Here is Digit, the completed version. I posted the original short story last week after writing it under set conditions – 20 minute deadline, 500 words maximum, must be sci-fi related and must be funny.
This new version is the one I will be entering in a competition where the prize includes being published in a sci-fi anthology to be published in both print and ebook format. I hope you enjoy it and any comments/suggestions welcomed!
By Carl Baumann
‘You were supposed to make me rich!’ shouted Twig at the head sitting on the table next to his holo-laptop.
Twig was (shocker) very skinny. No amount of anabolic steroids or high-carb diets would change that. He knew. He’d tried them all.
Tormented throughout childhood because of his stature, he’d turned to ‘Digit’ (the new crack of the 2070’s) as a means of escape. It was called Digit because you had to use one finger to insert it into your anus where it was the most effective.
One unfortunate side-effect of Digit was near terminal weight loss. The other was chronic hemorrhoids.
‘You can’t kill me, steal my head, then expect me to write a fucking best-seller for you!’ the head screamed.
The voice didn’t come from its mouth. Instead, it emanated from the invisible speakers dotted around the room. It sounded completely real, issued via Dolby 30.1 technology.
‘Well, you shouldn’t have been so careless then’ Twig said to it sarcastically.
‘What were you thinking? Walking in front of my Hambulance without looking. You must have felt the vibro-siren…’
Twig drove the latest in hi-tech emergency medical assistance. A Hover Ambulance or ‘Hambulance’ in modern parlance. After the unfortunate (for the head) accident, it was lucky that Twig’s vehicle contained the latest tech to immediately freeze the head for attachment to a less fragile body at a later time.
Twig had decided not to take the head to a ‘Rejuve’ clinic though. When he’d recognized Shatner Stewart, the world famous sci-fi author and TV script writer, he’d had a better idea.
‘Just get me to a clinic!’ said Shatner. ‘I can flip you all the creds you want once I’m robbed up!’ – Heads with robot bodies were known as robbers. Robbers were now just referred to as ‘Bastards’.
‘Nah’ said Twig. ‘The Feds would spot that in Nano-seconds. Better this way. I’ll get you to a clinic once you give me a story I can sell.’
‘If you don’t’ he warned, ‘I’ll stick this up your nose.’
Twig waved his brown-stained ‘Digit’ finger in front of Stuart’s eyes.
‘Alright, alright, start typing.’ – Resignedly, Shatner started the story…
‘Open quotes – You were supposed to make me rich – exclamation mark, close quotes -shouted Twig…’
‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t write this as the story. I might as well be typing my own confession!’ Maybe Twig wasn’t as dumb as Shatner knew he looked.
‘Well you haven’t given me anything better to write?’ said the head.
‘You can’t just write about things as they happen. That’s just the news. It’s not interesting or anything people care about. It’s got to be exciting!’ – Twig was adamant about what he considered a good story.
‘Well how about this. Imagine some crazy, psycho bitch runs her favorite author off the road, keeps him in her house and breaks his legs on purpose to make him write a story. Would that be better?’
‘Hmmm. That could work’ mumbled Twig looking thoughtful. Then his expression changed. He slapped the head. ‘That’s Misery, you cheating git! By Prince or Queen, one of those has-beens anyway. This can’t be a copy of some old nobody’s story.’
Stewart looked at him warily from between imagined fingers. Was he making fun? Everyone knew Stephen King had been one of the first robbers after diagnosis of terminal writer’s cramp.
‘Ok, ok. There’s no need for violence. Listen, every good story has some reality in it. Why don’t you tell me some things about yourself and I’m sure we’ll find something interesting to write about’ Shatner flinched, or least he tried to.
Twig didn’t notice the sarcasm. ‘S’pose that could work’ he muttered. ‘Alright. What do want to know?’
‘Let’s start with the basics. What’s your real name?’ asked the head, trying to look as interested as possible. Of course it wasn’t possible at all. His head was in a tray of viscous goop rammed with Nano-bots that carried oxygen and transmitted electricity to the brain to keep the neurons firing. There was a supporting collar around the forehead to read brainwaves and transmit thoughts to the speakers. It also had LED’s that glowed different colors to display emotion. Neither the facial muscles nor eyes received enough power to move.
‘My name’s not important’ said Twig looking away, highly embarrassed.
‘Not important? Well excuuuse me Slartibartfast!’ chortled Shatner. ‘Who’s the plagiarist now? C’mon, cough it up. What is it?’
Twig sighed in defeat. ‘Dobby Lucius McElroy Smith’
The light indicator on Stewart’s supporting collar turned bright red and started to flash. This showed that had he still been in possession of lungs, the head would be just about exploding from trying not to laugh.
The speakers emitted a very low, strangled – ‘What?’
‘My mum was into Harry Potter and my dad loved golf. It was a compromise.’
‘Alright it’s a start. Let’s move on. Why are you a doctor?’
‘I didn’t do very well at school and McDonald’s wouldn’t take me. Medicine was all that was available.’ – In 2073 most diagnosis and medical procedures were done by mechs. The world’s largest corporation provided employment for almost everyone except the lowest of the low.
‘Well at least it keeps you busy.’ Shatner would have said ‘out of trouble’ but Twig was busy inserting another hit of Digit just inches from his eyes.
‘Any interest in Politics?’ he asked.
‘What, the bored game? Nah, takes too long.’ You needed patience to play Politics The Bored Game. Each turn took five years and you had to make a couple of really bad moves to win. It was tedious, unhealthy and some players even ended up in jail for making risky plays. It wasn’t a game for children.
‘Why don’t we set this story in a futuristic Utopia where war and hunger no longer exist?’
‘Eh? I thought that was where we live now?’ Twig questioned. Hunger hadn’t existed since China nuked Africa for falling behind on its rent. The continent had been carpeted with anti-rad fertilizer afterwards and the surviving population farmed GM soya in gratitude for not being forcibly being sent to Europe as punishment.
War had finally ended when Islamic State were given Mars on the strict condition that they never came back but continued their fine work in the film industry.
‘Good point.’ acknowledged Shatner. ‘How about a world where no-one’s happy, many live on the soya-line and death and illness are rife?’
‘Pfffttt. Who’d believe that? That’d be hell on earth and we all know that’s in Wales.’
‘I’m running out of ideas, you’ll have to come up with something.’ The author wasn’t but he’d rather be buggered than let this little shit know what they were.
Twig could be buggered. Not surprising considering the size of his Digit habit but every cloud…
‘How about this? A man from a distant galaxy who can travel through time and space in an asthmatic porta-loo to help well tasty grannies?’ Twig was aglow with excitement but Shatner noticed one of his fingers was in the Nano-bot mixture and there was a good chance they were heating his brain up to room temperature.
‘So who is he going to save these voluptuous teenagers from?’ said Shatner suggestively.
‘I didn’t say they were teenagers you old politician. He’s probably fighting some master villain from his home world who’s got a space toilet too.’ Twig was indignant.
‘Oh yeah, and what is this mortal enemy called? The MASTER presumably?’
‘Don’t be silly, that’s too obvious. Plus there’s S&M connections implied. We need something more cleverer.’
Shatner Stewart was aghast at the younger man’s butchery of the English language. ’Why don’t we base this evil genius on you? We could call him the Branch. No, no – he’s got skills – we could call him the Special Branch!’ the head sounded extremely pleased with this suggestion.
‘That sounds really cool actually. I could be Special Branch fighting The Surgeon through space and time. I really think we’re onto something here!’ Twig was jumping up and down with excitement. ‘The bots must be really stirring things up in there.’ thought Stewart.
‘Hang on. Where did The Surgeon come from all of a sudden?’
‘Dunno. Just sounded right somehow.’
‘Alright Twig, let’s recap. We’ve got a hero, The Surgeon, who travels through time and space helping large-breasted teenagers..’
‘GRANNIES’ Twig snapped. ‘I want him helping poor defenseless grannies.’
‘Ok. Won’t sell as much but it’s your story. The Surgeon travels through space and time helping ‘grannies’ whilst also battling Special Branch who’s intent on destroying him for some unknown reason.’ Shatner paused. ‘It’s got potential but it needs more. How about another one or two mortal enemies to cause mischief? But who…?’
‘I know! I know! How about a race of evil robots who hate The Surgeon and team up with Special Branch to take him down?’ Twig was almost exploding with pleasure at his own intelligence.
The head was getting into the spirit now – ‘Even better, how about some sentient mucus that lives INSIDE the robots? That could be brilliant. One minute you think they’re evil machines that want to dominate the universe and kill The Surgeon. THEN you find out they’re just tin-cans hiding malevolent hanky monsters. Perfect! This thing’s writing itself!’
Yeah I’m with you. We just need a name for the snot-can things… Got it! We can call them the…’ Twig lowered his voice ominously. ‘The Dereks!’
‘You’ve killed the mood now you idiot.’ Shatners disembodied voice sounded despondent. ‘I need some sleep. Be a love and close my eyelids?’
Twig looked disappointed. ‘Aw, I’m not sleepy yet. Just a bit more?’
‘No son. You’ll have to wait for Chapter Two.’
Twig swept his hand up Shatners face like he was attempting to wake a corpse.
‘Morning! Did you sleep well?’ – No response. He noticed the lights weren’t glowing on the mood-band. Stewart was still asleep. The eyes being open meant nothing. Twig thought hard. He took a Digit and snapped it in half. Dropping it in the tray he chuckled with amusement as the Nano-bot solution swarmed over it. It disintegrated and there was a surge as the microscopic automatons carried particles of the drug straight up to the head’s brain. Some of them stayed behind in the tray. They just lay on their backs, giggled and looked for atom-sized cigarettes.
The mood LED’s started strobing and cycling through every color imaginable. Plus some that didn’t even exist. ‘W-w-WOOoooooooo!’ – The sound from the speakers was deafening.
‘Awake then?’ – You couldn’t get anything past Twig.
‘You bastard, what did you do to me? You could have just poured some Espresso in my tray.’ Shatner sounded indignant but also a little hyper.
‘Haven’t got any.’ said Twig, quickly hiding his hand with the steaming Mocha in it behind his back. ‘Anyway, let’s get on with the story. I’ve rung twenty-five publishers this morning and they ALL said they want to buy it!’
‘Well of course. Publishers aren’t very popular. They probably just want to be friends with you on WOTBook.’ – WOTBook (Waste Of Time) was the world’s number one social media site and membership was compulsory under pain of lethal ostracism.
‘I’ve been having some second thoughts about this tale. I’m not sure you, time-travel and your unhealthy obsession with grannies is a good mix. You’d probably end up becoming your own grand-father and the paradox would be a bitch. The bloody thing would never end and you’d just go around and around with more and more unbelievable monsters and timelines. Can’t see it ever becoming a successful franchise. People just aren’t that stupid.’
‘TWIG! Step away from him! His logic will kill us all!’ The voice came from the doorway. Twig’s grand-mother, Tree, was standing there pointing a Dribble at the head. A Dribble, or Dynamic Retro Blaster, was the most powerful hand-gun ever invented. The only defense was to quickly step to one side and hope that the protagonist missed the point.
‘Granny! I mean Mum! What are you doing here? I thought you were dead?’ Twig was confused. He’d thought Tree had perished in the infamous chip-pan fire that had consumed NMK in the 2050’s. NMK, New Milton Keynes, had been the McDonalds flagship city for training new executives in the art of not revealing the special sauce’s secret ingredient. Anyone graduating from NMK was one tough gherkin, impervious to all forms of torture, even the infamous ‘Zinger’ technique.
‘To protect you from him!’ screeched Tree, pointing at Special Branch who had just materialized behind the sofa.
‘How is that possible?’ Twig was confused. (Big surprise) – ‘I thought behind the sofa was the one place in the Multiverse you were safe! Hello Son, I mean Dad.’ he said, quickly remembering his manners,
‘She’s right.’ said Special Branch. He was holding an even bigger Dribble. ‘Get out of the way. The head has to die.’
‘You can’t kill me.’ Shatner Stewart’s voice boomed impressively from the speakers. He’d found the volume control. ‘If I die then you all die! I’m the only one who understands this story!’
‘I’m not scared’ Special Branch replied. ‘We’ve been signed up for another five series. Plus re-runs! We’ll never die. Ha ha ha.’ His evil laugh echoed around the room.
‘Stop it, all of you!’ cried Twiglet who had just stepped out of the en-suite TARDIS. A Toilet And Random Dilution Inhibiting Shit room was standard build in all Hab-Cubes, one of which Twig was fortunate enough to live in. Most people had to live in match-boxes. Inferior accommodation specifically matched to the occupant’s ability to complain.
‘SIS!’ all three members of the Smith family cried. ‘Mum?’ said Shatner. ‘I wasn’t expecting you until the end of tomorrow? How did you know I was here?’
‘I just followed the trail.’ Said Twiglet pointing at Twig’s posterior. ‘And my nose.’ She added, grimacing. ‘Anyway, you all need to come with me. We have to see the Derek.’
‘Don’t you mean the Dereks?’ asked Special Branch. ‘Good. They’ll help me vaporize that little bugger.’ He looked at Twig who too busy winking suggestively at his granny to notice.
‘No. I mean THE Derek. The Director Editor who Reads Every Kak story! Only he can pay Twig the money he wants and sort out Shatner with a new body. He has an army of proof-readers that can pick this mess apart and make it into something worth publishing.’
‘I need an aspirin.’ Said Shatner. ‘I have a black-hole of a head-ache. Not that I can ache anywhere else thanks to Twig and his ham-fisted driving.’
‘Don’t worry about that. We’ve only got a five minute window between Derek finishing his working ‘lunch’ and going home. We have to leave now!’ Twiglet waved them all to the door. ‘C’mon Twig, we can take your Hambulance and blast through the traffic in no time.’
Twig picked up Shatner and followed the rest as they left. There was a faint cry of terror as some of the Nano-bots slopped out of the tray.
‘Did you understand any of that?’ asked one of the microscopic machines left on the floor as the others scurried around looking for crumbs of Digit.
‘Not a clue,’ one replied. ‘I’m not sure we were meant to. Still it was funny (in parts), and let’s face it. In this day and age we could all do with a good laugh.’
‘Fair enough.’ said the other. ‘Let’s leave it at that…’