Harlot

“But why do my brothers get to wear shorts and no shirt at all? Why do I have to cover up neck to ankles in all this heat and sunshine?” asks the daughter of the family.

“Because…” says the long-suffering father. “Women must be decent. At all times. You do not wish to become a harlot, do you?”

“Dad! I’m nine years old! Not a woman! Wearing shorts is not going to turn me into a harlot!!”

“She’s right, you know,” says one of her brothers. The one who is always in trouble with their father.

“Thank you!” says the girl to her brother.

“I will thank you to be quiet!” shouts the father. “Do you want your sister to become a whore??!!”

“A child wearing shorts is not a whore!!” shouts the son.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee!!” shouts the father.

Father and son stare at each other.

Finally the son says: “The way things are around here, I may not want my days to be long upon the land,” and walks away.

“Come back here!!!” yells the father, but the son does not turn around.

The daughter goes indoors, where it’s cooler.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” says the father. “I am only trying to raise them right!” He looks towards the sky, and asks for the ten thousandth time: “Why did you have to take my wife away from us? She would’ve known what to do with these children!”

“It’s Okay, Dad,” says one of his other sons. “We understand what you’re trying to do.”

“And how much you’re struggling,” says another one.

“But they don’t…” says the father, looking towards the house.

“Maybe someday they will,” says the oldest of his sons. The one who no longer lives at his childhood home. The one who has a house of his own. “Or maybe they never will. That’s up to them. But if I might suggest…” he hesitates, and then goes on: “Mom always used to say ‘a little bit of kindness goes a long way’.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” says the father, upset. “You saying I wasn’t kind to her when she lived?!”

“That’s not at all what I was saying,” says the eldest son. “You know… Nevermind. I’m heading back to my own home now. Best of luck to you and all the rest of your children.”

And the oldest son goes to his truck, gets inside it, and drives away.

Distracted by thought of worry over his youngest brother and his only sister, he fails to hit the breaks when he really, really should.

The father will be asking again: “Why?!”

Havoc

“No. You see… The male of the species cannot control his own actions. That is impossible. Only the female of the species has any kind of self-control at all. Therefore the female carries all the responsibility as well,” says one young man to another.

“What are you two talking about?” asks their Mother, walking in.

“The importance of females keeping themselves covered from head to toe at all times, to avoid causing havoc by arousing the males of our species,” says one of the young men, while the other urgently attempts to shush him.

“I’m… sorry. What??!!!” shouts the Mother.

“The importance of females keeping themselves covered from head to toe at all times, to avoid causing havoc by arousing the males of our species,” repeats the same son, frowning, while the other groans.

“Of all the bullshit…! I cannot… even..!” starts the Mother.

“What?” asks the son who spoke. All confused.

I DID NOT RAISE THE TWO OF YOU TO BE MISOGYNISTIC PIECES OF SHIT!!!” yells the Mother, pointing her finger at each of her sons in turn.

“But, Mother…” says one of them.

She takes off both her sandals and throws them at the young men’s heads with great speed and frightful accuracy.

I WILL NOT TOLERATE THAT KIND OF BACKWARDS IDIOCY IN THIS HOUSE!!!! DO YOU HEAR ME??!!!!

“I think maybe the whole block hears you, Mother,” says one of her sons.

GOOD!!!! LET THEM!” The Mother leaves the room. Grumbling. “Backwards! Stoopid! Fucking… halfwit imbecils that I have had the great misfortune of having given birth to…”

The two young men sit quietly in the room. Listening. They hear their Mother raising her voice again in another room of the house. “Is this why I left my country?! Huh?! So that I could have two bloody morons as my sons, who start to think and speak as if this was the 7th Century, and we knew nothing??!! In MY HOUSE?!!! NO!!!

The son who spoke turns to his brother and says: “If it is only right and natural that women should cover up from head to toe because men have no control over themselves, why is our Mother not agreeing with you? And why doesn’t she dress that way?”

“Shut up,” says his brother. Not explaining a thing.

Jackshit

“That don’t mean Jack shit, Jack! Nothing! Your promises are useless,” says Michael. “You never keep them!” 

“Oh, but I promise! This time tomorrow I really will take you to the park,” says his elder brother Jack.

“No, you won’t. I know you won’t!” says Michael, and sulks.

“Come on… Little Toad… I’ll even bring you candy tomorrow.”

“What kind of candy?” Michael says suspiciously.

“I’ll bring you your favorite kind,” says Jack.

“Skittles!! You’ll bring me Skittles?! Every color of the rainbow?!”

“I will,” says Jack. “I’ll bring you all the Skittles you can eat. Every color. When I come back tomorrow.”

Jack ruffles his little brother’s hair. Michael swats his hand away, but both of them grin. Then Jack returns to packing his bag.

Gun after gun goes inside the bag. Fully loaded. Extra clips as well.

Soon the bag is full.

Jack looks at his little brother who has been watching him the whole time. Little Toad.

That kid will never understand.

“Come here,” says Jack, and grabs his little brother in a hug. Michael squirms. He wants the hug to stop.

(Years later, he wishes he had hugged him longer.)

Jack lets Michael go. “Now you be a good boy, ok? Don’t give mom and dad any trouble.”

“I’m good. I’m always good!” Michael smiles from ear to ear. Beaming.

“Yeah, you are,” says Jack. “That you really are.”

Jack grabs his bag. It’s heavy. It is a really heavy thing to carry.

“Now, remember,” Jack says to Michael. “I have to go out alone today. And you’ll be fine. You’ll watch your program in the living room. And mom and dad will be home in just a few minutes.”

“Okay,” says Michael.

“I have to go now. When we see each other tomorrow, you get all the Skittles you can possibly eat. Then I’ll take you to the park with me. Tomorrow. Okay?”

“Okay,” says Michael.

But when Jack tries to leave, Michael follows. All the way to the front door.

“No, Michael,” says Jack. “You have to go in the living room and watch your program. I put it on for you already, remember?”

But Michael doesn’t go in the livingroom alone. Jack has to walk him there.

He puts his heavy bag down by the door. Walks Michael to the tv.

Now Michael is hooked in the program. And he knows how to start it again, if he needs to, before their parents come. If there is some kind of delay.

But Jack really does have to hurry out the door now. He needs to be out before they come, and they should be back any minute now.

So Jack says bye to Michael, who doesn’t even her him. At all. But Jack knows he has said goodbye. And Jack needs that knowledge for himself.

He is out.

About ten minutes later, for there really was a small delay, Mom and Dad are home. Get terribly angry to find Michael all alone in front of the tv. No Jack in the house at all.

But they can’t show that anger to Michael. They have to stay calm.

“He had to go,” says Michael. “Jack had to go alone,” Michael says. “But tomorrow he’ll bring me Skittles!” says Michael. “All the Skittles that I can eat! Tomorrow he will bring me Skittles. Every color of the rainbow! And Jack will take me to the park with him! Tomorrow!” as if that helped when he was needed to watch Michel today. ‘He promised!”

But Jack never keeps his promises.

As they learn when they watch the news.

Not All Men

Three young adults are sitting at a Cafe table. Talking.

“Not all men are like that,” Ko says.

“Oh, not this again…” Maha groans.

“I’m serious!” Ko says. “Hear me out here.”

“All men are exactly like that. 100 percent of you guys,” Keelah says.

“Thank you,” says Maha.

“No. We are not. Not all of us,” says Ko.

“Are you saying you are not like that?” Keelah says mockingly.

“No,” says Ko. “Because I am like that. And everyone I’ve been with knows that I am.” He rolls his eyes. “What I’m saying is: not everyone else is. Not all men.”

“Yes, all men,” says Maha. She and Keelah high five each other.

“I’m telling you,” says Ko. “Just because all men in your experience have liked it when you grab their ass and finger their anus during sex, doesn’t mean all men are like that. Not everyone’s going to be as open about backdoor pleasuring as the people you two happen to have met so far. We are all different, you know. All individuals. Even in this. Not all men are alike. Any more than all women are exactly alike.”

Maha and Keelah look at each other. Roll their eyes, and say: “You’re boring. Let’s go do something else.”

They leave. 

Ko finishes his coffee. Catches the eye of a really hot androgynous individual walking into the Cafe. Smiles back. Figures why the heck not? Gets up, and goes to go try his luck.

Hurries back to grab his coat that he forgot on the back of his chair.

Puts it on.

Then goes try his luck.

Unborn Life

“Look,” says a doctor to a desperate man sitting inside his office. “As I have told you several times already, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I can do. Abortion is once again illegal in this country, and cannot be performed. Regardless of the circumstances.”

“But…”

“Unborn life has been declared holy. It makes no difference, no difference at all, how many eggs that alien left inside your body, or how certain you are to die when they hatch. I am sorry, but my hands are tied. And… uhm… If you were to somehow succeed in destroying the eggs yourself, and miraculously survived the process, you would have committed murder. For that, you would spend the rest of your natural life behind bars with zero chance of either parole or pardon. There truly is nothing that can be done.”

“If you will not help me…” says the desperate man, “I will kill myself before they hatch.”

Security!” yells the doctor.

Security takes mere seconds to enter the room and seize hold of the desperate man. They were very much prepared for this possibility.

“This man has declared an intent to commit suicide before the hatching of fertilized alien eggs inside his body,” says the doctor, and continues, “For the protection of the unborn life inside him, effective immediately, he is to be placed in protective custody until such a time as the eggs naturally hatch.”

The guards drag the poor, helpless man out of the room. He kicks and screams to no avail. 

Just before the door closes upon him, the doctor says “My God have mercy upon your soul. That truly is a gruesome way to die.”

Clinic

“Here at this clinic, we do things a little differently,” explains a doctor to a woman desperate to end a pregnancy. “We do not, specifically, abort an embryo or a fetus here. Instead, we revert it back into the two separate cells as which it began. The spermatozoon is then placed back inside the penis and into the testicles from which it came. What happens to the ovum and the spermatozoon after that is up to the individuals to whom they belong.”

“But…” says the woman, confused. “He’s not even here. How could you possibly get it back into him?”

“Oh, we have our ways. Don’t you worry about that. It will be done. Unless…” says the doctor, “you may still choose to have a child be born from this embryo?”

“I can’t!” says the poor woman. “I have health reasons that mean I’d probably die from continuing this pregnancy! and even if I didn’t die, I cannot possibly afford another child! I wouldn’t be able to take care of the ones I have, or…”

“Oh no, no, no. You misunderstand. I am not asking for your reasons for terminating this pregnancy. Nor for you to change your mind about carrying it to full term. I have no doubt, none at all, that you do know what is best for you. I am asking you whether the man who begot it should be made to carry the child, and to give birth to it through a temporary vagina placed in his perineum.”

” What???!”

“Was the conception a result of consensual sex?”

“What..? I… No… It was not.”

“Then we need not ask whether the man wishes to carry it or not. That choice is entirely up to you now. If you would like your child to be born into this world, carried and given birth to by its biological father, you need only say so, and so it shall be done.”

“… You can do that???”

Yes. We can,” says the doctor.

“I…”

“Take your time. This is a big decision. We would not want you to feel hurried in any way. Although… considering your health, it may be best to do the transfer sooner rather than later. But do take your time to think about it,” says the doctor, and leans back in his chair.

“I don’t need to think about it,” says the woman. “If it’s possible to make him have the child, let him have it!”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes!!”

“Then so it is.”

About halfway across town, a man becomes suddenly pregnant for a woman who is not his wife.

Controller

“What do we have on this Event so far?” Controller says as she walks into the Room full of connected Agents.

“It’s Demonic, Mam. There’s a fairly insignificant little demon behind it, but it was surprisingly effective in its work.”

“A little demon? An insignificant one? Are you telling me an insignificant little demon just murdered millions upon millions of humans in a single Event in Earth history? How?! Exactly?! Did! We! Let! That! Happen??!!”

Every Agent winces.

“WELL, HOW???!!!”

“It was…” an Agent starts.

WHAT??!!!” Controller draws a calming breath, and continues with a smile: “What was it?”

“It was an app. Mam.”

“A what?” Controller asks in a dangerously quiet voice, raising an eyebrow. Still smiling.

“An app, Mam. A thing that young people loved to use at that point in time to express themselves and to share their ideas and their creations. Called Clicketyclock, Mam.”

“And what… exactly, did this Clickety Clock… do?” Controller continues to speak in that quiet, smiling, voice that is even worse than all her bellowing.

“The little demon slipped inside it and made all the young people create all these small clips of themselves between good and evil and then the demon gave them a compulsion to ‘kill one more person’ and so they all went and did exactly that, and killed and killed and killed one more, and one more, and one more until they were all killed themselves, Mam,” the Agent says in a rush.

” I see,” says Controller in an ice cold voice. 

The temperature in the Room drops by 25 degrees.

“And this insignificant little demon thinks to get away with it… Doesn’t it? Well, I have news for the little demon: THEY DO NOT GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING WHILE I’M IN CHARGE HERE!!!

Controller sits down at a connection herself. Flexes her fingers, and goes to work.

Every Agent in the Room gathers behind Controller to watch her in action.

Clicks.

Taps.

Mumbled curses.

“AMBROSIA!!”

That drink is swiftly produced to Controller’s side. She drinks all of it through a straw in mere seconds, and grunts “More,” while her hands never stop working.

Agents run to fetch more and more Ambrosia to keep Controller hydrated and happy.

Sounds of satisfaction begin to emanate from Controller, as she gets closer and closer to catching her prey.

“Ahah!” she says. “I’ve got you now, you little shit! Thought you could fool me with all your side things and decoys, your reroutes and extra bloody timelines, but I’ve got you!!!”

The Controller slams down one final click, and the room falls silent. Everyone holds their breath except Controller, who stretches luxuriously, and smiles a true, happy smile at her victory taking place even now.

“No,” says a little demon somewhere in time. Everything it has ever accomplished is being erased and deleted from the multiverse. As if it never was. “No, no, no, no, no!” the demon shouts as it sees the walls of time enclosing upon it. “Nooooooooo!!!” the demon screams as it is trapped inside a teeny, tiny little cage through all eternity, with zero chances of escape.

The Room erupts into cheers and applause.

A hapless Agent running towards the Room with a Humongous cup of Ambrosia in their arms slows down their gait.

“It’s over, isn’t it?” they ask the nearest Agent, who shrugs and smiles in the affirmative.

“I can’t believe I missed it!” complains the unlucky Agent with the drink. “Again!!!”

“Hey,” says another agent. “At least you got yourself a drink there,” and all who overhear, laugh.

People pour out from the Room. Agents are going on a break. Others swiftly entering to take their place.

Somewhere in the space between Room is full and Room is full, the Agent puts down the humongous Ambrosia in an odd corner of this in-between where everyone is only ever passing through. Says to no one at all “I don’t even like this flavor Ambrosia. At all,” and walks away.

The drink turns into an enormous tree. Capable of supporting seven worlds.

Rain

“I…” she falters. You look away. Wounded. “I think that you are strong,” she then hurries to say. “If more than a little foolish to try to stop the rain.”

“It is not impossible,” you say. “It has been done before!”

“Centuries ago… If the stories we are told are even true.”

“It’s true!” you say. “It has to be! For Bayalah was later seen on other worlds!”

“Perhaps…” says she. Looks at you with sadness in her eyes. “Or maybe that is just something people needed to believe… If you want it bad enough, you can see her likeness in so many faces even here… Bayalah did have children, you know.”

“That is not what it is,” you say with conviction, but see she does not believe.

“For your sake…” she says, “I hope that it is true.” She glances towards the building from where she came.

“For all our sakes, Misrani,” you say. “This cannot be a world where people only come to drown.”

Commotion at the building. Someone calls for her.

“I have to go…” she says. Turns. Runs through the rain.

You watch her go. Laugh as she shakes off too much water near the doorway. See her enter those kitchens again. Back where she belongs. Sort of, at least.

You yourself have nowhere you belong. And so you return to the work you have been doing almost ever since you both arrived.

The machine is ancient. The lever… Stuck.

You have been cleaning. Fixing. Oiling this old machine that controls the weather of a world and makes it rain.

Pods can land.

No ship can leave.

It rains too hard. Up there.

Always rains too hard.

But the tales tell of Bayalah. You even heard them as a child: “That one got away.”

They say she fixed the weather for a day.

If she could do it, so can you.

Like Misrani said, you are strong.

Someday soon you will… surely… wrestle that lever down.

Relic

Pick up the package. Keep walking.

If bullets start to fly, remember not to run. They cannot see you. Enhanced Hijab makes sure of that.

Strange that there are still male thieves, male police in this world. Never send a man to do a woman’s job.

With half the population invisible, you would think…

O oh. Someone has been thinking. That’s a female cop. In Enhanced Hijab. Dead ahead.

She did not happen to see you pick up the package. That is good.

But now you must remain… Calm. Though the policewoman is looking right towards you.

Never let your face reveal that you are nervous. Never sweat. Not more than the heat calls for, in any case.

With half the world blind to your existence, the other half is still observant. Intuition added atop what is actually seen, and…

“Stop,” she steps in front of you. Looks you in the eye.

You’ve hoped to walk away, inshallah. The probabilities of so actually doing are suddenly not appearing all that high.

She looks at you. Searches your face for something.

Lucky she isn’t searching your clothes. Yet.

You are painfully aware of the presence of the package on your person. Trying not to show more nerves than any innocent being stopped.

“Aren’t you..?” she asks. “Maryam?”

“Yes… That is my name,” you reply out of instinct.

“Daughter of Abiha? My third cousin from Shuuuur?”

You almost sag with relief. But must not do so. “Yes. That is who I am.”

“It has been so long, I wasn’t sure,” says the policewoman. “We both have changed as we have grown, have we not?”

“That is how it goes, so very often,” you say.

Sound of an alarm behind you. You turn to look. Trying to appear the same as everyone: interested, but certainly not involved.

“Oh… I was so hoping to catch up with you,” says the policewoman. “But I must go and see what that’s about. Do give my love to your mother when you see her next.”

“Oh, I will,” you say, even as you think ‘My mother is dead.’

The cop… She walks away. To where you came from.

You keep walking calmly the other way. The way that you were going when she stopped you.

Step inside a carriage. Alhamdulillah. You have got away.

“Why did you stop her?” asks the owner of a shop where the theft of something immeasurably valuable has just occurred.

“She saw me looking at her,” says the cop. “I didn’t want to risk arousing any suspicion in her or in anyone else. So I made it seem as if I’d thought her to be my third cousin’s daughter. She played along, for some reason of her own. Could’ve just said I was mistaken…”

“Is that going to be a problem? Do you even have a third cousin whose daughter she could have been?” 

“I think there actually was some likeness in her to Maryam… Must be what gave me the idea. And I suppose it is possible Maryam could have been in this town. Though I happen to know her mother died last month.”

“Her mother..? Well… in any case… She got away, and that is good,” says the owner of the shop.

“Yes,” replies the cop.

They fall silent for a bit. Looking out the window towards where the woman went. Then the owner speaks again. “Do you think she knows what she is carrying?”

“I doubt it. She was far too calm for that,” says the cop.

“Hmm… Do you think she will succeed in getting it offworld?”

“Inshallah. We can only hope.”

Cyborg

A tear rolls down her metal cheek.

You’d think it was the other side of the cyborg’s face, the one with its more human eye, that would cry. But the tear duct there was burned long ago. No longer functions.

Now it is only the metal rusts from saline in the liquid when she cries.

“I’m sorry,” speaks the man. But what use are words that do not stop him leaving?

He dons his weapons belt. His tophat. Walks away.

Steam… hisses. A corner puffs a cloud, and he is gone.

The cyborg bites her lip. Hugs herself so tight.Sits down upon her bed and tries to rust no more.