Like all insomniacs, Simon Samuels knew that the quickest way to fall asleep was to avoid thinking about it at all costs. If it were as easy as just saying it makes it sound, of course, there’d be no insomniacs.

Simon rolled over, his aching eyes searching for the clock and finding 3:17 staring unblinkingly back at him. He tossed back the covers and sighed. His feet hit the floor, the dull thud stamping out any hope of sleep, and his legs straightened creakily, carrying an unwilling torso. Michelle groaned and readjusted the covers, having given up waking up with Simon over a decade ago.

Simon took a deep breath and blinked away the blackness at the edges of his vision that haunted him despite all the god damned blood pressure pills his quack doctor prescribed.

To be fair, it wasn’t the doctor’s fault. No, Simon had been destined to a lifetime of maladies since the doctor who’d brought him into this blasted world marked down ANPR on his charts- Augmentations Not Properly Received. Simon smiled bitterly. No, it’d been nobody’s fault- God knows the literature on the subject stressed that enough. Roughly 3% of the population rejected the Von Schwimmer Augmentations either partially or, as in Simon’s case, completely. But, as brightly colored pamphlets with names like Living as an Incompatible and ANPR and You had been telling him for the last 47 miserable years, his incompatibility was nothing to be ashamed of! As long as he took “sensible precautions,” he could live a long, healthy, normal life.

Simon hated the word normal, not because he thought of it as unattainable but because he knew it was all he could ever hope for. He’d read history books, studied human biology- there was nothing “normal” about people who could read a printed page at 300 yards, or hear a whisper across a football field, or live for 250 years. Or stop their hearts on a whim. Or, the newest addition to the augs and the one Simon found most appalling, little children with a jack in the base of their necks that allowed them to directly interface with computers. Some things are just unnatural, dammit.

He coughed as he walked down the stairs to the kitchen, and ducked instinctively to avoid the overhang his forehead was entirely too well-acquainted with. God, what a shitty little apartment. He walked over to the wall and inspected the peeling white paint, the yellowed dry-wall beneath it. The microwave that only worked on even Thursdays, the toaster that didn’t work at all. The door to the dumbwaiter that connected the kitchen to the apartment’s central synthesizer had been busted for months, but since the synthesizer had provided nothing but lukewarm, overdone steak for going on year now (the landlord was “working on it”), that wasn’t much of a loss. About the only reliable piece of gadgetry in this shithole was the hypnotube, though that was no fault of Michelle’s, what with the eight hours she spent plugged into it everyday. If anything were to happen to it, Simon knew, she would spare no expense to get it fixed as quickly as humanly possible.

Not that he blamed her. She needed some escape, after what she’d been through. Ever since her neural augs had started going about five years ago, it’d been all he could do to keep her from suicide. When she’d bolt awake screaming from the horrific images her shorted circuits shunted into her gray matter, Simon could do nothing but hold her and tell her none of it was real. The doctors had said that this sort of thing shouldn’t happen, was actually, technically, impossible. Doctors. Nowadays they were nothing more than glorified electricians. When faced with a simple, real, human problem like low blood pressure, they were completely at a loss.

Simon sniffled. One of the problems of living in a post-modern, post-disease, post-normal world was that you could never find any damn tissues. Or aspirin when you’ve got a headache. Or sleeping pills when you just want 8 hours of comfortable, dreamless oblivion. Or a million other little things that the bionic fucks didn’t need and didn’t create. He walked into the bathroom to grab some toilet paper and blow his nose. As he walked, he told himself he wouldn’t give into temptation, and as he walked, he knew he would. After he’d flushed his makeshift tissues, he hesitated a moment, quickly losing an internal argument. Then he opened the medicine cabinet that only he had use for and brought out his bag full of fantasies.

If you have, for any reason, failed to receive the Von Schwimmer Augmentations, the Elk Grove Naturalist Colony is the place for you!
Do you feel out of place among augs?
Do you face discrimination in your professional or personal life?
Have you ever yearned for a community of your peers where you are treated, not as a freak or 2nd class citizen, but as a beautiful, unique and natural human being with something special to offer the world?
The Elk Grove Naturalist Colony welcomes incompatibles and members of the Natural Citizens Movement who want to start a new life among kindred spirits.
For details, and to schedule a visit, call or holo 578C.
NOTE: Please be prepared to provide proof of Natural state.

Simon reread the familiar words, feeling as always the tightness of longing in his throat, and looked at the friendly people in the Community pictures, all radiating warm humanity, without the tell-tale glint of metallic replacement retinas. Before, when Michelle had been healthy, he hadn’t even dared to dream of Elk Grove, but since she developed her… condition? Mechanical dementia? The fuckers didn’t even have a word for it… since then, Simon had been considering more and more frequently how to broach the topic with her, sell her on the idea of leaving their lives behind and going someplace where they wouldn’t be pariahs or misfits. He’d even ensured that she’d be welcome: he’d called the Community (from a public booth with no vid- you can never be too careful) and explained the situation as best he could to the friendly, attractive, natural receptionist. She assured him that, as long as he was Natural, all members of his immediate family were also eligible, although the cost, already prohibitive, was substantially higher for augs. When he asked if her extenuating circumstances would cut down the cost at all he was told, politely but firmly, that she could make no guarantees, or indeed even discuss cost until he completed a preliminary application including employment information and financial records. At that point Simon quickly thanked her and hung up so as not to give in to the almost overwhelming urge to sign up for a visit right then and there.

It wasn’t just the appeal of a city full of Naturals, although the prospect of being able to look the people he met in the eye without seeing that ethereal coldness made him ache. No, beyond that, the Colony was a return to a simpler time. No synthesizers on the whole island: everyone either ordered in or learned to cook their own meals. Hoppers were banned as well. People got around by groundcar, most antiques but some manufactured on the island in their burgeoning industrial complex. They were also building a Mach II light rail system. The idea of stepping back in time, to a more simple and elegant age, intoxicated Simon. He’d decided long ago that if he ever got there, he’d become a farmer. Sure, he wouldn’t be able to network with his drones remotely through his augs like the successful corporate farmers could, controlling all the operations on an 800-acre one-crop farm producing at maximum capacity from his easy chair, but that wasn’t farming anyway. Simon didn’t want to think work done: he wanted to actually do it, be out in the sun, get his hands dirty, breathe hard and sweat. Maybe then he’d be able to find the sleep that eluded him in the city. And maybe at Elk Grove he wouldn’t feel the heaviness of failure that dogged him everywhere, making him sick and irritable and weary every second of every day.

Simon saw a drop of water hit the brochure, reached up to feel the tears he hadn’t realized he’d been crying. With shaking fingers he put the worn brochure back in the bag and rummaged around for the small bound book with the dark green cover. As he searched he tried to remember how many pages remained. 9? or 7? He cursed himself again, both for the promise he’d made and the brevity of the notebook.

Opening it, he went through his normal ritual, reading every poem before letting his pen touch the paper. Most he’d memorized, having written them over a year ago, but some always snuck up on him. For instance, from June 3rd, his eulogy for his dead cousin.

The dewy remains
of my sticky tears
do not bring the
sleepy morning you deserve
but drown
the laughter of your youth
in salty puddles
too shallow to regard

He touched his face, as sticky now as the day he had come home from the funeral and written that poem. He thought of Violet. A partial, the only member of his family who could see his ANPR as a tragedy and not a disgrace. Simon had often felt partials had it the hardest: never fully part of the aug culture, but incapable of rejecting it entirely without rejecting part of themselves. But Violet had been so graceful, never seeming out of place with augs but never divorcing herself from her ANPR by scorning Naturals as so many partials did. She and Simon had on several occasions talked deep into the night about incompatibility and everything that comes along with it, physically, culturally, socially, emotionally, and though Violet was nearly two decades his junior Simon often came away from these talks with the feeling that he was the youngster. Violet always had an understanding beyond her years. When her sister had called Simon to tell him what happened, he’d been nearly catatonic with grief. The one person he knew who was strong enough to bear the incredible societal pressure of being ANPR was gone, killed in a failed robbery attempt at her jewelry store.

They never found her murderer, despite security holos depicting his face, eyes and fingerprints. He probably got new ones within a few hours at some blackmarket chop shop. But Simon had seen the holos, examined the eyes, and knew it was a Natural who did this to her, killed one of his own in a mindless, desperate act.

And now he came upon the poem he’d written for that anonymous Natural murderer.

You ended her
with elegant swiftness
Now, breath
Now, stop
One pop, now gone
But if you were found
You would not go so smooth
Not smooth, not clean
but slow
Your death’s song would echo
until it reached her soul in heaven
and we could, she and I, find peace

But, not found
my chest aches
and her soul
rattles in my hollow heart
and will not cease
and will not sleep

Simon read the last few pages and realized yet again that he had no poems of joy. He could make words weep, grieve, curse, strain, hate; he could not make them soar. A quick count revealed only five pages remained. Five! Simon sighed.

Hunter stalks
but does not find
Hunger lusts
but does not want
The taste
cannot compare
to the desire

Reading this drivel, he was reminded of his favorite poem, the third in this notebook, the only one with a trace of humor, albeit self-deprecating.

I can’t hide
My shitty poetry
Through line breaks

He knew he was no master. Didn’t have access to an internal thesaurus, hadn’t been implanted with metaphor and imagery at birth, didn’t have simile flowing through his veins. But hell, neither did Poe, cummings, Lovecraft, Plath. He had read them, devoured the classics even as his peers told him that he should try the new stuff, it was more vivid. But all of it was sucrose, sticky sweet, only using despair as a springboard for hope. Simon had a very low tolerance for hope.

He heard Michelle’s footsteps creaking on the narrow staircase and quickly shoved the notebook back in the bag, the bag back in the medicine cabinet. No one had ever read his poetry, and no one ever would.

He stared at the closed door, thinking about the four pages, the poems that would fill them, and the inevitable end.
“Where’re you going?”
“Out to the lake. Beautiful weather, today. Hinde wants to go swimming.”
“Good. Have fun. I may be out when you return, but when I get back we’ll flow.”
“Alright. Bye now.”
“Enjoy yourselves.”

Of course, they didn’t say all this. River Tokuro hadn’t ever spoken a complete sentence to her husband: there was never any need. It had been determined long ago that the vast majority of communication came through tone and body language. In fact, the augs probably could’ve extrapolated meaning without any sound at all, but the occasional word or phrase was comforting. Made one feel connected.

As she heard the door close behind her husband and young daughter, River’s attention turned to her son. A query revealed that Ollie was still asleep. At half past 9! River tutted as she sent him a wake up call that would bring him slowly out of REM sleep so he would wake feeling rested. If she knew Ollie, though, he’d still be mumbling and full of complaints as he stumbled out of his suite and into the shared living space. That boy was a piece of work.

Sensing her worries, Fourspot, the family cat, hopped down from her perch on the window seat and rubbed against River’s leg. River’s husband had campaigned hard for a Natural cat, but River had grown up with four cats without augs, and remembered the aloofness with which they withheld their affections and the viciousness of their teeth and claws when River, young and vibrant, had merely wanted to play. No, it was certainly better this way. Fourspot understood when River wanted a loving friend, when she wanted to play, when she wanted to be left alone. And she’d never bared tooth or claw with intent to harm, only for their twice-monthly trimming sessions so that her claws wouldn’t hurt the furniture. She also had a little toilet that she knew how to use, eliminating the nauseating litter boxes of River’s youth (they’d been her only chore in a very modern household, but oh, how she’d loathed them).

Reaching down to scratch Fourspot under the chin, River was struck yet again by how Natural the cat looked. Electronic whiskers, metal retinas, bullet-proof fur and an entirely artificial central nervous system, and she still looked merely an evolutionary step removed from the big cats that had so delighted River’s children when they were younger. It was the eyes, she thought. They’ve never been able to correct that damnable glint in human eyes, but Fourspot’s beady green dots betrayed nothing.

Of course, humans weren’t half bad. River called up a full-body holo of herself, examined it head to toe and chuckled. A modern day Rip Van Winkle from, say, the late 20th century would never guess or believe that this supple, infinitely feminine figure could live, with proper care, for over 500 years, was nearly invulnerable short of an industrial strength blowtorch, could kill an ox with her bare hands without breaking a sweat and had a brain with 100 times the capacity of the old Library of Congress. Yes, the augs had to be experienced to be believed.

And I’d better start putting them to use, River thought wryly as she canceled the hologram. Fourspot got the hint and trotted back to the sunny patch on the window seat as River told the house to darken the room and unfurl her meditation couch. Tailored specifically to fit her body and bring about a deeper understanding of both the technical and creative sides of her craft, this couch had put a significant dent into the family saving. But River had known it would do wonders for her poetry, and had been proven right. Previously the highest award she’d received was an honorable mention in the sector’s annual poetry contest: now one of her collections was up for the National Prestige Award and there was some serious speculation that she would become the next Poet Laureate of the Coalition. In his more hateful moments River’s husband would accuse her of buying her success with the chair, but River knew it was her talent. The chair had just helped to unlock what was already there.

She began her relaxation exercises as usual, but felt an unfamiliar anxiety in the pit of her stomach. Recently she’d been having some trouble with the trance. While she was composing she’d felt an… otherness, like someone was invading her mind. No, invading was too strong. It was more like she had an audience, someone observing her thoughts, turning them over, looking into her mind and disliking what they saw. This sensation had never been enough to pull her out of the trance, but she had resolved to get herself a full diagnostic as soon as possible.

As relaxed as she was going to get, River let the invisible hands lift her slowly into the air, turning her on her back and gently nestling her supine figure into the contours of the chair. Almost immediately all concerns were washed away by the complicated aural and psychic emanations of the chair, designed to match with her augs’ frequencies and bring her into the optimal state of trance for composing. Her last conscious thought was how silly it was that some poets insisted on using pen and paper. Then, she was gone.

Composing in trance has been described in lots of ways: free-association, a therapy session, Mad-Libs. But the experience is so unique that, really, only those who have done it can understand it. River Tokuro was floating in a gray sky, looking down at the world and seeing, not buildings, but shards of light, some bright and some dark and some merely present, some lavender and some turquoise and some green and some colors that have no names. This was her experience. But the genius of the programming of the couch was in its ability to take that experience and pair it with the patterns of the most gifted poets in history to create something beautiful. There would be a small collection of poems waiting when River awoke, poems capturing the essence of her artistic vision but also different enough from each other and her other works (which the computer cross-referenced during the composition process) that each had a fresh feel and outlook.

The scenery shifted, and River gently fell down towards the earth she had been observing from afar. The skyscrapers solidified, and as River floated downwards she peered into windows, seeing small dramas and comedies being played out on microscopic screens. Until she stopped with an uncomfortable suddenness, and was yanked upwards, towards a particular window, her face pressed against it, then passing through it, into a pretty young woman who was shining with rage.


And this woman, and River, let out a scream that shatters the world, the building she’s in coalesces, becoming a river of blood and sweat and hatred that washes them, still screaming, into the heart of the world, and burns up all of the joy and life and hope that they have ever known into soot and toil and loss. And River is still screaming when she wakes up, screaming so loudly she doesn’t notice the blood leaking from her temples and her nose, still screaming as she slaps away the hand of her son and then slaps him again, harder, knocking him to the floor, and now that hate has become her own as she screams,

Her blinding spew of bile stops as suddenly as it started. She twitches, straightens, collapses like someone severed her spinal column, lying on the floor of her apartment, the blood making little splotches in the expensive carpeting, looking as fragile as the confused little boy, crying in the corner.

He knew he’d wait this long. Only one page left in the damned book. He’d had plenty of excuses, of course. He’d been all primed to do it a few days ago, only to come home and discover Michelle had had another attack. He’d spent the entire evening simply holding her, listening to her mutter profanities. Couldn’t approach her about it then. And at the last minute he’d decided he wanted another brochure: the one he had was so worn, had been cried upon so many times that it made Elk Grove look cheap and trashy. No, with a crisp brochure and the patter he’d worked out, he was sure that she’d see things his way.

But he’d held off on finishing his notebook for four days because of it, and the time had come. He’d stopped by the market and gotten two real steaks, some ice cream and some honest-to-goodness French champagne. He’d even stopped by a florist and gotten some roses. When he got her home he shooed her upstairs, telling her he had a surprise in store, then got everything prepared. When it was ready, he called her down.

He handed her a rose and pulled out her chair.
“Champagne, my lady?”
“Champagne?” Michelle grinned. “What’re we celebrating, Simon?”
“A new opportunity.”
Michelle looked intrigued. “What’s this?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I’ve decided… have you ever heard of Elk Grove?”
“The name sounds familiar. That name was on the news… oh, wait, I remember. Those were the people who tried to pipebomb the maternity ward, right?”

Simon had heard about it at the time, but hadn’t thought of it since. “Oh, well, that was actually a fringe group, and they weren’t after the newborns, they were protesting mandatory augmentation, but, no, Elk Grove divorced itself from that group a while ago, so, no.”

Simon awkwardly refills Michelle’s almost-full champagne flute. The expression on Michelle’s face had changed from “intrigued” to “wary.” Simon decided to drop it until after supper.

“Let business wait. Tonight, madam, is for you. Anything you desire, I will provide.”

He presented her steak with a flourish, and talk soon turned to other things. But the seeds had been planted. As Simon presented her with her ice cream, Michelle looked him hard in the eye.

“Look, Simon, what do you have to do with these terrorists?”

Simon recoiled like he’d been slapped. “Babe, they’re not terrorists. They’re just… how could you say that? They’re not terrorists. Look, I’ve got some literature from their Naturalist Colony. It’s a community consisting solely of Naturals and their families. I’ve read over a lot of their stuff, and I’ve talked to them. Now, I know it’d be a big change, but if you’d just read some of it and try and keep an open mind…”

Simon withered. Michelle’s eyes were ice.

“Where was I when you were doing this reading? Where was I when you were talking to these babykillers?”

“I wanted to scope things out before I brought anything up with you. You know, make sure everything was legitimate, make sure it was a place we would like to be.”

“We? No, Simon, this is a place where YOU want to be. I know you have had difficulties adjusting, Simon, but I don’t feel that it’s my-”

Now it was Michelle’s turn to wither as Simon breathed fire. “DIFFICULTIES ADJUSTING, Michelle? What the FUCK would you know about my ‘difficulties adjusting!’ I would’ve done this YEARS ago if it weren’t for you! But I KNEW you’d be too ashamed of the stigma of a Naturalist Colony, because then you’d have to acknowledge that your husband is a CRIPPLE, a dirty, useless Natural who’ll never amount to anything. So I waited, and waited, until I couldn’t take it anymore, I just had to do something to make this life more bearable. I’m sorry, Michelle. I have to. I just can’t take it. I can’t breathe.” The wind out of his sails, he slumped down in his chair. He could sense Michelle’s maternal instincts kicking in. He grinned inwardly. He didn’t feel bad about taking advantage of her sympathies because everything he’d said was true. He really couldn’t handle it anymore.

“Simon, baby… here. Let me see the brochure.”

“Thank you.”

He handed her the pamphlet and waited, but her hard blue eyes stayed locked onto him. Her eyes had always made him feel naked, and he suddenly did feel bad about the ulterior motives behind his outburst. He looked for something to say to break the tension.

“They even said that they could provide some treatment for… you know.”

Michelle’s eyes flared. Simon immediately regretted opening his mouth.

“For what? Treatment for what, Simon?”

“You know. Your attacks.” Simon mumbled.

“Oh can they. How very kind of them. Oh, their generosity has me all a tizzy. Excuse me while I go and pack my things.”

“No need for sarcasm, dear.” Simon barely whispered.

“No, Simon, I’ll tell you what there’s no need for. There’s no need for you to make decisions about my life without consulting me. You’re the one who needs this crock of shit, not me. I’m not the charity case here.”

“Charity case? Is that what I am? I’m a fucking CHARITY case! Don’t forget who holds you when you cry, Michelle, dear. You wouldn’t get through a week without me.”

Michelle dropped her voice to a hiss.  “Is that a threat, Simon Maxwell Samuels?”

Simon merely stared back at her. Without breaking eye contact, Michelle ripped the brochure to pieces.

“I’m calling your bluff, tough guy. Get out.”

Simon stopped breathing.  “Wa-”

“I said get out.”

“Look, I’m sorry if I was out of line, but babe, I love you, c’mon…”

“I said GET OUT.”

Simon’s surprise had turned to anger. “Look, this is just as much my house as it is yours. You can’t just-”

“I can, and I have. Now get the fuck out.”

Simon stood up, shaking with rage.

“Alright. I’ll leave. I’ll go to Elk Grove. And I’ll await your holo in a week- no, no, you won’t last a week. Your holo in a few days once you’ve had another attack and you’re begging for me to come back and talking about how you’re going to kill yourself without me-”

Michelle flips the table over. “Get out. Get out! I FUCKING HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! Get out!”

Michelle drops into an instinctual crouch, and they begin to circle. Simon picks up his monologue, a murderous smile playing across his lips.

“Oh, yes, me being gone will make everything better. When you’re all alone in our bed, all alone in the bathroom, when the walls begin to murmur treacherous things… the walls have ears you know, they know what you’re thinking, they can bore into your brain and see all the dirty little secrets you’ve been keeping…”

Michelle snaps. She lunges, clawing at Simon’s face. He anticipates, grabbing her wrist and pulling her in close, leering. She kicks him away, falling and scrambling across the floor.

“Get away! Leave this house! I HATE YOU!”

Simon goes to the door. Then he turns, and, with an evil gleam in his eye, bows deeply, scraping his imaginary hat against the ground. Then he turns on his heel and walks out, closing the door ever so gently behind him.


And Michelle starts pummeling the door, kicking and pounding and screaming for everything she was worth, until she was completely spent, and she slid down into a whimpering, crying heap.

She was determined to keep her resolve. She went about her life as normal, never letting anyone know anything was bothering her. But every night when she came home she felt more and more of her sanity slipping away, leaving her jumpy, unable to filter out ambient noise. In the middle of conversations she would subconsciously turn towards the honk of a bus or the creak of a stair. It was worse when she was alone. She would sprint from her front door to her bed, where she would remain huddled, never quite awake but never quite asleep, until the morning came and she had to walk down those treacherous stairs. Simon had been right. The walls did have ears. They knew her secrets, they knew her sins, they whispered in the dark. When she had her first attack she refused to cry out, digging her nails into her arm until she bled, biting her lip until she’d created a permanent indentation.

He never called. She imagined him at this colony of babykillers, fraternizing with radicals just like him, enjoying himself immensely. She burned with hatred. It took every bit of will not to make the call.

One morning she couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed. She took deep breaths, she counted to ten, she recited the alphabet backwards, but when she reached her foot out towards the floor she had a vision of the bogeyman, no longer a nighttime story, reaching out from under the bed, grabbing her by the ankle, dragging her into the deepest circle of hell and making her pay for her sins. And then she thought, I’m already there. The walls began to close in around her, their murmurs too loud to ignore. They told of her frailty, of her weakness. She screamed, huddled under the covers like a little girl, but they kept coming, kept closing in until they squeezed the breath out of her, and she struggled to inhale so she could cry for her husband but he was gone, and her breath came only in shallow bursts, until her cries became whimpers, and her eyes became cold.

Michelle’s augs didn’t send the code to the hospital as they were supposed to, saying she was showing no life signs. It took weeks until someone noticed she was missing, and reported it to the police. When they searched the place, they found her still under the covers, face stricken with terror, muscles clenched. An autopsy resulted in a lot of technical medical mumbo-jumbo, differing from most cases only in that the doctors didn’t know what it meant either.

But Simon knew. When he heard her death scene described, he knew the augs had killed her. They’d infected her brain with paranoia and choked the life from her. And he knew his exit had probably been the tipping point. Everyone at Elk Grove was very understanding, and offered her a spot at the cemetery at the colony even though she’d never lived there. But Simon knew she’d want to be buried where she’d lived. And he knew, as he flew away from the colony, that he’d never be back.

The funeral was a large and somber affair; Michelle had been very well-liked, and had a very large family. Afterwards Simon received many words of sympathy, but every kind word he heard from another doubled the self-loathing he felt. He had tortured and killed his wife. So he decided that, rather than on the day that she died or on her birthday, he should pay his respects to her on the day of his betrayal. Every year he would deliver roses to her grave on that day. And he would always see a father with two children laying flowers down upon a plot just a few yards away from Michelle’s. At first he took no notice, but after 7 years he realized it couldn’t be coincidence. So after they left he went over to look at the tombstone, and saw that River Tokuro had died the day he’d walked out on his wife.

Standing in front of the grave of a woman he’d never met, Simon wept, and begged forgiveness.

As I walk in the door I know I’m sunk. The editor has the look of a man facing an unpleasant task.

“Sit down, Mr.- Tokuro,” he says, gesturing towards the chair across his desk. It only took a fraction of a second for him to conjure up my last name, but I saw the tell-tale flicker of his eyes and know he was consulting his augs’ address book.

“Please, sir, call me Ollie.”

“Very well.”

There’s a long pause. We both know what’s coming.

“It’s a very good story, Ollie. Very good.”

He sighs.

“But you won’t take it.”

“I can’t, kid. Look, I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been. I mean, Jesus.” His voice trails off. He shakes his head slowly, then regains his composure. “I mean, I’ve been working in the industry 40 years of my life, that shit’s got me shaken up.”

“But, you won’t take it.” I prod.

The editor looks like someone ran over his cat.

“I ain’t happy about it, let me tell you. But the feds’ve been… unreceptive to stories that portray augs in a negative light, especially since they broke up the Natural Citizens Movement and Elk Grove. That bit especially…” He shakes his head. “It’s risky. And I can’t take that risk. But, damnit, you’ve got to know, son, it hurts me to the core.”

He looks at me, pleading. He wants me to tell him it’s alright. It isn’t.

“Sir, I just want you to know, this isn’t an isolated incident. What happened to my mother and Michelle Samuels, it’s happened to hundreds, maybe thousands of people all over the Coalition since augs became mandatory. The doctors don’t even know what the hell they’re doing to people anymore. They’re fucking with people on a level they’re not ready to handle. Something has to be done. I think my story can help.”


The editor has tears in his eyes.

“Reading that story… it made me want to rip the damned things out of my own head, then go home and do the same to my family.”

“That’s understandable, sir. I was a member of the NCM before the feds assassinated the leadership.”

The editor flips.

“Softly, son, softly! You never know who’s listening!”

“The walls have ears, sir?” I ask innocently.

The editor shudders.

“Look, maybe it was just the couch. That’s possible, right? I could definitely put some pressure on the manufacturers of the couch, get them to take it off the market. Maybe that’s the source of the problem.”

The poor bastard’s still looking for an out.

“No, sir.” I say softly. “I’ve done some research on it. The connection between the two of them was already there. The couch just enhanced it. Even before my mother bought the couch Ms. Samuels was having attacks.”

The editor examines the carpet for a long time.


I’m still sunk. All I’ve done was given this poor guy an ulcer.

Well, damnit, he deserves one, refusing to protect the public good by publishing this story.

I stand up.

“If you won’t publish, sir, would you mind destroying the copy that I sent you? I wouldn’t want it to fall into unfriendly hands before I have a chance to get it to the public on my own terms.”

“Oh, of course. Consider it done. Anything I can do to help.”

“Anything?” I shoot the old son of a bitch a glare.

He looks like he’s about to whimper. I spare him the humiliation and walk back out to the waiting room.

As soon as he sees me, Simon knows we’re sunk, too.

“Fucking spineless cowards,” he mumbles as he pushes himself up from the chair. His knees are in pretty bad shape, and he’s using an old-style walker. Refuses to get a hoverchair. This guy’s a fucking relic.

He’s also my only friend in the world.

“The day’s young, Pops. We’ve got three more editors to hit up. I’m sure one of them will publish.”

Simon grunts.

“As you say in your story, junior. I have a very low tolerance for hope.”

I hold the door open for him as he creaks through it. Under his arm, as always, is a small bound book with a dark green cover. He’s kept the last page blank. Says he’ll finish it when he’s repaid his debt to his wife.

I reach out and pat him gently on the back.

“Gotta have hope, Pops. You’ve gotta have hope.”


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