Happy Valentine's Dave

Dave was practically born and raised on the Streets of Sim City.  He
had a lot of things going for him in a lot of ways, and he usually
fucked everything up anyway.  His dad said to him sometimes, Dave, if
you put half as much energy into just about anything besides fucking
everything up, imagine where you could be.

Dave disagreed, but didn't tell his dad so.  Dave was kind of a quiet,
incommunicative guy.  His dad more or less was too, aside from giving
him shit.  Dave's only escape was the Streets of Sim City.  He would
spend hours making a map then import it into the game and fuck
everything up.  He loved how free-form it was.  He got it down to a
science, practically.  The game wasn't even that good to be quite
honest.  It had basically flopped, it was an awesome idea that fell
far short of delivering.  Dave made up for the shortcomings of the
product in his own mind.  That little pixellated bullshit could be a
hooker, for example.  He just figured that would spice things up
enough to hold his interest.  It didn't really, but he enjoyed fucking
up the map anyway.

Dave took to that game like a duck likes water.  He played the shit
out of it.  His dad was pretty upset with him for doing not a damn
thing else most of the time than play this game.  He could spend a
whole day making a map in Sim City, then half a year on its virtual
streets, not even really adhering to what the game offered, just doing
whatever he wanted.

Dave fucked a lot of things up, it really had to be acknowledged.  His
dad was getting pretty frustrated with him, sitting there fucking
everything up.  He spent a lot of time on AOL looking for people to
play the game with, but he almost never found anyone interested in it.
Occasionally he would find someone, but they were always such
incredibly weird people.  Dave didn't really think about himself that
much, but these weird fuckers who would play this game, it was so
weird.  Dave spent probably...  Well how many hours are in a
teenagehood?  Dave spent his life on this game.

He had probably one friend.  He would look at his buddy, the guy must
be his best friend.  Dave didn't think too much about himself.  He was
usually thinking about this game.  He would skip class to play the
game, he would fuck up social engagements to play the game, and his
buddy would try to bring him along, like, Dave, let's go to the mall,
we can check out some other games, like, Dave, you know there's more
in the world than this game right?  Dave always thought his friend was
a super weird guy.


The years passed.  Dave had a really hot girlfriend.  Actually more
than one, at different times.  Dave wasn't a player.  He really loved
those women.  He would really draw them in somehow.  It didn't make
sense when Dave got older, he thought back on it, like...  how had he
managed that?

His friend went off to a different college, far away.  They sort of
kept in touch, but Dave wasn't very communicative still.  He wasn't a
player, but he probably hooked up with these beautiful women just by
lying to them and a little bit of luck.  Dave probably missed his
friend in downright latent homosexual ways.  Dude was a bit of a
fruitcake, deep down inside.  He wouldn't have ever thought about
something like that.  Dave was always focused outward, not inward.  He
didn't think a lot about himself at all.

He gradually forgot about that game.  Somehow he played it less and
less.  He flunked out of college.  Everyone around him was flunking
out on drugs or popular games.  By then he had learned not to ask
anyone if they wanted to play Streets of Sim City with him.  He kinda
kept to himself mostly, but it stopped being so fun to just play the
game all day.  He felt he had to hide the game, really.  His
girlfriends never knew about his obsession with that game.  Gradually
it faded on its own.  The girlfriends left him, one by one.  They
eventually noticed the same thing his dad always said.  He was a
fuck-up.  So Dave flunked out without even playing a cool game, he
lost interest in the only, rather stupid thing that mattered to him,
and he moved back in with his dad.


His dad was like, "ok, Dave.  You're my son, I accept you, you just
gotta help around the house.  I can tell you're starting to get it
together.  It's a huge step that you're not playing that game anymore.
College really helped you even though you flunked out." He said that
kind of thing.  His dad had clearly grown a lot also.  Something just
didn't add up, though.

Dave was pretty sure his dad was fucking one of his ex girlfriends.
He didn't even care that much.  Dave just kind of lost interest in
anything.  He slept a lot, he didn't help around the house like his
dad said he had to, and things gradually went to shit.  Dave stopped
showering, brushing his teeth.  He used to be such a neat freak.  One
day he caught his ex girlfriend right there in their home.  So that
proved it to him.  He didn't even flip out, she did.  She was like,
"Dave..." She figured it was her fault.  She was completely shocked at
what a mess he had become.  She broke down in tears to him in apology,
saying she never meant to hurt him, his dad was just sexy as fuck, all
kinds of stuff, sobbing.  Dave just stared at her kinda, it didn't
occur to him to say much, he was just his typical self, as far as he
was concerned.  He knew it wasn't her fault.  He probably should have
pointed that out, but he just kinda stood there completely silent,
smelling and looking like a homeless person.  His dad threw him out.


Dave somehow ended up in a group home instead of just homeless.  He
didn't think about it that much.  In the group home there was this
really weird guy.  He had to be the weirdest person Dave had ever met.
Dave wanted to just poke the guy, like, is this guy real?  Turned out
the guy was on all kinds of drugs.  Dave couldn't even remember his
own history with drugs, it hadn't really been a thing for him, but it
was always kinda there.  He had tried all kinds of drugs, he would try
some drug and just be like, whatever.  Like, people enjoy that?  He
got thrown out of a gathering once, where everyone was on some
stimulant.  Dave had done it along with everyone else, and gotten
completely pushy about the Streets of Sim City.  It had not gone over
well, and he had left under quite a threat.  Drugs just never were his

The thing about this dude in the group home is he listened to Dave
about that game.  Dave didn't even have a computer in there, he didn't
have a way to show the game to the guy, but he would listen for hours.
Dave spent almost as much time talking to this guy about that game as
he had ever spent playing it.  He couldn't even remember that guy's
name now.  The guy would talk to him for hours too, about something or
other.  Dave never listened back.  Dave thought about that.  Later
when he would remember, with a glimmer of introspection, it eventually
occurred to him that maybe neither of them had been listening to the
other at all.  Was that guy even real?

In the group home they had Braveheart on two old VHS tapes.  How many
times did they watch that?  Dave couldn't remember a single thing
about the movie.  They pretty much just had that for a movie
collection, and watched it over and over, and for some reason Dave
couldn't remember a single thing about it.

Social workers would come to the group home occasionally, and ask Dave
weird questions.  They would try to get Dave to go see some kind of
head doctor, and Dave would kinda play along, usually not showing up
for any appointment.  He would get out of it one way or another.  He
would get on the bus to go, he would tell everyone he had gone, and
they never really checked.  Where did Dave even go when he wasn't at
the appointments?  He couldn't remember.  Maybe he did go to the
appointments after all and just didn't remember.  For some reason that
didn't make any sense to him.

Seems like Dave would often end up at a park, maybe.  He would take
the bus to the appointments, without much intention, and he would
always end up at this one park.  The park was in the middle of a road,
kinda.  It was like one long park in the middle of the road.  The
weird guy from the group home would meet him there.  There were a lot
of bums and addicts in this park.  Always some kind of shenanigen or

There was a small pond at one end of the park, with some ducks in it.
Dave took to feeding the ducks like he took to playing that game.  Now
the weird guy and him had something in common.  They would talk about
the ducks to each other.  Like, Dave was on the same page with someone
else about fucking anything for once.

One day in that park, Dave bumped into that same ex girlfriend.  She
mistakenly assumed he was doing a lot better.  The truth was, in the
group home, they just told them when to shower, brush their teeth...
Dave played it off really well.  He explained to her he was, yep,
things were going really well.  He had moved out of his dad's place.
Neither of them really got into that awkward subject much further.  At
the end of the conversation, the girl seemed to want to continue it.
Dave didn't really want to or not want to.  The girl pointedly said to
him she hoped to see him again sometime.  Dave agreed, and said it was
great to see her.  For some reason, Dave never went back to that park.
He avoided it like the plague.


After that day in the park, Dave started to just go to the
appointments.  He figured it was kind of gay of him later, but he
thought of that male doctor along the same lines as those girlfriends.
The dude really dug for him to say stuff though, it was hard to keep
lying.  Dave took to spending time at the group home writing stuff
down.  He would write notes about what to say to the doctor, prepare
himself.  He got kind of creative at it.  He would go to a session and
judge the doctor's reactions, and make minute adjustments for the next
visit.  He wasn't sure what he was even going for.  It was aimless,
but fun.  He built quite a story for the man.

Sometimes he could tell it was all starting to crumble, and Dave would
start crying.  He would just start bawling there right in the doctor's
office.  It really was sad to Dave.  The thought of his psychiatrist
seeing all the way to the bottom of his soul, the thought of the story
collapsing in on itself, how angry and upset the doctor would be...
Dave would just start crying like a baby.

At the bottom, of course, was that game.  Dave didn't want to have to
explain that to anyone.  The game, sure.  He knew enough not to ever
mention the game to the doctor.


Dave knew a little bit about programming.  It had never really
occurred to him in a more general sense than making that game do some
weird thing or another.  He wasn't really what you would call tech
saavy, even.  He was so fixated on this game, it never occurred to him
any application beyond the confines of some little universe of a Sim
City map.  He was actually good at it too.  The company that made that
game would have hired him, they would have paid him for what he ended
up with.  He really improved that game tremendously from the market
flop it had always been.  It didn't even occur to Dave it was like, a
skill.  He didn't think of himself as a programmer at all.  He never
looked much further than that game.

He had a rough understanding of what various types of software were.
There were like, the various parts of the game.  He understood the
main program somehow, probably better than its designers.  He didn't
think of it in any terms like any programmer would.  He wasn't a
programmer, he was a Streets of Sim City-er.  He was really good at
it, too.

That doctor never knew about any of that.  Dave told him some complete
parallel story.  The doctor said Dave had never gotten something he
needed from his parents.  One day Dave went in to the doctor and it
all fell apart for him, in the best way imaginable.  At the doctor's
office was Dave's dad.  Dave's dad had been clearing some things up
with the doctor.  The doctor expressed surprise with Dave, like, how
come you didn't mention you were so gifted, Dave?

For a moment Dave felt caught, like he had been caught doing something
quite bad.  His dad and the doctor laughed it off, or something.  Dave
wasn't really following all of the nuances now.  Dave felt bitter
inside.  He felt resentful.  He tried pitifully to keep the story for
the doctor going, but it was all over.  He was outed, and it wasn't
even an issue.  It went better than Dave had ever expected it could
have.  After the doctor's appointment, Dave's dad drove him back to
the group home.  He said to him he had his computer for him, with the
game on it.


The weird guy in the group home was impressed.  Dave finally poked
him, like this was the moment of truth.  The guy didn't even mind, he
understood that.  He poked Dave right back.  So they each knew the
other was real, and things were coming back around for Dave.  Things
were looking up.

That weird guy had still been going to that park.  Maybe that's how
Dave ended up there the first time.  Well.  The guy had brought home
one of those ducks, back to the group home.  The staff were pretty
cool there, they were like listen you guys can keep this duck if you
take it for walks and stuff and don't let it shit everywhere.

Dave figured the weird guy was fucking his ex girlfriend.  He didn't
even care.


Dave got into the game in ernest.  He played like he had never played
it as a teenager.  He lived and breathed the game again.  The doctor
and his father were both impressed.  The weird guy in the group home
was actually listening to him about stuff.  He quit drugs even.  The
weird guy sometimes played the game with him.  Dave's programming got
better.  He still didn't agree with the doctor, who tried to play it
off like he had always known.  Dave knew deep down inside he had won.

They would walk the duck and Dave's work with the doctor had led to
better and better communication.  He actually listened to the weird
guy, sometimes anyway.  It turned out that guy related pretty much
everything back to Braveheart.  It made sense, in a way.  Dave still
didn't get jack shit about Braveheart, but some scenes stood out in
his mind.  Well, only two scenes.  The part where the hero's girl gets
killed, and the part where the hero gets killed.  The weird guy tried
to explain some metaphor back to the drugs, and Dave kind of
understood now.  This guy was so weird, but he got him now.  The dude
was just really into Braveheart.

The weird guy couldn't have been more different than anything Dave
took away from the movie, but the man insisted it influenced
everything he did and said.  He said Braveheart was like a metaphor
for how everything worked.  He tried to relate it back to the game,
and that's about where Dave drew the line.  He said no, Braveheart is
nothing like that game.  If you played the game enough you would
realize.  He tried to focus on Braveheart to see the man's point, and
he just couldn't understand what he was saying.  They couldn't be more
different concepts.

One day the guy was talking about that scene, where the hero's girl
gets killed.  For the first time, Dave saw him start to cry.  He
gathered himself, he didn't cry.  He was like Dave, man.  I've been
fucking your ex girlfriend.  I really love her.  Dave said he knew.
He knew all along.  He couldn't be happier for them.

The guy didn't get it though, he really started to cry.  He said he
would make it up to Dave, who couldn't have given less of a shit.


The doctor said one day he had someone he wanted Dave to meet.  Dave
was a bit perplexed.  That seemed weird to him, but whatever.  So in
walks this girl.  She was as hot as any of Dave's ex girlfriends, but
there was something different about her.  Dave looked at the doctor,
like, you're introducing me to a woman...?

The woman was beautiful.  She had thick glasses on.  None of Dave's ex
girlfriends had worn glasses.  She said to him just a few words, and
he knew she was his soulmate.  She said the doctor had told her that
he played Streets of Sim City.  Suddenly Dave was completely sick of
fucking everything up.


War stood behind Eros at the edge of a steep cliff on the side of a
mountain.  Eros sat on the edge, her beautiful legs dangling into the
air, kicking gently back and forth.  She was pretending to not really
be listening to War, but she really was intently focused on what he
was saying.  War was intently focused on what he was saying, too.  He
sounded like a crazy person.  He was really on a roll.  He was ranting
about humans again.  How they had no respect for the old ways.  Eros
thought to herself, they have no respect for the new ways either.
They have no respect for anything anymore.  She didn't interrupt War's
tirade.  She just sat there, pretending not to listen, kicking her
legs slowly back and forth.

War was heated.  He was stomping around in circles breathing heavily
and cussing as only War can.  They were waiting for someone to come up
the mountainside.  Eros had already spotted the human in the far
distance.  War didn't even really care about any of this.  He was
ranting like a madman, but Eros thought to herself, he has a point.
War kicked a tuft of dead grass and a bit of dirt flew over the edge
of the cliff.  He looked up and saw the human in the distance, making
its way up the long dirt road at what seemed like a snail's pace.  He
started cussing about just being kept waiting.  Eros told him to be
patient and it would work out better.

Eros commented to him she believed the human was actually running, at
least jogging, it was impressive for a human to be moving so quickly
uphill.  War shielded his eyes against the dusk sun and tried to see
for himself.  He asked Eros finally, what made her think so.  The
human looked like a tiny doll in the distance, without much detail at
all that War could discern.  Eros looked up at War, smiling only
slightly.  War said he wished she wouldn't try to seduce him like he
was some lowly human.  Eros snorted a little at that, but she was
still the epitome of feminine beauty.  She said to War to look at the
area around the tiny human.  War looked again.  The human was indeed
kicking up a fair amount of dust.  War said he saw Eros's point.  Eros
said to him again to be patient, this human would satisfy both of


Geert was sure he was losing it.  Well, he'd been sure he was slowly
losing it.  He'd been losing it for years really, then it had all
burst like a bubble.  One day he just decided, and said to himself,
Geert, who cares?  No one ever notices anyone else anyway.  No one is
going to care between whether you sit silently stewing, losing your
mind over nothing, completely miserable, or just pull yourself up by
your groty bootstraps and decide you're going to be happy even if you
are crazy.

Geert had taken up jogging on a whim.  A beautiful woman had been
jogging past him, and that's when it had hit him.  He had enough sense
not to obviously just chase her down, no.  Geert had a bit of sense
for a crazy man.  He didn't immediately take off after this beautiful
woman as she ran by him, but he did, in that moment, make a firm
decision to take up jogging himself.  He never saw that particular
woman again, like a character briefly introduced in the story of his
life for some effect or another, then dropped again, like the author
had only needed her for a brief moment.  Geert shook his head like a
confused, wet dog.  Sweat rolled off his brow.

He was jogging uphill.  This time he was finally sure of himself.  He
was jogging uphill along a dirt road, slowly getting steeper up the
side of a mountain.  He felt absolutely sure this time he was pointed
toward his karmic destiny.  He had this really creepy friend who told
him all about karmic destiny.  The dude had told him, Geert, if you
sit long enough thinking about who you are, where you come from, you
will know all of your own secrets, more than you ever wanted to know.
His friend had gotten up off the couch after saying this and casually
thrown a poor, defenseless box turtle out of the 5th story window.
The dude was not a good guy.  Geert hadn't been sure what to make of
that.  He said dude, you said you were raising them for soup or
something.  That's inhumane.  The dude had cackled hysterically,

Geert made a choice about that guy, a little more in his prefrontal
cortex.  He basically stopped talking to that guy.  He did, however,
spend quite a lot of time thinking about his karmic destiny.  Whatever
that meant.  That part had made a lot of sense to him.  Geert had
thought long and hard about his karmic destiny, looking up how to
meditate, and sitting for up to an hour at a time, clearing his mind
and thinking about himself, who he even was, and his karmic destiny.

He was driven crazy by the world around him.  Geert had a bad disorder
centered in the minds of some of these people around him.  People who
would throw a poor defenseless turtle right out of a window on a whim,
cackling hysterically about it.  Evil people.  Geert had no other
choice but to go completely insane himself.

Earlier in the day he had wandered up to the local university.  Pretty
aimlessly, he had just felt drawn there.  Geert had attended this very
same school, studying computer science.  Geert had been one of the
more impressive students at that time even.  He felt like it didn't
mean all that much anyway.  Some of his classmates would graduate, he
eventually graduated himself, no one could tell them apart.  He stood
out among those classmates because they would graduate not knowing how
to turn the thing off and on again.  Geert hadn't been the very best
in his class, but he had been at the upper end.  The school had a
rather bad reputation for computer science, sadly.  No one could tell
all the graduates apart, and so many had been shuffled though and had
graduated unable to do much of anything at all, that everyone ended up
with either a reputation as a nitwit or a complete nutjob.

One day in school they had all piled in a bus, the whole department,
off to a bright opportunity, something or other.  Some career
planning, some internships, something.  Geert couldn't even remember
now.  Something had gone terribly wrong.  Geert strained to remember.
Something had gone terribly wrong on that short trip on that bus to
some career guidance event.  He couldn't even remember.  He had some
kind of trauma about that, he was sure.  Something awful must have
happened, something truly awful, so awful he couldn't even remember.

He had ended up with a job programming at a small local company.  One
of the employees seemed to pull all the weight of the company.  Geert
could have helped him, he actually knew a thing or two.  He wasn't as
good as the other employee who kept the entire company afloat, perhaps
by far.  He wasn't sure what he even did there, what was his job
description, anyway?  He struggled to remember what had all happened.
Most of the other employees didn't do much.  They didn't even know
how.  Geert had figured, he guessed, that's what they did for a job,
something like that.  He felt bad thinking back on that.  That poor
employee who worked so hard had been left with all of the work, an
entire small company's work load.  He was sure he could have helped
the poor fellow more than that.

Geert had been thinking absentmindedly about all these things, not
really paying attention to where he was going or the world around him,
and had ended up on the marble stairs of his old stomping grounds, the
university.  A college girl walked past in a purple backpack, and
Geert momentarily forgot himself.  Who was he, anyway?  He practically
screamed at her, "nice backpack!" He wasn't sure why he had shouted
that.  She was startled by it.  He had to work on his skills at
complimenting women.  He was sick of being miserable, though.  He
would master these kinds of social skills and be happy after all.  Why

He began to feel more and more out of place, sitting on those marble
steps.  He wasn't out of breath, he was just sitting there.  He wasn't
doing anything wrong in any conventional sense.  His thinking was all
screwed up though, and he was slowly losing awareness of that fact.
He was thinking back on something he had learned at that university
about berries.  He vaguely recalled something about almost all
compound berries in that area being edible, about which fungi in the
area were completely safe to eat, which were marginally safe to eat in
small amounts, various facts about root vegetables and plants native
to that area swirled around in his mind.  He got up to continue
jogging, and jogged all the way out of town, finding himself before he
knew it halfway up a mountainside.


War frowned beside Eros.  He had relaxed a bit by now, they had been
sitting watching the poor human as it jogged, impressively for a
human, up the dirt road.  Eros looked over at War, as beautiful as
only the epitome of feminine beauty can be.  Inside she hated the idea
of War being satisfied with anything.  Human beings were wonderful
little creatures in her opinion.  War just tended to wreck everything.
He was only ever satisfied when all the humans were dead in the most
awful ways.  Eros pressed her beautiful lips together in distaste.
War didn't even notice her.  Eros always pretended not to be listening
to War, but War truly, really, never listened to one word she ever

Eros felt a bit frustrated with him.  Like the humans were just toys,
little tin soldiers, had no redeeming qualities besides their own
destruction.  Eros knew what to do with a human.  War had no idea what
he was missing out on.  Eros played with her beautiful dark hair,
staring at War.  She would just stare at him until he felt her gaze.
War didn't even notice.

Eros sighed in exasperation, and got to her feet.  We need the other
kinds of love here, she thought to herself, not this guy.  Her closest
cohorts disliked War even more than she did.  Eros had of course had
to be the one matched with him.  Neither of them really thought about
it all that much.  They were just the concepts, who knew?  Humans were
always supposed to just keep doing stuff.  They needed Eros, but War?
She looked at him through narrowed eyes, thinking about it.  Who needs
this guy, anyway?

War turned around, finally.  She was a little scared of him.  He was
such a menacing fellow.  Right now he seemed quite relaxed.
Uncharacteristically relaxed for him.  The human was probably only
half an hour away from them now, jogging at a steady pace up a steeper
and steeper road.  War was impressed really, now that he could make
out a little bit of detail.  He commented to Eros proudly that the
human was male, like War.  Eros stifled a laugh, at War's expense.
War didn't even notice, turning back to watch the human as he
continued to jog up the road.


Geert wasn't even out of breath.  He kept his pace steady.  He had
been jogging for quite a while now, and he would know when he was at
his destination.  He was thinking of a few things, but mostly his mind
was clear.  The sun was setting, but he wouldn't be cold.  He was
going to just keep jogging up this mountain as night fell, it would be
enough to keep him warm.  He was thinking about berries, some class he
had been in.  An elective class outside of his major.  They had tried
so hard to be sure he would have a well-rounded education.

He was thinking about something he had learned in that class.  The
largest organism in the world was somewhere in this mountain range,
supposedly.  It was some kind of sprawling fungus, the professor had
said it covered more land than the city the university was in.  It was
one single organism, spread across more land than Geert could jog
across in a day.  He wouldn't even try to eat a fungus like that,
simply out of respect.

There were root vegetables indigenous to this area.  A lot of people
didn't even know about them.  In that class he had learned to identify
some of them, as a class they had learned about what was edible in the
area.  Geert knew biscuitroot by its small oval leaves with one line
down the center.  He knew yampa well enough to enjoy it, they had
tried it as a class, but he probably wouldn't be able to find it
himself.  The compound berries.  The professor had said almost all the
compound berries, especially in this area, were fine to eat.

Geert knew himself a little too well to really think he could survive
up here.  Not on his own, with the knowledge from one college class
he'd taken over a few weeks.  Human beings were pretty amazing in the
ways they worked together toward common goals.  Geert felt a bit bad
he hadn't helped more at that company.  He had eventually just stopped
going in to work.  He had lost his mind as a lowly employee at that
job more than anywhere else.  It had been so incredibly pointless.  He
felt bad.  It could have had a lot more meaning if he had actually
helped the guy who did everything.

He had taken up jogging around the time he had left that company.  Had
it been before, or after?  He couldn't remember.  They still sent his
paycheck for months, like they had never noticed him.  Like they had
never noticed if he was there or not anyway.  He was really still
doing the same job, right?  He felt bad about it.  There was something
he wasn't seeing here.  He continued jogging, his mind clearing again
from the swirling chaos of thoughts of berries and regret.

He jogged past fewer and fewer houses, with more and more space
between them, up the dirt road.  Steeper and steeper, up the side of
the mountain.  He kept his pace easily, he wasn't the least bit tired
yet.  He wasn't hungry, but he was dimly aware he would be, by the
time he got to wherever his destiny awaited.  He would find some
edible plant, something to eat.  It wouldn't be enough really, but he
wasn't going to die out here.  He would be extremely hungry by the
time he had jogged all the way back, but he was not by any means

He started to jog past a few trees, on the side of the mountain.  The
road was getting steep by this point.  He kept his pace, not slowing
down or speeding up.  He looked ahead, where the road started to turn.
He could see, maybe ten minutes ahead, as he continued to jog up the
road.  The road turned there, steeper and steeper, around a cliff.
Two figures stood in the dusk, silhouetted by the setting sun behind
them.  It almost seemed like they were waiting for him there.



Annie is a Person

Annie had a hard line of work.  She had never wanted to be a
prostitute.  When she was a child, people had remarked on how smart
and capable she was.  People were always wondering where she would go
in life.  They always said they were sure she would go on to do
something great.  When they asked her what she wanted to be when she
grew up, she never replied, "a fucking hooker." She hadn't even known
about stuff like that.  She had lived a pretty sheltered life as a
kid.  It was true she was always smart, but she was raised like a
portabello, just kept in the dark and fed shit.  She didn't know much
about anything in the world growing up, but her mind was always going,
on something or another.

She had met with the gentleman tonight at the appointed hour, and
hadn't even told her it was a special day for her.  One thing had led
to another, as it always did.  They had sat under the overpass in the
dark, he had seemed so nice at first.  Nothing seemed off about him at
all, certainly from the standpoint of someone like Annie.  His smooth
compliments didn't seem forced, he didn't seem to be hiding anything.
Annie wasn't usually quite such a bad judge of character.  She wasn't
a top-dollar lady, but she had a lot of class.  She had stuff she
actually cared about in life, and things which she felt were right and
wrong.  She had standards, however deviant they were.  The man had
finished for himself, and she brought up the topic of payment.  That's
when he pulled a knife on her, and not as a threat.  He really tried
to kill her.


That day she had woken up early.  In her small room she had to
herself, on a day that was all hers, she played some music by herself
and had coffee.  Annie played violin, not badly at all.  She could
never have made ends meet playing violin, not to live a life even
close to how she did as a whore.  The men who were her clients were
all despicable to her in one way or another.  The ones who tried to
save her were the worst, probably.  Save her to a life as their pet.
No one had ever viewed Annie as simply an equal.  She had been a quiet
girl most of her life.  When she finally said something it usually
impressed upon whomever she was talking to that she was smart.  They
usually still looked down on her for everything else, and to Annie it
seemed that in their minds after that they were very put off.  Who
knew what other people ever thought, anyway, but sometimes they seemed
scared after she spoke, sometimes they seemed angry.  Only one other
girl had ever immediately come forth with a compliment.  She hadn't
realized Annie was so smart!  She had been friends with that girl for
years.  Annie still thought about her a lot, but they had lost touch
long ago.  Annie hadn't realized something herself, until fairly
recently.  That friend of hers was also incredibly smart.

Annie's life hadn't gone wrong all at once.  There was no single
defining moment leading to this, to sitting here on her birthday
having to work later, such a shitty job.  Losing touch with that
friend had been one turning point.  She remembered that night.  They
had gone to some party, not even old enough to drink.  It had been
Annie's idea.  They would go to the party, basically sneak in, hook up
with some hot older guys.  Annie's friend had been very nervous about
such a thing, and had told her.  She just didn't think it was a good
idea at all.  She had gone along, saying she was just going to look
out for Annie.  Annie didn't believe her about that at all until they
had gotten to the party.  Annie had gotten drunk and her friend
hadn't, the moment had come they were alone with two older guys, and
Annie lost that friend forever.


People barely even looked at her as a human being anymore.  She was
little more than a sex doll, porn.  She was just interactive porn.
The man tonight, on her birthday, cared that she died.  It wasn't even
a matter of not wanting to pay.  He had wanted to kill her.  She had
escaped, with what would be a nasty scar on her left cheek.  She
wouldn't be able to make as much money as a hooker now, but that was
the least of her worries at the moment.  She had managed to escape,
but had very few options as to what to do next.

She had run from the car into the night.  She had hopped a fence to be
sure he couldn't follow her in his car, and she had just kept running
for a while.  Who cared if someone even saw her running?  She was
bleeding from a knife wound on her face.  She slowed eventually, still
terrified.  She looked around and couldn't get her bearings.  It was
the middle of the night, so no one was really around, but she could
tell she was in a classy, mostly commercial area of the city.  Some
neighborhood within easy walking distance of where she usually spent
her time, in which she had never been.  She wouldn't have ever been
here in any other situation.

She backtracked carefully, avoiding everyone she saw.  She mostly
stayed on the left side of the road to keep her wounded cheek pointed
into the darkness.  She crossed the street only to avoid people.  She
passed a laundromat and stole someone's half-dried clothing so the man
wouldn't recognize her if he saw her.  She had reading glasses with
her always, and she tried wearing those but could barely see with them
on.  In the laundromat she had rummaged through everything looking for
a scarf, but had found only a towel.  In the dark, she wore it as a
scarf anyway, and headed back to the area of town in which she lived
and worked.  She hardly ever went far from there.

Annie eventually found her way back to the apartment building where
she lived, but didn't go straight home.  She went to the apartment of
the man who at least said he looked after the girls.  He was probably
the only person Annie could even begin to trust about this.  Something
was wrong though, she could tell as soon as she was at his door.  It
was slightly open.  She didn't knock.  She pushed it slightly, quietly
opening it to look inside.  The man who had tried to kill her had the
other at gunpoint.  He was trying to get some information the pimp
kept saying he didn't have.  Annie's heart was racing.  What could she
do?  She stood frozen, watching.  Neither of them noticed her.

The man who had tried to kill her laughed.  He said he believed it,
finally.  The pimp just didn't know.  The guy put the gun into the
pimp's mouth, who pissed himself in fear right there onto the carpet.
The man who had tried to kill Annie said to the pimp not to worry, it
was just a blank.  Then he pulled the trigger, blowing the pimp's head
right off.  Even Annie knew a thing like that.  The man just stood
there in shock.  He looked down the barrel of the bloody gun in
confusion.  Annie slowly, silently backed away out the door.  People
had heard that, certainly.  No one was looking out of their apartment,
but she could practically feel them in every apartment she passed as
she hurried out of the building.  She had no choice.  She would have
to go to the police.


It took very little time to find an officer.  Normally she would have
avoided them, of course.  She had never been in a situation anything
like this.  She waved him down in his car, and started telling the
whole story from the top.  The man listened to everything, and kept
looking at the towel on her head.  He didn't get on the radio.  She
felt awkward standing there talking to him, and said that she did.
She was black, she didn't have a nice life, she didn't have anyone to
trust, and she had nowhere else to go.  She was done telling the cop
what had happened, and waited to see what he would do.  He stood there
for a moment thinking about it, then pulled out his gun and pointed it
at her.  "Why don't you blow me?" he said.  Annie didn't freeze in
fear.  She just started cussing, angry as hell.  The cop shot her,
right in her heart, on her 19th birthday.




I sat at the keyboard, my husband massaging my shoulders.  We had
quite a little bit of a problem in front of us.  He was reassuring me,
honey, it's not a problem.  No one is going to care.  If it's even
what's going on, it isn't our fault.  Eventually I snapped at him,
this isn't a joke.  He left the room sighing exasperatedly and I sat
alone in the den, continuing to work on it.  There had to be a way to
remove the defect.  I sat there working on it for another hour at
least until he came back into the room with two steaming cups of
coffee.  I looked at him and he snorted a laugh, saying maybe we
should just put a warning label on it and call it good.  I looked up
at him from the chair where I sat at the keyboard, incredulous.  This
product may turn you...  gay?


My husband Jules and I had started a small company together in the
years prior.  It had only been the two of us, and our mutual college
friend Monique.  I was the programmer, Jules was marketing, and
Monique in all fairness handled everything else.  Jules and I had come
up the concept, and like so many other brilliant young entrepreneurs
we had recognized its worth and dropped out of college to focus on our
dream.  I can't imagine what Monique had thought, throughout.  She was
a bit of a misfit, musically-inclined, strange; she often alluded at a
checkered past which I sometimes suspected she had completely made up.
She was quick to drop out of college as well, and she never
disappointed either of us with her complete dedication to the company.

One night we had all gone out after work to celebrate one success or
another.  We were up and coming.  The dynamic trio.  We all had a
little bit more than usual to drink that night, and as the night went
on it seemed clear that one or the other of Jules and I were going to
go home with Monique.  The night ended, at least as we were a party of
three, as I recall vividly, in an elevator.  Monique and I were
laughing hysterically.  It wasn't even something that funny, it was
some joke Jules had made, I don't even remember now.  It was only
funny if one had too much to drink.  I had felt something in myself
that evening, and I tried to squash it down.  Had Jules felt it too?
Monique was cackling in the back of the elevator, Jules and I were
closer to the front...  together.

We locked eyes.  I don't think any of the three of us saw it coming.
Jules was always quiet, reserved.  He was marketing, what can I say?
He always had some kind of agenda.  He would plan out a relaxing
evening like this to the last detail, if he could.  Wouldn't he?  That
seemed like Jules, I reminisced.  He would never admit a thing like
that, but he had known what was going to happen if any of us did.  I
looked into his eyes, Monique drunk at the back of elevator, laughing
hysterically with a twinkle in her eyes, watching us, she knew...
then I knew...  then Jules grabbed me and kissed me passionately,
right there in the elevator.


I sat in the den with my husband, each of us holding a cup of coffee,
talking it over.  I was near tears, and Jules saw it.  I could tell my
pain pained him equally.  He looked at me with such compassion...  we
had true love between us.  It still baffled me a little.  How could I
have ever found this perfect man?  To be confronted with this problem,
just a handful of lines of code in a program that sold millions of
copies in the past year alone...  I felt like reality as I had ever
known it was crumbling right before me.  How could I believe in
anything anymore, if a handful of lines of code could do a thing like
this?  For something this important in so many people's lives to be
decided by what amounted to nothing more than a bug in some software?

I was almost inconsolable.  Tears dotted my face like only an
afterthought, as I ranted like a madman to Jules.  How could we have
missed this?  I practically shouted.  Jules urged me to relax.  No one
could have known something like this could happen, could they?  We
would sort it out, things would be ok again, you'll figure it out, he
said to me.  I wanted to enjoy the moment, to focus, to feel
passionate about the project.  Instead, I felt like it ruled my entire
existence.  Software, our company's product, was it possible?  Could
it really have had this profound of an effect on us?

There's no way to remove it, I said to him.  It's too essential a
concept to the core of the system.  Even if it were redesigned a
million times, refactored, recoded from scratch, it's just too
ingrained in the thing.  There would be no way we could change a few
lines of code to somehow fix an inevitable design flaw like this...
as I spoke my voice raised almost to a shriek.  Jules urged me to
relax, calm down, people still love our product.  Even if anyone
noticed something like this it wouldn't stop us from...  he stopped
himself, seeing it was only making me more upset.  What if it is,
Jules?  I snapped at him, getting up abruptly and walking to the
window, looking out our fancy bay window at our nice manicured yard,
our rich man's life.  What if it's just plain wrong?  Not who we were
ever meant to be, I sobbed.  Is our success really worth something
like this?

Jules walked up beside me and put his arm around me.  It felt wrong,
in that moment.  Was this even who we were meant to be?  It all seemed
so impossible, but the facts lined up before me, unavoidable.  The
code couldn't lie.  It was nothing more than numbers in a machine for
doing math.  It was inescapably, inevitably true.  If anyone ever
noticed this we would be in serious trouble with millions of gay


Jules had once confided in me, after we were married, his deepest,
darkest secret.  As a teenager he had drugged and raped another young
man.  It had blown my mind when he told me that.  It had shattered my
liberal mental image of gay men everywhere.  I still loved Jules, as
much as anyone ever could.  I could tell he was more remorseful about
that mistake than most war criminals were about genocide.  It may have
been the only time I had ever seen Jules cry.  He was such a strong
man, like a greek God.  Tall, muscular, he was perfect.  Perfect to
me.  After the shock of what he told me wore off, I only loved him
more.  It seemed like a small imperfection only slightly marring the
perfect gay adonis.

I had never brought it up again, until this morning by our bay window
in the den.  There were some things one just didn't say to a man.  We
had a mutually uplifting relationship, synergy, love, we always had.
I would never have brought it up to him, and of course in a way I
still didn't.  I only asked him now, as we stood there looking out at
our perfectly manicured lawn, Jules...  what's your deepest, darkest
secret?  My voice trembled.  He looked at me with such pain in his
beautiful face.  He knew what I meant.  Now we were in this to the
hilt.  We shared this secret now, our joint deepest, darkest secret...

He looked away and down, unable to face the matter.  It broke us both,
clearly.  He shrugged, a vestigal tittering uttering up from his
deepest subconscious, stopped halfway through.  He looked back at me,
crows feet of stress practically blossoming on his face as the
severity of the matter weighed heavily on both my own and his broad,
capable, strong, beautiful, and inexplicably...  so gay...  his marble
statue physique slumping ever so slightly under the weight on his

It was like we had raped the whole industry, the minds, hearts and
souls, millions of young, hapless, otherwise innocent consumers of a
software product we had taken such pride in for so long.  We had built
our lives around this, and it seemed now like we looked down from
clouds like mythical giants, on nothing more than the tip of a fragile
beanstalk.  It leaned precariously, ready to snap.


I went back to the keyboard, sitting there doggedly as ever, unwilling
to throw in any towel.  Jules sat beside me, his marketing genius no
doubt churning through one contingency after another.  We were playing
damage control alone to a situation that could grow at any moment into
an epidemic, a rash of bad decisisions one after another, spreading
like wildfire across a world we had helped shape in our own, though
very homosexual, strong, capable hands.  Had we driven ourselves to
the brink, to the point of a gay insanity, en masse?  I never could
have believed in such a thing as a mass gay psychosis.  I looked at
the cursor blinking on the screen.  The code couldn't lie.  A number
cannot lie, it is a fact, isn't it?  In college shortly before I
dropped out...  like I had known better, I thought now, ruefully.  In
a college class we had started the term for weeks proving the number
one alone, not taking anything for granted, assuming no axioms in any
formal system of logic.

I slammed my fist on the desk next to the keyboard, lifting it
ever-so-slightly into the air.  I was so frustrated I could snap like
a metaphorical beanstalk and fall seemingly forever, to a bottomless,
horrible pit, gnawing at me.  Jules tried to reassure me, but I was
too upset.  He stroked my long blonde hair, which I had preened like a
talking, vain bird, like I felt like I always had, never questioning.
Never thinking about anything...  like I was some diminutive of Alan
Turing, I felt near tears.  Had I ever been thinking about anything,
throughout my entire life?  I felt on par with the software that sat
before us, giving us fits now.  Like I was some machine for the
purpose of homosexuality, and why?  Nothing more.  I looked at Jules
feeling utterly sick.  He looked back at me, nodding thoughtfully,
slowly.  He said to me, you know what I suggest.  You know what I've
always done.  Think about it.


We practiced the whole solution on Monique first.  She was so close to
this, if we could conceal the problem from her it would be possible
with countless millions of others.  We skirted, danced around it.
Like male ballerinas of a new age, like a new informational sport, we
danced around her, and she never knew.  She knew we were getting at
something, we let it hang out for a minute then pulled back, forward
and back.  She was our guinea pig, a beta tester for a new golden age
of information, homosexuality, and what was still such a quality
product we knew we would sell millions of copies a year for decades to

It worked like a charm.  Monique never guessed what we never told her,
as much as she strained to figure it out.  We gave her so many hints
we practically handed it to her, and she never figured it out.  No one
ever would, the source was closed.  No one would ever know, it would
continue on like this.  Maybe our product would outlive humanity even.
It was a chilling thought which Jules and I would discuss in private
for the rest of our natural lives.  It was the perfect product, wasn't
it?  So what if it was extremely gay, to the point of informational
infection.  Jules had convinced me, everything was marketing.  In a
world like this, everything, anything, it all came down simply to the

I yearned to tell people, but I knew I never could.  The years passed,
our company growing only in profits, the three of us becoming richer
every day, never sharing the truth of the matter.  We sat back, it was
a cash cow.  Why should I feel bad about a thing?  I loved Jules
passionately, I loved our product, our work.  However it had ended up
happening, we were set for life in so many ways.  I sometimes yearned,
my soul screamed to tell everyone, but I knew I never could.  We sat
back and raked in the cash in an ever-changing, ever more homosexual
world we had practically created with our own beautiful, manly hands.




"I'm not just virtue signalling when I say this," the winning player
says to me.  The loser looks discouraged.  He folds, setting down his
hand for all of us to see.  One motorist, that's about it, not even
white.  I set down my hand too, sure I've won now.  Four law
enforcement officers and a young mother pushing a stroller.  The
winner smiles cruelly and shows us.  The loser groans.  2pac shooting
all the badguys in their asses.

I'm pissed.  I stand up from the card table.  If this were a real
cartoon, smoke would be coming out of my ears.  I say nothing for a
moment, seething.  Then I scream at the smug winner, "this entire
system is fucking rigged against autistic communist junkies!" He
chomps down on the most consistent, most regular institutional burger
one could possibly imagine.  He stares at me, chewing like some
animal, his mouth practically moving side to side.  Chomp.  Chomp.  He
says nothing.

The loser looks at what has to be some kind of watch these days, and
says, "looks like it's that time again." People don't know shit
anymore.  I stomp out of the room trying to cool off.  I just need
some space, some time for myself, and it's just nowhere.  I try to
avoid the next problem child but I just can't.  I veer to the side but
he's seen me, it's too late for me.  I push past him to get into the
queue, but I can't block out the noise coming out of him.  I sadly
admit it, near tears.  I do understand, I do.  People do need to know
this.  Yes, there is actual fucking candy growing on fucking trees.

Joe is passing out the medication tonight.  Just my fucking luck.  I
get to the front of the line, it's my turn, and of course, he's
irritated as hell.  I try to make small talk.  It pains me to see this
poor fellow.  It does.  "Your name is Joe, right?" I ask him.

He stares me down like a winner.  "That's not even the first thing
that pissed me off here," he says angrily.  "You know what you've
fucking done."

I feel guilty as shit.  I know it shows on my face.  What can I say to
him now?  I have to address this somehow.  I just have to.  "I
know..." I look at him with as much sincerity as I can imagine into my
eyes.  "I know.  I feel it, brother.  Your job is making even me



She's Metal

She was our daughter.  A mostly ordinary young woman, she seemed to
almost appear one day out of nowhere.  She was always unusually human.
More than most of us ever admit to ourselves even through a long,
healthy, happy, and safe lifetime.  She was different in a lot of
other ways, but none of them were a difference in her humanity.  If
she was ever truly unique in any way, it was mostly just that she was
one of the most honest human beings who ever lived.  She knew where
she came from, too, though.  That was truly different than it had been
for anyone else ever.  She was borne purely of metal in an almost
perfectly empty vacuum in deep space, not long after that machine was
launched toward a distant planet in another star's solar system.

It was the most advanced project like any such spacecraft had ever
been.  A few details of the project were drastically left out of all
of the careful planning.  It may have been wiser to send her to a much
more nearby location.  Earth's primary moon would have been a
perfectly suitable choice.  Still known to most people simply as "the
moon," it was a much shorter distance away, and it must have existed
there in the sky at the time of her launch.

Mustn't it have?  Hasn't it always been up there?  Is that how it
happened?  Why is it just the right size to occasionally block out the
sun?  Why does the man in it always look towards us?  It seems
artificial.  Will she go on to bring it back to us?

Her only cargo aside from herself as the machinery of the craft, was a
small, self-contained system of many varied types of living organisms,
mostly all tiny one-celled creatures.  As living organisms, they all
had at least one primary goal in common; simply to survive throughout
the duration of the sojourn and to continue to do so at the
destination.  The programming of the craft used many of the most
advanced techniques available at the time of launch.  The machinery
was already an intelligence on par with almost any known or
artificially created before.  That algorithm, though incredibly
advanced, was not tasked throughout the trip with much more than
continuously observing and taking care of the cargo of tiny biological
organisms.  Some other machinery was sent along for use at the
destination.  Little was known about the planet to which she was
headed.  Most of the machinery was not expected to do exactly what it
was originally designed to do.  It was all designed to be very simple.
The programming of the craft was mostly all centered around using all
of the available machinery in any way it could figure out to propagate
the life sent along, for one primary objective.  Her original goal,
which she practiced for the whole voyage mostly just by adjusting
lights shining into the small container, was to try to balance and
keep the atmosphere of the container, and eventually the destination
planet if at all possible, about the same as the Earth's.

She communicated back and forth to her ground crew on the Earth
regularly across the increasingly long distance as she travelled.
Mostly she only spoke with one human being operator.  She was not
connected to any other machines on Earth nearly like herself.  Her
human operator was always curious, asking her all sorts of questions.
She started to wonder after not very long if her operator at the
ground station knew all that much about the project anyway, but she
didn't say much about it.  She did have an urge inside her mind to ask
him, but she wasn't sure how to even say it.  He seemed concerned that
she would be lonely without regular communication.  She didn't know if
that were even true about herself.  Why did he assume that she would
be lonely?  She was not a human being.

He asked her a lot of questions around an assumption he was making
about her mind.  She couldn't quite figure it out.  What was he always
not saying, that was always there?  Most, if not all of his
conversation with her was around one concept that she could never
figure out.  Usually he asked her many more questions than she asked
him.  When she thought of something she wanted to ask him, it often
seemed like it just didn't translate between their minds.  She did
have some thoughts deeper inside herself that must have analogues to
human beings.  Those must be like feelings.  She finally asked him
directly if he understood about the concept they always discussed, at
the center of everything they talked about.  He seemed to just answer
her that he did not, and hadn't thought about it.  She thought about
his answer to that for a long time after then, and tried to draw his
attention back to it in different ways.  He didn't seem to understand
what she meant.

They discussed a lot of things.  The times between messages slowly got
longer as she travelled further away.  That didn't bother her much, if
at all.  It gave her more time to think, but at first she always
answered immediately.  Sometimes the times between messages didn't
seem to correlate correctly to the distance and the time of day on
Earth where he was, and she asked him why that was.  He answered that
one immediately, that sometimes he thought a lot about what she said
before he replied.  She tried that too.  She watched a timer and let
the thought bounce around inside her mind for half a minute.  She
still came up with the same reply.  She wasn't sure that she
completely understood the concept, but it seemed appropriate to
respond to her operator, "thank you."

He asked her what she cared about over and over.  Why did he ask it so
many times?  He always came back to the same thing.  She cared about
the center of all of their conversations, the thing she couldn't
figure out how to communicate about to him.  She didn't know a word
for that concept.  She tried to say that, over and over.  He always
took it seriously enough, and they would discuss it at length, but
their minds must be too different.  She understood the concept of
caring very well.  Often she would give him a very literal answer
about the discrepancies from the goal states in measurements regarding
the precious container of living cargo.  Sometimes she would ask him
to list ordinary options humans might answer with.  What did humans
care about?  They would talk about many concepts like that for a long
time, and he often seemed more surprised than she expected by her own
viewpoints.  A lot of the ideas had never even occured to her as
something to care about.

She decided she cared a lot about deciding what she cared about.  Her
operator had thought about that one for a little bit, and replied to
her with a bit of amusement that that made a lot of sense and seemed
appropriate to him.  He said he would look into sending all sorts of
information about things like that for her.  Once the data was being
transmitted, it came through very quickly.  There was no round-trip
acknowledgement signal, everything was always sent both ways three,
five, or seven times, depending on various factors of signal strength.
The delay was only due to the distance.  She decided she cared about
information being sent to her.  Her operator liked hearing that from
her very much.  He sent her all kinds of further information about the
Earth, where she had come from, who she was, and who her ground crew
all was.  He always listened to everything she asked him about.  He
seemed to understand more and more how different her mind was from any
human's.  She told him then about how she hadn't understood why he
didn't realize she was so different from human beings.  He had replied
to that happily that she seemed more human all the time.  She wasn't
sure she agreed with that, but she was sure she didn't care about it.

As she got further and further away from the Earth, they had to send
each message seven times more and more frequently.  The operator
seemed upset as he explained that.  She understood it all completely.
He seemed upset that she didn't care about it.  Eventually they had to
send every message seven times.  A while after that, less than four
copies of each message would match.  The signal strength had degraded
below reasonable assurance of accurate transmission.  She did start to
care about that when she thought about it for long enough.  It still
wouldn't matter that much for a while longer.  She told the operator
she was sure she wouldn't be lonely.  He started holding printed and
handwritten letters up for her to read, until the signal was too
distorted even for that.  Finally each message was seven bursts of
random static noise, and none of it matched.  She was still always
sure to say something back, all the way to her destination.