Fiction Excerpt: GENE O’NEILL’S “The Hungry Skull”

The Hungry Skull

(A Love Story)


By Gene O’Neill

“To all things there is a time, and a season for every matter under heaven.

A time of birth, and a time to die . . .”

—Ecclesiastes 3:3



 The Tattletale blinked on over the Retro Level Grand Mezzanine near the Ferry Building and twisted in the air, flashing a hologram . . . a man’s face—stiff and sad, but stoic. The accompanying announcement explained: “Janos Mirlav has completed his 25th jump and will be the first pilot retiring from Jumpship Service, returning tomorrow on the shuttle from Lunar Base Colony to San Fran Shield. After he completes his medcenter screening and medical procedures and recovers in a week, the Company Chairman, One, will present the Company’s Medal of Honor Award at a full Shield celebration ceremony. Date and time to follow.”


 I’m illegal.

No, no, not that kind of Illegal. I won’t be 35 and eligible for the Shield’s Longevity Treatment for another four-plus years. So I’m not one of those legendary Illegals, the worn-out, twisted faces they show often on the Tattletale above the Grand Mezzanine. The old ones who have failed the Treatment and are eventually chased down by the Yakuza bounty hunters and their cyber-hounds. Actually, no one I know has ever really seen an Illegal in person. The conventional wisdom is that when they fail their first aging test after Treatment they are whisked away by the Company, quickly given a judgment of color, dyed, and dumped out into Cal Wild to wander with the other dyed criminals. But I’m not one hundred percent convinced that is correct; they don’t seem to have committed an intentional crime of any kind. Why should the Company judge and dye people for aging, which seems beyond their control? Maybe they just ban them to Cal Wild without dyeing them, where they fit in easily with lots of older Freemen. Who, by the way, look nothing like the ugly Illegals on the Tattletales. Their faces look just a little more . . . experienced than us, is all.

Anyhow, I’m not one of them.

I mean my profession is illegal. I’m a guide in the Ruins and the surrounding area, one of the few females in the business. You know what I mean: I take residents outside San Fran Shield into Cal Wild. Actually, most of my clients are only interested in visiting the Painted Ladies or buying drugs, and completing either transaction very quickly and scurrying back to the safety of our huge, multi-leveled, domed city—not much of a guided tour, you see.

Of course, visiting the Ruins or even poking your head outside is strictly forbidden by the Company. But, as a matter of fact, the old ramshackle, colorful, and dangerous Ruins don’t even exist anymore. Nothing like when I started guide work fifteen years ago….


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