Flash Stories

The Copier Shop

 By Michael Bradley

“Ben!  Get your ass out here, there’s a line.”

Ben sat down the heavy barrels of goop that fed the copier machine.  Why can’t he ever do anything?  Mister all important Assistant Manager Jones can’t do shit without telling me to do it for him.  Ben sulked slowly from the supply room to the counter.  Only three people in line.  Wow.

Jones glared at him and hissed, “Just because you only have one arm doesn’t mean your two legs can’t move as fast as anyone else.”

Ben lowered his head and bit back his response.  What a total asshole.

“Can I help whoever is next?”  Ben waited while the customers looked at their number pull tags and a couple came up after figuring out they had the lowest number.

“Yes young man.  It’s my husband George here.  We were saving up to get copied together, but he isn’t feeling well at all today.  I think we better just get him done and then do me later.  To be on the safe side.  Besides, his job at the factory can be kind of demanding.  Nothing like a fresh duplicate they say.”

Ben stared at the elderly couple and sighed.  “Do you happen to have the data chip with you?”

The old woman searched through her purse and found an inch square chip, hastily removing lent and cat hair from it.  She handed it over to Ben.

“Great.”  He blew off the rest of the cat hair and examined it.  “This is over forty years old, might take a bit of work.  When do you need it done?”

The lady huffed and pointed to her elderly husband George.  “Just look at him young man, we need it now.  We’ll wait.”

“Fine.”  Ben opened the flip counter and motioned for George to join him.  They walked back to the duplicator.  “So, George is it, you want any changes?  Want me to use copy shop software and add some muscles, brains, different face or anything?”

George leaned heavily against the machine, holding his chest and wheezing.  “No, I’m fine with just a good clean copy.”

“A basic copy it is then.  That’ll be ten thousands credits, payable now.  We find it harder to collect afterwards and we have the cost of the materials and all.”

The old man inserted his hand into the charge-all and put his eye to the retina scanner.  After a few flashes there was a ding.  “There you go, can we get on with it now?”

“Sure, sure.  You want us to dispose of the old copy, or you want to keep it?”

The man looked at his liver-spotted arms and shriveled hands for a minute.  “Just get rid of the old copy.  I don’t know what I’d do with it anyway.”

“Ok then, step in.”

Assistant Manager Jones stepped over and whispered, “What the hell is the hold up Ben, we’ve got others still waiting, get going.”

Ben felt his anger rise, but didn’t want to get in trouble again.  He needed every credit to keep his apartment and his go-ped.  Angrily he stomped over to the control panel, jammed in the old disk and hit the start button.

Ben leaned on one foot and retied his other shoe.  The machine hummed and whined as it shredded the old copy and began to rebuild the new one.  This old machine usually took a good five minutes, where the new state-of-the-line bio-dimensional copy machines took less than a minute.  You-Copy stores were too cheap to buy the new stuff though.  People coming here just wanted the same old, nothing fancy.

The lights indicated it was about half-way through the construction process when the warning panel turned red.  “What the?”  Ben looked at it with a squint. Out of goop?  Shit!  I got so mad at Jones I forgot to check the damn goop.

On cue, Jones appeared.  “Damnit Ben, what now?”

Ben felt his face turn heated and red.  “It ran out of goop.”

“What kind?”

Ben looked at the readout.  “It’s the blood goop.  The disk says A negative, but it ran out.  I better go get some quick.”

Jones grabbed Ben’s one arm as he started for the store room.  “Too late for that dumbass, you can’t let it sit that long.  Watch this.”

Ben tugged his arm free and watched his boss.  Jones flipped the goop trays to O positive.  “See, you just give him different blood.”

“Won’t that mess shit up Jones?”

“Nah, as long as it’s all the same.  We’ll just give him an updated disk and no one will be the wiser.  If the copy needs work, they look at the new disk and know O positive.”

Jones pressed the start button again and the machine went back to humming and whining.  Several minutes later the copy came out.

“George, you feel ok?”  Ben asked.

George looked around a bit bewildered at first.  Then his head seemed to clear.  “Yes, I don’t recall your name though.  Is my wife Gladys still waiting here?”

Ben looked at the copy.  George had a brand new duplicate body that looked roughly twenty years old.  Everything seemed to be fine.  “Sure, it’s only been a few minutes.  You’re all paid up Sir, just head this way and I’ll take you to her.”

George and Gladys left the store and Ben started to the counter but was headed off by Jones.  “How long have you worked here Ben?”

“You know I’ve been here for many years Jones.  As long as you.”

“Well one day you damn well better learn to check your goop before pressing the start button.  We were lucky that time.  You know corporate doesn’t like to pay for messed up copies.  It’s not just the refunds; it’s the upset customers too.”

“Yeah, fine.  Check the goop.  Got it.”  Ben headed back to the counter.  The rest of the day was busy and closing time came around quicker than he expected.

Ben went to the machine and started to clear the goop trays and sort them in storage.  Tissue, blood, bone, organ, muscles, connective goop, every type of goop needed all fit into a series of canisters that he had to clean every night.

Jones helped tonight, though Ben wasn’t happy about that as he expected more criticism for today’s mistake.

Ben looked over at the unusually quiet Jones.  “That guy, George.  It says he works as a manufacturing engineer.”

“Yeah, so?”  Jones was cleaning out the blood tubes with sanitizer.

“Well, when we make copies, the people walk out young, strong, all new.  But they always have the same jobs, the same memories and skills.  Why not upgrade to something more exciting?”

Jones considered that for awhile.  “I suppose that every job needs doing and if we all wanted to have exciting jobs; there would be no manufacturing engineers.”

Ben banged the pans into their storage, eliciting a frown from Jones.  “It’s just not fair is all.  When I get old and get copied, why the hell do I have to come back here and be a damn clerk at a copy store, working for a dumbass like you?”  Ben braced himself for a barrage of yelling, but nothing happened.

Jones looked at his missing arm, where only a stump rested under Ben’s shirt.

Ben saw the direction of his eyes.  “So it’s because I only have one arm?  Why can’t I get a new arm?  Copy shop software would fix that.  Just add in more goop.”

“It’s not that simple Ben, like I said; they need people to do crap jobs like this.”

“Then how did you get here Jones?  Why are you stuck as a lowly Assistant Manager at a You-Copy?  You’re not much better off than me.”

Jones sat down heavily.  A single tear ran down his cheek and his lips trembled.  “I’m sorry Ben.”

Ben felt a growing dread, hollowness deep in his chest.  “Sorry for what?”

“I’m here because I didn’t check the goop before I hit start.  I didn’t put enough in.”  Jones pointed at Ben’s missing arm.  “You were a baseball pitcher before.  It was an exciting job, and others wanted it.  When I forgot the goop, well, there wasn’t a clean image left and others were in line.”

“You bastard!  You dumb bastard!  That’s why I’m here, because you screwed up?”

“Yeah.”  Jones stood trembling.  “And I’m here because I was a doctor, and someone messed up my copy too.  That’s why people don’t ever get better jobs Ben.  We’re all mistakes made by people in a hurry.”

The Drifter

by Michael Bradley 

Part One 

With a shocking blare of white light and an intake of breath Tony burst into reality.  Looking around, he was strapped down on a bed in a sanitized room, like a hospital.  A man in a lab coat turned and looked down at him.

“Awake now are you?”

“Where am I?  Why am I here?”  Tony sputtered.

“You took quite a shock; we are making sure you are well.  This is the PeaceCenter.  We are healing you.”  The man tapped away on his hand held device.

Tony moved his neck about taking in the scene.  “What shock?”

“Well when we pulled you from the pod you said you were time traveling.”  The man shook a bit with restrained laughter.

“Pod?”

The stranger squinted and flashed a pen light device in Tony’s eyes.  “Yes, the retrieval pod.  You were found wandering about talking nonsense.  I’m afraid your brain is not what it should be.  After some tests we can fix you up.”

“Fix me up? I don’t want you tampering with my brain.”  Tony struggled against his restraints, to no avail.

“You don’t want to be at peace?  To take your place as a productive citizen of society?”  The man made a dismissive ‘tsk-tsk’ sound.

“I don’t want to be at peace like some robot, I want to be me.  What is wrong with you Doctor?”

“Doctor?  What an antiquated term.  I am a Peacekeeper.  We can’t have you railing against society, causing chaos and violence now can we?  Why would anyone choose violence, conflict and rebellion over peaceful coexistence?  Don’t worry, whoever you are, we will fix your brain patterns so you fit in nicely.”

The man left the room.  Alone, Tony struggled to get free.  His arms and legs were held firmly in place by some kind of plastic straps.  He looked around, frantic.

“I have to get out of this place!”  Tony yelled, sweat beading on his forehead.

“Don’t I know it Tony!”  Came an answering voice next to him.

Tony looked over from his seat in the cockpit at the pilot.  A well-dressed older man was holding the yoke and adjusting the thrusters.

Tony’s mind reeled and he felt sick.

“Where are we?”

“Down there is New York.  As soon as we get our vector from station we head up north to my place in Maine like we talked about Tony.”  The older man looked over at Tony.  His forehead furrowed, “What is it Tony?  You didn’t already take it did you?”

Tony had no idea what was going on.  He mumbled, “No, of course not.”  He looked out the side of the private jet cockpit down at the city.  New York gleamed of silver plastisteel and transparent glassrock.  “It looks so peaceful from up here.”

“It should Tony, not a crime, not even a punch thrown or an insult uttered since you developed The Protocol forty years ago.”  The man listened on his com.  “Clearance, we have a north vector.  Let’s go relax and get some home-cooked lobster.  World Headquarters can wait for a few days.  You’ve earned a rest, and even though I’m just a figurehead as Earth President, I could use a few days to be myself too.”

Tony tried to process it all.  Who am I?  Where am I?  When am I?

“Mr. Perez?”

Anthony Perez, Tony to his friends, turned to his lab manager.  “Yes, Monica?”

“I’m sorry Boss, it’s just that you seemed to phase there for a minute.  The pill will do that.  I don’t know how long you will be with me.  You have to remember you have the bomb inside you.  You have to remember who and when you are and what you have to do.”

“Monica?  Bomb?”  Tony was trying to hold on, to stay in one place, one time.

“Boss, I warned you not to do this.  Stay with me Mr. Perez.  Stay with me just a few minutes.  Focus on your index finger like you told me to remind you.”

Tony started to look at his finger in curiosity.  Bright light flashed, he felt a tug at his mind.  Crap, where am I going now?

Part Two

Tony paused, staring at the light stick in his hand as he illuminated the large screen in front.  Where am I?  He looked behind him at the amphitheater filled with his graduate students.  His TA, Monica Salazar, stood operating the computer panel.  She gave him a look of concern.

Tony remembered now, he was explaining the latest problems experienced with neural retrograde physiology.  It was easier to modify children than to remove the troublesome thoughts and memories from an adult.  The class murmured as he continued to remain silent.

“That is all class.  Remember, the hurdle we face for peaceful coexistence is no longer in our next generation.  Our children will be better than us.  We must rise to the challenge to make ourselves better as well.  Go ahead now, we are stopping early.”  Tony put down the light stick and hurried from the auditorium.  Monica followed close behind.

“Professor Perez, are you alright?”

He remembered her too, but not young like this.  Yes, she had been his brilliant assistant, but now she was his lab manager.  She had just told him twenty years from now to think about his index finger.  Why?

“Yes, I’m fine.  I figured it out, the block, the problem!”  Tony Perez rushed to his office and started clicking away on his screen.

Monica looked on in awe as she saw him display the formula, the chemical compounds and the surgical procedures to isolate conflict and expiate them from the adult mind.  “Professor, that looks like it will work.  You have made peace on Earth possible in our life times.”  She forgot decorum and jumped up and down, then lunged onto him, giving him a crushing hug.

“Monica, easy now, people will talk.”  Her hug was so fierce she scooted his chair against the desk, crimping his finger between them.  He held it up, his index finger was bleeding.  My index finger?

Monica saw blood on the tip of his finger.  “Oh, I am so sorry, let me get the first aid kit.”

Tony smiled, “No need Monica.  You know, this is the only time I ever hurt this finger?”

She looked at him puzzled.

Tony explained, “I think I understand my index finger now.”

“Those are some deep thoughts Tony, you understand your finger?”  The Earth President laughed at the control wheel of his private plane.  “You crack me up Tony.  This vacation in Maine is going to do us both a world of good.”

Tony was back in the co-pilot chair on the sleek jet, flying over New York City, the World Headquarters, with his friend.  Tony’s mind reeled.  It was just eighteen years ago, back in my office, or was it?  

“So Tony, now that we have world peace and are colonizing space, what do you have planned?  I mean, it must be kind of a let down, solving world peace and all.”  The Earth President laughed.  “I mean if I did something like that in my first term, I don’t know what I would run on next.  Maybe it’s different for you brainy types.”

“Yeah…maybe…”  Tony tried to get some perspective.  He looked at his index finger.  It had a tiny scar barely visible.

The President looked over, smiling, “I thought you said you had that finger figured out?”

Tony turned, “Yeah, it’s just…”

“It’s just what?”  The rescue responder was shaking him.

Tony looked at himself, he was in the same clothing, but it was torn and tattered.  “Who am I?  What happened?”

“He’s a bit confused, let’s get him into the rescue pod and over to the PeaceCenter.  The Peacekeepers will fix him up in no time.”

Tony protested.  “Wait!  My name is Tony Perez, I am a friend of the Earth President.”

The crew laughed.  “Yeah, and I’m Moon President, that guy there is Mars President.  Come on fellah, you ain’t the inventor of world peace and you sure ain’t with the President.  His plane crashed yesterday and he’s dead.”

Tony felt tears drip down his face.  “Dead?  I was just there a minute ago?”

He felt a hard shelled case click and hiss as it was sealed over him.  Outside he heard one more comment before the sleep gas took him.

“Yeah, this guy is definitely brain scrambled.”

Part Three

“My brain is not scrambled damn it!”  Tony protested from his rescue pod, but the pod was gone.  Instead he was strapped down on a bed being rolled along a sterile white corridor.

“You can understand if I wish to remain the judge of that.”  The peacekeeper smiled down at him while pushing him along.

Tony struggled against his restraints.  “You’re leading me to the procedure room aren’t you?  You’re going to rearrange my neural patterns.”

“Yes.  All will be peaceful then and you won’t need to be tied down.”

“Look, there is no need for that.  I know who I am now.  I’m Dr. Tony Perez.  You can let me go, I’m fine now.”

“We know who you are even though you didn’t just minutes ago.”  The man in white kept wheeling him along.

“Then why aren’t you letting me go?”

“Well, I suppose it can’t really hurt to tell you since we are going to wipe your recent memories.  You see you murdered the Earth President yesterday and the voice recorder had you talking about destroying the technology that brought peace to the world.  We should have realized that you and your lab associates never had the procedure done on yourselves.  We are fixing that now.”

“My lab associates?  You’re going to lobotomize us all?”  Tony started to fight harder against the plastic straps holding him down, but they were too strong and tight.  “What about Monica Salazar?”

“Yes, your leading researcher especially.  Look, you invented the process; you know it’s not a lobotomy.  Your brain will be fine; we just rearrange some thought process and erase some memories to get rid of all this anxiety, fear and violence.  You’ll be better soon.”

“I don’t want peace this way damn it!”

The Earth President looked over at Tony with raised eyebrows.  “You made that clear last week at the meeting.  You called in the whole cabinet and me for some emergency and told us you want to destroy the peace you spent a lifetime creating.”

Tony felt nausea wash over him as he drifted into a new time.  “Yes, that’s right.  We didn’t create peace, we destroyed humanity.  We took away conflict, striving, disappointment, regret, everything that makes us achieve.”

“You got rid of hate, jealousy, violence and crime.  Look, just settle down.”  The President made a course adjustment.  “You were talking crazy about pills and time vortexes and things and you got everyone worked up.  You’ll be better after this vacation in Maine.”

Tony noticed the sun shift in his side window.  Looking down he saw the water moving away as they crossed back over New York City.  “If we’re going to Maine, how come we are headed back inland?”

The President turned to him.  “Just relax, you know how these things go, they move us around for traffic patterns.”  Some sweat beaded on the man’s forehead even though the cockpit was nice and cool.

“Where are we really going?”  Tony felt pain shoot through his head like a knife.  “You’re not taking me to Maine; you’re going to take me to a PeaceCenter aren’t you?”

“Tony look, stress is getting to you buddy.  The rest of the world is at peace, now you can be too.  It’s what you’ve worked for and now you can share in it.”

Tony looked around the cockpit.  He felt his substance growing less substantial.  He clicked off his safety belt and started turning switches and dials at random.  Then he grabbed for the flaps and thrusters.

“Stop it you dumb bastard!  I’m doing this for you.  You’re going to kill us both!”

Tony cut off the thrusters and put up the flaps.  The jet stalled and started spinning rapidly in a downward flat spiral.

“You’ve killed us both Tony!  Damn you!”

Tony remembered tomorrow, in the pod, then the PeaceCenter.  “No my friend, I survive; only you die.  I remember.”

Monica Salazar grabbed his arm hard.  “No, we both have to die.  Remember your finger!”

“I killed the President Monica, I crashed our plane.”  Tony looked around the lab, bile in his mouth and his head pounding.

“No!  You fly with him tomorrow.  Not him!  The bomb, you need to set off the bomb.  Your finger!”  Monica kissed him intimately.  “We both agreed it has to be both of us that die.  The cycles will get quicker.  You have to remember where, when, who and why.  Please Tony!”

Tony looked at her in confusion as she spun away into darkness and nausea.

Part Four

“Ok, I could have done without this.”  Tony could see the sky spinning out of control from the transparent hatch on his escape pod.  He looked around to see if the jet had crashed but vertigo over took him.  He passed out.

“He’s back again.”  The rescue worker was looking through the hatch at him.  Tony noticed movement and reasoned they must be in the ambulance.  “Don’t worry there Mister, we’ve been redirected to the PeaceCenter.  They’ve got top people over there and they want to fix you up.”

Tony tried to respond, but he lost consciousness again.

“Look, I have to get out of here.”

Monica looked at him strangely.  “You just discovered the way to bring peace to all humanity and I give you one hug and you have to leave?”

Tony grabbed at the desk, overcome with dizziness.  “Oh God, I was just falling, then the plane, then the rescue, or was it the other way?”

Monica touched his arm, “Professor, should I call someone?  You’re acting strange.  It could be a stroke.”

Tony laughed.  It sounded a bit maniacal in his own ears.  “It’s not a stroke Monica.  It’s…  Oh, never mind.  When were we?  I mean, where were we?”  He absentmindedly sucked on his injured finger.  My finger?

“The formula Professor!  I think you’ve finished it.  We should be able to start clinical trials on primates.  If it works, we can get rid of violence, all wars and crimes will be a thing of the past.  Humans can finally evolve to a higher level, devoid of our primitive survival instincts that we have long lost the necessity to retain.”

“Yes.  That’s it!  I think I understand why you kissed me.”

Monica gasped.  “Kissed you? I never did!  Look, if we’re going to keep working together you need to know I’m not interested in that.  I’m sorry if my hug led you on; it was just a gesture of excitement.”

“Yes of course, of course.”  Tony’s mind was moving fast now, putting the pieces together.

“I’m glad you agree.  We will start the procedure now.”  The peacekeeper placed the skull cap on Tony Lopez’ head.  Tony felt the tiny needle-like probes tickle their way through his scalp, cranium and into his brain.

“No!”

“No what, Mister?  Just relax; the ambulance will get you there soon.  You’ve been hurt in an accident.”  The rescue crewman reassured him.

“Wait, don’t change my brain, I understand what I must do!”

“You’re insane Tony!  The plane is crashing, hit the eject button!”  The Earth President reached for his own eject button and depressed it.  “Damn it man!  It’s not working.”  He kept pressing it desperately.

“But I have to…”  Tony puked.  His vomit splashed onto Monica moments after she had kissed him.

“Tony, please, remember.”  Monica’s big brown eyes stared into his.

Tony fell to the floor of his office.

Monica his, young TA reached for him.  “Professor, I’m calling for help.  Something is wrong.”

Tony knew.  This is the only time I hurt my finger.  It has to be both of us.  It has to be now.  “I’m sorry Monica.  You agree with me in the future.  I have to stop us.  Humans aren’t meant for this.”

Tony concentrated.  The waves of the time flux were in his brain.  The pill had done its work and tapped into his cerebral cortex.  The time paradox was ready to explode.  A time bomb of all things.  Tony smiled at the pun and triggered the bomb.

******

Picking through the crater left by the silent explosion was an eerie experience for the disaster crew.  Investigators could only speculate that some time-space doorway had opened then shut suddenly.  There was little debris.  Physicists were rethinking long held theories faced with this evidence of matter simply disappearing.

“You think Professor Lopez or the others felt anything?”

“Nah, they say it all just happened in an instant.  Did you know him?”

“My kid, you know the smart one, he took some of his classes.  Said the guy was working on brains, gonna make us better than we are.  Peaceful-like and such.”

“Well, that’s too bad then.  I hope someone else picks up where he left off.”

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Hare Today Gone Tomorrow

by Michael Bradley

I felt proud of myself as my shuttle touched down on the now barren planet.  Jokingly, we called it “Easter Island” because of the rabbits and the ill fate that had destroyed its ecology.  Much like the ancient Rapa Nui had starved after rats had invaded their island, unchecked by predators and eaten the palm coconuts, leaving none to germinate replacements, so too this planet was dying.

I had been the first to discover this alarming change.  Climactic change caused by the collision of an asteroid had caused the extinction of the few predators on the surface.  Left with no natural check, the rabbit-like creatures indigenous to the area had multiplied, consuming nearly all edible plant life.  Now the piteous creatures were starving.

This was my second landing.  The first had left me crying at the sight of the poor malnourished animals with their big ears, whiskers and soft fur.  They looked up at me with sunken eyes and ribs showing through their emaciated skin.  It had touched an inner need in me to assist others.  After that, I started Project Rabbit Food.  I know, I seem to be taking credit for everything, the discovery, caring, creating the project.  Without many others it would never have happened.  But I am proud of myself.  This is the first, important achievement in my fifteen years of space travel.

I am reciting this log as I unload the fresh vegetation to feed my furry friends.  The helmet is bulky though my suit is not too bad to wear.  My fellow scientists say the atmosphere here contains too much of some things and not enough of others for me to breathe without it.  It would cause possible hallucinations or some such.  I’m a zoologist, not a chemist so I’ll just take their word for it.

Aw… My first little bunny crawled forth from its burrow.  The poor thing is surrounded only by dirt and the stubs of plants that once fed it.  This specimen is suffering from maloccluded teeth.  Rabbit species have large incisors which constantly grow and are worn down by eating.  This one has starved long enough its teeth are too long and have become jagged, causing it pain.

It squeals in delight as I feed it from my levitation cart.  The squeal brings its friends.  They are so cute.  I can’t help but smiling as I see them ravish the vegetables and leafy plants.  This is how it must have felt in the prior century to bring bags of rice to the starving children of the world.  To see them eat after going hungry so long…

More rabbits keep appearing.  I must have seriously underestimated the number of rabbits and their proclivity to procreate and reproduce.  My food is going quickly.  I should go back to the shuttle and tell the main ship we will need more food before we can evacuate the frail critters to another location.  Only a few more shuttles are scheduled for today.  The food is gone.  Wow, they are quick little buggers.  No stopping to chew or clean their whiskers.

I am getting a bit nervous now.  In my haste I left the levitation sled behind.  I hate to admit it for the record, but they are following me.  While cute in small numbers, the entire landscape is covered by churning hordes of the long-toothed Leporidae.  I’m running now…but they are so damn fast…the shuttle…so far…

There are too many!  I can’t push through them; I am up to my thighs in teeming fur!  Crap, one bit me.  Get off me you little bastards!  Shit!  They’re biting me, my suit doesn’t block their teeth.  Ow, stop that, you’re supposed to be vegetarians.  Stop!

Oh God, stop, no!  …..  ….  (Choked gurgling sounds…silence)

 

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