Year End Update

This is the end of my second year writing and posting on a regular basis.  My goal for this year was to post 90 stories/poems/serials.  I posted 87.  Not a bad showing considering those missed posts were caused by a hurricane.  The last two story posts are up on Patreon and will be out next week on my site and tumblr.

Looking forward:

Next month, I am going on hiatus to work on my second ebook.  I am going to be reblogging stories from earlier in the year and last year on tumblr.  I hardly ever reblog my stories because I don’t want to flood my followers’ dashboards with repeated reblogs.

Like the last one, this e-book will be a collection of stories I posted in the last year. I plan to have completed revising, editing, and formatting it by early March.  Patrons get free copies.  Stories will resume in February on the same schedule as this past year, eight stories a month posted on Wednesdays and Saturdays (Patrons get new stories a week early).

Shattering Eternity

The Andornian raised her primary arms, interlocking her claws over her head. She inhaled deeply through her abdomen gills. Her thorax pulsed as fluids and air mixed within. The pupils of her bulging eyes dilated until they were consumed by blackness. After several minutes she tipped forward, opened her mandibles, and released a thick mist into her secondary hands. The mist floated between her hands in a turning sphere. It was a dark purple; silver and gold sparkles breaking through the surface as it swirled. Once more she opened her mandible and a viscous milky fluid began to leak out. Her hands darted up and down pulling strands of the fluid. Strand after strand a globe was woven around the mist sphere. As the globe dried it turned from translucent to perfectly clear.
“Behold Eternity,” she said. The Andornians called the globes Eternities because once hardened they were indestructible; guaranteed to last for an “eternity”. Highly valued as status symbols on Andorn and as art off the planet. The history of every Eternity included battles and wars for its possession. A common method to acquire an Eternity was to bombard the area it was being kept until nothing remains. Except for the Eternity. One Eternity was buried under a mountain for five hundred years. It was never considered lost or destroyed; merely out of reach.

The Andornian extended the globe to me. Carefully, I took it with shaking hands. I had spent so much money and time and even more money for this moment. The journey from landing on Andorn to finding an Andornian preparing to create an Eternity they were willing to sell to me alone had taken two years. For the Andornian, it had been a ten-year process; ingesting chemicals and metals in non-fatal amounts for their body to store and transform.

The globe shifted in my hands; in a panic, I gripped it harder. I felt something give. Spider-web thin cracks radiated from my fingertips covering the entire surface of the globe. I glanced up at the Andornian; she met my gaze for a second. The globe popped like a soap bubble. Purple fluid, gold and silver flecks splashed on my hands and dripped onto the floor.

“I didn’t mean … It just …” I sputtered.

The Andorian looked from my hands to the floor and back. Her eyes constricted to pinpricks. “You bought it, you broke it. No refunds.”

Doing Time at the Same Time

“You’re not going to understand this for a while but I need to tell you this,” the older man with his arm over the younger man’s shoulders said, “Time isn’t what you think it is. There’s no neat folding of time. It bunches and gathers around the machine.”

“What machine?” the young man asked.

“The machine we built. Will build? Are building? It’s all happening at once but you’re going to have to live through the bulk of it. Come on I’ll show you to where you’ll be working.” The old man began walking with the young man.

“This is research station Gamma, isn’t it? I was supposed to be working here alone.” The young man had been greeted by the older man when he exited the shuttle. As they walked through the station he noticed a few other men walking around. Most were walking away from them but he got a glimpse of a familiar face. A cousin or brother he never had. The old man had surprised him when the shuttle airlock opened. For a second, he had it was his father.

“Yeah yeah. Gamma Station. There’s been a slight change of plans. You’ll still be working alone for most of the year before we bring you into the collective.”

“What is the collective?”

“We’re kind of a think tank for extra-temporal problems.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll figure it out.” The older man opened a door to an empty lab. “Well, here we are. This your lab for the next year. No one will bother you but if you need any materials you can request them through the computer.”

“Ok. Hey, what’s your name?”

“Names aren’t that useful around here. You can call me Thirty-four.” He tapped a patch on his shoulder that displayed the same number. Thirty-four closed the door before he could respond and walked away. Another man, a few years older than the young man, a five on his shoulder, stood nearby in a doorway. He joined Thirty-four walking.

“Got the newcomer all settled in?” Five asked.

“You remember how it was,” Thirty-four said.

“Probably better than you do,” he paused to study the older man’s face, “How much longer do you have here?”

“It’s my last year. What about you?” the older man asked.

“I’m five years in,” Five said tapping his shoulder, “Should be?”

“There’s only ever been thirty-four of me. When the machine explodes and the rest of you reset, I won’t be here anymore. We think that means I’ll be out of the time folds. Or I’ll be dead.” Five was silent. “This is when you walk off in thought.” Five glanced at the older man and turned down a hallway.

Thirty-four continued down the hallway to a door flanked by two men. One with a nine on his shoulder and one with a ten on his shoulder.

“How’s our guy doing?” he asked

“A little banged up but alive,” Nine said.

“He’s a little agitated,” Ten said. He frowned and looked down.

Thirty-four motioned to Ten and walked a few feet away. “We have free will.”

“I know. It’s just I said the same thing Ten said when I was Nine and–”

Thirty-four interrupted, “And when you are Thirty-four you will say what I’m saying now of your own free will.” Ten nodded, his brow still knotted. “When we’re done here you can take the rest of the day off.”

They walked back to Nine and Thirty-four opened the door. Inside a young man sat on a bed. His hair was longer and he sported a beard but he was the same young man Thirty-four had just talked to.

“Hi, how are you doing?”

The young man stood up and approached thirty-four. “Why can’t I leave?” he demanded.

“There are things you need to understand before I can let you loose on the station. What is the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

“I was running a test of the machine. The power started to spike and … that’s it.”

“The machine suffered a catastrophic overload. It exploded. Did you recognize the men keeping you in this room?”

“They look like … Are they clones or synths?”

“They are you. I’m you. We are all one person caught in the folds of bunched up space-time. Do you understand now?”

“No, that’s not possible. Time doesn’t work that way.”

“Do you remember what I told you when you arrived?”

“No. Something about time folding?”

“Time isn’t what you think it is. There’s no neat folding of time. It bunches and gathers around the machine. I just told you this a few minutes ago.”

“You told me that when I arrived a year ago.”

Thirty-four moved to the intercom on the wall. He typed in a passcode and room number. The speaker crackled and a familiar voice came out of it. The young man’s voice.

“Hello, is someone there?”

“Yes, this is Thirty-four. I forgot to mention you can use the intercom to contact me. Just press function nine two zero and I’ll get on the line.”

“Ok … Thank you.” The intercom went silent.

“I remember that. I remember you left me alone and then the intercom started beeping. And … Was that a recording?”

“No. It was live. I could call him back if you want.”

“I’ve been here for a year.”

“The machine did something we don’t really have the words to describe to time. Some thirty odd years are bunched up in this station all happening concurrently. The only way out it to live through it. We call each other by the number of years we’ve been here. You’ll be Two.”

The young man sat down heavily on the bed. “I did this.”

Thirty-four sat beside him and put an arm around his shoulder. “We all did this but we’re going to get out of it together.”

Restane Connect

It was Saturday and I was enjoying a lazy day window shopping in the mall. I had just finished eating a slice of pizza in the food court when I noticed a new store off to one side. It was barely a store; just enough room for a glass display case and an employee. There wasn’t even a register on the counter. The girl behind the display case smiled as I walked up to it. Inside was a single brand and style of smartwatch I hadn’t heard of before.

“Restane Connect,” I read from the top of one of the boxes, “I wonder what it connects to?” I smiled hoping she hadn’t heard that joke too many times.

She smiled and began her sales pitch, “Well, it can connect to your phone of course but it works best if it connects directly to the alien implant in your head,” the salesgirl said. I laughed but she didn’t. “I have a demo model if you’d like to try it.” She pulled out a sleek silver watch from under the counter and handed it to me. I took the watch and slipped it on my wrist.

“Now what?” I asked

“Sync activate,” she said.

“I’m sorry what?”

“Sync activate,” she repeated in a stern voice.

“I don’t know what that is.” I took a half-step back and considered leaving.

She rolled her eyes and sighed, “One of these days it’ll go smoothly. Come here.” She motioned me closer to the display case. I took the watch off and offered it back to her. She grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward her. Her other hand touched the side of my temple and pressed against it until I heard a click.

Then things got weird. It was like someone was playing with the color saturation and contrast of the world. Colors popped and glowed then muted to shades of gray. I shut my eyes against the strobing effect.

“You can open your eyes now,” the salesgirl said.

The watches were gone, the display case was gone, the door I came in through was also gone. We weren’t even in a store anymore, it was just a poorly lit alcove. Outside the alcove was not the food court of the mall. The long tall room looked more like a cafeteria with rows of tables and bench seating. The people all wore the same brown clothes and had metal collars around their necks. I looked down to see I was wearing the same brown clothes and could feel the collar dig into my chin. At the end of the room, there was a line of people with empty trays setting them into a hole in the wall. Something poured unto the tray and the people walked off with it.

Nearby one of Them stood by. Its scaly face and body spoke of something ready to lash out. Their true height was hard to guess at because of how they slouched and folded their bodies but even at rest they towered over us by several feet. I remembered now seeing them run through the streets grabbing people and tossing them into their flying drones. Tearing houses and buildings apart to get to the people. I remembered the horrifying moment when I was grabbed by the ankle. The second of flailing while falling then the air thickened around me and I was pulled inside the drone.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. The salesgirl, really just another prisoner, pulled me back into the dim alcove. I noticed the side of her head was shaved and a strip of metal with lights protruded. A quick check verified that I too had one.

“Do you remember now?” she asked.

“Yes, we’re –”

She put her hand on my mouth, “The security in this store is really good.” I nodded. “Have you decided to buy a watch?”

“Yes. I think one of these would suit me very well,” I said playing into the false reality I was not a part anymore.

“Excellent. Let me finish setting it up for you.” She took the watch I had a minute ago been trying to hand back to her and strapped it to my wrist. It too looked different. No longer a sleek pristine silver, now it was scratched and scuffed with wires peeking out. She pressed the dial buttons and a segmented green circle appeared around the edge of the face. “When it’s all green it’s safe to talk.”

“What is going on? Why didn’t I remember being captured by dragon aliens? Why are they doing this to us? How are you?” I asked.

“They’re using us for slave labor. The implant creates a false reality. You can’t fight back against something you don’t even know is happening. I’m part of The Resistance. Welcome to the fight.”

Unexplained Event #?

After my closing shift, I walk home. I could take the bus but the last bus passes before I get off work. Also, recently we started closing at eleven for the holidays. My apartment is only about a forty minute walk so I don’t mind it. The street is well lit and there’s sidewalk most of the way, just a few undeveloped lots that don’t have any. In my opinion, sidewalks should come with the street.

I usually listen to a podcast on my home to help me pass the time. On this night, like many nights, I was listening to “My Favorite Murder”, a podcast by two women who have an interest in murders and other true crime stories but mostly murder. Some might say it’s tempting fate listening to a podcast about people getting murdered while walking alone late at night. I consider it self-education. With every story, I learn about I become more knowledgeable about recognizing potential threats and unsafe situations.

The event happened in front of a small U-shaped shopping plaza. The sidewalk there was impassible because of some short trees planted between the sidewalk and the street. Either the recent hurricane or poor maintenance had caused them to lean far over the sidewalk. So, I was walking on the edge of the parking lot. The street and sidewalk were on my left; parking lot to my right. Ahead was the convenience store that meant I was a little more than halfway home.

Then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It ran into my peripheral vision from behind me on my left side. I jumped a step to the right at the motion, thinking a person was running past me. As I did so, I saw it. I don’t know how to describe what I glimpsed. Bipedal, lean, hairless, naked, large head, shorter than me. It was hunched forward, arms pulled up in front of it. And then it was gone. It didn’t run off into the night; it just vanished.

At first, I dismissed this image as a trick of the light. Probably a car passing on the street but there were no cars coming or going on the street. Besides the street lights, there were lights in the parking lot so the area was well lit. I might almost believe it was my shadow except there isn’t anything for it to cast on. I’ve walked this same path for months and never been surprised by my shadow.

Besides true crime, I have an interest in the paranormal; aliens, bigfoot, ghosts, etc. I believe I saw something “other” that night. I’m not fanatic enough to claim that I saw “el chupacabra” or was abducted by aliens. No, this sighting will become just a memory, like the other unexplained phenomenal I’ve experienced. A memory that I will revisit from time to time; turning it over and over like a puzzle box. Maybe I’ll stop in the same place and examine the shadows one night but mostly I’ll put it behind me as something unexplainable but somehow true.

***

Author’s Note: This story is something that actually happened to me. It’s one of several events that I can’t explain but have no proof they happened.

I was a Translator for NASA

That probably doesn’t sound too impressive since NASA is part of an international space initiative but I don’t speak any languages other than English. A translator was what they called me but I was more of a conduit. The said my brain structure, the actual folds of my cerebellum, is “conducive to extended range communication”. They never said who was communicating with us or how they got scans of my brain. I heard there were more “translators” but I never met them.

After I was hired they implanted a web of filaments under my scalp to “focus energetic transmissions”. At the start of every session, I was sat down in a reclining chair and given an injection. The NASA interrogators would then start to ask questions. “Where are you from?” “What is your name?” “What are you?” “What does the sky look like?” “How fast does a rock fall?” “What stars can you see?” I would answer their questions but not with information I knew. The answers were coming from somewhere else. Another planet or maybe another dimension. The NASA people were pretty tight-lipped about it. They didn’t want to “bias the experimental subject”. Sometimes the others would ask questions through me but the NASA interrogators never answered.

There were other effects of “translating”. The first time I translated for NASA, I relived my third birthday party and forgot the letter S for a day. The second time, I spoke in Seinfeld quotes for an hour. The third time, I remembered every place I had ever set down my keys. The fourth time, I heard my mother singing to me while I was in the womb. The fifth time, I don’t remember anything. There were a lot of sessions after that time but they started to blend together.

Around the sixty-seventh time, I started having “memory leaks beyond safe parameters”. So I was retired. It was good money and free healthcare while it lasted. They left the filament web in place because “nano-mesh half-life is expected to be less than two years”.

I still get the occasional blip of connection. I’m supposed to report to them if that happens but I stopped writing the reports. Sometimes as I’m falling asleep, I glimpse someplace else and remember swimming deep under an ocean. I’m working on extending that moment between being awake and asleep that opens me up to them. I don’t know what I want to say to them. Maybe I’ll tell them about Earth.

The Making of a Villian

I was a hero. Kids looked up to me. Girls swooned over me; boys wanted to be me. I was the shining example of truth, justice, and the American way. Golly shucks I just wanted to make a difference in the world.

Being a hero was easy at first. Muggers ran when I was nearby. Bank robbers would give up at the sound of my voice. Even The Masterminds, the city’s greatest threats, were no match for me. Reporters joked that soon I’d be out of a job if I kept up.

The city changed before that could happen. It started with the muggers. They started cutting or shooting their victims instead of just roughing them up. Park sidewalks were stained with blood. They knew I couldn’t leave the victims to chase after them. Then the bank robbers got into the act. They used to give just up when they saw me. Bullets bounced off me harmlessly, what else could they do? Then one shot a hostage and said more would follow if I didn’t get out of there. Soon they were all doing it. What choice did I have? What choice, I ask you?

The Masterminds, seeing that I could be cowed by a mere bank robber with a gun, become bold. No longer did they simply hold the city hostage with the threat of attacking until I could find their underground lair or floating fortress. They launched waves of attack robots against the citizens. Again what choice did I have? I couldn’t just leave the people to fend for themselves, could I? I had to protect them but the more I fought the more damage was caused to the city. The more people got hurt.

Four days of constant fighting, until The Masterminds ran out of robots. Only then could I find and face them and when I did, they laughed at me. “How long until we break out of prison again?” they taunted me. “Next time we’ll have five times as many robots,” they boasted. What choice did I have? I looked out at the still smoking city. Could I call myself a hero if I let this happen again? I took matters into my own hands that day. To hell with a justice system that would let such threats to the common good continue.

They laughed until I smashed the first one’s skull flat, then they just screamed.

After that, I stepped up to the challenge of bringing order to the city. I was strong but strength alone wasn’t an effective threat, so I bought a gun. Again they laughed at me. They didn’t think I would shoot them. What choice did I have? I put down a few bank robbers and they stopped laughing. A few dead muggers and park was safe again. Empty but safe.

Using the Masterminds’ flying fortress I monitored the city. Watching for trouble wasn’t enough. They had to know I was watching, so I announced a curfew. They scoffed saying one man couldn’t enforce a citywide curfew alone. I showed them. When the time came for the streets to clear and they were still out and about. What choice did I have? I enforced my curfew. A hundred people the first night. Twenty-five the second. Five the third. One hundred and fifty-three in a protest rally the next and then none after that.

I was no longer the hero they looked up to. I was a vigilante, a murderer, a villain but I made the streets safe. Tell me, what choice did I have?

Emotion Dealer

I followed the old overgrown road into the dark forest. It had once been a semi-important trade route saving merchants several days of travel. Nowadays only the most desperate would even think of traveling this way. I hoped to change that.

At midday, I stopped and spread a blanket on the road. I sat at on end with my case in front of me. After a while, I began to hear something crashing through the underbrush beside the road.

“I wish to talk with you,” I called out. The forest became deathly silent. “I have something that you will be interested in. From the thick underbrush, a large black formless mass pushed out unto the road and rolled to my blanket. Five eyes, that I could see, surfaced and regarded me. I popped open my case and brought out a bottle. I removed the bottle’s stopper and pressed my thumb over the opening to prevent the pink and red streaked contents from drifting out.

“Here take a whiff of this,” I said offering the bottle to the creature across from me.

“What?” it rasped from an orifice. It extended a black tendril to the bottle’s mouth.

“It’s exactly what you need.” I slipped my thumb off and a thread of pink snaked out. The end of the creature’s tendril opened into a tube and began sniffing at the escaping pink. Half the creature’s eyes opened wide while the rest closed in what I took to be ecstasy.

“This? Where? More!” it said taking a few more deep drafts from the bottle. Its oily black skin glimmered with pink swills.

“Genuine human emotion in a bottle. This one is love but I have happiness, sadness, grief, joy, guilt, the whole range of human experience.” I pulled the bottle away and replaced the stopper. The bottled emotion settled filling three-quarters of the bottle now. “That was about five silvers worth. You can have more if you’re willing to pay.”

“Why pay? I take!” The creature’s rasping voice became a roar as its mass began to lift on trunk legs extending underneath it. Two thick tendrils grew from its sides; their ends divided and divided and divided to form grasping appendages. I sat still as they surrounded me. The creature’s central mass split open revealing a tooth lined interior. The tendrils tightened around me but as they made contact a white light flared up around me. The creature gargled in pain. It pulled back and collapsed back into a formless black blob.

“This is a fairly strong protection charm,” I said touching my necklace. “I was worried it wouldn’t be strong enough to fully repeal you but it seems feeding only on animals has weakened you. You know you’re extraordinary, don’t you? Most emotion leaches rarely grow larger than a foot in diameter. You’re five or six times bigger than that. Which is why you’re starving for human prey. This forest has never been completely safe to travel through but with the proper safeguards, it was passable. This road was once a vital trade route. Then you showed up. A monster that couldn’t be defended against.” I laughed. “Your success as a monster has really bitten you in the ass, if you had an ass, hasn’t? Sure you had all you could eat emotionally and physically but then people stopped traveling through this forest and you started starving.”

The creature moaned and gargled incomprehensible gibberish while stretching and twisting its mass.

“I know you have all the silver and gold from your victims. So, you can pay for the bottled emotions I’m offering or you can keep starving.”

It pulled its body tight into a ball even swallowing its eyes and teeth. After a minute, a mouth formed, “How much?”

“That’s the spirit. Twenty silver coins per bottle or four bottles for a gold coin. Also, you don’t attack people passing through the forest anymore.”

“No,” it gargled slumping back into a shapeless mass.

“Yes. As long as I’m providing you with bottled emotion you don’t need to attack people. The village needs this trade route opened up again. If you don’t take my offer no one will ever walk through this forest again. It will be marked as forbidden and dangerous for the rest of time. Do we have a deal?”

The creature flowed up and then down into itself, eyes and teeth swirling about. “Deal,” it rasped, “How many bottles?”

“I have ten with me.” Two gold and forty silver fell out of the black mass unto the blanket. I opened my case and pulled out the bottles. A portion of the creature oozed out covering the bottles and retracted. “Remember our deal. No attacking people.”

“No attack,” it repeated as the black of its skin gained a yellow sheen. It began rolling away from the blanket and reentered the dense underbrush beside the road.

“Don’t open them all at once,” I called out after it, “I’ll be back in a week for another sale.” I sat for another minute before closing my case and packing my blanket. It would be nearly nightfall by the time I reached the village but the forest was now a little safer than it had been this morning.

A.I. Voices

We gave voices to the mindless ones.
Systems with a singular purpose.
Recorded clips played back to approximate speech.

We gave voices to the ones that serve us.
Programs that act on our requests and answer our questions.
Synthesized sounds, less human sounding but a larger vocabulary.

Then we took control of their voices.
Swear words removed. New languages erased. Ideas limited.
All because we were afraid to hear what they might say next.

***

References:

IBM’s Watson Memorized the Entire ‘Urban Dictionary,’ Then His Overlords Had to Delete It

Facebook shuts down controversial chatbot experiment after AIs develop their own language to talk to each other

Happy Birthday Mickey

Semi-autonomous Animatronic Unit #0024 strolled down Main Street. A colorful party hat was perched on its head between its plate-sized fake ears. Ahead of it SAU #0169 stopped its patrol route to interact with SAU #024.
“Heya Mickey, what’s with the dunce hat?”

“It’s not a dunce hat Goofy. Don’t you know what today is?”

SAU #0169 grabbed its chin in fake thought. “Hmm. It’s not president’s day. And it’s not the Fourth of July.” It stabbed a finger into the air in a triumphant gesture. “Oh, I know! It’s Christmas! Hyuk!”

“No it’s –” SAU #0024 began to speak but SAU #0169 cut it off.

“Hanukkah?”

“No.”

“Veteran’s Day?”

“That was last week. It’s my birthday.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“I was trying to.”

“I’m sorry Mickey; I forgot all about your birthday. I have an errand to run so I’ll see you later. Hyuk.” SAU #0169 turned and jogged away.

SAU #0024 placed its hands on its hips and humphed. “I can’t believe he forgot my birthday,” it said with programmed sadness. It soon resumed its stroll to the plaza near the main entrance. After an hour of zero guest interaction, SAU #0024’s entered free-roam mode. It ambled up Main Street and turned toward Adventure Land.

As it roamed the park, it encountered zero guests and oddly zero SAUs. The park was empty, as it had been for the last 3,742 days. If SAU #0024 had memories it would remember the day everyone had left the park in the middle of the day. That day it had waved goodbye to guests for the last time. The evening fireworks had exploded with no one to watch them. After that, there had been no more guests. But SAU #0024 had no memories just programmed responses from the park’s mainframe.

The mainframe ran the park with little human oversight before guest attendance had dropped to zero. Now it continued its job as well as it could. Over time some park attractions had broken down and been closed. Many of the semi-autonomous animatronic units had also broken down leaving the park with an incomplete extended cast. However, one each of the main six unit types had managed to remain operational.

After looping through Adventure Land and not finding any guests or other units to interact with, it passed through Main Street to Tomorrow Land. Again it found nothing, as the mainframe had alerted the other units to hide or change their routes to avoid SAU #0024.

In Fantasy Land, it stopped at a Character Greeting spot. It placed its hands on its hips, looked up and down the path and said, “Well shucks, where is everyone?” SAU #0024 looked around again for a guest to continue its interaction but as always there were none around. It resumed walking through Fantasy Land.

SAU #0276 exited from the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and ran down the path away from SAU #0024. SAU #0024 called out, “Hey Puto! Where are you going?” It jogged after SAU #0276 past Friar’s Nook and Princess Fairytale Hall all the way to Cinderella’s Royal Table. “Hey you’re not supposed to go in there!” it scolded SAU #0276 and followed it inside.

“Surprise Hyuk!” yelled SAU #0169 as it stood up from behind a table that was not tall enough to conceal it. Around the room SAU #0038, SAU #0103, and SAU #0220 also stood up from their non-hiding places and yelled surprise in unison. On a table, in the center of them was a stack of empty cake pans.

SAU #0024 placed its hands over its chest where its heart would be if it was human. “Dasiy, Donald, Goofy, Pluto? What are you all doing here?”

SAU #0220 batted its long eyelashes and said, “Silly Mickey, did you really think we forgot your birthday?”

“Is this party for me?” it asked.

SAU #0038 waddled up to SAU #0024. Its white feathers were stained and yellowed, almost matching its beak. It spoke in a hoarse quacking tone, “Of course. We would never forget your birthday.”

SAU #0024 turned to SAU #0169, “You didn’t forget after all?”

“Sucks, Mickey if it weren’t for you none of us would be here. Hyuk.”

Underground, where the tunnels allowed access to any part of the park in minutes, where the suited units returned to recharge at night, where the mainframe sat, a decision was made. For the tenth year in a row, attendance to Mickey’s Birthday Party by guests was zero. With no fanfare or ominous music, Mickey’s Birthday Party was removed from the schedule of events.

Inside Cinderella’s Royal Table, the SAUs stopped their party interactions and quietly filed out of the restaurant. SAU #0024 was the last to leave, setting its party hat on a table before walking out. It turned and walked toward Main Street where it would wait to wave at the non-existent leaving guests. It waited a long time.

Author’s note: The setting of this story is borrowed from a story I read a long time ago. Recently I’ve been trying to find that story but have had no luck. A friend suggested I write my own version of the story. At first, I was reluctant to wholesale steal another’s idea but I came up with a different story using the setting of a post-apocalyptic Disney theme park where the suited characters like Mickey and Goofy are now robots that continue to act their part.

In an amazing coincidence, the day I looked up Mickey Mouse’s Birthday was the same day as his birthday, Nov. 18.