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Temporary Assignment

By munger in Fiction
Wed Nov 19, 2003 at 06:53:44 AM EST
Tags: Humour (all tags)

She's the reason why I sold a piece of my liver. I liked her immediately.

"I can't believe we'll feed them this sludge," she says. "Why don't we take them out back and shoot them? Serving this crud is another form of assisted suicide."

We're in a basement, serving meals to the hungry. The church I'm with, it's our turn to do this.

She says, "Dandelions are one of the healthiest plants to eat, and we spend billions on chemicals, trying to kill them."

I ignore our age difference. She's tall and thin with intense eyes and a glow of the outdoors.

"We should be serving steamed veggies, raw fruit, fresh juice, beans, and grains."
I ask if she's a nutritionist.
"No. I'm a nurse."
That explains the cigarette smell in her hair and clothes.

The nurse says, "What's with their smell? Why don't we get them some shower time?"
One of them is a friend I call Charlie. Nobody knows his real name. Alone or with others, Charlie mumbles, pointing at nothing.

"Everything is disgusting. I need a shower," she complains.
I wonder why she's volunteering.
"See that guy over there, ruining the carrots? I want him to ask me out."
I say, there must be a better way to meet people.
"I work nights," she says, "because there aren't any visitors, and most of the damn patients are asleep. At night, I have time to pursue my consulting practice."

I picture her at a neighborhood dive bar, wearing tight jeans and a tight shirt, shooting pool, drinking bottled beer, and listening to '70's rock.

"The way some of these people look, this could be their last meal," she says. "Did you know that 19% of all deaths by suicide are by people age 65 and older?"

Several volunteers work in a small area, and I enjoy each time the nurse and I bump into each other.

"A guy who's helping these people must be good. I hang out in churches to meet nice men. I'm looking for stability, that's all. Isn't he cute?"

To myself I think, what about me?
She says to me, "Hey, what are you doing back here? Get out there with the rest of them and wait in line for your food."

When my guidance counselor told me I would amount to nothing, I said that's the plan.

My Mom works as an account executive, babysitting large companies. She told me to reprioritize my life. She said to me, "We want things to be easier for you. We want to retire early."

My Dad's work takes him across oceans. He's not around enough to give excuses. His favorite, unoriginal saying is, "Nothing succeeds like success."

My parents live in a nine-bathroom house. I offered to give up my share of the footage so Mom could work less. When I got my driver's license, I retired from high school and moved to another city. I think my parents are relieved they won't have to pay for my college.

I live out of a big, green canvas bag. I stay in community shelters, apartments of people I don't know, and even in lock-it-up storage cabinets. When the weather is nice, home is with Charlie and his friends.

During the activist season, I stay at Youth Hostels. It costs money, but it's worth it. What's funny is irritating a peace protester into fighting. It's my definition of sport.

I prefer to stay with churches, because of the nice people. I pretend to listen when they say things like, "Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God." Something was lost in the time between.

If someone asks, I say I'm a consultant, the catch basin of job descriptions. For money, I make friends with smokers on loading docks. They offer me their company's product, or I steal it. Either way, I have buyers. The places I stay, I sell their next-year's yard sale junk. I assume they won't miss it. If I take too much and raise suspicion, I move on. When Charlie and his friends are passed out, I sort through their things, looking for items that make no sense for them to own. Once I found a handheld global positioning device in Charlie's coat. As if.

At another church, I volunteer at their chicken barbeque fundraiser. The nurse is there.
She says, "Did you know wheatgrass contains the widest range of vitamins and minerals?"

She doesn't remember me, but that doesn't stop her from discussing the new guy she's targeting. My definition of dating is trying to coax the girls working in the clothing department to join me in the changing room.

I share my goals with the nurse.
She says, "Nothing huh? If you're serious, you should stop by my hospital. They're paying people to be human guinea pigs. Some tests provide a room with TV, VCR, video games, and food."

Of course I'm interested.

"You can earn $100 a month by giving blood three days a week. Hypothermia studies pay $100 per test. A local drug giant pays $2500 for 16-day studies. Sorry, there's no money in giving semen due to market saturation. But hey, the going rate for a kidney is $50,000."

My first guinea pig job was simple. I sold bone marrow for $50.

Prozac is the Valium of our time. I received $100 for a month-long series of psych tests.

My current study, I'm in the hospital for two weeks, testing Ephedrine, Tolcapone, and Sinemet. 60 blood draws through a catheter and I'm $1500 richer. During my stay, the nurse visits me.

"You look good in a uniform," she says. She looks at the food scraps on my plate and adds, "A drink of carrots, alfalfa sprouts, and lettuce will cure baldness."

She sits on the side of my bed. My knee almost touches her. Little beads of sweat form on my temples. She smells like a scented candle. I think about my Mom, and the way she looks before a big client meeting. In the dim light, the nurse looks famous. I could see the zipper on the back of her uniform. Blood surges through my body and my mind races.

Then for some reason, she laughs herself out of my room, too loud for a night nurse. Someone in my mind says, "God enjoys watching every detail of your life." He must watch me for humor.

I return for a $300 brain imaging study, but the nurse is gone. I don't know her last name. I visit other churches and hospitals, but I can't find her. I participate in more tests: $500 for a sleep deprivation study that almost made me insane, $3000 for eating a radioactive compound and having my bowel movements collected for two weeks.

A void devours my insides. I spend more time talking to Charlie. Despite his mumbling, he's a good listener. I always feel better after our chats. Instead of giving Charlie throw-away processed food, I bring him fresh fruit and vegetables. I can't get the nurse out of my mind.

Charlie's condition changes. His eyes sparkle, and his words start making sense. But he also listens less, and he's not around as much. I think of my Dad.

I killed Charlie. Not directly, but I blame myself. I gave Charlie some cash. I don't know whose money he used to buy the booze, but he passed out in an alley and got run over by a garbage truck. "Life is a temporary assignment."

With Charlie and the nurse gone, I'm depressed. To cheer myself up, I earn $5000 for having a toe amputated and sewn back on. My latest, I'm recovering from donating a chunk of my liver for $4000. Liver regenerates itself. A renewable resource.

In my room late at night, I hear, "Hello stranger." Like the first plunge of the day into a swimming pool, that's what happens to my breath when I see her.

She pulls the covers off my bed and lifts up my gown. Her personal attention makes me nervous. I feel my eyes roll up. Our soft, slow moans and heavy breathing are relaxing. I ask about her consulting work.

She says, "I'm an angel of death. A mercy killer."

The way she's moving, I hang on with a death grip around her waist.

"I find clients at churches and senior centers and through prayer chains."

New sensations ripple through my body.

"Families don't want the burden of taking care of elderly relatives. They want the easy way out. They don't want their inheritance depleted."

I think of my parents.

"A shot of the paralyzing drug Mivacron and it is lights out. It's difficult to detect. If a hospital gets suspicious, I move on."

Her back now rests on my chest. Her feet point to the ceiling, and my hands grasp behind her knees. Even like this, it's my turn to work. I'm concerned about my liver.

"30% of the nursing homes abuse their patients. Elderly drug abuse sucks for the health care industry. Come on, faster!"

I worry about my sciatic nerve. After the cool down, I tell her I love her and want to marry her. She laughs but not like last time.
In the doorway, she says, "Are you sure you want to marry someone who reminds you of your Mom?"

The saying "free as a bird" is an oxymoron. Birds are imprisoned by the instinctive habits programmed for them. They have to execute the tasks on their list.

People aren't much different. We don't live our lives the way we want, but the way someone or something else has defined for us. From the beginning, we're told what to become, and how to achieve it. The list of tasks to be executed. Someone has handed us the daily planner of life, and we cannot change it.

I'm interested, but I cannot do it alone. The nurse and I marry.

I thought my wife's place would be nicer.
She says, "I'm saving my money, so I can retire early."
Cream-filled sponge cakes pack the cupboards. The refrigerator houses several liters of soda. Her glow comes from a tube of sunless tanning foam. Not a fresh piece of produce anywhere.

My first job as husband is shopping. She hands me a list with dozens of items to buy from six different stores. I ask if there's one big store that sells everything, where I can get a haircut, buy clay pigeons, buy a garden weasel, and get film developed.

She says nothing, just gives me a look that could etch glass. I heard other men talk about this. I want to tell someone. I think of Charlie.

The lists multiply. Separate ones exist for cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, cooking, paying bills, and reading the classifieds. My instructions for living scattered throughout the apartment.

Then consolidation. All of the paper scraps get replaced by a single computer printout. My life according to a spreadsheet.

I'm afraid to complete a task, because it means I'm closer to death. But new tasks appear, and I receive a new printout daily. So I complete enough items to break even, stay afloat, and keep my wife from killing me.

It's not scheduled, but I'm depressed again. The married life, wanting it is better than having it. I dream of the simpler times before I met her.

Salvation came from television. The commercials. I record hours of TV programming, fast forwarding through the shows, so I can watch the commercials. From TV ads, I learn a lot of people have worse problems. Every other commercial is selling a pill, probably something I tested.

Acid reflux, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an overactive bladder can be controlled with pills.

There's a pill to give a guy an erection and a pill for the woman who doesn't want the result.

Can't sleep, can't stay awake, can't eat healthy, pills.

Lazy parents get their kids diagnosed as ADHD, and zombie them with pills.

Depression, anxiety, stress, more pills.

Side effects from pills require additional pills.

If you have Pharmacophobia, the fear of pills, there's a pill for that too.

Watching these commercials and knowing none apply to me, it's my definition of therapy. I'm no longer afraid, and I complete all my tasks.

"A $4.50 tip!" the waitress shouts.
I'm cleaning a nearby table.
She says, "Those pricks. That was an $85 meal."
I watched the couple earlier. The man signed the receipt with a $200 Faber-Castell Porsche Design stainless steel pen. His female companion rummaged through a $400 French calf leather Bellatoff Alexandra purse. And they left food on their plates.

This is my first real job, bussing tables at a black-tie restaurant.

Carrying a load of dishes, I bump into a co-worker who despises me for no reason.
He says, "Watch it idiot. I've had just about enough of you."
I smile and say I watched three hours of commercials before work. I'm enlightened.

The TV in the back airs the local news. The top story is my wife hauled away in handcuffs. An anonymous tip, me of course, turned her in. It's a break in the years-long investigation. I don't know why I did it. I think we both needed a change.

The camera caught some of her shouting.
"My husband forced me to kill those people. He abused me."
The news has no picture of me, but they give my name. That's my cue. I give myself the rest of the night off. On the way out, I take the coat of the guy who hates me.

I sit in the office of another preacher, at another church, in another city, and it's the same talk.

He says, "A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump."
I tell him I've already heard that one.

"The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder."

"If you want your life to have impact, focus it."
My guidance counselor, my Mom, my Dad, they're all here through this guy. It's all crap I say.

"You're right," he says.
He slams shut a book he's not reading. He gets up from his desk, walks around to the front, sits on the edge, and leans toward me. His eyes laser through mine. In a few seconds, it feels like he knows me.

"I tell you what," he starts. "There's a room in the basement that's yours as long as you want it, provided you do some work around this place."
I say no problem.

"But remember this. If anything strange happens around here, or if things become missing, nothing in any of these books will save you. I will find you and come down on you so hard you'll wish you were in hell."

Someone's voice in my head tells me, "You are not an accident", and I'm alive inside. I say to my new preacher, where do I sign-up?


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Temporary Assignment | 63 comments (33 topical, 30 editorial, 1 hidden)
Holy Shit!!! (none / 2) (#1)
by debacle on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 07:07:31 PM EST

+1, nuff said.

It tastes sweet.
+1FP nothing wrong with it n/t (2.25 / 4) (#3)
by livus on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 07:23:16 PM EST

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

I "Encourage" you to vote this up. (none / 2) (#6)
by debacle on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 07:44:57 PM EST

Wink wink.

It tastes sweet.
Brilliant (none / 1) (#8)
by cronian on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 08:16:52 PM EST

I don't quite know what to say. What does it say about our society when the life of a homeless person can almost seem ideal? What is that part of the world that he hold back from our normal existence?

We perfect it; Congress kills it; They make it; We Import it; It must be anti-Americanism
freedom (none / 1) (#10)
by dipierro on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 08:33:34 PM EST

It says that we wish we hadn't traded so much of our freedom for security.

[ Parent ]
a few things. (1.75 / 4) (#34)
by Battle Troll on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 12:30:55 PM EST

What does it say about our society when the life of a homeless person can almost seem ideal?
  • That our society produces unbelievable amounts of goods and services, so that (if you are willing to jump through some hoops) the necessities of life can essentially be had for the asking.
  • That most homeless people are not wise philosophers - they are terminal drug addicts and/or mentally ill. Cf T Coraghessan Boyle for the other side of the story.
  • That the "rugged individualist" school of writing is back, and worse than ever before. (Although this story is certainly not without skill.)
    Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
    Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
    [ Parent ]
  • Book for you (2.00 / 4) (#41)
    by rusty on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 03:22:42 PM EST

    I just got done reading Ted Conover's Rolling Nowhere, and if you found this story interesting, you might like it. Conover spent some months in the eary eighties living and riding the freights with hobos. Very excellent read. It may change your mind about the life of a vagrant being ideal, though. Perhaps in some ways it is, and Conover explores this pretty well, but in some ways it's just as bad, and in many ways a lot worse.

    Basically, I think we make our trades according to our values. If you value freedom from conventional life structures above all else, maybe you'd choose to be homeless, but the number of things you have to give up for that choice is considerable.

    Not the real rusty
    [ Parent ]

    smart lady (2.00 / 4) (#11)
    by fae on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 08:39:47 PM EST

    Ain't nothing inherently wrong with killing people, is what I say.

    -- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
    Wow, great story. (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jed Smith on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 09:16:20 PM EST

    This is the first piece of fiction I've ever gotten through on K5. Fabulous work, great imagery. +1FP.
    K5 is dead. Steve Ballmer made the most insightful comment on a story. -- jw32767
    +1FP, Someone should make a movie out of this [nt] (none / 1) (#14)
    by Azmeen on Mon Nov 17, 2003 at 09:30:52 PM EST

    HTNet | Blings.info
    Welcome, J.R. Sawvel (2.84 / 13) (#20)
    by My Other Account Is A Hulver on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 06:37:08 AM EST

    Congratulation on your third place in the Toledo City Paper writing competition.

    Is there anything that you'd like to share with us?

    I believe drduck is a genuine account, and I don't delete him because I'm a hypocrite. - rusty

    Unless the poster... (1.60 / 5) (#24)
    by pwhysall on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 07:25:58 AM EST

    ...is verifiably the author, it's plagiarism, and I urge -1 votes.
    K5 Editors
    I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
    [ Parent ]
    I'm voting -1 (none / 2) (#25)
    by mcherm on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 07:56:15 AM EST

    ...because at this point the author has still not responded by identifying themselves as being (or not being) the original author.

    -- Michael Chermside
    [ Parent ]
    I believe it (none / 0) (#40)
    by rusty on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 03:17:43 PM EST

    It's hard to prove incontrovertibly who you are, but I believe the poster is the original author.

    Also, great story and I urge +1 FP votes. :-)

    Not the real rusty
    [ Parent ]

    It's posted by the real author (none / 2) (#35)
    by interjay on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 01:00:02 PM EST

    Take a look at this diary. It mentions his wife managing his life using a spreadsheet (like in the story), and is written in a similar style. It was written a few months before the Toledo paper, so there's no plagiarism here.

    I wonder how many of the -1 votes were based on this unfounded accusation.

    [ Parent ]
    munger and jr sawvel, the same (3.00 / 7) (#44)
    by munger on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 06:14:57 PM EST

    It's a good use of the Internet to search for the title of the story elsewhere. I say well-done by "... hulver." I apologize for making the submission and not mentioning that the story was submitted to a contest here in Toledo. I was just curious to see if the story was K5 material. I was not trying to mislead or deceive anyone.

    I should stick to one name on the Internet. Some people call me John, and some call me JR. Munging data, I've done a lot of that through the years with various programming languages, so munger.

    My diary entry was something I wanted to use in the story. That whole list thing with the spreadsheet, a lot of that is real. My wife is a manager of an operations department and does an excellent job at it too, but I'm a little on the relaxed side and don't appreciate being managed at home. I took out my frustration one day in a K5 diary entry.

    I never told my wife I wrote a story and submitted it to the TCP contest. She read it on-line after hearing about at work. I didn't think the story would get picked for anything. She wasn't too happy about the "lists" mentions, nor the female killing machine. Fiction, I said. It's fiction. Still, real parts of life make it into fiction in pieces.

    At the church I attend, I've helped with their chicken barbecue fundraisers, and I've helped with their "Feed the Hungry" program. The killing nurse idea came from a news story I read a year ago. Selling our body to science was influenced by someone I heard on a local talk radio show last January. I bought a couple of books on the subject. I've got a backup plan in case programming doesn't work out. Living in lock-it-up storage facilities came from a Simpsons episode. Hanging with smokers on the docks came from seeing smokers on the docks at the library.

    The whole wheatgrass, dandelion, cure-for-baldness crap came from my interest in juicing vegetables and fruit. You've probably seen the Juiceman on a late-night infomercial. He's the "eye-brow" guy. That's the machine I use. Carrot-apple-beet, that's a fine drink, and it looks like a sunset in the glass.

    The pill thing. My wife gets Prevention magazine. Leaf through one some time. I don't know if it's the time of day or the type of show, but sometimes it seems every commercial on TV is selling a drug. A few years ago, multiple people, none of them doctors, felt compelled to tell my wife that my stepdaughter was ADHD. I said she's a kid. She's still fine, and has never needed medication. So I released a little frustration with our over-prescribed society in the story.

    And yeah there is the whole materialistic thing. Someone my wife knows bought a $600 "purse". It's probably not big enough to hold a 40. Call me naive, but it was just a couple of years ago that I learned ballpoint pens could cost several hundred dollars.

    Last December, I overhead one woman tell another about her friend's 9000 square foot house with a swimming pool in the basement, a fully-equiped fitness room, and a large area of the house just for pets. Of course I was impressed too. I started to get a little bothered, however, when the woman said the house had 17 television sets. The worse part was when one woman said, "With a house like that, why would you ever want to go anywhere else?" Since I love the outdoors, I couldn't live like that. But to each their own.

    Yes, I'm under the influence of Ernest Hemingway, Amy Hempel, and Chuck Palahniuk. If I was restricted to just three books for the rest of my life, it would be The Nick Adams Stories (EH), Reasons to Live (AH), and Lullaby (CP). I also enjoy reading the novels my stepdaughter reads.

    Maybe the best piece of writing advice I've seen is this essay by Chuck Palahniuk about Amy Hempel.

    [ Parent ]

    No sir (none / 2) (#45)
    by sllort on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 06:29:33 PM EST

    "I should stick to one name on the Internet."

    For heaven's sake, no.

    And while I'm giving advice, please just keep posting your stories and do not read the comments. Ever.
    Warning: On Lawn is a documented liar.
    [ Parent ]

    Ha ha (none / 0) (#50)
    by enfilade on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 11:35:41 PM EST

    I bet your wife didn't like the story.

    [ Parent ]
    I like it, I guess. (none / 0) (#48)
    by PowerPimp on Tue Nov 18, 2003 at 07:57:11 PM EST

    Borrows heavily from the style of Chuck Palahnuik. Not bad, just seems lifted. Sectioned.

    You'd better take care of me God; otherwise, you'll have me on your hands...
    Choke (none / 0) (#62)
    by ericschoeb on Tue Nov 25, 2003 at 12:29:55 PM EST

    Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking as I was reading it. Even the nurse character reminded me of the nurse in Choke. Which, by the way, is an amazing book. This particular piece of K5 fiction is awesome, don't get me wrong, but I was disappointed with some of the obvious similarities to Chuck Palahnuik's work.

    [ Parent ]
    Excellent (none / 0) (#52)
    by compnski on Wed Nov 19, 2003 at 02:15:50 AM EST

    Excellent. The best fiction that ive read on k5, and one of two that i actually enjoyed reading! well done.
    Plauged by spam? Spamdam is an easy to use frontend for creating sendmail aliases to filter spam.
    Lemmings ! (none / 0) (#53)
    by minerboy on Wed Nov 19, 2003 at 10:37:05 AM EST

    This article was getting voted down until someone pointed out that it won an award.

    modern culture always favors the loser - as if we need more stories about the dignity of the homeless, and the love of a mother addicted to crack

    If you had to choose between a nazi and a crack head for a date to the prom, what would you do ?

    I've seen the best minds of my generation get jobs writing for TV shows

    prom date (none / 1) (#59)
    by ebonkyre on Thu Nov 20, 2003 at 10:05:18 AM EST

    The Nazi probably has better fashion sense than the crack head.

    The truth hurts sometimes... Nothing beats a nice fat cock. ShiftyStoner
    [ Parent ]
    Depends (none / 0) (#60)
    by scruffyMark on Thu Nov 20, 2003 at 11:45:48 PM EST

    Are we talking midwest trailer park crackhead or Manchester clubber with giant pupils crackhead? Rural card-carrying National Front lawn sign Nazi or urban skinhead heavily customized military surplus knapsack Nazi?

    [ Parent ]
    You've been reading (none / 0) (#54)
    by morphwin on Wed Nov 19, 2003 at 11:04:16 AM EST

    a purpose driven life haven't you?

    The secret to happiness is not thinking about whether people love you enough, but worrying over whether you love others enough.

    Not quite (none / 1) (#57)
    by munger on Wed Nov 19, 2003 at 01:52:27 PM EST

    Is that the 40-day book? Earlier this year, there was a book my wife wanted me to read. Actually, she wanted us to work through the book together. I balked at the idea. I immediately expressed my disagreement with what was written, and we were only in the first chapter. She worked through the book herself.

    Then one day last summer, when no one else was around, I got the book out and started glancing through it. I was more impressed by the sayings and phrases than what the author wrote. I don't know if the phrases came from the Bible or elsewhere. I jotted down the ones I liked for my own personal inspirational quote-of-the-day system. I know I should read the Bible more, but I keep putting it off. My answer is always, "Someday."

    [ Parent ]

    That's the one (none / 0) (#61)
    by morphwin on Sat Nov 22, 2003 at 01:18:23 AM EST

    Yeah I agree, the sayings in there are quite meaningful. Some are from Bible, some are not. The ones in quotations are from the Bible...

    I was like that too with the Bible.. Kept putting it off and not reading it daily. My friend told me to start small and just build up a routine for it. I find The Daily Bread quite good because it only takes 5 minutes but it gives u a thought for the day.

    The secret to happiness is not thinking about whether people love you enough, but worrying over whether you love others enough.
    [ Parent ]

    Nice bit of work (none / 0) (#58)
    by Pyrrhonian on Wed Nov 19, 2003 at 06:32:05 PM EST

    Reminded me very much of the style of They by Kay Dick. Probably the oddest book I've read in a long time, sadly I only found out today she'd died in 2001.

    Brutal, cold, and very well done! (none / 0) (#63)
    by blacksunrise on Sun Apr 04, 2004 at 06:10:40 PM EST

    Flavors of Bruce Sterling mixed with an aftertase of Phillip K. Dick. Bravo!

    "He who angers you conquers you."~Elizabeth Kenny

    Temporary Assignment | 63 comments (33 topical, 30 editorial, 1 hidden)
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