Monthly Archives: January 2012

An Angel Comes Unto Thee

In retrospect, Beth thought, maybe we shouldn’t have come this way.

Beth and JD were, in a word, surrounded. The moment the two of them had arrived, creatures had begun pouring out of the tall, dark shapes that Beth presumed were buildings. They had started running, but the long street, lit only by starlight, contained a seemingly endless supply of monster-disgorging buildings. In less than a hundred yards, they were surrounded.

” ‘Oh don’t worry, JD’ ” JD threw her words back at her, ” ‘I’m sure it’s not really that bad there. After all, it’s just a dream, right?’ I tried to warn you, but you just wouldn’t listen. ‘I want to try it, just once. Come on, it’ll be fun.’ Is this fun? Are you having fun now?”

“Look,” Beth unleashed a bolt of plasma from her hand. The flash briefly illuminated the scene, and she immediately wished it had not. The monsters were horrid, and there were dozens of them surrounding the pair. “Look, I know your power works on nightmares, you told me. But it’s still a dream, right?”

“Wrong,” JD’s voice was breathless as he ducked under the wetly glistening claws of another of the creatures, “Dreams are what you have when visual or mental conduits to these Realms open into your sleeping mind. We are now in the place where nightmares come from. Every night terror you or any other living being on any world or any Realm has ever had, came from here. And here, they are real.”

Beth paused to blast two more of the creatures to ash with her powers. “Why are they coming after us like this?”

JD’s knife tore into one of the monsters, and it howled. Beth hoped never to hear a sound like that again.

“Because of me. Because I was afraid something like this would happen, and so it did. And because,” JD bumped into her as he jumped out of the way of another monster’s talons, “and because the Lords of this place still haven’t quite forgiven me.”

“Because you wouldn’t let them use you to destroy the world?”

“A world, ours. Earth. But yeah,” JD said. “Because of that.” He hissed in pain as one of the claws caught his left arm and cut him through the leather jacket. “Bastard! This is my favorite jacket!”

Another creature burst into flames on Beth’s side of things, and she could see in the momentary light that more were pouring out of the shadowy buildings on either side. “For every one we cut down, ten more arrive!”

“Well, yeah,” JD swore as he cut at the monster that had injured him. “What did you expect? We’re in the place where nightmares come from. We can’t win.”

“So, what then?” Beth glanced wildly over her shoulder at him for a moment, “We just give up and die?”

“We cheat,” even in the very faint starlight she could hear his evil grin. “Get ready to run.”

“When?” Beth blasted another monster as it reached for her.

“You’ll know,” JD said. “Now cover me for a moment. I have to concentrate.”

“Uh!” Beth started blasting as fast as she could, trying to give the man room to do whatever it was he was planning on doing.

Later, Beth would reflect that JD was right, there was no missing what happened. One moment there was nothing but darkness and monsters and the flashes of her plasma bolts. The next moment there was something else there; a light.

An intense, golden-white light so bright it blinded her momentarily even though she wasn’t looking directly at it when it appeared. It floated several feet above the ground, an oval of intense, eye-searing illumination roughly eight feet from top to bottom. It quickly dimmed until it was merely eye-wateringly painful to look at, rather than actually retina damaging. In the center was a figure, she thought. Roughly man-shaped, it seemed, although the light was so bright it was impossible to get a good look at the thing. All she could get were fleeting impressions; a vaguely human-shaped being, with something floating behind it like wings made from the same stuff as the Aurora Borealis, a thing that might have been a flaming sword in one hand, the face indistinct and possibly hidden in a hood or cowl. The light and the figure both seemed to move like liquid, although the light never became less intense after that first dimming.

With the light and the being there came a feeling. When trying to describe it later, Beth would say that it felt like beauty and joy and purity and it was so incredibly alien and cold that she shuddered with dread even as her heart yearned to approach and kneel at the being’s feet. But even as she would tell people this, she knew it was doing an injustice to the feeling coming off that thing. Mere human words could never hope to accurately portray it.

And then there came a sound. It was as if 16,000 French Horns, amplified to jet engine levels, went off at the same time. And although to Beth  it was just noise, horrible, deafening noise, she sensed that there was meaning to it, as if that sound was somehow speech. She did not, and could not, know what it meant, but she nearly wet herself in terror. Somehow, this one being of glowing light was infinitely more frightening than all the hordes of monsters that surrounded her and JD.

The monsters must have felt the same way, for en masse, they turned to flee.

The glowing thing proved that it was a sword in it’s hand. It began to slaughter the monsters.

“Run,” JD said so quietly she wasn’t sure she heard him. But they both ran.

Behind them, the screams of dying monsters were drowned out by another of those awe and dread inspiring trumpet blasts. JD grabbed her hand as they ran, and yanked her around the first corner they came to. “Hang on,” he panted, “I’ll get us out of here.”

“Please,” Beth said, “Please.” She wasn’t even sure what she was begging for. As terrified as she was, a part of her still wanted to go back and kneel before that glowing being and wait for the sword to fall. A part of her felt she deserved it.

And then suddenly, they were out of the dark nightmare world. It was cold, snow on the ground and a weak winter sun hiding behind some thin grey clouds overhead. The buildings surrounding them were brick, and the cars that drove past were inhabited by people. Beth leaned against the wall behind her and shook for a while.

JD stayed standing, although bent over with his hands on his knees, panting. “Fuck,” he declared, and Beth could find no fault with his assessment. After a time, he stood and inspected his arm. “Gonna need stitches,” he said.”C’mon, let’s find out where we are and how much it’s gonna cost you to get us home.”

But Beth wasn’t ready to lose her spot on the wall just yet. “What was that thing?” she asked.

JD chewed on his lower lip for a moment as he considered how to respond to that. Finally he shrugged and said, “An angel.”

“An angel? Then why did you make us run?”

JD laughed darkly at the question. “Did you FEEL it?” he asked. “People have this image of angels these days. Guardian angels, looking out for you and preventing you from stubbing  your toe or whatever. Have you ever stubbed your toe? Then you should have a fairly good idea that that is not really what angels are all about.” He found a spot a few feet from Beth and leaned against the wall also. “That thing was not a happy, hippie angel full of peace and goodwill and all that. That was an agent of Pure Holiness. That was the thing that threw it’s own brothers into Hell for ever because they sinned once. That is the thing that kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden and barred the door with a flaming sword because they sinned once. That is the thing that will one day mount itself upon a pale horse and kill every living thing in the Universe because it is told to. It is utterly and completely devoted to Good, and if you’ve ever sinned once, it is not your friend. If you’ve ever had an impure thought, or stolen a stick of gum when you were a kid. If you’ve ever taken a pen home from the office, or looked at the ass of your neighbor. If you’ve ever told a white lie, or said ‘God damnit’ even once, you are a sinner and that THING will be more than happy to cleanse you. That THING and it’s kin are why the word ‘awful’ has come to mean ‘bad’ rather than ‘full of awe.’ It has no compassion, it has no humanity, it has no sympathy. It went after the monsters first because they were more evil than we are, but make no mistake. When it was done with them, it would have come after us if we had stuck around.”

“Then why in God’s name did you bring it there?” Beth was oblivious to the irony of her question.

“Because,” JD stood up from the wall and offered her a hand, “That’s now my powers work. I am tied to Nightmare. I can’t summon up happy fluffy unicorns, I can only summon up the types of unicorns that use their horns to do horrible things to virgins and then eat their flesh. I had to summon something that the monsters were afraid of. And every evil thing in the Realms is afraid of those angels. Even you felt it, and you had no idea what it was.”

Beth stared at him in horror for a moment. “I… you told me before about the nightmare thing, but I never really got it. I never really understood. That’s… horrible.”

JD shrugged as he began to walk up the street, “Welcome to my life.”

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Conversations in the Dark

“Martinez.”

“Yeah?”

“I just want you to know…”

“Yeah. I know. I love you too.”

“Asshole. So, um, how long do you figure?”

“Probably about an hour or so. Depending on stuff. You know, those random things that come up.”

“Yeah.”

“I think I can see my house from here.”

“Ha ha. Very funny.”

“I thought so.”

“Martinez.”

“What?”

“Any idea what happened?”

“I think so. Remember when we took off, there was that big shudder at around Plus 65 or so?”

“Yeah. I thought it was just turbulence.”

“We all did. But now I’m thinking something hit us. Maybe a bird or something. And I think it sheered the springs in the OMS fuel line solenoids.”

“Oh. So after we positioned ourselves, the fuel lines stayed open. The oxidizer got into the fuel line and…”

“Boom. Right.”

“Right.”

“Million to one odds, really. Less than. I’d need a computer to figure it exactly and I seem to have misplaced mine.”

“This sucks.”

“Yep.”

“Martinez.”

“Yes?”

“Which way are you going?”

“Hard to say exactly, but I think I’m heading home.”

“Ouch. That’s gonna suck when you hit re-entry.”

“Could be worse.”

“How do you figure?”

“I’ll burn fast. A couple seconds of incredible pain and then it’s over. If I were going the other way, I’d have to wait until the air or power ran out on my suit. I’d rather burn than die gasping on my own carbon dioxide.”

“Hmm. That’s a point.”

“Besides, I’m past the terminator. Some kid might look up, see me, and make a wish.”

“That’s depressing.”

“No, it’s morbid. Depressing is thinking that now I wish I had cashed in my 401(k) and gone on that trip last year with that girl. What was her name? The one I met at your wedding?”

“Do you mean my cousin, Lisa?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. She was hot.”

“My cousin.

“So? Your wife’s someone’s cousin probably. Cousins are people too.”

“That’s just… wrong.”

“Yeah well. Doesn’t matter now, does it? I missed my chance and now it’s too late.”

“Martinez.”

“What?”

“I think I’m going the other way.”

“Oh. I’m sorry man. That sucks.”

“Yeah. I think… I think I’d like someone to make a wish on me after all.”

“Beats becoming just another bit of space junk in orbit. Although…”

“What?”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky. Ten years from now, or twenty, or a hundred, someone will be out here adjusting some doohickey on the ISS Mark VII and they’ll see you float past. You’ll scare the crap out of them.”

“That’s messed up.”

“Yeah. I know. But you gotta laugh, right?”

“Heh. Yeah. That would be funny. ‘So yeah Houston, I can see the HOLY FUCK WHAT’S THAT??!’ Heh heh.”

“Heh heh.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“Who does?”

“Good point.”

“Thanks, I thought so.”

“Martinez.”

“Yeah?”

“It was good knowing you.”

“You too, Willson.”

“Good bye.”

“Bye.”

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all or

“all or.” That was all that was still visible of the sign painted on the wall, below the broken and jagged window. The paint was ancient, faded where it hadn’t flaked off, and a thick tangle of vines grew over most of what was once the right edge. Not that it mattered, there was no one to read the sign even if it was whole. Dew, the only one once around to read it, had long ago left the area, tending his gardens as they spread out from the impact site until eventually the climate got to him and he died, alone and  unnoticed, some miles from the sign. Even his body was no longer visible, buried under the plants he had spent so long tending. The Garden reclaiming it’s own.

The Hunter knew nothing of Dew. The Hunter was young, as her kind measure things, and that ancient caretaker had waddled off long before the Hunter’s mother’s mother’s mother had been born.

The Hunter knew of the sign, of course. Anyone who hunted in the jungle knew about it as an oddly-colored patch it was best to avoid being silhouetted against, and nothing more. But the Hunter possessed something the others did not. She had no word for it, for in the harsh survival-of-the-fittest, kill-or-be-killed world of the jungle, there was no word for ‘curiosity.’ And indeed, even with the Hunter it was not a strong emotion. Rather, it was a thing to muse upon now and again, particularly after a good kill, such as the one she had just completed.

She perched on a ledge high above the jungle floor and licked her knives clean. They still tasted of the sweet blood of the Fatman she had caught unawares. She glanced at the sign and wondered what it meant. “all or.” She wondered who had created the sign, and what message it was meant to convey. It seemed too deliberate, too specific to have been random.

She mused on the size of the creators. The letters were larger by several times than even the largest of the Longmen. Some day, she thought, I will climb up and touch them. Such a feat would prove her might. But the letters were a good day or so climb up the vines, far above her normal hunting grounds. I will have to prepare. I will bring food with me, in case I can find nothing to Hunt up there.

No other Hunter that she had ever heard of had been so high. The flying machines that came out of Bentman houses went up that high, she knew, but she was unsure why. Perhaps they had a deal with the City People, who also ventured up the vines in search of only they knew what. The Hunter gave her knives one last lick and settled back on her haunches. There was a thought. The City People. While normally she left them alone as they left her alone, if she got hungry enough on her trip, she could kill one of them. The only problem was that they always traveled in numbers and while individually she was more than a match for any of them, sufficient numbers of their heavily armored warriors could bring her down if she were unwary.

Such thoughts were entertaining, but her rest time was over. It was time to push idle thoughts to the back of her mind, and to once again resume the business of the day. She readied her knives and began to Hunt.

——————————

With respects to Douglas Trumbull and Alan Dean Foster.

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The Fast Food Wars

Randy Beechman looked every inch the Westside Regional Director for McDonalds that he was. His belly swelled in direct proportion to the shrinking of his hairline. His arms were round and beefy, capable of hefting a fifty-pound bag of frozen fries and yet wobbling if you poked them like so much jell-o squeezed into the shape of a bicep. Even his clothes spoke to his job: button-up white short sleeved dress shirt with the red-and-yellow of the company colors on his tie. His pants were black, polyester, and roomy even on his bulk. His belt was cinched tight around his ample waist, pouches and pockets holding the gear of his profession in easy reach.

The day was warm, and Randy pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket to mop at his brow for the fifth time. The air conditioning was bombed out, and it was summer in Los Angeles. Or as he liked to think of it: the pit of Hell.

The door chime beeped, and from his seat behind the manager’s desk, Randy could see that pimply-faced teen cashier (What was her name? Oh yeah, Angela) look up from behind the counter. She gasped, then turned towards Randy’s door and nodded. “It’s them, sir,” she said in her whiny, nasal voice.

Randy returned the nod and hoisted himself to his feet. “Them,” would be Phillip, the manager for this particular store, and a couple of the burger jockeys. Randy poked his head out of the door, checking to make sure the coast was clear, then he stepped out fully and his eyes sought Phillip. At first, he couldn’t see the man, only the two minimum-wage burger flippers. He hadn’t bothered to learn their names, and mentally he just called them “the white teen” and “the latino teen.”

Randy started to frown, to ask them where Phillip was, when the burger jockeys shifted and he spotted the manager. He was laying on one of the larger ‘family style’ tables. He wasn’t moving. His face, what there was left of it, was frozen in a rictus of pain. The rest of it was clearly the source of the pain. Randy was no doctor, but he’d seen enough casualties in his life. That was a third degree oil burn over 72% of Phillip’s face.

“What happened?”

The two burger nukers looked at each other. The latino one spoke. “You were right sir, KFC is having a sale on chicken nuggets, $.10 less than us for a 10-piece. We did it by the textbook: Tim and I,” he gestured at the white teen, “we flanked Phil while he went from car to car on approach. We never saw it sir. We never saw it.” The skinny boy began to blubber, so Randy turned his attention to the other one, Tim.

“What happened?” Randy repeated.

Tim cleared his throat, glanced at Angela, and then turned his attention back to Randy. “They has those radios for when you take drive-in orders in the parking lot, sir. Like In-n-Out does? And they had someone up on the roof, with what we assume was a spare fry cooker. We got near the door and suddenly we heard a sound from above. We looked up, and that fat bastard was dumping oil on Phil. We fired off a couple shots, then retreated. Philip stopped moaning around the time we were passing the 99 Cent Store. We figure that’s when he bit it.”

Randy was silent for a moment. Suddenly, he slammed his meaty fist on one of the tables. “Parking lot radios! I TOLD Corporate we should invest in those. No one has been able to touch In-n-Out since they started using them! Damnit!” He continued to fume for a minute or two before noticing that everyone was staring at him. He forced himself to relax, to adopt a normal tone of voice. Management Training 101. “All right. Not your fault guys. You couldn’t have known. Phillip should have been more cautious. It’s a manager’s duty to think of these things. Put your guns back in the walk-in and hang up your aprons. You have the rest of the day off.”

The two teens grinned and hurried to obey. No one likes losing a manager, but a half-day off is worth its weight in gold. They left Randy to contemplate Phillip’s body in silence while Angela hid back behind the counter. There was no doubt about it, Randy was forced to admit. The annual summer fast food wars were getting worse each year.

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Rebirth

It had been a concern for as long as anyone could remember. It was an issue that would, inevitably, spell the end of everything if a solution could not be found. After a time, it became all anyone talked about.

Entropy.

The gradual breaking down of systems, the slow movement of all matter and energy away from all other energy and matter.

It had first been hypothesized billions and billions of years ago. Someone pointed out that the Universe was either moving too slowly and would eventually collapse back in on itself under its own weight, or it was moving too fast and the various components would eventually scatter until the entire universe was nothing more than random molecules floating in empty space, so spread out and diffuse that they could not gather to form stars or planets or even comets. The universe was doomed either way, it was believed, but it would not happen for uncountable billions of years.

Uncountable billions of years passed, and the thought was still with people. It lingered in the back of scientific textbooks during the rapid, glorious expansion of the Hegemony. It was briefly popular as the cause célèbre during the height of the Spinward Empire. It rested, briefly forgotten, on inert data crystals during the Long Dark that followed the civil war that ended the reign of the Galactic Oligarchy. It was rediscovered during the Trader Prince era when worlds, long isolated, were connected again by a web of trade routes by independent ship captains, but it was relegated to the status of interesting but not pressing.

As the years crept swiftly by, the thought began to take on greater significance, first among the academic communities, then the scientific, and finally it reached the popular channels. People had adapted to live in conditions their ape-ancestor genes had never considered: the bottoms of worlds mostly made of water, in stations or hollowed out asteroids, in the dim crimson light of red giant stars. They lived on hot worlds, and cold worlds, and worlds where the air was full of trace compounds that made it poisonous to people at first, until they adapted. Worlds with higher-than-normal gravity, worlds with lower-than-normal gravity, worlds with no gravity at all. But the one thing all these worlds had in common was the need -for- worlds. People never did adapt to living in hard vacuum at temperatures so close to 0 Kelvins that the difference was purely academic.

And so the collective might of the universe was brought to bear on the issue. Science and industry turned away from the study of quantum teleportation and wormhole study, and focused on matters of gravity manipulation. It was theorized that if people could create artificial gravity, they could selectively ‘pull back’ the drifting, diffusing molecules and re-start stars, re-form planets.

Entropy would have its laugh however. They found ways to do this, but they cost so much in terms of energy use that it was actually a losing proposition for star rebuilding. Still, the people had fun walking on walls and ceilings for a few decades before that got boring and they relegated the use of gravity technology to vehicle transport.

The answer came, as is often the case, not from the major think tanks or the government agencies tasked with finding a solution. The answer, when it came, came from people on the so-called ‘fringes’ of the scientific community. Those who had continued to study the older sciences, who had not made the transition over to gravity study. People who studied things like ‘quantum entanglement’ and ‘string physics’ and ‘membrane theory.’ In particular, it was the last that was the salvation of all.

“We cannot stop Entropy,” the spokesperson said, “for Entropy affects even attempts to stop Entropy. Our universe is going to die. What we can do, however, and what we need to do, is to harness the energy we have left and use it to escape this universe. We shall open a breach, a portal if you will, to another membrane, another universe. A younger universe. We will then step across into this new universe, where we can use all the other sciences and technologies we have invented in the last billion years to make it our new home.”

And so the largest exodus the universe had ever seen began. Billions of worlds, each containing billions of people, threw every resource into opening portals. The new universe that the scientists had discovered groaned under the weight of all these new refugees. It did not take long before the scientists of one world, moving forward from the research that the others had laid down, found a way to go to another young universe. Why, they reasoned, should we share our universe with all those other people when we can have an entire one all our own? Other worlds saw what they had done and did likewise. And rather than one universe with the inhabitants of billions of worlds, there were billions of new universes, each with only one world’s worth of inhabitants.

And the people looked at their new universes, full of new stars and new worlds and energy to last trillions upon trillions of years, and they saw that it was good.

———————————–

Yeah, it’s more than 500 words. My blog, I can do that if I want. So nyah.

This story was inspired by the great Isaac Asimov’s story The Last Question, one of the master’s favorite amongst his own stories.

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New Year, New Start

Hello all,

 

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year (for our Occidental friends. The Chinese have to wait a little longer I’m afraid).

Mine was… less than ideal. This has been the worst December I can remember. BUT! It is time to put that all behind me and get back into the swing of things. So, new year means new challenges both for myself and others. You know what that means…

 

Another Flash-Fiction challenge! Yes!

 

This month’s theme is rebirth. It could be of a person (literal or metaphorical rebirth), a group or social unit, or the world after the turning of the seasons. That is up to the writer. As always, try to keep it at or below 500 words, although a tiny bit over won’t disqualify you from winning the prize.

What is the prize, you ask? Why, a genuine There By Candlelight 100% Authentic often-imitated-never-duplicated Noprize! Yes, you too can win absolutely nothing for participating in this contest! Be the envy of your neighbors.

 

Details:

Theme: Rebirth

Length: 500 words

Due Date: January 31, 2012

Location: Post it on your own site and link it here, or post it here in the comments section, or write it on post-it notes in your bedroom and just tell us you did it. Whatever works for you.

Anyways, that’s it for now. Talk to you later, and good luck with your own endeavors and/or new year’s resolutions.

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