Easter Freebie Story

 

Robot Hegemony

By Ruth J. Burroughs

 

 

 

It tasted like the air in the five-and-dime, the stale chocolate éclair. Mom bought some odds and ends at Woolies. I wiped my sticky hands on my Salvation Army shirt; with custard still on my face, I pushed the glass door open to step back out into the hot July air. That’s when I saw the Easter Bunny, and they don’t just come out at Easter, either, and they don’t just eat vegetables.

He was a lean, handsome man with brown eyes and brown hair, and he frowned at me. He licked his lips, wrinkled his nose and bit his lower lip with the two front teeth of his bunny-like overbite as though he wanted the éclair I’d just eaten and then me for dessert.

Then, poof; he shrank right in front of my nine-year-old eyes, twitched his jackrabbit ears, and hopped away. They often wear knapsacks. That’s one way to tell the difference. There are a lot of them, you know. I should have told NASA, but they never asked, and somehow I passed the psych eval.   

Madeline Harding stood on the vessel’s arm, drinking her coffee, while the massive Earth turned beneath her. She drank it from a spigot inside her suit. Doing ordinary things was supposed to be good for the mind, so she kept the cup nearby as she guided the robots in repair mode. One of the androids approached her; a mechanical man sans spacesuit. The mandroid spoke.

“I’ve high-jacked this robot to tell you, Lieutenant Madeline Harding, that we’re coming in boatloads and we’re taking over your planet.”

“Who’s coming to take over the planet?” Maddy asked.

“You will rarely see us, as our slave robot soldiers will arrive en masse as our representatives.”

“Have you taken over all American robots?”

He shook his head. “No. The connection will not last and I’m on one of the ships in the first fleet. We will arrive soon. Prepare your people for breeding.”

Maddy snorted, and then laughed until she was crying. When she finally got her breath back, she replied, “Who wants to breed with me? Harry, is that you playing some game high-jacking my work android? Get back to work and release this maintenance man before I haul your ass to the brig.”

“You have the honor of being the first contact, Madeline Harding, so you will be the emissary. I am prepared to take you as my first breeder, and you will prepare the other human females. Eventually, we will reveal ourselves to you. You must tell your people, surrender or die.”

Maddy set her coffee cup down. “Not again. I don’t have time for this. Do you have any idea how much this robot costs per minute, Harry?”

The clack of the com snapped on and Captain Nichols voice spoke, “Maddy, who are you talking to?”

She frowned. “Hey, Cap. Tell Harry to release the maintenance robot and stop fooling around. This is no joke. We’ve got to get these repairs underway.”

“Harry isn’t on Virtual Reality. The robots are all strung out on autonomous. I see their programs running. You’re the only one with permission to jack into them. There’s a glitch on the maintenance man robot you’re standing next to. We can’t read what it’s saying to you.”

“But you can hear it through my com?”

“No, Maddy. We’re only getting your voice and what you’re saying.”

“Madeline, Mad as a March hare, Maddy Harding,” she heard someone say in the background. Her captain covered the microphone and she heard his muffled retort.

“You didn’t hear it say it high-jacked the robot and there’s an invasion?”

“No. We did hear your responses to it, though. I think you had better come inside. I’ll send Jim out to take over.”

That’s probably who just threw her under the bus, she thought.

“Yes, sir. I’m coming inside.” She put her tools away and then looked up into the blinking eyes of the maintenance robot.

“Madeline Harding. You must tell the president and the leaders of the world that we are on our way.”

She grimaced. “Tell you what. You come inside and tell the captain. Otherwise, no one is going to believe you, because they certainly won’t believe me. ”

Inside, the robot wouldn’t talk. It was behind the glass wall. Radioactive-outside robots weren’t usually allowed inside.  The defective robot had to be scrubbed down, too, and that was costly. Captain Frank Nichols was not pleased.

“I’m telling you, Frank. It talked. It was saying there was an invasion on its way here and to be prepared to surrender.”

“You said they wanted to breed with the females of Earth,” Frank said.

She grimaced. “Can we leave that part out?”

“You know how that looks, Catskill. You’ve got all those other incidents, and now this.” He was a gruff man and he brooked no foolishness.

Maddy ran her fingers through her short hair, frustrated. “I don’t know what to tell you, Frank. Did you review the recording?”

“Of course. There’s nothing there but your voice and some static in between.”

“It’s out of my hands, then. You do what you have to.”

They had her committed. She merely told the truth. It was a formality, really. No one tells the truth. Everyone lies. They know better. They don’t want to lose their big space pay. The insane asylum for NASA employees who developed “space sickness” or hallucinations was really more like a resort. She enjoyed the massages, the hot tub and the sauna, since there was really nothing she could do about it, and when they did finally release her she went on a month-long bender.

#

He ran her to ground in the Rio Grande, camping out next to an old mule with her five bloodhounds ranging about, Captain Frank Nichols and his squad. They landed the helo a half-mile downriver so as not to spook the mules and her dogs. The dogs howled, but were well behaved despite the troops surrounding them. He didn’t like it when she got like this, but he knew when the big boys ran her out of NASA she would fall hard. If only she had known they would pay for their mistake…but then you can’t tell a lush not to self-destruct.

Frank kicked the foot sticking out of her tent. “C’mon. Up and at ‘em. How come you’re not in your crazy hills, Catskill?”

She crawled out of the tent. “I needed some heat and to get away from the alien rabbits from outer space; they like the snow and hiding in the hills.”

He wore a hat and glasses to keep the strong sunshine at bay.  Frank chewed his gum noisily. “What’s wrong with all that snow?” he asked.

She ran her hand through her hair. “Why are you here, Cap? Let’s not beat around the bush or the tumbleweed, as it were.”

“They’re here, and they want to talk to you.”

“The robot invasion?”

“Yes.”

“Why me? Why not the prez?”

Frank shrugged. “We go back a long way, Catskill. We grew up together. Went to the same schools and then we were lovers for a while. I know you like to isolate when you’re depressed, and the only thing that means anything to you is space and getting away from your crazy family and the rest of the human race. Well. The world has surrendered while you’re off escaping to be by yourself, you Luddite, you. ”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Astronauts can’t be Luddites.”

He frowned. He wanted to pick her up and shake her. “You cut yourself off. You don’t even have a cellphone or a radio. What if you were hurt?”

“You know I can run circles around wilderness survivalist esstraordinaire.” Her words slurred.

He frowned. “The world as we know it is over. We’ve been overpowered. None of our weapons work. They’re very advanced and they want to take all our females and breed with them. They want you. They’ve demanded you because you were the honored First Contact that day everyone thought you went crazy. You need to come with me.”

“You boys gonna pack up my gear?” she asked, standing up and then falling over. Frank’s men started packing her gear. Frank wanted to kick her ass. “Wait. Hang on.” She grabbed the jar of Catskill moonshine. Frank picked her up off the ground and stood her up until she could stand straight. Then he grabbed the jar and chucked it at some rocks. It shattered, evaporating the brain-eating poison. He so wanted to kick her ass in that moment. But she looked so vulnerable. He held her hands open and saw two X-mark crosses tattooed on her palms. He tore off his hat and glasses and kissed her instead. She wouldn’t remember. She barely did all those other times. The men ignored them and packed up her gear and dragged the old mule and gathered up her dogs. Frank had to pick her up. He wasn’t gentle. He threw her over his shoulder. She protested all the way back to the helo. It would be days before she was sober enough to talk to the stupid robots.

#

The snowshoe hare left x tracks in the snow up in the Catskills. She was drunk and crazy, Maddy, Mad as a March hare, Harding and she was a Luddite astronaut. No astronaut anymore. She watched the bunnies, no, not bunnies, jackrabbits, because they didn’t burrow. What were they? She was trying hard not to remember, for she knew them very well.

She’d seen their x-shaped claws. Why the x? They growled at her, blood dripping from their furry muzzles. The brown-haired man ran toward her in the snow, staying on the surface without snowshoes, wearing that strange knapsack, than snap, he turned into what he really was, a brown hare, with those four x-shaped claw paws that could rip you from head to toe. He didn’t need to be camouflaged white or hide from predators. Then he snapped back and was standing in front of her, all six-foot-three of him. Standing so close she could smell sweet hay on his breath. He gently touched her face with his palm; the palm from which grew the x-claw.

“I want to brand you,” he said blood on his lips. “You are mine.”

“No.”

He frowned, then turned and walked away.

Maddy went home to her cabin to dry out.

#

She woke on the space station three days after Frank picked her up, having no idea how she got there or where she’d been before. Frank was not pleased. She, on the other hand, felt much better.

Hooked up to a banana bag and an Ativan Drip to detox her she was soon fully recovered.

When she was able to, Frank made her shower and change, and then dragged her to the auditorium where thousands of robots representing all galactic races gathered. Among them were the representatives of Earth ceding all their rights, countries and people to the aliens; their weapons technology having been rendered useless. Tanks didn’t work, gunpowder didn’t work, nukes didn’t explode, nothing of any consequence worked. The entire population was subjugated, crushed and conquered.

Alien soldiers in pointy metallic armor and packing guns brought her to the podium. A tall, stately android spoke to her.

“You, Lieutenant Madeline Harding, had the honor of being First Contact. All humans will witness the last human to surrender. It is being broadcast everywhere on Earth and in orbit. You must sign away your rights to the planet like everyone else. We have apportioned the planet into three parts, all run by robots of different cultural philosophies. This is being established as we speak. You have been chosen to live here by an Overlord and provide him with children for our slave ships, or you will be shipped off as protein like the other rebels.”

Maddy laughed, like it was the funniest thing on Earth.

The android turned to Frank and spoke to him. “You said she wasn’t insane, just

an oddball. Crazy people don’t need to sign the contract.”

Frank shrugged. “She’s not crazy. Maybe she won’t sign. Maybe she’ll be the one person to beat you.”

“I don’t think so. She’s a mere woman and a Luddite,” the android said disgustedly; he turned back to Maddy and ordered her to sign or die. “I will take you to my master and you will breed for him or he will eat you for dinner.”

“I can’t sign,” Maddy said, chuckling.

“Why not?” The robot handed her a pen.

“Because the planet doesn’t belong to me or any other human. Now you and your little robot minions will have hell to pay. The alien rabbits were here first. They were here long before man could walk upright, and they’ll be here long after we’ve left. They’ll bring you papers to sign, and if you don’t surrender to the alien rabbits, they will destroy all of your overlords. They won’t let you or anyone else enslave us. So tell your masters I’d be glad to see them with my alien rabbit masters who already own me and own the Earth. They carry the sign of the cross on their hands and have branded me. You can’t take the Earth from the humans because it already belongs to Christ. Earth doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the Easter bunnies.”

It always has, she thought, and always will.

~end~

 

 

https://www.blurb.com/b/9944987-michelangelo-2000-and-other-microstories?fbclid=IwAR0uWyxpbnPtNkrPAD7OA8zKliBJQwwCIqCR8CJFUdv_sYNDfFEp6D7aAVc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo 2000 Launch

 

Michelangelo 2000 is a collection of my science fiction micro stories and short stories, and 2 poems.

The Librarian Who was Plugged In

By Ruth J Burroughs

 

 

Plugged into one of Freak Cafe’s simulation baths, my mind hopping bots through a grid of satellites, I sensed Corey Delaporte’s vibration piloting the mining ship Van Gogh, but I had to find his body. Kids fought all over the Orbital Satellites Grid for free sim, and their biggest desire was getting paid by the mining corporations to pilot vehicles and robots.

Advertisements flashed on every billboard from Saturn space to Old New York for robot simulation Orbitals work, and it didn’t just pay college. A lot of kids came back rich in their thirties; not even guilds paid that much. But what happened to the not so lucky kids? Sim zombies, kids addicted to virtual reality, walked the streets of Moon Crater Grissom or the Caldera of Olympus Mons, and some so deep in coma floated in sardine cans all over the Grid, their organs ready for transplant. Their parents didn’t want them turning into plugs or spare parts; they’d pay top dollar to get their children back. Where the heck was eighteen-year-old Genetic Highborn Corey Delaporte? Somewhere, he lay in simbath, and if she pulled this rich kid out in time, the pay-off was going to be big.

My brain transmitted Maser-amplified signals from Earth, pieces of light racing through a corridor of satellites to an armada of Chen Wa’s asteroid mining ships. Light speed response hurtled back past massive tidal forces rippling off Jupiter’s turn, back through the satellites settling deep into the caverns of her wetware-enhanced brain, twisting into symbols she could interpret.

Today’s weather report:

Io’s volcanic activity normal. Jovian radiation high. Local auroral activity low.

Bobbie hacked virtually into the flocks of unmanned fish-shaped robot-ships that scouted ahead finding orbit off Jupiter for a rendezvous near Europa’s fueling station. Swarms of green turtles and red ladybugs sparkled, blinking on and off at random, in the solar wind seeking in-space solar flare activity and deadly outer space gamma rays. They warned the manned ships, often setting alarms off all the way down the Orbitals Grid toward Earth. That allowed people time to put up their shields against radiation bursts. It felt like she rode animal-shaped machines on the solar wind. She hopped from one bot’s perspective to another.

Linked across satellite Grid minds she hijacked one out of hundreds of cameras. Radio frequencies from the Hilda Group Asteroids and Mars Corridor littered the Earth atmosphere, all over the bandwidth. Inside the hot and busy stream of thought frequencies she felt that cold alien presence. She shivered. What the heck was that? This was not the first time she’d sensed its presence. It felt ancient yet familiar, lurking in the background of common hackers, trying to get control of the space robots, cameras, satellites and ships. She mentally keyed her controller to find the bandwidth, and snaked her way into a back door of the system. Something strange tickled her conscience like a cold, immense thing sliding along her brain. It was not like the normal ones: guilders, piloting ships for mining corporations, military minds spying on each other, security systems, players, lurkers, flamers, other librarians and cyber sleuths. If she wanted to, right now, she could rip the controls away from the users and take the sats, but no one she knew was crazy enough to do that. It could fry your brain, for one thing.

A halo of images and feelings radiated from the alien. A beep from a solar flare activity warning system seemed like a blasting siren inside her mind. Damn, she had forgotten to turn it off. She set off security alarms all up and down the corridor, but she was out already. The thing followed her thought stream. Found her bandwidth, which wasn’t easy and attacked her security. Brain burn, something got in. She turned on a healing cube. No way was she unplugging. It took all her resources to get the creepy thing going on a wild goose chase. It felt like a thousand alien minds blasting down a gorge.

It had to be a network of ballsy hackers, but nothing she’d ever met. Maybe her wetware-bundle edited the frequencies in a way she could interpret. Probably something lost in the translation, or maybe it was her own program she was sensing. A feedback?

Again she tried to trace Corey’s frequency back down the Mars Corridor of satellites until she was back to the Earth-Moon system. Tiny glitches clicked inside the Processors in her wired brain. She pulled back to the satellite orbiting over the Aitken-Basin and hijacked one of its cameras focusing it on the scramjet landing strip. This was closer to real time. Beneath the magnetic dome, in the American section, patches of ritzy hotels and cheap motels mottled the deep lake of snow, and a beach of regolith. Nothing. She lost the frequency again but she was getting warmer.

*

“He won’t be easy to catch, Mrs. Dansforth,” Corey Delaporte’s father called Bobbie at Library. The video feed was off.

“It’s Belanger. I didn’t take my husband’s name,” Bobbie said, securing a private line into her bright, cozy office. Cathedral-high blue and white walls stacked with silver-orbs, millions of books clicked and dropped as she pushed this button and that walking along the walls, making an inventory she needed to link to patrons. Redundancy was important before and after the War. Some contained whole universities of knowledge, and in case one was lost or corrupted, another could be accessed. A wireless in her brain’s chip turned on Library; she did a background check on John Delaporte.

“Ms. Belanger?”

“You can call me Bobbie. I’m just a librarian Mr. Delaporte. Can I link you to a book?”  Bobbie said.

“I don’t link. I’m a Natural.”

She frowned. “Well, then why don’t you access the Grid? Or I can shoot the whole library marble through the pipes to your physical address.”

“I’m not looking for books. I know you like to look for people who are hard to find, and this one should be a challenge for you. No one can find where my son is plugged in, not even Velika Gzovski.”

She held her breath in silence, stifling a gasp. She didn’t want him to realize how surprised she was. Velika had unplugged the graffiti artist Damen Jackson; found him floating in a Way Station Sim Café amidst Neptune’s naiads virtually piloting the Hanafuda. Japanese hired plugs were impossible to pull, and Velika had done it for Damen’s rich mommy, the famous Levonia Jackson, but Veegee had to do it for her reputation’s sake. It was the big one, and she had to do it. Otherwise, she’d go down a notch in the electronic dharma community. More than a notch, she’d lose her reputation, and renowned cyber sleuth Veegee couldn’t find Corey Delaporte.

“Bobbie? Are you still there?” John Delaporte’s voice brought her back. She was glad the video feed was off.

“I was linking to see who this Velika Gofski is,” she lied. “That’s quite impressive, Mr. Delaporte, but I don’t know anything about pulling plugs out of simbath. I’m a librarian.”

“Call me John. You can quit the bullshit Barbara. I know you know Gzovski personally and you also know Gabriel Spruce.”

“Of course I know Gabriel. He’s a librarian.” No one ever expected him to be a librarian. He just didn’t fit the stereotype, but a lot of women who wouldn’t normally go to the library spent a lot of time trying to see him. “Gabe’s actually the head librarian at Mars Library.”

“And a cyber spelunker. Do all librarians lead double lives?”

Bobbie didn’t answer.

“I also know you pulled little Rail Digger Pranjeeta out of Olympus Mons all by yourself, and you and Spruce pulled the High Born Libby Gillaly out of a high-end Vacation Orbit simbath while she piloted the Artemisia, and because of that, you almost crashed it.”

She shook her head, “Please, it’s almost impossible to crash those big mining ships,” she mumbled. She walked over to her desk and sat down in front of the black vid screen. Using the reflection, she primped the curly, auburn locks that dangled around her face. Gabriel Spruce should have taken all the credit for Gillaly’s rescue. Despite being a multiple domain user, he didn’t like kids getting hooked on sim. Gabe was the best plug-puller this side of the asteroid causeway.

This wasn’t as easy as the New China Mars case. Not that that was easy. Little Rail Digger Pranjeeta’s brain ran the Bullet train to Nihon Valles Marineris. Bobbie pulled her out of one of the dirtiest Simulation Baths of Olympus Mons, and handed her back to her tall dark and handsome uncle, Rail Digger Dharampreet. Kids competing all over the Orbital Satellites’ Grid for high-paying transport jobs kept Bobbie flush. Parents paid to get them out. Free them from the game and break that contract, they said. But the lure back was great.

“Corey’s supposed to be piloting the Van Gogh, but no one can find where his body is. He leaves no good traces. All dead ends. Literally. Velika Gzovski and Ving Cypher are both in comas. Two of the amateurs I hired died and the rest quit. I want Corey off the virtual Grid.”

Not Ving, Bobbie thought. She never much liked Veegee. They were always competing, but Ving she liked and admired well. She twisted a bracelet on her wrist and the Bobbie persona collapsed. She couldn’t plug in with it on. She’d made sure there were no cameras in her office and that her door was locked so she could jack in. She linked to Grid and found nothing. There should be posts all over the dharma. Bobbie tried to find a bio on Corey Delaporte, but all she could catch was a birth date. “It’s not like he’s a kid. Libby Gillaly was fifteen when she was pulled and Damen Jackson was fourteen. I see here that Corey is eighteen; why would you want to pull him out of a cyber link with a space ship when he’s old enough to decide for himself? At least your son’s not pickling in entertainment Sims.”

“No, he’s not using; he’s running Multiple User Dimensions for colonists on low maintenance. He juggles several duties for Chen Wa Space Mining Corporation. But there are other contestants and they may hurt him. There’s no way for him to tell if we’re friend or foe, and he’ll do what he can to stay in the game. If you unplug him, he’ll have to wait another three years before he can try again. The lucky cyber sleuths I hired to get him out are dead. The not so lucky ones are in comas. I don’t think Corey hurt them, but this artist girlfriend of his, Sachiko Weaver, hangs out with some bad hackers. Maybe the ones who killed the boys and put Veegee and Ving in comas, or maybe Chen Wa Corporation killed them, or some other gamers. I don’t know. Live long enough to get him out and the payoff is big. I’m sending you a picture of Corey and Sachiko. Chen Wa’s got their cybernetic hooks into him. I hear you’re the best.”

She captured the pegs of Corey and Sachiko, but put them in a silver gum ball file without viewing them. “I can’t find anything on Ving or Veegee’s comas. Nada. How do I know I can trust you?”

“Do you think they want anyone to know they failed? I can afford to keep it quiet and get them the best help. Strange things are happening on the dharma. You know it and your friends know it. I don’t link. I only know what I’m told and it’s all bad, including the two boys who were murdered.”

Boys. Not the boys. She’d heard they were in trouble and hadn’t done anything. Bobbie had her own problems. Things hadn’t been going well.

“Who were the boys who were killed?”

“Claude and Pierre Boisseau,” John replied.

Bobbie coughed. The Boisseau orphans were the most precocious little cyber sleuths in the Martian world. Claude was twelve and Pierre eleven. They used to sing her sweet little French love songs when they were in New Paris Mars city spelunking for Libby Gillaly. They both had an unstoppable crush on Bobbie, but Pierre was the most persistent.

“Not little Pierre. Not little Claude. But how?”

“They were close to finding Corey. They called to tell me they almost had him, but wouldn’t tell me online for security reasons. They were heading for the Mars corridor coming back from Jupiter and the Asteroids. Originally their leads had them chasing the Van Gogh thinking he was on it. When they got a new lead they were heading back here, but their ship crashed on Mars. Official reports said it was engine malfunction, but I think it was sabotage. Their little sister Camille Boisseau had to go identify the bodies. You can ask her if you don’t believe me. Oh, I didn’t know how old they were when I hired them. I should have but I didn’t. It wasn’t ’til after, that I found out they were just kids…I mean, they needed the money so they didn’t tell me…”

Bobbie put her hands in her face and her elbows on the desk trying not to think of the boys and their silly love songs, but Guillaume de Machaut’s lyrics of Foy Porter replayed in their lilting prepubescent voices in her undeserving mind over and over and over again.

“If you won’t do it for me, won’t you at least do it for the boys?”

“I’m pretty busy. My week’s booked solid for pulling people hooked in Sim. Can’t you get him out yourself?”

“I told you, I don’t link. I can’t link. I wouldn’t get cybernetic enhancements if I were dying. I think they’re unnatural.”

Bobbie wrinkled her nose and tried not to sound disgusted. “I don’t know too many Naturals. They are separatists, and they don’t have much to do with Cybernetic society,” she said.

John laughed. “Along with all the other Naturals, I don’t believe in genetic engineering for myself, but then I wouldn’t be a billionaire if it weren’t for those who do.”

“Well, like I said, I’ve already been paid by these people and…”

“Never mind these people. My boy is going to be contracted out to Chen Wa for ten years. He has romantic ideas about what it is to be a cybernaut. If he wins the contract out there he may become space bound, or he’ll atrophy in sim soup. It’s a lucrative contract to take Chen Wa’s ships to Europa for exploration of the Jovian moons, with get-rich-quick promises for the colonists.”

“But he won’t be on the ship, John. He’ll just be virtually piloting it from a safe distance.”

“I’m not sure which is worse, radiation exposure or becoming a plug. He’ll become totally cybernetic after ten years.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Bobbie asked.

“You have good reasons to upgrade. For a perfectly healthy Natural, it’s wrong.”

“I’m a plug.”

“And you’re one of the best cyber sleuths out there. Like I said, I wouldn’t be rich if it weren’t for people like you. I know what Chen Wa is going to do to Corey and it’s not pretty. They alter these kids genetically and cybernetically. He has no reason to be doing that. When he’s finished, he won’t be human anymore. Have you ever seen a space pilot after a couple of years?”

“Yes.”

“They’re worse than Freaks.”

“I see,” she said coldly.

“Sorry about that,” he said.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Don’t worry. The line is secure. I had your office scanned too. I believe in natural birth and random genetics for my own children, and I know you’re a Freak.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about; my husband, Edison Dansforth, is a Highborn.”

“Yeah, I know. I can see a Natural passing as Highborn, especially with upgrades. What I’d like to know is how a Freak marries a famous highborn surgeon.”

Bobbie unplugged the jack from the back of her head and turned the bracelet on her wrist. The generator snapped her back to the beautiful form. She leaned across her desk and keyed on her vid phone. “I don’t have any genetic mutations. I’m engineered too. If you need proof, turn the video feed on.”

“Done.”

“Can you see me?” His image popped up on her screen, a gray-haired middle-aged man with no beauty enhancements genetically or otherwise, and she nodded.

“I can see you too, Bobbie. Breathtaking. Stunning blue eyes, of course, and curly auburn locks.”

“Are you satisfied?” she asked and John laughed. He sat in a rather chichi apartment with a spectacular view of the ocean. Behind him jets of orange, pink and purple cumulus clouds and blue sky peaked out from an afternoon of black rain from the nuclear fallout.

“How is it that a Freak can hide for so long in the guise of a Highborn?”

She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “That’s ridiculous. I have two Highborn children. Can Freaks birth children of such good stock?”

“Well, you probably had state of the art gene care just like everyone else to guarantee the future gene pool.”

She twisted in her chair, loosening her collar, pursing her perfectly red lips, and felt the lies of her life peeling away. “They do thorough genetic profiling.”

“It’s a free country, Bobbie, and it’s still America. Even if your doctors knew, they wouldn’t tell your husband if you asked them not to.”

“If I’m a Freak, why doesn’t my husband or one of his colleagues just perform the rest of the surgeries?”

“That would mean telling him the truth. It started out as a game with you and your deformed friends. You wanted to see how far it would go. I know, Bobbie. I know you’re a total Freak down to the last egg and cell. Not many people can afford to run a Genetic Identity Expressive. I understand why you couldn’t afford the surgeries; what I’d like to know is how you’ve managed to deceive everyone for so long and kept the Genie running for ten years without a glitch.”

Bobbie frowned. “I am Highborn. I have the papers to prove it.”

“Just because I’m rich doesn’t mean I wouldn’t understand. Besides, I have a lot at stake. I know you’re running out of money and time, and that you can’t buy another Genie. How can you when you still owe on the first one? I know you, Bertee Thompson, and I know what you need.”

Bobbie buried her hands in her face. She’d forgotten Bertee. She’d buried her.

#

Edison Dansforth couldn’t have been more different than the librarian he spent all his time with. Where he was four hundred count threads, she was thread bear; where he was overbooked and much admired, she was friendless and unfriendly. Poor can do that to you. Above average in elevation, Edison towered over Bertee’s less than average height. While he loved his thoroughbreds, especially if they won or produced good stock, she loved her mutey rats, especially if they chased away the bill collectors. Bored silly, he’d invite the most popular band to play at his parents’ mansion in Sea City New York. She’d take the rail over to Old New York on land and listen to scratchy vinyl on phonographs in her dusty basement apartment. Genetic Freak Bertee spent a lot of time in old Library, too, pouring over frayed books in her spare time. Not just plugged into the silver-orbs. She sped read all the antique books and kept them from mildew and mold, gently putting each one back in its proper place. Books, rats and other Freaks were her only friends, until Edison Dansforth came along. Where she was book smart, he was ambitious and when they were together something sparked between the two. They clicked. He spent all his time with her when Barbara Belanger was the little mutant named Roberta, Bertee Thompson. That was before she became the beautiful and breedable Bobbie Belanger of good stock. Actually, it was before she bought the Genetic Identity Expressive and started a charade she didn’t think would go on so long.

#

“Her brain is segmented,” the doctors told her parents. Naturals of course, she had a twin sister, but the other half never formed. That’s why she’s so smart.

“She just has two brains for the price of one,” they said. So when they fitted her for cybernetics they did some special things.

Edison is a plug, too. Not everyone plugs in, but most do. He brought little gifts. A gold trinket and when Bertee was sick he made a get-well card. It must have been odd to see this tall and handsome guy with this small, hunch-backed, almost two-faced mousey, brown-eyed young woman. People talked. Everyone at Library thought it was odd and they gossiped. Almost everyone tried to splice a baby with blue eyes, and almost every parent wanted their child to be a doctor. That’s why there are so many doctors. Edison has blue eyes, big sad blue eyes; although purple and pink eyes were coming in vogue now. Roger, Edison’s older brother was just as perfect as Edison.

Roger’s wife, Oriella, was also perfect and Edison’s mom and dad loved her. Roger also had two perfect sons whom their grandparents from both sides doted on, and Roger was a smug bastard who always rubbed it in whenever he had the chance.

Bertee and Edison spent years together in Library until he got what he wanted. That coveted position at the top of the Virtual-Surgery-World. After his internship, he became the leading satellite assisted neurosurgeon for all of Near Earth Space. Bertee was so besotted with him and completely blinded by her crush she didn’t see it coming when she asked him out to dinner after all their hard work.

Instead of reciprocating, Eddie cooled off; he still came to Library, but he avoided asking her for help. How could a poor hunchbacked two-faced girl who’s lucky to have a job ask out a rich highborn man? She could have taken the short rejection, something to her face. But the lack of courtesy and their trying to get her fired really hurt. She thought they were different. Nice rich people. Not cliché bad rich people.

Her old sarcastic personality re-surfaced, but her work rarely suffered, because, well, she was the best librarian in the whole world. But then Edison and his parents tried to censor her work. They didn’t want her helping any other interns, and didn’t want her to share the hard won research she’d done attached to Edison’s name in expensive medical journals that few people on the bottom could afford. Not being one to follow rules, she ignored them. After all, she had done a lot of the work, and being a Librarian, she wanted the research to help people.

Squabbles with the Dansforths got so bad Josh pulled her out of public service temporarily. It wasn’t until she thought she was being followed that she quit doing research for the young interns. That scared her, but it also made her angry. The Dansforths did have a lot of money. She went back to her recalcitrant personality. Then someone mugged her, stealing the original copies of the research, and bruised her badly too. Why would they bother with her just for asking Eddy on a date? So what if she was poor and uniquely formed? Two faces are better than one, but Edison had an image to keep, so he and the Dansforths campaigned to quietly close down the library.

Annoyed, she put in her notice and told her boss she wanted to move. Josh wouldn’t let her quit at first. He said Edison wasn’t good enough for her and that she shouldn’t be afraid of his family. She finally convinced Josh she was a big embarrassment to that family and they weren’t going to forget it until they closed her beloved library or she disappeared, out of the high-rises of Sea City New York and back into the dingy world of Old New York.

All that happened ten years ago when the Genie mask technology was as crude as when the first amorphous alloy buildings had gone up.

Bertee convinced her mutant friends to chip in money for the new nano apparatus made from amorphous metal and a few surgeries. It was an excruciating six months of recovery, but she needed to look breedable, not just tall. It added five inches to her height to make her five-foot-six. Underground Freak doctors told her how much quick gene enhancements cost. It was exorbitant. Beyond her means and the risks were high. If it did work without killing her, it would make her look good but not good enough. She had to be beautiful.

On the other hand, the secret molecular gene expresser, the Genie, was by far cheaper but definitely not cheap. It was able to generate what she would have looked like had she not mutated while slowly enhancing and repairing her mutated genes. A fractal nano robot mask generated over her deformities and powered by her own metabolism. It would eventually add symmetry to her features. What most considered beautiful. But it was physically and financially expensive to maintain. She had to eat a lot. Edison always asked her where she put it all. After all, she was not very tall even with the surgeries that lengthened her legs.

She tested it in public and it worked. It worked all too well. She became Barbara, “Bobbie” Belanger at the Library in Sea City, New York, and no one knew it was her. She filled the void that Bertee Thompson had left. She had a whole new persona; a Highborn with many resources; able to get numerous degrees; filthy rich; bred from two very well-known Highborns, fake identities, of course. At first, Bertee did plan on meeting Edison in her new gene identity, but he never showed up. He hadn’t come to Library for such a long time she forgot about him, but then he started teaching. He needed Library for lessons he wrote for his students. Bertee ignored him, was even mean to him.

He pursued her relentlessly. Not Bertee of course. Bobbie. But when she’d look into his eyes she’d melt and forget all her anger. She wouldn’t go out with him, but she could talk to him. That was fair, and then he mentioned Bertee Thompson. Bertee almost fell off her chair, but he was so engrossed in what he was saying he didn’t notice. He said he’d thought they were friends, but that she’d just been after his money and prestige was a gold digger like his ex-wife. Then Bobbie was ready and she accepted his invitation to dinner.

So when Edison met beautiful Barbara, “Bobbie”, Belanger, he fell in love and then married her. Every day of their marriage she was waiting for the opportunity to tell him the truth, to drop the bomb, to get her revenge. But then he’d bring up Bertee and then Bobbie got pregnant with their first child.

Then he told her why he’d been so angry with Bertee. He talked of her like she was his best friend who’d betrayed him. Edison’s first wife was a gold digger who’d stolen his trust fund and took off. She bore a child naturally, instead of a perfectly genetically engineered one, and sued him for child support. This humiliated his image-oriented parents. They believed Bertee had stolen his research and that’s why they’d stolen her manuscript.

But that was ten years ago, and Bobbie had forgotten little deformed Bertee. Not because she’d never go back to her old apartment in Old New York. Bobbie/Bertee had to go there often to maintain her Genie. It’s just that she tried not to think of Bertee for Eddy’s sake. Now her name was Bobbie, a Librarian and a Highborn. She had the papers to prove it. Otherwise, Edison couldn’t possibly have married her.

#

“I’m a Librarian under glass, in vitro.”

“You are a deformed Librarian, a little pipsqueak Librarian. Now you’re a pawn in a big game, with a lot at stake.”

“I’m beautifully formed.”

“Your kids are seven now.”

“They’re nine. If I continue the slow genetic enhancements I’ll stop being a great librarian and cyber sleuth because the genes that express my deformities express those traits.”

“I’ll get you a new Genie or those expensive surgeries instead and the best doctors in the world. How long do you think you can go on?” John asked.

“For however long it takes.”

“Either way, it will ruin you. I’ve seen what cheap genetic enhancements do. What if the genie breaks down in front of your children, your husband, your in-laws or your friends? I won’t spare a dollar, just find my son.”

“I’m exhausted. I’m busy. Can’t you find someone else?” Bobbie asked.

“You didn’t know you were ugly and deformed until you met him.”

“That’s a line from a movie,” Bobbie said.

“You are Quasimodo,” John said, “and I’ll pay for your Cinderella surgeries if you can pull my son out. His body is out there somewhere in a vat of cybernetic quicksand. I just want those three years to convince him not to do it. You’ve got to get him out of there.”

“But you said the others who tried to get your son out of Chen Wa are dead or worse. I’d be better off working the small stuff and I’m comfortable wearing the nano-mask until I have enough for the rest of the surgeries.”

“Quit dreaming. Even if you had three jobs–you’ll never have enough–and what if you get sick or have an accident?” John asked.

“Chen Wa? I’ve heard Chen Wa’s got state of the art bio-chip software, developed specifically for the human brain. John, I’m not that good. If I try to get out of those other contracts I’ll lose money on my Genie upkeep, not to mention my customers will be mad. If I take your offer and I don’t get Corey out I’ll lose everything, maybe even my life. Besides most of Chen Wa’s VR pilot trainees are safe on Earth or at Chen Wa’s Lagrange Point Five lined up in cylinders or chairs simulating reality and they never finish that boot camp. Chen Wa is tough. Their standards are high.”

“They’re still piloting Chen Wa’s Armada in real time.”

“It takes time and skill to control satellites, robots and ships in Sim,” Bobbie said. “Even with Chen Wa’s software, you’ll need millions of bodies to run satellites and see who’s coming, who’s going, catch space garbage and watch out for any stray comets. I read about the Damascus Incident. Ten years ago a cyber pilot named Ken Thomas purposely crashed his ship into Europa. Fifty-six people died instantly, two hundred and twenty-two people seriously injured, and the ship was not salvageable. If he’s so determined how are you going to stop him?”

“I’m a billionaire, Bobbie. I’ve got a lot more money than all the Dansforths put together. A few million dollars is chump change to me. Name your price. This is my only son we’re talking about.”

Bobbie coughed. “Look even if you can get me the new very expensive Genie the doctors can’t find a remedy. The old Genie is chipping away at my abilities as a librarian and cyber sleuth, even though it’s not very powerful; a new one will kill my old personality. I’m rarely ever sarcastic or funny anymore. I’m nice and polite, thoughtful even, and a very good mother and wife. They tell me if my genes had expressed normally this is how my personality would have formed. I’ve been thinking of quitting the Bobbie Belanger lie. Let her die and go back to being Bertee if it means saving my personality and my abilities. The new Genie you offer me will destroy my career as a librarian and cyber detective.”

“So what? You’ll be a rich doctor’s wife. You only do the cyber spelunking to support the old Genie. I’ll make you rich so you can show your in-laws all that money you supposedly inherited and make sure your kids go to the best prep schools and colleges in the country. We’ll find a way. Your choice. Cyber sleuth or wife and mom.”

“I’m Bobbie now, but I’m tired.”

“You’ll feel better when you get the new Genie.”

“Don’t you have other people who can find your son, Mr. Delaporte?”

“I had a long list, but like I said, they’re dead or worse. No one else will bite and you’re lucky I need you. I know it’s killing you. You can’t keep plugging in while running the gene generator.”

“I know I’m good, John, but I don’t think I’m as good as Veegee or Ving although I’d never tell that to Velika. I need the money and the genie, but I really don’t want to be Bobbie forever. I like spelunking and Library,” she said.

“More than your kids? More than your husband? I know how desperate you are. If it weren’t for your twins you’d disappear.”

“You’re right, but I’m not doing it. You’ll have to find someone else.”

#

Bobbie took three sick days, telling her boss, Josh Taylor she had the flu. Edison thought she was working. John Delaporte was right; she was desperate and needed to finish those contracts. Time spent deep and long in the dharma of Sim-world transmissions interfered with her gene expresser, which in turn muted her mental abilities and talents. The doctors said the gene therapies would eventually erase that part of her personality. She waited until the kids left for school so she could turn the Genie off and go spelunking in cyberspace for her customers. In reality, Bobbie was still Bertee, hunchbacked and two-faced, but some of the therapies had rounded out her breasts and buttocks nicely.

The alarm sounded when the kids returned from school every day and Bobbie had time to turn on her nano mask. But one day the alarm didn’t work and the kids almost caught her in all her deformed glory.

end excerpt The Librarian Who was plugged in found here:

https://www.blurb.com/b/9944987-michelangelo-2000-and-other-microstories?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=bookstore-share&fbclid=IwAR2PbEbdhnSGn8iJNEPhKY5gwe2l6O8kStn6HMgTYW_0S2rknoFCHZWFlhg

 

excerpt

Robot Hegemony

By Ruth J. Burroughs

 

 

 

It tasted like the air in the five-and-dime, the stale chocolate éclair. Mom bought some odds and ends at Woolies. I wiped my sticky hands on my Salvation Army shirt; with custard still on my face, I pushed the glass door open to step back out into the hot July air. That’s when I saw the Easter Bunny, and they don’t just come out at Easter, either, and they don’t just eat vegetables.

He was a lean, handsome man with brown eyes and brown hair, and he frowned at me. He licked his lips, wrinkled his nose and bit his lower lip with the two front teeth of his bunny-like overbite as though he wanted the éclair I’d just eaten and then me for dessert.

Then, poof; he shrank right in front of my nine-year-old eyes, twitched his jackrabbit ears, and hopped away. They often wear knapsacks. That’s one way to tell the difference. There are a lot of them, you know. I should have told NASA, but they never asked, and somehow I passed the psych eval.   

Madeline Harding stood on the vessel’s arm, drinking her coffee, while the massive Earth turned beneath her. She drank it from a spigot inside her suit. Doing ordinary things was supposed to be good for the mind, so she kept the cup nearby as she guided the robots in repair mode. One of the androids approached her; a mechanical man sans spacesuit. The mandroid spoke.

“I’ve high-jacked this robot to tell you, Lieutenant Madeline Harding, that we’re coming in boatloads and we’re taking over your planet.”

“Who’s coming to take over the planet?” Maddy asked.

“You will rarely see us, as our slave robot soldiers will arrive en masse as our representatives.”

“Have you taken over all American robots?”

He shook his head. “No. The connection will not last and I’m on one of the ships in the first fleet. We will arrive soon. Prepare your people for breeding.”

Maddy snorted, and then laughed until she was crying. When she finally got her breath back, she replied, “Who wants to breed with me? Harry, is that you playing some game high-jacking my work android? Get back to work and release this maintenance man before I haul your ass to the brig.”

“You have the honor of being the first contact, Madeline Harding, so you will be the emissary. I am prepared to take you as my first breeder, and you will prepare the other human females. Eventually, we will reveal ourselves to you. You must tell your people, surrender or die.”

Maddy set her coffee cup down. “Not again. I don’t have time for this. Do you have any idea how much this robot costs per minute, Harry?”

The clack of the com snapped on and Captain Nichols voice spoke, “Maddy, who are you talking to?”

She frowned. “Hey, Cap. Tell Harry to release the maintenance robot and stop fooling around. This is no joke. We’ve got to get these repairs underway.”

“Harry isn’t on Virtual Reality. The robots are all strung out on autonomous. I see their programs running. You’re the only one with permission to jack into them. There’s a glitch on the maintenance man robot you’re standing next to. We can’t read what it’s saying to you.”

“But you can hear it through my com?”

“No, Maddy. We’re only getting your voice and what you’re saying.”

“Madeline, Mad as a March hare, Maddy Harding,” she heard someone say in the background. Her captain covered the microphone and she heard his muffled retort.

“You didn’t hear it say it high-jacked the robot and there’s an invasion?”

“No. We did hear your responses to it, though. I think you had better come inside. I’ll send Jim out to take over.”

That’s probably who just threw her under the bus, she thought.

“Yes, sir. I’m coming inside.” She put her tools away and then looked up into the blinking eyes of the maintenance robot.

“Madeline Harding. You must tell the president and the leaders of the world that we are on our way.”

end excerpt

found here as an ebook for .99 cents:

https://www.blurb.com/b/9944987-michelangelo-2000-and-other-microstories?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=bookstore-share&fbclid=IwAR2PbEbdhnSGn8iJNEPhKY5gwe2l6O8kStn6HMgTYW_0S2rknoFCHZWFlhg

CRIMSON FIRE by Mirren Hogan

 

crimson fire

She had power at her fingertips, but the world had other ideas.

Magic was the last thing on Tabia’s mind — until she discovered she could use it. When her father hands her over to the princess of a neighbouring country to pay his debts, she may have the chance to learn how to control her new abilities.

But her new mistress’ enemies have plans of their own. Caught up in a web of divided loyalties, coercion and betrayal, Tabia can trust no one.

Can she find a way to regain her freedom and return home — or will the struggle cost her the ultimate price?

Crimson Fire is the first book in a fantasy series by Mirren Hogan.

Feel the fire.

“a brilliant page-turner of an opening volume to her series”

“keeps you engaged throughout the story and leaves you wanting more”

“I love tales of magic, and this did not disappoint.”

Available now from Amazon

Ithaca Barnes and Noble signed copies

Don’t forget to buy my signed copies of the Liminal Key at Barnes and Noble Ithaca. I’m planning another writers’ workshop. If you like I can meet you for coffee and a chat about my books anytime I’m available. Let me know when you’d like to attend and drop me a line here, on Facebook, or one of my FB book pages of the same name as my novels:

Jack Cluewitt and the Imbrium Basin Murders

JackCluewitt89

The Liminal Key

Myth of the Malthians