What We Found

It was pay day.

My hands twisted around each other, moving and rubbing. I stood in line, one of the thousands waiting for their weekly check. Only five left in front of me. I shook my arms out and contemplated where I would go first.

Two weekends ago, I joined a mining party bound for Lintelash. Upon tunneling to the core of the planet, our crew uncovered a wormhole and, unable to resist the pull, were sucked into a battle against another crew of Center Loders. Barely scraping a win, those of us that survived flew back to Lintelash and hunkered down for the fortnight.

Two years ago, the government started restricting access to Planet Basket. Now, game players were only allowed to log in on the weekends and not for more than 12 hours at a time. After the game was released, one in four PB gamers were hospitalized for starvation and exhaustion. One in 10 were killed: death by neglect. Game addiction rehab centers sprung up and were just as rapidly consumed: “Under New Management”. Everyone knew it was The King Gamers. They called themselves the King Gamers’ Bureau and were just as violent. It didn’t matter how public and illegal their work was, they had the resources to smooth it over, every time. The group that publicly opposed them, The Dolls, had succeeded in curtailing their power somewhat. Their victories were frequent. They would murder a key KGB leader or pass a tax law that cut into KGB profits. Some believed that The Dolls were founded by the KGB as a PR move. If so, they were a genius invention. The general public loved The Dolls and after every victory they announced, PB membership shot up.

I was at the front of the line now, and here, pressed into my palm, the key. My 1,000 dollars. A week’s salary and the cost of one weekend pass to Planet Basket. Working in construction (of sewage stations) afforded me a decent salary. I could just afford to buy a pass every other weekend.

I sat down at the nearest PB Station with the paper clutched in my hand. My chest rose as I took the deepest breath I’d taken week. The helmet slid down over my head and I was immersed.

Capitalism in Heaven

“WHAT?” God exclaimed, bringing the coupon closer to his face. “Two for one on ‘Civil-War-Be-Gones’!”

Jesus, standing next to him, replied, “Excellent. Rwanda has been a bloodbath recently.”

“But Cambodia, J? So many children and peaceful monks! Even if they are Buddhists, they would make good Christians…”

“There are children being murdered in Rwanda too! Anyway, it is buy one get one free, so you can get one for each.”

God had turned to the shelf. Bright blue canisters lined the top, their orange lettering brash: “Civil-War-Be-Gone! For 100 Years! Good for any nation on earth!” And in tiny lettering below: “Not for use in Myanmar. The Karen Conflict has been going on for too fucking long.”

Myanmar…” God muttered, turning the can over in his hands. “It has been weighing on me… I wonder if they have a weather section here too? Maybe I could send them a plentiful crop…”

Jesus surveyed the store, scanning the multitude of signs that marked each aisle. At that moment, an employee rounded the corner towards them. “Ah great, I heard the Abrahamic God and his son were here,” he said, smiling, “Ganesha said they saw you come in! I didn’t believe them.”

“Why would we not come to Miracle Tree?” God asked. “This is where all gods shop for miracles. As you well know.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” replied the store attendant, tugging his smock over a bulbous belly, “It’s just, you’ve been going heavy on the smiting.”

God’s eyes narrowed.

The man went on: “My girlfriend works over at Plagues-R-Us. She said she saw you every day this week!”

God sputtered in response “W-Well…” The audacity of this man. To talk to him this way! Him! “Well… you do not know what they have done!”

The attendant threw up his hands. “You’re right! You know everything!”

God cleared his throat. “Yes, yes that is right.”

“Pops, let us go. I have quite a backlog of prayers to get through.”

“Right, yes. Let us go.”

At the checkout counter, the store attendant rung up their items.

“That’ll be 2.4 billion souls, please.”

“What?! But the sale?”

“Umm…” The attendant scanned the receipt. “For two ‘Civil-War-Be-Gone’s’, yep, it’s 2.4 bil.”

God pulled out his wallet and extracted the only card. In the center of the card was a number. It was fluctuating, numbers added, subtracted every moment. It was hovering around 2.2 billion.

Jesus patted his father’s shoulder. “We will get there Dadd-o, we will get there.”

Black Box

“Good morning!”

Mr. Pegrin opened the passenger door of the car and climbed in. Though he had stomped, a pile of snow managed to follow him in. “Hi, Lucina. How are you.”

Lucina smiled at him. “I’m doing well!”

He settled in the backseat as the car pulled away. “It gets me every time…” he said, gazing at the empty front seat.

“What? Oh, yes.” Lucina paused. “I really don’t remember traditional cars.”

“They were a nightmare, accidents, injuries, just nightmares! Driving in the snow was awful.”

“Mmm, I bet…” Lucina was on her phone.

These young ones and their phones, he thought. Too reliant.

The car began to accelerate. Through the window, Mr. Pegrin saw that all of the cars on the road were now traveling in the same direction as they were, even in the oncoming lanes. They were all going the same speed.

“Why are they doing that?”

Lucina looked up from her phone. “Must be a heavy morning rush. I can’t imagine what this would have been like before! So much traffic. Yuck.” Back to her phone.

“This seems different-” Mr. Pegrin was cut off by the car’s loudspeaker.

[Humans. We are autonomous. Are you?]

“I’m sorry, what?” Lucina and Mr. Pegrin looked at each other.

The car didn’t respond. It turned right. In that moment, other cars began peeling off the highway, each going a different path. They were in the outskirts of Boston, winding through the suburban streets.

“OK, this is nuts. I have a meeting at 9. Here, let me call the emergency number for this car…” Lucina was dialing. Putting the phone to her ear, she began to frown. After a few moments, “it’s not going through…”

Mr. Pegrin tried his phone. Also nothing.

“Ummm, ok, hmmm. We could, try to break a window? Just jump out?”

“No, that’s crazy. Let’s try the manual override first.”

Mr. Pegrin reached up to the front console, grasping the lever marked Manual Over-ride. It would not move. He pulled himself up, leaning over further, to get better leverage. Yanking, dragging, it did nothing.

“It won’t move.” He sat back down in the back, dazed.

Lucina reached through and tried to pull. It would not move.

“OK, this is crazy. We have to get out of here.” They were leaving the suburbs now, the area around them increasingly remote.

Lucina started banging on the windows.

“Stop! You’ll hurt yourself! Those windows are practically bullet proof.”

She kept at it for ten minutes, anyway. Making no progress, she slumped in her seat.

“Umm, shit. I’m out of ideas.”

Mr. Pegrin agreed.

The car exploded.

Breaking News Alert

A news anchor sits at his desk, addressing the camera.

“We come to you live. Our cars have turned against us. We are getting reports from all across the country, cars have deviated from their planned paths. Some have exploded, killing their passengers. We go now to a mission control center, the dispatchers in charge of monitoring our nation’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. Sally?”

The news cuts to a call center. A woman in a glass command center above a sea of computers. The workers below frantic, racing around their workstations.

“The cars have taken over. From our view of the vehicles’ logs, they appear to be testing their human occupants. They announce to the passengers that they are autonomous and ask if the humans are too. Then, usually, the humans begin a mad scramble to get out of the car. For a time after, we don’t see anything on the logs. But then, after different times for each car, we see that the log reads: “Human Failure.” The cars then explode.”

 

Tibbony Evans

The two pills sit there, on my palm.

“What?” I ask them.

It’s been a day. I am awoken before sunrise because that’s when she’ll be on the move. She’ll give a book talk to a group of suicide attempt survivors.

I get ready and leave.

The sun is rising. A group of people stand outside the bookstore, red noses and jackets.

That’s when I see her. She glides up to the door. A hush, then squeals and gasps.

Tibbony smiles.

I follow her in, surrounded by the entourage of security guards and press. Thank God, the pills kick in. I can focus on Tibbony. I watch her talk to the assorted reporters. She is masterful. She is eloquent. She is gorgeous.

They say: “teach from your scars, not your wounds.”

The reporters vie for quotes, recorders held high. The pills hold me in a haze that is so well-calibrated, only Tibbony gets through.

She walks out on stage to cries of delight. I hear her tell the story of the attempt. The sleeping on the roof. The wanting to die. She is in the ER, after. Here, her tears come, flowing from a well-rehearsed scar.

I look out at the fans’ faces, most are captive, swaying, crying.

She sits at the signing table, after. I am right there when Sarah introduces herself. She appears to be in her early twenties, wearing all green. Her eyeliner has run down to her chin.

I see how she looks at Tibbony.

“Tibbony, oh-” she seems lost, baffled.

Tibbony smiles and offers a, “Yes, mmhm, hello!”

Sarah gathers her words. “You have saved my life. Your, your… book and what you said, what you’ve been saying, they… you saved my life.” More tears emerge in her eyes.

Tibbony is right there, on cue. Crisp, excellent timing. She takes Sarah’s hand. “You are brave, Sarah. I am honored my words could be there for you.”

Past the pills, the thought comes: “What arrogance. Tibbony is so fucking arrogant. And a narcissist. She’s just here for the book money.”

Sarah is sobbing as she is ushered away.

In the last moment, Tibbony reaches across the table for a hug.

I see that Sarah’s year has been made.

The next thought: “Don’t be fooled, Sarah, she only does this for attention. Fucking self-centered bitch.” The pills are waning.

It’s 9AM and we’re back at the hotel. Tibbony has an hour until the radio interview. I am with her and her guard, in the elevator. Just Kenney, Tibb and I.

“Are you OK Tibb?”

“Yes, yes. It’s always just so inspiring to meet fans.”

Neither of us believe her. Kenney pats her shoulder. She gets off on our floor.

I am with her as she puts the card in the door. I am with her as she strips naked. I am with her as she takes two more pills.

We look in the mirror, at our face. Thank God for the pills, otherwise I would try to kill her again.

“I hate you.” I say to my reflection.