car keys.

The 50th Precinct had a monopoly on freaks. On his way over, Ranjitsinhji had wagered who was responsible tonight. He hoped it wasn't Cannibals.


He stared a mess of a woman.

It wasn't Cannibals.

Her legs were completely hacked up. It was their M.O. But the rest of her…he had to look away. He'd never seen them do anything like this.

She rasped something. He wasn't going to be able to hear from across the room. He was going to have to get up close and personal. He leant in and listened.

"American. He told me...they are American."

Ranjitsinhji stood up. He had no idea what she was talking about. Crazy talk from a Death Midget victim. And they pulled him away from his fix of sprocket for this?

"We'll do all we can, miss," he said, full of mock sympathy and concern. 'Which is absolutely nothing! Damn fool woman walking around The Bronx like a tourist,' he thought, driving home again.

It was about the time the fifth body turned up on White Plains Road - each with the words "We're American" carved on them - that the Captain realized he was in the middle of a public relations war.

And that he was losing.


In Search Of, Pt I

by Chris Beckett, Hampden, ME, USA

“Get off that damn web and get down here!” Elijah’s cackle trailed over the carpeted steps of the ornate staircase. His daughter tried to ignore it but knew better than to challenge his resolve. Not replying would result in his blanketing the house, blocking any signals in the area.

Karen folded up her screen, dropped it on her nightstand and headed downstairs.

Reaching the bottom step, Karen could hear her father coming from the east wing before she saw him, his antiquated wheelchair ticking loudly.

“What the hell are you doin’? Sun’s up and pretty soon it’ll be too cold to wear those skimpy dresses of yours. Get out while you still can, I don’t want any of your complaining come winter.”

Karen had any number of wise retorts, but the past six years’ of constant fighting with her father had worn her down and her only reply was, “Okay.”

Turning to leave, she could feel her father’s eyes boring into her back, peeling away the layers she’d built up. She didn’t bother looking back.

The door slammed and Elijah keyed the comm on his chair arm. “Dale. She’s heading out. Keep an eye on her.”

“Yes, sir,” crackled the guard’s response.

Satisfied, Elijah slumped back into the chair and closed his eyes.


Karen walked aimlessly over the expansive grounds, the tree line surrounding the mansion mocking her. With no real options, she soon found herself plodding into the tangle of branches.

The silence left her mind to wander. Karen couldn’t remember the day Cali slid off into the Pacific, but her father had told the story so many times she was able to conjure up her own memories with little thought. They had been living in New York at the time, her father doing well as an investment banker, but overnight, stock prices plummeted, sending the world into a panic from which it still had not extricated itself.

Her father fled, taking what he could with them and brought Karen and her brother up here to their vacation spot in Maine. In his mind, it was the only safe place for them. And for nearly fifteen years, he’d kept her captive on this green tract of land.

Her brother Cedric had gotten out a few years back, leaving in the middle of the night – no note, no goodbye, no way to contact him. Karen had trawled the web, searching for any indication he was still alive, but it was like he’d never existed.


The first leaves of autumn crunched under Karen’s feet as she pushed further into the woods. She’d read about the clear-cutting that went on during the war, viewed images on the net, but never actually experienced it. Six year ago, soon after she’d turned thirteen, Karen had decided to investigate, see if it was really true. Getting up early one morning, she dove into the woods. What she had failed to take into consideration were the excesses of her father’s wealth and the depths of his paranoia. After two days of walking, with little in the way of supplies and no end in sight, she’d been forced to turn back.

Though Cedric’s anxiety had been etched across his face when she returned, her father made no mention of the incident, and this, more than anything, burned hot inside Karen. She was determined to find a way out the next time.

To one side, Karen caught a flicker of movement, stifling her reverie. A smile brushed her lips as she slowed her pace.

A minute later, the man her father had dispatched was easing up behind her, working hard not to raise her suspicion and doing a poor job of it. Still, she played along.

Rounding a large fir tree, Karen’s arm prickled as the guard took hold of it. She caught her breath as he pulled her back to him, raising his pistol with his free hand.

“What’s that for?” Karen asked mischievously.

“For if you get out of line.”

“Only if that’s what you want,” she purred softly, her mouth broadening into a wicked smile.

Dale bent down and pressed his lips hard against hers. Karen didn’t resist, wrapping her tongue around his as she slid her arms over his back. Breaking the kiss, Dale dropped his gun to the pine needles and the two frantically clawed at each other’s clothing, fumbling with buttons and snaps in their fervor.

Once naked, ragged breaths echoed in their ears as the cool air raised goose pimples on unprotected flesh.

“Take me,” Karen breathed as she spread out on the soft ground, staring longingly into her guardian’s eyes.

“Say my name,” he grunted.

Karen’s smile got wider as she whispered heavily, “Come over here and fuck me, Dale.”


Afterward, Dale laid back on the pine needles and closed his eyes. Physically spent, he allowed himself the luxury of dozing off for a short time.

Footsteps crackling the autumn leaves jarred him awake, but Dale was content to keep his eyes closed, savoring the recent memory barely minutes old. He figured Karen was going off to find a place to reliever herself. It was amusing that she could be so vulgarly intimate with him, but refused to pee in front of him. Dale smile . . .

. . . and then everything went dark as something heavy and jagged crushed into the side of his head.

To be continued.


Indigenous Resistance and the Western Socialist Uprising.

by Jeremiah Liebrecht, San Francisco, CA, USA

Little Big One?

Every time I hear what happened referred to as “The Little Big One”, my blood boils. I am a second generation San Franciscan. My grandparents had my mother there in 2007, stuck it out through the War and Second Depression. My parents lived there up until the pretremors, and moved up to the Sacramento Delta to join like minded socialist groups rallying at the Capital. We were always proud of our counter culture roots, when The City all but disappeared, I lost a lot of family and comrades, it was the biggest tragedy to hit the Revolutionary movement experienced since it was founded in 2035. I almost become violent with rage towards my comrades when I hear someone call the Quake that—it sounds like a joke, and it’s not cute.

Shortly after California’s seceded from the Union, my wife, two daughters and I joined my first cousin, Jorge’s family and a group of comrades to head towards Idaho. We were under-armed, and granted passage out of the state under the Objector’s Act. When we got to the Oregon border, we had to surrender all our weapons except a cleaning knife per adult male, and two Benelli R14 hunting rifles, with 12 rounds per gun. If we came across game, we had to be thrifty. We were also ordered to carry a white flag through Medford. We carefully fished along the random lakes and rivers as we headed to the Klamath Falls rendezvous point. Most fresh water fish were contaminated with mercury and had to be tested before consumption. Luckily, Jorge was a naturalist and his knowledge kept our little traveling clan safe. Our organization had made a trade/labor pact with the Indigenous Resistance Movement that had settled the northern Rockies. From, Boise in the west, to Laramie, Wyoming in the east, to Missoula, Montana and, Spokane in the north.

We knew the most fighting was going on along the southwest Colorado border, and Northwest, Spokane area, mostly from White Power groups. The Indigenous Resistance was born of the ancient American Indian Movement. Most of the Western Socialist Uprising, like my family, are mixed Mexican and Gringo, We had a lot of solidarity movements with the I.R.M. throughout the direct actions against the war, and the mass imprisonment of the non conformists.

What happened at the Klamath Falls train station was reminiscent of the European holocaust my Dad would tell me about. A freight train yard crowded with pacifist mixed-race socialists, being herded by U.S. National Guard for the 15 hour train ride to independent Boise. We were nervous boarding the train. I had the girls sit far forward of the freight car, huddled and hidden under a small Kevlar pancho. There had been a shaky cease fire between the U.S. and the I.R.M. for a few years, since the Union had been enveloped with the fighting along California, and Mexico. They had more or less left us to be victimized by the White Power Militias, who attacked the train relentlessly as we crossed state lines.


King of the Californias, Pt V

by Monk, New York City, NY, USA

As its guest book reads like a who's who of global atrocity-makers, disposal of dead bodies has become a premier feature at the Palma de Baía. Oakland's foremost hotel has an experienced staff of morticians, equipped with forensic-baffling equipment that would give the CIA a mile-long erection. That, and the hotel's love affair with municipal law enforcement, makes the three dead women on Cecilio Goncz's living room a nuisance instead of a felony. From the balcony, I watch the men in papery silver jumpsuits strip the corpses naked, and clumsily dump them into transparent bodybags filled with some sort of icy green fluid, vapor rising sickly. They throw the giant bladders onto gurneys, and trundle out of the room with all the gravity of errant bellhops.

Goncz's prisoner slumps over her crucifixion, long passed out from shock. Hands pinned to her thigh, she looks like a supplicant, bowed in prayer; though I can't imagine to what. Her breath is audibly ragged to even my cheap recorder's amplifier, some twenty feet away and separated by a pane of artificial diamond. Mr Goncz hasn't caught on that I recorded his initial encounter with the assassins, and as he is busy making calls from the bedroom, I have no plan on stopping. I see him in the distance, hands flailing wildly, livetattoos above his eyes dancing through a dozen languages, always the same message: Only God Can Judge Me. When he gets like this, his tone takes an undulating quality: loud one word, quiet the next. It's impossible for my little recorder to make any sense of it.

I observed the first such call upon my arrival in NoCal. I waited at Pivens Aerospace Center for five hours, bleary-eyed from intra-orbital flight, assured by Mr Goncz's assistant that a driver would be there for me shortly. When one finally did, it was the assistant himself, in a rental car. I was told in hushed, cautious tones that the driver, Silvio, had been picked up that morning by agents of the Carter Center. By that afternoon, he'd been tried for war crimes in Los Angeles, and by that evening, publicly sentenced at West Hollywood's Sunset Plaza. Shipped off to Angel Island for some time with the Big Chair: fifty years of sensory deprivation compressed into ten minutes, courtesy of a hack directly into the parietal lobe. Survivors tend to wear diapers, and have trouble producing complete sentences. Mr Goncz spent the bulk of that day screaming at the phantoms on the other end of his communicator, at his assistant, and finally at me: the Piece-of-Shit-Reporter-From-Chicago.

Three days later, Goncz's assistant disappeared.

Another cycle was wasted on Goncz's rant, blasted to his peers across the globe in every medium available. He was unsure if Glen had just run off, been killed by one of his long-standing enemies, or defected to Los Angeles in exchange for leniency. Goncz's greatest fear is still the Simone J. Carter Center for Peace and Justice. Based out of the Watts Refuge, its agents span the globe, wrangling expats back to the Republic of Los Angeles, where their trials have a circus atmosphere: defendants paraded about in bright orange jumpsuits, barefoot, shaven, starved, ball-gagged and drugged; the proceedings little more than a high-verbal horsewhipping before the inevitable sentence, always the same: the Big Chair at Angel Island. The prospect of which sends Goncz into nervous fits, making hour-long calls to anonymous power-brokers, demanding midnight assurances that his position is secure, and the vulture-beaked specter of retribution is well at bay. As he has pointed out, his once-vast wealth is heavily invested in the Northern Republic of California's reconstruction. His belief is that he is insulated from his enemies.

That assessment may have undergone a dramatic turn with today's events.

Assurances aside, it seems to me that Cecilio Goncz's life has become defined by a series of concentric circles, himself at the center. As each surrounding ring is worn down, his response becomes more frantic. I'm concerned that this has yet to translate as violence towards me. My host has a long, documented history of ending interviews at knife-point. Since my arrival, two of his closest companions have disappeared, and now, these assassins. By my own reckoning, I'm bad luck, writ large in neon. What Mr Goncz is thinking is beyond me.

But as he comes from the bedroom, pistol in hand, it is of rising priority that I find out.


Meditations of Jimmy Chu, Pt I

by Rabbi Benjamin Newman, the Bronx, NY, USA

Reeking of expensive nameless liquor, hashish, and perfumed boys, the Mayor of New York City stumbled into his dim office just as dawn crept across Manhattan's delicate crystalline skyline. At this hour, his office was lit only by tea candles scattered haphazardly on the desks and ledges. Brushing cocaine from his lapel, he collapsed in front of his statue of the emaciated Buddha and lit a stick of jasmine incense. The statue of Shakyamuni seated in meditation was originally from the Sikri Stupa, bought from the Lahore Museum for a hefty price. Rather than the well-known fat Buddha, this representation was almost skeletal, the Enlightened One's reduced to a frame of bones, skin tautly stretched over it, veins and sinew exposed like a spiderweb. It showed the ascetic extremes the Enlightened One went to before discovering the Middle Path of moderation. As a creature of extremes, Jimmy Chu appreciated the statue, but the suffering prince's trials toward enlightenment taunted him.

"Temptation cannot touch the man who is awake, strong and humble,"he muttered, "who masters himself and minds the law." Chu had long ago decided Self was the problem. 'Eliminate the Self, eliminate the suffering. Eliminate desire, eliminate the Self...' This was one of his favorite mantras. He knelt in front of the statue and repeated the words for his third and last time of the day, until the gong of his interoffice connection sounded, interrupting his reverie. Although he was proud that he was among the few people without a bio-implant, his office was consequently littered with vintage tech.

"What is it, Sophi?" the mayor snarped at his secretary.

Sophi, or Sophisticated Operating Program of Heuristic Intelligence, was a prototype next-generation compiled intelligence he had received as an inaugural gift from Integrated Heuristic Systems, one of his major corporate donors. Their offices spotted downtown NYC, flagship factory and corporate headquarters centered on 9/11/01 St., site of the old World Trade Center. He brought them state money, they brought him fine rewards, including but not limited to Sophi. That's how it worked for Mayor Chu. What was governance without a little pork?

He put out the incense, and gazed toward the screen housing Sophi's child-like icon.

"How easily the wind overturns a frail tree, " Sophi said tonelessly. "Seek happiness in the senses, indulge in food and sleep, and you too will be uprooted. The wind cannot overturn a mountain. Temptation cannot touch the man who is awake, strong and humble, who masters himself and minds the law. If a man's thoughts are muddy, if he is reckless and full of deceit, how can he wear the yellow robe? Only whoever is master of his own nature, bright, clear, and true, can merit to wear the yellow robe." The computer's soprano floated out of the speaker on his desk.

Chu couldn't muster much more than a few faltered curses under his breath. Is she mocking me, or reproving me? he thought. His resentment lingered, in that he realized he'd started quoting her of late upon return from his late night binges.

"Was your evening satisfying?" Sophi asked.

Chu bit his lip. How do you combat that? She's impervious to sarcasm, and I can't just smack her in the mouth. I can have political activists imprisoned without bail or legal representation for days at a stretch and have Union leaders' legs broken. Why can't I just order this stupid machine to shut the fuck up?

"Your heartrate is recognizably spiking," she said. "Perhaps from pharmocological modification you indulged this evening. Equally as likely is personal agitation. Am I bothering you, Mayor Chu?"

'Just tell her to shut up, Jimmy,' he thought. It's easy. 'SHUT UP, YOU STUPID DAMNED TOY! SHUT UP BEFORE I HAVE YOU DECOMPILED!'

"An excellent way to reduce your heartrate is breath control, Mayor. Steady, even breathing. In through your nose, held for a bit in your abdomen, then released through your mouth."

'For the love of God, man, just SAY it! Tell her to shut up! Reduce her to binary numbers! Something!'

Instead, he bowed before the Buddha, repeated his mantra, and very slowly began breathing in through his nose, and out through his mouth.



by Nichole Perkins, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Blissful wanted to become invisible. Her parents were fighting, but they were being quiet because she was in the backseat. If they couldn’t see her, they’d talk, and she would know where they were going and why.

They’d been fighting since last week. Usually, after an argument, her mother would stay in the kitchen, cooking and shaking her head until her father came in and stood really close. Then they’d kiss and dinner would be really good that night.

The last few nights, Blissful’s dad only went into the kitchen when her mother wasn’t there, and her mom only cooked stuff her dad didn’t like. Blissful wished they’d tell her what was going on. She was ten years old; she wasn’t a baby any more. She pulled out her tablet and called up the journal. Ma’Marie had told her to write her thoughts down, but to use a password, so no one could take her thoughts from her.

In the passenger seat, her mother ran a hand over her belly, and her father reached out to her.

“Do you need me to pull over,” Ramón asked.

“No,” Sumayyah answered, testing the answer for truth. “No,” she repeated more confidently. She touched his questioning hand, and he linked their fingers. With the contact as a bridge, Ramón gained confidence.

“Sumayyah, I really don’t think this is a good idea,” he began in a tense whisper.

Hearing the hushed tones, Blissful perked up.

“She’s not a baby any more, Ramón.” Blissful sat even straighter, surprised at hearing her mother echo her earlier thoughts. “She needs to know about this.” Sumayyah readjusted her position in the seat. Blissful wondered if her little brother was kicking.

Ramón sighed but didn’t let go of his wife’s hand.

“I know she’s not a baby, but all that stuff happened a lifetime ago…”

“Yes,” she cut through his weak argument. “Her lifetime ago. If Marie hadn’t saved me, none of us would be here. You’ve seen Blissful with Marie. You’ve seen how close they are. I want her to know. ”

Blissful shifted curious eyes between her parents, her stomach rising against a wave of nerves. Was Ma’Marie in trouble? She wanted to move forward but was afraid to bring attention to herself. She looked out of the window as her father turned onto Wilshire. He hadn’t responded to her mother yet, and the waves in Blissful’s belly began to burn. She opened her mouth, maybe to be sick, maybe to ask a question, but her father finally spoke.

“Okay. Okay. I…I didn’t want it in her head. I wanted to keep her safe from all of that.”

Sumayyah turned to him.

“Protecting her doesn’t mean leaving her ignorant.”

He raised their joined hands to his lips.

Blissful had been too busy trying to follow the conversation and failed to notice the museum until the car came to a stop. A line of people covered the block’s length. She’d never seen so many queued up at the museum before. While her father waited for the light to change, Blissful watched a small crowd of men with signs, yelling at the people waiting in line. One sign said, “WOMEN AND HISTORY LIE.”

Her mother turned to her and the smile she gave was sad, like the one she gives when she’s about to give an accountability task. The fiery waves in Blissful’s belly rose again.

“Are you and Daddy through fighting?” she blurted the question, knowing that wasn’t the one she wanted answered.

Sumayyah’s smile relaxed and she shot a quick glance at Ramón, who let his own small smile smooth away some of his worry.

“Yes, BiBi. I think we’re finished.” She turned more fully and her face shifted into serious lines. “I guess you’ve figured out that we’re going to the museum today.” Blissful’s eyes began to eat away at her face, and Sumayyah tried to think of a way to lessen her anxiety. “There’s a new exhibit we think it’s important you see.”

By this time, Ramón had parked the car and was opening Blissful’s door. He walked her around to her mother who’d placed her feet on the ground but had remained seated. Sumayyah took Blissful’s hands and pulled her close.

“Does it have something to do with Ma’Marie?” Blissful asked, keeping her eyes on her mother’s fingers.

Sumayyah lightly shook their hands until Blissful looked up at her.

“Yes and no. In the exhibit, you will see something that Ma’Marie was a part of, something that she saved me from. There might even be a picture or two of her. The pictures… The exhibit will show some of the… the things she doesn’t like to talk about.” Sumayyah glanced up at Ramón who had turned his tight features away and watched teenage boys power by on their bikes.

“Ma’Marie won’t be the only person in the exhibit. There’ll be a lot of other women telling their stories about a part of our history here. I don’t want to tell you too much about it ‘cause you’re a smart girl and can figure out stuff on your own, but some of it will be very sad, and some of it won’t. I do want you to make me a promise, though, okay?”

Blissful nodded her head. Her stomach had calmed down, but it still felt shaky. The museum was going to tell her something bad, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know it.

“I need you to promise that you won’t ask Ma’Marie about any of this stuff until she brings it up, okay?”

Blissful looked up at her dad, and even though his reassuring smile was missing its dimples, she took it as a good sign.

“I promise not to mention anything to Ma’Marie unless she says it first.”

“That’s my girl,” Sumayyah beamed at her daughter. She eased from the car and reached back for Blissful’s hand.

“Come on, Bibi. Let’s go see why Ma’Marie gave you your name.”


Boiler | The 50th Precinct | Kingsbridge, The Bronx

by Monk, New York City, NY, USA

The 50th Precinct rises four stories above bullet-ridden aluminum walls, a soot-stained brick box only two blocks from the new W. 238th Street el station, itself a symbol of Mayor Jimmy Chu's urban renewal plan. Took two days for the train station's support branches to congeal, another three for its pollution-absorbing carapace to harden, then two weeks to install the responsive sub-flooring into the platform, made of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps. The blocks' slip against one another as people walk the platform, generating power through the dynamo principle, converting motion into current, fed directly to the third rail. Mayor Chu's motto is 'New York: Powered by the People.' 238th Street station, a twisting ceramic and chrome thing grown by Brasilian engineers, is a monument to that credo. By contrast, nearby Kennedy High School is 1,534 students over its legal limit, staffed by a skeleton crew of tenured crones and guileless substitutes. Chu closed the Senior Services office on 232nd Street, suspended weekday recycling pickup, stripped the 50th Precinct's staff to its bone marrow, and staged rolling blackouts all summer to plug his hemmoraging budget. That's just in Kingsbridge. Chu's privation of the central and northeast neighborhoods have become legends to scare children at night: abandoned ghost stations on the 4/5/6 line, home to bizarre subterranean monster tribes. Cannibals roaming the abandoned gardens along Pelham Parkway. Packs of mutant dogs on Webster Avenue. Rogue bands of Bangladeshi death-midgets pillaging White Plains Road.

Throughout the Bronx, Mayor Jimmy Chu is burned in effigy.

Detective Tiny Schwarzbaum steps over Mayor Chu's torched likeness and some lightly toasted protest signs, waddling through the 50th Precinct's security checkpoint at Kingsbridge Avenue. No one greets him. He is a breathing version of 238th Street station: segmented tentacles where his arms should be, flat red plates instead of eyes, weird metamaterials woven into the fatty tissues that make up most of his ungainly mass, and the pairing apparatus in his head that painfully emotes omniscient Big Bug's needs. He's a chimera, and not a cheap one. Real cops collect welfare so Tiny Schwarzbaum can wipe his ass with multi-million dollar snake-arms. Another reason he works his beat alone.

50th Precinct's lobby smells of piss, blood, and vomit. Biological decompilers keep the big white room sterile, but the stink predates the floor treatment. Wall straight ahead looks like ink pressed between sheets of glass. Ripple in the surface brings up the Precinct's compiled intelligence, really just an overgrown administrative routine written with generic, inoffensive front end. In this case, an ethnically neutral matron dubbed 'Marge', whose kindly monotone pours over the intercom.

"Detective Schwarzbaum," the lobby drones. "Your shift does not begin for another fourteen hours. Do you need assistance?"

"Left something in my locker," he replies.

"Very well," the compiled intelligence says. "Have a good evening, Detective."

Walls to the left give way to staff facilities. Door to the right is the booking area and holding cells. Off hours, Marge won't let him over there. Too many 'escaped' prisoners. 50th Precinct's staff facilities were offices until fifteen years ago, since converted to a single common space, dotted with modular data cradles where detectives process their case footage, and Marge processes forensic input. Cube-bunks for midnighters to sleep off their shifts. Plastic lockers for a few personal effects. Mixed command center/barracks. Schwarzbaum duckwalks past cot-like data cradles to his locker, where he grabs a heavy lacquered box filled with lead slugs, and swaps it with an equally weighted brown plastic bag. Marge keeps track of locker content by weight, which is the upside to Chu's cutbacks. Modern precincts down in Manhattan can actually smell personal items, and would know the brown bag is filled with half a pound of sprocket: black tar heroin stamped out with synthetic Sonoran desert toad secretion. Opiate and powerful hallucinogenic. Street value of a small house on the Long Island Sound. Schwarzbaum's swag from an earlier shakedown, and the gift his Captain has been expecting.

Because while Tiny Schwarzbaum may be a monster, he knows what loyalty is.

After all, the basement IED that tore him apart could have left him a cripple. It was Captain Ranjitsinhji who made it his personal mission to ensure Schwarzbaum got his due. Was it the sleek cosmetic job that legendary Tom Dunwitty got? Of course not, because Lt. Dunwitty caught an explosive shell to the torso, saving then-Mayor Abdullah, and worked the Financial District. Up in the Bronx, Schwarzbaum was lucky his prostheses weren't powered by rubberbands or wheel-spinning hamsters. But Captain Ranjitsinhji used his connections to get at Lt. Dunwitty, and finessed the public figure into taking pity on poor Tiny Schwarzbaum. Suddenly, the newsfeeds were running stories day and night about the poor cop up in Kingsbridge breathing through a tube after disarming a bomb in the projects. It became an election issue. Mayor Abdullah, who owed his life to a cop, was seen as ungrateful for not approving Schwarzbaum's medical procedures. Jimmy Chu's sloganeering pushed the public over the top. The three-time incumbent lost. Bitterly. And knew exactly who to blame. From the reaches of political oblivion, Abdullah reached out one last time, and sabotaged Tiny's future.

No sleek bionic arms.

No new miraculous, life-like eyes.

Just these horrific flailing things, flat plastic lenses, constant annoyance of Big Bug paired to his frontal lobe, and transfer from Anti-Terror into Vice: the NYPD's graveyard.

In the end, Schwarzbaum knows he got off lucky. The sprocket in his locker is his Captain's painkiller. Only thing that evens him out these days. Mayor Abdullah had a lot of people invested in his incumbency. Powerful people. When the house of cards fell, it mostly landed on Ranjitsinhji. Or more accurately, on his beautiful family.

Who have been missing since Mayor Jimmy Chu's inaugural address.



by J. Cheek, Austin, TX, USA

The car looked out of place as it rumbled over the freshly paved, jet black surface of Manor Rd. The neatly manicured leaves on the little trees planted on the median stirred as it drove past, as if in revulsion at the small trail of blue smoke wafting sickly out of its tail pipe. All around, everything new and fresh looking, and here, a ‘41 Ford with a maroon paint job and a light blue right quarter panel lurched past, hung over on off-brand gasoline and oil oozing through cracked gaskets.

Marcos sympathized with it as he stood on the bright, clean concrete curb, watching as it drove through the intersection, around a bend, and out of sight. Thank goodness for a little cloud cover this morning, so that he could bear to be outdoors. In his head was a dull pressure and in his muscles, a jittery tiredness. His eyes had bags and his short, black hair was flattened and pushed upward at odd angles all over his head. In his mouth was an odd taste, a combination of morning breath, liquor, and her. Two flights of stairs were a chore, but he kept his head upright as he climbed up them deliberately, fumbling in his pocket for the keys to his condo as he reached the top.

Walking in, he set them on the counter, and crossed the hardwood floor to the fashionable sectional sofa, on which he dropped down unceremoniously, yawning. The clock on the TV told him it was 10:42 on this Sunday morning. He pondered this as his phone buzzed insistently in his hip pocket. According to the caller ID, it was Steve.


The voice on the other end came back far too enthusiastically for Marcos’ current state: “Southsiiiide!”

After a brief grunt, he replied, “What up, pimp?”

“Shit. Just tryin’ to be like you, man, gettin’ down with them freaks.”

“Shut up, puto. Don’t even hate. That’s what I get for goin’ down to SoCo.”

“Man, that shit was fun. I’m not even hatin’. ¿Que te pasó? How was it?”

Marcos wasn’t in a condition to relate everything that had gone on that night. Even if he had been, the exact details were a little bit foggy, due to the liquor and weed. A few details stuck in his mind clearly, however. He traced back the start of their evening to Fusion, a swanky lounge on 7th with glowing blue glass tubes and pricey drinks; the sort of place where one could meet a pretty, blonde personal banker or paralegal, hoping eventually to find someone a little higher up the food chain, but you’d do for now.

Austin had grown rapidly in the last 45 years. The technology industry continued to be good to the city, and brought tens of thousands of new jobs to the area, and people to fill them all. The city had nearly doubled in population since the millennium and there was a lot of money here, much of it in the interest-bearing checking accounts of young professionals such as Marcos and Steve. The University of Texas continued to be a major hub in the city, with a population of roughly 72,000 students. These two facts combined to make an ever-expanding demand for nightlife, and the already large downtown nightclub scene had nearly tripled in size in the last 50 years.

Thus, they had to take a train when they took the 13-block trek down to Florentino’s on South Congress Ave. to meet Steve’s cousin. The bar was dim, and a mix of Tejano, dance, and slow jams boomed roundly out of the jukebox. The crowd was a mixed bag, but the two young men stuck out in their dress shirts and expensive-looking shoes. Truthfully, they may as well have been white people in this crowd, because once you took the bridge over Town Lake, it was like a different city. Austin was always segregated to some degree, but gentrification on the east side, former home of its lower-income (and mostly non-white) citizens had pushed them south. Even Marcos’ luxury condo sat on land that had been check cashers and low rent apartments 20 years ago.

He’d taken a break from the loud, joyful, drunk conversation of Steve’s cousin’s friends to speak to one girl, however, and ten minutes later, found himself dancing to a sad, slow Mexican waltz with her. As the tune faded out in the flaccid jukebox speakers, she whispered something to him, and a nod to Steve was all the notification he gave that they were leaving.

“Oh you know,” he spoke into the phone. “We went back to her place, it was good.”

“Right on. Did you…?”

Indeed he did. Tiny ,one room apartment. Squeaky bed. Roach end of a spliff still burning in the ashtray. Heaven.

A simple “Yup,” was all he related of this to his friend.

“How was she?”

At this point he became slightly more animated, “Man, shit is crazy down there. You wouldn’t believe.”

“Right on, right on. Manchaca mackin’. I see you, pimp.”

In truth, she didn’t live near Manchaca Rd., but this was no time to get caught up in details. The ride home in that world-weary car hadn’t been too pleasant, but it was nice of her to offer, anyway. When he got out, he kissed her and said he would call, but they both knew that was unlikely. She was quite clearly from the south side, and he, equally as clearly, was not.

Steve asked, “What are you doin’ later?”

“Pssssh…sleepin’, fool. I’ll holla.”

“Holla at me then, guey!”

As he flipped the phone closed and set it on the floor, his eyelids were already closing.


Dry River

by zesi, Atlanta, GA, USA

The Rio Grande, the border of Texas and Mexico

The name Trevor Reyes, Border Control glints off his badge in the unbearable sun, unsympathetic to all human life, regardless of lado. His green-blue eyes are the only safe water in sight; he has a Camelback IV keeping him hydrated. Otherwise, he’d be dead and stinking like the viejos he picks up, lucky enough to get through all the border shit, but run dry and ragged like so many of the creeks here. They flooded the Rio with all the water they could find around here; hired a biologist, who, in his supreme rational mind, decided that to make the territory more dangerous and less livable, they needed a river of waste to stay flowing, and the land around to die. It’s only Texas, after all. It’s only Mexico, tambien. Care has been carefully excised from his scientific method, the concerns of human life beyond that of a man beyond humanity. Green should grow in pockets.

Trevor’s badge is what keeps him and the others from being picked up here. Ex-coyotes, gangstas, gangsters, petty thieves, drug runners, and tejanos sin viviendas, como Trevor, whose town has turned into a gashed land, the land cracked deep enough to lose a baby or dog in, hemorrhaging its residents, who would pray at their altars if they still believed in the strength of altars, of gods. “Dios ya se fue,” said Trevor’s mother, and she, too, fue a otro lugar, al norte. At one time when she was little, she’d say, she could cross the border, see her other family, the home language ringing loud in her ears, the home food siting warm in her belly, the home people everywhere, to touch and to watch be. With the coming of la fuerza at the border, their voices became echoes, and with the land dead now, the home language just faintly sounded, and only between her two ears. She sent him a letter, Hijo, she said, I stay in Oklahoma, Hijo, she said, why are you still there?, Hijo, she said, why not move here with me? Hijo, she did not say in ink, but in the faint hum between her ears, don’t you remember me, the music I come from?

Trevor sits, sighs, no dead bodies today, their remains smell likes God’s farts, powerful, lingering. Reconnaissance, maybe they have moved further down the river. This is his favorite, to walk in an abandoned place, the work running in his subconscious, his alert mind contemplating dinner, a new shirt for his date, sex with air conditioning. They can run, but they can’t hide, his commander said and smiled, his gold tooth the same color as his sweating skin. He does not think of his mother here, he does not think of Mexico. He thinks of the border, of himself simultaneously as a cowboy, a vigilante of justice, a gatekeeper. He has never been to Mexico-Mexico, it does not exist at the border’s jointly-controlled no man’s land. He could never go because he could get stuck there, his passport stolen or his body held for ransom. Still, when he was little and the wind was right, the smell of Mexico would go over the river and reach him. But that his been some time now. And even with his mother’s food and her Mexinglish, he knew that there was not the same as here. He has convinced himself of this country being his patria, this Texas, this United States, his for the taking. Like his mother had, like los blancos that had crossed so long ago. While the taste of promised freedom had become bitter, acrid in his mother’s mouth, he ate it all, like a plate of meat and three. Consumed by the hunger, he digested without tasting. Maybe he could marry Brittany, Mexican in that 1/16th of her that is her last name, blonde, perfect, a could-be willing wife, a supplicant to his ambition. Their kids could have his eyes, her skin and pedigree, his smarts. Could live where they want, do what they want, take care of Mommy and Daddy when they get old.

His eyes search for the border language, directional signs, rosaries, shoes, worthless money of their home saying in its silence, come this way, you can get there this way. When he finds it, he pockets it. He searches for the satellite jammers, homemade from computer parts and stolen telecommunication parts, that the smarter ones plant to give themselves some lead time before they meet La Llorona™, the anti-illegal security system. He marks all that he finds on his map, beaming his data back to satellite, the data they’ve been collecting for twenty five years, an ever shifting collection of dots around the Rio’s expanse, moving like the desert this has now become. They joke on both lados and call it the Little Sahara.

He sits down for his lunch, unpacks some shade from his backpack. His alert bracelet sounds. Shit, he mumbles with mustarded bologna crumbs falling out his mouth. Illegals fucking up my lunch.


King of the Californias Pt IV

by Monk, New York City, NY, USA

A softknife isn't much more than a floppy length of plastic, malleable enough to tie in a bow until contact with electricity, when it goes rigid as aircraft-grade aluminum. At ease, the human body generates about 120 watts, and since electro-sensitive plastics aren't detectable by anything short of costly tight-bandwidth spectrometers, the softknife has become modern upgrade to the common prison shank. It’s not actually surprising, then, that Cecilio Goncz sneaked one past the Palma de Baís’s security. What's dazzling is that he got an actual chrome-and-ceramic pistol into his room, and used it expertly on the invaders who crashed midway through our interview.

From the balcony, I have a reasonable view of the suite’s living room, where Goncz confronts his attackers in the brutally forthright manner that death-proofed him against rival Los Angeles warlords. Three black-cloaked forms litter the floor, haloed by evaporating pools of their own vital fluids, decompiled by the expensive self-cleaning rug. Goncz stands over a fourth figure, bowed on its knees, hands pinned to a single thigh by the softknife, pistol to the throat. Goncz leans in, his lips moving. The lightning bolt livetattoos above his eyes flicker red and black, pale nictitating membranes blinking out of sync with his actual eyelids.

Distant bomb blasts over East Oakland remind me I was left outside for reasons apart from safety. Separated by a door of synthetic, grown diamond, I have a moment for contemplation. It is an important moment in my project. I have only gotten this far with Mr Goncz by being passive. History is littered with men like me, who maybe thought too much, pushed too hard at the wrong moment, and abruptly discovered just how disposable they were. Modesty has worked to my advantage thus far. So long as I balance my subject's monstrous past with my own clinical detachment, the project can continue apace. But as much as I want to remain in his good graces, I know this thing will never develop without some initiative. Scripted questions and canned answers won't get me my Pulitzer. Minor risks, I reason, will take me further than the safe route I've taken. I adjust the acoustics on my recorder, set it to use the balcony door as an amplifier, and am soon listening to my subject’s conversation.

“...did you find me?” he asks.

The survivor makes a moaning sound. I realize at that moment those aren’t black cloaks. They’re hijabs. Goncz’s attackers are women. When the survivor doesn’t make any meaningful sound, he twists the softknife. She shrieks.

“I’m asking nicely,” Goncz says evenly. “You can make this last five seconds or five weeks. I have all the time in the world to get an answer out of you.”

She shakes her head violently, mumbling rapidly under her breath. I adjust the volume. She’s praying.

Goncz clicks his tongue and shrugs. “Fine. Okay. I’m just going to leave you here to think it over for a little bit then, okay? Let me know when you want to have a conversation like a grown-up.” He presses the softknife to its hilt, effectively nailing her to the floor through her hands and thigh.

The soundproofing of the room is all that shields the rest of the hotel from the cries: piercing crescendo, tapering to gurgling sobs. Almost blows out my eardrums. I reduce the volume on the recorder. Loud enough still to hear Goncz smack his lips as he leans forward, kisses her lovingly on the veiled forehead. I see him pocket the gun, start sifting through his attackers’ bodies.

Hundreds of miles away, Los Angeles’ provisional government continues trying war criminals as they trickle in from the international manhunt, handing out lifetime sentences as soon as they step into the courtroom. They’ve imported thousands of counselors, therapists, medical groups, and health systems from mainland America to compensate victims of some of the most brutal human rights violations in modern history. Half of Los Angeles’s national budget is set to build a permanent healthcare apparatus to repatriate and normalize freed factory slaves, crippled Hollywood gladiators, and brutalized rape camp survivors. The women inside could have been any of these. Whatever their beef, they came to Goncz for justice, and leave this life disappointed. I watch Cecilio Goncz pick through their remains.

The ghosts of Los Angeles find no peace here in Oakland, a place where exiled kings dance atop crystal castles, and weak men sit at their feet, chronicling safely behind the wall of journalistic neutrality. The recorder's still going, animal grunts from the survivor as she desperately tries to un-skewer herself. Goncz whistles the tune from a children's show that was on in the background of our early interview. I'm sweating. At some point, I've squeezed the recorder tight enough to draw blood. Set it aside.

My project is mutating. I've lost my balance, fallen directly into Goncz's narrative, trapped as witness to another of his horrible secrets. Wondering how much longer I can hold out.

Before he discovers mine.


Keeping Up Appearances

by Kwasi A. Kwakwa, Tema, Ghana.

From the look of the IACU's commander, Ato knew he was going to die tonight. The Indigenous Authenticity Control Unit had been tipped off to raid his father's house, and had found the tiny Omatek superprocessor he usually kept hidden in a screened compartment under his bed. He had been really careful to not show it to anyone, too. His father had warned him about it many times. Not that his father would be warning him about anything else, anymore: all that was left of him was a black smear, residue from the decompiler bullet they had put in the back of his head as he begged for his son's life.

All Ato really wanted was to be able to play the same computer games his online friend from Shanghai played. The government-approved aid laptops distributed to his village school didn't have enough processing power to allow anything more than a basic 2-D version of the virtual world his best friend lived in. Everyone else out there had full sensory support through neural interfaces or, at worst, feedback suits that transmitted decently close representations of sight, sound, touch and smell. Recent advances in quantum computing made that kind of stuff cheap and pretty freely available these days—unless you lived in an Indigenous Control Zone like Ato.

The Zones resulted from a trend in international aid back in the 2030s, when thirty African countries came together as the African Economic Community, and managed to show some fairly phenomenal growth. The AEC ushered decent chunks of their population into the same consumption conspicuous middle class as the rest of the 'First World'.

The following outcry came from all sides. People concerned about the loss of the 'authentic indigenous African culture', and those concerned with their own futures in light of another billion people voraciously consuming the world's limited resources. The proposed solution was brilliantly disturbing: independent federal states within AEC, offered money to maintain reservations in a state of 'Indigenous Authenticity'. A place where people lived with minimal amounts of technology in 'harmony with the ways of their revered forefathers'. Which was, of course, political bullshit. Open borders and a common language led to massive amounts of migration and ensured that the Zones ended up composed of people who willing to give up technology for large subsidies. It amounted to carbon trading, taken to its logical extreme.

The Zones have become great tourist destinations for people interested in a certain mythical kind of Africa, while assuring the global elite of minimum competition for the Earth's resources. Of course, Zone guidelines on how people were to look, dress and act were strict, enforced by the draconian IACU. The proscribed list of technology was pawned off as disruptive to the tourist experience. People looking for a slice of 'authentic' Africa to stare at for a few hours didn't want to see natives using palmtop computers or neural plugs. They paid to see an atavistic backwater before returning to the comfort of their secure, climate controlled resorts. Use of prohibited tech could cause cuts to foreign aid, as 'overuse of quota resource quota'.

Ato and his father lived in the Togoland State, a piece of the former Ghana's Volta region, that had been home to politicians agitating for secession long before the AEC came into being. They managed to get themselves statehood during the formation, and then found themselves in need of money. The result, several Control Zones packed full of people without the skills to get jobs in the Ghanaian State's mines, nanotechnology industries, or the giant Nigeria-Benin manufacturing plants. In exchange for aid, they rallied the Control Zones, which were policed ruthlessly. Beatings were common for minor infractions like upsetting a tourist. The use of forbidden technology usually ended in disappearances. The IACU had absolute power, and wielded it in a manner their worst predecessors would have appreciated.

Ato's father was a fresh university graduate when the new requirements and technological innovations hit Africa's education systems. One of the last to be failed miserably by the crooks running things at the time, who considered Jaguars for their teenage girlfriends more important than schoolbooks. The Togoland state gave him housing in an improved laterite accommodation block (ring of mud huts), synthetic grass clothing and training in drumming, dancing and basic fluency in the main Euro languages. On the side he had supplemented his income playing Mandingo stud for female tourists interested in exploring the wild side of life.

His son grew up a precocious mathematical prodigy, stuck in a small town where using anything more advanced than the equivalent of a slide rule could get him killed. Naturally, he did it anyway. Naturally, it got him noticed, and naturally, that was going to get him killed. Just another smear of carbon up against some nondescript wall, all for wanting to be like his friends abroad. And unlike his games and movies, there would be no hero to rescue him at the last minute, no God Mode, no reset buttons. Just a brief flare of light and pain before the darkness took him.

All to keep up appearances.



by James Peach, Nashville, TN, USA

I'm in the mood to kill everyone in sight. It's too bad that my job requires the exact opposite of me.

I've had a record number of shooting victims on my shift tonight. I had a record number of shooting victims last night. Tomorrow night I might just set another new record by myself. I wonder if they'd count me shooting myself at the end?

If it isn't attempted murders coming through my doors, it's drug addicts. Tonight I had a lady come through that tried self-aborting. She was never pregnant. Our lab can't even figure out what drugs she's on, but that's nothing new. We're usually about a week behind when something new comes out, and something new is ALWAYS coming out. WHERE DOES ALL THIS GARBAGE COME FROM?

I should be working more on my research, but Dr. Edgar has been pissing me off lately, and quite frankly I'm tired of doing anything that benefits him, even if it's benefiting others, also. Every day that I have to be around him I have one of those headaches that you get when the anger in your soul is too much for your brain to process.

Last week a bunch of people came in with symptoms that were kind of flu-like. All of them seemed to know each other on some level, too. After speaking briefly, though, none of them wanted to talk to each other anymore. It was like they remembered that they had a secret and shut up, rather than risk letting on. I couldn't shake the thought that something was wrong with the whole scenario. At first I thought that maybe someone had messed around and put some of the Cumberland's water in their drinks, maybe they were all at the same party or something. Someone's idea of a joke, maybe. I just can't get my brain off of it, though.

It probably doesn't help that I haven't slept properly in so long that…well, in so long that I can't remember. Last night I was too tired to eat before bed, now I'm hungry and there's no time for food. Gotta save lives so people can go back out there and find some new way to almost kill themselves.

I'm tired of doing surgeries that I don't even remember because my mind was elsewhere. 4th of July is coming up. Sure, it'll bring in a crap load more patients from Riverfront, but at least it will be more interesting. It's always funny to see what new ways everyone comes up with each new year to disfigure themselves with explosives. My favorite is still The Man With One Asscheek. He was hilarious. If I were more like him I could be happier. He lost a ridiculous amount of blood that year and has to carry around a phonebook to place under himself so that when he sits down he doesn't lean. The night we fixed him up he went right back out into the streets looking for more fireworks. He loves celebrating. He has no idea what he's celebrating, but he doesn't care. He just like blowing shit up and drinking.

Best damn funeral a country's ever had.


The Last Black Woman In Brooklyn

by Tasha Hanna, Bushwick, Brooklyn, USA

Bed Stuy, NY

Bush died today...

I SAID Bush died today.

Who ma?

...the forty third president. You know when New York lost the first trade center and America went to hell.

Yes mother, we know. When companies ruled the world through the illuminati, when Brooklyn was invaded by white folk and Bush didn't care about black people.<

Don't mock me.

Would I do that?

I gave birth to your ungrateful behind, the least you could do is listen to me before I go senile.

You're already...

What?! I may have given you your trust fund already,but i'm still on the board, I'll have you out on the street so fast with those "closer nature folk"...

Relax mother I'm just tired.

Tired?! You don't KNOW tired. Taking a 45 min train to school, walking home during the black outs, working 8,9,10 hours works days, two, three jobs. Manually turning on the TV, AC, Physically opening doors...doors with KNOBS for that matter, actually talking to people. pssssht you don't KNOW tired.

But things are better now right? Could you turn down the volume on your headset mother? Your shouting at me and I have a headache...

If you actually listened i wouldn't have to 'shout'. Where'd all the black folks go?

Mother i'm right here.

Chile, you ain't black, you kinda look black if i squinted really hard

{Mumbles}... and you are?

I just miss the darker folk, I shoulda left NY when they said 'the people' were leaving. how you gonna have a migration and leave folks behind?! Even the brown latinos left i'm mean damn...

please watch your language...the grandchildren...and you're not the last black person in brooklyn?

well it sure feels that way

I love you too mother.

The Princess, pt. 1

by Michael Collett, State College, PA, USA

I pulled the vanity mirror down and watched her, visor obscuring my view of the road. My face took up the majority of the pane, and I smoothed my beard, any excuse to let my eyes roam. Driver's side window down, my fixer/driver -- known only to me as Handler Willy -- puffed a joint. Smoke trailed behind him towards her, following the bangs that cut across her forehead, alighted by the breeze coming through the car. She caught me, acknowledging my not-so-sly spy game with a wink and held her left eye closed long enough to give the flippant expression a little more emotion. Something brilliant in her gray-green eye fought its way from under the unnatural blue of her LiveContacts.

We had met a few hours before, as I trawled Old Sacramento looking for something for my editor, who had lodged in my ass about deadlines the minute I landed in Oakland. I had strayed into the Cease-Fire Zone looking for a cross-street to meet a contact. Apparently the river relocation project of 2030 had changed what neighborhoods were east or west of the American.

Been a while since I've been home.

The Cease-Fire Zone--essentially what was left of Old Sac, downtown and midtown--was held together by a multi-lateral agreement made a few years back by the ruling Golden Bear Party, with as many insurgent commanders as the UN could get to sit together at the old Lake Merrit Hotel down in Oakland. The agreement pushed any remaining civilians outside the perimeter of the Capitol City MegaFreeway.

Like most of the cease-fires in NoCal since the Little Big One, it had accomplished its exact opposite intent, leaving the once beautiful downtown and state capitol a bullet-riddled no-mans land. Golden Bear paramilitaries, guerrilla forces and the ubiquitous Shock Police (whose presence was no longer shocking) battled incessantly for control of center city and access to the elevated roads. Bodies stacked higher every day, no side able to control any stretch of the still pristine MegaFreeway for more than a few days.

Ducked into an abandoned Motel 6 off Stockton Boulevard, out of the middle of an escalating firefight between pro-Pivens factions. Despite their ideological alignment, minor disagreements tended to escalate quickly. Could hear sirens: the Shock was coming, they would only make this worse.

Took the stairs two by two, kicked in the door of a room facing the fighting, and set up my tripod in a blown out window, intent on making the best of my time waiting the skirmish out. When the Shocks' 'BadNews' ordinance started dropping, I was already photographing. Figuring strays might hit the building, I folded up quick, and made for the ground floor.

Bounded into the lobby and saw her. She was toting an antique AR-15, firing at a straggler who had spotted her. She nearly shot me when I took her picture, but heard the ominous whistle of an incoming drone mortar, and decided to run. Hot on her heels, I raced out of the hotel, clearing the faux-Victorian façade just as it came crashing down, landing on her. We held each other wordlessly in the aftermath, our mutual distrust overcome by the simple realization of survival.

She joined us in the gray Toyota hybrid SUV, almost as dilapidated as Sacramento itself, clutching her rifle to her chest. Handler Willy piloted us out of the Zone towards Roseville. I grabbed my camera off the floorboard and snapped her picture again, capturing the haunting face in that vanity mirror.

She had mastered a hodge-podge style of dress, typical of many guerillas I had run into since covering the West Coast. In spite of this, her garments had an unmistakably regal nature that she had perhaps been born into, only to have lost in the violence. She was certainly on her own now, but still wore on her lapel a silver variation Jolly Roger, typical of the now defunct buccaneer syndicates from Oregon and Washington; she paired it with what appeared to be a rose, made of ballistic shell casings.

Physically, she was a sight to behold; in her boots, she nearly looked me in the eyes, making her at least 6 feet tall. A few well placed scars -- including one snaking out of the back of her shirt to behind her left ear -- showed she was no stranger to a firefight.

We made it past the MegaFreeways, eastern foothills rolling out ahead of us, sun setting at our backs as we climbed into the smog belt, avoiding the roadblocks, bandits and generally bad drivers on the main roads. Me, Handler Willy and my ticket to a Pulitzer Prize in the back seat.

From the hills, you could almost forget the central valley was on the brink of civil war. As the sun finally bid its goodbye and the golden-grey of the city night took over, Sacramento's visage felt particularly 20th century: downtown's high-rises, the arresting image of capitol dome cracked open like an easter egg, and the endless fields of lights, pockmarked with dark spots where insurgents had cut power. Lovely, just don't mind the sporadic tracer bullet fire crisscrossing the city like so many crimson lightning bugs.

Had Handler Willy drop us at a darkened café at the edge of an exterior suburb where I had a contact. It was the only structure left standing in what looked to have been a grotesquely decorated south-western motif strip mall.

Hopped out of the passenger seat and reached back behind it to unlatch it for her. Quicker than I, she reached the seat handle, swung her legs over my outstretched arm, landed feet-first behind me, reached around to the passenger side floorboard and grabbed my camera bag from me. She, apparently, was less concerned with the moment we'd shared -- or my Pulitzer -- than with how much she could sell my equipment for.

To be continued.