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Game Over

I started this yesterday after finishing "Education".  I was late to one class and too early for another.  It's very short but I just liked the idea of it.  It is fascinating to me when people give up power, prestige, etc for something else.  It is almost like game theory russia vs. u.s. cold war arguments- do we, as organisms serve our own interests or that of the group.  Most would say we do both, but where and when is the line drawn?

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GAME OVER

  It was a good life, I reflected while lying back on the hospital bed.  Surrounded by family and loved ones, great grandchildren and even several pets that were snuck into the room- surely at the chagrin to any nurses that might stumble upon them.  The doctors tried to make me feel better about what was to come, saying that this new operation may work or some new procedure may be right around the corner.  But I was one of their fellows, a doctor myself in years not so long past- that would tell my own terminal patients the same story.  Until you are in the situation yourself, you never truly understand how pitiful a doctors’ attempt at giving hope is.  Even a preacher’s biblical readings can’t approach the hope you are forced to find during the end of days.  It is a time of near constant reflection when all other responsibilities are gone from life.  What monk can say better, he who is in a monastery for years still has dreams of the future- or at least the possibility for one.  The true faithful are those who are on their last breaths, and yet, still at a peace no drug could bring.  When all else is lost and you still can speak with a strong voice- that is a hope very few people out of the experience can approach.

  Ode to the early years, I remark to myself as memories turn over stones containing more memories that sparkle upon the liquid surface of my mind.  Beginnings and ends slow to near meaningless terms.  One moment I’m an old man bed-ridden, the next I’m a young teenager running behind a soccer ball trying to impress a girl on the stands.  And again an old man, with the girl on the stands now my wife of fifty years holding my hands.  I look up at her with a youthful smile- and turn back to my reflections.

  My parents were good people.  There were unusual perhaps in many respects, or at the very least unconventional.  My earliest memories revolve around museums and historic sites for vacations as opposed to those of my fellow schoolmates.  After the long summer break the students were enthralled by tales of roller coasters and animatronics, my own experiences with early civilizations were met by numerous apologies.  Though they seemed sorrowful at what must have been a horrendous time for me, I never felt that way.  When I slept at night I thought more of the whole of civilization and what lay ahead, then about silly cartoon creatures.  Some would call it a failing, how I never could truly appreciate a good fictitious story- but why bother with fiction when there was so many real stories waiting to be heard? 

  A hand shook me briefly and from crusted near blind eyes I spied my eldest son George peering down at me.  He motioned to my wife, asleep on the bed besides me and ever so gently placed his finger to his lips to quiet me.  From beneath his over coat he brought out a bottle of Crown Royal Whiskey and smiled mischievously.  ‘Good old George’, I thought to myself.  My wife would have a fit if she knew and there’d be quite a few lectures for the both of us from my nurses and doctors- but George was good for it.  He poured us both a small glass, and we sat there slowly sipping our drinks saying more without words than we ever could with them.  We both knew this would be our last drink together and the experience alone spoke volumes.  Draining my glass I slumped back into the hospital pillow and George gently kissed me on the forehead before leaving the room.  ‘I love you George’ I mouthed as he closed the room door quietly behind him, taking the evidence of our little reverie to a safe location.

  It is an odd thing when all the important times in your life mean so little at the end.  When I searched my mind for memories it wasn’t diplomas, or mortgages or even a child’s first steps that came scrambling to the top.  They were more a collage of abstract scenes.  A dog chasing its tail while one of the grandchildren watched, the way the rain would glisten just so when the sun rose into the sky for mornings first light.  Some were just images or sounds.  A laugh, a cry, a surprised exclamation from my wife on April fool’s day- and the resulting hatred for the arcane custom she held afterwards.  They all were pieces of my life, in no particular order or list of importance.  The first day I truly looked at a snowflake was as meaningful as when I finished residency and became a full-fledged doctor.

  I was awoken again, but this time from the beeping of some machine announcing as if to the world my passage into the great unknown.  Family members came flying into the room as attendant nurses looked down trodden.  They had reached the end of the road and knew it, a scene they had experienced hundreds of times before- but the good nurses and doctors never truly became embittered to it.  I could see my wife talking to one doctor who was looking at his notes, shaking his head jerkily from side to side.  My grandchildren nearly threw themselves upon the bed to give me one final hug to the shock of their parents.  I managed a smile even when the air in my lungs seemed not enough for the task.  One final glance around the room as everything around grew dim- and I was at peace.

  A moment later in the pitch-blackness of nothingness the words “Game Over” came into focus.  Some helmet was lifted off my head and it was my best friend George shaking me as if it would help me get over game trance faster.

  “Come on Bob, tell me you did something more exciting today,” he exclaimed while pulling on his work coveralls. 

  “Well I made it to being a doctor,” I said, teasing the words out of my mouth.  It always took me a few minutes to get back into reality.

  “I was a General in one of the old Earth war’s for the great computers’ sake.  Why always the boring stuff?  Last week it was a Lawyer wasn’t it?”  George demanded of me while I tried to get ready for my shift.  I just nodded my head.  “Well last week I was a pilot in the first great extra-solar wars.  We’ve got a good thing going on here Bob, free virtual life during lunch- room and board, and all we have to do is keep the machines running for several hours a day.  Why do you keep living in the boring past?”

  As usual I had no answer for George.  From all the virtual lives possible, living as an animal, as a king, another sex or even as a God- it was always the simple life of my ancestors, generations removed, that called to me.   

 

 

    

 

Education

Real rough short story I cranked out mostly over coffee between classes and appointments.

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Education

 

 

  They came upon a midnight clear, with blasting silvered ships that hung between tides unseen.  Late night talk shows of meaningless trivia and scantily clad woman were suddenly interrupted to the chagrin of their rapt audiences.  News reports echoed across the world of terrific possibilities and still the world was sane.

  In the morning, with data streams and blogs erupting across the face of the modern communication system- several representatives of the new arrivals clothed in most unusual attire approached the United Nations.  Protocols developed late at night, and probably over several bottles of alcohol were forgotten as the building guards simply stood back with dropped jaws, allowing the seven foot tall hairless strangers entrance.

  It was unusual, for the various member nations to hear of their approach just moments before.  They had been in a heated discussion of what to do with the intruders.  Transmit greetings from earth messages, launch a missile or two, try to discover what type of mass destruction weapons they had- and to reverse engineer them.  The room, that had been so flooded with noises and curses best left away from sensitive ears- ceased abruptly when the newcomers walking in, so quiet as to cause a falling pencil to startle people several rows over.  No one knew what to say, and this was probably a good thing- for the aliens said it best.

  “We’ve come to train several of your brightest in the arts our race has long sense mastered.”  The speaker paused to glance around the room, as if expecting someone to not comprehend the simple phrase.  “We are inviting species from all over the universe to this grand enterprise that is held once every ten thousand years, this time you have just barely qualified and should congratulate yourselves on that accomplishment.”  The alien turned his head as if listening to some invisible noise.  “We will send you our requirements within the hour.  It is totally voluntarily and I suggest you stress that to the various peoples of your world.  They will not have the opportunity to come back to earth, but they will have the opportunity to learn everything there is to know about, well- everything.”  The aliens waited there for a few moments and suddenly they vanished without affair.  The remaining audience stood sill for several minutes before once again they erupted into debate on what to do about the aliens.  It wasn’t until later what the aliens were offered was truly appreciated.

 

 

  We were one of a thousand, then several hundred- and finally an even dozen.  The brightest minds on earth as told by rigorous government testing, with some alien oversight.  Time was short and around the world education facilities were placed on hiatus to take in the swelling numbers of people trying to make the grade.  The tests were simple with electrodes attached to various parts of our heads, as if they were more concerned with what we could learn than what we already did.  Language barriers became more and more a difficulty as our numbers diminished and we were flown from one part of the globe to another.  The final dozen were plastered over media pages as if celebrities, unsettling sports and movies turning the general popular arts on its head.  Near every conversation on earth was on what awaits these select few, there was no war or violence for days as such a grand journey was upon humankind.  Not a few deals were attempted and almost brokered with the dozen by various companies who sought access to alien knowledge, but somehow the aliens that came to us always found out and put an end to it with the clear statement, “these humans may never return to earth.”

 

 

  Finally the day came and we were taken aboard their mother ship, practically an entire moon held in space as if it had always been parked above the earth.  It was there the twelve of us gathered, two Americans, for Asians, a young child from Africa, an old lady from the Mid-east, two Europeans, one old man from India and finally an Alaskan Eskimo.  The aliens approached us there and offered us one last chance to return to earth before we moved off to the main competition site.  Not a one of us felt tempted as we all had some quality about us, an insatiable curiosity.  Manifest perhaps in many forms, but the drive was there from the most educated of us to the least. 

  The aliens told us they were the oldest known intelligent race in the universe.  They emerged in a previous universe towards the end of its age.  Frantic for the knowledge to survive the coming collapse of all known space, they traded and stole for all sorts of information from the other denizens of the universe before.  The other denizens were content to leave well enough alone, and to go quietly into the night.  The Kal’Quin, the ones who ran the tests every ten thousand years were not.  They strove and very well may have learned to understand everything there was to know about the universe- right up into the end, and approaching the last moments-they discovered the solution.  The Kal’Quin created a pocket universe that existed partially outside of normal space.  The collapse and subsequent expanse of the universe again would not destroy them.  Once the new universe was stable again, they would emerge once more.  In the time between, the Kal’Quin refined their knowledge to a point it is probable no one has reached before, and it was in that time they vowed to share this knowledge with a select few of all species once they reached a certain point of intelligence-so long as they passed the contests. 

  None of the dozen, nor the other hundreds of species on the moon-ship, saw any problem with this.  Each felt they would certainly be given this great opportunity to expand in ways beyond any of their species wildest dreams- and looked upon the Kal’Quin as if benevolent Gods.  Their needs were met though out the entire voyage, from entertainment to substance and even if it was desired-sex.  Nothing was denied them, nothing that is, except for foreknowledge of the contest to come.  Speculation was allowed, even encouraged, but the Kal’Quin would give no firm answers on this score-only that the non-winners would still be well cared for in Kal’Quin society.

  Weeks past and we arrived at an even grander structure.  They called it the, Synthesis.  It was the craft they used to ride out the end of the last universe and measured at least a solar system in width.  We all gathered at the windows in the observing room on the moon ship to try to discern the purpose of various technologies lying across Synthesis’ surface.  Talks of gravitational generators, and space time interference dishes were shouted in many different languages- but they all knew deep down what they saw was beyond their wildest expectations, but they all hoped not for much longer.

  We docked to the station and were told there would be seven days of testing, one per day until the winners were found.  After that we were lead to quarters and shown the way to the mess hall and recreation center.  Right after our first dinner upon the Synthesis we were given the first test.  Our Kal’Quin representative spoke as we sat down on unusual but comfortable blue chairs.  They were soft as velvet but as hard as metal.  Somehow the chairs were able to tell where to mold itself to our bodies.  It would have been enough to put some of us to sleep, if not for the excitement hanging in the air.

  “Good day students.  You may call me the teacher.”  The Kal’Quin glanced around the room and our chairs moved to follow his eyes.  “Today will be the easiest of the seven tests.  In order to facilitate further exams we will have a language lesson today and upon passing the rest of our contest will be conducted in the Kal’Quin language.  Some of you will need biological modification in order to speak and understand the dialect, this will be given to you upon passing of this exam. For every exam your pass, your placement in our society will be advanced.  However, even on failing this one you will still lead a meaningful and well-rewarded life amongst the Kal’Quin.  Now let us begin, and good luck to you all.”

  Our testing chairs suddenly reached around to cover our heads and we were submerged in something that felt like warm syrup.  A variety of tones echoed out in this strange ether followed by a variety of light patterns.  Strange syllables began to come through as if slowed by the liquid, but they failed to make sense until finally one series of noise stacked upon another asked if I could understand it.  “Yes”.  I replied without thinking and the segment stopped.  The room was quiet for a moment and then a series of clicking noises were reverberated faster and faster.  They sounded as if claws were being struck against stone and before long waves of light accompanied each sound.  This pattern repeated for some time before I realized that the waves of light seemed to be originating at the same point the clicks were.  The whole image before my eyes flashed almost blindingly, and then it began again.  Every reiteration of the patterns seemed to come faster, and eventually I heard the voice emerge again to ask if I understood it.  “Yes.”  Again I stated and as before everything changed again.  There seemed to be no noise, no light in what I could see.  Minutes passed but nothing seemed to change.  Everything was solid, monotone.  I began to worry something may have gone wrong, and I would fail this first test- unable to communicate with anyone ever again- and then I saw it.  There was silence and darkness here, but there were also areas of more silence and more darkness.  If I looked away for a moment I lost the pattern altogether and had to find it again.  It was like looking at two colors of black that differed by an almost unnoticeable degree.  You see absolute darkness and hear absolute silence- and suddenly in the dark and quiet you notice there is something even more dark and even more quiet.  I followed the strands of increasing darkness and quiet and began to pick out geometric patterns to it.  A square appears in one location, then an octagon in another.  There was no distinction to the silence and the darkness. They merged into one point of line to follow with my eyes.  Now a simple repetition could be seen and the voice came once more, ‘do you understand me?’  My reply of yes ended the exam and as the couch pulled back from my head a voice stated that I had passed.

  Later that evening most of us engaged in rowdy conversations crossing whole galaxies as one species tried to tell a joke that didn’t work so well off his home planet.  Then there were the few who didn’t pass, back in a corner together- almost a greater mix of cultures and races there but they were sullen and didn’t attempt to communicate with one another.  They were the lost ones, stuck in a society that they would never understand- not even to communicate with.  Though it was assured they would be well taken care of, it was difficult to fathom as to how by the way they were outcasts after just one day at Synthesis.  We found it hard to dwell on the ones that didn’t make it past the first day as cultural boundaries came shattering down.  And the aliens were especially interested in us, it had been awhile since new comers had come to the challenge and they had some interesting ideas about us.  One short six-armed creature in particular seemed to believe we must still wield spears and worshipped fire.  It took quite a bit of convincing on the part of us humans to assure him we were just a bit further along than that. 

  One common thread though, that we saw numerous times over- was the stress that no one has ever returned from the challenge- even the winners who became fully integrated into Kal’Quin society.  Though we had been told that at multitudes of occasions, it didn’t really stick in until our fellow contestants echoed the sentiment.  It may have bothered us more but for the next days’ challenges, which ushered us off to bed in wonderment of what they may be.

 

  In the morning, before breakfast we were given an odd puzzle game to play- unlike anything we had seen before.  It wasn’t what you would call graphics intensive, or even exciting.  In fact it was quite simple and short lived.  We gathered at tables, several distinct aliens at each and were told to take turns solving the puzzles- and then we would eat.  With that the teacher left the room to the puzzlement of the contestants.  “What now?” was a sentiment shared at many tables until one enterprising young alien called out, “computer, begin game!” 

  Across the room a holographic framed line box emerged from the table and two virtual joysticks hovered in the air.  “Player 1’s turn,” came the electronic voice speaking in some language unspecified.  Feeling somewhat ambitious I reached towards the joysticks and a moment later the game began.  The goal was quickly understood as my tablemates shouted suggestions to me.  One joystick caused the see through framed labyrinth to turn around its’ axis, the second joystick controlled a ball that was stuck inside the cube.  The first level was simple and straight forward, created to get players adjusted to the controls of the game.  Afterwards the game became progressively more difficult.  There was a flash after each ball escaped from the geometric sphere and the game was reset to a greater difficulty.  After a time the spheres were replaced and other geometrically impossible shapes began to emerge.  These were more difficult and included a timer.  Suddenly the game went back to a simple square but this time there were five paddles for the fingers of one hand.  Each controlled a different ball and the whole set repeated itself.  The cheers of the others in my table said in not so many words, that I must be doing better than the other tables.  Finally on an incredibly complex maneuver I lost one of the balls, which had increased to seven, and my turn, was over.  Still, considering the awe on the faces around me I must have passed this round.  But the game still wasn’t over.  As the other five aliens took their turns I freely gave advice on techniques by which to pass the levels.  The person who had the most problems was a handless ball of fur- it had to use his eyes to control the game.  Try as we might it didn’t seem the fur ball would ever be able to pass even the first stage, but we didn’t give up.  Hours passed while the players turn passed around and around the table and finally, the fur ball made it out of the first box.  After mastering the controls, the alien actually was one of the better players.  I wondered how many other tables were as supportive as ours but it didn’t take long.

  All game-play ceased as the teacher walked back into the room.  “I am glad to announce that most everyone passed.  However this may not have been the test you thought it was.”  The teacher seemed to stare through one table in particular that was still shouting at each other.  “This test was by table not per player.  If anyone in your table failed to accomplish the most basic levels- the whole table is out of the game.”  With a quick good luck tomorrow, the teacher left the room to the outcry of those tables that were less than helpful to their fellow gamers.

  Though most of us who passed the test found nothing to fault in the presence of those who did not.  We were still companions until the next test, and without a language barrier between us- it was quite a testament to language how obscene the smartest minds in the universe could be.  Nothing could quell their rants on how this was supposed to be a contest and they tried to outplay their tablemates.  Those who were passed, know knew that this was to be no traditional contest.

  The following four days were uneventful.  Our tests were more medical exams then anything else.  Genetic tests that most people passed without issue found the first two days.  Several bran scans on the third days found a few people out of the game, but without good reasons.  It felt almost as if the contest had become a lottery- as people found themselves out through no fault of their own skill.  On the fourth day, probably the most unusual day- we were filled with various chemicals and our reactions were measured.  Everyone had some sort of allergic reaction, including a few creatures that resembled grounded butterflies, who ran around screaming there were demons everywhere.  We were beginning to feel like lab rats until the teacher came into the room and said everyone passed. 

  The last test finally came on the seventh day.  Most of those who came were still in the game, but we knew only a few could pass onto the final round.  We were all guaranteed high up places in Kal’Quin society for making it this far, but not a one of us wanted to pass up the knowledge of it all.  Each of us sat at a desk and several wires were attached to our foreheads.  Before us lay the computer interface our individual species were most comfortable with.  The humans had a keyboard, the fur balls had something that resembled a hamster wheel, some had microphones or holograms which seemed usual enough- others would near incomprehensible and were obviously only useful to the species that employed them.  Once set up was complete, the instructions were simple.  “Study whatever and anything that you like.  You have eight hours.”  The teacher spoke clearly and solemnly as if this was very important.  Eight hours of what could very well be infinite knowledge lay at my finger tips- this may be part of the challenge, what would I choose to study.  Yet it was nothing that I could pass up even if I would learn it all tomorrow by winning.  Every question that I’ve ever had flittered through my fingertips onto the keyboard and into the Kal’Quin database.  “What did the big bang look like?  Is there an afterlife?  What ever happened to an old friend?”  They game fast and determined and though the answers were typically simple- they held meaning for me.  “What’s happening on Earth right now?  Will human beings ever end war?  What is the meaning of life?  Is there a God?”  Some voice in my head said I should be asking more purely scientific questions but I could not stop myself, it was like a tiny crack in a dam had suddenly flourished into a full blown flood.  There could be no better drug than every answer you could ever wish for right in front of you.  I asked about cures to earth diseases, the nature of space-time and dimension- but I spent more time on those of a philosophical or a sociological bent.  I’m uncertain if any human being could have done otherwise. What man of science, no matter how science minded could resist asking, ‘but what of god’ to the greatest wealth of information in the universe- perhaps ever.  So it went with eight hours passing by as if mere moments before the machine shut down and I was left spent and drained.

  Several of the contestants had to be helped back to their personal quarters that evening, and it was said that the winners would be chosen in private.  Though the contest was over, I didn’t feel compelled by it. The answers I had found in just the past eight hours had my undivided attention.

  There were 20 chosen for immortality, infinite knowledge, and all that sort of thing from all the thousands of species who had attended.  A Kal’Quin came to inform me in person that I was one of them.  Still high off the information I had garnished the day before I barely heard him explaining that it would only take a few minutes of biological modifications and it would be done.  I’d be referred to as Kal’Quin from this day forth.  My thoughts kept turning back to the first forms of life ever recorded, tracing the memories of humanity progressing from the merest amoeba, too mankind, and even what we will be like in several million years.  They lead me onward to a medical facility and strapped me down upon a soft bed.  A large prism was hanging above me and it began to glow in patterns seemingly impossible.  I drifted then, an out of body experience- alone with my thoughts and a slight hum in the background.  As I came back down into myself a Kal’Quin helped me up and said, “Brother how do you feel?”

  I knew how I felt, but I knew so much more.  I knew everything there ever was or ever will be to know.  I knew why the Kal’Quin held this contest.  I knew what the universe was as familiarly as if it was my own hand.  I tried to think of some question to ask, some question to be answered- but as soon as one came to the surface it was already answered by my own mind.

  “Brother I feel awful.”  I managed to reply in the estranged Kal’Quin dialect of absences of color and sound.

  “Ha-ha!  Welcome to the club.  Come, let us prepare for the next contest.”  And we walked on down the hall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

Inner Eye

First chapter to a story I may leave on the back burner.  I know how I want it to end but not sure of length or the middle exactly.  Not edited but I like the concept.  I'm finding that when I'm writing it's more like reading than work, reading pretty slowly but I enjoy turning the pages.  I did a bit of research on getting published the other day, though it is premature.  Seems a lot more difficult than I was thinking.  I might try it sometime when I get more material together so I have something to fall back on.  Would rather write for fun for the time being.  I don't know why the font changes halfway through some of the text when I post it.

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Inner Eye (Dec 13,2005-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

  David Roberts sat alone in a dim and dusty room.  Carved out my human hands long dead, it stood as a testament to ingenuity of time long past.  Only about five feet high it beckoned those who entered its maw, to sit upon the earthen floor and peer at messages whose meanings were forgotten.  Across the rocky enclosure sang carved stories in bright inks of heroes and demons, hunts and celebrations.  One in particular caught David’s eye.  A fantastic hunt told in dark coal, the prey upon the ground resembled a human being-it would have seemed cannibalistic if the hunter did not appear so alien.  His horned head stretched to the sky like smoke caught on a wind, peering down at his prey he appeared to be toying with the man.  David blinked and he could have sworn he saw the man moving, scrambling away from this dark overlord of nightmares left best to a dying people told in archeological digs.  Of course the people who made this cave were not dead yet, though each generation brought them closer to the brink.  At one time the village lying above ground was a center of commerce- but today it was an idle curiosity as the children left the old ways behind for the city.  David’s eyes continued to watch the stories unfold from the walls as he sat in the waiting room.

  David Roberts wasn’t a tall man, so found the room more comfortable than most would perhaps.  With longish unkempt hair and a gangly figure he felt oddly at peace sitting in the midst of so much ancient history with crossed legs. A cowboy hat capped his brow and his fingers dug into the dirt beneath him as he concentrated on what he would ask the seer.

 

  Perhaps seer was not the correct word, the people he had spoken with when researching the story called him by several names.  The blind one, mystic, holy man, and preacher were but a few terms lost in translation.  David was happy to call him by any, so long as it earned him a cover story at the weekly magazine he worked for.  It has been so long now since one of David’s stories had graced the cover, well over a year.  He had been in a slump, and his editor let him know it constantly.  Last month he had thought he had been onto something, Werewolf Children in Russia.  Unfortunately the publication relegated it to some back page, between horoscopes and the celebrity cross word puzzle.  This story though, David felt, could be the one to push him back on top.  An ancient site almost lost to history with some wonderful secret. 

 

  David had heard the story before, many times in his travels told by local drunks aiming to impress the foreigner.  Some civilization holding onto the past while cities were planted and grew around them.  Rumored to be haunted or contain artifacts of extraordinary power.  It was common in his line of work and usually were dismissed as readily as one would swat at a fly.  This time however was different.  The story involved a man who had burned out his own eyes to safe guard some gift of the Gods.  The locals hadn’t been very clear about what the gift was; only that it was a terrible and powerful thing.  When pressed to give more information the town’s people grew sullen and regretful that they had even brought it up.  David didn’t worry about that though, he had been around people who felt they had said too much before.  He simply dropped the subject, bought them all a round of drinks and began discussing local politics.  His mind didn’t drop the subject though.  A few days later he approached a few of the more talkative drunks, found the location of the mysterious man and here he was now, waiting for a meeting. 

 

  The reporter absentmindedly caressed his camera as he thought of the story to come.  It didn’t matter if the old man was a fraud or the artifact in question was really some dulled knife whose ceremonial purpose was forgotten.  A man who was blinded himself for some divine purpose was certainly enough to earn him some recognition.  As David tossed the idea over in his mind on what type of spin to give this article he didn’t notice the wooden doors to his side open or the old man making his way deeply hunched over with a walking stick.

 

  “So, after all these years someone has come asking me a story?”  The old man croaked the words to the startled man sitting cross-legged on the floor.  David struggled to get his camera off his neck and in so doing banged his head upon the low ceiling. 

 

  The man chuckled softly and spoke again.  “Perhaps we had better retire to a larger room.”  He gestured to the passage from which he had just come, descending into a dark slanted tunnel with intermittent torches burning brightly, as if they were being breathed upon. 

 

  David had regained his wits and given up on getting his camera ready, preferring to wait until he could stand full upright.  As he stumbled along after the man he asked him questions.

 

  “Why is that room called the waiting room?”  David inquired while ducking under the crude doors overhang and noticing that the way down had once been carved steps- long sense eroded. 

 

  “We are waiting for our curse to be lifted.  The room is between the sky and the ground where our agony lies.  It is a room of meditation, where each young man must pass into adulthood- and under its roof is where the keeper is chosen.”  The man walked with his stick before him as if he was having no problems upon the broken steps.  David thought to himself, ‘if this man is blind I’m a prize journalist’.

 

  “So, you’re called the keeper then?”  David struggled to keep up with the man as they descended deeper into the tunnel.  The embrace of claustrophobia settled upon his shoulders, but David managed to shrug it off.

 

  “Yes.  No doubt you have heard me called by many names, but Keeper is the one known by my people.  It was a great honor, bestowed upon me.  At the time I was happy and my family was proud, but I’ve come to wish such a hard thing had not been asked of me.”

 

  David noticed the tunnel was leveling out and saw a few hundred feet away a much larger stone archway and a bright room beyond.  “So you were asked to be keeper?”

 

  “I was chosen by the last keeper.  In our youth before we are destined to a path in life we are asked to spend three days without food in the waiting room to study the messages on the wall.  It is the only time we see the keeper in person, though we had heard stories in our youth from those who are older.  After the third day the previous Keeper took us one at a time to just under that archway ahead of us.  He asked us a simple question, ‘What did the walls say to you.’  Each boy before me returned with his head low and said he had gone no further.  For only the next Keeper was allowed before the next doorway.”  At the archway the old man paused to let David catch his breath.

 

  “What did you see on the walls?”

 

  The old man took a moment to answer.  “I told the old keeper, that I saw our people dying.  He just nodded and beckoned me into the room.  It was there he told me to close the chapter of my life above, and to come down here to live with him.”

 

  The old man stepped under the archway and into a glorious room several stories high and perfectly square.  The first part of the room was clearly a living space.  A matted bed lay on the ground, a wooden table with two chairs next to that, and a kettle hanging over an open fire a short distance off.  At the far side of the room stood two large statues of darkened evil figures overlooking a small pedestal. 

 

  “Is it true then, that you were blinded?”

 

  The Keeper grinned to himself and turned to see David dead on while pulling the silvered hair back from his face.  In this lit room he clearly saw the keepers eyes, or what would have been eyes- and it caused him to take a step back.  His eyeballs were both black as night with a deep scar running outward like cracks from where the pupil should have been. 

 

  “The worst part was the smell.”  The old man chuckled and walked over to the kettle.  David remembered himself and pulled his camera before him. 

 

  “Do you mind if I get a picture of you?”

 

  “We’ve come this far, haven’t we?  Go ahead and after that I’ll serve tea.”

 

  David tried not to wince at the old man’s eyes as he brought the camera into focus.  A quick press of the finger and David said, “Got it.”

 

  The Keeper gestured at the small table before him, “I hope you enjoy green tea.  It’s one of the few luxuries of a keeper to be well cared for by the villagers above.  At least those of them who are left.”

 

  David pulled up one of the only two stools and sat down trusting the Keeper to pour it himself.  ‘This is definitely going to make a good story’, he thought to himself as he pondered what to ask the man next.

 

  The old man poured them both a cup of tea without spilling a drop, and he sat down opposite David waiting expectantly for the reporter’s next question.

 

  David took a long sip of the tea and was pleasantly surprised as the taste.  The Keeper somehow noticing the man’s thoughts remarked, “One of my few rewards,” while he took a long drink himself.

 

  “So what exactly is it you’re keeping?”  David had relaxed a good deal by now and was finding it easier to look at the old man’s burned out eyes.

 

  “That involves the story of the rise, and fall of my people.  It will take some time.”

 

  “I don’t mind, I’ve got all the time in the world.”  David reached into his pocket to remove a pen and a small pad of paper.  “Mind if I take notes?”

 

  “Not at all, in fact I insist.”  The old man sipped his tea, cleared his throat, and began.

 

  “This all happened long ago before my people kept much in the way of records, so I can’t tell you if it was a thousand years or ten thousand years- but it was long before the wonders of modern times had even been dreamt up.  We were a fierce proud people who learned to fight barely off our mother’s backs.  It wasn’t too long before we had absorbed all the tribes around us, or conquered them.  We were an early empire, ruling as far as the eyes could see on the tallest hilltop.  But, it wasn’t power we wanted.  We were warriors and though the people under us grew fat under our rule we grew increasingly restless.  The hunts had lost all their flavor and our children were becoming decadent and unlearned of the warrior ways.”  The old man stared out in some direction as if he was seeing something for a moment before he continued.  “When we noticed that we were dying, not from some great battle but from our youth leaving our way of life- the high council decided it was time for another war.  But try as they might they could find no enemies within reach.  The few groups sprawled along the edge of our empire were too ready to join with us, not take up arms against us.” 

 

  David jotted down as much of this as he could while listening to the Keeper speak, though he only paid it half mind as he waited to hear the secret of this old man.  It will had some credibility to his story, but his readers wouldn’t want a history lesson- they want something to make their hair stand on end.

 

  “It was then that our high council turned to the preachers, at the time we worshipped the god of fire.  He set our spirits to flame, our warrior hearts to burn, and the fires that steadied our spears.  The council, being made up of warriors grown old, didn’t put much faith in the preachers- but seeing their own children becoming mercantile left them little choice.  So they asked the holy men, what is there that will save our people?  And the preachers said they needed time to think about it.  So the high council was left alone for several hours while the holy men burned several plants and spoke in words and returned, to the councils chagrin with this simple answer.  ‘You need a stronger enemy.’  The council was near in arms, since this was the very thing they already knew themselves.  But they knew that striking down a holy man would condemn their souls to servitude so held their tongues and asked, ‘where is this stronger enemy’.

 

  The Keeper took a sip from his tea while listening to David’s pen scratch the paper underneath it. 

 

  “So after some discussion they made one of the largest offerings of all time to the God of Fire.  Half the food seized in taxes by the tribes they had taken in by war or by surrender.  The people for the most part were against this, as it meant they would have to get by with much less over the winter months.  But enough support for the aged warriors on the council silenced them and so the offering was made one night under a clear sky.  ‘Oh Fire god, hear us,’ was chanted in unison by the priests.  ‘Give us an enemy worthy of your loyal followers to make battle with.’  As one they set torches to a great circle of dried branches and wood that stood under their sacrifice.  Still breathing, but tied, animals stirred amongst piles of grain and fruit.  Once more the preachers chanted, ‘Give us an enemy worthy of your loyal followers to make battle with.’  The flames grew higher and flew inward towards the center of the sacrificial circle.  Finally, a third time the preachers cried out louder than ever before, even joined by a few of the council men, ‘Give us an enemy worth of your loyal followers to make battle with.’  At the end of the words the fire suddenly flared to life in all directions taking up all the animals and offerings as if it was the fire god himself as a giant swallowing them with one gulp.”

 

  The keeper turned to David and asked, “Are you getting all of this?”

 

  “Yes, thank you.  Please continue.”  He was irritated at this story going on for so long, but didn’t want to upset the old man before he got everything he needed.

 

  “After the flash died down and the fire was out it took a few moments for their eyes to adjust once again to the dark.  It was then that they spied on the ground a bit of cloth with some writing upon it.  Though no one knew what it meant at the time the people rejoiced, for it meant that the God had answered them.  A scuffle broke out on whether the council or the priests would be the ones to hold onto the book but it was decided they would erect a great tent over the sacrificial site and keep it there for all to see.  One by one everyone of warrior age was lead to the site to see the canvas in hopes it would inspire conquest within them- but they saw nothing in it.  Dejected fathers and grandfathers lead their children back home.  Only about half the people had seen the cloth by then and the rest were claiming it was some fool trick by the priests planting it there for their own agenda.  This went on until sunrise the next morning when something strange began to happen.  It was as if some madness had gripped the young men of the village who had seen the cloth.  They spoke of seeing great shadowy beasts all about them.  They would say to their father or mother that an awesome talon was tearing lengths of flesh from their backs, the parents who were sure no such thing was happening called the medicine man with claims their child was with fever.  It wasn’t until even later that the older men who had seen the canvas began to see the same things.  This was the enemy promised by the God of Fire and my people rose up to vanquish it.  The half of the village who hadn’t seen the gift of the fire god felt the other half mad as they readied their weapons and progressed in small groups to whatever shadow they could find.  It appeared as if they were striking at nothing at all.  That was until the warriors started dying, ripped in two by some unseen hand they would hover in midair before falling to the ground. The people screamed in terror, as every person who had seen the cloth was killed; by the enemy found for us.  Every man except for one- an old warrior who had lost his sight some seasons past who walked up to the gift with his grandson.”

 

  “The first keeper?”  Asked David before realizing he hadn’t interrupted the old man’s story yet.

 

  “Yes, he would be known as the first keeper.  But for now the people were distraught and looking to place blame.  All their greatest warriors had been killed in one day.  There was no more sign of the great monsters that had come, but the memory was burned forever in my peoples mind.  Several priests were killed before the mobs were brought under control.  And even as some semblance of normalcy was returning, the question remained.  ‘What to do with the gift?’  We had gotten a gift from God, and no matter how much pain it had wrought, we could not bring ourselves to destroy it.  Not merely out of fear but also out of reverence.  So instead we gave it to the one man who had looked upon it and lived, the blind old warrior who came to be known as Keeper of the Gift, and in later generations just keeper.  The story is all but forgotten now, told generation to generation from one keeper to the next.  But the people now, live above as if nothing had ever happened.  This space was carved out of the rock as a place to keep the gift far enough away so as not to threaten anyone, but close enough to remember.  Children still come to the waiting room, but few even know why they are there anymore.  Even in my generation most of the story had been forgotten.  But we keepers are not only keepers of the gift, but the story tied to it.  Our empire quickly collapsed with so many missing warriors and the hardship brought by the giant sacrifice- and the once proud people became isolated and hard-pressed to survive.”

 

   It took David several moments to realize that the old man was finished.  “So no one has even seen this thing since that first time so long ago?”  The reporter stuck his pencil in his mouth and was chewing on the eraser, hoping to catch a fresh angle.

 

  “Not that I’ve been told of.  As far as I know only the keeper and the keepers apprentice have been in this room since it has been built.  Except, of course for you.”

 

  “So why am I here, why did you agree to see me of all people?”

 

  The keeper thought long and hard for a moment and answered, “I’m not sure if was the right thing to do or not.  Less so now than before I met you.  I didn’t want the story to die, even if my people do.  There are only a handful of us left above and mostly old.  Our children go off to school and never return, or if they do it’s only a brief visit trying to convince their parents life in the city is so much better.”

 

  David decided to accept this answer for the moment.  “So can I see it?”

 

  “See what,” the keeper asked before realizing what the reporter was asking.  “Oh yes- I mean no.  You can see the case but I can’t allow you to see the canvas inside.”

 

  “Guess it will be enough.  And I can take pictures of the case and the statues?”

 

  “Feel free.  Only I must strongly suggest you keep your distance from the case itself.  I myself find it hard to be within more than a few feet of it.”

 

  The Keeper pushed his chair back and beckoned for David to do the same.  With stretched legs they crossed the few dozen feet to the large statues and the pedestal while David’s reporting instincts had him shooting off dozens of pictures.

 

  “Are those the enemy the God of Fire sent for you to fight?”  Asked David, while raising his camera to get a full shot of them.  Terrible creatures they were, that up close seemed more insect like than animal.  Closer still they seemed to lose even a semblance to animals- truly becoming something alien. 

 

  “Yes.  At least as best as we can tell since no one left alive actually saw them.”

 

  They stood a full fifteen feet in the air crowned with some blackened carapace that stood out from their naked bodies.  Each hand was stretched outward as if attached to large wings and was studded with six equally space indexes, capped with several inch long talons.  “I hope these aren’t built to scale,” joked David moving across the room to get pictures at different angles.

 

  “Most likely not, as I said no one left alive had actually seen them.  They only had the terrified yells of the warriors to go on.”  The keeper tried to stay next to David through all this but he was moving around so quickly he found it difficult to keep up.

 

  “Ooh,” David crooned looking upon the pedestal and spying for the first time the ornament golden case for the cloth.  Precious stones of all sorts lay entrenched in the cover and binding of the box.  He took a quick picture and then bent over for closer examination.  Sliding his hands across the box he noticed it was warm to the touch, and tingly- almost like static electricity.  His heart raced as he smooth his palm against the jewels. 

 

  “Really, I asked you not to touch the box,” exclaimed the keeper as he finally caught up to David and put one hand upon his shoulder.

 

  David barely noticed as he felt an overwhelming urge to open the box.  It was glittering before his eyes in dazzling patterns.  He felt extremely alive and euphoric, openly laughing as his eyes and fingers danced upon the coverings.

 

  The keeper tugged at David’s shoulder harder which momentarily broke David’s entrancement.  “Get off me old fool!” he cried as he shoved the old man backwards several feet hard.  With no more thought to the keeper he wrenched the box open and his eyes fell to the cloth tied down inside.

 

  The cloth itself was nothing spectacular outside of lasting for so long, the writing however was.  It wasn’t a picture, or even a word.  It wasn’t a diagram or art of some form.  It was only a symbol.  A bright red symbol that seemed to burn as David gazed at it closer.  An impossible symbol that made David thing of M.C. Escher.  It was a spiral that was also a box; as you turned your head, it seemed to shift.  Oddly enough it seemed to reach beyond the thin layer of the fabric and existed as if it was sculptured.  David ran his hands over the symbol standing out and felt them pass through it as something cold and unworldly.  He shivered and realized what he had done.  Quickly shutting the box David turned to see the old man still lying on the ground several feet behind him.

 

  “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”  David lamented as he struggled to help the old man back to his feet.  He was still confused at what he had done; he had never been a violent sort and couldn’t understand it.

 

  “It’s not your fault, it’s the boxes fault.  I should have known better than to bring you here.”  The old man looked as if was near to tears as he glanced around the room with his sightless eyes.

 

  “It’s okay, if you’re okay.  See nothing terrible happened to me.”  David managed a laugh as he helped the Keeper back to the table on the other side of the room.  Still distraught over his actions David sought an excuse to leave.  “I really have stayed longer than I should have, deadlines to meet and that sort of thing.  I appreciate you telling me your story.”  Still feeling bad about pushing the man down he added, “Are you sure you’re okay?  I could get a doctor if you need one.”

 

  “No, I’m fine.  What you should be worried about is yourself.”  David made a puzzled look.  “Don’t just shrug this off as some fools story.  You saw the symbol, you must have noticed something unusual about it.” 

 

  The reporter couldn’t argue with that but felt the need to leave even more clear now.  “Well look I’m sorry again, I’ll just take some snap shots of the waiting room and be out of your hair.”

 

  “Do what you will, young man, but I’m warning you- don’t let them see you watching them” The Keepers voice sounded out firmly.

 

  “Who?”  David called back from the tunnel leading to the waiting room and finally, outside again.

 

  “You’ll find out.”  Was the last David heard of the Keeper as he reached the waiting room, stopping for a minute to take pictures of the art he had looked at while waiting for the Keeper.  Still that rush to leave was in him, either from what he had seen or from harming the old man- it compelled him to hurry on up to his car and drive back to the hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Servitude

Short story I wrote this evening, thought up mostly last night.  I think the ending needs work- it sounded a lot better played out in my mind but I tried to make it perhaps a bit too light versus too serious at times?  And I didn't expect to use three pages closing the story but I felt the guy deserved a personality at the end.  Sci Fi, bout 8-9 pages typed.  No editing or read through yet. 

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In Servitude (Dec 12,2005)

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  In the dark cold frontier of colonized space, the Tribben IV made it’s near solitary journey.  There was nothing exceptional about either the ship, or her name.  It was a classic cruiser though showing a good deal of wear, in all probability several centuries out of date.  Whenever the space compression drives came on the entire craft seemed to want to shake itself apart until the pleasant white of in between came into view.  The space compression drive itself probably was over several thousand years old, purchased technology from one of the merchant races humankind’s path had crossed.  Humanity had learned to build their own, even improving on the design, but a little cruiser for three hardly deserves modern equipment.  Even the name of the ship was out of date, Tribben- one the first human colonies was a awful little dump of a world- even before its binary star system collapsed in on itself.  Volcanoes had scarred the surface and the colony station had the highest turnover rate in the entire system.  Where there wasn’t molten rock there was vast sulfuric marshes.  What Tribben did have, was an abundance of minerals and was far enough out to help push mankind onward through the galaxy.  Quickly forgotten as humanities ring of influence expanded, it was barely a textbook footnote when the binary stars collided rendering the entire area useless and irradiated.

 

 

  Captain Yorrin was stuck with the ship, and the name; he couldn’t have been happier.  A young man of 23, tall with dark features and hair that refused to stay in place, as a recent graduate with an honorary Captains ranking he could not have felt more at peace in a pleasure cruiser.

 

 

  “Captain”, Ensign Joyce his third officer and pilot broke his reverie.  She was older than him by two years but they considered each other friends.  In the academy together they were at one time more than friends, but kept it quiet as anything whispered too loud even to oneself would find itself in record somewhere. It was rumored entire moons had been hollowed out to store the vast amounts of data generated daily in this modern age.  If command had heard any inkling of their involvement it would be doubtful they’d see each other again on official assignment, let alone serve together.

 

 

  “Yes Joyce?”  The captain looked up to meet his Ensigns gaze as she swiveled her chair around to speak.  The bridge wasn’t completely crowded or without amenities.  Built for long solitary missions it was found practical to make the inside of the ship as comfortable as possible, even if the outside appeared to be salvage.  It’s approximately a hundred square feet with the captain’s seat in about dead center of the room.  To his right and forward sits the pilot’s chair closer to the ring of computers surrounding the concaved viewing screen which doubled as a window if electronics went down or it was otherwise desired.  To his left was the empty chair of the quiet second in command Stevens.  He was afforded the title of officer but Captain Yorrin was certain he’d never served in any official capacity before, unless he was with the government rather than the military.  They were always the quiet types who kept too themselves.

 

 

  Joyce’s brilliant blue eyes touched a sensitive spot in the Captains heart every time she looked at him.  He’s conditioned himself against it, but there’s always a moment where she’s laying on his cot with long dark hair spread across her naked flesh providing a most delicate contrast.  Only a moment before his face is made hard, and he only sees his ensign with a message to give him.  “Sir, there is a message marked for captains viewing only.”  Her voice hesitant, at once both deeply inquisitive and professional came out flat, with little hint to what was running through her mind.

 

 

  Captain Yorrin glanced up at the unending space before him on the screen.  ‘A communications, and just for me to read,’ Yorrin thought to himself in wonder.  His rank was only honorary- at least until the completion of this mission.  Every cadet who seeks the captain’s chair must go through a trial period of no less than six months Earth time before having it made official.  They were only five weeks out and were truly in the desert of space- there’s no place to divert to.  No planets to land on, no stations to dock at.  ‘It could be war’, though Yorrin, ’war would make even this little junker too valuable for a cadets final exam.’  The thought rang unpleasant between his ears.  Not only would he not get his captainship- he’d be expected to serve under someone else.  ‘Who could we go to war with?’  The only hint of conflict in recent years had come from a race of xenophobes who also oddly enough happened to be scared of the sun.  They were cave dwellers and an unfortunate group of joy seeking spelunkers who first fell upon them.  Their names were pronounced something like the sound of rocks being banged against one another several times over.  War was declared when we told them we came from the surface, but command felt it better not to land on the planet anymore.  Supposedly they had quite an army trained and ready to go, but until they got over their fear of the open sky and sunlight it’s doubtful anyone would actually be injured in the war.  ‘Who else could it be?’  Yorrin could think of no one who actually was likely to make war in the near future.  The space corp trained to be ever ready, there have been several devastating conflicts in the past and they were not willing to repeat that sort of history.  Yet oddly enough, for a galaxy as crowded as the milky way, was turning out to be- peaceful; except for petty criminals and misunderstood business transactions. 

 

 

  Captain Yorrin noticed his ensign staring at him so a bit too abruptly stood up and started walking towards his personal quarters.  “Thank you Joyce, I’m sure it’s nothing important.  Probably just checking up on me or maybe saying they made a mistake and I failed astrophysics.”  He chuckled a bit in hopes of lifting his spirit.  Before closing the bridge doors behind him he called, “I’ll tell you about it later over dinner when Stevens on duty if I can.”  The door whished shut in a quick vacuum and outside of the background electronic noise of the bridge, every footfall sounded out as if the entire ship was empty.

 

 

  There wasn’t far to walk.  Only four rooms sat between the bridge and the engines.  The two crew quarters were the first to past as he hiked down the corridor.  Before turning into his own Yorrin glanced across at the open door of the recreation/mess hall to wonder if Stevens was inside.  ‘Guy spends way too much time in his own room.  It’s a wonder he passed the psych requirements,” wondered Yorrin near aloud as he opened into his own personal little space. 

 

 

  He knew it was larger than the crew’s quarters, and better than he had at the academy- but it still felt cramp quick when thinking of the vastness of space outside.  A short bed is recessed against one wall- met by a desk at one end and a bookshelf at the other.  Under the bed were stashed storage bins for clothing and knickknacks.  Some designer’s idea of a pleasant motif of portraits and paintings lined the walls of people and places Yorrin has never seen, nor cared about.  The only thing of Yorrin’s in the room was a simple picture frame upon the desk showing a family party when he was accepted as a cadet.  Pulling a chair out from under the desk Yorrin made himself comfortable as he opened up the message from command.  By the time he was finished his hand was shaking as he checked to make sure his weapon was still at his side.  The only weapon allowed on ship, the captains- and had to be worn at all times.

 

 

  An hour must have passed while Yorrin read and re-read the transmission in hopes it would change before his eyes.  It did not.  Nor did the anxiety of the task before him get any easier.  Noticing the passing of time and that Joyce was probably eating dinner, he made his way across the hallway into the recreation room.

 

 

  “Hi ya Cap”, Joyce waved over a plate of steaming vegetables and a tall mug of coffee.  It didn’t take long for her to notice Yorrin was visibly shaken and his right hand seemed to hover over his side arm.  She chose not to say anything while Yorrin took a seat besides her.

 

 

  Several long moments passed while Joyce got a mug of coffee for Yorrin and sat back down, looking at her food but not touching it.

 

 

  “You now Joyce, I used to always want to be a Captain in the space corp.”  Yorrin began.  Once he started talking, he noticed the drink sitting there.  With a nod of thanks to Joyce, he continued.  “But I’m not sure anymore.”  Another sip.  “I’m thinking of resigning my commission.”  With a sigh Yorrin let his head droop down so as not see the confused look upon his ensigns face.

 

 

  “Yorrin, what is it?  What was in that communication that could be so bad?  I know it can’t be combat- you were always saying how you’d love to serve humanity in a real battle.  And if you’re talking about resigning it can’t be anything you’ve done.”

 

 

  “No, it’s not something I’ve done,” The Captain let his voice trail off.

 

 

  “Well if not you then who?  Certainly not me.”  Joyce almost gasped as the only other possible person onboard came to mind.  “Not Stevens, what could he possibly have done?  Is he up for charges?  Do we have to go back?”

 

 

  Yorrin slammed his fist on the table causing plates to rattle and mugs to threaten gravity.  “No damn it all, we don’t have to go back.  He’s not up on charges.”

 

 

  “Well what is it then?”  Joyce was more than a little perturbed by the tone Yorrin has never once taken with her before.

 

 

  Without apologizing the Captain say back down in his chair and took a deep breath.  “They want me to kill him.”

 

 

  Joyce almost laughed, “Come on, you’re putting me on?  There is no way command would just tell you to kill someone in cold blood.  Not if it’s not about mutiny- and Stevens hardly seems the sort to even talk back to a commanding officer, let alone seize his ship.”

 

 

  “I’m not making this up Joyce and I have no idea what he’s done.  The communiqué only said two words.  Kill Stevens.  No explanation, no sympathy with what such a command would do to me.  It wasn’t even signed.  Just a general captains only order to kill one of his crew members.”  Yorrin felt separate from the words he was speaking, as if he was telling another person’s story.

 

 

  “Well- you can’t do it that’s all.  You’re not the top to kill someone for no reason Yorrin.  You’ll just have to write them back and …”

 

 

  “And say what?  That I’m unwilling to follow orders?  That I disagree with them, the minds that have save humanity countless times over since we started exploring space?  That I demand to know exactly what Stevens is excused of before I act on it?  Damn it all Joyce.  I’d have better luck resigning my commission and dealing with a court martial for disobeying direct orders.”

 

 

  “He must have done something bad, but certainly command will understand the position they’re putting you in.”  Joyce, always helpful, Joyce, sounded so optimistic that Yorrin’s spirits almost lifted.  Surely command would understand.  He might be knocked down in rank, but they wouldn’t court martial him after all.

 

 

  At that moment Steven’s walked into the room so quietly neither Joyce nor Yorrin noticed him. 

 

 

  “Geeze guys, what’s up with the long faces?”  Steven’s voice rang out like a gunshot into the room.  His pale complexion, aged face, boney glasses, and overall stumped appearances hardly looked like he could steal candy from a baby let alone pose a threat to the powers that be.

 

 

  “Err nothing Stevens,” Joyce answered quickly.  “Captain’s just feeling a bit space sick is all.”

 

 

  Yorrin groaned at Joyce’s reply.

 

 

  “A captain getting space sick, why doesn’t that just beat all.  Well I’m sorry Captain Yorrin but you just received an urgent message from Command.  I hate to bother you when you’re not feeling well, but you know how command is.”  Steven’s voice almost sounded cheerful compared to his normal docile tones. 

 

 

  The captain just nodded his head and stared down at the table again.

 

 

  “Well, message delivered.  I had better get back to the bridge, against regulations to have an unmanned bridge for more than a few minutes.”  Steven’s too one more look at the captain, expressing pity in his eyes and fled the room.

 

 

  “Yorrin, you can’t do it.  How can you kill that man?”  Joyce was pleading with him but without a solution.

 

 

  “What do you suggest Joyce?  Please give me a way out of this and I will, but that message is probably command asking me why the hell I haven’t killed him yet.”  Yorrin pushed himself away from the mess table, leaving Joyce behind and made his way to read his second fortunate transmission of the day.

 

 

  Back in his room which seemed to be getting more cramped by the second Yorrin pulled up the second communication and noticed this time it was signed.

 

 

  Captain Yorrin, why is Stevens not executed yet.  Kill him immediately and report back to command.

 

 

-Admiral Xin

 

 

  There was little room for hesitation left in Yorrin.  It would all be over, one way or another in the next few minutes.  This message was directly from the boss, Admiral Xin-leader of all extra-solar space corp units.  The Captain felt a sickly taste in his mouth and realized he had been biting his tongue.  Taking a brief look in the mirror and wiping a few drops of blood from his chin, Yorrin prepared himself to follow his orders.

 

 

 

 

 

  Joyce, who had returned to the bridge immediately after their argument could see at once what Yorrin was planning.  There wasn’t a murderous rage in his eye’s, or even fear- only the solemn atmosphere that one could imagine hanging over any executioner of old.  His face spoke volumes on the condition of man, and his age-old enemy, himself.

 

 

  “No Yorrin.  You can’t, don’t do this!”  Joyce yelled while leaping from her chair and heading towards Stevens.  She was still several feet away from being between the two of them when Yorrin pointed his weapon at Stevens; who was now staring at the Captain. 

 

 

  Yorrin said, “Sorry” as his fingers tightened around the grip of his weapon and a brief flash of bluish light erupted and sheered off half of Stevens’ head.

 

 

  Joyce fell on top Stevens body and heaved with tears as she turned up to Yorrin and demanded, “Why?” 

 

 

  Yorrin could find nothing to say so let Joyce speak. 

 

 

  “You monster, I don’t even know who you are anymore.  Damn the command, damn the entire space fleet- and damn you Captain.  No trial, no jury- just a quick military styled execution.  Would you kill me just as easily?”  Joyce was off her feet now and standing before the captain with a raging sadness about her.  “Why don’t you kill me too?  Maybe that was in your orders.”

 

 

  While Joyce was yelling at Yorrin, he only half heard her words.  At first it was because he was ashamed at what he had done- but halfway through her diatribe a curious thing was happening.  Stevens face had become waxy and near translucent.  It was as if he was being stretched apart, the skin pulled taunt.  The skin turned blue, then green and back to pale again as almost all facial features sunk inward. 

 

 

  “Joyce do you see that,” whispered Yorrin while pointing towards Stevens.

 

 

  “See what?  Oh!  What is going on?”  Joyce forgot her anger at the captain for a moment and stared intently at what was Stevens face.  “Does your weapon do that?”

 

 

  “No,” Yorrin spoke softly.  “At least I’ve never heard of it doing anything like this before.”

 

 

  Stevens entire head had become a giant gelatinous ball and the part that had been cut off by the weapon earlier was slowly filling in.  Creeping along like some wet fluid filling in all open spots until it was perfectly round.  And then it was done.  All evidence of Yorrin’s actions were erased, save for the fact Stevens had no face.  Abruptly Stevens stood up, shook his head a few times and his face popped back out of the gel and looked like his old self again.

 

 

  “What the hell,” exclaimed Yorrin as he pushed Joyce behind him and pulled his gun once again on Stevens.  Yet Stevens oddly enough seemed not to notice the gun nor care that he was just shot.

 

 

  “Bravo Captain, Bravo!”  Stevens clapped his hands together loudly and wore a bright smile upon his face.  It was as if the world had been turned upside down and all laws of actions and consequences were mixed up. 

 

 

  Joyce turned to Yorrin and muttered, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

 

 

  “Congratulations on passing your final test.”  Stevens practically beamed as he said the words test.

 

 

  “But I shot you.”  Yorrin said shakily, still pointing his weapon as Stevens, or whatever it was.

 

 

  “Oh, no worries old chap, no worries.  Nope.  Not a one at all.  There is nothing on this ship that can injure me dear boy.  So congratulations to you. And a very kind thank you, to you, Miss Joyce for carrying on so about me.  Not that it was necessary by any means, but it does one of my several hundred years proud to be thought of so kindly.”  Stevens still stood there talking and smiling up at Yorrin who still held his weapon though not very steady.

 

 

  “What are you?”  Asked Joyce.

 

 

  “Ah, what I am.  What am I not?  What I am not is an officer as you probably could have guessed when you first met me.”

 

 

  Joyce and Yorrin looked towards each other in agreement.

 

 

  “I see, I see- that much you had deduced.  What I am is an Alasian.  We are very durable creatures and hired out for specialty work where others might not be so, alive afterwards.”  Stevens paused momentarily and seemed to just notice the weapon still pointed at him.  “You really don’t need that you know, you saw how much good it did the last time.”  Stevens ran his hands across his face, and removed them with a grin.  “Ah well, if it makes you feel better so be it, so be it.  I suppose you’d like to know why you were ordered to kill me?  Don’t look so surprised please.  I came here specifically, to be killed, by you.  And you did a wonderful job.  I didn’t have any doubts and this is probably my twentieth time.  Not that it isn’t painful- but the looks on people’s faces when I stand right up again are priceless.  The moneys pretty good also.”  Stevens stopped again waiting for Yorrin to say or do something.

 

 

  It was Joyce who first caught on.  “Yorrin, you get it?  The six months in space wasn’t the final test for your captains chair- this was.”

 

 

  “Correct, little human.  Very good.”

 

 

  Yorrin felt as if the pit of his stomach was dropping out.  “But I didn’t obey the first order.”  His side arm finally fell to his side and he sat down in the captain’s chair with a sigh.

 

 

   “No worries about that Captain Yorrin.  If you had you probably would have failed.  Your human command doesn’t want people too quick to kill their crew you know.  There’s some trite premise about being able to follow orders no matter what, or some such human nonsense.  Especially being alone out in space for months or even years at a time.  Barely anyone gets through the test without eventually killing me, but sometimes I need to set up a mutiny, or a sabotage, or claim to be a murdering alien criminal.  Ha-ha!” 

 

 

  Stevens looked around to see if there was anything else to say and pulling himself together started towards the mess hall.  “Captain, and it’s official now and many congratulations I say, your orders are to return to Earth for reassignment.”  Yorrin made the briefest glance towards Joyce.  “And you are expected to pick your own crew, though perhaps it is time for a bigger ship, yes?”  Stevens put his hands on his sides and said, “Well I don’t know about you humans but being killed makes me terribly hungry, I’ll be in the mess hall if you need anything.”  And with that he left the room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

Doomsday

Story I wrote this evening, no editing or anything yet just finished it.  There are several larger projects I want to undertake, but I think if I keep dealing with short stories I'll improve a lot faster.

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Doomsday (dec 11, 2005)

 

 

  Like a group of children on Christmas morning the white clad intellectuals could barely sit still.  Whispered voices would reach a fevered pitch and suddenly become quiet again as they discussed what was about to transpire.  These several dozen men and women, the gigantic minds of the time were brought from different nations and backgrounds, the one common thread was their pursuit of knowledge.  Not just any knowledge, but practical knowledge-it was close to being theirs.

  Billions of dollars and years of effort had been poured into this brain pool, an effort normally found only by millionaire villains in comic books seeking power.  Yet these few, even the projects designer Tim, were meek individuals.  Most when seen on the street would be casting their eyes about trying to appear invisible.  In a bar, they were the quiet souls-rapidly departing after a brief drink or two.  Many were single, and those who were married tended to spend time away from home as if that was where the true work lay.  However here, in this dug out cavern far beneath the desert- they were in their element. 

  Papers of all sorts coated the walls, from science to hypothesis and even a few dug out from old science fiction magazines.  Speculations flourished quicker than a bunch of old ladies at gossip- but instead of who was cheating on their husband, these select few were wondering who was cheating on nature.  For truly in this marvelous time these men and woman found they were no longer a part of the scenes they were witnessing, as any good gossip or people watcher would share.  They held themselves apart from their research, as any good scientist should.  Though several bets had been tabled at the outcome of the experimental run- it was science itself unfolding, the wonders of the universe- and one could no more put claim a physical impact on it than one could state they set the sun to burn or the stars to shine.

   A hollowed electronic voice reverberated betwixt the uneven cavern walls, etched so painfully by thunderous gas machines before even the first scientist who would learn to call this place home set foot inside.  “Test Run in 5 minutes and counting,” the artificial sounds felt right in place here.  A whirring that may have been a helicopter engine erupted first in one corner of the complex, quickly followed by several more until the scientists voices themselves were drowned out.  Lights were dimming in and out as a quiet remind for the people to get to their stations.  It didn’t take long for this was the moment they had been waiting for.  Humankind’s first mimicry of the forces of the universe, our first sight into a chapter of the unknown that had been guesswork for the past century.  Each of their names would go down in history books.

  They called it the Sudden Matter Condenser.  A long project of just putting together the arrayed particle colliders, super coolant chambers utilizing both gas and powerful magnets and a chunk of super heavy barely stable mass.  Then came all the recording equipment to make certain that their success would be documented, or their failure.  None of the scientists were thinking of failure now, they knew it was possible- it had been done before; though not like this.  For the past decade people had created black holes many times over, though never on demand or long lasting enough to actually record.  Those who tried likened it to watching a pot of water boil, no matter how long they stood and stared they refused to form.  This machine, the sudden matter condenser, will not only create black holes, but hold them in one spot long enough to be studied.  No one knew exactly how long it would exist for, the scientists pool ranged from the time it took for light to cross over a hydrogen atom to three minutes (most bets were at the low end).  The equipment was ready for even the shortest glimpse of the human made black hole, and they would all find out.

   It was such an odd group of people, beyond just being scientists.  Two were theologians who argued night and day about the meaning of black holes.  One felt they were messages left behind by God from the creation of the universe, another felt they were a mistake in the grand scheme of things- undoing the Lord’s work.  There was one man who believed that black holes didn’t exist, and what we thought were black holes were nothing more than variable speeds of light- he was one of the most dedicated of the group, hoping to finally get the recognition he deserved.  It wasn’t only tied to what black holes actually were, but what they could be.  Arguments ranged from new power sources, to new construction materials and even as far as anti gravity and faster than light travel.  It was as if all the limitations of physics had vanished and the future of humankind was wide open.

  The lights dimmed even more, and the whirring of distant engines reached a whining that seemed to increase with each piece of metal it danced over.  Everyone was so intent upon their work that they hardly dared to breath.  As solemn as a particular churches holiday the room was devoid of any sound of man, save for the steady speakers voicing how much time they had left for the test to run.  It wasn’t long now.  At one minute there was no more work to be done, everything had been set up and all there was to do was wait.  At thirty seconds a few could no longer hold their breath and with rapid gasps and the stares of their colleagues they glanced down at their feet.  At ten seconds, the concentration on the scientist’s foreheads could be read as they followed the clock down to zero.

  Suddenly excitement burst through the room as joyous cries of we did it broke the silence.  From some dusty cabinet glasses of champagne were found and poured to the point of overfilling for the people still at work calculating the data coming in.  It was clear that a black hole had been formed as a brief siren flashed over one of the display monitors, though it would take some time to get all the information in.  A new dawn of human kind was upon us, black holes at our fingertips, on demand. Of course it could one day be used as a weapon perhaps- but that was in the far future and the intent of these scientists were of the noblest of purposes.

  Tim, the project leader hankered down next to a short haired, dark skinned woman at one of the terminals flashing data that would be meaningless until it could be analyzed.  “So, Sue- who won the bet.  How long did our little pet black hole last for,” Tim sounded out joyously.  He had been down for a cool minute but was so elated he could care less about winning the pool.

  Sue for one reason was not as happy as Tim.  She sat there muttering to herself, occasionally bringing up some new menu.  Apparently not noticing Tim had been talking to her.

  “I say Sue, what is it?  This is no time for typing away, let the computers deal with it and join me for a glass of champagne.”  Tim was already trying to push a glass into her hands which she simply let fall to the ground with a crash.

  Sue turned up to face Tim with wide eyes and a look of deepest consternation littering her brow.  “It’s still there.  The black hole- it’s still stable.”

  “That’s impossible Sue, not for this long,” Tim glanced over at a large wall clock on the far side of the room.  “It’s been eight minutes and however odd seconds.”

  “I know it’s impossible!”  Sue stated loudly enough for other people to hear who found it interesting enough to walk over.  “That still doesn’t change that it’s happening.  Look there, look at that you can clearly see it for yourself.”  Sue pointed at a corner of her display, and it filled to fit the whole screen at her gesture.  It was the inside of their machine, right at the core of their super heavy matter- and though they could not see it directly, there was no mistaken the absence of light at the shells core.

  “My god!”  Exclaimed Tim not quite realizing the full ramifications of what they had done yet.  Turning away as if in a sleep walk, project director Tim did his duty and contacted the political leaders who had funded the project.

------------------------

  It took several days for the brass to arrive looking self important and dismayed, followed by the men in suits concerned with the cost of this whole mess.  They looked around at the mess, grown from hours of sleepless work from the scientists attempting to discern what had gone wrong with their project.

  “So what type of mess are we in, Mr. Johnson?”  One of the generals asked the project director as if it was something that could simply be washed away.

  “General sir, the black hole is still stable and is unlikely to go away on its own … “, Tim hesitated dreading the next words that would come out of his mouth.  “In fact sir, it seems to be growing.”  His words became increasingly quiet as he let slip that one piece of information that would mark the end of his career.

  “Growing!”  Yelled several voices at once as several of the politicians stepped back as if that would make a difference.

  “No, no sirs,” Tim tried to say in his most reasonable voice.  “There’s really no need to worry.”  This seemed to make the gathered elite worry even more.  “It’s growing very slowly.  I doubt it would even be visible to the naked eye for more than a century.”

  “And then?”

  “Well, it will keep growing.  Yet I’m sure something can be done about it one day.  Just look how far we’ve come in the past … “ Tim caught himself waving his hands around at the exact underground facility that caused this mess and stopped himself.  “Err, at any rate.  It won’t even be noticeable directly above this facility for a thousand years.  And it will be well near several millennia before it will pose a threat to earth.”

  The general just kept staring at Tim waiting for him to continue.

  “Well, in about 20,000 years it will destroy the earth and a few thousand years after that it will start to consume the solar system.  But really, I’m sure we’ll discover a way to stop it long before then.”

-------------------------------------

  The entire project center was mothballed not a month later with no word to the press of the ticking time bomb laying a mere mile underground.  Several meters of cement were haphazardly laid over the entire site with the official explanation being a radiation leak.  The scientists found themselves in a variety of isolated positions, away from the press and each other.  Each was told it was a matter of national security and if anyone breathed a word, even to a family member, they would find themselves even more isolated than they had become.  They were assured it was possible and perfectly legal.  Everything seemed to be okay.  New advances in science occurred daily and it was certainly only a matter of time before humanity learned to deal with its folly.

  Fifty years later World War Three broke out, over some minor regional dispute it quickly brought to life past bitterness that erupted into all out merciless war.  Nuclear devices were exchanged as well as several new anti- matter weapons that leveled entire armies as if they were dust in the wind.  There was no peace to this war, as by the time the damage was complete there were no governments to make peace with.  All electronics worldwide had been damaged beyond repair by weapons with that purpose intended.  Radioactive fall out laid waste to the cities- the only ones who survived were those already left out of the development race of humanity.  The small towns on the fringe of nations, the undeveloped regions of the world will people lived as much as they could as their ancestors did.  There was no end to the war, it was neither won nor lost.

--------------------------------

  A thousand years later a young boy clothed in a short cloth went hiking several miles away from his village as a passage to manhood.  He stumbled upon some unusually hard rocks that upon closer examination extended for several thousand feet. Not one to leave curiosity alone the young boy climbed up atop what was once known as cement covered by several inches of dust and sought to discover the secrets of this unusual place.  Ruins were well known to his people, who spoke of the past as if it was to be forgotten.  The old ways are the best ways were repeated down from grandfather to grandson.  Once, the young boy had found a box that would create light when it was held a certain way in one city ruins and hurried home to show his father.  Thinking himself clever, he did not expect his father to take the machine out back and smash it into small pieces with a rock.  The old ways are the best ways.  As the boy trod on he noticed his walking stick was behaving unusually.  He was not a water douser and was sure his stick would make a poor device for such endeavors, but it felt like it was being pulled down, down towards what the boy could not even dream of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 11, 2005

I've decided I watch so many movies that I'll try to provide brief reviews of the ones I've seen.  If I have time i'll do it once a week but this first one will extend back a few weeks.  I hate the movie theaters so rarely go so most of these will be DVDs.

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Bewitched 5/10 :  a movie about a movie about a t.v. show.  The premise was confusing, Will Farrell was too goofy to be Darren.  It would have made more sense if they didn't make all the other family members behave like they're traditional characters.  Not a total wash but I found myself pausing the movie several times to do something else- and I did enjoy the original series.  I just hope if they do I dream of Jeannie they do a better job and stick with the original story.

Steam Boy 9/10:  Excellent anime set in the 1860's during the age of invention.  Rated pg-13 for animated violence but I would find it appropriate for younger children.  The story follows a new 'steam' based invention that was entrusted to a mans grandson to keep it away from those who would use it for war.

Finding Neverland 9/10:  Almost a 10, this drama is based on the times and life surrounding the creation of the original Peter Pan story.  Deeply moving it is hard not to feel for the characters in the story.  It is not a happy story, but it is a heartfelt one.

War of the Worlds 2005 8/10: I preferred the original.  The story follows that of a divorced father trying to save his children and get them to a safe area.  Though the characters had strong personalities- this seemed to detract from the alien invasion.  At points I felt like I was watching one of the Living Dead movies.  It was not exceptionally memorable and added nothing new to the original except for more special effects.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 8/10:  Confusing if you haven't read the books.  Rated pg-13 for violence but I think that was a bit of a stretch.  The children are somewhat involved with dating which is what I think really got it the pg-13 rating.  A lot was left out, SPEW and Weasleys gags- as such some of the story had to be changed to keep the original story moving along.  Definately a fun movie if you've read the books, but if you haven't be ready to be left going 'huh'?  This will probably become common for any new movies when they squeeze 800 page books down to two and a half hours.

The Cube Zero:  (6/10)  If you've seen either of the other two cube movies and enjoyed them feel free to add a few points to my score.  This takes place a short period of time before the original The Cube and explains a good deal (though not enough) of what's going on.  It's a prequel and made me want to watch the cube movies over again.  The movie is very violent and gorey.  The Cube, is basically a large labrinth of cubes people are thrown into after having their memories erased.  Some of the rooms are booby-trapped with deadly devices.  Those that are thrown into the cube try to get across to find the edge of the cube.  Each room has exits in the middle of each of their faces.  The Cube Zero probably would not appeal to anyone who has not seen the movies before.

Radio (7/10):  Based on a true story and as such is well told, however it is not always easy to relate with the characters.  It is only halfway through the movie that you find the Coaches motivation for caring for the mentally challenged boy.  There are numerous 'threats' against Radio but they are never really spelled out, just loose possibilites that are never really faced in the movie.  There are still several poignant moments where you can relate with Radio but it seemed that a lot of the story was missing while instead they focused on the sports teams with Radio's story as a side note.

Deuce Bigalow European Gigalo (6/10):  A somewhat amusing comedy set for the most part in Amsterdam.  It's raunchier than the first movie and there were a few laughs but it seemed to lose the reedeming qualities of most Happy Madison productions.  Not a horrible sequel but definately not in the vein of 50 first dates.  Jokes about homosexuality, unwitting pot use, americans and the war in iraq, and using public streets as restrooms.

Taxi (8/10): Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon make an amusing duo in this action comedy.  Latifah, is a taxi driver who has a problem obeying speed limits.  Fallon is a bungling police officer who could crash a car without starting it.  The story follows the pair meeting and going after bank robbers to redeem Jimmy Fallons position in the police force.

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GAMES

Disgae Hour of Darkness (9/10):  Tactical RPG in the vein of Orgre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics.  The game is similar to Phantom Brave with an amusing comical story that has no difficulties poking fun of itself.  A large range of possibilities in this game, from tons of playable characters (monsters and people alike), leveling up equipment, a senate that you need to petition for rank or more expensive items and than the game itself makes for a lot of game play.  The dialogue at time is a bit mature in a goofy way ( pokes fun at the main characters difficulty being around attractive females).  The main character is lord of the underworld and rules over demons- or at least tries to.  At times the difficulty level progresses rapidly and one most go back to earlier stages to get their characters leveled up.  If you enjoy non serious tactical RPG's this is a great game, if you like Phantom Brave you will love this (the random dungeons are instead used to level up items with a difficulty based on the item levels).  PS2. 

Star Wars Battle Front 2 (7/10):  Great looking game but with a harsh difficulty at points.  I haven't gotten far in the game but even early on I found myself at several points I could not pass.  Landing on the deck of an enemy ship leaves me crashing into the side half the time and unable even to get on with the mission.  If you have a lot of patience and enjoyed the first this game is for you, as for me I don't enjoy playing the same scene that takes 10 minutes over and over again unless it's a major turning point.  PS2

Civilizations IV (9/10):  Great continuation of the Civilizations series but with a number of changes that may leave people irked.  First, you need a graphics card to play this game due to the pixel shader requirements.  The game looks good and the abilities of the workers have been drastically increased.  However, I find that it's far easier just to automate my workers than direct them since they can make dozens of new improvements that I quickly lost track of.  The need for diverse troops are greater in this edition since the strengths and weaknesses of forces play off each other similar to paper-rock-stone.  Even though they have a basic attack rating, your troops have bonuses versus specific enemies.  A 12 attack granadier can readily take out a 15 attack riflemen because they have a 50% attack bonus versus riflemen.  The game also seems much shorter this time around and can be played out in 3 hours to a victory.  You also have more selections now than just selecting a type of government which has a lot to do with gameplay.  Religion is also in the game and can help or hamper your relations with other powers (other religions will consider you misguided pagans).  A worthwhile addition to the Civiliations turned based strategy series but may leave a few players left in the dust (if it runs on their older computers).

 

 

Stop Screwing Around With Things You Don't Rightly Understand

Brief random words that I jotted down during yet another fit of insomnia. 

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Stop Screwing Around With Things You Don't Rightly Understand

+++

 

What's more real than real (is real)

while sitting around with the hangman on the deal

aces high when the jokers are low

preacher in the middle speaks gruffly and slow

one hand on the dice the other on chips

DJ man spins coins as the children do flips

tarot readers with prophetic zeal

page history like a zodiac wheel

poster children of a future to come

half seeing knots waiting to be undone

glass is half full on an empty gut

in times of peace speach writers in a rut

words meaningless with no chains to bind

flip the tape over and press rewind.

 

Zombies

Here's a short story I've tried from a couple of different angles in the past but wrote here mostly from scratch.  It's 4:30 am and I just finished it so no editing and not even one read through heh.  Inspired to do writing this late in part by shastas nice comment on life or love.  Thank you shasta.

The story takes place some few decades in the future in a military outfit with no particular nation.

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ZOMBIES

 

 

  Chief Medic First Class Roberts took his time inspecting the line of new medics fresh from boot camp.  Their plain sand suits wouldn’t stay that way for long in the weeks ahead as rank and special areas of focus clouded out their simple identification.  Nations of origin were represented as flags below their serial numbers.  The only real tie to who these cadets are was a simple embroidered first name above the left pocket.  Eighteen year old boys and girls, that looked about ready to go into convulsions if not let loose to fidget.

  “At ease cadets!”  Roberts’ gruff voice echoed throughout the hallway, vacant save for these twenty new faces.  Immediately following his command, and with a brief moments of hesitation-sighs came as puffed out chests and straighter than healthy postures released to a more relaxed state.  “I will be your first instructor until you decide or are placed in an area of expertise.  It is my job to see that you have the full overview of what it means to be a Medic in this army.  And I do not accept failure.”

  Realizing that the last statement may have come out a bit harshly, Roberts’ sought to offer them some praise.  “You made it through basic, which I certainly could no longer do.”  The Chief Medic ran his hands down his quite large stomach, patted them once and placed his arms back at his sides while walking before these cadets.  “And you all scored exceptionally well on your exams- otherwise I would never have accepted you into my barracks.  Our job here is to save lives, not to better our own.  If you wanted fame and glory you would have gone infantry, if you wanted power and money it would have been command.  Yet you decided on one of the most undervalued teams in the military and I salute you for that.”

  The children before Roberts were finally relaxing, and realizing that this wasn’t going to be like their old commander.  His job was to make them fit for any possible service the country could want for them, Roberts task was to take the material he had been given and sculpt the best medics he possible could.  And for that he needed a loose environment where people could think for themselves and not feel pressured by authority when it came down to saving a leg, or a life.

  “First off, are there any questions you cadets would like to ask?  Something about what is expected from you here?”  Roberts knew what the question would be, it was the same when he was a cadet and every year since.

  “Sir,” one brave girl asked far off to the right with only the merest hint of nervousness to her voice. 

  Glancing down at some paper work he glanced up again in her general direction.  “Cathy is it?  What’s your question?”

  “It’s about the zombies sir.”  Cadet Cathy spoke a little more quietly this time.  The girl standing next to her, must be a friend, poked her in the side.  A muffled ouch came from the little incident and the rest of the cadets were whispering to each other excited and quietly.

  “Ghost stories, is it?  No questions about pay ranks, time off, or barrack relationships?” Chief Roberts who has done this for a good five years now knew how to play to an audience.  “I’m sure the other cadets would rather discuss more practical matters wouldn’t they?”

  Almost as once they answered, “No Sir!”

  A smile danced at Robert’s lips.  “Well who can tell me what a zombie is?”

  “The walking dead!”  Some cadet spoke up and was met with a quick, “shut up Randy.”

  “It’s the phrase for combat troops who are walked back to base by their suits and are already dead.”  One of the more aggressive girls responded as if each word was a sentence in itself.

  “Well now, that’s only half the truth though.  What’s your name young girl?”  Roberts walked the line until he was standing in front of her.

  “Sally, sir.”  She tried to hide the offense taken at being corrected in her eyes, which peered outward a bit too defiantly and unfocused.

  “Well Sally, sure there is that.  Every poor soul lost on the field of battle comes back and is a zombie … but not everyone of them is a Zombie.”  Roberts stress the letter z much harsher the second time around.  “Can anyone tell me what a Zombie is?”  Again stressing the word.

  The kid who made the walking dead comment spoke up, “Someone who died in their suit, but never really left it sir.”

  Sally turned to the speaker forgetting her commanding office and erupted, “that’s nothing but a ghost story to scare homesick kids at the barracks!”

  “Well now, I don’t generally consider myself the superstitious kind young Sally, and every single outfit has some story to tell about them dead soldiers still in their suits.”

  “Do we sir?”  It was the same kid again- name by Randy.

  “Well son, that was just the question I was waiting for someone to ask.”

 

 

  “The exoskeleton suits were first designed to help soldiers carry more weight.  Fire power and tactical displays and better armor.  With a suit on a man can carry five times his weight and run three times as fast.  It wasn’t until later when some higher up realized we could get wounded soldiers off the field and back into action faster by programming the suits to return to base.  Unfortunately, we ended up getting more dead soldiers coming back than live ones.  They’d stroll nonchalantly into camp- even be greeted by friends.  It wasn’t until the suits were pulled off that their friends realized they had been welcoming back corpses.  Most returned troops were like that, dead- and being such a ghastly experience, patting a walking corpse on the back- someone invented the phrase zombie.  For a time they wanted to kill the return program in the suit, it unsettled the troops- but it was felt that even getting the suits cleaned up, back in the field on another soldier was worth the distress.  So here we medics are today, most of the time prying bodies out of the exoskeletons and getting them ready again for service, but often enough we do end up saving a life that would otherwise have been lost.  So it isn’t like y’all will be working in a morgue or anything of the sort.”  Robert’s took a breath before going into the real story.

  “Now several years back when I was only little older than you are now, I was sent out for my first real experience at what was thought to be a small operation.  An easy assignment my friends told me, they couldn’t have been more wrong.”

  “There was a small camp of terrorists located in some hell hole desert.  Even in the morning it was hot at that time of year, still the decision was made for a dawn strike.  Three of us medics were up drinking coffee as one by one the small group of a dozen soldiers packed themselves into their suits and jokingly told us they’ll be seeing us soon.  Of course no one was worried about much more than a stray bullet.  Considering the easy exercise most of them were first timers as were us medics.  Save for John.  He was an old guy who refused to pick up a teaching job or retire.  Kept talking about saving lives- so managed to pass a medical exam every year to stay on the job.  He’d laugh when us novices spoke up about zombies.  See, he had been around since long before the suits.  His attitude was better get them in the tent where it’s nice and cozy than running stretchers out into the killing zone.  Of course for his age he wasn't stationed in many big fights, but every battle we went into he acted as if we were storming Normandy.”

  “They were about an hour out or halfway to the enemy camp when we all heard commotion coming from the communications tent.  So of course being bored ourselves, we made our way there.  The techie at the computer was busy trying to hold several conversations at once and didn’t notice us coming in.  John realized what was going on first.  They had a freaking EMP mine.  That’s electromagnetic pulse for any of you who slept through basic warfare.  We didn’t even think about a group of terrorists having access to one at the time.  And in any conflict the EMP was likely to do as much damage to both sides.  For awhile there had been talk of keeping a regiment of soldiers with bows and arrows just in case of an all out non-electrical war, but no one took it seriously.  The best we did in those days was to hold half our soldiers back, ready to be deployed if the rest were knocked out of action.  Those suits are heavy and after being hit by one there’s no chance of soldiers picking themselves up under their own strength.  Seemed like near everyone just stood there in thought for more minutes than had passed for a new cry to come from another station.  They were being slaughtered.  All around the position men with antiquated machine guns were blasting into the heap of piled up suits.  The chief communications officer was calling in air support but it would take time to get there.”

  “My only thought was, they’re all going to be killed.  I was so busy thinking of all those poor kids that I didn’t notice John had left the tent until someone else brought in to my attention.”

  “Some soldier pointed out at one of the security screens and said, what’s that guy doing- isn’t that the medic.  Following his line of sight, I saw it was John dressed up in a half broken down suit running full speed towards the fight.  Someone tried to call into John to tell him to stand down and return to camp but there was something wrong with his suits communications system.  The best we could get was the video feed from his visor as he continued on towards the battle, unarmed save for his medical kit.”

  “There was nothing for us to do until the helicopters came in to clean out the terrorists so we could get to the scene.  This was supposed to be a silent operation after all, with a focus on getting prisoners and intelligence.  There was nothing on standby to help us out.  So we watched as John made it to the scene and started cutting the soldiers out of their suits.  Many were still alive, thanks to the suits armor- but none were totally unscathed.  Psychologically these kids were tormented, unable to move enough to even turn their heads, but with bullets flashing all around them.  The terrorists were shouting something but most of the soldiers didn’t know enough Arabic in those days to understand it.  It was just a hail of dust and yelling and bullet sprays until John started cutting them free.”

  “We all expected John to go down fast, after the second body the terrorists quickly realizing he was unarmed turned their attention to him.  Yet his armor must have held out since he managed to free another soldier before the helicopters finally arrived.”

  “That was our cue, we hopped into a transport truck with our supplies and rushed off with barely a word spoken.  John really had inspired us and we didn’t want to look like slackers.  When we got to the site several wounded soldiers were hunched up on the side of a ridge and John was working on getting the rest free.  We went right to work on the wounded, getting them patched up as much as possible, and with that done we went to see if John needed any help.  He didn’t say anything and just continued working along, so we figured he was irritated at us for taking so long.  He was single minded and deftly took apart the joints of the suits to get the soldiers free, only taking the time to lay them down and moved on to the next.  For a moment we stood transfixed but a sense of duty called us back to work so we went to another soldier still trapped.”

  “We counted ourselves lucky, either due to Johns intervention of just blind luck none of the soldiers died that day.  Some were pretty badly wounded, but it was almost a miracle considering the blind trap they had walked into.  Imagine a group of terrorists, not even an organized army- having something as hard to come by as an EVP mine.”

  “At any rate we were finishing up with the last soldier, getting ready to transport everyone back to base, when Johns suit curled in on itself and fell to the ground.  We assumed it was cause the suit was in disrepair and out of power as we hurried over to cut our own comrade out.”

  “We tried to talk to John, saying we’d get you out in a second- but he didn’t answer us.  It didn’t make sense still being mad at us at a time like this.  Neither of us knew him that well but it still didn’t fit.  Only when we got the suit open, did we realize, he was dead.”

 

  Roberts paused for a few moments listening to see if any of the cadets had anything to say.

  “But when did he die?”  One spoke up hopefully in the back.

  “Well that’s the funny part, seeing as how his suit was already half busted when he put it on- it didn’t keep track of his vitals.  So maybe he died from wounds right when we were finishing up and the suit didn’t know what else to do so it shut down.  Maybe he had been shot up pretty bad before the helicopters came in to clear the terrorists off.  Some people even claim he had died when he first got to the scene, but somehow his suit knew to keep going.”

  “But what do you think Chief Medic?”

  “Well, I see it that John would have done anything to save those soldiers and if it was within his power he wouldn’t let a little thing like death stop him.”  Roberts rolled up his sleeve and noticed the time.  “Seems it’s gotten later than I thought, alright cadets off to the barracks.”  A series of moans came from the squad who wanted to hear more.  “Plenty of time for stories another day.  Tomorrow you have to be up bright and early to begin training on how to remove the exoskeleton suits.  Pleasant dreams.”  With that the Chief Medic turned on his heels and marched off to his own room for the night.

 

 

      

 

 

 

      

 

 

 

Life or Love

Heres my attempt at a drama I churned out this evening.  I've tried it several times before and this is a condensed version which hopefully is less disney than my previous attempts.  I didn't do any editing yet so forgive languge errors.  The story I think is a good one though the telling may leave much to be desired.  It's about 8 pages or so but I think the other two things I wrote today are better and shorter.  Shadows and The Last Humans.  I have 30 pages towards this story somewhere but this is a bit more mature though I left out some parts which may be important in the plot development.  I tried to keep the most important twists and I hope someone can see the point of it.

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Life or Love

 

 

  Bob strode confidently down the parks path, letting the leaves crackle gently underfoot.  ‘I love this time of year,’ thinks Bob as a brief winds gust sends leaves skyward as if a plaid rainbow.  Whistling some random tune between pursed and slightly chapped lips he is almost oblivious to the distraught woman at one of the parks benches.  For a moment, he is embarrassed at his noise while thinking the park to himself but then he notices her downcast eyes.  ‘Guess she didn’t notice me.’  About to take another step, Bob stops himself and decides for a change of character to see if he can be of help.

  Bob is not what you would call a handsome man, or even an intelligent man.  He has ambitions but like so many people, they’re of the sort best left unfulfilled.  At a modest five foot six inches with close to balding dark hair and a bit of a belly Bob hardly stands out in a crowd.  A journalist by trade might invoke some pride, but Bob’s work tends to be about cats rescued from trees and boy scouts helping out at the old folks home.  Possessed of a modest income, and a modest life except for his occasional reverie in the park, in autumn.  That just about sums Bob up.  He had the standard family and the standard flat above a deli that was friendlier to its customers than their food was.  It wasn’t a bad life, no one expected much from Bob and in turn Bob didn’t expect much from himself.  He considered it a fair trade.

  Yet here he was, alone in his favorite park with a woman who has yet to notice him and appears close to tears.  So borrowing from his favorite male roles from movies and books he softly approached her and asked if he could be of assistance.

  “Oh, excuse me- I didn’t think anyone else was here.”  The girl looked up to take Bob in and then looked down again.

  “Is there anything I can do to help?”  Bob asked trying not to be distracted by what Bob would latter describe to himself as perfect looks.

  “I don’t know, it’s my dog- I must not have had the leash on tight enough and he ran away.”  Meekly she held up the brown leash and let it rest on her legs again.  “I’ve been calling for hours but he won’t answer.  He might have been hit by a car or had rocks thrown at him by kids.”  The girl choked on these words, obviously the dog meant a lot to her.

  “What’s his name, maybe I can find him?”  Bob had mixed emotions about seeing this girl so upset, but decided it’s best to take one thing at a time. 

  “Fido,” She paused for a moment and spoke up louder this time.  “I know it’s corny as hell but a friend kinda dumped him on me suddenly and it was the best I could come up with in short notice.” 

  “Fidos, a fine name for a dog.  I think I know what will do the trick, just wait here for a minute and I’ll be right back.”

  “No need to come back.  I’m near giving up myself.”  She was near tears.

  “I promise I’ll be right back and when we find your dog you’ll have to tell me your name.”

  She smiled a beautiful smile for a moment and said, “No promises, but I’ll await your return oh Knight of yore.”

  Thinking himself as a Knight amused Bob as he jogged to the local deli and picked up a large steak.  The owner, unused to having one of his favorite customers in such a rush and requesting an uncooked hunk of meat was bemused and was about to ask the question when Bob cut in with a quick, “can’t explain, trying to help someone find a dog, tell you about it later.”

  “Is this someone a woman?” George called out to the door closing behind him  ‘Would be nice for Bob to meet a lady, he’s lived around here long enough and a bachelors life at his age is unseemly.’  Thinking of what his wife would say George smiled and got back to preparing sandwiches for the lunch rush.

 

  As Bob rushed up to the woman left on the park bench with a bloody steak in one hand she got up as if to leave.  Startled by this seemingly nice guy turned into a complete psycho.  Bob caught the look in her eye and quickly started to explain his plan.

 

 

  “I had a dog once, and whenever he wouldn’t come inside all I did was put a piece of steak down at the front door and he came running.”  Remarked Bob as he walked beside the woman who had accepted his explanation with some reservations.  “Fido!”  They called out while walking over Autumn’s blanket.  After several circles around the park a dog came up trying to pull the meat from Bob’s hand.  “Hey boy!”  Bob exclaimed at the happy looking dog before the woman picked the dog up and hugged it close.

  “Never ever do that again Fido,” she scolded severely after the moment of joy she had before. 

  “Dogs will be Dogs”, Bob commented with a shrug.

  “Now don’t you encourage him!”  The woman glared at Bob and then broke into laughter.  “Thank you so much!”

  “So how about it?”

  “How about what?”

  “Your name?”

  “Oh that, I guess you’ve earned it.  My names Susan.”  And with her dog under one arm she stuck her others out to shake Bobs, which happened to be coated in raw meat at the time.  Quickly he awkwardly stuck out his other hand, which made for a memorable though hardly manly shake. 

  “So Susan, think we can get dinner together sometime.  To celebrate Fido’s return?”

  “I don’t normally go out with men I just meet at the park.  Even when they do come to my rescue.”

  “Oh, you have a boyfriend.  I understand.”  Bob started to turn to walk away but was held back by Susan’s next comment.

  “No, no it’s nothing like that.”

  Half jokingly Bob said, “A girlfriend then?”  Immediately regretting the juvenile question when she herself laughed. 

  “No Bob, I’m quite straight.”  She paused momentarily.  “Well if you’re serious about going out sometime I’m fine with it- but it just has to be as friends, okay?”

  Not believing his luck with this beautiful woman Bob stammered out, “sure, how about tonight?”

  “Boy you are eager.  Yet it’s the least I can do for the man who saved my dog from certain danger.  How about this, you name the place and I’ll name the time.  I have to get Fido home and get changed anyways.”

  “What you’re wearing is great, it’s just a casual little deli nearby.  In fact that’s where I got the steak.”

  “Well I hope they also cook the food,” Susan laughed again.  A pleasant sound and one Bob was unfamiliar with.  “Okay, how about an early dinner- say five o’clock”. 

  “Great, I’ll see you there.  Just walk back up that way and it’s right across the street, you can’t miss it.”  Bob was pointing back in the direction he had originally come from.  “Or do you need a ride?”  Bob asked remembering some basic manners.

  “No, walking is fine.  I just live on the opposite side of the park as is, I’m surprised we haven’t run into each other before.”

  “It’s a big city.  We get used to seeing so many faces that we rarely remember any one of them.”

  “Isn’t that the truth, I’m from a small town myself.”  Reaching out to shake Bobs hand again proper Susan says, “Well it’s five then.  And thank you again with my dog.”

  Susan turned and started walking away, lecturing Fido the whole time on the difference between a good dog and a bad dog.  Bob however heard none of this as he just let it soak in, getting a date with this gorgeous woman. 

 

 

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  That evening was perfect.  George set him up in a private room off to the corner at no extra charge.  When Bob insisted on some money, George just replied-“For years of loyal customer service,” and with a wink “Good luck my friend.”  Even Georges rarely seen wife came out for this occasion.  “Bobby!  Let me get some wine out for you, and these candles are way too short.”  Twisting her head around she bellowed, “George you oaf get Bobby the nice candles.”  Turning back to Bob, she gave him some sound though unwanted advice on how to treat a lady and went back to the kitchen.

  George’s Deli was an intentionally simple name.  Up front they did look like little more than a meat shop slash one stop sandwiches- but in the back they really outdid themselves for casual dining.  George often commented to Bob in private that if people weren’t good enough to eat in a deli they weren’t good enough to eat in his restaurant.  True enough, this may have limited the restaurant reviews of George’s Deli- but he had good loyal customers and he had never wanted to open some uptown overpriced fancy spot where people wore dress coats and set up reservations.  It was why Bob loved the place, he could swing by the deli for a quick bite to take up to his apartment- or sit down and relax with good company. 

  Susan’s voice could be heard from the front deli asking if Bob was there.  George could be heard exclaiming, “Bobs date, you must be Susan.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”  All the while walking the poor woman to the private booth continuing the unending tirade.  “Bob’s a wonderful guy, just wonderful.  Did you know he’s a journalist?  And a damn good one if you ask me but all those editors throw at him are the light pieces.  They just don’t know a good thing when they got it, you know what I mean?”  Susan barely managed to make an assent while she was seated and with two candles lit and wine poured half full in crystal glasses George left the room- letting silence crowd it’s way in.

  “Geeze Bob I wasn’t expecting anything this fancy”, Susan said breaking the silence.

  “It was nothing, really.  George isn’t even charging me for all this.  Loyal customer and all.”

  “Hehe, well when I first walked into this place I wasn’t sure what to expect- but dang this is nice.  Why haven’t I been here before?”

  “It’s just the way they like it, it’s sort of a family type of place in case you couldn’t tell on the way in.  George knows everyone here by their first names.”

  “And gives everyone a private booth for free … “, Susan inquired

  “Well maybe not that far, but we go back a ways.  I get food here more often than the market, my cooking leaves much to be desired.”

  “Well that’s two things about you then.”

  “What two things?”

  “Well you can’t cook and George is in love with you.”  Susan spoke mischievously. 

  “Haha.  You better not let his wife hear you or she’ll serve us what I bought for Fido earlier.”

  “Hear what Bobby?”, just at that moment Gretchen, Georges wife stuck her head in to make sure everything was okay.

  Susan, being a quick thinker spoke up, “What a lovely place you all have hear.”

  “Oh my, just for that I’m throwing in my extra special desert for free.  You treat her right Bobby!”

  Another moment of silence and Susan asked Bob, “So Bobby, what does a girl have to do to learn something about the man she’s dining with?”  She stressed the name Bobby with a smile on her face.

  So Bob proceeded to tell Susan all the boring tidbits of his life’s history.  She let him talk all throughout the main course and it was only as desert arrived he realized he’d been hogging the conversation and still knew nothing about her.

  “What about you Susan?”  Bob inquired while slowly piercing the soufflé Gretchen had prepared for them.  “What’s your story?”

  “Nothing really, well there is one thing.  I have a secret but I don’t like to talk about it.”

  “A secret?  Well that sounds fun.”  Bob said almost too boisterously but the mood that struck the room after that told him it was the wrong thing to say.

  “Maybe one day.”  Susan muttered and took a sip of her wine.  They didn’t talk much after that and before long dinner was up and Bob offered to walk Susan home.  Worrying that he had done something wrong he feared her answer would be no, but instead she said that would be fine.

  Still they didn’t say much but as they neared her door Susan turned to Bob.  “That was a nice evening, I don’t think I’ve been treated so nicely in a long time.”  Hard to believe that this knockout wouldn’t have had much better companies than Bobs he could only manage to stammer a thank you.  “No, no I really mean it.  You were wonderful company and I’m glad to have met someone like you.”  Bob took this as a sign and started to lean over to kiss Susan softly on the lips.  Telling himself, ‘must not be too hard, and not too soft.  Are my lips moist enough?’  But it was for nothing for as he was about to complete his move Susan quickly reached over and gave him a loud smack on the cheek.  She then took her steps three at a time and called back, “thanks for the dinner Bob- hope we can do it again sometime.”

  Bob was dumbfounded thinking for sure he earned a good night kiss, but he also remember how much she stressed just being friends.  It was a good night anyways, and it was nice to have a woman’s company so he counted himself lucky and practically skipped the whole way back to his apartment.

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  Over the next few weeks Bob and Susan grew closer.  They spent near every day together doing everything from walks in the park to rides at a local fair.  Though no matter how close they became Susan refused to talk about her past.  After a few weeks while curled close on a couch Susan half asleep told Bob she loved him.  Bob was startled and began to move to kiss her but she said, ‘no’.  And that was that.  Bob was generally shy but kept feeling mixed signals from her.  How could she love him but not want to be with him?  Even something just as simple as a kiss.  He tried to get some answers from her, but every time the subject was brought up Susan got sullen and withdrawn.  He didn’t want to risk what he had with her, but he wanted so much more.

  It got to the point that he started to believe Susan was really married, or going through a divorce.  But he didn’t want to say such thoughts, but it was building up a wall between them.  Susan must have realized this but she hadn’t said anything, though her sadness was apparent.  Maybe it was something else, something horrible that had happened to her- yet even that subject he had no idea how to breech it.  Just when he was about to give up Susan told him her parents were coming to town. 

  “They’re so judgemental!”  Susan exclaimed over coffee.  “I can’t stand being around them though I love them dearly.  They always talk about a bleak future and that’s something I try not to think about.”  Bob was shocked as he never imagined Susan to be an optimist, but realized this was his moment to find out more about her.  “I could go with you, maybe it will be easier on you if I’m there.”  A wide range of emotions crossed Susan’s face and she was left speechless.  “I’m not expecting anything Susan, I do care for you but I understand for whatever reason you can’t commit to me.  But first off, I’m your friend and I don’t mind meeting your family just as that.”  Susan hesitated for a moment and then wrapped her arms around Bob in a great big hug.

  “I can’t promise you you’ll like it, but I guess if you’re there that takes half the suffering off of me right?”  Her eyes looked hopeful and Bob echoed along with her “right”.

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  The evening with Susan’s family started off as a quiet affair.  Susan and her mother were busy in the kitchen while her father and Bob sat across from each other not saying much.  Bob was busy toying with his beer when her father spoke up.

  “You know she’s not right for you don’t you?”

  “What do you mean?”  Stuttered Bob.

  “I don’t buy this friendship act in the least, you’re falling in love with her and I’m telling you she’s no good for you.”

  Bob stood up from the table and with a voice way too loud said, “How can you say that about your own daughter?  Is that why she has such a hard time with commitment?”

  All her father did was laugh.  A sad laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.  “Well if Susan hasn’t found the time to tell you about her little problem than I’m not going to break it to you.  You seem like a fine enough guy and under different circumstances I’d be proud to have my daughter interested in someone like you.  But these aren’t different circumstances and you have no future with my daughter, my daughter has no future with anyone- and you should get that through your thick skull of yours.”

  “I’m just trying to be a good friend,” Bob meekly replied.

  “And Susan needs friends to be sure, but it can be nothing more than that.”

  Bob felt like he was in some twilight zone episode.  What is wrong with this father, what type of person could talk that way about his own child.  Susan was perfect as far as Bob was concerned, and though she kept something from him- nothing could be that bad.  A moment later Susan’s mother, who had overheard the conversation stepped into the room.  “Now, Fred.  We promised Susan we would be polite to her young friend.”  Though the words were polite she stressed the word friend just a bit too much.  Bob was near demanding answers when Susan entered the room in a white apron.

  “Dinners served”.

  It was a meaningless dinner with meaningless conversation that left Bob fuming.  Certainly Susan had heard what was said, why didn’t she stand up for herself.  She certain stands up to me quite well.  The dinner was fast and proper and before Bob knew it the parents were getting ready to go.  Susan stood back to clear the dishes and for once in the whole evening her dad was approaching civil.

  Extending his hand, he said, “well it was nice to meet you and I’m sorry if I sounded a bit harsh earlier.  I really do love my daughter.”  Without waiting for a reply he turned to the door and walked out.  Susan’s mother unexpectedly hugged Bob and whispered in his ear, “though I don’t agree with how my husband said it- it needed to be said.  Don’t get any ideas about our daughter, she won’t do you any good.”

  And with that they both were out the door and left Bobs head spinning yet again.  Susan came into the room and tried to offer some apology but Bob was confused and near angry.  What was going on here?  Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything?  He managed to control his emotions enough to give Susan a hug and make up some excuse about work and began the long thoughtful walk back home.

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  Over the next few weeks Bob didn’t see much of Susan.  He was upset and felt betrayed.  That someone so close to him wouldn’t confide in him left his sleep restless.  All he thought of was Susan, but then that night kept replaying in his mind.  All those almost kisses, her professed love of him and than stating, “we’re only friends.”  It didn’t add up.  Bob normally didn’t expect much out of life, let alone an explanation of it all- but this was something that he should understand.  There was something he wasn’t seeing and it was eating him up inside.

  George tried to talk to him, even calling him as to why he hadn’t been in the deli later.  Bob, unlike his usual personable self snapped that he got a microwave and it wasn’t any of George’s business.  Finally with work piling up and the walls of his apartment becoming too familiar, Bob decided to go for a walk in the park.

  Nothing was the same anymore.  Autumn had passed and now there was snow on the ground, but even the park was no escape.  All he could think about was Susan- even now, and he had no idea what to say to her.  He couldn’t just start things up again with her, without some excuse- no matter how much he might want to.

  Turning the corner he saw a group of paramedics on the other side of the park hovering over someone.  Not used to such events in the small corner park he walked forward to see what was going on.  A number of people were hovering around over the woman on the ground and as Bob pushed his way through he saw that it was Susan unconscious on the ground.

  Rushing forward now to where the paramedics stood who looked as if to tell him to stand back Bob cried out, “I know this woman- I love this woman.  What’s wrong with her?”

  One of the paramedics shook his head calmly and just stated, “Some mild complications.  She’ll have to go to the hospital.”

  “Then I’ll go with her!”  Bob stated as a fact.

  “We’re sorry sir, we can’t let non family members into the ambulance, but we can tell you where we’re taking her.”  The paramedic sounded honestly sorry but Bob couldn’t help the suspicion he knew more about Susan than Bob did.

  Bob quickly recited the hospitals name to himself, that’s just a few miles uptown and ran into the middle of the road to wave down a taxi.  Considering how wild Bob looked it was a wonder any would pick him up.

  On the way he made a quick stop at a flower shop and saw a stuffed animal that looked just like Fido.  ‘this will be perfect’, thought Bob, already forgetting the problems that caused him almost to give up all hope of Susan.

  Arriving at the hospital he barked at the receptionist for Susan’s room numbers and forced his way into an already overcrowded elevator.  The numbers blinked on and off so slowly and everyone around Bob noticed his agitation and backed away from him.  Leaving Bob the only person who wasn’t cramped in the elevator.  Finally the flood number he was given arrived and he whisked down the hall and into the room where Susan was being kept.

  To his surprise her mother and father were already there, holding each other and her mother openly crying.  It was a shock to see this display over their daughter when just the other night they were claiming she wasn’t good enough for anyone. 

  “What’s going on?”  Stated Bob with such authority Susan’s father had no choice but to look at him. 

  “I wish you wouldn’t find out like this Bob.  We both liked you and we love our daughter, but I wish you didn’t have to find this out.”

  “Find what out?  What is this big secret that Susan has?  She says she loves me and I love her.  What on earth could be so bad that it would keep us apart.”

  Another sob escaped Susan’s mom as she looked up at Bob with very sad eyes.  “Bob, our daughters HIV positive.”

  The toy dog dropped to the floor and bounced, quickly followed by the dozen or so roses precariously wrapped in a moment of haste.  His world was turned upside down.  This explains everything.  Everything.  But why didn’t she tell me?  Why did she let me fall in love with her knowing nothing could come by it!  This wasn’t fair.  I would still have been her friend.  He was sad and angry at the same time, worried and yet growing increasingly cold.  “Is she going to be okay?”  Bob asked as if it was just some random person.  This sent Susan’s mom to tears again while her father spoke up.

  “Yes, it was just a mild complication.  She’ll be fine- for now.”

  “Good”, Bob stated again coldly and turned to leave the room.

  “Wait, Bob- let us explain.” 

  “There’s nothing to explain.  Please give Susan my best when she wakes up.”  And with that last comment Bob walked into the dark dismal unfriendly city.

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  Bob attacked his work like a pro, but got no joy out of it.  His supervisors noticed the change in his writing style and he was promoted to more serious stories.  Dry accounts of rescued kittens and boy scout events were not going to move anyone to find some meaning in an otherwise dreary life.  He had served a purpose to the community in all his bungling but he had changed.  With little emotion he attacked the social problems of the city, the spread of STD’s became his forte’ and he vehemently opposed any attempt to put a piece of silver lining in his stories.

  “So what if new medicines extend life?  These people are all going to die.  It’s pointless to give them or their families false hope.”  His colleagues found it cruel but perhaps if they knew what was really getting to him they would have some sympathy for him as well.  What Bob could barely even admit to himself was he still loved Susan.  No matter what she did to him, which is how he still saw it- he couldn’t forget their time together and just wipe it away.  He knew she would die, if not this year than next- so he tried to totally erase all memories of her from his life.  But the more he worked at it the more it gnawed at him.  One day when interviewing someone from the local clinic on his new found strength he got up and left.  The interviewee was left there perplexed but with the raw rage surrounding Bob she thought better of it.

  Bob only meant to walk in the park and then walk home.  But as he came upon the bench he first met Susan upon, so fragile and innocent- all his rage turned to grief. There was no one to blame anymore.  No unseen devils to curse.  He couldn’t even blame himself anymore for his own stupidity for not seeing the obvious.  The fact was, nothing was obvious.  Love is not obvious.  Susan had pushed Bob away at every opportunity she could but it was Bob who persisted in a relationship.  And if Susan was gradually letting her guard down and falling for Bob as well, that was as much his fault as hers.  So he didn’t stop at the bench, didn’t even think about where he was walking to as these thoughts churned in his head.  His feet took on a mind of their own, and before he knew it he was at Susan’s front door.  Fido’s barking made him aware of where he was and he carefully reached up to ring the door bell.  Thinking better of it he was about to turn away when the door opened.

  Susan stood there as beautiful as ever and was startled to see Bob.  “Bob, I’m so sorry.”

  Bob’s thinking reached a climax and he stepped inside and took her in his arms.  “It’s okay Susan, it’s okay.  I was an idiot and never should have reacted like I did.”

  Susan let a tear fall as she said, “It’s okay Bob, I never expected to see you again.  I didn’t mean to cause you so much harm- but I really did care about you.”

  Bob turned to face Susan as he held her firmly across from him.  “Do you still?”

  Susan tried to look away, but Bob held on pushing the issue.  “Do you still love me?”

  She gave up trying to escape his searching eyes and squeaked, “Yes Bob, I still love you.”

  “Then marry me Susan!”

  “What, that’s just insane Bob, you know we can’t do anything- I’d never dream it even for a moment if it meant infecting another person.”

  “That’s just it Susan, life without you is nothing.  Empty.  I’d rather spend a few years with you than an eternity without.”

Shadows

Here's a horror kinda story I spit out this afternoon.  I've been toying with the idea several ways and originally wanted to make it into a more complex piece.  But I need work and figure short stories might teach me more (and be edited easier) than a larger project- and this gets the idea across.

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Shadows

 

 

  Slivers of yellow stream silken strands across a sheet of coal grey background.  Bright novas burst like paparazzi cameras blinding leaving burnt images behind.  Numbers come in sharp as if a firework, 306 and then dull out.  A voice whispered ‘elm’.  Waiting eternities in short moments and another crack of brightness and the same numbers appear and fade away followed by the single word.  All the while a steady metronome of a heart straining to break free of sweaty and captivated flesh wails aloud as if a banshee.  Dulled as if with ears covered with headphone the sound, thud-thud, is felt as much as it is heard.  As the sound approaches a fevered intensity, millions of tiny pings fall like drops of snow.  Ping, thud then a flash and the numbers 306 appear along with the solemn word.  Ping, thud and flash.  Over and over it builds until the dreaded moment.  As if a rake were being drawn across a blackboard the screech tears across all other sensations and Alice chokes down a scream as she sits upright in bed.

  Her hands clenched painfully around a clammy sheet.  Her breathes come in giant gulps as if she had been drowning.  As her eyes adjust to the darkness of her room, she finds the clock.  ‘Not again’, thinks Alice as her hands relax and she lets her head flop back down into a pillow coated with the remains of her nightmare.  “I’m never going to get a whole night of sleep!”  Alice exclaims to no one in particular, breaking the webbed aftermath of her troubled sleep. 

  It had been like this for several months now.  At first the dream was something to ponder in psych class.  A repetitive dream that held some special meaning for her life.  That was when it came only once every few weeks.  Now it was near nightly and more realistic.  It left Alice with a feeling of utmost dread, as if something horrible was about to happen.  She had tried pills, talking to a therapist, running a mile before bed every night- but it didn’t help.  It was a trial just to get to sleep at night, let alone make it through the next day.  Her grades had been steadily slipping and now it was spring break and time to visit home.  Alice had no idea how she would deal with her parents, they’ll probably think she was on drugs or had a boyfriend.  ‘How are they going to understand this haunting dream’, she asked herself.

  When the dream first came it didn’t leave a lasting impression.  Alice would awaken and within moments she would forget ever having a nightmare.  Increasingly though the images became clearer.  As if she was at the eye-doctors, each night a different looking glass- sharpening the letters on the wall across the room.  Every dream brought the still images into focus.  The letters, the sounds, each separate had an identity- but together they were abstract and senseless. 

  She turned to the digital plastic clock on the nightstand again and sighed.  ‘Great, four AM- I’ll never get back to sleep now.’  She switched off the alarm clock, set to the crack of dawn and rolled out of bed.  ‘Wish I had set my coffee maker an hour earlier’, Alice thinks as she tries to put her slippers on without falling back onto her mattress.  Stretching to the ceiling for a moment longer than was good for her lack of rest, she walks to her miniature kitchenette, turns on the light, and firmly presses the brew now button.  So hard in fact that her finger ached for a moment while she tried to decide whether to eat breakfast or not.

  Alice pulls on a pair of jeans over her long johns and a school sweat shirt over her tee.  ‘No sense getting all dressed up for the drive home’, she decides.  Pouring herself a bowl of cereal she glances over at the black coffee pot and shivers at the silver rim.  ‘So much like the nightmare, just that color of silver’.  She gets a hold of herself and fills her ceramic mug so full that she has to take several sips before risking the journey back to her short table.  Grasping for the remote with one hand and holding the coffee in the other she manages to find the local weather station. 

  Over spoonfuls of cereal Alice listens as the reporter goes on about a bad storm system moving in.  ‘Great, that is just my luck.  Maybe I’ll get home before it hits.’  She doubts this with the ten-hour drive ahead of her, but at least it keeps her from crawling back into bed.  Her breakfast finished, she quickly rinses out the bowl and checks to make sure she hasn’t left anything out that will grow mold over the weekend.  One last look around the apartment and after grabbing her luggage bag she quietly opens the door and shuts it behind her, checking the lock twice.

  The road trip was uneventful except for a good hour spent in a traffic jam.  As usual it was no problem with the road but people rubber necking an accident on the side.  Typically Alice paid no attention to such gruesome displays but this day she was oddly drawn to the bodies laid out on the stretcher.  Blood was noticeable on the victims face during her casual drive by, but she couldn’t tell if the person was alive.  To one side an oddly dressed man was trying to explain something to an officer who was only shaking his head.  A horn honked behind Alice and she realized she had stopped completely to see the grisly scene.  The officer glanced up from his interrogation and shaking his head in disapproval turned back to the offender, who was probably drunk.  Alice screws her face up to feign innocence and steps on the gas.

  A few miles out of town the storm started.  The sky suddenly became dark and rain splattered the roadway.  She was long since off the interstate and felt thankful she was almost home.  Reaching out to turn off the radio so she could concentrate on the road she paused as her eyes noticed the street sign alit by her headlights.  “Elm”, she manages to mutter but was unable to finish as the rain had turned to sleet and her car lost traction.  Skidding across the lanes at a slant, Alice fights to regain control of her car.  Two bright lights erupt blinding her momentarily and the dirty grille of a truck can be seen bearing down at her.  The numbers 306 can be made out before Alice’s nightmare suddenly comes into brilliant focus.  ‘My god, this is what I was seeing.’  She swings the cars wheel to the right and steps on the gas knowing it would do no good.  How else could she have seen this vision if she would survive this?

  The same screech runs out as metal crushes against metal, but only for a moment before Alice loses consciousness.  The trucker unharmed leaps out of his truck and rushes to see if he could help the girl.  When he sees her, he thinks better of this idea as her head was caught halfway through the windshield.  Trying to get back into his cab without losing his footing on the ice coated street, the trucker gets on the CB and frantically calls out for help.

   “She’s not going to make it, there’s no way she can survive this.”  Alice hears as the ground rumbles beneath her.  ‘I must be moving’, she thinks to herself and then tries to speak.  ‘I’m alive, I can hear you’-but her lips don’t even move.  Wrapped head to toe in bandages she feels a thud as they push her into the emergency room where she fades out of consciousness again.

  She dreams a dream that is not quite a dream.  In her non-dream Alice is dead.  A collection of memories and a driving will to do something, to warn herself.  She finds herself floating in her apartment, surrounded by familiar objects she somehow knew she could not touch.  They were as images on a television screen, flat and two-dimensional.  Gently she drifts into her bedroom and looks down at what was herself.  Asleep and peaceful, her old body the most real thing in this dream that was not quite a dream.  Alice struggles to voice the warning of things to come.  ‘Take the day off and leave early’, or ‘say you have too much work to do, stay at school.’  But such complex expressions were beyond Alice’s ethereal state.  Images, sounds, and sensations are all Alice can communicate.  She sees her living self shudder as the ideas flood her slumber.  The seed of the nightmare had been planted and still Alice cries out with voiceless imagery.  ‘The truck and the sleet and the road where it happens, I must get these across’.  So she yells in pictures and sounds until the slumbering Alice erupts from her nightmare and the dead Alice disappears. 

-------------------------

  Alice’s family stands around her bedside along with the resident doctor on call.  He was carefully explaining that there may be some brain damage from swelling but it most likely would not be permanent.  Alice heard all this but felt it odd.  ‘I’m dead’, she thinks,’ why are they talking like I’m alive?’

  Her father was first to notice her increased breathing and her opened eyes.  “Look, Alice is awake.  Oh my dear Alice-I thought we had lost you.”  Tears of relief pooled at the corners of his eyes as he gazed down at his daughter. 

  ‘Such a handsome face my father has, it’s a shame that I have to tell him the truth’, Alice thinks before opening her dry mouth.  “But Father, you did lose me.”

  Silence flooded the room and all eyes turned to the doctor while Alice simply murmured under her breath, “Elm Street, truck, don’t go Alice … don’t go.” 

  Calmly the Doctor waved the parents into the hallway.  “I’ve never seen this before, there is nothing physically that should cause this problem.  Perhaps it’s some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.  I could get a psychologist up here if you want?”

  At the word psychologist Alice’s father’s face paled, but after looking back at his muttering daughter he nodded in ascent, though his eyes were downcast. 

 

 

  “Alice do you know where you are today?”  A woman’s voice pulled Alice down from some plane of reality best left misunderstood. 

  “I’m in a hospital, I was in a car crash.”  Alice’s voice was tentative and unsure.

  “That’s right, you’re in a hospital- but the car crash was seven months ago.  You’re all healed up now.”  Alice turned to face the speaker who was only a few years older than she was.  A pretty face but perhaps a bit plain and grave as if something was terribly amiss. 

  “Several months ago?  I just saw my parents a moment ago.”  Alice was trying to be helpful but with the look of consternation on the woman’s face it must not be working.

  “We’ve been through this before Alice.  I’m a psychologist.  You’ve been here in the Psych ward since shortly after your accident.  Your parents come to visit you near every day.”

  “A psych ward?  But what am I doing here for a car accident.”

  “Perhaps we should get to that later Alice.”

  “No, I think I should know this now!”  Alice asserts while sitting up from the bed she was in.  Noticing a slight sting of pain as various wires and tubes stretched at her skin.

  The psychologist sighs, fearing the same thing happening as it has in the past- but hoping perhaps this time will be different, she decides to be upfront about it.  “Alice, you’ve been here because you keep saying you’re dead.”

  Alice’s eye’s close for a moment and she slides back down onto the hard hospital bed.  “That’s right, I’m dead.  I almost forgot.”  Then Alice goes back to saying the same phrase over and over again as if she was talking to someone else.

  Alice’s psychologist looks down at her pad and makes a note.  ‘No matter what I try she keeps slipping back into psychosis.  It doesn’t make any sense.’  The psychologist gets up to leave while Alice mutters, ‘no Alice don’t be afraid-I’m trying to help you.’

   

                   

 

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