Tag Archives: science fiction

FJJ Investigations, Inc. – Prologue

Loosely inspired by a friend’s Facebook post. Merely a prologue. 

 

It was after midnight and the music was pumping at Z-Rez when the suit approached me for the first time. We were there celebrating, never mind why. Red had poured herself into a skin-tight black Keshiro Takeda dress, and guys were lining up to buy her drinks. Vee was, unsurprisingly, over at the DJ’s station checking out the newest Zeiss Ultrabass thumpers, and I had lost track of Mutt and his ward hours ago.

Me? I was enjoying a well deserved Ichiban when the suit darkened my booth.

“Mr. Jones?” his voice held just the slightest note of uncertainty, which told me that he only knew me by verbal description. Whoever he was, he didn’t have a file on me or he’d know my face. I hadn’t been reprofiled over a year. I had been considering trying a stint as a brunette, but always decided against it. My hair was pretty much my signature.

“Mr. Johnson,” I nodded back. Someday I’m going to meet a suit whose name really is Johnson. Or maybe the bigger suits know that’s what we call them, and never assign anyone with that name to low-level grunt work like this.

He smiled, an expression as plastic as his features: handsome in a bland, non-threatening way. The perfect corporate shill. No doubt the result of extensive reprofiling. “I represent certain people,” he began, slipping into the booth opposite me. “Certain people who have heard of you and your team. We want to hire you.”

My own smile could be measured in picoseconds. “Of course you do.” My voice was heavy on the sarcasm. It’s good, in these negotiations, to establish dominance from the very beginning. And nothing does that better than feigning disinterest. If he was any good at his job, he knew I knew that, and I knew he knew, and so the dance went. “Let me guess,” I went on, “your boss did something and now someone else knows about it and you want expendables who won’t be missed come next quarter’s accounting to go sort it out. That about sum it up?”

He paused, for just a fraction of a second. Maybe he wasn’t as good at his job as I had thought. “No,” he shook his head. “That’s not it at all. Someone broke into our offices…”

I nodded as he trailed off. “And you want us to find out who and retrieve whatever it is they took.” It wasn’t a question, but it was wrong as it turned out.

“No,” he shook his head again. His composure was back, and I realized that I had guessed wrong and forfeited the advantage. Dammit. “We know who did it and we have already recovered the property,” he continued. “What we want you to do is figure out how they did it.”

“Why not just make them tell you?” I asked, and from the self-satisfied smirk, I knew the answer as soon as I asked. “Oh,” I nodded, “no one left alive to question.”

He nodded smugly. “We want you to recreate the event. Figure out where how they did it. The pay is quite good by your standards.” He produced a small holopad from his suit pocket and slid it across the table at me. The figure displayed was as handsome as his face.

I thought quickly. The fact that, even after catching the perps, they still didn’t know how it was done implied certain things. “You think you have a mole,” I said, and he nodded again. “Double that,” I said, pointing at the display. It was a gamble, but I was pretty sure he would go for it. Most people don’t come to us unless there is something so incredibly wrong with their problem that usual avenues of inquiry just wouldn’t cut it.

I was right: he nodded without hesitation. “Done.”

I should have asked for more. Damn. “Done,” I repeated and it was sealed. He collected his pad and slid a card across the table in its place. The card was for the Senior Vice President of Information Security at Grünenthal Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH. I stopped myself from whistling just in time. I pocketed the card and nodded.

“Tomorrow, 8 AM,” he said as he stood. He smoothed out his suit, flicked an imaginary speck of dust from his shoulder, and turned to go. He was swallowed up by the crowd in seconds.

I sat there for a time, thinking about the case. GBI was one of the Big Boys, an Orbital with connections and branches in almost every nation left on Earth. It was said that they flat-out owned the Greater Southern California Republic. If someone was stealing from them, and they couldn’t figure out who did it, it had to be someone very powerful. And that meant very dangerous. We would have to be on our toes the entire time.

I clicked my jaw to activate the subdermal and called Vee. “We have a job,” I said without preamble when she acknowledged me. “Find Mutt and Shag, and meet me at the Van in ten. And give Shag some DeTox. I need him coherent for this. I’ll get Red and meet you guys there.”

“Of course you will,” Velma’s voice dripped sarcasm, and I flushed. My infatuation with Daphne was a long-running source of amusement for the others in the group. I disconnected without replying. Sometimes it’s best not to respond to that kind of thing.

Still, I was in a good mood. We had a new job, so close on the heels of the last. If this kept up, we’d be able to afford those new Nokia plugs Shaggy wanted, and upgrade the Mutt’s biodermal implants. Things were looking good for a change.

I should have known better.

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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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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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Flowchart of Awesome

A Flowchart provided by the SF Signal, who clearly have mad chart skills.
A Flowchart provided by the SF Signal, who clearly have mad chart skills.

You may have already encountered the above making its arounds on the internet, but if you haven’t, click through above: it’s well worth a look. This breakdown of NPRs popular top 100 list of science fiction and fantasy should cure any ‘I don’t know what to read next’ questions you might be harboring, and if you’ve already read all of them? Congratulations!

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Silent War: Dawning

This is Chapter 1 of a work-in-progress novel. Future updates, if I post them, will be on the DWE pages.

Fire Control Technician Second Class Reiley Stewart sat on his bunk, staring at the letter in his hand. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was staring through the letter in his hand, since his eyes had long since ceased to focus on the plastic flimsy of the letter itself. The more he sat and stared, the more of a crease developed between his brows.

“Stewart,” a voice like a grizzly bear gargling concrete rubble intruded into Reiley’s private thoughts. Gunner’s Mate First Class Wolfram “Wolfie” Steig stared down at Reiley in concern. “You ok there, buddy? It’s not The Letter, is it?” The Letter was a tradition of Navy life: months, sometimes years spent drifting between the stars often proved too much for girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and wives.

“What?” Reiley blinked his way back to the present, looking up at the short, stocky, bald Gunner’s Mate above him. “Oh, uh, no. I don’t have a girl. I got The Letter a year ago, and haven’t bothered to do more than hook up for a one-night during R&R since.” He waved the flimsy so the harsh actinic overhead lights glistened off the shiny plastic and cast ephemeral rainbows on the gunmetal bulkheads of the bunkroom. “This is from Peterson. You remember him? That Marine we used to go shore with?”

“Peterson, yeah,” Steig nodded thoughtfully. “He mustered out what, a year ago? Good man. Kept his wits about him even after a hard night of drinking.” Steig began to chuckle softly, a noise not unlike putting a handful of gravel in the tumble dryer with your laundry. “Remember that time on Beta Kentarus Five-A when those miners tried to pick a brawl with us?” The compact little man sighed happily, “Good times. Good times.”

Reiley’s lips twitched momentarily at the memory of that fight also. The four of them, Peterson, Steig, a junior rating they were drinking with, and himself had all barely made it out before the station’s Master-at-Arms and his crew showed up. Then they had to lay low for a few days until the more obvious cuts and bruises healed enough it wasn’t too obvious what had happened to them. He shook his head then, clearing it. “Yeah, that was fun. And yeah, that’s the guy. I’ve written him a few times since he got out. Just keeping in touch, you know? But, his letters back are odd.”

“Odd how?”

“Well, like this one,” Reiley again waved the flimsy and again rainbows existed for the briefest of moments in a place where no rainbows had any right to be. “In my letter, I was talking about that time we flew ’round the bulk of that gas giant in Contested Twelve. Remember, the one with the giant double rings? There were pics of it on the ship’s sphere for weeks. The thing is, Peterson and me, we were in Forward Missile Bay 7 doing some routine checks on the equipment. Well, I was, he was just keeping me company. And we saw it out the observation blister when we rounded the planet and came into sunlight. The pictures didn’t do it justice, seeing it like that. The light sparkled on the ring ice like a billion billion diamonds. It was incredible. The sort of thing you never forget, like c-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.”

“Sounds impressive,” Steig nodded thoughtfully, trying to picture it in his head. “So, what’s the problem?”

“He claims we were never in Contested Twelve. He claims that was Saturn, in Home 1, near Earth.”

Steig frowned at this, shaking his head. “No, it was Contested 12. I remember clearly. The pictures everywhere on the sphere… yeah. Huh.” He shrugged helplessly. “Maybe Peterson forgot? Or…” he trailed off uncomfortably.

“Or what?” Reiley demanded.

“Well, it’s been said that sometimes, Navy men like us, when we finally muster out and ship home… we can’t deal with it. The banality of living in the Homeworlds, all nice and safe. They don’t understand what’s really going on out there, you know. They don’t realize the importance. To them the most important thing in the world is who is going to win the Cup this year, and whether or not the neighbor’s lemon tree is overhanging your fence by a few inches or not. Maybe he… maybe he cracked, just a little?”

“Bullshit,” Reiley dismissed the idea with a snarl and a wave of his hand. “Peterson wouldn’t crack over something that minor. Or if he did, he’d smash that neighbor’s head into the fence. You remember him, he never did anything small. Screwing up details of a mission like this, that’s just not his thing. If he was going to blow, there’d be bodies.”

Steig chewed on his lower lip for a moment as he pondered. With another powerful shrug, he said, “Well, you’re mustering out yourself when we get back to Ares, right? You could always look him up and ask him yourself what’s going on.”

“Yeah,” Reiley nodded, still not happy about the situation. “I guess that’s just what I’ll have to do.” He glanced up at the big digital clock on the ceiling of the bunkroom. “Two weeks, one day, five hours and some,” he grinned suddenly. “I tell you what I’m not going to miss: sleeping four to a room with you guys. Don’t know if I ever told you this, Gunny, but you snore.”

“Do not.”

“Like a drunken water buffalo.”

———- Continue reading

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