Mar. May 26th, 2020

OMICRON CHRONICLERS: Dinner for one

IN OMICRON CHRONICLERS: Bruce Golden share your short story «Dinner for one»

By Bruce Golden

Though his eyes routinely adjusted to the dimly lit basement, Karl’s nose never did. The stench was inescapable. Even his nose plugs didn’t help much. But dealing with garbage was his job now. He cleaned it up, he dumped it, he hauled it. Better the garbage down here than the squalor up above, he thought. It was up there, in the courtrooms and detention blocks of the Hall of Justice, where all manner of filth and human carrion flourished. Scumbags and gangsters, predators and panhandlers, mutants and misfits–they were everywhere. They inundated the streets, invaded the entrails of residential complexes, spilled over into the libraries and the markets. Karl loathed them all.

The sound of more refuse sliding down one of many chutes disrupted his inner litany of grievances, and, like the echoing of a gong, sent him grudgingly back to work. He unlatched the catch-all from its position, pushed it aside, and wheeled an empty into its place. A hunk of sodden paper and a half-eaten piece of rotten fruit were stuck to the chute’s mouth, so he climbed up to scrape it off. Up close he saw it was a peach and what looked like wads of wet tissue. Even through his glove he could feel the slime as he stretched up to wipe away the congealed mess. He clenched his teeth and grunted a curse, half-wondering who above could afford a fresh peach.

After a while he became lost in the monotony of his work and the basement gloom. Even the putrid odors surrounding him seemed to recede. He knew it must be late afternoon, and that meant only a few more hours before he would be home, where a rare treat awaited him. He was going to eat steak tonight–real beef steak, not soy byproducts or compressed vegetable matter, but real meat. He hadn’t had a real steak in . . . he couldn’t remember exactly when it had been. The failure of so many farms and ranches made such delicacies expensive. This one time, though, he had saved enough to indulge himself.

He could almost hear it sizzling under the broiler. He imagined the aroma and the flavor of the meaty juices as they flowed over his tongue. He had some seasonings somewhere. He’d–

«Leander? Where are you?» A familiar voice interrupted his culinary reverie. «It’s always so darn dark down here. Karl, are you down here?»

It was Walt, one of the roving security monitors. He came to the basement whenever he wanted to take an unofficial break. He was a misguided oaf who jabbered incessantly, but Karl endured his visits because . . . well, because they helped break up his day. Besides, he didn’t have much choice.

«Of course I’m here, Walt. Where do you think I’d be?»

«I don’t know,» Walt said, lumbering down the stairs. «Sometimes they got you cleaning upstairs. Oh, there you are. It takes a while for my eyes to adjust.»

Walt sat at the foot of the stairs, as he usually did, and pulled out a candy bar. Karl was continually amazed the stench never affected his appetite.

«It’s sure a hot one today,» he said as Karl continued to work his mop. «You’re lucky you’re down here where it’s cool. It’s a zoo upstairs. They’re always busier when it’s hot. The crooks come out of the woodwork when the weather’s like this–God forgive them. You know this world would be a better place if everyone found God. You too, Karl. You’d look at things a whole lot different if your spirit hooked up with the Holy Ghost.»

Karl ignored Walt’s spiel, as he always did. He strained to visualize the steak again, but couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t long before he found himself tuning into the pious windbag’s diatribe.


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«. . . ozone’s getting worse. Them radiation levels, or whatever they call them, are going up. I heard a report there’ll be even more mutants being born because of it. As it is now, Beth and I don’t let the kids out till after sundown. But where’s it safe to let kids play after dark with all those hunger riots?

«Hey! I’ve got a new family photo, one of them 3-D jobs. Here, take a look.»

Karl stopped his mopping and pretended to glance at the picture, but he didn’t want to see Walt’s family. He didn’t want to be reminded.

«See, that’s little Timmy and Peggy Ann, and me and Beth of course. You got any family, Karl?»

«No!»
The terse reply silenced Walt for a moment, but it didn’t keep him quiet long.
«Yeah, I guess I asked you that before. You know, children can be a real blessing, Karl.

Of course, Beth and I thought long and hard before we decided to have kids. What with all the mutants being born, and the Antarean refugees crowding in everywhere. Our alien brothers do tend to be extremely prolific–God bless them. But we prayed over it and decided that God put us on this world to be fruitful and multiply, so what the heck.»

«Damn aliens and their droids are everywhere,» spoke up Karl. «You can’t walk down the street without bumping into one. It’s not as if we don’t already have enough immigrants from all the gutter countries.»

«I know what you mean, Karl. Though it’s not very charitable of me to say, I’m sure our off-world visitors are contributing to all the shortages. It seems like our monthly allotment is never enough. Just last week one of them random blackouts hit Timmy’s school and they sent all the kids home.

«You used to be a teacher, didn’t you?»

Karl flashed him a look that said he wasn’t going to answer, so Walt went on.

«You know, I understand some of those Antareans have heard the word of God. Born again right here on Earth. It’s enough to make a man get down on his knees and shout ‘Hallelujah!’ I truly believe in live and let–»

Walt’s com-flap squawked with static, and Karl was tempted to thank a deity himself.

«Walt, you there?»

«Right here. What’s up?»

«We’ve got a toilet gone berserk on the fifth floor. The whole place is flooded. Go down to the basement and get Leander up here.»

«I’m on it.» Walt stood. «Well, you heard him, Karl. Looks like they need you upstairs, and that means my break is over.»

Walt started back up the stairs and Karl jammed his mop into the water bucket. The only thing he hated more than cleaning up garbage was cleaning up after filthy degenerates.

**** Emerging from the Hall of Justice Karl traded the reek of garbage for the grimy smell of

smog and the stink of dried urine. Outside, a familiar billboard greeted him–a monstrous sign, 80 feet above ground and a good 50 feet across. It featured a well-covered citizen, a blazing sun, and the warning «Mega Watts not Mega Burns.» It was an old sign, one that seemed superfluous now.
The real sun was about to drop below the horizon, and the tableau of reds, yellows, and oranges combined with the smoggy haze to give the city a hellish hue. To shield himself from its lurid glare, Karl covered his eyes with dark glasses and stepped out into the teeming multitude. Compared to his basement’s quiet seclusion, the clamor was almost deafening. It was all he could do not to cover both ears with his hands and shout for silence.

The streets reminded Karl, more than anything else, of where he was and what he’d lost. Sidewalks swarming with humanity and its galactic offshoots, streets choked with bikers, skaters, and all manner of rollerboarders. He despised them all. The crush of bodies was even more overwhelming, considering only those who had to be out would be. Those who could, would remain inside the safety of their homes. Streeters would be seeking shelter in whatever shady refuge they could find. They wouldn’t come out until dark, when hunger drove them like rats.

It was still hot outside, much hotter than Karl remembered the June evenings of his childhood. He wondered if it was the dwindling ozone, or only his fading memory. But there were things he didn’t want to remember, so he didn’t wonder for long.

Street vendors and pedi-cabbies and beggars called to him. He ignored their mercenary cries and hurried to catch the next solarbus. Pressing through the wall of bodies to get in line, his skin began to itch, as it always did in such proximity. Too many people. Too many germs. A festering population of cranks and freaks and wireheads. He cursed them and wished they’d all go back to where they came from.

Ahead he saw a woman with sunken nostrils and no lips. He thought she also might have a third breast, but he couldn’t be sure. The sight of the mutant was all the reminder he needed to turn up his coat collar. Like everyone else on the street, he was fully covered despite the heat. Hats, umbrellas, overcoats had all become commonplace with the rise in solar radiation.

Karl reached under his tattered cap and scratched at the itch behind his ear. As he did, someone bumped into the mutant woman, or perhaps she tripped and fell on her own.

She didn’t say a word or make a sound, and the dense flow of pedestrian traffic kept moving around her, creating a momentary pocket. Karl hurried by, pretending not to notice.

He got into line as a group of children who’d disembarked from the solarbus passed by. He scanned their faces, a bit too eagerly, trying to see through the shadows created by their little parasols. But he didn’t see who he was looking for. He never did. He scratched his neck and shuffled forward a few feet as the line gained momentum. He tried to concentrate on what awaited him at home–tried to ignore the stifling throng. It’s what he did every day. Even those days when he had nothing to go home to.

**** Karl took a deep breath and released it, closing the door behind him. His hunched shoulders relaxed as if he were tired of holding them up. He activated the door’s locking mechanism and set the alarm.

The day had faded and very little light flared through his solitary window, so Karl reached up and furiously rubbed the glowbulb in the wall next to the door. The friction soon built up enough of a charge for some faint illumination.

The heat inside was oppressive, but he knew he couldn’t afford the air conditioner’s drain on his allotment. He began peeling off layers of clothing, all the while trying to convince himself it wasn’t that hot.

He thought about the meal awaiting him, the steak he would broil to perfection. As he disrobed, he walked to his tiny bedroom and dropped the clothes onto the bed. He looked at the picture frame on the wall, as he always did. It was a nice frame, with an intertwining black and gold design–an expensive one, and an empty one.

He kept meaning to take it down, but he could never bring himself to do it. Each time he looked at it he tried to imagine Kevin’s face. Yet, with each passing week the mental picture he carried of his son grew less vivid.

A crashing clatter from outside his window, followed by the bellow of an argument, caught his attention. Most of the time he was able to block out the steady hum of street noise, but at times it was too loud to ignore. He decided to utilize a portion of his allotment on some music. That wouldn’t expend much energy. He chose a soothing ensemble of woodwinds and waterfalls, and went to the kitchen.

He rubbed up another glowbulb until it had a good static charge and opened the refrigerator. There it was, not too large, but worth every dollar he’d spent. He began unwrapping it, inexplicably gratified by the thick texture of the butcher paper. His nostrils caught the faint, almost-forgotten smell of beef, and he imagined how it would taste with the salad and red potatoes he’d saved to go with it. It was the first steak he’d had since . . . since Helen had taken Kevin and gone away.

She’d told him the city was too crowded, too infested with criminals and perverts, but he’d insisted he couldn’t leave his job. He told her teaching positions were hard to come by, and that his job gave them some security. He hadn’t realized how determined she was, how little she must have cared about him. Damn her! She’d taken everything, even all their pictures.

The grim joke was, he’d been so distraught over losing his wife and son, he’d lost his coveted job. That was more than two years ago, and he was still looking at empty picture frames and keeping the world at a bitter distance.

A little garlic salt, he thought, some pepper, a dash of cumin, if he had any. Most nights he wouldn’t bother much with dinner. He’d radiate some pre-packaged, ready-to-serve meal and be done with it. Tonight, though, would be different. Tonight it would be a labor of love.

When he was done preparing the steak he placed it gently in the oven, punched the broiler setting, selected medium rare, and turned to prepare the rest of the meal. Almost immediately the music stopped. A familiar dying whine issued from the refrigerator. He’d lost power.

A quick glance out his window told him it wasn’t a regional blackout, so Karl hurried to his residential powerpack and discovered his last cell completely drained. He cursed the world and slammed the powerpack as if he could bash it back to life. Still two more days until he’d get next month’s allotment, and, without refrigeration, the steak would spoil. Even if it wouldn’t, he didn’t want to wait two days. He’d thought of nothing but that steak all day, and he was going to eat it tonight if he had to break up his furniture and burn his books. He was angry enough to do it–but the building’s flame sensors would have doused his cooking fire and sounded an alarm for which he would pay a sizable fine. You couldn’t even burn a candle in the city anymore without special dispensation.

He wanted to lash out and break something, hurt someone. Life had become a multi- limbed miscreation that bound and suffocated him, whipped him until the pain made him numb. It was the numbness that reminded him how useless his outrage was.

There was only one thing he could do. He figured he might have enough money to buy a power cell. He’d never bought a black-market cell before, though he knew it was a common, if illegal, transaction. He wasn’t sure exactly where to go or who to ask, but he knew someone on the street would be selling. He hated the idea of going outside. It was bad enough during the day. At night it was no place for a civilized person. But he was going to eat that steak if it was the last thing he ever did.

****
The sun had retreated, and the low-pressure sodium lamps lining the streets had begun to shed their orange pall over the city. There were still plenty of people out, but most were streeters with nowhere else to go. More and more emerged from their daylight havens. As their empty bellies began to growl, Karl knew they would gather and grumble and fume. Emboldened by numbers they would spread through some unlucky neighborhood, demanding food that was not theirs, food they had not worked for. He didn’t have much, but at least he earned what he had.

It was a warm night, like so many nights seemed to be now, and most of the people Karl saw had shed their protective daylight apparel for less modest garb. Now that they could display their wares, a host of tawdry hookers had taken up positions along the sidewalks. From what Karl could see, business was brisk.

Squads of police began arriving at standard staging areas, encased in protective body armor, carrying tear gas launchers and stun weapons. They ignored the hookers. They had more volatile problems to deal with.

Maybe Helen had been right. Maybe he should have quit his job and left this festering hellhole of humanity. Maybe . . . but it was too late for maybes. She and Kevin were gone, and he was here.

The moon peeked over the horizon, bright with the promise of cool radiance. With sunlight now toxic, the moon’s glow had become a symbol of purity. It was even the focal point of a new religion. Just what the world needed, Karl had thought scornfully when he read about the Lunarians and their rituals, more crazies.

He fought against his own repulsion to approach several strangers, but the conversations proved fruitless. They either couldn’t help him or wouldn’t. He was ignored or brushed-off or threatened. They were animals and he detested them all.

Just when he thought his spite might get the best of him, a woman walked out of the shadows, adjusting her minimal skirt. It was obvious to Karl she was selling it . . . or he was.

One look at the size of her arms and Karl wasn’t sure. Another pervert.
«Hi, honey,» she purred, «want to have some fun?»
«No thanks,» growled Karl, still trying to decide what might be under the skirt. «I’m looking to buy a power cell. Do you know where I can, uh, get one?»
«You don’t need no juice, handsome. I can give you a charge right here.» She moved closer as if to touch him.
Karl did a quick backpedal.
«No, sorry, no.»
«Okay,» she said, her sugary inflection replaced with one of boredom. «You want

Roblevo. He’s always got juice for a price.»
«Where can I find this Roblevo?»
«Down there, honey,» she said, pointing, «corner of Mollison and Third. He always shows up there sooner or later.» ****

When he arrived at the intersection he saw a street vendor unsuccessfully promoting his wares to a passing couple. Karl hesitated, then walked up to the vendor.

«Are you Roblevo?» he asked.

«No, can’t say that I am,» replied the vendor jauntily from behind his portable stand. «The name’s McCloud–Big Loud McCloud to my friends and clients. The Roblevo you seek does hang in these parts. No doubt he’ll be along soon. But in the meantime, friend, let me show you the latest in solar powered timepieces.» He held up a wristwatch that didn’t look much different than any watch Karl had ever seen.

«I don’t need a watch,» said Karl sullenly.

«This isn’t just a watch, sir. No, this is not the antiquated sundial of your glorious ancestors. This is a chronometer of the finest caliber, featuring the latest technological

advances acquired during mankind’s quest for the stars. This scientific wonder not only calculates the time for any time zone on or off planet, it can do so in four different languages. Meanwhile, it’s keeping tabs on your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and–»

«I said I don’t need a watch,» Karl interjected abruptly. He wished this Roblevo fellow would show up soon. He was getting hungry, and he didn’t like being outside so long.

«I understand, friend,» the vendor continued undeterred. «You’re obviously a man who isn’t ruled by time. Not to fear, I have a wide assortment of items for your perusal. Perhaps a pocket pouch made of the finest synthetic leather, or one of these handcrafted dolls for your child? No? I have concert tickets, theater tickets, tickets to balls and ballgames. I have–»

«Do you have any power cells?» asked Karl, interrupting the spiel again.

«I am shocked and chagrined, sir,» the vendor said with as much sincerity as he could muster. «Surely you know the unauthorized sale of P-cells is illegal. Big Loud McCloud is a reputable merchant who adheres strictly to all civil and moral codes.

«Perhaps, though, I can interest you in the power of the Lord, good sir. I have some pocket Bibles printed on the highest quality paper, guaranteed to provide you with spiritual enlightenment up until the day you receive the call.»

Karl shook his head and impatiently shifted his feet.

«I’ll tell you what, friend. With any purchase I will give you, free-of-charge, a personal aura reading. Surely I must have something you’d like to take home with you.»

«Aura? What aura?»

«Your aura, friend, is the light of your soul. During a spiritual journey I once took through Tibet, I learned how to read and interpret the aura that envelops each of us. And I must say, friend, the dark gray hue of yours is a might distressing. Are you ill?»

«I don’t want anything, and I don’t want my aura read!» snapped Karl. «I just want to find a power cell and get home.»

«You lookin’ for juice?»

Karl turned at the sound of a bellowing voice. A hulk of a man stood there, his long, thick arms dangling at his sides. A dull expression tempered his face, and his clothes looked like something a streeter would throw away.

«Well, you lookin’ for juice or what?»

His size and demeanor made Karl apprehensive. «Yes, I need a power cell. Are you Roblevo?»

The expressionless giant didn’t reply, but he motioned for Karl to follow him.

As he trailed behind the brute, wondering if he were being foolish, Karl noticed the dark street getting even darker. He looked up. A thick cloud bank was moving in, blanketing the sky and blotting out the moonlight.

The giant stranger led him a short distance to a spot where there were few people about. Waiting for them was an Antarean. It was shorter than Karl, though its diamond-shaped head gave it the appearance of being taller. It was leaning against a wall, smoking a cigar.

The fact it stood on two tentacles and waved the other two about like arms didn’t make it any more human in Karl’s eyes. He fought back an impulse to turn and flee, and choked off a cough when he got close enough to smell it–not the cigar, the Antarean. They all had that same smell.

«Lookin’ for juice,» said the giant, taking up position behind and to the left of the Antarean.

«Roblevo,” said the voice from the alien’s mobile translator. «What may I do you for?»
«I need some wattage for a residential power pack,» said Karl.
«How much you need?” asked the Antarean, its grotesque mouth wrapped about the cigar

as its translator did all the talking. «Just one power cell.»

One of the thing’s thick black tentacles reached into its pouch and pulled out a cell. It extended the cell to Karl, who took it gingerly, cringing when his fingers brushed against the clammy, scaled appendage. He looked it over.

«How do I know it’s fully charged?»

The Antarean stared at him for a moment, its two black eyes burning with what alien emotions Karl couldn’t begin to guess.

«How does . . .” Static squawked from the translator. The Antarean reached up and slapped it. «How does the wind know which way to blow? How does a chicken know how to fly?”

Karl shifted his feet uneasily. “Chickens don’t fly,” he said.

The Antarean moved closer, slightly tilting its pointy skull towards Karl. “How do you know I won’t have my friend Geek here cut your throat and take your money?”

Karl glanced nonchalantly to his left, trying to determine a direction in which to run. «How much?» he asked, his voice trembling.

«Twenty.”

«Twenty?» complained Karl. «For one cell?»
«It’s primo juice,” said the Antarean, seeming to shrug its version of shoulders.
Karl didn’t want to argue. He paid for the cell and moved on.
In his haste to get away from the Antarean and its henchman, he didn’t pay attention to

where he was going. It wasn’t long before he realized he was lost. He wasn’t used to being on the streets, especially at night, and now he was completely turned around.

As he searched for a familiar landmark he heard something behind him. Had the Antarean sent the one called Geek to follow him and take the rest of his money? It would be just like an Antarean, thought Karl. Well the joke would be on it, because what he had left wasn’t worth stealing.

Maybe they were lunatics who’d kill him for sport. Or maybe it wasn’t the Antarean at all. Maybe it was some desperate streeter, or one of the mutant gangs he’d heard about.

There was another noise, louder and closer. Karl panicked at the sound and took off running. He hadn’t gotten far when he hit a dead end–a wall scarred with graffiti phrases like «Mutants Suck» and «Feed me or Kill me.»

He searched the darkness for his pursuers, listening to the silence, tasting his own sweat. Hearing and seeing nothing, he retreated until he found a way he hoped would lead him out of this hostile maze. He moved carefully, avoiding the piles of refuse in his path. He thought maybe he’d lost whoever was after him. Yeah, he thought, street trash would be the type to give up easily. They’d lose their appetite for trouble if it became too much work.

He followed a chain-link fence for some time and began to relax. He still wasn’t sure where he was, and was trying to decide which direction to take, when something came at him out of the blackness. A massive dog, barking bloody murder, threw its forepaws against the fence, making clear its intentions to tear out his throat.

Karl backed from the fence and ran. He knew he had to move fast. The barking would attract the scum who were after him. He ran until he was gasping for air, until he saw lights and heard the clamor of shouting. He ran for the lights. As he got closer the pandemonium grew louder. Suddenly, as he emerged into an open area, he collided with someone and went sprawling.

Momentarily stunned, he struggled to his feet and found himself being swept away by a mob of angry streeters. It was all he could do to maintain his footing as he was pushed and bumped from every direction. It was bedlam. A swell of noise engulfed him, distraught screams punctuated by angry shouts. He saw some people making a futile attempt to organize the mayhem, but they were swept away unheeded. Glass shattered nearby and he ducked out of reflex.

«You are ordered to disperse,” bellowed a machine-like voice. «All those not leaving the area at once will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. You are ordered to disperse immediately.”

Karl couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, but he knew he had to get away. He knew what would happen next. He’d seen the video reports all too often.

«We want food! We want food!» The shouts began somewhere off to his right. There were only a few voices at first, but in seconds the cry spread virus-like through the rabble, and thousands were chanting, «We want food! We want food! We want food!»

He heard several explosive pops and the crowd surged. Panic created a domino effect, and a wave of bodies slammed him and dozens of others to the ground. Those who weren’t knocked down began to run, though no one seemed to know which way was safe.

Once he was back on his feet, Karl saw the gas clouds and the brilliant eruptions of flash grenades. All around him was disorder and confusion. Before he could decide which way lay escape, an excruciatingly bright burst of light materialized at his feet.

Karl grabbed at his eyes and cried out. He fell backwards but bumped into something that kept him upright. His eyes burned and his head pounded with a rogue rhythm. He tried opening his eyes, but all he saw was light, a blinding, brilliant glare and nothing else. The pain and the loss of sight unhinged him. All he could think of was that he was blind. He staggered off, calling out, «I can’t see. Help me. Please, I’m blind, help me.» But his cry was one of hundreds.

He kept moving as best he could, and after a short time the chaos shifted away from him. He realized he was easy prey now. The thought fed his hysteria, and when he tried to move faster he stumbled over some unseen hazard.

Exhausted, his head and eyes still throbbing, he kept going, prodded by the dread of his own imagination. The longer he couldn’t see, the worse it became. He stopped calling out,

afraid of whom his cries might attract. He was sure someone would see him soon, but who would that someone be? Using a wall he had come to as his guide, he felt his way along, taking one step after another until, abruptly, he took a step into nothingness.

He plunged downward, hitting hard and tumbling headlong over uneven concrete. When he hit bottom he was only partially conscious. He lay there for a long while, assessing his injuries. He hurt, but wasn’t sure if he’d broken any bones. He tried to open his eyes. The painful flash was still there.

«Hello?» It was a child’s voice. «Are you okay?»

«I need help. I’m blind,» called Karl. «I fell down here and I need help getting up.» «I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.»

«I’m not a . . . please, I need help.»

He waited and listened, but there was no response.

«Are you there?»

Nothing.

«Where are you?»

Damn little rodent has gone off and left me here thought Karl. Probably an ignorant streeter kid, a wild little animal. He tried opening his eyes again, but instead of one bright blaze he now saw several brilliant dots. In between there was only blackness.

«See? Down the stairs. He says he’s blind.» It was the child’s voice again.

«You down there.» This time it was a woman’s voice. «What’s wrong?»
«Something blinded me, a flash grenade or . . . I don’t know. Then I fell down here.» «Can you get up?»

«I don’t know. My ankle might be broken.»

«Well, see if you can get up. I’m coming down there, but don’t try anything or I’ll gut you.

Iris, you stay here.»

Karl managed to get to his feet, and when he did he thought he saw something moving. He was banged up, but he didn’t think any bones were broken.

«Okay, there are stairs right in front of you,» she said. He felt her next to him now. «Step up and I’ll help you.»

It was slow going, but when he reached the top he could tell his vision was returning. The glare began to subside and, despite the spots, he could see more clearly. He looked up, saw the clouds pulling back from the moon, and breathed a sigh of relief.

«I think my eyes are clearing up.”

«That’s good,» said the woman.

“I was scared I’d never see again,» he said, still looking at the moon through blurry eyes.

«Thank you for your help.”

«Don’t thank me, thank my daughter, Iris. She’s the one who found you.» Karl looked at the little girl. Even through his fuzzy vision he could see her

imperfections. She had no hair, not even stubble, and both her ears were swollen and disfigured. Her mother appeared normal enough, a streeter from her clothes. But the genes the woman had passed on to her daughter had obviously been damaged. Too much exposure thought Karl.

«Thank you, uh, Iris. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along.» He turned to the mother. «If you could direct me back to Third Street, I won’t bother you anymore.»

«It’s right down there,» she said, pointing behind him.
Indeed, he’d gone almost in a circle. He could see the street vendor still in place, hawking

his wares.
«Well, I uh . . . thanks again.»
He checked his pocket as he walked away, limping only slightly. The power cell was still

there. It had been a long, hellish night, but he’d have his steak after all. He passed by the vendor who recognized him and called out.

«Get your juice, friend?»
Karl nodded.
«Well, good night and good living to you then.»
Karl had anticipated having to dodge another hard sell, but the vendor had apparently

given up on him. Like Karl, he knew a lost cause when he saw one.
Lost causes–that’s what he was. That’s what this world was, his world, empty and barren. An odd feeling came over him. It was an urge he hadn’t felt in a long time. It was so

unexpected, he didn’t even question it. He turned back towards the little stand and eyed the vendor’s merchandise.

«Change your mind, friend? Something I can show you?» «How much for one of those dolls?»
«For you, only three and a half.»
«Oh. I’ve only got two.»

«Two it is. Sold to the power seeker with the limp.» The vendor made the exchange, looking at Karl as if trying to be sure of what he saw. «Your aura, it’s altered. Very unusual for it to happen so fast. I see some color in it. Looks like you might be a healthy blue with a little work.»

«Yeah? Well, thanks.»

Instead of turning towards home, Karl made his way back to where he’d fallen. A short distance from there he found Iris and her mother. They seemed surprised when he approached, but didn’t move.

«This is for you, for saving me,» he said, handing the doll to the little girl. Then he asked the mother, «Are you two alone?»

«Just us,» she replied warily.

«Well, uh, my name is Karl–Karl Leander.» He held out his hand and she hesitated before lightly shaking it.

«Selene Eos.»

«Selene, I’d like to find some other way to thank you and Iris. Who knows what would have happened to me if someone less charitable had come along.»

«We are who we are,» she said, shrugging.
Karl thought about it for a moment and then asked, «Do you like steak?

Photo: Imagen de Squirrel_photos en Pixabay

Bruce Golden

Bruce began his professional writing career as a freelance journalist, publishing more than 200 magazine and newspaper stories ranging from in-depth profiles to feature stories to satirical commentary. He worked for 14 years as an editor, and was the founding editor/art director responsible for the creation of five different publications. 

In 1985 he was chosen to be the head writer and associate producer of a comedy/variety show involving more than a hundred actors, writers, musicians, and dancers. In 1986 he wrote a teleplay that was optioned for Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. However, the program was cancelled before the script could be produced, so Bruce rewrote it as the short story “Common Time,” which was named as a semi-finalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. An augmented version of the story was published many years later in Brutarian, as well as publications in Romania, Greece, Canada, New Zealand, and England. 

Bruce’s endeavors in journalism, comedy, and screenwriting, though fortuitous for the accumulated experience, side-tracked him from his first love–fiction. Sandwiched around being drafted into the Army, he earned a degree in English/Creative Writing from San Diego State University, where he was encouraged to write by the same professor who mentored noted science fiction author Greg Bear. 

At the onset of the new millenium, Bruce walked away from his journalistic career to devote himself entirely to writing fiction.  

The first novel Mortals All (Shaman Press) revolves around a futuristic love story with a backdrop concerning the civil rights of artificially created humans.  Asimov’s called this book a “fine blend of social satire, irreverent anti-establishmentarianism, and pseudo-hardboiled narration,” adding “Golden writes with zest and good pacing, his relatively short chapters oscillating among many points of view.” 

Bruce’s second novel Better Than Chocolate (Zumaya Otherworlds) is a quirky futuristic mystery written with undertones of satire and social commentary. It follows San Francisco Police Inspector Noah Dane, who, while hunting his partner’s killer and investigating a pair of seemingly unrelated murders, stumbles onto a conspiracy that threatens all humanity. Much to his dismay, his new crime-fighting partner is a Marilyn Monroe celebudroid.  Asimov’s Science Fiction says of the book, «If Mickey Spillane had collaborated with both Frederik Pohl and Philip K. Dick, he might have produced Bruce Golden’s Better Than Chocolate.» 

Web site: http://goldentales.tripod.com


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