Velvet dogma about 3300.., p.1
Velvet Dogma About 3300 wds, page 1
By Weston Ochse
Published by Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital
Cover Art titled "Such a Nice Army This Would Be"
by Danielle Tunstall of model Collete Von Tora
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Praise for Weston Ochse
"Weston Ochse is one of the best authors of our generation." - Brian Keene, Author of Ghoul and The Rising
"Weston Ochse is a mercurial writer, one of those depressingly talented people who are good at whatever they turn their hand to"-Conrad Williams, August Derleth and International Horror Guild Award Winner
"Weston Ochse is perhaps the fiercest and most direct of the latest generation of dark fiction writers." Rocky Wood, author of Stephen King: A Literary Companion.
"Weston Ochse is to horror what Bradbury is to science fiction —an artist whose craft, stories and voice are so distinct and mesmerizing that you can't help but be enthralled." - Dani Kollin, Prometheus Award-winning author of The Unincorporated Man
"Brilliantly rendered. What was so impressive about the piece was that I did not doubt the incredible heroism of the protagonist... nor his motivation. - Andrew Vachss on "Family Man"
"Ochse succeeds in creating a complex plot that casts a brutal overwhelming spell."- International Thriller Award winner Tom Piccirilli on Scarecrow Gods
Excerpt from Butterfly Winter by Weston Ochse
Excerpt from Appalachian Galapagos by Weston Ochse and David Whitman
Excerpt from Mirror Me by Yvonne Navarro
Excerpt from Scattered Earth Novel
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or at www.westonochse.com
Thanks also to Chris Golden and Julie Barrett for giving me the nudge and for loving the idea. Thanks to a host of readers including Nanci Kalanta and Kevin Mcalonan for making it as good as it is. For my science fiction heroes, Joe Haldeman, John Scalzi, Robert Heinlein and Neal Stephenson, thank you for the excitement and wonder you've given me over the years and please accept this as my humble contribution to the tradition. To the little girl who argued over the proper color of the Hulk, thank you for your individuality. To my fans who I talk with online and in person, keep the questions coming and the friendship warm. And to my wife, thanks for damn near everything.
"Stand very still," Kumi said as she ran the palm-sized instrument across Rebecca's naked torso.
At first, nothing happened. Rebecca wondered if they'd made a mistake. Perhaps they hadn't levied her organs. Perhaps she'd be free of that grotesque burden.
Kumi cursed, apologized, and then tried once more. As the scanner passed over Rebecca's kidney, an indecipherable series of red glowing letters and numbers and Chinese characters appeared on the small screen. And then the rest of her organs' inventory numbers appeared on the screen as the scanner passed over them. Her kidneys, her liver, her lungs, her heart, her pancreas, even her spleen. Finally, Kumi ran the scanner over Rebecca's head, reading the indicators assigned to the eyes as well as the different parts of Rebecca's brain. Through the entire process, Kumi had remained dispassionate and professional. But when she reached the back of Rebecca's skull, she paused, her hiss and rapid intake of breath giving away something out of the ordinary. Rebecca waited for the woman to tell her what it was. Instead, Kumi hurriedly finished, passed Rebecca a new set of clothes, and told her to change.
A little later, Rebecca stood in the bathroom and began pulling on the clothes. Similar in style to Kumi's, the only major difference was the neckline. Where Kumi's blouse plunged revealing the curve of her breasts, Rebecca's blouse ran straight across her neck in a crew-style cut, just enough to cover her parole collar. The sleeves fell to mid-forearm. The end result was a strange combination of aesthetic and athletic. The pants fit snugly around hips kept trim from a bland diet of prison food and daily Tai Chi regimens conducted out of sheer boredom. The boots were made from a glossy rubber material that was both firm along the edges and form-fitting around the soles and ankles. They were perhaps the most comfortable shoes she'd ever worn. The end result made her feel taller, the taper of the pants accentuating her legginess.
Staring at the effect in the mirror, Rebecca couldn't help liking what she saw. Her prison haircut left her with few hairs longer than three or four inches, with the longest on top of her head. She'd used some water from the sink to tease them and appreciated the way the blonde hairs spiked. Her cheekbones had always been a little higher than the other women she'd known. Her father said it was from the Sioux ancestry. Her mother had said it was from the French. They'd never agreed. But then her parents had never agreed about anything, their displays of unmitigated obstinacy the reason for their divorce when Rebecca was six.
Rebecca had always felt her eyes were the wrong color blue. Her lips seemed fine...until she smiled. Then they twisted into something that hardly resembled beautiful. She hated her smile, and tried to keep serious as often as possible. She'd once taken to hiding her smile behind her hands, but a casual glance at her reflection in a subway car window when she was fifteen cured her of that mistake. Instead of hiding what she'd considered a defect, it had brought attention to her. The action that had been meant to hide instead looked silly and coquettish. She'd never felt, and never wanted to feel, that way.
But not everything was as it was. Small lines at the corners of each eye and the corners of her mouth reminded her that she wasn't the thirty-year-old girl who'd been sent to prison. Interspersed within the blonde hairs were traitorous slivers of gray. The skin across her cheekbones had tightened and shone with the wear of age. Not all bad, but enough to remind her that she'd definitely changed.
She took a longer more critical look at herself. Then after a minute, shook her head. What had she expected? It had been twenty years. Of course she'd age.
She teased her hair once more, and then unlocked the bathroom door. After a moment to steel herself, she opened it and stepped into the room.
Kumita Rasangawan, or Kumi as she'd asked to be called, sat at the table speaking into a slender phone. When she saw Rebecca, she quickly bid farewell, then shoved the device into her pocket. "You look great, Rebecca," Kumi said as she stood. "That color is perfect for your skin."
"Sure. Rust always goes well with a prison tan," Rebecca said, allowing the old smart side of her to surface.
Kumi's smile faltered. "It's not rust. It's ochre," she said.
"Then rust is the color of ochre," Rebecca snapped, but as soon as she said it, she regretted it. This time Kumi's smile completely fell. Sometimes Rebecca could be her own worst enemy. "Listen," she said, "I'm sorry. The stress of everything, you know? Maybe we can continue my re-education program or some
"Reintroduction," Kumi corrected.
"Right." Rebecca stepped over to the table and snatched up the scanner that Kumi had left on the table. "So are you going to tell me what all those numbers and letters meant?"
Rebecca stared stone-faced. So it's going to be that way, she thought. "The numbers assigned to my organs. I'm sure you know what they meant."
"Not really." Kumi shook her head rapidly as she stepped over and tried to snatch the scanner back. But Rebecca pulled it away and turned. "They refer to ownership and a transmittal number. Without a computer, I can't tell who they belong to."
Rebecca shuddered and made a face.
"I don't know," Rebecca said, returning the scanner. "I don't really feel like I own my own body anymore. It's a weird feeling to be free, but only on the outside. Very strange."
"I know what you mean."
"Do you? Who owns your organs?" Rebecca asked.
"No one. Mine aren't worth anything," Kumi said, her voice so low that Rebecca couldn't help but feel bad for the woman.
Were useful organs a sign of status in the world? What had Kumi said earlier about Rebecca's organs? Something about how they were unspoiled by toxins. Did that make Rebecca special? She kept her face impassive, but her insides squirmed with the irony of the situation.
"No one as in no one wants your organs?"
"I grew up in Sri Lanka," Kumi said as if in explanation. She quickly changed the subject. "But you asked about your organs. Nothing I saw was out of the norm, except that all of your organs have been levied."
"That's not the way things usually are?"
"Not really," Kumi admitted. "Most people have one or two organs that have been cataloged and found to be valuable, but you, probably because of your incarceration and solitary confinement, have almost perfect organs. All of them have been levied, and although I don't have the codes, I can tell that some very high prices have been bid."
"Wait. I can get paid for these?"
"Of course you can."
"So if I need the money, I can sell my liver?" Rebecca asked.
"You need your liver to survive," Kumi said flatly.
"But you could sell your spleen," she added.
Rebecca shook her head as she imagined selling her spleen for the price of a new car. "What does a spleen go for nowadays?"
"Based on your readings? You could get somewhere around a hundred thousand for it," said Kumi.
"For my spleen? But it doesn't do anything. Who would pay that much for a spleen?" she asked.
Kumi shrugged. "Lots of people. Chinese herbalists pay a high price for healthy human spleen."
Rebecca remembered that Chinese specialists in Eastern medicine used to deal in bear bladders and elk hearts. They'd always been into special body parts. She'd remembered running across an online network back in her information warfare days. When she'd gone to jail, hunting those animals had been illegal; but then so had been the harvesting of human body parts for sale. She supposed the natural evolution was to the human spleen—whatever it did.
"So what you're saying is that I could go into a hospital, have them take out my spleen, then walk out with a bundle of cash?" Rebecca almost laughed. The entire idea was ludicrous. Selling off part of her had never crossed her mind. She reminded herself that the whole idea had made her ill when she'd first heard it, now here she was contemplating the possibilities of a get-rich-quick scheme. How easy it was for crazy things to become normal.
"That's about right. There isn't any cash though. Everything is electronic now. Your account would be credited."
"Do I even have an account?" Rebecca asked.
Suddenly Kumi smiled. "Yes, you do. I don't know why I didn't mention it earlier. You have quite a significant amount of money in fact."
"What? Where'd it come from? I didn't have any money when I was arrested."
"Besides the computer equipment that was confiscated at your arrest, you had a home and some furniture. According to the records, no one came to claim your property, so the state sold it at auction. At the time of your incarceration, after paying court costs and fines, your net worth was $23,000."
Rebecca felt a pulse of excitement course through her body. When she'd had money, she'd given it away. She'd never had a need for it. But having money now seemed important. Although she didn't know the cost of a bar of soap, she knew that with money came a certain freedom that she'd need to survive. She held the possibilities at bay as she waited for Kumi's answer.
"And now? How much do I have now?"
"A little over $74,000 Global Dollars," Kumi replied, the sparkle returning to her eyes.
"Oh, my God!" Rebecca stared for a long moment. Suddenly she frowned. "Is that a lot? I mean, I don't know the value of money now. What can I buy with that?"
Kumi shrugged. "About the same thing you could have bought in 1995 Legacy United States Dollars."
"Are you kidding?"
They were interrupted by a knock. Kumi opened the door and spoke with someone in hushed tones.
Rebecca waited, realizing for the first time that she probably did have a future. The money was a nice stake and would be a terrific help getting her back on track. After Kumi's reintroduction, Rebecca could even find a job. There had to be some lo-tech work that suited her.
The room looked like it belonged in a cheap hotel. An orange sofa sat against one wall. A table and two chairs had been arranged by a curtained window. Although thread-bare and gauche, the furnishings were more opulent than anything she'd been allowed to use during her incarceration. Her Spartan cell had been a perfect merging of metal and cinderblock—effective, easy to keep clean, and about as comforting as stone and metal could be.
The pièce de résistance of the room was a large velvet painting of dogs sitting around a table playing poker as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. When Kumi had prepared the reintroduction room for her, she'd found a reference to this painting in Rebecca's files and placed it here. The painting had been her brother's, something she'd given him for his birthday. He'd placed it in his den as a reminder for all things wonderful, sometimes gazing at it as he drank scotch long into the night. She'd never really understood the imagery. She'd only known that the painting had made him happy.
Now, looking at the velvet picture of the dogs playing poker gave her strength. She remembered a saying that her brother had been fond of—If dogs can play poker then I can rule the world. Of course he never had ruled the world. Before she'd been incarcerated, the best he'd managed to do was sell used computers over the Internet and auction video tapes that he'd found at garage sales, but the sentiment was no less grand.
Rebecca turned as she heard the door close. Kumi walked slowly back to her, her forlorn gaze losing focus midway between them. Where a smile had lit her face just moments before, a frown now darkened her features, bringing with it the harsh edges of dread. Kumi stopped in front of Rebecca. She held her hands out in front of her, empty and clutching. Her eyes tried to find the right place to gaze at Rebecca's face.
"What's wrong, Kumi?" Rebecca asked.
Kumi breathed twice, each exhalation a sigh. "It's your brother," she said at last.
"David? I was hoping you'd tracked him down..." Her voice trailed off as she finally acknowledged the agonized emotions in the young woman's face. Rebecca grabbed Kumi's hands. "What's wrong? What's happened?"
"The medics found him in his flat," she said, her voice low. "They called it a stroke."
"His brain filled with blood. There was nothing they could do," Kumi said evenly. "Even the donor squads were too late to save him."
"When did it happen?" A pit yawned open in Rebecca's chest.
"An hour ago."
She felt sick to her stomach. "What caused it?"
"They don't know."
"How could he have a stroke?" Re
"I want to go."
"I want to go to my brother's apartment."
"He's not there. They've taken him away."
"Who took him?"
"He had several organs levied. Donor squads monitoring his status usually arrive within thirty minutes."
"What about the police?" Rebecca asked. "What about an ambulance?"
"They don't handle things like that."
"They don't handle—" How could they not handle death? Had things changed so much? "I still want to go. I need to go."
"But that's impossible."
"Why? Why is it impossible? You said I'd been released. Is there any paperwork? Is there something else I need to do? If there is, then let's do it."
"But there are contracts to sign," Kumi said hastily. "I need to explain things to you. Really, you can't just go into the world without knowing something."
A door opened inside Rebecca that had been shut for twenty years. Inside the door was a room filled with all the fury, consternation and disappointment that she'd once aimed at her world. The emotions had been locked away all this time, but no more.
She grabbed Kumi by her wrist and leaned close enough to see the pores on the younger woman's nose. "If I'm as free as you say, then let me go. If there are things that you need to tell me, then do it on the way, because there's one thing that I know and it's that the only way you're going to stop me from getting to my brother's house is if you kill me."
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