Friday, 16 December 2011

99) Family Time

    Out behind their house, only six years old, Mom and Dad and baby son Junior, only four years old, take in the night while sitting on their swinging bench. There’s no soft whoosh of traffic in the distance, the highway is several dozens of miles away and thousands of feet below. There’s only the keening song of cicada, the percussive whine of crickets, the occasional muted dog barking off in the distance, and the slow rhythmic creak of the swing.
    All at once they ooh and ahhh as a large meteor streaks across the sky. It burns yellow then blue, all the while splitting off into smaller and smaller fragments until it finally disappears in a bright flash of white.
    “Oh, mommy wassat?”
    “That’s a falling star, honey.”
    She laughs a little and says, “Mmm, it’s a celebration honey.”
    Dad chimes in, “Of the great and humble, kind and virtuous King Barley the Sheep.”
    They both stare as his crazy proclamation and Jr. laughs first then mom giggles too.
    “No joke,” Dad continues, “King Barley was the best king ever. He’d let little boys stay up late and everything.”
    Junior squeals “No, sheep can’t be king.”
    “Hmm, why not?”
    “They’re not person people?”
    “Oh, ok then. What if he was only king of the animals?”
    “Umm, I guess that’s okay. But why was he king?”
    Above his head the adults have a quick wordless conversation with their facial expressions. You want to tell the story? I can’t think of anything. Is it bed time? No, not yet. Ok, I think I got something. Thanks, love you.
    Mom says, “Once upon a time, back before people.”
    “A long time ago, huh?”
    “Back before people it was only animals and it was wild. There weren’t any roads or cars…”
    “Or houses?”
    “Back before houses, or airplanes, or anything human a sheep named Barley came along.”
    “Was he the king?”
    “Not yet, he was a simple sheep, but he wanted everyone to get along. You see, Barley had noticed that when we work together, when the animals worked together, they got things done faster and better than when they fought.”
    “Like you and daddy fight.”
    “Kind of, but with more claws and teeth.”
    Junior laughs.
    “What’s so funny?” Dad says.
    “You and Mommy with big teeth.” And he waggles his fingers out of his mouth miming giant fangs and everyone laughs.
    Mom continues stoically, “It was hard going, but eventually Barley the sheep convinced every kind of animal to work together. And once everyone saw how prosperous, how well everyone was doing, they decided to make him king.”
    “But why the falling star?”
    “I was just getting to that, Mr. Impatient Pants. So, Barley wasn’t a magical sheep, he was only really smart and knew how to get people to trust each other. And for a long time, longer than any sheep had lived before, he ruled with a kind hoof and a gentle nose and the best listening ears. But he aged, as everyone does and eventually he died.”
    Dad chimes in with a heart felt, “Awww.”
    “Eventually even the gods in the stars heard of Barley’s triumph and they were so moved that they sent most beautiful stars to rain down on the Earth in thanks for his good work.”

Thursday, 15 December 2011

98) Security

    All I can see is a wall of flames up the closed transom, all I can smell is smoke, all I can hear is the useless fire alarm blaring away. I look back into the meeting room where I’m stuck and smoke is starting to seep under the door. I frantically strip off my shirt and pants and shove them in the crack to stop the smoke from coming in. But maybe I shouldn’t have done that. I rummage through my now smoking pants and find my cell phone.
    I go back and open the window, not only for fresh air, but to see a tiny slice of blue sky out beyond the towers of the city. I hear sirens, hundreds of feet down below and I think maybe about jumping. I’d certainly land with a splash.
    I flip open my phone and scroll through my contacts list. Who do I call? Mother, Father, any of my sisters, grandparents, aunts or uncles? My wife. Her cell phone number is one of the few I have memorized, it’s only one digit off from mine.
    It rings and rings and rings. The firemen have turned off their sirens and the fire alarm has been shut off. I wonder idly if the fire has been cancelled, if they can do that. But I have to cut off that stupid thread of thought as her familar voice mail picks up. I think that maybe it’s better this way. Then they can play the message for everyone, even though it’s only for her. Without thinking about it I know what to say, the Rumi poem I memorized for our ten year anniversary:
        The springtime of Lovers has come,
        that this dust bowl may become a garden;
        the proclamation of heaven has come,
        that the bird of the soul may rise in flight.
        The sea becomes full of pearls,
        the salt marsh becomes sweet as paradise,
        the stone becomes a ruby from the mine,
        the body becomes totally soul.
    As I finish the poem the epensive wooden doors at the end of the room finally fall to reveal an advancing wall of flame and thick black smoke. It licks up the ceiling and in less than a heart beat the heat hits me hard. I can’t do anything but fall out of the window. The cell phone slips out of my hand and floats in free fall next to me. I don’t try to catch it. Through the rush of air I can almost hear the mechanical voice on the other line asking me to press buttons. I am eerily calm.
    And all too soon the ground slams up into me. It doesn’t hurt.
    In big friendly red letters the words “GAME OVER” pop up in front of me and I slide off the VR set from my head. Disbelief falls to the ground and shatters and I’m back at work, goofing off.
    Only a few minutes has passed in real life even though the dreamy weight of death is still heavy on my mind. I slip the VR set back into my desk, close the drawer, and take a deep breath. The snuff games aren’t my favorite, I prefer animal rides or ancient cities, but my hacked set only works on shuffle. In fact, my death, the businessman’s death has put me off of VR entirely. I look at my watch, still another fifteen minutes until I need to do my rounds and make sure all the doors that need to be locked are locked. I hate being a security guard.
    I try to distract myself by watching an old black and white television. The set is made of green plastic with a smooth bubble shape. It has several dials, but only the volume works. The figures on the tiny lit screen works their feeble magic on me for about five minutes. Someone is chasing someone else in a car, there’s explosions and screaming.
    And then like a good rat I fish out the VR set and put it back on.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

97) Playground

    “Who’s beast are you?” The girl on the playground asked me. I told her I was my own beast and she ran to her mommy, afraid. She almost fell and then looked back at me. 
    My mother called me a beast when she bailed me out of jail, must have been the fifth or sixth time that summer. It wasn’t that bad, I’d only bitten off part of the other kid’s ear that time.
    I asked my lover who her beast was, she pointed a claw at me. Good mouth on that one, what a waste she didn’t last as long as the others.
    In prison I make sure I’m in solitary. Here’s where I find peace, pale yellow concrete walls. Here’s where I wait until I can hunt again, hibernating.
    Today men in suits came to ask me questions. They showed me pictures but wouldn’t let me keep them.
    I know one day the men in suits will come again and take me away. They will have a special job for me, a job only I can do. And I’ll do my best and be the beast again.

    I ran away from him on the playground. And in that second of fear he entered my mind like a sharp thorn. I was still running and suddenly taller and stumbled a step. I turned back to look and he was still there, I was still there. I couldn’t tell him I was him, too many adults were around.
    Her memories come back like to me like a picture book. There was mommy and doggy and daddy and bampa and nanna and the big house and we all lived there.
    I did well in school. Everyone paid attention to me and let me do what I wanted. People didn’t run away or beat me. My thing’s different too. Gone, cut out like I always wanted. And the new one feels even better.
    There’s so much you can learn when people leave you alone. Everyone’s afraid of me, but in a different way than before. I can take what I want and it’s expected of me to conquer. Men pave my path to greatness. I go for the money, I go for the power, enough power to finally search for myself, the original beast.
    I’m forty years old when I get confirmation of his location. Grey hairs on my head. I think I might like to go completely white like that Australian starlet. Like with children you have to be a chameleon in this playground. Look like one thing, act like another. Cognitive dissonance can give you that hair’s breath of advantage.
    Many people do what I tell them. I feel them like fingers and toes. When I finally see myself again behind the mirrored glass I will certainly smile.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

96) Moon and beyond

    On every black and white television screen across the developed world people watched the tiny capsule hit the moon, a tiny white plume of dust. Footage came from the orbiting station manned by world famous philanthropist, scientist, and experimental airplane pilot Sharia Goldberg.
    From any main street you could feel the rapt silence as Sharia explained the purpose of the capsule. It was not only a foothold in space, but it was a home away from home. He explained that the capsule contained several types of small machines that would burrow down into the rocky layers of the moon over the next century and prepare for us caves and support systems so that we could live on the moon and manufacture ships to explore even more of space.
    A millennium later the political tides caused by the new international Moon colony had worn smooth any difference between us an them, we were all too connected to think otherwise. Travel between Luna and Terra was taken for granted. The colonies became the destination for the newly wed and the nearly dead, and then families. Then expansion and independence. Eventually the whole solar system became a backwater.
    A few millennia after that and we were gone. Our floating cities lay fallow and our broadcasts were mute. Only our artificial flora and fauna had any chance at carrying on the flame of intelligence in our absence. One animal in particular, the smart koi, flourished. Originally intended to maintain Lunar aquifers and aqueducts they were able to plan ahead for their own safety and communicate their plans to others. And more importantly, to build.
    The Koi created their own culture, made their own discoveries, their own first step into space, and naturally made their own mistakes. Eventually they died out. Eventually another sapience rose and fell, then another and another and another, beating through geological time like the fluttering heart of an adolescent in love.
    The blue green twins of Terra and Luna spun through space around their parent star until he bloated and died. When the pressure waves hit Luna huge feathery thistle downs burst out from her body. They sailed out into space carrying the seeds of life and civilization. Each puff of ionized gas pushed them in random directions and they drifted, silent, cold, and alone into deep space, waiting patiently to find another home.

Monday, 12 December 2011

95) Near Crash

      I sat at in the pilot’s chair, a useless fish. In the sea I would have been a bad ass with my sharp spines and whip like tail. But a blue fin tuna cannot work any human technology regardless of the time or place. Since I was the only one on the airplane still conscious it was up to me to save the day. Thankfully I could still breathe, a real tuna would have been half way asphyxiated by the time I had flopped my way into the main cabin.
    My name is Reginald and I’m a budget bodyguard. This particular job had me working for a group of brownies from a small town named Orlaska. Though brownies are a spirits it’s more of a slavery since they have no money. Lucky for them, and unlucky for me, I owed their king a big favor. So they got my services gratis on this trip over to the human world for negotiations. Except that there weren’t going to be any negotiations if I couldn’t bring down the plane safely. Thankfully whomever had planted that sleeping spell onboard hadn’t anticipated me. And if I couldn’t not be a fish it wouldn’t really matter.
    The way I got my curse, and I guess you can call it a blessing too as it keeps my rent paid, is fairly short. And as we have a little time before I become something else, let me tell you.
    I was an impetuous youth. We all are, aren’t we? We know how the world works and what we can get out of it. I thought that since I had that old book of spells and a magical birthmark that the world was mine for the taking.
    Sure, some of the easier and cheaper spells worked fine. But if I had bothered to read all the way to the end of it, like my master had said, I wouldn’t be in this mess. It turns out that the book was booby trapped with a bit of a practical joke. A permanent practical joke.
    Several years into my quote-unquote mastery of magic and I was curing the sick and killing trolls for a hefty fee when I found my mana getting a little dry. I was getting colds, bowel movements were more difficult and they were garishly bright colors. Even though I could have afforded a top tier magician I had to choose a budget shaman to fix me up. Rent was due.
    We met on a dark and stormy night. His teepee smelled old and musty. He looked like he hadn’t moved from his seated position for years. His voice was a dry crackle, “How can I help you, young man.”
    Having grown used to the respect from others by being a high class wizard I was a bit snotty and didn’t really think to answer his question fully, “I’ve been cursed.”
    “Oh? How’s that?”
    I described my symptoms, but didn’t mention the book. I had somehow imagined that admitting the use of a grimoire would prove that I was only a rank amateur. Though, thinking about it now, I don’t know why I was worried about impressing a crusty old dream-walker.
    As I finished he raised his hands, I assume to cast a spell. And at that very moment a bolt of lightning flashed through the guy’s cramped and cluttered home.
    This is where it got evil.
    When I woke up I was home again, a rented duplex on the soft lands in Miami. Turns out that the book didn’t like me trying to mess with what it was doing to me so, as its bound servant I returned to it as soon as a spell was formed to try and remove its influence from me. I didn’t know it at that time. As I continued to try and cure myself additional layers of protection were activated.
    First I was returned to the book. Three times I was returned to the book. The fourth time I was stripped of my ability to hold mana for any appreciable amount of time. And that one stung. Without a job and within a month I was out on my ass. The final trap was a kicker. Any spell cast on me would have unpredictable effects. It’s not quite as good as being magic-proof, but it was something I could leverage into a job.
    So, the timed sleeping spell turned me into a tuna. Considering the size of the spell and the two hundred people it put down I figured I had a good twenty minutes as a fish. That would be well before anyone else woke up on the plane, like I said, mana just doesn’t stick to me.
    Oh, where’s the book you say? As a fish I’m not sure where it is on me, but as a human it resides as a very fine silver bracelet around my left hand. Turns out the book doesn’t mind its self being changed into something else. Go figure.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

94) Wizard Construction

    “No, no, put it further out so you can see it from the street like I told you before. What? Of course it matters. No, use the metric wand. Yes, of course, ok, fine do it your way see who runs out of mana halfway through the job. I’m sorry, I didn’t know your father lost his mana on the battle field. Look, I was in the war too so don’t get snippy. I know you went to school for this, but I’ve been raising buildings since the turn of the millennium… Ok, great, thanks. No, I didn’t. Yes, you’ll do fine. No, I’m not mad at you, this is just business. Right? Right. Ok, Danny, talk to you later.”
    Grand Warlock Forego Esq. put down his phone and turned back to me. His eyes burned bright green then dimmed. He stared at me for a good long minute. I squirmed in my seat. Then a broad and not completely unhealthy smile crossed his face. He said in a mellow tone, “So, Kerrie, says here you want to work here for Forego Construction on my survey team.”
    My palms sweated, why was he asking? Of course I wanted to work for him, that’s why I was here. Maybe it was a test. Oh, god, better answer or he’ll think I’m a deaf mute. I tried to speak, but my mouth was completely dry. A mousy “Yes, sir” finally squeaked out of me.
    “Good good. Here at Forego Construction we always need fresh meat.” He laughed. I cringed inside, but kept my spine straight.
    “As you know my great great great grandfather started Forego Construction shortly after humans left Africa in the late Pleistocene and we’ve been the number one name in magical buildings and fortifications ever since.”
    He continued on for several minutes unfolding the glorious history and holdings of his company across the countless centuries. And it was impressive, but I’d heard it all before, had it nearly memorized. I’d watched all the corporate videos and read all the brochures. It wasn’t exactly boring, but I needed the job. I thought he would take that as a given and wondered why he was trying to sell it to me.
    When he finally finished his epic retelling of the company’s history he said “So, Kerrie, tell me… why shouldn’t we hire you?”

Saturday, 10 December 2011

93) In the post

     I knew the wind whipping snow around me ruined any sense of direction. I had taken a bearing that morning on the second day of my journey, but I was sure I needed to take another. I pulled out my gps, I had been going more than ninety degrees and several hundred yards off. I reoriented and continued on my way through the frozen wasteland.
    I had set off from my small town in the middle of nowhere with a postcard, the first mail in months. A cartoon turtle on one side said ‘Visit Sunny Florida’ and on the other side was a set of very accurate coordinates. Very inconvenient coordinates. Our long distance post man, Gerald McManus, was out with the flu so it fell to me to trek a hundred miles into the wilderness.
    No matter how antisocial you think you can be there’s someone who’s taken it the tenth power, and they all live up here. They’re separated from each other by miles of frozen tundra in the fall and winter and spring, and miles of mosquito infested bogs in the summer.
    To celebrate the fact that I’d made it halfway I noshed on some jerked beef and sipped some skin temperature water even though it wasn’t lunch time.
    The next thing I remember I was coming to in a plush recliner in front of a fire. All of me was warm and I never wanted to see snow again. That life was a farce, this life in front of the fire was all there needed to be.
    Then I remembered my job and checked my pocket. The postcard was gone. My heart sank, I’d be fired or worse I’d have to come back up here again. I sunk further into the chair and shivvered as something cold and wet ran down my neck. I followed the trail up and pulled the ice pack away from my head. I touched the spot where it had been resting and yelped a little as I touched the big knot on my head.
    A tinny voice buzzed from the side of the room, “I’m sorry if my assistant was a little too enthusiastic, young man. Sometimes he doesn’t know his own strength.”
    I turned my head towards the voice, but couldn’t see anything but a wall of books.
    A bolt of pain shot through my side and up my neck. I kept from yelling out that time. I said, “Who’s there?”
    “I am Doctor Henry Latch Esq. You are now talking to me through remote microphone. I am several miles away on business in sunnier climes. My assistant Henry was tasked with surveying the perimeter of my summer home to keep a look out for deliveries or spies. And, yes, I did take that post card from you as I am its intended recipient. And I apologize, but now that you’re in my house I cannot allow you to leave.  I should be there in a few months. I can talk to you later about your personal effects. Otherwise, please, make yourself at home.”

Friday, 9 December 2011

92) Curfew

    “Gotta get home, gotta get home, gotta get home.” you say, over and over again. You notice people in the train car are looking at you and you repeat your mantra silently in your head, hoping in vain that it will help somehow.
    It’s five minutes from curfew, and you’re ten minutes from home. No way are you going to make it even if you had the spring legs from your next stage.
    You squeeze out of the train car between late night adults with their proud wings out, taking up too much space and heading to the pubs to drink them selves silly. You’re the first out of the train’s sliding door, but it doesn’t matter. You’re first through the turn style and running up the escalator, but it doesn’t matter. You look down at your watch as if that would help to turn back the time. Your heart races and your thorax burns in embarrassment.
    Once you leave the train station you can see the town’s church, your home for the last few years, just beyond a copse of decorative trees in their familiar swirls. You run faster than you’ve ever ran before and you think maybe you can make it.
    You run red lights and you hop over parked cars. You barely avoid a epileptic larva from the Builder Caste. The main dorm approaches you with its blank and shining white facade which represents the pure heart of Light, or at least that’s what the brochure said. It’s far better than living on the streets, than staying with the parent, or earning a living in the aphid mines. You only have to hold on for a few months until you can molt then you can get a courier job and a tiny room share in the city where the real action is.
    You think you can hear the locks slamming shut from a hundred yards away and you wonder if the stories the other individuals in your instar told you were true. They can’t be true, you think. Rules are for children. You think you can sleep inside the covered doorway and apologize profusely in the morning.
    You finally get to the front door, huffing and puffing, the tender flesh between your plates pulse an angry red. You’re two seconds late.
    You try the door, but it’s obviously locked. You bang on it a bit, but give up when it starts to hurt your fists. Then there’s a slight hissing from above you. You wonder what it is.
    As tiny drops of bitter smelling mist hit your exposed carapace you remember a mumbling old nun telling you about the way they clean the building at night. It’s part surfactant and part hormone. Now you remember why the nuns said that if you’re out past curfew it’s better to find somewhere else to sleep.
    You look up in the sky at the still bright line of the McDonald Space Elevator. The last bit of sun shine glints off the top well after night has begun down at the surface. Then you hear the buzz of the cleaning beetles and run for your life.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

91) Protest

    “Good Morning, my name is Tracy LeBar, I’m here with channel Star news, and I’m down here at St. Mark’s Place in front of the New London Government Health agency’s main building. In a scene reminiscent of the previous century’s class war sit-ins on Earth but with more prosthetics and wheel chairs. We’re here among several thousand protesters who have been camping here peacefully here for the last two weeks.”
    Pull back to establishing shot of encampment, traditional tents, rapid fab shelters, and foam houses are packed closely together on the field until they meet the road about a hundred yards away.
    Cut to commercial. Then back to Tracy walking among the protesters. She turns the microphone to a healthy looking young woman with a sleeping baby in a pram.
    “Hi Ma’am, do you have a moment?”
    The mother smiles back beatifically. “Of course.” She wipes away a stray lock of hair.
    “Can you tell us why you’re here?”
    “Sure, we have a great system here. People get healed and we have the longest lives in human history, you know. But the quality isn’t always there. Sometimes it takes too long to regrow an organ or fit new limbs. And I’m here protesting for my son here who will benefit the most, you know? I’m a nurse and I see a lot of the waste and profiteering that goes on on the other side.”
    Cut to microphone on a young man with sparse beard growth. He holds up a mecha hand and flexes the delicate fingers.
    “Yo man, I built this thing myself and it’s way better than the crap they hand out at the hospital. But, like, I have a degree in engineering so I can do this. But I’m too young so I can’t get a job doing it, you know? So I have to get a minimum wage job flipping burgers and I can only do that part time. Hell, I was fired from my last job for making the fryer warm up 20% faster. What’s wrong with this world? I mean, I can help, but no one wants to pay for it. And the people that run shit. Also, I’ve heard there’s secret technology they’re not even releasing to us.”
    Cut to middle aged man in suit in a wheel chair.
    “Yea, I’m a postal worker, corporate. I probably deliver your mail, up there at Star Networks. I lost my arm to a letter bomb back in ‘78.”
    He holds up his mechanical arm that doesn’t look as fancy as the earlier one, it’s covered in thick pink plastic. He flexes his fingers for the camera and they look eerily non human.
    He continues, “And now I hear they have the technology to give me my arm back. Not a transplant from a dead body, but my own flesh and blood. I heard they knew how to do this years ago, but they’re not releasing it because it’s too easy to do at home and they can’t make a profit off of it. All I want them to do is release the data, you know? Why should they get even more profits from our suffering? They already own 50% of the planet. They already have a monopoly on health care. Why should they continue to scrape us for every credit they can when all I want to do be whole again?”

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

90) Free on Moon

    “Luna 5, this is Beta Seven Construction, please respond, over.” I was late, but I didn’t think I was that late. I had finished emergency repairs to a large mirror array at the North end of Mare Frigoris and was looking forward to getting out of my suit, a warm shower, and some solid food.
    All that came back was static. That was fine, it’s a fairly hairy frontier country on the edge of space. Communication networks get overloaded, antenna get hit with micro meteorites, all sorts of things can go wrong which is why I didn’t worry until several hours later when Luna 5’s broken dome appeared over the horizon.
    My mind raced trying to figure out what had happened. It didn’t look like a meteor strike and we have several layers of defense and this kind of destruction shouldn’t be possible. Then I noticed a glimmer off to the East about a hundred yards away. I drove over to it and tried my radio, “Luna 4 this is Luna 5 come in, over.” I tried the other three bases, but got the same response. I stopped my cart, got out, and stood next to a black and twisted piece of the dome.
    “…” All that came back was hissing white static.
    Finally some sense kicked in and I swapped over my visor to infrared. The edges of the broken dome were hotter than the rest. I looked back at Luna 5 and I could see a huge plume of the lost air fading up into space like wind swept hair. My last meal rose in my throat with the cloyingly sweet taste of synthetic beef.
    I switched over to the emergency frequency. “S.O.S This is Frank Wu Seven at Luna 5, repeat this is Frank Wu Seven and Luna 5, come in, over.”
    “…” No response. Either all four of the other bases were down or our com system had been wasted. I didn’t like either possibility so I double checked my own systems. They were working fine.
    I was hungry, thirsty, tired and without supplies. My home was gone, tens of thousands of my friends and coworkers were gone. I was afraid to go in to see all the carnage, but I needed to go in to stay alive. I pumped some de-tension and go-within into my blood stream at heroic doses.
    The place was a horror show, but on the neuroleptics it felt cardboard thin. I don’t think I could have saved myself any other way. Everywhere there were blackened bodies curled up in pain, random limbs,  and the dried out and mummified. It seemed like a horror show you’d see at a festival or fair. I almost expected someone to pop out from a corner and come at me with a chainsaw spraying fake blood. Eventually I found some rations, bottles of water, and tanks of air. The com room was blasted away so I had to still rely on my suit’s radio which was still silent.
    I found a dark supply closet and fell asleep in that. I was shielded from radiation better than my suit alone, but when I woke up I had forgotten to drug myself. I thought everything was okay until I got up and opened the door and the previous day’s images came back at full force. And it wasn’t a crepe paper show to scare children, it was my loved ones. I had recognized three of my fellow Frank Wu clones, The Bio Chamber’s cat, and one of Lily’s clones, the pale blue number on her neck obliterated by burnt black char.
    I fell over with a soft clunk and cried and wailed for at least an hour. Tears and mucus in a suit is a serious no no, but I couldn’t help myself.
    Eventually I picked myself up and drugged myself, this time with some caffeine too so I could get a move on. I scavenged some more supplies and left the habitat.
    I drove down to Luna 4 and it was the same story, blasted out dome with a fading plume of air diffusing into space. Luna 3 was the same as well, but their com room was somehow intact. Behind my numb haze I was probably jumping for joy, but in the moment it was only another series of mechanical functions to perform.
    “S.O.S. This is Frank Wu Seven at Luna 3, please respond, over.”
    I repeated myself several times. When I was about to give up the radio hissed into action, “Luna 3, this is Terra 1, we hear you. What is your status? Over.”
    Instead of relief I felt nothing besides the changing gears in my head. “Terra 1, everyone is gone, the domes are destroyed. I think I’m the only one left, over.”
    “Luna 3, we are at war with hiss… crzzt… “
    “Terra 1, please repeat, over.”
    I stared at the equipment which had just been full of life and let me touch home for an all too brief second. I felt a rumble through the ground. I ran to the bulkhead wall. It’s a good thing I did as a red hot cloud of debris ripped through the corridor off to my left. The ground shook again and knocked me to the floor. A third explosion picked me up, threw me into a wall, and knocked me unconscious.
    The next thing I knew was the taste of blood in my mouth and a spinning headache. I tried to get up, but my leg was pinned beneath a large piece of debris. I pumped in pain killers until the limb turned icy then numb. I pulled and pulled but I couldn’t get free. I labored for hours denying that fact. Eventually I did the right thing, the only thing I could do to survive, and amputated.
    I took a while deliberating, it’s not something you want to get wrong. I eventually decided that right above my knee would be the optimal spot. I programmed the procedure into my suit and let it do its grisly business.
    A local anesthetic went in at the site then the suit pinched around the area and sealed it off. Then, like a shot, a super heated circular steel guillotine snapped into my flesh, cauterizing it, sealing it from airless space, and freeing me from several tons of steel and concrete.
    After spending a few minutes recovering from the shock of watching a bit of me be cut off I pulled myself out. The stump tingled, but that was it. I crawled to an open space and saw what had happened. My mind boggled. I wasn’t an investigator, I was just a third level technician. I couldn’t imagine who would want to destroy the moon bases. They were an international effort. We even had chapels of every religious stripe.
    I found a twisted bit of metal to use as a crutch, hobbled back to my cart, and headed out for Luna 2, guarded but hopeful.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

89) Crack and Follow

    I yelled at my laptop and banged my fist on the table. Even though the only other two students in the lab at 3am had their headphones on they gave me withering looks. I ignored them and went back to my problem. Everything I tried was coming apart at the seams. I couldn’t tell if I was hungry or full or needed the toilet.
    A chat window popped up from my roommate, that kind of guy that never takes classes that are too difficult, “hey bro you still up? come down to ferocious for some after party!1!!1!!”
    “Yeah, maybe.” I typed back.
    “lots of drunks chicks maybe even your type, lonely loll ;)”
    Drunk? Random walk? Wiener Process? Lectures from the previous year in statistics and fluid dynamics bubbled up into my head.
    I ignored my roommate’s message and loaded up my raw data again. The raw data that the University’s basement quantum computer had politely churned out for me in an instant. Its fifteen million q-bits had been mine for a solid millisecond at the beginning of the semester and I was still trying to work out what the resulting thirty terabyte state meant.
    I had asked the computer to factor a large sequence of huge and possibly prime numbers, but the results that came back looked like the nastiest noise I’d ever seen. I spent twelve weeks trying to make sense of it. My advisor was getting pissed, I was getting pissed, but the numbers didn’t want to do anything sensible.
    Later that afternoon back in my dorm room after I had implemented the new search parameters I took a disco coma nap while the computer churned away.
    A few senseless hours later my terminal dinged, like a snap I woke up and rolled over to its glowing screen.
    I stared slack jawed at the results. It didn’t make any sense, it went against all intuition. I’ll reproduce it here if you don’t believe me, see attached binary for raw data and initial program filters.
    It says, “86% Disc0unt! bUY V16A-RA & LEV7IRA T0DAY!!! One Day Shipping!…”
    You can see the message go on and on for several more lines in the same fashion.
    I’ve pinched myself, but it doesn’t make any difference. I’ve checked and triple checked. I’m considering taking a fail in the class because no one anyone is going to believe me, ever. There’s no way, no way in the world.

Monday, 5 December 2011

88) The Plague

    I sat down at my tiny breakfast nook in my tiny apartment with my bowl of Capt’n Crunch in rice milk and flicked on the little black and white television I have there. The morning news talking heads prattled on into comfortable noise and I dug into the treacherous meal. A successful breakfast of Capt’n Crunch requires that one take every jaw movement with mindfulness. It’s very zen that way. Several missteps in a row and their sugary deliciousness will rub your gums or pallet raw.
    It wasn’t until I’d nearly finished my bowl that I noticed the talking heads had been blathering about the same thing the whole time. It was a subtle change from the usual political debacles and local news interest. In their place were interviews with scientists, sanitation workers, and concerned citizens talking about cockroaches.
    Now I’m not a bugophobe, hell I’ll catch spiders and let them out my window with a reprimand, but I had a roach crawl between my legs one balmy summer and I loathe the things. I’m impressed with their survivability, but they’re so damn nasty.
    Since my cheep little TV only got one channel I clicked it off and ate the rest of my breakfast in uncomfortable silence, listening to myself think.
    Would I get that build out on time? Do I need groceries? Did I pay rent this month? I think I did…
    Later, out on the street and well on my way to work I noticed something strange. Every third or fourth person was walking in a daze with snot dripping out of their nose. With the first few people I thought it was allergies and that they were particularly uninterested in personal hygiene. It’s a big city so it’s not like I would point that out to strangers. But after the tenth person with gleaming clear snot coming out their nose I was concerned and began to walk with my arm over my nose. It wasn’t until I saw that every other person needed to blow their nose that I noticed this glazed over look in their eyes and a strangely erect posture like they were proud of their runny noses.
    I double timed it to work at that point and was careful to hide my skin under my shirt when opening doors. Safely inside the building I breathed a sigh of relief. At my desk I logged into my terminal. I had a project that was due before lunch so I jumped into it and ignored my usual loafing around news websites. I slipped on my headphones and rocked out to some tracks from the band CSS, a friend had sent me them. The music and the code shoved everything else in my head out into the aether. I was in a serious groove, it was my art, there’s a reason I’m paid the big bucks.
    I finished the code and passed it off to the Q&A for testing. I was on fire and there was another tasty project in my inbox. I jumped on it and was coding until well past 1pm. Lucky for me the tea cart lady was trollying by. I flagged her down and got myself a prawn sandwich, a bag of crisps, and a soda then I was quickly back into the world of semicolons and recursive functions as I shoveled fuel into my face.
    Time passed and I made a significant dent into the project, a controller driver for a class of medical equipment, dry, but a good challenge. The day came and went, but I didn’t really notice. 
    Close to the end of the work day someone touched me. The shock nearly set me into a fit. People at work know not to interrupt me without some warning. I turned around, ready to deal out some severe nerd rage, but it was my supervisors boss, Alice, a tough big city woman everyone knows not to mess with. I tamped down my anger and instantly noticed two things, one she was smiling like she was in love and two that she was still holding the naked skin on my arm.
    I deftly slid out of her grip and rolled back in my chair. Edged into my cubical I didn’t have space to run away, but it was instinctual.
    She said in the sweetest voice that was equally music to my ears and eerily out of character, “Hey, come on, you gotta check this out.” She took a step back and motioned for me to follow her.
    Instead of running like I should have I followed her to the full wall glass windows at the end of the floor. Usually it’s a meeting area but the chairs and tables had been moved out into the hallway or pushed against the wall. Everyone in the office was there in various states of undress cuddling on the floor or holding each other. It was too much for me but I couldn’t look away at the horror of their naked flesh, these previously sane people that I had shared polite office space with for the last five years. But now that whole pretense of boundaries and personal space was gone. I hadn’t noticed it before, but Alice hadn’t been wearing anything below her austere business jacket and she was a big woman.
    I slowly backed up into the hallway until I noticed what they were looking at. It was well pass sunset, but up in the sky a orange red and purple luminous trail of clouds was dancing in the sky. It started well behind the city’s skyline. It continued up and over us and I assumed it continued past the horizon behind us. My skin crawled as the clouds literally danced like spastics. These huge diffuse collections of water vapor, brightly colored against the black sky danced and twisted, betraying their size and all reasonable expectations.
    I stood there, rooted to the floor, my logical brain flip flopping. I sneezed and someone laughed. I wiped a trail of mucus from my nose and it felt really good. That ecstasy of slight friction continued to grow from my nose and face and spread out to my whole body until I was a warm sack of pleasure in a human form.
    I looked back out the window and the moving clouds echoed the waves of warmth in my body, here then there, wave after endless wave.
    Someone from on the floor reached up and held my hand and a bolt of pure white love shot through my arm and straight to my brain. I looked down and it was the normally be-speckled and aesthetically repulsive Barry from accounting. But now he was another divine human, another child of the goddess and pure. He was smiling and I knew exactly why. I crumpled down to the floor and embraced him.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

87) Free Jump

    You double check your suit, clips and locks, pressures and dials. Everything’s set. Then you look out the door of the shuttle and it’s sublime. The Earth is huge, and though you have watched the training video the size and brightness of the Earth hits you with a religious weight and you have to look way for a breath, away from the unblinking eye of the Goddess.
    Your instructor pats you on the shoulder and you hear him over the radio, “What a sight, eh?”
    You reply, still a little in awe, “Yeah, wow. I never knew it was that big.”
    He just laughs and says, “Ten seconds, you ready to go?”
    You say, “Yeah yeah yeah!” And give him two big thumbs up and look back out the cargo door. It’s still the Earth, huge and bright and sacred, but that initial embarrassment is gone and you can make out North America from under the cloud cover. Your bowels loosen up a bit as you contemplate the size of the jump you’re about to do. You’re 110 Kilometers up in the Thermosphere.
    A count-down pops up on your visor, “8,7,6…”
    You grab the sides of the door and lean all the way back like your were taught. The count down blinks red “3,2,1…” and you jump.
    Nothing changes in front of you, the Earth is still the same size. But bringing up your rear view the shuttle shrinks down to nothing quickly. After years of sky diving you kind of miss the rush of air even though you know up here your ears burst if they were exposed.
    Slowly the Earth begins to grow until all you can see is green and white and brown. It’s a long twenty minute ride until your chute will open.
    Random thoughts flitter through your mind. You wonder how your kids are doing, what’s for dinner, what you’re going to get your mistress for her upcoming birthday.
    The altimeter flashes for a second as you pass 90Km. Then the suit’s automatic systems kick in, your joints lock, the blast shield comes up on your visor and the video camera kicks in and even though its all fire you can make out some land masses.
    The rumbling of the atmosphere is rough enough to make your normal cast iron stomach lurch. Before you can control yourself you feel acid crawling up your throat and kick yourself for not taking your instructor’s advice and going without breakfast, but that ham and cheese croissant and peppermint mocha were so tasty. There’s nothing to do about it and the worst thing that can happen happens, you throw up in your suit mid drop. It stinks and the smell stings your eyes.
    You miss your cue, three soft beeps, to override the suit and fly through the air doing stunts and generally enjoying your self, which is why you took the trip in the first place. Then the suit goes into dead locked emergency backup mode to make sure you get to the ground safely in another fifteen minutes.
    ‘Well, that’s fifty grand down the tube’ you think to yourself, chagrined.

Friday, 2 December 2011

86) Mary's Vacation

    Mary got up a few seconds before the alarm went off in anticipation of another perfect day. She popped out of bed and slapped the clock just as it was beginning to wail. She scrubbed her teeth, flew through her morning stretches and skipped into the kitchen for buttered toast and Vegemite that should have just popped out of the maker. Except the familiar smell wasn’t there, that salty tang and light burnt smell was replaced by a fresh grassy smell.
    Her heart sank and the long forgotten tightness of depression in her belly started to creep back in. She shook it out and faced her fear of losing the routine that gave her life a steady keel and walked into her little nook of a kitchen.
    And from the platform of her maker box gazed out at her the most adorable bright eyes set in a round little twee face made of white fuzzy cuteness, a tiny tea cup sheep. It gave out a weak little high pitched bleating sound and moved to jump off the platform, but found the ground too far away.
    “No, no, no, not today. Why today? It’s Thursday. Thursday isn’t special. What are you doing here?”
    It looked back at her and bleated, this time it was more of an old soul kind of be-in-the-now sound. Then it folded down on its nubby little knees and sat on the maker box platform disturbing little piles of still dissolving support structure.
    Mary stood there for a minute, seething at the injustice of it all. Today was supposed to be like every other day. Today is like every other day. Today is supposed to be like yesterday. No matter how often she repeated that mantra the stark reality of the tiny little lamb could not be ignored.
    She walked over to the lamb in the box and it pricked up its ears expectantly. She frowned at it and punched up the box’s display. She scrolled through several pages of errors in the log file and eventually found the only name, one James Savage. She made the box print out a receipt with James’ name on it and shoved the slip of paper into her pocket.
    Mary unceremoniously picked up the lamb, brushed off the remaining little flakes of support material and set the animal on the ground. It bleated again, accusingly.
    “Look you little fuzz ball, Jimmy got their wires crossed and printed you out here. I’m not the animal type. Hell, I’m not a vegetarian, but you wouldn’t even make a light snack.”
    The little lamb looked up at her and said, “Blaaaa.”
    “Can’t it just wait until I have breakfast? My blood sugar is low.”
    Mary sighed and rubbed her face. The lamb walked over to her and softly bumped into her ankles.
    Mary said, “Fine, I give up. Fine, ok? We’ll find your owner right now. Ok?”
    “Come on.” Mary walked to her front door.
    The lamb bounced over to Mary as she held the door open and looked up at her with those tender loving eyes. She shooed it into the hallway, closed the door behind her and walked to the elevator. The lamb was right behind her the whole way.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

85) Snoot the Faery

    Snoot dragged the last of the crab apples back to his tree, he pulled down his well worn glamour over the doorway and fell into an exhausted heap on his sweet sweet quarry. This pile of fruit would net him at the market many many gold pieces as human world fruit is always a delicacy. 
    As he slept he dreamt, and he dreamt of the human world. He was a businessman with meetings to go to and important calls to make on his cell phone. He had an expensive car and a beautiful wife in this terrifying dream.
    Just as his boss was about to give him a promotion Snoot woke with a start and scrabbled over his precious fruits anxious that some human was on their way to take away his hard work. Eventually the warm summer air and the darkness folded him back into slumber. From there his dreams were calmer and subdued.
    Snoot woke with the first bird calling. He stretched and yawned and sorted through his bag of tricks for the right spell to get him and his precious apples back into Fey, the land of the faeries. Little did Snoot know, but a squirrel also lived in that tree. And this squirrel was mighty hungry.
    Eventually Snoot found the spell and unraveled it. He sighed because he had forgotten how long and complicated it was. He started casting it and lost himself in the ritual that would take him home.
    While Snoot worked the squirrel quietly crawled his way down the inside of the empty trunk. As you know squirrels are a sneaky and immensely paranoid species.
    After several arduous minutes Snoot finished the spell. He wrapped the spell back into his bag and clapped his hands in satisfaction. He adjusted the bag’s straps and swished up some spit to activate the spell. He breathed a sigh of relief and hocked a big glop on to the floor. At the very same time the squirrel jumped out of the darkness and tackled one of the crab apples.
    Snoot screamed, but it was too late. The magic crackled around them and slipped them off to Fey.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

84) By The Bridge

    My legs were cramping, my ass was cold and damp, my mind was wondering. I’d been sitting the same cramped position in the second basement car park under some middle American mall for the last eight hours. I didn’t know what city I was in, let alone which state. And as a professional super hero I only have myself to blame for my situation. Today’s big baddie was supposed to come through this particular parking lot sometime today. I should have asked for a more definite time window. I wish we could read a book on these things.
    Unprofessionally my mind was wondering and I remembered the first time my powers manifested. I was twelve years old and walking back home after school with my friend Mark. Thing you gotta know about Mark is that he was that kid who would run after you with poo on the end of a stick just to hear you scream and then earnestly wonder why you were mad at him later. Yea, a real joker.
    We went to Blossom Hill Middle school, a couple miles from home through a small forest and several housing developments.
    About halfway through the tiny forest Mark motioned me over to the edge of the trees where a small bridge crossed a mostly dried up river bed. I was a little shy but he kept motioning me over. I had a new video game waiting for me at home and cold chocolate milk and a cookie and Mark wasn’t really to be trusted.
    “Come on, it’s really cool, I swear.” He said.
    I frowned, but eventually gave in to curiosity.
    Down by the small stone bridge, tucked in behind the brambles was what looked like a pile of filthy clothing.
    “So?” I said.
    “It’s a dead body, you dummy.”
    And like those hidden 3d pictures where first you only see noise and then a picture of a shark or a building will pop out, it was like that. That weird bit of grey shadow became a a pale dead hand, that dark lump of cloth was actually a ragged tangle of hair. I gasped and vomited a little in my mouth, but I couldn’t look away.
    Then two things happened simultaneously. Mark, the ever sneaky prankster, screamed out loud, and I saw something glowing from the body down below. Mark ran off, still screaming and I took a step towards the strange thing down below.
    Then I heard a rustle. I was old enough to have seen more than my share of zombie movies, but I knew that was just fantasy, just made up stories. At least I thought there were only stories until I saw that dead man’s arm rise up out of the brambles and head right towards me. His fingers dangled limp and bloated at the end of his rotted limb and something from inside his forearm glowed brightly.
    I screamed, turned tail, and ran after Mark. After only a few steps something heavy and fleshy hit me in the back of the head. I pitched forward and landed face first in the wet dead leaves. The strangest thing is that I could still see the glowing from earlier behind me. It’s really hard to explain. It’s kind of like hearing and smell at the same time. It’s like hearing because I can focus on it, but it’s like smell because it hits me all at once. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it either. Regardless, I was still freaking out. I got up and tried to run, but this thing kept bumping into me. Eventually I turned around and it was the dead man’s arm hovering a foot or so above the ground like an excited puppy.
    What would you do?
    I fell over again from shock and tried to back up away from it, but it kept following me at a friendly distance. I screamed some more, but it continued to float there. I gave up and yelled, “Go away!”
    And it did. It flew back away from me and splatted into a tree.
    Shaking I stood up and walked back home alone, my nerves jangling and heart racing. When I got home I was so relieved that I forgot about the whole episode.
    It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning and my whole house was glowing in that same way that I was really concerned. As I took my morning shower and looked at the nozzle and the knobs it finally clicked. I could see the metal all around me.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

83) Closet Survivor

    The first few days were the worst, but my quick thinking paid off and that got me through it, knowing that I was smarter than everyone else.
    Imagine utter darkness for a week while the world falls around you. That's my life. I brought two box of health bars, 10 gallons of water with me, and a plastic bucket with a lid. I bet you can guess what I use the bucket for. I think my biggest secret is to sleep most of the time, which is easy because that’s all I tended to do anyways.
    Maybe you’re not familiar with what happened, maybe my words will somehow get out into an alternate timeline where the dead didn’t rise, where we didn’t bomb our cities and napalm the suburbs.
    I had maybe six hours more warning than most people, being all connected to the electronic world I saw it happen in Sydney and Japan and India and Europe and could put the pieces together as the sun brought the ravenous dead to life.
    Back in my closet I have no sense of time. My watch says it’s Sunday at noon, but it feel like Friday night, whatever that means. If there’s no one else to coordinate with does time really exist? I don’t think so.
    A few days ago some survivors made it up to me in the Observatory. Didn’t I tell you that? Didn’t I tell you where I am? Right up on a huge hill overlooking the Los Angeles city basin, used to be more people in there than all of Canada. Hows about that?
    Today I heard them come in and argue and there were some gun shots and then that was it. I could almost make out their words.
    I wish I was a bear so I could have just hibernated and let all the would-be survivalists burn themselves out. And I’d have a fuzzy jacket all around me.
    I couldn’t save my roommates, it was hard to put down my cat.
    I guess the government figured out what was going on when I did. One of the last things I saw before I hid in the closet was the firebombing of downtown Los Angeles. Huge silent balls of flame rose up to the cloudless sky. No summer blockbuster movie looked like that. In the movies you’re always up close to the action and there’s a THX sound system rattling the theatre and your bowels. And I’m sure if this ever gets made into a move there will be some handsome survivor standing alone, or with a hottie, on a hill watching LA burn. No, it’s just fat lazy lucky old me. Less fat than I had going into the closet, totally.
    And typing away at my phone. It’s one of those with three weeks of charge at a time. I give myself a five minutes everyday and write my self an SMS. I’m afraid I’ll go insane when I can’t do anything, when I run out of food or the battery dies. I’m afraid I’ll have to go outside and deal with the real world.

Monday, 28 November 2011

82) Imigration

    We’re at a crowded airport terminal, high ceilings, beige vinyl floor and people in a queue snaking back and forth for hundreds of yards in front of bored agents sitting in their booths.
    The man that walks up to the available booth is bald and a little hunched over carrying his meager luggage. Something subtle is wrong with him, maybe a spinal problem or simply a hard life. He doesn’t use a cane or a walker, but maybe he did at some recent point and he’s trying to be strong, trying to be self sufficient. He makes eye contact with the agent and they both smile wearily.
    Before the agent can say anything the man pulls out his papers and lays them down on the counter for the agent. The agent scans them and says, “Welcome to New America Sir, what is the nature of your visit?”
    Betraying his weakened body his voice is strong and almost lilting, “Just here to visit family for Christmas. Got a young niece in London. Going to stay with her family for two weeks.”
    The agent ignores the old man for a minute and pours over his computer monitor. He frowns and says, “Says here you have a mechanical animal, mister Simmons.”
    Simmons says, “Yup.” and pulls out a small white package from under his arm and places it on the agent’s counter.
    “Would you mind activating it for me, sir?”
    “Aaup, no problem.” Simmons presses something on the back end of the wooly pile and it shudders awake. A set of stumpy black legs curl out from its side, a round black head pops up out front, and it emits a weak bleat. The agent smiles and says, “I used to have one of these as a kid. Where’d you get it?”
    “Mmm, s’been in the family for a while now.”
    “Ok, sir, I’m going to have to scan it just now. Has it had any modifications that might interfere with the scan?”
    “Mmm, nope.”
    “Thank you, sir.” The agent scans the mechanical sheep with a circular wand. A little red light pops up and he investigates. He pulls out another wand, this one has branching limbs on the end.
    Simmons isn’t interested and leans against the agent’s booth.
    The agent finishes up and smiles, “She’s clean Mr. Simmons. And you’re good to go. Have a nice stay.” He stamps the papers and hands them back. The man gathers them up awkwardly and shuffles off into the airport. The sheep baas woefully under his arm.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

81) Herbie's Introduction

    There is a shadow dimension just under the skin of the world and we are your best defense against it, the Illuminates. My name is Herbert Howard and I may only be a Trainee, but I promise to do better than my best against the secret dark forces that would drive you mad if you really knew what they were.
    Most people call me Herbie, I’m fifteen, tall and skinny, and a high school junior at East Valley High in Merced California. My parents are full agents and have been since they were my age. It’s an interesting life, but extra hard because between studying for algebra and world history I’m training for magical battles or hacking into government computer systems.
    Just last week we had to fly out to Italy to sneak into the Vatican. That was nuts. And all for this weird grimoire without any real writing in it, I sneaked a peak, I couldn’t help myself. But it was all chicken scratches. I couldn’t even tell if I was holding it up the right way.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

80) Accidental Spell

    “Ok, I think we’re done for the day. Thanks Archimedes.” My assistant and watcher, an overgrown Rhinoceros beetle grumbled, walked off the book we had been reading, and with a sputter flew off back into the house.
    Actually we had been done for a good half hour before. He’s a sweetheart, but when Archimedes reads for more than an hour or two his accented and monotone voice puts me to sleep, or at the very least a drowsy state where I can’t retain anything that he’s saying.
    I ran my fingers over the book’s rough pages. There were words there in plain black ink, but it was all chicken scratches to me. I could have cast something to make it readable, but then the knowledge of what I’d read would be gone with the spell. This was a thick tome and I didn’t want to become one of those living books who can only cast spells related to retaining information or else lose it all, a noble if sick addiction.
    I left the work on the table and got up. Even though it was late afternoon the heat and humidity quickly returned. It’s funny how studying focuses all your senses and the fact that you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world just evaporates. I walked out to the lanai and lost myself again, but this time in the deep green of a rain forest instead of the interlocking symbols and syllables of ancient spells.
    I slipped on my sandals and walked out of the house. I took the trail down to the beach. Ancient spells swam in my head, their shapes and functions, assumptions and implications made me dizzy for a moment. So dizzy I had to sit down on a moss covered rock.
    The book had been recently recovered from the Vatican. Older than Christianity, Egyptian or Sumerian maybe. The language, even when translated, was circuitous. The meanings of words went around and around in circles, sometimes branching out and interlocking, sometimes ending abruptly. The shapes they made reminded me of some of the twisted proteins I studied back in College.
    On the last page I recalled there had been one strangely lyrical passage about rain and thunder, fire and sound that had stuck in my head. Maybe the colors of the clouds reminded me of it.
    The low rumble of a plane flying overhead caught my attention. Hawaiian Airlines, the purple silhouette of the pretty girl on the tail of the plane was easily visible even from this far away.
    Out of nowhere, and against all my training and hard won experience, I began to mumble a spell from the book. Before I could stop myself it was done. I didn’t have long to worry if anything would happen because a huge bolt of lightning exploded out of the ocean and pierced the plane’s wing. The engine burst into flames then belched out black smoke. I didn’t stay around to see if it landed safely, we needed to get the hell out of there.
    I got up and ran back to the house, swearing under my breath the whole time. I ran straight to Archimedes’ room. I hadn’t visited him there in his personal space the whole month we’d been here together, I wanted to give him his privacy, but this was an emergency.
    The door was open a crack. I knocked politely on the jamb. “Hey, Archimedes, we have a problem. We need immediate extraction.”
    I heard shuffling from the other side of the door and two spindly legs pulled open the door.
    I wouldn’t say we were soul mates, or even best friends, but out here in the middle of nowhere and a thousand dimensions from home he was my only friend. Even as he chattered at me angrily in English peppered with Insect I realized how much I’d come to rely on him for companionship and now I’d thrown it all away because I couldn’t keep a stupid spell locked down and my mouth shut. No doubt he’d be reassigned and I’d be heavily disciplined for my mistake, if not entirely stripped of my ability to hold mana. I might even be blinded and deafened. I’ve heard of worse.
    “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to…” He cut me off with a curt swipe of his scythe like horn. Without another word he popped out his wings. I could see a thick puff of mana curling off of them. He took off and slipped through reality. 
    Depending on the path he took, and if any agents found him, and if he didn’t just leave me behind it could be several hours or days until help came.
    I sulked into the kitchen and got myself some left over sushi from the fridge. I took it to the back lanai, watched the sunset, and tried to enjoy my last moments of freedom.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

79) Plane Escape

    I had nothing but the clothes on my back, a set of toiletries, and several well coordinated government agencies trying to find me.
    Dallas Forth Worth Airport, late evening, the shops inside are closing down and my time is running thin. I’ve been hiding like a coward in the bathroom for several hours trying not to cast any spells while  waiting for the boarding call back to New York. As soon as I spent any mana I would be on their radar again. Hell, most airports are giant scrying glyphs. You cast a spell and it’s echoes all around in a traceable pattern. Well, if you have a powerful enough computer you could trace it back to the source.
    I glanced at my watch, ten minutes to go. It was now or never. I pulled out my eye drops and practiced a spell in my mind, something with parts of a sleeping spell and parts of a mesmerism spell topped off with a go-to potion spell. I didn’t have time to test it out, I didn’t have time to do the proper weighting on paper, sometimes you gotta wing it. And if I was unlucky I could use on myself and erase my memory before I was captured.
    I held the eye drops with both hands around the tiny bottle and cast the spell. Even though it was a simple spell I swear I could feel the magic blossom, fill out the room, and immediately leak into the hallway. I waited a second to let the magic set in the potion and then put some drops in my eyes. It stung like hot oil for a second then absorbed into my mana body and the pain was gone. I blinked out tears and left the bathroom.
    I wiped my eyes and strode straight to the gate. I quickly sussed out my quarry, a fellow human, older and disheveled. Someone who wouldn’t look out of place passed out at an airport toilet stall.
    I found one, an older white guy. I looked around to make sure he did have a ticket, I could see it peaking out of his inside jacket pocket. I tried to look less than suspicious walking over to him.
    We made eye contact and a beat later he was mine, “Excuse me, sir, would you come with me please?”
    He tried to shake off the suggestion, a normal response to any mesmerism spell. Thankfully he wasn’t wearing any protection spells or I would have been lost. He nodded his consent, stiffly stood and followed me.
    I took him by the arm to steady him and whispered into his ear, “You’re going to hand me your plane ticket and identification. Then you’re going to walk to a bathroom stall, close and lock the door behind you. Then you’re going to sleep. When you wake up you’re going to forget these instructions and who gave them to you. Acknowledge.”
    “Yes, master.”
    I hated taking advantage of the innocent and even more I hated stealing, but when your whole nation’s way of life is threatened you’ll do just about anything to save them.
    He complied easily. I took the ticket, boarded the plane and we took off. I finally breathed a sigh of relief and for an hour I almost thought I got away. I was nodding off when the ward tattooed into my left arm began to burn, someone nearby was looking for me. I tried to calmly look around the cabin. The lights were off except for a few people reading.
    “Psst, hey.” I heard a small voice. It took me a second to figure out where it was coming from, right in front of me. I looked over the seat and a small sheep was sitting alone, illuminated by a reading light above it.
    His voice was high pitched like a child’s, but scratchy like a child raised on whiskey and cigarettes, “Ah, there you are. My old eyes aren’t what they used to be. Lucky for you you’re right here, eh?”
    “What do you want, what’s going on? Are they here?” I obviously hadn’t been tricky enough. If there were agents on the plane against me there apparently were agents on my side too.
    “Oh ho ho, they’re all around us young man. And you shouldn’t be.” He coughed and something small and shiny emerged from his mouth. He turned around and stretched his neck up and forward to me. I took the hint and grabbed the thing out of his mouth but didn’t look at it. I slipped it into my pocket.
    “He he, you should probably get going now. Go, go, do our queen proud!”
    I’ve never been much of a royalist, but I took his advice. Without a word I squeezed out into the cramped alleyway and walked back to the bathrooms. I could hear some shouting from first class. I slid the door closed just as the cabin lights came on and several tough looking guys walked through the curtains separating cattle class from first class barely sixty feet away.
    My heart beat hard in my chest. The spell in my eye drops was long past potency and there was no way it’d work against several trained professionals at the same time even if I had it in gallon quantities. With what was left I might be able to knock myself out, but there was no way could I erase all my memories.
    I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do next. My fingers fiddled with the sheep’s little metal thing. I took it out. It was a small key, like something you’d use to open a teenager’s diary.
    I heard knocking on the doors to the bathrooms next to me and excited screams. Time was running out. I closed my eyes and prayed.
    Dear mother queen of all fairy, please guide my hand to do your justice and your will…
    The key pulled my hand towards the sliding door. That didn’t make any sense, there wasn’t a keyhole there. Sure enough though the key made its own hole. I turned the key and pulled the door back like a normal wooden door, not the accordioning door it should have been.
    Wet salty air blew in from the other side. I pulled the key out, crossed the threshold, and closed the door behind me just as shouts were coming from the other side. I wondered if they saw me leaving, I wondered what they would tell their superiors.
    What I was sure of is that I had little time if any. Word would reach General Watherton and he’d send out a warlock hit squad after me on this side of the fold, that is if I was in Fey.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

78) Last Stand

    The crystal medallion pulled hard against the fabric of her being and tried to return to the ground from which it had come. Inside her chest she could feel it push her living components around. When she scraped by a torch on the wall she could see it gleaming through her dark flesh that was pulled taught and thin around the damned thing. She thought that carrying it through the Roster fields and across the Essen swamp was hard, but this was madness. The higher she climbed in the mountain fortress the harder the medallion pulled against her.
    Goblins raced several floors below. She couldn’t hear them, but she could feel them. And they were getting closer.
    She wished that Aton was still with her, that obnoxious human had been a good host, but she wouldn’t have gotten this far without his sacrifice. She felt her face grow thin with sadness. He would have smoothed over her frustration by telling some stupid aimless joke or…
    She screamed out in pain and fell against a rough stone wall. The darkness binding her body together had ripped inside.
    With no supplies and no companions saving the world was all up to her, but she didn’t think she could make it. She fell, shuddering in pain and curled against the wall. She stopped and tried to pull all of her strength inward. She remembered her parent showing her healing spells and fortification methods. She tried to pull herself together, sacrificing other parts of her body to shore up the broken parts. She pulled in her left arm, pushed it down to support the medallion and replace the structure inside her that had turned into lifeless shadow. Her left hand became a sad stumpy version of its old self.
    She concentrated hard and the world snapped back into focus. Though she felt stronger panic set in. The goblins were even closer, probably just around the bend. She twisted off what remained of her hand and threw it as a brute darkness spell down at the torches on the wall. The torches sputtered, she held her breath, and finally they went out.
    Aton’s lasts words echoed in her head, “I believe in you.”
    She knew that flakes and strips of herself were undoubtedly falling off from the exertion, but she got up and didn’t look back. She had a mission to complete, a fate to fulfill. She propped herself up against the wall and groped around in the dark for the staircase she had seen earlier. She slid up it towards the roof, towards the altar and the salvation of her world.

Monday, 21 November 2011

77) Fish Massacre

    The sleeping spell had worked perfectly. Everyone that would have normally been up and about in the village at midnight was fast asleep. Security guards slumped over in their booths, teenagers mid kiss fell against each other. Even pets were subject to the magic, a barking dog collapsed into the dewy grass and patrolling cats mid fight fell softly to the concrete. There were several car accidents as the drivers heads hit their wheels, and thankfully no one had died, yet.
    Fluorescent lights up and down the main avenue flickered on and off then exploded and darkness engulfed the small town. If anyone had been awake they would have heard a high pitched whine as the skin between dimensions stretched and cracked. A single ragged line of white light formed in a rubbish strewn alley. The rip in space quivered for a moment and then suddenly erupted with a myriad of shimmering forms. Tuna, salmon, sun fish, crabs, lobsters, and a nearly endless stream of living sea creatures resolved themselves. They swam through the air as if it were water. And then the rift sealed shut after them.
    The creatures spread out through the town. It was a small town, so many of the doors were unlocked. The creatures that couldn’t slice through a screen door or manage a door knob broke through windows. Coldly they flew through houses dispatching everyone. Fins and claws sliced through jugulars and emptied bellies of guts with a quick flip or snap.
    In an hour their justice was served and they made their way back to the center of town.
    Once every creature was under the large gazebo in the town’s central park the spell that kept them afloat cut out. The fish fell and gasped for water, the crustaceans snapped wildly for a several minutes and they expired in a large pile.
    The stench of death wafted through the town as the sky began to brighten with the sunrise.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

76) Goblin Porno

    I sat on a tree stump and swung my feet back and forth, fidgeting in the moon light. I was early for the shoot, needing the money and not willing to flake on this kind of opportunity. My name is Gregow, I’m a Kobold and I’m going to work on a porno.
    I heard leaves rustling behind me and I quickly put my red leather cap back on. The cap was itchy for some reason, probably because I was nervous. As I stared at the low brush and its waving dark greenery I could see the chaos compass burnt deep into the tree stump. Its edges were sharp as if it were carved in before the wood was burnt, it’s magic glammering the area out of human vision.
    After a moment the most beautiful sylph floated through the bush. She wore gossamer vestments and the most tortured bored look I’ve ever seen on a creature. When she saw me she raised a twig thin arm and I returned the greeting, probably a little too enthusiastically. I stopped quickly and put down my thick hairy arm in embarrassment. Maybe she saw that because she smiled a little as she flew up to the stump.
    “You must be Gregow. Here to help right?”
    “Yes ma’am.”
    “Good, and polite too. My name’s Silesh. Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m the director, the camera man will be here shortly, and the talent will be late, like they always are. Ah, and speak of the devil…” She turned and jumped off the stump.
    She must have heard something I didn’t. All I noticed was the slight night breeze. Realizing something was missing I called after her, “Wait, what am I going to do?”
    Maybe she didn’t hear me or was just ignoring me. Either way it was better than my day job.
    Thick deep purple smoke roiled out from the tree tops and I gasped. This was amazing, I’d never met a Djinn before. He materialized a little on the small side, but I’m sure they come in all sorts of sizes. He fell slowly through the air and landed in an embrace with Silesh.
    They talked animatedly for several minutes while I sat, forgotten on the stump. My fingers itched to hide under a measuring cup or pull a drawer closed behind me. Now that more people were here I think I was getting nervous. Even though the glamor was still strong, the branches hung low, and the grove was a bit claustrophobic it wasn’t quite tight enough for me. I really like to feel four walls around me if I can. But what am I supposed to do when all the house cleaning is done by robots?

75) Bush Barter

    We sat in silence for some time after sunset roasting fish over our small fire. Eventually I spoke up if not to start an actual conversation then at least to hear myself talk. “So, Barry, what did you think of that guy that came earlier?”
    “Hmm.” He said and pulled his fish off the fire with the branch it was laying on.
    “I mean, that stuff he showed us was interesting, right? Did you like his stories?”
    “I dunno.”
    “You didn’t like them?” My own fish had begun to burn and I took it off the fire as well.
    “I didn’t like his thing, his book. It was too complicated. Too much like a pile of bugs on leaves.”
    I laughed and poked at my hot fish, still too hot. I nursed my burnt finger and Barry snickered. I said, “It wasn’t worth what he was asking for it.”
    “What do you think will happen to him?” I remembered the guy, tall and thin. He probably wouldn’t last too long out here without proper tools. And piles of leaves aren’t any good for hunting.
    “He’ll probably meet someone who wants it and will kill him for it.”
    Something in me was satisfied with that small amount of conversation. Meager like the meal before us, but it was all we needed. And maybe tomorrow would bring more too.
    Barry dug into his fish and I followed his lead. As I ate the tender crumbly deliciousness my thoughts swirled around the stranger that had visited us earlier. I thought about his strange clothing, many colored strips of fabric sewn around his body, even in the sweltering heat, instead of a tasteful loin cloth. I thought about what he had brought, his books and their words. He had wanted several days worth of food for a single book. It was a ridiculous offer, but he seemed so sincere. The writing did seem magical, words that stayed on the book. He could say words from it and then go back and say the same words again no matter how long he didn’t see them. He tried to teach us how to read, but neither of us could tell one word from the next.
    When the stranger could tell we were not interested in the books he told us stories of his home. I have heard of people living in caves their whole lives so that did not come as a surprise. I have heard of people making their own caves out of wood or mud. He was a very boring story teller until he came to his people’s creation myths about a world without gods or demons. His story was of a giant ball of mud where simple animals grew from it naturally and then they turned into other animals. Decent at best, but not as entertaining as gods making us out of dust.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

74) Bar Talk

    “Sometimes I feel like an Alien traveling backwards through time.” I said, staring down into my beer.
    “What’re you going on about?” Carl, my workmate slurred at me.
    It was a celebratory Friday night. We had just delivered the software on time and under budget at this small game software company in Berkeley. Carl and I were Quality Assurance, the last essential step before going gold. It’s not actually burned onto a gold disk anymore, but the name has stuck over the years.
    Carl belched and shoveled a few pretzels into his mouth. He chomped away at them for a minute then said, “Well, I feel like a sheep in a castle.”
    I laughed, “That makes even less sense, man.”
    “You started it.”
    I noticed our beers were running short. “Same?” Meaning did he want the same beer as the last three. He frowned and nodded in response. And there in the dim bar light he suddenly seemed very old. Not necessarily wise and aged like a wizard, but more like a tired old shop keeper or down on his luck blacksmith. The game we had delivered was a clone of another massively popular game, but this one had a more realistic feel with ghosts and several hundred professions a more than just the popular classes. I didn’t think it would do very well, but the pay checks were steady.
    I got up to the bar and was the only one there. I thought about my earlier statement. Maybe it had been about work, about seeing all those virtual lives generate and iterate and die off. The last thing I had tested was the non player character generation. I was a bit impressed with that part of the game, and I was sure there’d be few actual players that went that deep into it. Each NPC has a rich back story. They’re really just numbers in fields in spreadsheets, but the way it translates into the simulation of a life can get pretty spooky if you don’t think about it too hard.
    Lost in my reverie I must have missed the bartender come back because she was serving another patron. Dude wanted a half dozen tequila shots. I groaned. But then she expertly set them up in a tight row and filled them all at once, spilling only a little. 
    As I watched her work my brain listed out her history in neat little rows and columns. Born twenty-ish years ago, public high school diploma, ten serious boy friends in the past, nothing now, several tattoos and piercings, has two cats at home, lives with a roommate, wants to be a vet, watches twenty hours of television a week, estranged from her father, talks to her mom on the weekends, vacations in Taho and goes snow boarding, owns a late model Toyota, is saving up money to visit Paris.
    The man slapped down a fifty and she walked over to me.
    “What can I get you?”
    “Two Guinness please.” I said and held up two fingers in the peace sign just in case she didn’t hear me, it wasn’t that loud in the bar, but it came naturally. I think there’s a universal law somewhere that says your chances of getting how many of whatever you want increases dramatically when you use your fingers to count them out.
    She went to fill up our glasses from the tap. The guy next to me had lined up his six shots of tequila. As he licked a bit of salt off the rim I started to project a spreadsheet over his life. Thirty five years old, business degree, wife and kid back at home, sleeping with his secretary on the side, has worked for the same company for a decade, drives a two year old Mercedes. He downed the drinks mechanically. Salt, tequila, lime, breathe. Salt, tequila, lime, breathe.
    I wondered if he was in the game how he’d react to an amour clad adventurer or a scaly demon.
    I noticed myself staring at him and turned my eyes to the back of the bar and its dark rainbow of liquor bottles.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

73) Haunted House

    From a pitch black sky lightning flashed. Thunder roared immediately after and a group of three kids shook in their shoes watching the show from a block away.
    “Yeah, I’m not going in.” Brady said and backed up a step. “You can shove your dare where the sun don’t shine.”
    “Ha, you scared?” Terrance asked and made crying motions with his fists on his face.
    “Pssft, I saw you jump too.” Sharon said and elbowed Terrance in the ribs.
    Lightning flashed and thunder rolled again. Sharon grabbed onto both of the boys’ arms and squeezed. They looked at each other and nodded simultaneously. Without another word they walked down the street towards the old Governor’s mansion.
    Sharon released the boys and skipped a little then ran ahead of them. The two boys looked at each other then raced to follow her. They arrived at the gate just a moment behind her and rattled the chain link fence with their weight.
    Brady pulled out an candy bar from his backpack and bit into it.
    “How can you eat at a time like this?” Sharon said.
    “What? I’m hungry. Being scared messes with my blood sugar.”
    “Hey, guys, look!” Terrance exclaimed and pointed to the house.
    “What?” Sharon and Brady said together.
    Terrance grabbed the candy bar from Brady’s hand and tossed it over the fence and into the yard.
    “I hate you.” Brady said and hit Terrance in the arm.
    Terrance just laughed.

72) Domus the great

     Once upon a time the ocean was full of giant sea turtles until they came in contact less and less, until they were only legend. Until the the great Domus drew his last breath.
    Over the centuries Domis had acquired many guests on his prodigious shell. From the Umplings in their temporary grass teepees to the Humans in their more permanent mud huts and the Omnim in their spiky tress. Peace had reigned from beach edge to edge for generations. They had weathered storms together on Domis’s mile wide back. They had fought off sea dragons and sky demons.
    One evening during the Quiet Moon festival, when all the Humans and Omnim and Umplings were out celebrating, the ground began to rumble. The scared Omnim flapped their useless stubby wings. The nervous Umplings sprinted away to their trees. The Humans all cried out and grabbed onto the ground. After several minutes of stronger and stronger shudderings a cry went out across the whole turtle, the sea was rising.
    By morning all had been lost. Several humans waded in the choppy ocean and clung to debris. Soon silver ribbon sharks found and ate them all.
    What was once of Domis returned to the ocean.

Monday, 14 November 2011

71) Detention

    Jerry wiggled and squirmed under my arm, but I wasn’t letting him go. It had taken a good half hour to catch him that last time and that was with the whole class chasing after him. Anyway, it was cold and snowy out and his wooly coat warmed me up a little since I was just wearing a t-shirt.
    I looked up at the receptionist at her desk, a full human, asian and really old.
    She said, “Yes?”
    Jerry continued to squirm.
    “My friend here transmogrified himself.” I had his wand in my back pocket next to mine. I was sure nether of them would do us any good. The spell reversal was way over our heads, we weren’t even supposed to know that one he had used.
    “Didn’t you know that was a stupid thing to do?” She peered at me over her horned rimmed glasses.
    “I know, I’m sorry, I kinda dared him.”
    “You dared him?” I’d seen that look plenty of times before. It was the I-can’t-believe-you-really-did-that look.
    “…” I bowed my head. Pain and embarrassment kept me quiet a little too late.
    She stared at me for a few seconds, maybe trying to figure out how stupid we really were. “Fine, bring him into the nurse’s office.” She eventually relented and waved us back further in the teacher’s building.
    “Baaa..” Jerry finally said.
    We walked to the nurse’s office and I we sat on the paper covered bench to wait. I put Jerry down next to me, but kept a firm grip on him. Strangely he didn’t seem as skittish here. I glanced around the room at all the posters of naked humans and dragons and elfs and orcs with transparent guts and labels floating next to their bodies. Funny we can all go to school and treat each other the same and yet be so different on the inside.
    The door opened and Jerry startled, but I kept a good hold on him. In came our school nurse, a hefty half orc. She pulled up a robust stool and sat directly across from us. I sat there nervously and tried not to stare at her stubby tusks pointing out a little bit from her mouth.
    “Hi, I’m afraid we haven’t met. I’m Lucille. Your school nurse, obviously.” She said and giggled, “What’s your name?”
    “I’m uh, Viktor Croce.” I stuttered. I was thinking of the Orc villains on my favorite cartoon shows. But that was dumb, this was the nurse and she was there to help. Her laugh was kind of cute and her tusks weren’t even that big.
    She said, “So, what’s his name?”
    “Jerry. He turned himself into a sheep.”
    “Baaa…” Jerry said.
    Lucille laughed and I couldn’t help but join her.
    “So, Viktor, why don’t you leave Jerry here with me and I’ll see what I can do, ok?”
    “Sure. Ok, great. Thank you.” I handed him over and left.
    I turned the corner to go back to class and bumped into the Dean Stolux. Around campus dragons are required to keep their wings in at all times and wear a shrinking amulet. But even with the amulet the Dean was taller than the Girl’s P.E. teacher and twice as wide.
    “Well well, Viktor Croce.”
    “I hear you dared another student to transmogrify himself in a mirror?”
    “Yes sir.”
    He shook his big scaly head. “Here.”
    He handed me a pink detention slip. I didn’t have a chance to look at the dates on it before he coughed and said, “Your parents have already been notified. Now be a good child and go directly to the Library.”
    “Thank you, sir.”
    He leaned back into the wall and gave me enough room to just squeeze by. I shoved the detention slip in my pocket and nearly ran out of the teacher’s building.