The Nether

Queen and her Court

Robotic sheep were all the rage. Oh, now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying to yourself, Bob, Bob old boy, why would I ever- or sure but that’s what they all said at first. The RBC started as mostly an accident. It was a classic one-off that went big. The public was worried about killer robots being designed by international conglomerates with no-bid, top-secret government defense contracts. So. So one of these subcontracted outfits with the shady ties designed an ever-so-cute and friendly sheep bot. Adorable! It was just the basic model killer bot tuned down, all basic spec, it actually saved the company money, no add-ons or special features, the bare bones as it were. A metal box with four legs, they threw a synthetic sheep skin over it (in the first models), all curly and fluffy and white, put a few of them out on the lawn, let the press in.

They kept a couple of them on their corporate campus out in the Valley, pets as it were, good PR. The second gen actually arose out of an internal design contest, sort of borrowed and morphed over from the space-unit, the first gen was completely autonomous, but it didn’t really do much, it chewed and mewed on grass. But then just spit it out. The second gen ran an internal system based on a grass-based methane converted to p. alcohol, basically a walking still, which was then distilled down to a highly flammable, then split into an ammonia nitrate, water and rocket fuel.

The water was used to feed the lawn, the nitrogen phosphates as a fertilizer. An internal combustion engine would fuel a lithium battery, trapping the resulting carbon emission. It was a highly efficient process and their carbon footprint turned out to be lower than electric lawnmowers (the lawnmowers themselves were solar and zero emission, but the paperboys who ran them usually took their motorbikes to work) when all factors were calculated. Well, they started them in a herding project out in Wisconsin, the AI learning from actual sheep. By the later generations they were growing their own, gen modified spider silk, wool. Everyone had to have one. They’d sit out in suburbia chewing their cud all day long. People soon forgot about the no-bid contracts and the deadly killer bots, stacking and stocking themselves up in anonymous, hidden warehouses.

Down this rosy, sun-strewn dappling light falling through crab apple trees, mottled, onto pot-holed streets, through dilapidated white-picket fences peeling of paint, we’re invited, beckoned. Oh, there’s lil Sally! Dressed in polka-dot blue! There’s lil Timmy across the street. What’s he up to? Blowing shit up, as per usual. A typical, idyllic suburban American street. That’s when they moved in. The new neighbors. The crooked steeple on the run-down, boarded up, former glory of the block, a McMansion with a fat 30 year jumbo ninja, two-car, 3 1/2 bath with Jacuzzi; it had been turned into a crack-house (actually a crystal meth palace) for bankers before the local zoning board got together with a neighborhood watch of sorts, spray-painted it with big orange X’s.

The new family was, well, peculiar. Not average. A little different.

“Well, there goes the fuckin’ neighborhood,” Sally whispered to herself, dead eyes filled with hopelessness. A doll, handed-down raggedy Andy, sewed up, hanging at her side. She let out a sigh, couldn’t muster the effort to cry. Her body shivered.

Across the street lil Timmy spied her, with his freckles in his striped shirt, his orange flat-top growing in, and made a suspicious looking character, always up to no good. As she returned the look, back at him, not so much meeting his gaze, her pupils fixed on nothing, he quickly cleaned up what he was doing, muttering something incomprehensible under his breath, himself. He looked around, several times in each direction. She just sighed again.

“What’s that your saying, cunt?” Timmy shouted, stripping down naked behind a bush, strategically placed, in his front yard, filled with junk, metal and otherwise.

“What?!? What?! What did you just… what!!” No, no, no she thought to herself. This was all wrong. All wrong. No.

“You heard me cunty mcCunt face!” Timmy shouted back.

“What is your… what is your fucking-” she spat on the ground, couldn’t even cry, just turned, frowning, shaking her head, too upset to think, too angry to move.

Timmy finished his whizzing, went back to his work, only all the drugs had addled his mind, he stared around at different ‘projects’ on the lawn, kicked a ball for a moment, finally picked it up, put his shirt back on and absent-mindedly started kicking it and dribbling it, alternately, out the yard and down the block. Sally turned and looked at him, giving him the finger and sticking her tongue out at him when she was sure he was far enough away not to see what she was doing. He was completely oblivious, lost in his own little world.

Meanwhile, she went back inside. Paw was on the couch, a piss covered number which was rotten when they got it from the Sallys in town (she was named after a Salvation Army her parents fucked outside of) and was in worse shape now, one would imagine it was once white with an inlaid gold pattern but it all kind of blended into one now, and it slouched more than he, a feat in and of itself. He was watching the news.

“War still goin’ on,” she asked him, as she headed for the kitchen and potato chips and orange soda, her bread and butter.

“Oh shit yeah, girl, what- what you thinkin’, shit course it is,” he took several double takes, she smiled, it was more than he’d moved in days, she suppressed her smile, a little. He just shook his head at the vagaries of youth.

“I tell ya, the vagaries of youth,” he said, nearly to himself.

“So, what’s the… score? Of the-” she asked, her mouth full of chips and soda, her arms barely able to hold both containers.

“Score! Good Lor’ girl! This is war! There’s no score- What the?” he was nearly up by this point.

Meanwhile, down the block, one of the new neighbors had meandered, seemingly lost, maybe exploring and backed onto the basketball court, in the middle of a game. Timmy was watching, they stole his ball. Four on four full court, shirts skins. Well, shirts bras, all chicks, ballers. They was rough and tumble- kind of crews would ball with a telephone pole and a bottomed out milk crate, real hardcore ballers, well, one half was. The other half were pretty lipstick lesbians, all gussied up, hair-did, Korean nail salon manis and pedis, tight corn-rows, they was real Betty’s for sho’, all former cheerleaders busted on possession ended up converting to bball in the joint. They was ‘skins’ aka bras. Lotta jabbin’ out a them, not so much defensive pep-talk, or even trash talk, just drama. Occasionally the game would be interrupted if fights broke out. Or a nail was broken, which usually led to a fight.

But no one, I mean no one ever walked onto the- interrupted the game? Oh no. Little fella didn’t see what was coming next. Them girls tore him a new one!

“Look at the little feller!”

“Oh he’s so precious!”

“I want one of them!”

Hands off! Hands off! His body language was screaming, no one was quite sure if he was mute, hell if he were human. I mean he was short, for starters, like, really short.

“He carryin’ an axe. Boy you can’t be carryin’ no- your PO know ‘bout that?”

“That ain’t legit- that definitely ain’t-”

“No, uh-uh! No! No! You do not come on to my court, I’m the queen here, don’t know if you-”

“My liege, I was not aware!” He dropped to one knee.

“Well, that’s more like it!”

“Oh now you know that’s proper! I’ll take me some a that!”

“Straight up!”

The axe-wielding dwarf looked up, momentarily, spied the boy, Timmy, on the side of the court, took a double-take, realizing it was one of his new neighbors, was just about to head in that direction when he realized the punk was doubled over in laughter. Suddenly appearing anxious, the dwarf ran off. But momentarily returned, took his axe to the ball, an enormous, ear-splitting pop was heard blocks away, it was reported later, before he fled the scene, once again.

Timmy looked up, shook his head. “Figures,” he kept shaking his head. After the cops showed up, one of the girls had to go back to the clink, a big commotion ensued, eventually it all quieted down, reports were filled out, dwarfs were mentioned, Timmy snuck onto the court, it was now official evidence, but he managed to sneak away with the ball tucked into the back of his pants, backing up, finally turning tail and running at a sprint, he didn’t look back, but by the time he did, he realized the cops were more interested in flirting with the girls. So he slowed to a walk. He spied Sally staring out at him from the doorless, hinged frame at the front of her hovel of a house, one tooth missing in her radiant smile, all her teeth stained bright orange. He shook his head and snarled. She gave him the finger again, now assured of herself. He just spat again, made a threatening gesture as if he was going to sprint in her direction, but he was just feigning. She dropped the remaining chips and half-filled 2 liter recycled plastic soda bottle and covered herself with her arms, momentarily.

“Fuck you Timmy,” she shouted at him, picking up the bottle and chips.

“What’s that?” Her paw asked from the next room. “Talkin’ to yer friends, keep it down! Tryin’ to watch the war in here, vagaries of youth…” he went on mumbling.

“Yeah, fuck you too, Sally Mc-” he started to say to himself, but noticed she was staring at him, from across the street, possibly reading his lips, making a fairly threatening gesture of her own. He gulped. Stared around suspiciously, as if he were being watched. The shadow of the great gothic McMansion crystal-meth palace, now inhabited by the Seven Dwarves, eyes staring out of broken and boarded up windows from blackened dark rooms, barely edging above the ledges of the sills.

“Come on, get away from there, you know about the-” her paw was starting in on it again.

“Right, right, the snipers, the ones that only come out in the dark- to… to…”

“That’s right! To check up on the fuckin’… the fuckin’… lawnbots thinga-ma-jigs, yer goddamn right- just ’cause no one’s ever seen ’em doesn’t mean-”

“I know, I know paw, I will, I’m a comin’ in anyway, I’m done playin’ with my friends anyways, who wants to play with that snotty-snot-nosed snot-mouth-” her temper was flaring up.

“Now! Now lil missy you just watch that- just like your- whoa boy did she have a-” paw was lost in the haze of his heroin-induced stupor, reminiscing on, as he called them, the good ol’s. “Oh boy! The good ol’s,” he’d say, like it was a TV show like The War he was tunin’ into, whenever it would come over him, and then he just sort of, well tuned out.

She sat down to watch The War.

Across the street, Timmy took to repairing the basketball, which was by this point half soccer ball, half duct tape. It wasn’t the first repair job. Might be the last though. It ended up in the ‘other projects’ part of the lawn, next to a couple of broken down, genuine 3rd gen RBC (RoboticSheep Bot Corporation) sheep, which seemed sort of scary, monstrous and somehow dead but also pathetic, heart-breaking, but demented. There was something terrifying in their potential.

One of the few remaining cars swerved, roared, braked, turned, reversed, flew by, newspapers flying out in a seemingly random pattern. It was gone a moment later. That was usually the most excitement the street saw, every day. Timmy picked it up, brought it inside, spread it out on the big kitchen table, nearly had to climb up on the table from the chair, nearly spilling his coffee in the process. He tried to crank up the light, a single bulb, an old Edison jobby he stole from a museum on a trip, hanging from a single electric wire, but it fizzled, popped, he shied away from it, finally got up going though, ran at a nice clip, glowing incandescent. He put on glasses, black plastic frames with custom made microscope lenses. He squinted and blinked. He was still teaching himself to read.

He blinked several times. He couldn’t believe what he was reading. He wasn’t sure he was getting it right. Apparently there was something new in the world. There hadn’t been anything new in the world in, he went in the next room, counted up the marks, yup, seventeen years. He blinked several times. Some kind of cat-monkey. Scientists in Washington were all abuzz. This might mark a new trend. Everything started going down hill when big data scientists started noticing, nearly a score (twenty years) prior that there was a correlation between slowing global GDP, falling commodity prices and the fact that there was nothing new. Everything was just some new form of something else, mashed up this, recycled that. No one really worried until someone actually theorized it, put it in plain English. Then everyone started noticing it, somehow the fear made the process speed up. Scientists had to regraph their graphs, then one day everything just stopped.

But this! The cat-monkey! Many were saying it wasn’t something new, it was more of the same. But others were saying, no, it was. It was something novel, something completely new! Good times! Scientists were skeptical but skeptically optimistic, the newspaper was reporting, could be the start of something really big. But there wasn’t much actual information on the cat-monkey, itself.

Meanwhile, Sally found herself drifting off, shaking her head, trying to wake up. The War was taking place eons away, a distant distant planet the scientists had only just discovered right before everything stopped, nearly twenty years prior. Scientists tuned their dishes towards the signal, apparently it was taking place a long, long time ago, and we were only just getting the signal now, two warring factions, daily news reports, ‘live’ action, but also a lot of in-depth, hard-hitting, up-close and personal coverage of the players involved.

[Cont.]

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.