Tag Archives: short story

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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Sarah and the Goblin-King

A snippet (the first couple sections) of a longish short story I’m working on. Just thought I’d toss it out there and see what people think. In particular, do you like the sort of archaic ‘voice’ of the narrative?

 

 

There was once a young woman whose father was a mighty knight in the service to his king. They lived in the king’s palace, a beautiful castle with thick walls for protection and cheerful stained-glass windows for light and large fireplaces with deep chimneys for warmth. The young woman, whose name was Sarah, grew up there. Unlike the other ladies of the castle, Sarah spent most of her time watching her father train the soldiers in the courtyard, or riding his horse, or jousting with the other knights.

 

Sarah was a sweet girl, well-liked by most of the men-folk of the castle. The women tended to get frustrated with her, because she refused to spend time in ‘womanly pursuits,’ such as weaving and embroidering and cooking. She did play the harp, however, and such was her skill with that instrument that on those few occasions when she deigned to grace the castle with a song or two, it was inevitable that those present would stand still, as if spell-bound, until her fingers left the strings.

 

“It is amazing she can play at all,” Lady Beatrice, the king’s spinster sister, was heard to remark on more than one occasion. “Surely all the time she spends out of doors, playing with the boys, have left her hands far too rough and calloused for such gentle work.” And indeed, it was true that Sarah did spend most of her time in the yards, playing chase with the dogs, or riding the half-lame gelding her father gifted her with for her sixteenth birthday. She spent time with her father’s squire, watching as he polished and repaired her father’s armor and weapons, and it must be said that more than once Sarah did these chores herself while the squire, a sturdy boy two years younger than her, sneaked into the kitchen to steal hot, sticky buns or pinch a joint of fowl which he would share with Sarah for their afternoon snack.

 

So avid was the girl’s attentions to the duties of knighthood that Sir William, her father, was heard, more than once, to joke that all she needed was a firm cloth to strap across her chest and a mummer’s beard, and she could sit a horse in the summer games. At these times, the men would laugh and the women, particularly Lady Beatrice, would scowl. Sarah herself had no reaction to this joke, for her father was ever careful to make sure she was not present lest he give her ideas he might later come to regret.

 

Her father needn’t have bothered himself over the matter, however, as these were thoughts Sarah herself had come up with on her own long ago. “It is not fair,” she would complain to Gerard, her favorite dog. Sitting in the lee of the kennel, with her legs drawn up to her chest and Gerard’s head resting on her knees while she gently rubbed a silky ear or scratched his broad forehead, she would oft tell him of her trials and tribulations (as she saw them) while he, with the wisdom of his kind, listened in silence and accepted the head rubs that were his due. “I know as much about fighting as any of the new squires. More, even!” she would complain, and Gerard would lick her nose. It is a well-known fact that it is nearly impossible for a young woman to stay angry when there is a dog licking her nose.

 

This, then, was Sarah’s life. It was a good life, if a little dull. It was a happy life, if a little quiet. It was a peaceful life, which was really the problem with it as far as Sarah was concerned.

 

It wouldn’t last.

 

#

 

Winter was normally a quiet time in that part of the world. The ground was too hard to till. The air was too cold to grow crops. The roads were too icy to invade one’s neighbors. There was little to do except the day-to-day business of keeping up the castle. Even the training of the men-at-arms in the yard was, for the most part, curtailed except for a few hours a week to keep the men in what the king liked to call ‘fighting trim.’

 

As the days grew shorter and the stores of lamp oil grew lower, people took to their beds earlier and earlier. Thus it was that one night, scarce past the seventh bell, most of the castle folk were preparing to adjourn to their rooms or cells or mats in the kitchen, when there came at the thick wooden door to the great hall a raucous clatter. Curious looks were exchanged, and Sarah’s father went, with two other men, to see what was the matter.

 

One of the king’s men was there, shivering in the icy night air. One of the king’s guards he was, one of two who had the misfortune to draw the gate-watching duty for that night. “There is a man,” he said between teeth-chattering shudders, “outside the gate. He seems grave wounded and more than half-frozen.”

 

Weapons were swiftly collected by the men before venturing out into the cold. More than one war had begun and ended on the same night when an act of mercy was rewarded by a swift van of soldiers taking and holding the open gate until the main force of the invaders could arrive. Charity is a gift to the Gods, it was said, but stupidity profits only the Black Lady.

 

The precautions were unnecessary this time, however. The man collapsed outside the gate was alone and unarmed. The king called for the fires, previously banked for the night, to be built up again. The castle chirurgeon came down the stairs quickly, still tying off his night-robe around his frail old body. Curious on-lookers were made to stand back so that the chirurgeon had enough light to ply his craft as he looked over the nearly frozen man. From her place at the balcony over-looking the great hall, Sarah also looked the man over although it is unlikely that she and the chirurgeon saw the same things.

 

What the physicer saw was a man in his mid twenties, suffering from malnutrition, frostbite, and a particularly nasty gash along his left thigh. What Sarah saw was a man in his mid twenties, fair of skin and dark of hair, with a pleasingly handsome look to him and the well-worn clothes of one who has seen much and done more in his time. In short, she saw her One True Love, or so she imagined at the time.

 

“Oh, let him be well,” she whispered softly to herself. Many of the other young women in the castle expressed similar sentiments, and the older women smiled knowingly. If the young man lived, the collective fathers of the castle were in for a rough winter.


 

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The Sanctuary

This is a snippet of an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time, about a bar that is a sanctuary for people who need it. It may appear in one of my books someday. Today’s exercise is just to get some ideas and a little story down on e-paper.

Sandra staggered into the bar shortly after 11:30 on a Friday night. Blood oozed around the hand she had pressed to the long, nasty cut on her left side just above the hipbone. People glanced up at her as she stumbled against one of the tables. I waved her towards the backroom and tossed my towel to Tom, the assistant bartender. Coming around the front of the large mahogany bar, I put my arm around her and helped her to the back room.

She could have picked a better time to get knifed. There were too many eyes in the bar tonight, too many people saw her come in. In addition to the regulars, there were eight tourists; a group of four college kids from the Valley, and two couples from elsewhere come to see the ‘real’ Hollywood. Definitely not good.

I helped her into one of the cots in the back room we keep for those too drunk to drive home, or those who, for other reasons, need a place to crash for the night. Thanks to her injury, Sandra fell into the later category. As I eased her back, the door opened again and Tina slipped in.

Tina was one of our waitresses. Small and slender, with an unruly mop of blonde hair and huge green eyes, she wasn’t as popular as the more voluptuous Desire, but she had a vibrant liveliness to her that more than made up for her lack of rack. Also, she was about three weeks away from receiving her RN credentials. I stepped aside and let Tina get to work, hovering around only so I could talk to Sandra.

“Sandra, who did this?”

She hissed in pain as Tina pulled her shirt away from the wound, tugging and reopening a clot. She hissed louder when Tina splashed some antiseptic on the nasty looking cut. “Raymond,” she finally replied.

I nodded. I had suspected as much, but it was good to have confirmation.

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Starlight on the Water

The lake was first discovered by scientists using the Hubble II telescope way back in ’39. At the time, it was merely a small curiosity in a galaxy filled with them, none of which we could do much more than speculate on and occasionally say, “ooh, neat,” about. That all changed in ’82 when Krueztner and Fields applied for the patent on their logically, if un-originally named Krueztner Field Device.

But even after the first prototype EFTL-drive manned vessel rolled out of the factory, the lake was somewhere in the bottom half of the things scientists most wanted to explore. It ranked above, “funny oval-shaped asteroid in elliptical orbit around the third gas giant in Rigel Kentarus,” but below, “that nebula in Andromeda that sort of looks like a candy-cane.” So it was many years, and thousands of missions, before anyone got around to visiting the lake. In the meantime, we had discovered life on other planets (none of it sapient, of course), built the first true artificial intelligence, and cured the common cold.

When we finally did travel to the lake, it was a small mission comprised of three scientists in a hundred year old EFTL vessel meant for a full team of ten. The trip took six weeks, even with Effectively-Faster-Than-Light travel methods. The trip was, by all accounts, boring and quiet. The vessel felt, according to Dr. King, the mission leader, “practically empty.” The mission on site was expected to take no more than a handful of days. Go out, get some samples, take some readings, and head home. That was the mission. The Agency even booked the vessel they took for another mission four days after their expected return.

What they found when they arrived was not what anyone expected. Not that anyone knew that right away, of course.

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