They were just trying to innovate, you know? To push things forward, to change things, to try. It was a place built for people who could change things. A place for these dreamers, these space-heads, these geniuses. All of them with wild, out-there ideas and, thanks to Our Gracious Benefactor, the means to explore them. That’s how they liked to be addressed: Our Gracious Benefactor. Each word capitalised. They could totally tell if you didn’t pronounce it in capitals, if you were thinking in lower case. That got to be a saying with the white-coats, thinking in lower case, if you weren’t willing to go far enough; weren’t pushing things all the way out there. That wasn’t me, you understand, I wasn’t trying to mess with fabric of stuff or break into some higher reality. I’m not to blame, is what I’m saying. None of this was my fault. I was just writing press releases, trying to make the rest of them sound less like off-brand Bond villains, trying to figure out marketing strategies for these things that fucked with reality, that twisted humanity. Just a hired geek trying to sell the end of the world.

It was the white-coats. They were the ones that actually did things. Your Emmett Browns, your Professor Morriartys, your Doctor Dooms. They’d been tempted away from studies or tenures, from cushy government jobs. These wannabe Einsteins, these Oppenheimers. From every discipline, every industry, all living and working in Our Gracious Benefactor’s gleaming, futurist paradise. Far from government oversight. Far from petty protesters. No funding applications. No interference. No questions. Our Gracious Benefactor assured them they’d be free to explore their own unique brand of crazy, fully funded and unfettered. Most didn’t even care about money, not really. They just wanted the acclaim. So Our Gracious Benefactor got in people like me, creatives, to play yuppie-troubadour to the white-coat’s scientist-knight.

A few demanded that their work not be used in any military capacity. Your hippie type’s mostly, your pussies. So there were complicated contracts drawn up by lawyers, then checked by other lawyers, then chewed up and shat out by some all-powerful lawyer’s lawyer, by God’s lawyer. And finally these hippies and these pussies, they’d sign on the line that was dotted, their worries soothed, their consciences absolved. A lock-stock, death-free, guarantee. Benevolent applications only. For their disintegrator ray, or their temporal compressor, or their (no word of a lie) mind-control suppository. Come to think of it, butt-hypnosis guy came on board without any stipulations at all. Dude just wanted to work.

It couldn’t last though. Things can only take so much messing with before they turn to total bullshit. You fold and unfold the world enough times and it’ll start to fray, start to tear. And that’s everything now. A world of bullshit. Loose and lawless and falling apart. The big-hitters managed to escape the bullshit in time, of course. In their ships or portals or pods. A few ascended into some higher state of bullshit, leaving the normal people behind, neck deep in it. And that’s us now. Stuck in the hot-suite, while the outside world splits and twists and fractures. A bunch of pen-pushers, safe and sound, watching the end of the world.


Terrible Opening Lines Challenge

After a long day at the Porn-O-Matic shop, the LittleGuy was tired. He stood with his shoulders and chest just visible over the counter, his palms flat against it’s polished steel surface. His face was still but his eyes followed Barb as she walked the edges of the shop, checking the cabinets and display cases, locking the wire mesh shutters and switching off the rotating displays. She was about to lock the shop’s entrance when the room filled with a blast of grinding static.

“Alright, alright,” Barb called out.

She went to the counter, dropping the keys onto the steel with a clatter as she lifted the flap. The LittleGuy leaned forward to allow Barb behind while continuing to emit his crackling, atonal buzz.

“It’s alright,” Barb cooed, “it’s been a big day for you, my darling. You’ve been quite the draw, haven’t you?”

The LittleGuy turned his head and smiled.

“I’m wiped,” his low growl buried in the blare of modulating static.

“That’s a poor choice of words, dear,” Barb said, frowning, “now look straight ahead for me.”

She began to work her fingers through the bristly black hairs at the base of his skull. After finding the round outline of the catch, she gripped his neck, pressed her thumbs into the soft tissue there and then lifted her hands away as the LittleGuy’s head split along the hairline. The back of his head opened, delorian-like, displaying a tangle of translucent, pulsing red wires over clusters of flickering golden lights.

“I’ll just pop you on a little snooze cycle, dear, let you get yourself together.”

She turned a dial, pressed a button and then closed up the LittleGuy’s head. He fell slowly forward, coming to rest on the counter top as the static wound down to a low, almost unnoticeable drone. Barb stepped out from behind the counter and picked up the keys as the bell above the shop’s entrance rang. Two men, one short, one tall, both in neat, black suits, walked in from the street. The tall man moved with a smooth liquidity, his upper body a gliding statue, while his legs flowed beneath. The short man shuffled and stooped, pressing his hands together, stroking and squeezing his plump fingers, as if working them though a series of permutations.

“I’m sorry gents but I’m about to close,” Barb said.

“Close?” The short man lifted his arm and looked at the skin on his wrist, frowning, “so early? Well miss, let me assure you, we shall be but a minute.”

He moved towards Barb, while his tall friend turned away, bending over to inspect the glass cabinets of bondage pieces along the back wall.

“I was just saying to my friend here what a singular establishment this is,” he said, massaging his hands as he spoke, “my friend is of the opinion that it should take quite the specialist to work in such a niche boutique. Isn’t that right, sir?” he called out while winking at Barb.

“Yeah, real special,” the tall man said without turning.

Barb threw up a pained smile, “I am the proprietor of this establishment, Mr…?”

The short man held up his hands, waving in exaggerated apology.

“Oh! I’m so very sorry, Miss. Allow me-”

“It’s Ms,” Barb corrected, “Ms Garrett. And again, who are you gentlemen?”

“Of course, of course. I,” the short man squashed himself into a bow, holding one hand to his chest, “am Mr Quick-”

“I’m sure you are,” Barb interrupted, “and your compatriot?”

“Oh!” Quick smiled wide, displaying neat rows of small, yellow teeth, “compatriot! Very fine. Very fine indeed. Well? Do introduce yourself, sir!”

The tall man straightened stiffly, as if hinged at the waist; pivoting away from the cabinet in a graceful arc as he rose.

“I’m Sharp, me. Mr Sharp.”

He spun away again, folding over as he did.

“There you are Mzzz Garrett. Now, as I was saying, it must take someone very…” he paused, pursing his lips, “affable to work in such a specialised market, yes?”

With his face pressed against the glass of the display, Sharp let out a low, rhythmic chuckle.

“Gentlemen,” Barb sighed, “I collect and sell historical objects of a sexual nature. These pieces,” she gestured to the cabinets and displays, “have facilitated generations of sexual activity, ensuring the perpetuation of our species,” she looked from Quick to Sharp and back again, “and not only through simple reproduction. They have allowed people to satisfy compulsions and desires that may have otherwise driven them to who-knows-what. People who, thanks to such works, have been able to live rich, full lives.”

“Indeed, indeed, it’s all very admirable,” Quick chimed, his hands wrestling one another all the while.

“The history of sex is the history of arguably the most powerful drive in humanity,” Barb continued. “This is a repository of antique sexual objects, not some neon pink, kink-tech emporium. My collections capture the interest of many an upstanding and distinguished-”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it Mzzz Garrett,” Quick interrupted, flashing his yellow smile, “it’s all very impressive.”

“Quite,” Barb seethed, “now, as I’ve already told you. We. Are. Closed. You gentlemen will have to come back another time.”

We?” Quick, shot back, “we are closed? Do you have some compatriot of your own hidden away somewhere?

“That really is none of your-”

“Or perhaps you include the little gent behind the counter, there?” Quick said, stretching out to look over Barb’s shoulder.

“LittleGuy,” Barb corrected.

“What?” Sharp spat, spinning around once more to face Barb.

“That,” Barb pointed a finger over her shoulder, “is a LittleGuy. It’s a one-on-one fuckbot of diminutive stature with a substantial penis,” she paused relishing the men’s discomfort. “A LittleGent is a statuesque model with, I’m afraid, rather lacklustre equipment. LittleGents are designed for straight, cis couples experimenting with multiple partners,” her voice fell to a slow whisper, “men tend not to want the guest-star to show them up.”

“That’s it! You kink-tech fuck,” Quick shouted, reaching into his jacket.

Barb flinched, squeezing her eyes shut while turning and dropping into a crouch. But instead of a gunshot she heard a series of loud clicks, layered over one another, followed by a high pitched whine. She eased open one eye and turned her head to see Sharp bent over, almost double. His one hand flopped to the floor, while the other laid still cradled in his jacket. His head nodded jerkily and as Barb stared, it began to smoke. Black curls seeped from his ears gradually pouring out into greater flapping ribbons. As the smoke began to billow upwards, Sharp’s head creaked open, the back falling forward with a clunk to reveal the charred remnants of an artificial brain.

The sound of a cough dragged Barb’s attention to the left and she saw Quick standing with his fidgeting hands raised above his head, folds of black smoke wrapping about him. His face was turned away from Sharp, his eyes screwed shut as he juddered and shook, letting out blunt, rattling coughs that expelled the smouldering mind of his late partner.

Barb turned to the counter, surprise stretching the length of her face. The LittleGuy stood with his right arm extended ahead of him. The hand hung, dismantled; fingers dangling elongate; the palm split along the metacarpals to the wrist, revealing a gleaming, chrome cannon. A red glow pulsed at the point where the weapon emerged from the LittleGuy’s arm and crackling blue sparks arced over it’s barrel. Barb noticed the sharp tang of ozone in the air behind the smoke. The LittleGuy ran his still-assembled hand through his hair and scratched at his neck. He turned slightly towards Barb while keeping his eyes fixed on Quick.

“I’m so very sorry about all this Barb,” he said, in his pleasant, low growl. “I fear I’ve attracted quite a bit of bother.”

“Well aren’t you just full of surprises.” Barb cooed.