Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fluffin and the Fish

Fluffin stretched his legs and wriggled his long toes in the cool riverbank muck.  He would go no deeper here, he knew that the current in the river proper was far too fast and strong.  Rabbits are fair swimmers and like most furry forest animals they enjoy a dip in warm weather.  Despite an enthusiasm for swimming, a rabbit's small hands and narrow feet make poor paddles.  And so Fluffin knew better than to try his luck in the quick river even on the hottest day.

Luckily for Fluffin, the river itself was not the only option.  The remains of a beaver dam had created a small sheltered eddying pool that was the perfect depth for a rabbit bath.  Grainy silt had swirled around the downriver portion to form a soft rounded rim over which fresh cool water continuously lapped.  The resulting small basin was protected from the current on the upriver side by a tangle of branches and thickly packed mud.  The old beaver dam had been as formidable a piece of architecture as could be found in the forest at one time.  It was only through seasons of abandonment that the dam's center had succumbed to the steady press of the river.  Fluffin and a host of birds, frogs, and other small critters had been utilizing the cozy little whirlpool all summer long.

Fluffin had just waded in waist deep and was busy picking panicked fleas from his belly when a firm wet slap sent him spiraling under with a splash.  Rabbits aren't fighters.  Like most furred vegetarians, they startle easily, run first and fast, and only pause to consider the threat when they are well and truly away.  Fluffin shot out of the water like a rocket and it wasn't until he had beaten a wet path to the edge of the clearing that the sopping bunny risked a backwards glance.

The small pool was roiling and boiling, great splashes popping up and slapping back down into the churning brown mess.  This went on for a few moments as the curious rabbit watched, but then there was calm.  Fluffin's sharp eyes spotted the culprit of this chaos.  A heaving black fish with long shining whiskers around its mouth occupied the center of his bath, inky lidless eyes flashed just above the troubled surface.

A fish!  Only a fish.  Fluffin looked sheepishly at the wet trampled grass that marked his hasty escape.  Still, as his mother constantly reminded him, better to be fast than food.

"Say there, uh, fish, you've smacked me in the face", Fluffin called out, "And that is my pond you're in", he added a little more boldly.

The fish's voice came out thick and muddy but haughty, "Well I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to be, I belong in the open sea", Fluffin looked doubtfully at the small river but the fish continued without pause, "It is poor luck and treachery that bring me to this... wooded burgh, I assume you are the owner of this area?"  The fish groaned and gurgled and rolled his wide head and one fin back and forth in a way that vaguely indicated the immediate clearing.

"Oh I don't own the..." began Fluffin, but not quickly enough.

"Of course you wouldn't own the entirety of the woods or river, the woods are far too large for a young animal such as yourself to hold sway over effectively, and this river, as you must know, goes to the sea and the sea is never the domain of furred creatures", the fish carefully rolled his r's, "But you did mention that this puddle was yours, did you not?"

"Well, yes, but not..."

This time the interruption came not from the fish, but from a fat marbled tabby who had managed to approach the frustrated rabbit and chatty fish unnoticed.

"You going to eat that?", inquired the cat with a purr, the fish frantically splashed to the far end of the shallow pool, his thick tail and sides twitching just under the muddy water.  Fluffin opened his mouth to respond but closed it quickly as the fish had yet again beaten him.

"Of course not, cat, everyone knows rabbits do not eat fish, and if this small thing were to try and eat me he'd get a taste of my razor sharp barbs and soon think better of it!"  With this the fish wriggled his thick neck and head and his long whiskers waved lazily under the water's surface.

"Oh, well if you're not going to eat him," the cat blithely ignored the fish and responded directly to Fluffin, "I will.  If you'll fetch him for me, as I cannot get wet, I'll let you eat from my farmer's garden.  Plenty of delectable treats there for a rabbit like yourself, don't be foolish, let's have this done."

"Fetch me?  I dare say he shall not!  See here, bunny, if you help me escape this accursed bath, I will bring you treasures the likes of which you've never imagined!  There is a whole world of wonders to behold in my home, the sea!"  The fish managed to spit out the word "bath" in a way that was vaguely offensive to Fluffin, though he couldn't quite understand why.

"I don't have all day", chided the cat, "my farmer grows carrots and celery and lettuce, horrible to taste though I enjoy rubbing against them," the cat paused to leisurely lick a chubby paw before going on, "I've drawn blood from more than a few rabbits who were fond enough of our crops to risk my claws for a nibble, I'm certain it would be a good trade for you.  A fish you cannot eat for a feast."

"What kind of treasures, fish?", asked Fluffin, stepping into the pond.

"Oh rabbit", said the fish, more animated than ever, "You cannot even begin to guess at what treasures lay at the tips of my fins were I able to leave your confining and yet very comfortable pond!"  The fish's tone had warmed somewhat.

Fluffin had been wanting to give his mother a present, and it would be very impressive if he returned to the burrows laden with unimaginable treasures and wonders from the great open sea.  Fluffin wondered what a treasure or a wonder looked like, and thought today he would find out.

The little rabbit fluffed his chest and made his announcement.  "I will help you escape, fish!"  The cat shrugged, stretched, and strolled away into the forest without a word.

"You will not regret this, brave and kind rabbit, may I have the pleasure of your name?  You are the smartest and most wise creature it has ever been my great and profound good fortune to meet!"

"Fluffin", grunted the rabbit as he struggled to push the heavy fish over the basin's sandy rim and into the deep river current.

"You'll have to pull me, use my whiskers, and I'll be over in no time!", suggested the fish helpfully.  This seemed practical to Fluffin, he positioned himself on the rim and gripped the slippery black tendrils in his small paws.

It worked!  In a flash, the fish's body was atop the rim and ready to slide down into the fast moving water on the other side.  With a wide grin and a flick of his strong tail, the fish shot past Fluffin, who unfortunately still held a barbed tendril in one paw.  The little rabbit was jerked in with a splash and tumbled head over tail along the rocky floor of the quick river, trying and failing to get purchase with his paws on either the bottom or the surface that shimmered tauntingly above.  It wasn't until the nearly drowned Fluffin was swept round a bend that he was buffeted against the bank and able to grab onto a reed.

The haughty fish was nowhere to be seen.  Fluffin climbed onto the bank and collapsed in a panting wet heap.  Again, the rabbit didn't notice the cat's quiet approach until it lay stretched out beside him.  "So how was the treasure?  Was it unimaginable?", asked the cat, grinning.

"I'm sorry we couldn't make the trade, cat.  I'm sure the fish will be back with his portion of the bargain we struck,"  Fluffin looked up and down the river anxiously, "he was very enthusiastic about his offer, after all, and I'm certain he must have been in a very big hurry to get to the sea and collect my reward or else of course he would have helped when I fell in."

"Oh of course, of course," purred the cat.  "Don't worry about me, rabbit, one meal is as good as the next.  I ate a few baby birds.  I don't mind waiting with you, I'm anxious myself to see your prize."

It wasn't until the shadows from the trees on the far side of the river stretched across to lay their chill on the pair that the cat suggested what they both were thinking.

"Little rabbit, it looks like the fish might not be coming back with your reward."

Fluffin hopped to the bank and sent his powerful rabbit sight up and down the river as he had done repeatedly in the hours previous.  "But why would he offer those things?", he lamented woefully, and not for the first time.   "I didn't ask for unimaginable wonders and treasures, the fish set the terms himself.  If he had only asked for help and offered nothing, I'd have given it."

"Well", suggested the cat in an uncharacteristically kind voice, as he'd grown fond of the rabbit, "How could the fish be sure of your help?  If you'd no intention of paying and your life hung in the balance, what might you offer?"

"I suppose," responded Fluffin, somewhat soothed.  "That doesn't explain why he swam away after I fell in the river."

"Oh," replied the cat.  "That one is easy.  He's a dick."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fluffin and the Owl

Fluffin knew what an owl was, and he knew the owl that lay before him.  This was the great clawed bird that had swooped from the sky to snatch up the young rabbit's dear sister and only friend, Mari.  It had happened just after twilight as the pair hopped towards the raised tuft of grass that marked their burrow.  Mari had been behind Fluffin.  Just a swoosh and a shriek later, and the tawny little doe was hanging limp from hooks that soared impossible miles above.  Fluffin gave chase but could not keep up with the shadow of the snowy white bird as it glided over the plains and vanished in the murky woods. 

The rabbit returned home alone and remained so, despite the attempts of his brothers and mother to comfort him.  When someone is truly lost, everything they were and did and everything they could be is gone with them, swept up and away.  Worse than that, everything they felt and thought is also vanished forever.  Fluffin had spent his days in play with Mari and his nights snuggled against her soft belly.  He was Mari's favorite thing.  The feeling of being someone's favorite is not so easily replaced.  Fluffin's mother and brothers may have felt a sorrow, but they could not have felt his sorrow.  They had lost one of many, while Fluffin had lost his only. 

All of that had happened the previous Fall, and Fluffin had since grown faster and stronger.  A lone rabbit has to be fast and strong because a lone rabbit is always afraid.

The white owl lay on her side, one great speckled wing stretched beneath her like a downy mat and the other bent awkwardly behind.  Fluffin could see that the owl had also broken a leg in her descent down through the thick tree limbs above, or perhaps in what must have been a very hard landing.  He knew the bird had fallen because there were broken branches and leaves scattered about.  The weary bird's chest began heaving rapidly when she realized she was not alone and Fluffin could see a tiny dark and glistening spot just at the base of her neck.

"Who's there?  I'll eat you up!"  The owl coughed fine crimson spray onto her quivering wing.

Fluffin had been watching the wounded murderess for a while and was certain she could not move.  He crept towards her, stopping a few hops shy of her hooked beak.  "I am Fluffin, I am going to kill you, owl", the brown rabbit stood as tall as he could and puffed out his chest.  His shoulders were barely the height of the owl's body laying down, but Fluffin felt that under the circumstances he must still be very imposing to the helpless beast. 

This time the crimson spray hit Fluffin square in the face as the owl let out a laugh that ended with another strangled cough.  "Oh little rabbit, why should you want to kill me?  What a good joke!  I'm already nearly dead, and rabbits do not eat owls.  Though it would be just my luck today to meet one who does!"  A red rivulet ran from the tiny dark spot on the owl's neck.  "Please go away and let me die in peace, rabbit.  I haven't much time left and you've had your fun."

"I don't want to eat you!" shouted Fluffin, his dander up.  "You killed my sister!  You murdered her and so now I am going to murder you!" Fluffin hopped back and forth menacingly, his tiny chest still puffed and his teeth bared.

"Oh", sighed the owl, settling back down.  "I am sorry for that, if it was me and it may well have been.  But you see", she continued, "I eat rabbits.  I spot a tuft of fur on the ground and I dive as fast as a falling rock."  The owl's eyes widened and her voice quickened with pride.  "With these powerful claws you see here," she clenched her unbroken foot for Fluffin, "I grab my prey and then I beat my great white wings until I'm soaring near the clouds!  I am careful to kill quickly, though, so you can rest assured that if it was I who ate your sister she did not suffer.  I am no sadist."

Fluffin had been expecting an escalation of tempers and was confused by the owl's almost pleasantly conversational response.  The little brown rabbit moved back a few hops to reevaluate.  "You could have taken me instead!", he finally burst out, eyes wide and wild.  "You didn't have to take her, she was smaller, surely I'd have been a better meal!" 

"Well now little rabbit I cannot remember you or your sister, but I promise you this; if I took her it was because she was the easier prey.  Now if you'll permit me, I rarely have the opportunity to speak with your kind.  I'm near the end of my time and I am curious."  The owl's voice was barely above a whispery gasp, but it rang with the easy authority of a victorious predator and her unblinking eyes gripped the young rabbit as tightly as one of her gnarled claws might have.  Fluffin found himself nodding his assent.

"How is it that this one particular meal of mine vexes you so?  I have been alive for six summers and I have killed once a day and sometimes more.  I have eaten rabbits, mice, even kittens.  I have raised my young on carcasses and taught them to hunt and kill to live when their time neared to leave me.  Through all of that, I never imagined I could cause such dismay."  The owl looked at Fluffin with what appeared to be genuine sadness.

Fluffin felt softness rising in him but choked it down.  "My sister was different.  She was no meal!  She loved me, she looked after me, and I looked after her.  We belonged to each other and now, because of you," Fluffin's small voice broke here, "I am alone." 

With that, the rabbit sat heavily on a fallen limb, his fight had reached its limit and was now as broken as his voice.  Fluffin had been more sad than angry, after all, though it's very easy to confuse the two.  Rabbits don't have much call to become talented with darker things like rage and vengeance, and so those things were unfamiliar though tempting territories for Fluffin. 

 A bitter quiet sank down around the rabbit and owl and filled the air between them.

"Today," began the owl in a soft voice after the two had been sitting in silence for some time, "I was carrying a succulent mouse to my babies when I was knocked from the sky by a boy with a rock.  He didn't want to eat me, or use me to feed his young, or to wreak vengeance on me for some past slight.  He didn't want my mouse, and knew nothing of my nest and waiting children.  And now I am alone and will die, and my babies are alone and will also die.  You may kill me, if you like, rabbit.  It will be quicker than waiting and I will not heal." 

Fluffin looked up slowly.  The owl's eyes were closed now and her breathing was more relaxed than it had been.  The snow white feathers around the hole in her neck were matted with a deep and growing red dampness.  The mighty claw she'd flexed for him earlier lay limp, this powerful killing tool the owl had taken such pride in now looked more like a little pile of arthritic twigs.  Fluffin felt smaller too.  The shadows were getting longer and the air was getting cooler.  It was time to go.

"I am sorry but I cannot kill you," Fluffin answered.  "I will leave you as I found you, because rabbits do not eat owls."




Friday, October 17, 2014

Fluffin and the Broken Dog

Fluffin rarely fought with his mother.  Timidity is not an unusual characteristic for a rabbit, but Fluffin had been graced with a very high amount.  While his brothers and sisters wandered their field practicing their sniffing and running and jumping, Fluffin could usually be found within ten yards of their gentle dam.  "Dam" is only what we call rabbit mothers.  Because Fluffin wasn't a zoologist or a scientist, he called her "Mama".

Mama and Fluffin's fight hadn't been a big one but it was made worse by the mockery of the young rabbit's siblings.  The fight began when Mama suggested Fluffin join the others in the field.

Fluffin was stricken by the suggestion.  "What do you mean?  I thought you liked my company, Mama!" the small brown rabbit cried.

"Of course I do, Fluffin, but I'm worried for you.  I won't always be here to care for you", she chided in her sweetest voice.  "You will have to learn to find your own food and you will have to be fast and strong, like your brothers and sisters".

This was Fluffin's sibling's cue to chime in.  They'd crept up when their trained little noses had smelled trouble brewing.  Although his siblings were far more adventurous and independent, they all coveted the favor Fluffin enjoyed through being a constant at his mother's side.

"Mama's little bunny boy Mama's little bunny boy" they chanted.  Mama sighed wearily and Fluffin puffed up his tiny chest and flared his inexperienced nostrils.

"I am not Mama's boy!", he cried indignantly.  "I'm not afraid of anything and I can go further than any of you!", Fluffin spat the last out before dashing into the brush.

"Let him go", whispered Mama to his brothers who tried to follow.  She started after him herself.  But Fluffin had flown through the bushes and crossed the beaver's new dam in his high state of chagrin.  The beaver howled and chattered as his hard work was shaken loose and flowed downstream, and Mama watched helplessly as her timid baby's small white tail disappeared into the tall grass on the other side.

Fluffin hadn't gone far before his chagrin turned to fear, and the young rabbit hadn't gotten much further than that before his fear had changed into hunger.  He was a growing rabbit, after all.  If he hadn't left his field, his Mama would have shown him where to forage for the best roots and most delicious grasses.  Fluffin lifted his tiny nose and sniffed.

The young rabbit's keen though unpracticed senses eventually led him to a large farmed field.  He remembered his Mama warning him away from farmer's fields, she'd told Fluffin and his brothers and sisters to avoid anything with a fence.  Fences meant farmers.  But he was so hungry, and while Fluffin wasn't exactly sure what a farmer was, there didn't appear to be any of them about.  Fluffin scurried past the great gap in a split log fence and began to eat.  The timid brown rabbit was in rapture with the largest and tastiest orange root he'd ever seen when he was interrupted by the baying of a hound.  Of course Fluffin had never heard a hound before, but an animal's instincts being what they are, he knew to run.  So run he did.

The hound was a large yellowy white beast with dark rimmed eyes and the most giant teeth the young rabbit had seen, even bigger than his uncle Ezra's teeth when he'd gotten too old to chew them down.  And the hound's teeth were pointed like giant claws.  Fluffin could feel the earth shaking with each pound of the great gnarled paws behind him.  Even a timid and unpracticed rabbit, though, can beat an old dog in a race.  The small brown bunny was a blur and made it past the split rail fence in no time.  In fact, it took the rabbit a few moments to realize the dog hadn't crossed the fence himself.  Instead, the dog bayed and whimpered on the opposite side, though there was more than enough room for him to climb between the rails.

Fluffin was relieved, but puzzled.  The young rabbit was timid but he was no coward and he was a victim of the curious nature that strikes most young things harder than is good for them.  He headed back for a look at the dog, who appeared to be held back by an invisible hand.

The dog's whimpering grew as the rabbit approached the edge of the bushes just beyond the fence.  "Oh go away, rabbit, just go away, please!" he howled, but made no effort to cross over, instead running from side to side in a well worn groove just beyond the posts.  Fluffin remained partially hidden.  "I can see you!", barked the dog, "Just go away!"

The young rabbit's voice called from the bushes, "Great beast, pardon me for asking, but are you stuck?", Fluffin was seriously considering this great mystery.  He'd met very few non-rabbits in his young life and was struck with a mixture of pity and wonder at the apparent helplessness of the giant creature.

"I'm not stuck, I'm broken!" growled the hound proudly.  "I don't go out, and you don't get in!"

Fluffin puzzled for a moment.  The hound didn't appear to be broken, he looked to be in good health, as far as the rabbit knew.  This monster was bigger than anything Fluffin had seen and though he had worn patches on his fur that showed his age, ample muscles rippled under his short summer coat.

"You don't look broken," the rabbit replied, emboldened by the hound's assertion that it would not leave the fence, "you seem fine to me!"

The hound laughed at the rabbit's naivete.  "I'm as strong as I was at two summers of age, little thief, by broken I mean I have a job to do.  I don't leave this fence, or I may be lost.  I chase rabbits and birds from the garden and at the end of the day I get stew.  That is what broken means"

Fluffin thought for a moment.  "But how did you get broken?"

"Well," said the dog, who while not used to company was learning to appreciate it, "The farmer took me to the fence and when I crossed, he beat me.  When I returned, he scratched me behind my ears and patted my belly and gave me treats.  And so I learned that to cross the fence is bad, and to stay inside is good."

"But you want to cross the fence?", asked Fluffin.

"Oh, with all of my heart, little rabbit.  I would love to shake you back and forth in my jaws until the light leaves your eyes and nudge you along the ground with my nose until your fur is filled with garden dirt, and then leave you on the steps of the famer's house as a gift", the hound replied in a matter of fact voice.

"But you can't?", Fluffin asked again, suddenly unsure of his position.

"Oh no, I wish I could, and if I could I would, believe me, you're as juicy a prize as I've seen, the fault doesn't lie with you.  But I am thoroughly broken.  I shouldn't even be talking to you, but it's been so long since I've talked to anyone."

Fluffin thought again and said knowingly, "A little while ago my Mama told me to go explore and practice.  She was trying to bend and then break me, but instead I left.", Fluffin casually patted the ground with his large furry foot, paws behind his back.

The hound chuckled again.  "Little rabbit, I had a Mama once too.  She taught me to sniff everything, to follow my curiosity no matter where it took me.  She rejoiced in my comfort and laughed at my mistakes.  That is not breaking, that is love!"  The dog's laughter raked across Fluffin's fur, for by now the young rabbit had moved very close to the fence.

"Well, what about when everyone chimes in and wants to tell you what to do, is that breaking?" asked Fluffin, somewhat chagrined again.

"That's what we call encouragement around here", answered the hound.  "Though the only ones left are the farmer and his family, my mother and my brothers were given away.  My sister lives in a few farms over and she bears pups now and then."  The old dog laid down and sighed, "Look, rabbit, breaking is breaking and loving is loving.  The two are as different as whipping and licking."

"Well what is the value of being broken?" asked the confused rabbit.

"When I am broken, I know what my purpose is.  I know what I am for.  I know where my good lies, I understand my job.", answered the hound, proud once more.

"So when you're broken, you're helpless?" asked the rabbit, confused again.

"No," the hound answered.  "When you're done loving you're done loving.  When you're broken, that means you're done choosing."

The rabbit hopped back towards home.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Doctor Snake and the Rabbit

Doctor Snake lay coiled around Fluffin, who wept silently, nervously stroking his brown velvet ears.  "But why do I need it?", Fluffin whined, for the fourth time.

Doctor Snake sighed wearily.  "Little friend, if i give you a nip now, you'll be strong enough to survive a real bite.  Now Fluffin I don't want to rush you, but I do have other patients to see", Doctor Snake flexed his long belly around the young brown rabbit and shook his rattly tail.  "Relax, little rabbit, it won't hurt a bit"

The snake aimed carefully and with lightning quickness, struck towards Fluffin.  The terrified brown rabbit was faster, though, and so the snake's sharp hollow teeth pierced his own long cool back instead of soft warm skin.  Doctor Snake shrieked.  His powerful tail jerked in one direction and his head in the other and the end result was an upset physician with a broken tooth.

"You said it wouldn't hurt!" sobbed a very betrayed Fluffin.

"Anything worth having hurts, rabbit!", hissed the bleeding and agitated snake, his back flexing rhythmically to loosen the sharp half tooth that had lodged under a shiny black scale.  "Nothing is free in this life!"

Fluffin puffed up his small tan chest, "That's not true, Doctor Snake", he hopped nearer, "love doesn't hurt, my mother is worth having and she doesn't hurt, a warm burrow and sunshine don't cost anything!"

The old snake chuckled, his temper relieved.  "You're very young, Fluffin, you haven't had to pay.  Love is loss, yours or another's, it makes no difference.  You will lose your mother one day, or she will lose you, and pain will cover the debt.  A warm burrow is labor, and a the exposure of a bright day is a risky thing for delicious little balls of fluff and meat", The old snake winked.  "You'll long for a tougher hide when you begin paying your own way, I can thicken it now if you like?"

"But if I have to pay eventually, wouldn't it be better to wait?  Why pay twice?  Why hurt twice?"  But the little rabbit had begun to doubt his resolve, Doctor Snake spoke with the authority of maturity, and Fluffin had been raised to respect his elders.  He was horrified that he'd caused the snake to bite himself and chip a tooth, and relieved that the old snake didn't seem to be too upset over the loss.  Fluffin hopped closer and offered to help remove the half tooth.

"Yes, thank you, Fluffin, that would be most appreciated"  The snake grinned broadly, his remaining white tooth glinting in the sun as its broken twin dripped yellowy liquid onto his curled lower lip.  "Just be careful", he warned.  "There is still venom in the tooth."

Fluffin began to work the sharp white shard back and forth while Doctor Snake grunted lightly through the pain.  "Can't you die from your bite?" he asked and then thought better, "But I suppose you can't be hurt by your own poison."

The old snake shook his head.  "At this moment, the venon is streaking through my blood and weakening me.  But I am too strong, I'm much larger than you, and while my own poison can certainly kill me, it is very good poison after all, it would take far more than that pitiful dose.  What is in that half tooth would barely be enough for you."

The rabbit removed his paws from the tooth and looked at it much more appreciatively.  "I will be careful."

And he was.  In a very short time, the little brown rabbit had removed the tooth and held it gingerly in his paw, unsure of how to proceed.

"It is better to pay ahead of time," the snake told the young rabbit, who had already forgotten what he'd asked.  "If you build up a tolerance for pain, you pay less for each struggle and loss over time", the patient doctor explained.

"But why hurt at all?", the snake's response had reminded the young rabbit of his central point.  "Why should I get used to loss?  Why should I get used to pain?  Why not avoid them both altogether?"  Fluffin's chest puffed out once more, he had the old rattlesnake over a barrel this time!

The snake smiled sadly again, "Oh young Fluffin.  You'll run towards pain.  Your fast little legs will rush you towards comfort, and love, and the warmth of the sun, the most costly things won't have to find you.  You will find them."

Fluffin thought for a moment, and then lightly scraped his own hyde with the small poison tooth.

History of the Universe 5: AAA3794

By the 60th century the mostly alien advances in space travel and the invention of human friendly breather bugs and Berring suits had made discovering habitable planets fairly simple.  While finding these liveable worlds was relatively easy, legally claiming them remained a costly and time consuming venture.  The paperwork alone to acquire an entire planet could take a competent team of lawyers up 5 years to forge.  Once owned, the taxes on these enormous private residences were phenomenal.  These mostly cold and empty worlds were an expensive but popular vanity purchase for financial mogules, entertainers, politicians, and professional athletes.

The newly purchased worlds were always initially vast money pits.  Each planet was different, most were devoid of life although some of them came with native flora or fauna bordering on the sentient.  The worlds had different build capacities, different solar and lunar schedules, some had a convenient abundance of water, and some were covered with a lacework of highly acidic poison rivers.  The most costly aspect of purchasing a vacant planet was the bribing of inspectors.

It was the job of inspectors to decide whether or not a planet could be safely used by people.  There were lots of reasons why a planet might be considered unusable.  These planet inspectors went over each world with a fine toothed comb making natural studies of resources, plant and animal life, geography, geology, and every other factor that may come into play down the road in a dangerous way if the planet was to be used for any human purpose.

This is because after the initial costly acquisition of a planet, they all were used by humanity at large.  Even the smallest planets are very big places with plenty of room for the private lives of the rich and famous, and a little commerce on the side.  They all become way stations among the stars, restocking and refueling areas.  Some of them, depending on the financial straits of the owner, even become tourist vacation destinations.  A passing planet inspection score was crucial.  The more deadly the planet, the higher the bribe, and the bigger the bribe, the better the score.  Inspectors were eager to be thorough and purchasers were eager to pay through the nose in order to recoup the most possible cash from their investment.

Lee Aaron was one of the most sought after planet inspectors.  This is because he was known in the business as one of the cheapest planet inspectors.  Lee had suffered through a gambling addiction in his youth that had caused him to take obscenely small bribes for several years in a bid to keep business steady.  One of these bribes had notoriously resulted in the brutal murder of an entire 5 generation high wealth banking family by an intelligent tribal society of dog like creatures that had been marked "harmless indigenous beasts" by Lee's inspection.  The entire planet had to be exterminated after it was determined that the encounter had left these harmless indigenous beasts incompatible with interstellar traffic.  The planet reverted back into the public domain and was snapped up by the Gold Star Cruise and Resort Company.

As it often goes in the financial world, the greater impression was made by the money saving possibilities of dealing with Lee Aarons than by the slaughter of the hapless family and the annihilation of the several billion alien species that had dwelt on the planet prior to purchase.  Lee's bold, dirt cheap, and deadly inspection had made his career.  He never had to worry about getting work again, so long as he kept his bribe rates relatively low.

The final casualty of Lee's most famous inspection was his gambling addiction.  He found himself unwilling, maybe even unable, to rely on chance for excitement or gain.  Lee Aaron paid off his bookies and filled the void left by his old friend and menace with newer and more reliable medicinal companions.

Planet inspectors were not permitted to wear Berring suits or breather bugs, those advantages would have compromised their senses and impaired results.  Despite the fact that anyone purchasing a planet would undoubtedly own those things, the inspection was meant to determine livability for even the lowest common denominator.  Specifically, the poor.

Lee Aarons lived in his ship.  While his self medicating habits ate a significant portion of his earnings, his expenditures were far less than they had been with that old whore, lady luck.  His ship was state of the art.  Lee had no wife, no children, no home, no pets.  No obligations, nowhere to be, and no when to get there.  Every 12 hours the solar vitamin D light in his quarters would gently shift into a soft simulation of moonlight, and that was the solo spaceman's cue to begin dosing and singing.

Lee didn't have an impressive vocal range, but he was not tone deaf.  There were a few songs he favored while drinking, others while smoking, and a mixture of song snippets he liked to shriek while over stimulated via non drinking or smoking methods.

The night he got the call to inspect a planet in the Harker system, he had been drinking rum and singing a song his grandmother had hummed when he was a freshly orphaned boy to ease him through his many nightmares.  Lee's parents had been killed by a cracked furnace seal as they slept.  Lee had lived because he loved the sulfur smell after a rain and had fallen asleep with his window open.  His younger sister wasn't so lucky, she'd had a nightmare of her own and was sleeping between his parents.

"My youngest son came home today, his friends marched with him all the way, the fife and drums beat out the time, while in his box of polished pine, like dead meat on a butcher's tray, they brought my young son home today"

He'd had to look up the words in order to learn the song that had soothed him through so many bad dreams.  Lee was not surprised his grandmother had only hummed the melody.

The call went straight to text, which is what Lee preferred.  He didn't need a prospective client catching him injecting, snorting, drinking, or smoking anything while singing raucously.  Lee wasn't famous for his professional decorum but he was an incredibly private man.

"Planet in Harker System.  Previous Injector Bissing.  Mush Job.  Setting Gay Gay Gay 3 7 9 4.  Replete That's Alpha Alpha Alpha 3 7 9 4"

Lee never failed to get a kick out of his ship's call system voice to text errors.  Previous injector bissing could only mean previous inspector missing, however, and that wasn't a laughing matter.  That meant that this planet might house hostiles of any kind.  Natives, beasts, germs, weather situations, the danger might be myriad or singular but it certainly existed.  Not too different than any other job, Lee mused, and he could certainly appreciate the narrowing down of chance's role.  He would know to be even more wary than usual, and that was not a terrible thing to know in advance.  Lee sent his job confirmation code and set his ship to AAA3794.

"A man he would have lived and died, til by a bullet sanctified, now he's a saint or so they say, they brought their young saint home today"

AAA3794, or Gaygaygay, as Lee had taken to calling it in his head, was a stunningly beautiful planet.  The smokey outer atmosphere blended metallic purples oranges and blues like oil on the surface of a puddle.  Once on the planet, the gentle light from three small suns wafted through this shifting ethereal filter and kissed everything it touched with a deep and perfect warmth.  There was a slight breeze when Lee landed.  His instruments indicated the air was thin but breathable, no small  miracle when considering the unique requirements of human survival and the vastness of the universe.  Tall maroon trees swayed back and forth along the edge of an ocean so clear that Lee at first thought the creatures swimming under the surface were floating along on currents of air.

The sea animals themselves were things of intense beauty.  Schools of fish with metallic shimmering skin to match the sky and long ribbon-like fins darted here and there in a meticulously orchestrated ballet.  Large amorphous creatures drifted more slowly below, every now and then upsetting a small cloud of gold sand that shimmered as it slid down their bright velvet backs to return gently into the still bosom of the sea bed.

It looked like an advertisement Lee had seen as a child for a faux fish tank.  All of the soothing comfort of a pet, none of the inconvenience or sadness that caring for a life might bring.  Perfect little brightly colored solar powered fish swam back and forth while bubbles streamed from the clean sandy tank bottom in gently swaying rows.  This was better.  Lee could see larger sea creatures further out, a pod of whale like animals crested at once in the distance, spraying the air with a fine mist of droplets that caught some blue from the sky and reflected it like a tiny patch of Earth twilight.  Lee felt a sharp pang of homesickness, his first in years.

He decided to search first for the previous inspector's ship.  If there was information that had been gathered and cataloged already, that could save him an exorbitant amount of time.  He boarded his ship and sent out a local distress call.  If the missing inspector's ship hadn't been disabled, it would respond to the distress call from his ship automatically with a location.  This worked, and within minutes Lee had navigated his ship down next to a shimmering late model compact Star-Fly.

This ship was far smaller than Lee's, indicating that the occupying inspector had a base home and only needed the ship for commuting and work purposes.  The hatch was open and the food stores had all been removed.  This was worth noting, and may have meant that advanced beasts or even aware beings were lurking in the forest waiting to ransack Lee's own stores.  There was no sign of a struggle, however.  Lee's detail oriented mind made note of the fact that items were missing which might only have been taken by someone (or something) familiar with their use.  The small silver medi-bag, water purifier, basic survival equipment, all of it had been stripped carefully from the ship.  Shinier looking and certainly more interesting electronic equipment had been left behind.  Lee wasn't there to figure out what had happened to the missing inspector, he filed all of it away under "interesting" and moved on.

He found what he was after in the flight seat, the previous inspector's completed planet report.

"AAA3794: Designation Uninhabitable", Lee sat heavily in the captain's chair and read on.  "Three suns prone to radioactive bursts, overheated environment, unsufficient to sustain life beyond plants.  Toxic plants in abundance, moss and bacteria laden mold in abundance."  There was more, but Lee stopped there.  Maybe the purchaser hadn't offered enough of a bribe?  The assessment was not harmonious with Lee's own brief initial notes.  The differences were so jarring, Lee wondered if the previous inspector might not have had a personal gripe with the purchaser.

This could all wait until the morning, however.  While the three suns outside shone as beautifully as they had upon his arrival, Lee's wristwatch told him that dusk was setting in aboard his own ship.  With the amount of traveling to different worlds that Lee accomplished so frequently, one of the measured luxuries he allowed himself was a set sleeping schedule.  If he landed on a world that enjoyed an opposing schedule to his own, he might stay up a little later or get up earlier to take advantage of natural light, but overall, he never altered his body's basic understanding of day and night as dictated by his own ship and home.

It might seem as though even a former gambler would enjoy living in the moment, but gamblers by nature are superstitious animals.  Superstition and habit are old friends.  Lee boarded his own ship just as the moon rose on the sky simulator that covered the ceiling, lit a bowl, and began to sing.

"And the moon rose over an open field.  Kathy I'm lost I said, though I knew she was sleeping.  I'm empty and aching and I don't know why-y-y, counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they've all come to look for America", Lee's smooth breathy tenor filled the cabin and almost drowned out the low melody coming from just beyond the hatch.  Lee paused, took another puff, and turned on the viewer.

His Grandmother stood on the steps of his ship, her smiling lips pursed with the humming that came through the door and her hand absently stroking the air where a sleeping boy's head might have lain had there been a bed in front of her.

"Grandma?  Meme?"  Meme had been his name for her when he was a boy, May-may, it was pronounced.  His grandmother's father had been from real Earth France and she was very proud of having spoken old Earth French in the home.  He could remember her telling him about the rose bush she took such meticulous care of, "The original clipping was from Versailles, it was brought over more than nine hundred years ago.  This is the same plant, regrowing again and again, you'll have it when I pass"  Lee hadn't taken the plant, it had died when his Grandmother fell ill and became unable to care for it any longer.

His grandmother didn't answer, and instead walked humming off into the maroon woods at the edge of the clearing.  Lee put down his pipe, put on his shoes, grabbed some safety equipment, and went after.  He'd brought his stunner, a device capable of laying a powerful electrical shock on anyone or anything within thirty yards that wasn't heavily grounded.  He'd also turned on his recorder, all planet inspectors have recording equipment installed directly in their iris for the sake of convenience.  When activated, everything they see is recorded and sent back to their ship where they can later review the content for the sake of accuracy.

Although the woods were not dark, Lee lost his Grandmother almost immediately.  He kept on towards other light voices that lilted towards him, a woman's laughter?  After a short while Lee came out on the other side of the woods and found a man and young girl sitting on the beach he'd landed near.  The man wore modern clothes, like Lee's, the mousey haired and plain girl was dressed in a school uniform that Lee recognized from his days on New Earth.  The girl turned, smiled at Lee, and began to hum, "My youngest son came home today..."

The man rose and turned menacingly, placing the still humming and smiling girl behind him.  Lee recognized him as a fellow inspector.  While he couldn't recall his name, theirs was a lonely job not given to professional comradery, he recalled the short old man from trade meetings as a friendly and nearly retired chatterbox.

"Look old timer, I was called in to finish your job here, I don't care what you have going with that kid, I'll get paid whether you're missing or found, relax"

The girl rose and took the old man's hand in hers, rubbing it gently, "don't fight my love, I can be for him too, you're only two, you're only two, mon cher",  she murmured sweetly into his ear loudly enough for me  to hear.  The old man looked at her as if she'd struck him.

The girls words did soften the man and he allowed Lee to come near enough to speak in normal tones.  "I'm Arnold Scarber, and this is Lottie Scarber, my wife!" the man said proudly by way of introduction, once it became clear to him that on a planet of three he could not escape Lee's acquaintance.

"Oh I know, I'm too old for her now, but I wasn't always.  My sweet Lotte died 55 years ago.  I don't know how she's here, but she's here, and it's a miracle, my miracle!"  The plain girl looked at him sadly and squeezed his gnarled hand gently with her short soft fingers.  "Not yours, ours", she chided him gently, waving her hand towards me.  Arnold's face fell wearily.

Lee was able to get the story from them slowly.  As it turned out, much of the workings of this "miracle" were unknown to Arnold himself.  He had been so thrilled to have his only love back that he hadn't asked very many questions.  Arnold was old enough and dumb enough to know not to ask questions for which he might not like the answer.  Maybe Lee had been enchanted enough to forget himself and chase his grandmother through an alien forest, but there are different kinds of love and each kind of love has a different kind of longing.  Lee wanted answers, he was fascinated but he had seen nothing worth a man's life and livelihood.  Lee had never thought of himself as a sentimental man, he was the solo starman.

Eventually Lee left the couple for the evening and went back to his ship, having stayed awake through his artificial night for the first time in his 35yr career as a planet inspector.  He slept like a baby under the warm simulated vitamin D soaked sun.  He dreamed of his parents and sister as he'd found them that morning so many years before in their bed.  This time, in this dream, they all woke up.  His sister Deirdre's small and cold gray face and sunken eyes filled in and she ran to jump onto him for a piggy ride, her little soft hands clutched his wrinkled pajama top and her body warmed his back.  Lee's father ruffled his hair and his mother made him mouse ear pancakes.  And all of it under a colorful oily metallic sky.

Lee watched the replay of his evening with the Scarbers when he arose, more refreshed than he had been in years.  And more keenly aware of his loneliness than he had been since he'd ridden as a new orphan in the police ship to his grandmother's house.  Waking up can be cold and warm at the same time.  Lee was experiencing a resurrection of more than lost people.  He was waking up in the bed with his parents and sister, he was awake enough now to mourn his family and regret his life spent quietly as though any movement or noise might disturb their rest.

On the tape Lee had recorded, the old man chattered away proudly as a large silver worm suckled at his ear like a newborn baby on a mother's breast.  Lee remembered the conversation, here when the man turned towards the worm, he was talking about their first meeting.  Arnold had been too shy to ask Lotte out on a date, but some girls had arranged a cruel prank and sent him a note that convinced him to go to her house in a suit with a carnation.  The cruel girls didn't realize the sweet and shy couple needed that nudge, and their prank led to a whirlwind romance and young but happy marriage.  This had been Arnold's only love.

Lee's long dead Mother had been there rubbing his head when he awoke.  She watched the tape with him there in his ship, her hands more gentle than he remembered.  She gave him a bath, and brushed his hair, and helped him get dressed.  He reminded her that he wasn't a little boy anymore and didn't need any help, and she reminded him that she had missed him growing up.  He let her make him breakfast, mouse ear pancakes like his dream.  And then he turned on his iris cam and looked in the mirror.  A beautiful silver shimmering worm was attached to his neck and face.  Lee touched the worm, and his mother smiled behind him, gently rubbing his shoulder.

Lee Aarons changed the name on the Scarber report to his own, and sent it in.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

History of the Universe 4: The Dozens

There was a micro-galaxy called The Dozens near the Attlinger system.  The planets in The Dozens circled each other so closely they looked like a colorful bag of marbles from just a hundred thousand miles away.  They were so masterfully situated gravitationally that they sheared tiny bits of atmosphere from each other as they passed.  For this reason, each of the planets in The Dozens had exactly the same atmospheric mix.

The Dozens were surrounded loosely by ten small suns which kept them in near perpetual light and warmth, aside from the frequent eclipses caused by the planets rotations.  Each world in The Dozens system was named for an Earth English month.  Despite their shared atmosphere only one of these planets held life beyond bacteria, that planet was April.

Payload specialist first class Bartolemeu Day was employed by the BigHeart Corporation.  It was BigHeart's modus operandi to seek out unclaimed planets, drill a hole and bomb the hell out of them, and then thoroughly catalog and patent whatever was found both on and below their planetary surfaces.  This hit and miss style of patenting had been highly lucrative for BigHeart.  The corporation held patents on a number of popular interstellar building materials as well as a few thousand small alien creatures and bacteria.  While their exploratory explosions generally left these planets in tatters, this was highly convenient for the pilot fish companies that relied on BigHeart to point them towards money makers.  A BigHeart patent contract fee was a small price for these scavengers to pay in order to escape the cost of doing their own exploratory drilling, bombing, and cataloging.  They could get right down to business purchasing land paperwork and stripping a planet's value without concern that it may be a risky investment.  BigHeart's unofficial motto was "We Drill It, You Kill It".

Life had been pretty average for Bartolemeu before a broken lavatory seal ripped the ship wall apart and sucked half of the crew into space and the other half of the crew died in a simultaneously occurring break room fire.  The fire, which began in and around a drunk employee's deep fryer during his birthday celebration, would have been easily put out were it not for the ship overcompensating oxygen dramatically due to the ten foot lavatory wall hole.  The ship was an older model and the crew were all equipped with breather bugs, they had no need for the oxygen that was being provided them.  If they hadn't had been wearing breather bugs some of them may have noticed how thick and delicious and oxygeny the air had become.  The entire cafeteria and most of the ship's interior went up with a loud whoosh and then all was still, aside from a few dozen blaring alarms.  Bartolemeu Day had never been a fan of parties, he'd been sleeping in his hyperbaric chamber when all of this occurred.  The alarms woke him seconds after the danger had passed.

The ship sealed the lavatory area automatically, slowly but surely.  Bartolemeu Day was left wandering in a broken ship with a couple dozen blackened corpses melted to the floors and walls, their bodies and faces trapped in a macabre pantomime of their final seconds.  Bartolemeu rarely left the comfort of his hyperbaric chamber for the first several days.  Finally he became too hungry to wait any longer and was forced to brave the still circus in the cafeteria for as much peanut butter powder and bottled water as he could carry back to his room.

Within two months Bartolemeu's boredom and recurring need for sustenance had overcome his fear.  He began posing with the black statues, going from one to the next to mimic and share in their pantomimes.  The lone survivor started to spend all of his time in the cafeteria.  Bartolemeu had identified all of the bodies but one, a poor charred creature who sat with its head down on the table nearest the blast center.  The quiet payload specialist hadn't interacted with the staff very much while they lived.  He was not the type of man to use two words where one would do, and he didn't engage in banter.  Bartolemeu appreciated the exact nature of his work, he preferred equations to conversations.  And so when this quiet and serious man began to feel deeply and irrevocably lonely for the first time in his life, he didn't recognize it right away.  He named the unknown corpse that leaned against the table like a child asleep in class "Sandy".

Three months later when the ship neared The Dozens and the few remaining sensors alerted Bartolemeu that a habitable planet was nearby, he had a difficult time deciding whether or not to leave.  He turned to Sandy for guidance.  Sandy had become his confidante, his lunch partner, his best and first friend.  Sandy's empty eyes and curled screaming lips implored him to get the hell off the ship if he could.  "Get out!  Get out!  Get out!", Sandy screamed silently.  In the months since they'd met Sandy had never steered Bartolemeu wrong.  He packed up what little food was left, all of the ship's radio rescue flares, a solar tent, the emergency medical kit, and pointed the escape hatch towards planet April.

Unfortunately for Bartolemeu and April, with nobody alive to steer the ship away it remained on a slow and steady inertia driven path towards the planet after the escape hatch launch.  The ship would arrive along with its payload of charred bodies and nuclear missiles just two months after Bartolemeu with a devastating boom on the other side of the planet.  The former BigHeart Corp. payload specialist had no idea that Sandy and the rest of his friends were following him through the gloom of space.

Planet April has an incredibly limited and fragile ecosystem.  Poison puff plant grows freely everywhere.  Like the name suggests, the plant is poisonous to humans.  It is not, however, poisonous to the only animals aside from Bartolemeu to have lived on planet April, the squillers.  In this perfectly closed system the squillers eat the fast growing poison puff plant and their poop and eventual deceased bodies nourish new crops.

Bartolemeu didn't know any of this when he landed.  He had been living on turkey jerky and dehydrated peanut butter for weeks since running out of everything else on the ship that had survived the fire.  The first thing he did was eat a poison puff plant leaf.  The second thing he did was projectile vomit while laying in a fetal position clutching his stomach.  This noise and activity caught the attention of several local squillers who rushed over to see what was happening.  Squillers are squirrel like creatures with large eyes and soft skin the same deep shade of green found in poison puff plant stems.  Because squillers have no natural enemies or prey and their food is always plentiful, they're playful, trusting, and gentle creatures.

This made it very easy for Bartolemeu to capture and cook one.  The squiller had walked right up to him and allowed him to pick it up and quickly snap its neck.  The squillers watched from the shadows of the poison puff plant as Bartolemeu happily cooked and ate his first real meal in months.  It was delicious.  When he was through, he tossed the bones behind his tent and settled in for a nights rest under the stars.  He'd been confined for too long. Maybe the next night Bartolemeu would sleep in the tent, but he preferred to be out in the open on his first night.  He slept so soundly he didn't hear the squillers removing the bones of his dinner and carefully burying them in the poison puff plant field.  Bartolemeu slept so deeply that he didn't notice the squillers weighing down his blanket and warming him against the chilly April night wind.  When he awoke, feeling refreshed for the first time in months, Bartolemeu jammed a radio rescue flare into the soft earth beside his tent and cooked another squiller.

He was quickly growing fond of these little critters who were so friendly and affectionate and who tasted so good.  Bartolemeu was followed by a hoard of playful squillers wherever he explored on this strange little planet.  Within the first several days he had become completely accustomed to their peculiar friendly habits and obvious interest in him.  Because of this, Bartolemeu was caught completely off guard on his fourth night when the squiller he'd selected for dinner bit him lightly and then wriggled expertly out of his grasp.  Bartolemeu's mouth was stuck in a garishly startled grin as he watched the squiller rejoin its chattering friends in the poison puff plant shadows.  His grin fell away when several squillers emerged from the bushes carrying an elderly squiller to lay at Bartolemeu's feet.

And so it went from then on.  Each day the squillers would offer him two of their number.  Bartolemeu ate the elderly, lame, and sickly.  The squillers would bury the remains in their poison puff plant field, along with Bartolemeu's own solid waste.  Every night the squillers made sure their lonely human was warm and secure.  If their enthusiasm for his company wavered they never let it show.  Bartolemeu's enthusiasm for the squillers had diminished significantly, however.  He just wasn't sure how to feel about them.

Maybe in time Bartolemeu might have come to terms with the reality that he'd landed among a race of creatures so without internal or external conflict they would offer themselves up as a meal to any creature who needed to eat.  He might have shaken the fear that the squillers were planning something big, perhaps fattening him up to turn the tables and eat him, or that they were exercising some kind of phenomenal otherworldly condescension through their sacrifices and concern for his well being. 

The truth is, Bartolemeu was really starting to resent the generous and kind squillers by the time his former ship finally made it to the planet two months later.  When the nuclear missile payload hit April, the explosion was enough to nudge this small and unique world just slightly out of orbit.  The Dozens had been winding and wending around each other for millions of years with the precision of a Swiss watch.  This tiny nudge created a chain reaction that turned the entire system into a ball of flaming dust within a week.

Luckily Bartolemeu's radio rescue flare had done the trick.  A BigHeart rescue ship arrived on the scene in time to patent several unique organic compounds that would revolutionize plastic surgery and make the corporation trillions of GovBucks.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

History of the Universe 3: The Chrono-Travell Makes Time Travel Possible

Nobody knows exactly what complex scientific and mathematical processes Professor Arthur Travell used in order to create the Chrono-Travell, Earth's first time travel machine.  The first thing Travell used the machine for, or the last thing as it would turn out for that particular Arthur Travell, was a trip back in time to his younger self with the completed Chrono-Travell plans.  The future Travell also brought along an ambiguous warning, "Stay away from redheads, swear it!", young Arthur looked at his future's sorrowful eyes and dull gray hair and swore.

Because the future Travell had changed his own history, he became a time relic.  This is what happens when a time loop forms and there is no resolution.  If Travell had snatched his plans away from young Arthur and headed back to the future from whence he came, he could have avoided this fate.  It was not the professor's intention to avoid becoming a relic.

Time cannot abide an unresolved loop.  When something causes an eddy to form in the river of time, the thing causing the disruption must become a place holder to avert event recurrence and inevitable additional loops which would fan out indefinitely and destroy time along with everything else.  A relic was sort of a scar in time, never moving and unable to grow or die, fixed in place in every conceivable way.  Future Professor Arthur Travell knew this, which is why he was in such a rush to hand his machine plans to his younger self.  The vain scientist didn't want to spend eternity in a sloppy pose, and so he didn't.  One of the most famous relics in the universe is the time sealed statue of the worn down but proud looking Professor Travell standing tall and smiling beatifically at his grandfather's pocket watch.

There are quite a few less dignified relics scattered across the planets and space.  One of the most tragic of these is the famous Italian relic of a man holding a young boy.  For obvious reasons, access to Chrono-Travell machines has always been restricted to highly trained timeline technicians and bajillionaires able to pay the highly trained timeline technicians.  One bajilionaire, Swiss banking giant Julian Batz, had the cash and needed a trip.

Julian's son Noah had been hit by a hover-car during a family vacation in Naples.  The towheaded ten year old boy with his bright mind and face and ready smile was killed instantly.  No amount of his father's money could fix his broken body or turn the heat and lights back on in those lovely blue eyes.  Julian's wife, Ana, had blamed him for allowing their boy to run ahead.  Ana never recovered, and never forgave.  Julian Batz's simple plan was to go back and fetch his son before he could be killed.

There is a limit to what sentimental foolishness time will allow.  Professor Arthur Travell was probably able to hand off his plans to the younger Travell because luckily, or sadly, the young scientist's life path being altered only slightly wouldn't have a huge impact on the river of time, despite the importance of his invention.  Young Arthur had already been working on the schematics of time travel.  This pushed his study to fruition but his life course remained doggedly on track.  And despite the solemn promise he'd made to his future and presumably wiser self, Arthur met and married a vicious bitch of a redhead who immediately began turning him into the sad wreck that had handed him the Chrono-Travell plans all of those years before.

Then again, there are a lot of things as yet not understood about time travel and the process of relics.  Perhaps the younger Travell was too important a piece in the river of time to become a relic.  Maybe the elder Travell knew this.  Unfortunately the only man who may have extensively understood the processes involved is a statue in the center of the Travell Memorial Center and Mall.

Either way, neither Julian nor sweet Noah were as lucky as the younger Travell.  Julian and his guide had landed just minutes before the accident.  The man watched as his younger self and wife walked hand in hand down the crowded Spaccanapoli street.  Noah skipped far ahead, proud of the distance he'd been allowed and examining the vendor's wares with the stern but curious expression he'd stolen from his father.  Before his timeline guide could prevent it, Julian had dashed across the road and grabbed the boy from the path of a speeding hover-car.  The boy looked at the man who had saved him and uttered a confused "Grossvati?" before looking back towards his parents.  Noah's last thought before being sealed by time was how pleased his parents would be when they saw that Grandfather had come to holiday with them.  The younger Mr. and Mrs. Batz rushed to thank this strange man who had snatched their son from the path of the car.

Mrs. Batz, or Ana, never forgave her husband for what they found when they moved closer to the man who gripped their Noah so tightly.  With his teary face towards the sky, the elder Julian Batz was frozen kneeling on the ground with one hand on the back of his son's head holding him tight to his chest and the other wrapped around the boy's back, fingers grasping the boys light jacket.  As Ana came nearer she thought this man must be holding her son too tightly, Noah didn't appear able to move.  When Ana saw the man's face she didn't mistake him for her husband's father as Noah had.

While it was obvious that the future Julian had come back to save Noah from the path of the hover-car, it was impossible to know what would have happened had he not saved the boy.  Would her son have been maimed?  In a wheelchair?  Would he have lost a leg or an arm?  Would her sweet boy have died?  If Noah had died, Ana might have buried him.  Surely anything would have been better than this.  These thoughts never left Ana's mind.  Despite being every bit as lost and anguished as his wife, Julian could not escape the shadows of unspoken accusations that crowded behind her eyes.

During festivals local children decorate the man and boy on Spaccanapoli street with floral wreaths.  In the winter it's thought to be good luck to wrap the pair in blankets against the chill.

The Chrono-Travell machine uses a system based on the relativity of moments to each other in addition to the chronological way that most of us think time occurs.  Time isn't a straight line, there are rushes and ebbs.  Moments that are centuries apart may be clustered together and traveling forward, all part of the same story.  The first Chrono-Travell machine used a time map manually submitted by Professor Arthur Travell himself, accurate down to the last nanosecond but very limited.  Current Chrono-Travell's operate with a map created by real time satellites that constantly update the activities, actions, expressions, lives, and deaths of billions of Earth people, animals, and plants.  Like following a river to the source, the machine is able to trace lines of humanity backwards.  Also buried in this vastness of information are the cluster patterns that the machine uses to navigate.  Imagine it as a submarine ship using every possible direction of travel rather than just forward and backwards.

All of that is navigation.  The true beauty of the Chrono-Travell is how it manages to evade and subvert the natural pull of time.  Time recognizes everything it can affect.  Anything that ages, rusts, grows, shrinks, dies, lives, in short, anything within our sphere of physical understanding falls under the umbrella of things on which time has a firm hold.  The Chrono-Travell uses short bursts of controlled atomic explosions to shield its existence from time for the tiniest fraction of a second again and again in billions of cycles, like a moving picture shutter.  In these fractions of a second the machine is leap frogging from moment to moment so rapidly it could land on a baby and be gone before the infant opened its mouth to bawl.

Despite the serious dangers of time travel it remains one of the most popular vacation choices for the fabulously wealthy and has proven to be an invaluable historical aid.