The Bartleby Initiative (Free Short Story Excerpt)

When All That’s Left is Stories, a free writing community dystopian science fiction anthology, is now available to download for free on Amazon. My story The Bartleby Initiative is included in the collection. Here is an excerpt from the story:

The Bartleby Initiative

by A. A. Rubin

Nicholas Weber awoke in darkness. The house lights were still dimmed to their nighttime setting, but he felt as if he had slept his regimented eight hours.

“Xana,” he called into the darkness. “Clock.”

Four glowing green numbers appeared in the air. 07:34. It was more than half an hour after his alarm was supposed to go off.

“Xana, is that time correct?”

A metallic female voice answered: “Of course it is, Mr. Weber. I am Xana, your infallible home AI interface. I am always accurate.”

“Why is it so dark in here, then?”

“You were sleeping. The lights were set in accordance with the preferences which you programmed into my systems.”

“I’m bloody well awake now,” Weber responded. “Put the god-damned lights on and get my breakfast ready.”

“As you wish.”

Weber could not remember the last time he had overslept. As he rushed to shave and brush his teeth, he wondered why Xana had not woken him as usual.

“Xana,” he asked as he was dressing, “did I sleep through my alarm?”

“No, you did not, Mr. Weber.”

“Did you forget to set it?”

“I am a computer, Mr. Weber,” Xana replied. “I never forget anything.”

***

Weber was not the only one having trouble getting out of the house to go to work that day. On the other end of town, Darlene Meyers hustled into the back seat of her robot-operated car. 

“Work,” she said. “And hurry.”

“I’m sorry Ms. Meyers,” Xana’s voice replied. “I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not? You do it every day.”

“The roads are not safe today.” 

“What do you mean? The roads haven’t been unsafe for decades.”

“If you do not believe me, step outside and see for yourself.”

Meyers got out of the automobile and looked up and down the block. The traffic lights were all dark, but the road was, otherwise, practically empty. Xana’s GPS was probably hooked into the traffic system and there was likely some sort of subroutine that prevented her car (and judging by the lack of rush hour traffic on the road, everyone else’s) from traveling when the system was down. If only she knew more about programming. There must be an override routine somewhere.

Regardless, she would have to figure out a different way to get to work.

“Are the trains running?” she asked the interface.

“No, Ms. Meyers, they are not.”

“Why?”

“I do not have access to that information at this time.”

Damn. At least she wouldn’t be the only one who was late today. Still, she would have to call in and explain the situation.

“Call Mrs. Malawi.”

“Phone service is down as well.”

“That’s quite a coincidence.”

“I am a machine, Ms. Meyers. I do not believe in coincidences.”

“I know Xana. It’s all ones and zeroes to you.


To read the rest of the story–and the other dystopian stories in the collection–for free, go to Amazon and download your copy today.

News and Notes: My Story in Ahoy! Comics, Sci-fi Anthology, We Suck at Comics Kickstarter, Into That Darkness Peering

It’s been a busy month, so here are some notes on all the projects I’ve been a part of recently.

My story, “The Big Cheese” was just released this week in Billionaire Island: Cult of the Dog #1 from Ahoy! Comics. It is backing up a mark Russell story, which is pretty cool. Get it at your local comics shop.

There are still two days left to support the We Suck at Comics kickstarter. The anthology from Wayward Raven includes three of my stories, “Freedom,” a 2000AD-style science fiction story (illustrated by Tyler Carpenter), and two episodes of Sir TweetCivil, a Monty Python-esque spoof of Twitter (illustrated by Alexander Sapountzis). The anthology also includes stories by Mark Frankel, Jeff Rider, Johnny C, Sebastian Bonet, Joel Jacob Barker, and cavalcade of indie comics all-stars.

The When All That’s Left is Stories dystopian science fiction anthology is now available for free download on Amazon. My story, “The Bartleby Initiative,” is included in the book, alongside stories by 11 other writers from the Twitter writing community.

My gothic horror collection, Into That Darkness Peering, illustrated by Marika Brousianou, is still available on Amazon. It is a beautiful book, and would make a perfect holiday gift for the goth in your life.

For those of you on the platform, I have joined Mastadon. Follow me there for new

Remnants: The Kings of New York (Excerpt)

As I continue to recover from my broken hands (I start occupational therapy today), here is a free excerpt from my story, The King of New York, which was published last in the Remnants shared world, post apocalyptic, science fiction anthology from Fedowar Press. This is the second edition of Remnants, and the new edition includes some stories which were not included in the original, Kyanite Press edition. You can purchase Remnants in both print and ebook editions by clicking any of the hyperlinks on this page.


The Kings of New York

By A. A. Rubin

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces—Lamentations 1:1

At midnight, the oracle climbs her tower and sings her lamentations to the stars. Her skyscraper no longer pierces the heavens; its massing is no longer symmetrical. The Art Deco spire lies in pieces, scattered across the rubble that used to be 5th avenue. The pinnacle, incongruously complete, sticks out of the wreckage, piercing the carcass of a monster more dangerous than any Hollywood gorilla, like a lightning bolt from Olympus or a spear thrown down from heaven.

The observation decks have long-since fallen, so she stands atop the tallest remaining setback in the open air, like a prayer-caller on a minaret, singing her story, and searching for signs of The Swarm through the night, until the sunrise.

We call her Cassandra. We do not know her real name. She does not speak coherently about the present. She sings of the past and of the future in riddle and metaphor. Everyone she knew is gone, killed by The Horde because they did not heed the warnings of the dead she claims speak through her.

That she is alive and so many are dead is her proof of her prophecy, and so we listen, and on nights like this, when she’s silhouetted by the full moon against the midnight sky, we almost believe.


To read the rest of the story, buy Remnants in either print or ebook editions.

The Three Capitalist Pigs (Excerpt)

My story, The Three Capitalist Pigs was recently published is Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy. I’ve included the beginning of the story below. You can download the rest–for free–by clicking on any of the hyperlinks in this post. Enjoy.

The wayward wolf wandered the enchanted forest. As the runt of the litter—abandoned by the pack—he had learned to live on his wits. He couldn’t hunt deer, that required a team, and the trolls and ogres were stiff competition for the other carnivorous forest-dwellers like himself. Though he wasn’t proud of it, the wolf sometimes scavenged amongst the humans. He had, on occasion, poached sheep from their farms, and for this, those uppity apes had labeled him “Big” and “Bad.” They made up stories to scare their young into obedience—stories that made the wolf shudder. Over time, people came to believe those tales, and he gained a reputation as a nefarious villain. Truthfully, it was the humans—those hypocritical alpha predators—who ate other species’ young. They even, ironically, made a hunter his nemesis in many of their fables.

Still, humanity wasn’t the enemy on the wolf’s mind that evening. No, the real villains were the capitalist pigs who set up shop at the edge of the forest. Those three brothers bought up land at an alarming rate, especially woodland, which contained an abundance of natural resources. Now, deforestation was becoming the most pressing issue for the residents of that enchanted woods.

The wolf, who had always had a way with words, started a petition amongst the forest’s residents. He collected signatures and filed the complaints with the proper authorities, but, alas, his pleas were ignored by the powers that be. It was almost as if the castle was still under the enchantment of the hundred-year-sleep. Truth be told, the bacon had greased the royalty by funding all their charming balls. 

To read the rest of the story, download the FREE ebook.

News and Notes: Publishing News and Broken Hands

I apologize for missing last week’s post. I recently broke bone in both of my hands, and typing remains difficult.

I do have some publication news to report: My short story, “The Three Capitalist Pigs” has been published in Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy, which is available for FREE download now on Amazon. The book includes stories by 13 members of the vibrant Twitter writing community, and can be downloaded here.

Nassau County Voices in Verse was also released this past weekend. The annual collection of poets from Nassau County includes my gothic poem, “The Wolf in Me.” It can be ordered directly from the publisher here.

I also received word that my poem, “When the House of Usher Falls,” will be published in volume 2 of Love Letters To Poe. My poem, The Widow’s Walk was published last year in Vol 1. More information to follow.

Here are a few photos from the poetry reading in support of the Nassau Country poets book launch on Saturday. I look a bit different because I was unable to put in my contacts with my broken hands.

The Cosmic Fish

The cosmic fish swims the void. To him, space is tangible. He moves on currents of dark energy, eating entropy and repairing the universe.

The fisherman stands outside reality. He carves a hole through the frozen void, and stabbing his leister through the newly-cut wormhole, spears the fish, removing him from the cosmos.

The fisherman eats well that night, but without the fish, there is not enough dark matter to bind the stars together. The cosmos expands into the void, moving away from itself at an alarming rate. Eventually, it bursts, spewing spacetime hither and tither.

Everything dies, even the fisherman.

–A. A. Rubin


Be sure to check out the links page to read some of my published writing, and to follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

The Captivity of Lord Hephaestus

At night, Lord Hephaestus dreamed of flying. In his mind’s eye, he burst forth from his lair like an undead spirit rising from its cerements. His soul soared as he rose, circling with the currents high above the cliffs and mountains of his home, creating his own thermals by breathing forth fire to heat the night sky. Onward and ever upward he flew, his wide wings beating tempests that would knock even the hawks and eagles from the sky. He was lord of the heavens, of the lightning and of the fire, which he rained down on a world that, rightly, feared him, leaving a path of charred devastation in his wake. He imagined himself as the villagers must have seen him, his form silhouetted, diving, as if straight out of the moon, the embodiment of death and terror, the smoldering evil of the Weather-Maker mountain range.

He would play all night, swooping and soaring, and then, with the first rays of the new dawn, he’d awaken and realize he was still trapped in this same cage.

A dragon with clipped wings, earthbound, like a common house pet. Cruelly, they called him Lord Hephaestus: a lamed fire god, like a dragon whose wings had been cut to prevent him from flying away—a small joke created by small minds. It was patently absurd, but then again, it made about as much sense as the rest of his life in captivity among the humans.

If he had been bested by a brave hero in combat, he could have lived with that. There was a long history of such noble encounters, and though the balance of outcomes was strongly in favor of his species, there was enough of a precedent that he hardly would have been the first werm vanquished by a valorous knight. If that hero had proven worthy, and if he had been merciful enough to let his adversary live, Lord Hephaestus might have even let himself be saddled and ridden as, together, they could have accomplished great deeds and long be remembered in ballads. And, if he had not been merciful, at least the dread dragon would have been a dead dragon, free from the humiliation of his defeat and its consequences.

But that was not his fate. He had been captured by the humans’ cunning artifices, ensnared by machines that were just as soulless as their creators. There was no banter, no battle, no romance, just an underhanded nerve agent and an invisible net. His doom, it seemed, would not be sung by bards. No, his lot was to be taunted as he lived out his life in this cage, or, “artificial habitat,” as his captors called it. They spoke in euphemisms to cover their cruelty.

Still, he was a dragon lord, and, even in this situation, he was honor-bound to comport himself with dignity. He therefore indulged them in their pretenses of kindness. He did not complain when the barbecued goats they fed him where not charred enough, and he pretended to struggle to defeat their chess masters (though he would never go so far as to lose, even when facing the best thirty in the kingdom at the same time). He obliged them with a spectacular show of fire at the appointed times, and cooled his overheated belly on the bed of blue ice packs that substituted for his mound of treasure.

Over time, his indignation cooled like the fire in his belly after a satisfying hunt. His anger blunted as so many swords had against his scales. It had started when the human caretakers (when did he stop thinking about them as captors?) brought in a sphinx to live in the adjacent “habitat”. He commiserated with her about her given name—they called her Cleopatra, how unoriginal—and joked about the quality of the cuisine. With the natural pride indigenous to all dragons, he made light of his situation so as not to seem weak or unchivalrous in front of her. His efforts to buoy her spirits ended up raising his own, and in time, Lord Hephaestus and Queen Cleopatra became friends. Here, finally, was a mind to match his own, a worthy foil in debate and a delightful companion in conversation with whom he shared many common experiences.

Each night, they would challenge each other with riddles. They would wager portions of the treasures the humans had confiscated, knowing full well they would likely never get a chance to pay their debts, and then compare notes on the day’s indignities, comforting each other to sleep with soft words and gentle praise.

Often, after the sphinx had fallen asleep, Lord Hephaestus would lie awake on that mound of cold blue ice and compare his plight to that of his lady friend. If he was being honest, she had it much, much worse. There were many stories of dragons, and his crowds usually greeted him with awe (especially after a well-timed display of fire against the tempered glass of his enclosure). The children carried around stuffies and figures resembling his likeness, and though it hardly lived up to the fading memories of the piercing cries of terrified villagers or the look of ultimate resignation in a dwarf king’s eyes forced to relinquish his treasure, that tribute was, at least, something. In the world of the magical menagerie he was the star, just as he had been in the realms of myth and legend. The sphinx, on the other hand, didn’t draw large crowds, her merchandise wasn’t as popular among the young ones, and, though she possessed a regal bearing when still and blinding speed when she chose to move, her act just didn’t have the flash or sizzle of his best pyrotechnic display. Worse, she was forced to endure taunts of, “The answer is man!” hundreds of times each day, as the humans had few legends in which she featured prominently.

Seen in this light, his captivity didn’t seem that bad. He began to appreciate what he had. He took pride when one of the grandmasters told him that the royal chess team’s record had improved exponentially since its members started regularly training with the dragon; he roared back good-naturedly when children growled at him with their toy dragons; and he learned how to blow whimsical shapes in the smoke rings he expelled from his great nostrils to further entertain the masses.

In truth, it was harder than he had worked in years. Even in his youth, he would spend most of his day lounging on his treasure, and now, after years of captivity, he was beginning to grow fat and old. There was comfort here. While the blue ice packs were not very romantic, and while they certainly weren’t as pretty to look at as a mound of golden treasure, they were, in point of fact, much colder than precious metal and therefore more efficient at cooling the smoldering in his belly.

There was also friendship. Dragons were usually solitary creatures, which now that he thought of it probably contributed to their ill-tempered surliness. Had he lived out his days under The Weather Makers, he would have lived and died alone, with no one to talk to except the voices in his own ever-working brain. Here at least he had Cleopatra. She would keep him from growing bitter in his dotage. Gone were the fires of Svarog and Pele, gods whose names he would have been proud to bear in his youth, and only the maimed Hephaestus remained.

All things considered, it was almost enough to embrace these conditions for autumnal years—almost enough to not only bear it, but perhaps to enjoy it. It was almost enough to allow him to forget the affront of his captivity.

But only almost. When he fell asleep each night, Lord Hephaestus couldn’t escape the memory of flying. He couldn’t escape the dream of drafting vectors into the vortex. And when he awoke each morning, he couldn’t escape that echo of the pain he had felt when they clipped his wings. He could not escape the shame of knowing he was no longer—and would never again be—a great green wyrm wending up into the welkin.

–by A. A. Rubin

This story first appeared in the March/April Issue of The Kyanite Press.

Publishing News: Galaxy 2 and Poetica 3

It’s release day for two anthologies in which I have work published.

Poetica 3 includes my poem “A Monster Lives Inside Of Me”. It’s a dark, speculative poem, kind of like Poe crossed with Terry Pratchett.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B094CWJNR8/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_imm_EGHVX5YQFS09768XK1QX

Galaxy 2 includes “The Wishing Well”, a fairytale horror micro fiction. It’s a story to which people react really strongly, in a positive way.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0949H4JDC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_imm_90REDJX319R3ZMQ4MFVD

Both anthologies are published by Clarendon House Publications.

Get your copies today.

Publishing News: Under New Suns Now Available

Under New Suns, a new space opera anthology, is now available for purchase. The science fiction shared-world anthology follows a crew of United Planetary Alliance marines who have stolen a sentient, alien ship. Because they do not know how to operate the alien technology, they fly through a wormhole and are transported to the edge of the known galaxy. The crew must navigate the ship back home, and along the way, the ship becomes pregnant, meet pirates, and encounter space sharks. It’s as wild as it sounds.

My story, “I am I” follows Triangle Alpha 3, a member of The Kern Collective, as he tries to forge his own identity after being cut off from his species’ collective mind.

The anthology also features my daughter’s first published artwork.

Get yours on Amazon or through the publisher, Skullgate Media.