The Plural of Tits

"What's the plural of tits?" Annie looked up from the rusty box of silverware holding an incongruously blemish-free steak knife.

Jenn stared unseeing into her own box of scrap. "Tits is already plural. One tit, two tits."

Annie held her new knife up to shine in the wan light of the dust-clouded noonday sun. "This is my tit knife." Her face bore solemn determination. "It's for cutting off one tit so I can be an Amazon. Once I have tits, anyway." She looked down at the sweat-stained, dust-soiled t-shirt over her flat chest.

"Don't be stupid." Jenn bent over her box and sorted old tools from it in abrupt, distracting movements.

"We have to be Amazons if we're gonna be badass. Which we need if we're gonna be safe, now there're no cops." No response. "Mom'd think it was cool."

"Mom would—" Jenn lowered her head, eyes closed, and continued in a low voice. "Mom would want us to be safe. Take care of each other. Not cut off our tits. Now keep looking. We have to find something to trade for food tonight."

Annie drooped. "Yeah, 'kay." She went back to her box. "You're gonna make a lousy Amazon."

Gone Concept Diving

"It'll work!" Naomi said.

"I don't care if it'll work, it's a stupid idea!" Aria threw up her hands. Naomi sat at a terminal connected to the bank of supercooled processors.

"Look, all the simulations say the conceptspace exists where I can reach it."

"I don't care if you can simulate Heaven, it's—"

"It's not a simulation, don't you get that? It's a constructed conceptspace, but still real."

"Like another dimension." Aria's affect was flat.

Naomi rolled her eyes. "Sure, if you want to drastically oversimplify."

Aria took a deep breath. "It's untested. Let's run more simulations, test it on animals. I can maybe get a hold of some sign language-trained chimps."

"No. This is my chance to enter a world I've loved since I was five." Naomi hit three keys and slipped a helmet over her head. The world shifted and slipped away.

Everything resolved into shades a big room, all grey and white, with a big window looking out onto open space. She saw it all through some kind of helmet. Naomi was about to take it off when a radio crackled in her ear. "TK-421, report to hangar bay C-37 for cargo inspection."

Oh, Naomi thought. Uh-oh.

Not Going to Hit Him

"Hit him," Armand said.

"I'm not going to hit him." Cathy rolled her eyes and looked back at her drink.

"C'mon, he deserves it!" The man who'd offered her a drink backed off, silently disappearing into the late-night/early-morning crowd.

"You always want me to hit them. It scares them off. I mean, I didn't want to keep him around, but it's not normal."

"Normal is as normal does."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"You never let me have any fun," Armand said. As he spoke, one of their neighbors at the bar looked down at Cathy's arm, flesh-toned but obviously a replacement, and speaking through a grille where the deltoid would be. "We're at a bar, and you won't even let me run my intox app."

"Are you surprised I don't want my arm flailing about like a drunk?"

The arm signed. "Do you regret getting a prosthesis?"

Cathy shrugged, which meant Armand shrugged, too. "I regret needing one, sure. Would life be less complicated if we could train good prostheses without that deep neural stuff that results in conscious AI? Sure. How about you?"

"Me what?"

"Do you ever regret choosing a stupid-ass joke name?" Cathy smirked.

"Never."

Universal Demarchy

"I hate doing this," Sam muttered. She and Chris took another step with the long line toward the curtained booths ahead of them.

Chris rolled her eyes. "You've said that a hundred times. Maybe you won't in a few minutes."

Sam snorted. "Minutes? My ass. We'll be lucky to be through in a few hours."

"Ugh." Chris slouched. "Hopefully you'll be a little more positive. All that negativity can't be good for you."

"God, why do I even talk to you?"

"God only knows."

They passed the next forty-five minutes in silence. At the front of the line Sam paused. In a small voice, she said, "Let's just turn around. Let's go. We don't have to... to do this."

"Oh, sweetie." Chris put a hand on her cheek. "Everybody deserves a chance to be anybody. President, CEO, homeless. Lover. They'll keep us together, we did the paperwork."

"Just... will it really be us?"

"All the times we've done this, and... who knows?" The technician ushered them past their respective curtains. "See you on the other side."

"Sure."

On the other side, one turned to the other. "Boungiorno. I'm Valentina." She held out a hand.

The other took it. "Xiu Ying."

Forty Years in Service

Suwo snapped to attention as the officer entered the the interview room, all concrete and bolted steel and wide, shadowed one-way mirror. Her uniform marked her as a major, but conspicuously lacked her name. She nodded and said, "Take your seat."

"Yes, Sir." Despite the major's easy manner, Suwo maintained her posture.

Sitting, the major slapped a thick file on the metal table and flipped through it. "Trained, conditioned in '43. Saw action in '44, '45 and '47. Reconditioning  in '49, back in the field in '51. Since then, stationed for rapid deployment in Libya, the Ukraine, Guatemala, and Phoenix. In the service... almost forty years." She paused for reaction, but Suwo had none.

"And now you get to retire. Normal." The major set a large, metal syringe on the table, filled with a metallic liquid. "This will deactivate your enhancements."

Suwo picked up the needle, looked at it. "The lab coats always told us these enhancements were permanent."

The major shrugged. "Science, am I right?"

Suwo dropped it; it shattered. "Oops." The major's easy manner vanished. She straightened, her hand conspicuously under the table.

"You know we have to decommission you, soldier."

"I know you're going to try. Sir."

Nineteen Thirty-one

"Horographer Kinsley!" Head of Timekeeping Julia Newton strode toward Kinsley, her clear call stopping him in his tracks. "What's this I hear about a US quarter snafu back in the nineteens?"

Turning in the plain, concrete hallway, Henry Kinsley adjusted his labcoat, making sure to prominently display the badge proclaiming him Head Horographer, Economics. Not that the appointment would carry weight with Newton. "Um, yes. Nineteen thirty-one. No quarters struck. Nothing to do about it, unfortunately."

Newton's eyes narrowed: her infamous nail-you-to-the-wall stare. "There's always something to do."

"Not after some damn fool leaves a horology text charting currency trends for the five-hundred-year period out where anyone can see." He headed off Newton's coming demand. "She's been timed out, naturally."

"Damn." She looked through him into the middle distance. "So. No way to get any quarters struck?"

"Not in thirty-one. It's everything we can do to get the offender, one, um, Grant, evicted from the Mint by thirty-three. We have a possible justification we can apply. Something that'll make the lack of quarters from nineteen thirty-one make more sense. With approval."

"Go on..."

"So, my team down in Economics has been working on this thing they're calling the Great Depression..."

Even in the Morning Rush

Linsey seated herself. Even in the morning rush, her table was vacant, and a steaming cup of coffee appeared as she sat down. Her breakfast would follow in a few minutes: eggs scrambled with cheddar, a bowl of fruit, and a single pancake, every day without exception.

Linus sat down across from her. "Doctor Verdun," he said. "Have you ever thought about parallel universes?"

"You're sitting at my table," she said.

"I know. But what if that one were your table?"

Linsey clenched her teeth. "This is my table, and you should be working."

He continued as though she hadn't interrupted. "What if you took tea instead of coffee?" She glanced down at her coffee, now a smooth au lait color. "How would it feel if you woke up in that universe instead of the one you remembered?

"Or what if," Linus continued, "I had gotten that grant fifteen years ago? What if you worked for me instead of you working me to the bone?"

Linsey sighed. "Is there a point to all this?"

"Maybe not. Enjoy your breakfast." He walked away as the server returned with her food: eggs scrambled with cheddar, a bowl of fruit, and a waffle.