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 and her breathing was more relaxed than it had been.  The snow white feathers around the hole in her neck were now matted with a deep and growing red dampness.  The mighty claw she'd flexed for him earlier lay limp, the powerful killing tool in which the owl had taken such pride now looked more like a pile of weathered twigs any passing breeze might scatter.

Fluffin felt smaller.  He hadn't realized how big his anger had become until it abandoned him without a backwards glance.  He sagged under the cold sorrow that rode in its' wake.

Anger and sorrow are very good friends, wherever one goes, the other is sure to follow, but neither of them is a hunter.  Both sorrow and anger are scavengers, lurking always for a few scraps of vanity and misfortune they might spin into a bitter feast.  Fluffin knew they could only have as much of him as he allowed.  The lonely rabbit missed his memories as they had been before those two greedy devils had crept in to turn so many of his thoughts brittle and sour like rotted seed.  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 anothers', it matters very little.  You will lose your mother one day, or she will lose you, and pain will cover the debt.  A warm burrow is labor, and the exposure of a bright and sunny day is a risky thing for delicious little balls of fluff and meat", The old snake winked.  "You'll long for a tougher hyde when the debt comes due for some goodness you used up with no care for economy or restraint, I can thicken it now if you like?"

"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 age, 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 venom is streaking through my blood and weakening me.  But I am too strong, I'm much larger than you.  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.  Like it or not, you'll run towards pain.  Your fast little legs will rush you to comfort, and love, and the warmth of the sun, the most costly things won't have to find you.  Again and again, 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 that 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 any unclaimed planet, drill a hole in it and bomb it all to hell, and then thoroughly catalog and patent whatever was found both on and below its planetary surface.  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 for a few thousand small alien creatures and bacteria.  While BigHeart's 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 a chunk of the ships wall apart and the ensuing breach sucked half of the crew into space.  As they whooshed through the hull to become space-dust, the other half of the crew was burning to death in a simultaneously occurring cafeteria flash-fire.

The fire, which began in and around a drunken employee's deep fryer at his birthday celebration, could have been easily put out had it not been for the 10' lavatory hull breach.

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.  This was because the ship didn't know everyone had breather bugs, it was valiantly trying to save the lives of everyone on board by cramming as  much oxygen as possible through every vent to compensate for  the hole in the crapper.

The ship's oxygen alarm had long been disarmed after breather bugs became mandatory, however the atmospheric system was tied into the gravitational gyroscope so it was deemed more cost effective to just let the ship go on churning out unnecessary air.  All things considered, leaving the system in place did turn out to be far more cost effective.  The engineer responsible for that decision was posthumously awarded "Employee of the Month" by the ship's automated evaluation proto-servo a week after becoming a popsicle and shattering into a billion pieces against a passing meteor.

The oxygen overload caused the cafeteria and most of the ship's interior to turn white-red with a loud ffft!, and then all was still, aside from a few dozen barking 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 had sealed the lavatory area automatically.  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 until he became too hungry to wait any longer.  The intrepid cosmonaut 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, however, Bartolemeu's boredom and recurring need for sustenance had overcome his terror.  Fear became familiarity, and familiarity turned into comfort.  Bartolemeu began posing with the black statues, going from one to the next to mimic and share in their pantomimes.  The lone survivor, once terrified of leaving his chamber, began spending all of his time at the never-ending birthday party.

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 howled 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, inertia continued to drive the massive mausoleum towards the planet after his escape hatch launch.  The ship would arrive with its payload of charred bodies and nuclear missiles in a world ending boom just two months after Bartolemeu landed.  The former BigHeart Corp. payload specialist had no idea that Sandy and the rest of his friends were following him through the quiet gloom of space.

Planet April has an incredibly limited and fragile ecosystem.  Poison puff plant grows freely everywhere.  As 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.

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 and clutching his gurgling gut hard enough to leave little purple fingerprints.  This noise and activity caught the attention of several local squillers who rushed over to investigate.

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 because their food is always plentiful, they are 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 plants as Bartolemeu happily grilled and ate his first cooked 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.

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 filleted 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 sustenance.

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 Sandy showed up with BigHeart's nukes two months later.  When the nuclear missile payload hit April, the explosion was enough to nudge this small and unique world a half a hair 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 started a chain reaction that turned the entire system into a spiraling ball of flaming dust within a week.

Unfortunately, Bartolemeu spent his last seconds on April unfairly blaming the squillers for his demise.

Bartolemeu was awakened by a wet hard thump and for a split- second, imagined he must have fallen out of his bed.  This was absurd, of course, because the only beds within 9,000,000,000 miles had all just been turned to ash in a nuclear blast.  In the turmoil of receding sleep and returning paranoia that followed, the only English speaker on the planet barely had time to shout indignantly "So THIS is how they get you!", before both he and the hundreds of squillers who had been carrying him away from the approaching avalanche of carnage were all mulched .  

Not so unfortunately, the brave payload specialist and BigHeart's newest posthumously awarded Employee of the Month's dutifully placed radio rescue flares had worked.

 A BigHeart rescue ship arrived on the scene in time to patent several unique organic compounds that would revolutionize plastic surgery and make the BigHeart 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 Noah'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 snatched the boyfro. its path.

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 thought bitterly, she could 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 warm bright 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 that 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 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 project and trace these 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, up and down, etc.

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.  Whatever ages, rusts, grows, shrinks, dies, or 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 nano-second the machine is leap frogging from moment to moment so rapidly it could land on a baby and be gone before the infant opens 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. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

History of the Universe 2: Breather Bugs

Kevin was 92yrs old when he was brought to Earth to play victim in a classic schoolboy prank.  Typically in such a shenanigan the boy's friends would wait a short distance away with their ship camouflage activated.  They would watch giggling while their victim searched frantically for his only way home.  Unfortunately, World Gov soldiers were heavily patrolling the area these unlucky boys had chosen for their trick.  Kevin's terrified friends flew away under a barrage of bullets and missiles while the alien child lay prone and in shock on the ground.

The utter stillness of Kevin's small body and his wide glazed lavender eyes were what ultimately saved him from being slaughtered by men and women trained to shoot aliens on sight.  There was no doctor among these soldiers, though that hardly mattered.  No doctor on Earth was equipped to guess at the anatomy of the many aliens who had suddenly begun dropping out of space onto the planet like flies onto a picnic plate.  The soldiers thought Kevin was dead.  They tagged and bagged him and laid him in the back of a truck bound for the nearest World Gov medical research facility.

It wasn't until Kevin was on Dr. Hitler's autopsy table deep in the restricted area of the center that the purple boy's full horror burst through the still surface of his shock.  Kevin sat up and screamed.  And then he screamed again.  And again.  Kevin's scream was a consonant filled shriek like none Dr. Hitler had ever heard.  We write "moo" when referring to a cow's low, and we write "arf" when referring to a dogs bark.  The truth is that we don't have the right letters to accurately convey the language of most of Earth's denizens effectively.  Human alphabets are incredibly specieist.

And so to Dr. Hitler, whose area of expertise lay in forensic biology and not in linguistics, and who had an incredibly limited alphabet with which to record his findings about this creature, it sounded as though the creature was screaming "Kffn kffn kffn kffn kffn kffn kffn!" 

Literally translated, the purple alien with the wide lavender eyes was screaming "Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!".  Of course Dr. Hitler had no way of knowing this, having never heard of planet Ffffff or it's complicated language.

Dr. Hitler was related in no way to the famous 20th century German Nazi party leader.  His father and his father's father, etc etc back through his long family line, had learned to brutally condemn and openly resent the most famous Hitler as a way to both atone for and defend their family name.  Another longstanding family habit of the Hitler men was their often overblown displays of compassion and kindness.  Perhaps this trait was a natural inclination, and perhaps it was another way to distance themselves from their unfortunate connection and establish a more favorable reputation.  Either way, it saved young Kevin's life.  Twice in one day the boy had avoided a nearly certain death.  Not bad.

Dr. Hitler's highly attuned empathy and sensitivities recognized right away that the alien was screaming in terror rather than aggression.  He did the only thing he could think to do, Dr. Hitler held his finger to his lips and whispered "Shhhhhh" again and again.  Kevin calmed himself, not because of the kind doctor's bizarre soothing technique, and only partially because he realized he wasn't being murdered or eaten alive by the grizzled pale creature before him.  

Shhhhhh is the sound newborn babies make on planet Ffffff while they struggle for breath before they receive their breather bugs and names.  The aliens of planet Ffffff live a pseudo-parasitic life with the breather bugs.  A millennia ago, the atmosphere of planet Ffffff became mostly unbreatheable due to an excess of volcanic activity along with some particularly violent solar flares which fried the air.  The breather bugs have the remarkable ability to breathe in anything and then flatulate out a mix of gases, primarily hydrogen sulphide.  These gasses are what the aliens of planet Ffffff needed in order to live.  Most of planet Ffffff's scientific community believe that the reason their atmosphere existed in that particular mixture is that these breather bugs were busy for billions of years filling the planet's atmosphere with their farts.  Aside from the breather bugs that were given to new babies on their naming day, these slug like creatures were a well protected species.  Harming a breather bug resulted in the perpetrator's own breather bug removal and release into the wild.    

Kevin heard the shhhhhh and thought the doctor must be an Earth baby, this was what ultimately calmed him.  The thoughtful and considerate boy wondered where the baby's guardians were, or if it had guardians, and if it was a male, female, or both, and he wondered what kind of creatures would leave a stranger from another world with a baby.  The doctor thought that "Kevin" would be a good name for this alien boy who had shouted out "Kffn" so many times.

Dr. Hitler made some calls and used nearly all of the professional favors he'd accumulated during his 35yr career in order to get a live study area for Kevin.  This live alien study area began as a few rooms and later grew to an entire facility with Dr. Hitler at the helm and the beautiful purple boy at his side.  Of course over the years the boy learned that the doctor was a full grown human adult, although 65yrs seems very young to a race that can easily reach 300.  And the good doctor learned that he had inadvertently named the boy who would become his dearest friend and colleague "shit". 

The pair were famous for both the quality of their research and results and for the unfortunate side effects of working closely with hydrogen sulphide farting slugs.  Through Kevin, the doctor learned that the slug asexually produced and could be made to vomit out a small cluster of shimmering green eggs at the end of it's reproductive cycle once every five years.  These eggs matured rapidly and the new breather bugs began to go to work immediately changing the atmosphere inside of Dr. Hitler's laboratory into a mixture of rotten eggs and dog shit.  Kevin loved it, the laboratory smelled like a home that he missed dearly.  Dr. Hitler spent 5,000 GovBucks a week on air freshening devices, colognes, and fruity hand soaps.

It took the pair working with a few brave interns 30yrs, 6 reproductive cycles, and countless failures to altar the slugs enough through genetic manipulation to flatulate oxygen rather than hydrogen sulphide. 

The extremely health conscious, ironically, were the first to sign up to have farting slugs inserted into their throats.  The rationale was pollution based.  A person with a breather bug installed could jog down a city street during rush hour traffic and happily breathe in nearly tangible black smog and goo with no ill effects.  Public safety workers who were often exposed to unsanitary air and smoke situations were the next to sign up en masse.  Once the benefits were fully realized, most factories opted to force their employees to accept free breather bug installation under pain of higher medical insurance costs.  It wasn't long before the government got involved due to extensive lobbying from corporations who were tired of paying medical bills and keeping sanitary conditions.  Within five years, factories with fully bugged staff were offered looser internal pollution restrictions.  With a breather bug, it was no longer possible to get a lung or throat disease from the job.

Within ten years the pollution boon caused by the dramatic lessening of restrictions had killed off 30% of the world's flora and fauna.  The answer, of course, was more farting slugs.  Each factory was required by law to maintain a live and healthy field of breather bugs of the same square footage as the factory itself.  This seemed to work.

Dr. Aaron Fonzie Hitler died peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old human age of 103 with his dear young friend Kevin by his side.  Kevin lived for another 130 years before taking one of Dr. Hitler's great nieces, Fannie Hitler, 78yrs old, as a wife.  Kevin took Fannie's last name.  Both Fannie and Kevin died two weeks apart just ten years later after a well funded and quiet retirement. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

History of the Universe: The Berring Suit

The Berring suit was named for its inventor, Titan Berring.  A Berring suit was a miraculous leap forward for several reasons.  The wearers of these suits need never worry about breathing, temperature shifts (within reason), bacterial or viral illness, eating, physical harm (again, within reason), or being tethered to the baser functions of humanity for the duration of their lives.  Once a Berring suit was put on, it became a part of the person.

Berring suits were not based on Earth technology.  In fact, Titan Berring was a World Gov alien forensics biologist and not an inventor or engineer at all.  It was Titan's job to investigate the unearthly carcasses generated by the ever increasing alien vs. World Gov skirmishes in order to gain a greater understanding of Earth's new visitors.

This increase in visitors was due to a light drive travel technology explosion near the Lango System.  The Fralzbs's, a race of peaceful and mechanically inclined geniuses had invented a fast and clean method of space travel that could be easily emulated.  Suddenly every world within twenty trillion miles was manufacturing their own galaxy hopping hot rods.  Earth wasn't being invaded, it was being used as a rest stop.

It was on the tormented corpse of one of these alien tourists that Titan Berring first observed a slight genetic difference between the alien itself and its "skin".  This alien was Knu Drop of planet Knu.  The tiny bright blue spider-like creature had stolen his father's ship in order to explore and had stopped on Earth in search of edible vegetation.  World Gov soldiers shot the hell out of Knu Drop as he sucked the meat from a coconut and admired his first and last Earth sunset.

Titan Berring was very good at his job, though even if he hadn't been, it wouldn't have taken him long to figure out that this outer skin held some unusual properties.  The first and most obvious clue occurred when a small gooey patch he'd removed from the blue spider clung to his glove and slowly moved towards his exposed wrist.  Once there it attached itself comfortably above Titan's pulse as he watched spellbound.  The piece would not come off, and instead began to grow.  Within seconds the skin was indistinguishable from his own.  This made removal impossible.  Titan could feel his contact lenses being gently wedged away from his eyeballs as a clear film crept across his vision.  He watched helplessly as they fell away, and still, he felt no true physical discomfort.

When the process was complete Titan Berring was covered from head to toe inside and out with a thin and resilient protective film.  The good biologist was also naked.  This, he later learned after several failed attempts to clothe himself, was because the skin's functions were too easily impaired and compromised by additional covering.  The skin attacked any binding material and melted it away as though it were a threat.

Aside from the loss of modesty, Titan found that this wasn't as large of an inconvenience as one might think.  His body maintained the temperature of his moment of infection.  In fact, everything that his body was doing at that time was maintained by the suit exactly.  Titan's hair and nail length, his weight, and in fact every biologically relevant aspect of him right down to his partially digested breakfast and the iced coffee in his gut were preserved in a spectacular conservation of energy and resources by this second skin.

The suit would continue to rotate and refresh the last breath he'd taken and his last meal he'd eaten until he dropped dead of old age or boredom while maintaining the exact size and outer condition he existed in presently.

Unfortunately the forced nudity wasn't the only drawback of the suit.  By far the most difficult aspect of the second skin was learning to talk.

We take for granted that there will be breath in our lungs when we're ready to speak, however Titan's lungs had become a pair of nearly useless steak balloons.  The suit had shut down the area of his brain stem responsible for now redundant automatic functions such as breathing, digestion, etc.

When Titan stopped breathing, his instinct
 told him to flop onto the floor and flail about violently, pounding his chest and pointing frantically to his throat.  He sucked breath desperately,  but the dumbfounded Titan couldn't feel his lungs filling with air, or even a slight breeze passing over his tongue and throat.

 ‎The only feeling from each attempt to suck in air was what felt like a small balloon in the back of his throat, the suit would only allow the movement of his cheeks and tongue to collect air in a bubble, but from there it could not pass.  Titan filled and released this bubble with all of his might in great gushes that left him with repeated and decidedly anticlimactic "aaaaahh's".

It wasn't long, however, before the gagging  biologist's sharp and well trained scientific mind realized that he was still alive, despite not breathing.

After much experimentation he learned that the air he took in could be manipulated  into words.  In order to speak in a manner that could be understood, Titan had to get very good at ascertaining how much air he might need to expel in order to say a particular thing and then carefully take in that amount.

A third inconvenience, or advantage, depending on ones view, wasn't discovered until more in-depth  study was performed.  A Berring suit was incredibly limiting when it came to reproduction.

A person with a Berring suit could only successfully reproduce with another human being in a Berring suit.  In its infinite biological wisdom, the suit could only open for an exchange of resources when another suit was involved.  Babies born from suited mothers were always healthy, but very small.  To have a baby was to give up several pounds of irreplaceable flesh.  Most suited women opted to only have one child, if any.

All of these things and more Titan Berring learned within months of his first suit contact.

The accidental inventor was never able to reproduce the suit from scratch despite extensive research, it contained several amino compounds not found on Earth.  The basic components of these genetic materials would eventually be discovered on other worlds, but the Chrono-Travell hadn't yet been invented so Titan had no access to future scientific discoveries.  The clever biologist was instead only able to "grow" the suit on an army of hapless lab rats.

Once people got a load of the benefits of this suit they clamored for the opportunity to wear one in spite of the aforementioned limitations.

Aside from being incredibly expensive, the suits were only sold to people who met an extensive list of health criteria.  A relatively clean bill of health was deemed necessary because the suit wasn't a magic healer.  If a person had leukemia or even a urinary tract infection, the Berring suit would assume that their disease was a natural state for the wearer and maintain for them their sub par level of health.  Eventually the disease would win as the suit would effectively protect them from any treatments that might help.

It was also required that the person choose a hair and nail length that was likely to stand the test of time.  Suits were not sold to overweight people or to those with unhealed piercings, tattoos, or dyed hair.  The risk of regret was too great, a Berring suit was forever.

Once the suits had been widely marketed to acceptable clients, people began emulating their effect in the hope of appearing trendy and wealthy.  It was easy to spot these naked imposters because unlike authentic Berring suit owners, they had to breathe and eat.  Another obvious sign was that they would sweat in the heat and shiver in the cold, neither of which a person under the thermal protection of a Berring suit need ever do again.  Authentic Berring suits also shimmered like oil on a puddle when it rained, though they kept the wearer's hair and skin perfectly dry.

Fin Dominguez was the first of many wealthy undersea pioneers to truly test the oxygen regenerative properties of the suit.  The amusement park and hotel mogul spent six months in an underwater amusement park he'd had built in anticipation of a suit inspired deep sea rush.  Dominguez was forced to let the ocean claim his park when it became apparent that while people could now live underwater, tethering his patrons to the sea floor proved too costly, and in the end impossible.

The "Great Atlantic Adventure Park and Casino" closed amid a flurry of class action suits filed by the families of a few dozen missing park goers.  Some of them had been eaten by undersea meanaces impossible to keep comepletely at bay while maintaining Fin's dream of an open sea atmosphere, but most of those luckless adventurers had simply floated away on passing currents.

By far the most interesting incidental development of the Berring suit was what it had done for space travel.  No longer were astronauts restricted to bulky suits and immense space that oxygen generators and food consumed aboard  shuttles.  This was coupled with the alien space travel technology that World Gov scientists had borrowed from numerous interstellar tourists.  Thanks to vigilant World Gov soldiers, Earth had become a very profitable alien space travel cul de sac death trap.

In 5568 a lone elderly traveler set out to test the limits of the Berring suit and himself via the first ship-less voyage through outer space.

Anthony Shakito suffered from stage five pancreatic cancer.  While the suit wouldn't cure him, it would surely buy him time.  Anthony used the unlimited resources of his vast pharmaceutical fortune to slide past the various fitness screening protocols in order to gain access to a second skin and blasted himself into space.

When Anthony's Shakito Med Enterprises private shuttle had almost run out of the power it would need to get back to Earth, Anthony recorded this message:

"April 1, 5568, Anthony Shakito here.  Every time something interesting or good happens I turn to tell my wife, my daughter, my brothers, my mother and father, and I'm alone.  They've all gone on ahead of me.  And so I'm going out to get some good last stories for them and when I've gone as far as this body will let me go, I'm going to turn, and maybe they'll all be there again"

Accompanying the short recording is a one minute video clip of Anthony Shakito's naked cancer ravaged body kicking away from the shuttle, which he had programmed to return to his private launch pad on Earth.

Mr. Shakito's body was never recovered, but his nihilistic solo journey through the cosmos has become the stuff of legend.  No fewer than 35 films and 200 songs have been based on Anthony Shakito's tragic one way trip.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ghost Part Dos

Ghosts are made of regret, hope, rage, joy, sadness, and confusion, the same as everyone else.  The living have a constant barrage of physical sensations and the blissful ignorance of a doubtless existence to shield them from the near constant metaphysical breakdown a lonely soul like Grace Kinder faced every second.  Feeling needed can be a powerful addiction, it's even more powerful to the dead who only have emotional pursuits with which to occupy their time.  For the first time since her icy crash, and maybe for a long while before that, Grace felt needed.

She resented this shift at first, no addiction comes without the price of the life lived before.  So for that reason alone she resisted the kinship that had accidentally arisen between herself and the very small Tim.

The boy's father spent more and more time away, and his mother spent more and more time away in her own way.  Either asleep on her bed or staring silently at the treeline from the porch swing while the busy ghost lured the curious strong baby away from this or that danger, Grace's rage at the usurper subsided every day.  There was no point in hanging on to any of it, she had no target for her rage and jealousy and without a target it spiraled out and away.  The young wife and mother just wasn't home anymore. 

Grace was too busy with her tiny fat friend to wonder if she'd had anything to do with the mother slipping away.  Maybe if she had thought about that, she'd feel more guilt than pride.

Tim's father didn't last through the boy's third summer, he ran off with a mistress and seldom sent for his son.  Grace hardly noticed his leaving, he'd been an absentee so long and she was very busy with the care of both her sweet boy and his sad mother. 

She could remember the moment her feelings had shifted in the latter respect.  Grace had long since ceased feeling rage towards the woman, the sad creature appeared to have given up her own ghost and Grace was not a cruel enough spirit to batter the nearly dead.  On one particular night shortly before the boy's father left, this young mother had almost met her son's ghostly nanny in person.

Grace had been sitting with Tim in his room watching the television show that lulled the boy to sleep generally and realized that her young charge's mother hadn't checked on the boy in hours.  The woman appeared mostly bereft of maternal instincts but she wasn't an altogether terrible mother, she made sure her son was cleaned and fed and generally saw to his well being.  She cared enough that her prolonged absence was noted by the ghost.

When Grace glided into the sleeping woman's room nothing appeared amiss at first, Tim's mother was sleeping on her side in bed and Grace thought she must have lost track of the time.  This was something the novice parent was prone to from time to time.  Grace felt something, though, what we might recognize as a live presence.  A live presence was impossible for Grace, she knew then that the young mother's spirit was separating itself.  And then she saw the pills. 

Grace employed every ghostly trick at her disposal to get the young woman to vomit the contents of her stomach onto her pillow, a macabre impressionist clump of hopelessness.  When she was through she used all of her strength to pull the covers up around the sleeping woman and turn the light off.  As she slipped out, she felt the woman's lost eyes on her in that expressionless understanding and acceptance that only the nearly dead or already gone can have.  In the morning the woman arose and cleaned up and made breakfast for little Tim with renewed vigor.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

the ghost, first part

When we die, we can stay, but only if we like.  Grace Kinder chose to dwell in the home she'd picked out with her handsome young fiance after her little blue car took an unfortunate tumble down a hill into a winter pond.  She couldn't imagine her life, or death, without him.

Her fiance was not so loyal.  Maybe it was a flaw in character, maybe he was overwhelmed with the kind of support a handsome young man receives when his fiancee is ripped from his arms days before their wedding.  Few can resist the suffering of good looking people, and no one is immune to flattery.  Her fiance was married within six months to the pretty daughter of his new neighbor.  Within three months, the young bride was pregnant.

Grace discovered she could affect the living world.  She hovered with red rimmed black hole eyes as the pretty girl examined the results of a home pregnancy test.  Grace screamed, and the girl gasped.  It was a small thing, this unruly shriek had only toppled a crumpled tissue in a wastebasket and had breezed the hair around the girls ear, like a soft whisper might.  It was this second thing that startled she and Grace both.  The excited ghost spent her day and most of her night slapping and punching the newly expectant mother.  The expectant mother spent the rest of the day in bed with a slight headache and indigestion.  Grace needed practice.

By the time the young wife displayed a sizable bump, Grace was knocking over shampoo bottles and unraveling whole toilet paper rolls.  Her demeanor had improved significantly since the initial shock and horror of death.  Grace restricted her torment to the interloping pregnant woman and spent whole evenings sitting with her lost love as he drank in the garage, smoked on the porch, and played video games in the basement.  In many ways, it wasn't very different from the time she'd spent with him while living.  Routines feel good, they feel right, they're comfortable.  Grace furrowed her shimmering ghost brow and stuck out her black tongue when the pregnant woman asked for her husband's presence at dinner or required him to attend outings.

When the boy was born this young wife became even more insufferable.  Her constant demands drove Grace's fiance away, sometimes for days at a time.  Grace put gum in her hair as she slept, which was seldom with a newborn in the home, and filled her toothpaste tube with pebbles.  She blew light bulbs with a touch of her translucent fingernail and reset the oven timer to burn cakes, pies, and whatever else the woman attempted to cook.  The woman had become more and more jumpy, Grace's fiance stayed away later and later, and the baby cried.  Oh how the baby cried.

When a ghost decides where they'd like to spend limbo, there are no takesies backsies.  That's it, never ending lease, regardless of what happens.  Some spirits wind up haunting vacant lots when their buildings are torn down, or meandering around in parking garages.  The human mind is just as short sighted in death as it is in life.  Everyone goes with what they know, despite the understanding that it precludes everything else.

So when Grace found herself watching her former fiance bang his whore secretary in his basement video gaming bean bag chair while his now not-so-pretty wife slept in a Valium induced stupor and their baby sat howling, it occurred to her that she might have been hasty in her choice of eternal eternal damnation/resting home.

This baby, Tim, was a looker.  He had his fathers black mop of thick bristly hair and his mother's brown velvet eyes.  When he cried, which was often, his screams carried with them a sense of urgent and important need rather than the whiny quality that accompanies so many infant bawls.  Tim looked and sounded as though his crying was necessary.  He screamed like a fire engine, like a police siren, it was a confident call to action.

He had stopped crying, which is what startled Grace, who was so used to his howls.  The father was busy with the whore, the mother was busy with her deep deep sleep, and what was keeping Tim busy?  A moth.  A little white moth with fat finger shaped legs was fluttering and skittering along the stairwell and Tim followed behind, reaching out his stubby hands.

Grace grabbed the moth without thinking and lured the baby back into the safety of his nursery, where she slammed the door.  Tim giggled.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Three Days

They had been in bed for three days.  The novelty of the wispy down that grew along her ribs and thighs had not worn thin.  He traced the curve from her shoulder down her back and along her leg with his palm just above the skin and imagined eclipsing a thousand tiny forests.  She twisted onto her back abruptly, lightly pinning his hand.  "I want to go home"

His face sagged, "We won't make it, you know we shouldn't."  But here she turned her head slightly towards him, the setting sun cast long shadows under her downcast lashes, and not for the first time the boy thought to himself that it might be better to die saying yes than to live saying no.

The Earth was crumbling.  It wasn't mankind's fault, for all of everyone's worrying.  It was just happening, and it had been happening for a very long time.  Every patch of dirt above and below the sea was having a turn, each upheaval worse than the last.  Geologists were able to predict with some certainty where the next situation would occur within several hours, but there was no way for every human being to hop scotch continuously across the planet to safety.  Both of these children had heard stories of people who had flown planes and helicopters from city to city, state to state, only to be sucked deep into the earth upon landing.  If by some series of grand fortunes you were able to survive an upheaval, it was best to stay put.  An area that had just been hit wasn't generally affected again quickly.  It was better to stay and hope, they both knew.

When the Earth had come for them three days ago, it had ruined everything around them.  The small hill next to the boy's apartment building had become a mile deep chasm, the floor sagged and tilted.  And it wasn't over.  Everything around them was being pushed up or pulled down, they had watched two houses across the street teeter totter before collapsing together into a trench like dominoes.  And then the pair had crawled into bed and held each other, waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  The horrific noise from outside never abated, but the two remained safe.

This boy and girl were in love but they hadn't been the week before.  This hadn't been the boy's apartment the week before, either.  He was looting for food when the girl, this lone girl, had knocked on the door to ask if he had any water.  He only had a little, it would last a week if he was careful and alone.  He'd been smart enough to fill up the tub as soon as he'd entered, before the building started to shake.  But then she turned her head slightly and the sun cast long lash shadows on her cheeks below her downcast eyes, and he said yes.

And now she wanted to go home.  The boy knew that home for her was in the next town, she had been visiting her father when the upheaval hit.  He was dead, and the phones were down, and the girl wanted to see her mother.  The boy filled a backpack with bottles of tub water and cans of tuna.  The pantry had been well stocked upon their arrival, but believing that death is around every corner doesn't encourage frugality.  Still, the pair could only carry so much.  No sense in hoarding.

The elevator door was tilted slightly, giving it the appearance of a tortured and tense parallelogram.  The backup generator in the building had kept some functions operating, light music crawled tinnily from the shaft.  The boy whispered along quietly, "There's a little black spot on the sun today, it's the same old thing as yesterday", the girl tugged his sleeve and together they climbed over a jagged railing onto the stairs.

"What do you want to do if she's still there?", the boy asked, to their left a man and woman wept over a pair of children's shoes sticking up from the earth, the girl turned away as she realized the child was wearing them.  She gripped the boy's hand tightly and they made their way through shifting rubble.

"I just want to tell her that my dad was sorry, and that he loved her, and that I love her", she sighed.  "I should be able to do that, if I'm allowed to do anything, and I have to do something."

So the boy squeezed her hand and nodded, "It's going to be ok, we'll get there, I'll make sure of it."  But his eyes had darkened because he knew that the fates didn't respect nobility and cared nothing for last words or tender moments.  The earth had always swallowed up stories and robbed innocent and guilty people alike of their endings, this was nothing new.

The pair marched on over broken glass and bodies, among occasional crowds of sobbing and singing passerby.

The girl's mother waited on the roof humming to herself.  "There's a little black spot on the sun today, it's the same old thing as yesterday."  The inside of the house was decimated, small piles of half buried debris where the furniture and several of the rooms had been.  The roof, by some stroke of good fortune, had remained intact.  And so the woman sat, knees drawn up to her chest and her back leaning against the chimney, a tarp spread out against the sun, and there she waited for her pretty daughter to come home.

She was asleep when her girl arrived, bleeding and shivering and half carried by a strong dark haired boy.  The woman and girl fell shaking with sobs into each others arms, "Mom he said he was sorry, dad said he was sorry, he never should have left!"

The boy waited patiently, marveling at the only miracle he'd ever seen.  They had made it.  His beautiful girl with downy skin was arm in arm with her lovely elder doppelganger.

And the earth exploded, and they had their ending.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Savage 9

The center was dark save for a lone light in Dr. Adler's office.  Adam hadn't expected to see the secretary at her desk, but he was startled to see that the desk itself was not there.  Gone also were the few chairs, tables, and lamps that had adorned the small waiting area. 

"Come in, Adam," the doctor called from his office.  "We've got the place to ourselves, and I've got a lot to tell you"

Adam walked through the door to find Dr. Adler pouring champagne into two fluted glasses.  The doctor chuckled weakly, "We may as well celebrate the end, though it's come a lot sooner than I'd hoped"

"Won't that interfere with my medication?", Adam asked, and again Dr. Adler chuckled weakly.  "Adam, there is no more medication.  I know you've been taking it only sporadically of late,"  Adam opened his mouth to protest but Dr. Adler nimbly bridged the gap, "it doesn't matter, son, there is no more medication, no more treatment, no more hypnosis.  In fact after today we will likely never see each other again."

Adam drank the champagne quickly and poured himself another glass, his broad shoulders slumped.  He sat heavily on the only seat left in the room, the couch on which he'd taken so many after session naps.  Dr. Adler sat on the desk looking down at the tall man.  "You were perfect for the program, I want you to understand, Adam.  You wanted this, and we wanted you.", the doctor handed Adam a manilla envelope.  "Go ahead, open it.  That is your permission slip, if you will, authorizing the company to tinker with your brain.  You wanted to get well, Adam.  Though to be fair we did have you over a barrel."

Adam had taken the papers from the envelope and stared at a gray and black photocopied picture of his aged parents.  They looked back at their son from beneath a still layer of dark water, those familiar circles carved into their skin.  Not exactly how he remembered finding them, or was it?  How had Dr. Adler gotten this photo?  Beyond this picture were more, pictures of Emily and Adam sitting on the bench in the hospital courtyard where he'd spent so many months healing from his accident.  Each picture was labeled, "Week 1", "Week 2", on and on in the doctor's sharp and tidy print.

"Empathy replacement therapy", the doctor pressed on, "Adam I need you to focus on what I'm telling you, it may sound ridiculous, but you know it's true.  You know it's true because you've never gotten better.  Not really.", The doctor looked down and away.  "What we tried to do, what I tried to do," the good doctor sighed,  "you did so well.  It just didn't work, Adam, I was wrong, and I can't protect you anymore."  Dr. Adler cleared his throat and squared his small shoulders, "Adam you have to protect yourself now, you have choices."

Dr. Adler looked at Adam's confused expression and softened.  Adam had reached the picture of Emily's mother.  The photo wasn't ten years old or five years old, oh no.  It was far more recent.  The woman was a bloodied mess, and the next carefully cataloged photo was the image of the whore's teeth and tongue in the bottom of the Savage sandwich cooler.  An inky shadow rolled slowly across Adam's eyes.

Dr. Adler went on.

"Adam there are bodies in your basement.  You murdered your parents, you are a predator.  You were selected for this program because you displayed a gift for emulating emotion, and because you were careful enough to not have been caught.  Oh you were a sharp one, Adam.  The best we'd seen.  We thought, I thought, that you could be taught empathy and that a broken past could be replaced, swapped with something healthier and cleaner.  This isn't repression, understand, though that is a small part of the process.  I've been working on creating simultaneous memories.  I thought we could break you and put you back together the right way.  Adam, Adam?  I need to know that you understand me.  I was wrong, you weren't broken.  What we've done has broken you."

Adam's chest and shoulders moved up and down rhythmically with each breath.  He had reached the final picture, though it was in black and white Adam knew that the boys wore kelly green tee shirts and running shorts.  Adam could also see that he was among these tough boys, standing tall in the back.  Not all of team green made it into the group photo that year, several of them were in the infirmary, having had nasty fight in the night.  None of the boys would say what had happened, though Adam's knuckles were a shade darker than his uniform.  Why had Adam thought that he was team red? 

"Adam, you don't have anything to ask?  Anything to say?"  Dr. Adler looked at his hulking guest quizzically.  Why hadn't the boy spoken up? 

Adam raised his eyes to Adler without lifting his head, "Is Emily real?" 

"Well Adam, Emily is an actress.  I believed if I could make you connect with a child, develop a bond,"  And here Dr. Adler's last sentence ended.  Adam had shattered the champagne bottle on the desk and slid it with a twisting motion into the neck of this father who had unmade him.  Dr. Adler gripped Adam's neck and stared, his mouth opening and closing, stuttering and sputtering, "Ba ba ba ba ba ba", and then it hung limp.  Adam mused for a moment at the spout of blood the bottle neck had created before getting out his pocket knife and going to work.

When he had finished fixing Dr. Adler, Adam rolled him into the area rug and loaded him onto the van, along with all of his files.