Paint the City Red

With the last rays of the dying sun painting everything red, the city becomes, if not beautiful, at least tolerable. The oil slicks in the river shine bright crimson, the shadows in the street lengthen more and more, the noise of traffic dims as the few citizens still around hurry to get home before curfew. At night, when darkness envelops the buildings, the city looks even better. If only the night never ended, Juan thinks, at least he wouldn’t have to see how ugly the place is.

Juan never liked this city, not even a little. He feels he ought to, because being born and raised here has to count for something, but a lifetime in the city has only given him a lifetime of bad memories. A man like him has no need for sentimentality. Sometimes he’s tempted to pack his things and leave, to take his gang with him if they will follow him, and find another place to live. Another city that’s less ugly, less smelly, less noisy, less deadly. Tempting as that thought is, Juan always ends up staying, always will, even though if anyone asked he wouldn’t be able to explain why. Maybe because he knows that no matter where he goes, the whole world is rotten to the core, rotten like the mounds of garbage filling the streets.

On the night everything ends and everything starts, Juan is sitting at his favorite corner table at Charley’s, halfway through a glass of something that’s less tequila and more like something you’d use to clean an engine. He knows that something’s wrong the moment he sees Amira making her way through the dance floor. The place is packed as usual, but one look at her crimson headband and everyone hurries out of the way. Juan stares at her and tips back the last of the tequila. He has a feeling he will need it.


Green Planet

“Approaching destination. Planet’s denomination: K-72-13. Entering atmosphere in twenty minutes.”

The computer’s voice broke the silence in the transport’s cockpit. A previous pilot had programmed it to speak with a soft feminine voice, so Tyler couldn’t help referring to the machine as ‘she’. He hadn’t given her a name, though, and he tried not to humanize her too much. He saw how some of his colleagues lost track of reality after too many lonely flights and started talking to their computers as if they were their best friends. Tyler liked to think he was a calm, well-adjusted man, and under normal circumstances he preferred the company of other people to that of a disembodied voice.

Today’s passenger, though, was proving to be a handful even for him. Junior technician Mikhail Nikovic was squirming in the seat next to him, clutching the edges of his tool kit with his long fingers. He was a tall, lanky guy, almost as tall as Tyler himself, though you wouldn’t have guessed it by the way he sat with his shoulders hunched, leaning away from the control panel. Tyler ferried a bunch of passengers between the outer planets every month, but he had a feeling that he’d remember this particular one.


Black Hair and Bullets or A Matter of Honour

The shop was mostly silent that morning, save from the constant ticking of the mechanisms filling the shelves. Sometimes a voice would drift through the open windows from the Sunday market below, but today London’s usually crowded streets were almost empty. In the wake of the previous day’s celebrations, most citizens were still abed or resting at home.

Vincent Thorne didn’t blame them for being only too willing to take advantage of the national holiday generously granted by the king. The joint efforts of their army and air force had given the Empire a great victory in India, and it was only natural that everyone would be in great spirits. There had been dancing in the streets and a great display of fireworks and many pubs had offered a round of drinks on the house to anyone who wanted to toast the king and his men.