Selected Short Fiction
The Rifleman | A bomb jockey fights World War III from his computer while fighting a tougher war within himself.
Upon Tyburn Tree | A chronicler of hangings in 18th-century London is inspired to do something about them. This story won third place out of 169 entries in the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association/Students For Liberty joint short fiction contest under the title, “A Masterpiece of the Literature of Liberty.”
Get Kidd to Bounty | In a space-western future, an ordinary female mechanic aids a fugitive pursued for being too deviant. From the anthology Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance, available in the Kindle Store.
The End | A mother’s death leaves her boy afraid to read to the end of stories.
Karren shared the pub that night with a party of three, there specifically to bitch about the Government, and a party of two, one of whom, Karren gathered, had lost her job that day. The now-unemployed woman and her companion were lending their full-throated accompaniment to the first party’s bitching about the Government during recent rounds. The woman must have worked for the Government, or for some outfit with a Government contract — oh, hell. It could be just about anything. She might have lost her job because of over-regulation. Karren could speak with some authority about over-regulation. She could also speak with authority about other ways the Government can make your life a little bit worse. Not that she would, in public.
“I lost my job today,” the woman said to the pub. Karren suppressed a self-congratulatory smile, and waited to find out why. “Gover’ment says my company has to pay me a certain amount, an’ health insurance. They can’t afford it no more. I tol’ ‘em, I’ll work for less, an’ no insurance, but they’re not allowed. So I get nothin’.” The party of three thought this was the worst thing they’d ever heard, to go by the expletives they let fly. Another toast to the shit-fucking goddamn Government. Karren took a more discreet pull, this time.
“How about you?” one of the party of three said. Karren flushed, hoping they weren’t talking to her — but of course, they were.
“Just having a beer,” she said.
“Just having a beer,” the man said. “What do you do for a living? May I ask?”
Karren sighed, but didn’t make a show of it. “AI horses,” she said. “Repair and maintenance.”
One of the other men in the party of three said, “Robot horses! Holy shit. You must be about the only one does that.”
“Around here,” she said.
“Get a lot of Government work?”
She breathed in and out. “No, hardly any. Mostly the other side of the law from them.”
“Other side. You talking about criminals? German Trotter and his thugs?”
“’S right,” she said. Was she slurring a little?
“Why them? I mean, why they like the robot horses?”
“It’s so they can shoot,” the unemployed woman’s companion chimed in. “Can’t shoot a gun from a sled, you’ll fall off.”
“Is that why?”
Karren thought better of answering, but then did anyway. “Might be part of it. Biggest reason is AI horses ain’t gotta be chipped.”
There was intake of breath from two of the party of three. “I hadn’t thought of that! Holy shit. That’s something. They use robot — sorry, AI horses because they can’t be tracked. I would never have thought of that.”
“So, you pretty much have a Government-proof business, don’t you?” his buddy said.
“I wish,” she said.
“Why do you say that?”
She had vowed not to get into this. Not out loud. But here it came. “Because they passed a new law. Just found out today. I gotta install a chip on every horse I service, starting in a week and a half.”
There was silence, for several beats. Then, a general commotion, punctuated with commiserating talk.
“That might make AI horses kind of less popular,” someone observed.
Karren snorted. She raised her nearly-empty bottle high in the air. “To the Government,” she said, resigned to toasting.
The others ignored her lack of adjectives, and chorused, “to the shit-fucking goddamn Government!”
“I knew James Morneau, Mattie.” Sniffle. “Or rather, I know his wife, Jennie. Three dear children, two without shoes to this day – only the littlest one has them, worn down from wear by her brothers…” She continued, but the bit about the children still not having shoes let me know Susan was in the midst of one of her… embellishments. Aye, at one time or another, maybe a year before, James Morneau must have had an unshod wee one, and no other way to shoe ‘m. But if “Jennie” and the Morneau family were such objects of her affection, Susan would have put shoes on those children by then, if no-one else would. She had the means, for that, anyway.
Mind you, to draw attention to Susan’s embellishments is not to disparage her – so long as one has learned to recognize them, and to avoid being misled by them, where was the harm?
“…So you see, I couldn’t bear to come see it. Oh, Jennie, poor Jennie, she needed so much love and support today, make no mistake, but she had all of her family there, every one. I would not have wanted to be in the way, as it were…”
Not on account of anything Susan was saying, I was aroused to anger – and not for the first time that day. Truth, embellished truth, or something in-between coming out of Susan’s mouth, James Morneau did have a family. He perpetrated his crime to put shoes on a boy’s feet.
“Ask him!” Susan reached across the table and struck me as close to the back of the head as she could manage. “Ask him!” she hissed, or as near to a hiss as you can get whilst saying ask him! She pointed at a tall, wobbly young man who had loped into the tavern, passed us, and was leaning against a wall, profile toward me, looking confused at Mme. Graveau.
I had not lived 34 years and been married without being able to reach back and tease out what a woman had said even when I hadn’t been listening. Susan averred that perhaps the loping man had been at Tyburn Square today, and would be able to testify to the fact of Jennie Morneau’s oldest children being present, and bare of foot.
Had I said something I was thinking, aloud? It was a tic afflicting me since meeting Susan. The alternative, that she could read my mind, was too frightening to consider.
“Susan, I’ve no doubt your friend” – she sputtered at that description. I seemed not to be meant to know they were acquainted. But I pressed on – “your friend, I’ve seen him before, with you, I don’t know what you’re getting excited about! Listen.” She had something leafy green in her teeth. “You and he both advocate for capital punishment reform, correct? Stop! Please. I’ve no doubt your friend would tell me James and Jennie Morneau’s boys were shoeless. I’m not naïve.”
Susan looked at me warily. “Naturally, Jennie Morneau would keep shoes off her boys, today, in the shadow of the gallows. She would want London to see, ehrm, the need, the noble motivation behind James’ crime. Right?” She had relaxed, noticeably.
“I am not suggesting poor Jennie would deceive for the sake of sympathy,” I continued more kindly, “just that, the Morneau boys being barefoot, today at Tyburn Square, would say nothing about the state of their feet on other days.”
I drained my cup, and with it mimed a to the King! at Susan’s friend, who then looked confused at me instead. I caught Mme. Graveau’s eye, and she came to collect my empty cup to re-fill it again.