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Moya

Tickertape is one of the oldest iron walkers, corroded gearwork limbs bolted to a big head-shaped body. Moya’s crammed a leather armchair into its cockpit top. There are dozens of unlabeled levers, not to mention the toggles, dials and flickering indicators. Just for her, they work like charm.

“Whipoorwill,” she murmurs into a rusted microphone stalk, jerks two stuck controls and jams a footpedal, and with a grinding sound it begins. Smiling, she climbs down to let its ribbon of mechanical poetry spill through her hands. Tickertape doesn’t walk much, and she doesn’t type, but together they make something good.

Xanga

“I was named after a defunct website,” Xanga has to explain.

“What is a ‘web site?’” growls the six-eyed naked bear.

“A glowing rectangle that my grandparents used to request advertisements.”

“Also what is ‘defunct,’” asks the bear, whose name is Osiris but it doesn’t really come up.

“It’s what you’re going to be if you don’t let me out of this net!” says Xanga. The postapocalyptic trees creak skeletally above her; the bear laughs.

“No. I think we boil and eat you right in it!”

“Believe me,” sighs Xanga, “there’s not enough left of me to feed a family.”

Astrid

Dear ASTRID, It is for your safety that we must insist your new password adhere to the following requirements!

  • Must contain mixed-case letters and at least one number.
  • Must contain two non-alphanumeric characters (such as parentheses!)
  • Must not contain spaces or apostrophes.
  • Must not contain words
  • Must contain the obfuscated answer to one of your security questions.
  • Must not be pronounceable by human tongue
  • Must baffle me and break my heart
  • Must be something within it to make sense of this, ASTRID
  • Must explain why he left, ASTRID
  • Must not be his password
  • Must be okay.
  • This once.

Egbert

“Look, I deactivated physical push notifications,” Egbert says. “I mean the technology is amazing, but I had fourteen people today shove me while announcing it was my turn in Word Game, and then some guy told me I was mayor of Coffee House and bumped me into traffic. I don’t want” and then the next straw wrapper thwocks him in the eye.

“That’s not what this is,” she says, reloading.

“Then please,” says Egbert with what he feels is mighty restraint, “tell me what you are.”

The young woman across the train aisle grins and takes aim one more time. “Flirting.”

Principal Lanceford

“Oh, we’d do anything to stay out of detention,” says Sasha, batting her heavy eyes, and slowly pushes a perfect round pink bubble of gum through her pursed and glossy lips.

“You might be surprised,” says Keke, “at the kinds of things we can do,” and with determination, blows bubbles out both sides of her mouth simultaneously.

“IFTH ILLY FEXHY,” Chloe manages around a wad of gum the size of a softball. “AGH CN SCHEW A LOH OF FINGHS”

Smirking, Principal Lanceford begins to undo his suit pants, to reveal his delicious, sweet, chewy look I don’t know how sex works.

Cover Letter

To Whom It May Concern:

Enclosed please find my application for the job listing you posted yesterday, “Outstanding Opportunity :: Second-Grade Teacher.” I say enclosed when what I actually mean is entombed, sealed, thrice-bound with every incantation I know to keep it contained. It is a blinding vortex of flame, a mighty howling terror; I am applying to the available position in the same way that the Cretaceous extinction asteroid applied force to Earth.

When I say It May Concern you, in other words, I mean it.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Cordially,
Miss Tiffany Chamuel

Marta

“I like girls who don’t have to wear makeup,” he says with confidence, gesturing across the table with his fork. “Like you!”

“I remember you saying this,” says Marta distantly. “You dumb idiot.”

“Huh?” Dinesh blinks. “This is our first–”

“So first, 1), I am wearing makeup.” She leans forward. “Very subtle makeup. And 2), it’s not for you. The right face can age you or make you younger. Done well, really well, it can send you through time.”

Dinesh is shaken. “Uh,” he says. “Why do I believe you?”

Marta sits back. “Because, 3), done right, it’s mind control too.”

Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan is the only person on this planet who holds a 14th dan black belt in bittersweet jitsu. Don’t ask her for a demonstration.

“True martial art is about more than performance,” she’ll sigh, when you inevitably do. “One trains one’s body as a tool of one’s mind. Would you ask me to demonstrate a shovel?” She might look away.

It’s in your best interest not to joke about whether there are higher ranks on other planets.

“You and I will never know,” she’ll say, turning to you with devastating eyes, and a smile like a hook in your heart.

Showalter

Every meeting of the Plagiarists’ Guild is almost exactly the same, at least according to the minutes.

Which is all fine as an inside joke but it does make solving a locked-room murder difficult. “What are the chances that the witnesses all tell the same story?” says Detective McMeel.

Showalter gives him dead eyes. “High,” she says.

One guildmaster is pantomiming a strangling. “And I’m next! They’re picking us off, one by one!”

“There was that other case across town,” murmurs McMeel. “Liars’ Guild. Similar. Could be a serial thing. Or a copyc–”

“Don’t,” says Showalter, tight as a garrote.

Karaaz the Flagrant

Karaaz the Flagrant tears the corner off the ichor packet and drips it onto her zomburger. “I don’t get how you’re supposed to advance in this system,” she says. “When the faculty has eternal unlife and tenure…”

“It’s rigged,” says Jensen the Wroth. “Dumb program to get into.”

“You’re in it.”

He jams fingerfries into his mouth and waggles his eyebrows. “I’m sleeping my way to the top.”

Karaaz makes a genuine face, picturing that, and Jensen laughs hard enough to inhale his food. He’s a cute choker. Necromancy is a dumb program, she thinks, pounding him, but there are perks.

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