skonen_blades: (Default)
“In time of great scarcity, great sacrifice is needed” the Elder droned on, his voice wafting out over the congregation. Every sixday it was the same thing. We have nothing, we have nothing, we have nothing. Don’t hoard, don’t steal, don’t breed, wait for rescue. Blah, blah, blah.

“They will return. Our absence has been noticed. We will be collected and brought back to the land of plenty.” He said. The suns were shining outside and Gerald Peterschild was aching to get out and have a game of tag with the other boys. Fidgeting, he looked over for Jack and Ronnie to see if they were as bored as he was.

He felt the elbow in his ribs before he had time to prepare for it. “Look forward” his father whispered harshly out of the side of his mouth. Gerald looked forward dutifully. His father was at his most serious during the re-affirmation sessions. His eye-patch gazed forward beside his remaining steely blue eye at the Engineer at the podium at the front of the Church of Return.

“Our numbers must not grow.” The Engineer intoned. “Our colony must survive. The machines that were left must feed us all and we cannot make more. The land is unforgiving.”

Bah. Gerald had seen gardening videos in the restricted quarters when he had sneaked into a heating vent to watch other parents at a secret late-night meeting. They were part of the Gardening movement. These heretics proposed a splice of local plants with the earth seeds kept in the ship's vaults so that we would gradually adapt to the new food. It would weaken the present population but strengthen the grandchildren. That was the theory. And it would keep up from being dependent on the machines.

Madness. Everyone knew the ship was returning. We could not afford to depend on this planet for food. They would not return if we did. We had to stay pure. We had to stay human.

“Soon, the Gardeners will have to be dealt with.” Spat the Engineer. “There will be a reckoning. Stay vigilant.” The adults murmured, some with smiles and some with fear.

Gerald was happy with the food cubes that came out of the machines. On that video he’d seen from between the slats of the air vent, however, he’d seen something called an apple. It looked delicious. He was curious.



tags
skonen_blades: (bounder)
When the boomerang returns to me, it is covered in blood and mucus like a newborn. This should be impossible. I don’t know what it found out there in the darkness or why it made it all the way back to me after it found it. This is a mystical night. The shroud of evening has removed all colour from the desert, making it into a black and white film that I can barely make out. I have a flashlight but when I shine it out into the gloom, only green pinpricks come back, my flashlight reflected in the eyes of distant kangaroos and nocturnal scavengers. I should put on my night vision goggles.

I am naked except for my holster, my bag and my belt. It’s too hot to wear anything else, even at night. The only fight I put up to the heat is my beard and my hair. I have let these grow long, regardless of the oven of the daytime. The sun is bleaching my hair blonde and ginger.

‘Glass’ scorpions wriggle across the nighttime prairie of sand. They feed on bioluminescent insects, making the scorpions glow in the dark after they’ve fed, scuttling around the desert floor and turning over pebbles. It looks like the stars are reflected by the ground, shifting over the surface like a lake. It brings water to mind and that’s not good to think about out here.

I take the night-vision goggles out of my bag and put them on. When I turn them on, the whole desert springs up in green detail in front of my eyes. The desert is a pale green and the sky is black. I can see the distant whorls of the wind-scoured mountains against the night sky in the distance. I can clearly see the animals searching for sustenance.

And I can see the giant newborn baby standing twenty feet away, staring back at me with its pupils gone green and bright. It’s not wearing any clothes and it’s slippery with afterbirth. It’s taller than me. All I can think is that the baby must have reached up and touched my boomerang, coating it as it passed without disturbing its trajectory. That’s impossible. The baby is looking at me, swaying with that difficulty that babies have with balance. Its eyes are looking at me with intelligence, though, and I’m scared by that more than anything else.

I step back.

It steps forward.

I turn around and run.




tags
skonen_blades: (Default)
I recognized my shoe.

It was over in the middle of the road. It was bloody. I realized with a numb horror that it still had my foot in it. My body and mind started to come into focus for me. I’d been hit. Hard. And broken. I tried to move my head to see what had happened. The pain that hit me from trying to do that made me scream like I didn’t know I could. White hot pain scraped up my spine and exploded in my brain with a damage report of pure agony. It was too much. My brain elected to spare me the rest of my life and I passed out. I thought I was dead.

I woke up lying in a hospital bed under white lights. It was dark outside the window. I could see my own self stretched out on the bed in the reflection. It was too blurry for me to make out my face exactly but when I raised one of my arms, the reflection did the same thing. And I.V. hung down from my wrist. My arm was very thin. I tried to sit up but it didn’t happen. My throat was very dry. I tried to say something and my throat closed like an old baseball glove catching a drive to left field. I concentrated on breathing through my nose until the spasms subsided.

I slowly creaked my head over away from the window and I saw the button marked “nurse” set into the wood of the bedside table. I very slowly reached out my hand to press it. I heard a buzzer faintly ring down the hall. It must have been very late at night. I heard a chair creak and the sound of paper slippers shuffle closer to my door. The effort on pressing the button and listening to those steps exhausted me and I fell asleep.

The next time I woke up, I felt better. I was dizzy but the sun was up outside the window. I reached up to my head and nearly knocked myself out with the cast that was on my wrist. I didn’t remember seeing that the first time I woke up. With my other hand, I felt my head. My hair was gone. Nothing but stubble. Two weeks of stubble if I had to guess.

This time when I tried to speak, my throat obeyed. “Nurse” I croaked. I doubt the word was intelligible but sound came out of me. Rusty-squeezebox style but at least I could communicate with the world. I reached over and pressed the button.

A large nurse with a friendly face came through the door and over to my bed.

“Don’t try to speak.” She said with a twinkle in her eye. “You’ve been in a horrible accident.”




tags
skonen_blades: (dark)
The dancing bear raised his head up off its massive paws to listen to the crowd roaring in the tent. It wasn’t involved in the acts anymore. Its back legs were too arthritic to ride the unicycle and it was no longer able to juggle. The bear could still be used as a prop to chase the clowns but even that was becoming a struggle. It snuffled its trainer’s hand.

The trainer stood looking down at the bear in the night. The tent was lit up behind them from the inside like a paper lantern. The cheers of the crowd were like a miniature storm pushing against the canvas. It seemed muffled and far away. After hearing those cheers almost every night for decades, the sound seemed as natural as the ocean.

The two of them sat there listening to the crowd laugh, bay and scream. A few of the other performers milled around near their wagons, either preparing for their part or cleaning up after performing.

The trainer had found two cubs the day before. The mother had been killed for coming too close to a city. The SPCA had let the cubs go to the trainer for twenty dollars.

Bears eat a lot. Bears are expensive to keep. Circuses don’t make a lot of money. A bear that could no longer perform would have to be put down. The trainer knew this. The bear didn’t.

The trainer looked at the rifle lying across his lap. The moon glinted off the barrel. He’d been sitting there beside the bear for three hours. He’d been meaning to get it over with quick but somehow that hadn’t happened. He’d been twenty-six when he was first put in charge of the animal. He was forty now. It didn’t seem right. He’d never married or had children. He knew he’d come to love the cubs but this bear here. This creature.

The stars twinkled down on the scene like fireworks frozen in a picture. The bear breathed heavily through his massive snout. The trainer stood up and took aim.

The sound of the shot was lost in the happy scream of the crowd from the tent.

No one talked to the trainer for days afterwards. He thanked them for that later.






tags
skonen_blades: (Default)
The front steps of the castle were littered with the bodies of the palace guards. Their sightless eyes stared up at the nighttime sky, catching snow.

Occupying the massive throne at the end of the cold, cavernous ballroom was King Orlond. The wind whipped snow through the huge open doors at the other end of the room. King Orlond, old and frail, stared at the fur-clad, red-eyed visitors that strolled into the chamber before him. They were framed against the blizzard that raged outside. King Orlond’s entourage pulled their feeble cloaks and blankets tighter around themselves and watched the creatures walk forward. Queen Orlond bit her lip and held tight to her husband’s rings.

It hadn’t snowed in Orlondia for sixty years. The winter had come with the demons. King Orlond’s people believed the end of the world was coming. Looking at the invaders, Orlond was forced to believe that it was a possibility.

The visitor in the lead was over eight feet tall, a thin giant who quested around the room with his eyes like a bear testing the air with his nose. When his eyes fell on the servant girl next to the King, he held up on clawed hand in the air. The small crowd that came with him stopped with a shuffle, breath pluming from each of them like horses in a yard. Sweat dripped off of them onto the cobbles at their feet with a hiss. Even this cold palace was too warm for them. One of them yawned and his huge blue tongue lolled out like a dog’s.

The servant girl, Marla, was a sixth-generation servant in the castle. She was the illegitimate half-daughter of the king although she didn’t know it. The lead invader looked at her, cocked his head, hummed deep in his chest, and began to walk forward. He had a limp, the King noticed with a smile. At least one of his army’s blades had found its mark. The entire palace listened at the steps echoed off the walls. Step. Drag. Step. Drag. Slow but unstoppable.

The siege had lasted five months. The people who hadn’t starved or fled were in this room with the king. There were thousands more of the visitors outside the gates. They were brutal, calculating, and worst of all, patient.

As the creature came closer, the reek of violets wafted off of it and the King heard the horrible ticking that came from their skulls when they were awake, like an abacus being shaken. It angled its head down like a panther and stared at Marla.

Marla’s eyes glazed over. She stood up, dropping her jug of water to shatter on the floor. In that silence, the sound caused what few survivors there were to gasp. A few snarls from the crowd of demons blocking the door scared them back to quiet.

Marla walked towards the lead visitor. It was cooing softly and swaying, each nod of its head timing with Marla’s steps, like a conductor timing out motion instead of notes as Marla got closer to its claws and teeth.

Marla got with two feet of the creature before it stopped humming. Marla stopped walking, balanced on one foot in mid stride, as still as a statue.

What happened next was too quick to define but suddenly Marla has no head, her mother screamed and the tension broke.

The King watched helplessly as what was left of his fife was butchered in front of him by tooth and claw. Then he himself faced the red, dripping muzzle of the lead creature, its breath reeking of the Queen’s blood.

The creature lunged and the King's world turned black.



tags
skonen_blades: (borg)
Telescopes were trained on the part of the universe that was missing. Just as scientists had figured out that seventeen per cent was missing, they found out that nineteen per cent was missing. Then twenty. All of Earth’s telescopes were focused there.

That’s when the scientists saw the lights. A collection of what looked like around twenty stars heading in our direction. It was kept a secret from the populace. Wild plans were thrown around for evacuation but between the bickering and the expense and deciding who would get to go, nothing was accomplished in time.

Just as they entered our ecliptic, one of the stars kept heading in our direction but the other nineteen veered left and right, heading to other parts of the Milky Way. Nothing could keep it a secret anymore. The star heading for us could be seen with the naked eye during the day.

As it settled over our own sun, turning it into a lopsided figure eight for us, a smaller star detached from it. It was a ship.

Earth turned its eyes towards that ship as it settled over the equator. We launched our weapons at it and it used the explosions for fuel. We were obviously not going to win this war but we were going to go down fighting. We seemed to be united in that.

“We are sorry” came the voices. Every medium capable of carrying a soundwave twanged with the words. Water, air, glass, wood, paper. All of it resonated with the words translated into every language on the planet. Later, people would remember those words as if they were in a dream. Not exactly their language but they knew exactly what was meant.

“We are sorry. We have started the end of the universe. We cannot stop it. But we can collect you and keep you ahead of the wave of destruction. It will take billions of your years before it eats the entire universe. On our ships, your race can survive. You can adapt. We can take you far in front of the wave and leave you on a planet not unlike this one. A planet that will not be affected for thousands of your years. We are sorry.”

Then the transmissions came. Co-ordinates on Earth. Latitudes and longitudes. These were the evacuation points. Blue beams stabbed down from the sky to those points and waited. Anyone that went into one of those blue beams didn’t come out. No zap, no pile of ash, but people went in and they didn’t come out.

Later, their loved ones would hear them in much the same way that they heard the first voices from the alien ships. The materials of their apartments would reverberate with the soft voices of the loved ones that had walked into the light. “It’s safe.” The voices would say. “Come on up.”

The cities emptied out. The blue lights took most of the populace. It’s taken a year but the Earth is now almost entirely deserted. The voices in the sky have said that they have two more days to collect people but that after that, they’re shutting off the beams and the Earth will be left with mere centuries before destruction.

The Earth is echoing with the voices of the people up above in the ships, calling for those who are afraid of the beams. Every piece of paper, every bell, every wine glass. They’re all softly calling for the ones that don’t want to go. It’s like the Earth is haunted with pleas.




tags
skonen_blades: (didyoujust)
“It was our own fault, you see,” said the queen, “we were given rules and we broke them. The Galactic Council didn’t believe in a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy. We had stringent guidelines for inclusion and like the prideful, stupid race that we are, we broke them.”

Queen Charlotte Decidua was being interviewed on national television as part of a History Channel documentary detailing Earth’s fall from grace. She was the grandchild of the queen that was in power during first contact and later, inclusion into the Galactic Council.

“Those days are still looked on as the apex of humanity’s existence. Faster than light travel, diplomatic, commercial and scientific missions to other planets, and exposure to new cultures. The periodic table grew by sixty elements in as many weeks. We were gods, we thought. Picked because we were special. Boastful and proud. Well, pride goeth before a fall as the bible says.”

Queen Charlotte was walking through London’s exhibits of our time during The Inclusion. Her fingers brushed over the historic photograph of the American president shaking the main appendage of Kroldu Septo, the junior GC Ambassador assigned to Earth.

“That should have been our first sign right there that this was only the first rung. Junior ambassador. We didn’t even rate a full ambassador. It was only later that we found out that our race’s adoption into the Galactic Council was a matter of some debate. There was a ‘there goes the neigbourhood’ feeling amongst some of the more advanced races. We were too impulsive and primitive, it was thought, despite our surprisingly advanced level of technology. Not ready yet. Apparently Kroldu was trying to further his own career by championing us and fighting for our seat at the table.”

The Queen looked up at the replica of Kroldu’s head with its shimmering helmet of balconite from his homeworld. His gill slits glimmered with the iridescence of hummingbird wings. It was a fantastic reproduction of the original that still sits on its spike in a refrigerated display case in the Louvre.

“They really didn’t take anything into account when they shut us out. Anybody that was offworld on a mission or just on vacation was there forever as soon as the council passed the edict. Our planet was thrown into a sub-light doctrine by a vote of 295-1. That one vote was cast by Janet Foulger, the only human on the council as her last act as a representative of our planet. She knew she would never see Earth again unless she wanted to freeze herself and make the three-hundred year sub-light trip from the outer border of our newly deemed zone to Earth. Who knows? She may have done it. Maybe two hundred years from now she’ll show up on our radar.”

The Queen laughed at her own use of the ancient technique of mass detection that we had reverted to in the absence of the alien technology. Most of the hardware the alien races had lent The Earth had vanished or self-destructed when the edict was passed. The bits and pieces that had stayed in one piece were pored over by engineers and then donated to museums like the one the Queen was walking through right now.

The heyday of Earth was on display around her. Photographs of levitating cities that no longer levitated, transporter pads that no longer worked, miracle cures that used technology we hadn’t yet deciphered a century later, and artificial intelligences that sat brooding and silent inside their shells. They still drew power but they no longer talked. For fear that they were somehow gagged yet aware, power had not been cut to them.






tags
skonen_blades: (Default)
It's been said that if you give a room full of monkeys a room full of typewriters, they will eventually type up a Shakespeare play given enough time.

As a philosophical exercise, there is a point to the premise. However, there are a number of factors that make it impossible as a real-world application.

First and foremost, monkeys are mortal and will die after a few short decades.

Second of all, the typewriters themselves will mostly likely break often under the surprisingly strong hands of the monkeys.

Thirdly, if the monkey bash on the keys, they will hit the same group of keys over and over again with little variation, ignoring keys on the fringes such as shift, enter, and the space bar.

That's where my MonkeyTron tm project comes in. I have created a supercomputer whose job it is to spew randomly generated letters, punctuation, and spaces. By running sixty of these computers concurrently, I have theoretically created this room of monkeys.

It's been running for a year.

So far, we have garnered half a poem by Robert Frost, nearly two full pages from the screenplay for The Shining, a full recipe for 'glass brownies', the entire lyrical songbook of Avril Lavigne's career, two paragraphs from an engineering manual, and six nonsense limericks.

One page of Hamlet showed up, gentleman. I have faith that the future looks bright. Too bright.

Gentlemen, this page of Hamlet that showed up seemed to be 'corrected'. There were only seven minor changes from the original, but it made the language seem to flow better. This is very worrying.

Worrying because it's only been a year.

What's even more alarming is that computer 18 has stopped including words and seems to be focusing entirely on math. It's spouted out, amongst the gibberish, several of Newton's laws and half of a Hawking precept.

The gibberish is disappearing, gentlemen. The computers are finding their own areas of expertise and they seem to be closing in on our own level of intelligence.

The fear is that they will start to create original pieces of written art that rivals our own. The chilling implication is that maybe our own pieces of art that echo down through the centuries are not original at all and were merely randomly generated from our own minds.

With the math robot, we're worried that it may start to come forth with mathematical theories and physical concepts that supersede our own. What happens then? How do we publish these discoveries and who do we credit?

I am coming to you, supreme council, for a decision on whether or not to proceed.





tags
skonen_blades: (gasface)
The market was very hard to find. It’s never in the same place twice and only merchants that have the waystones can find it. Those waystones are expensive and passed down from generation to generation. Only the best merchants in the guild are permitted to own a stone to find their way to market.

We have one. How we got that is a whole other tale. Two of us are dead now because of it. That’s all I have to say on the matter.

I am the only human in our pack of travelers. I am scared but that’s not unusual. Ever since I got here, it’s been twice as worse as my real life back in Vancouver. They’ve come here to gather weapons for the coming quest. As a bonus, if we complete our quest, I’ll get sent back to Vancouver and back to the normal world. Or so the wizard promised.

I’m miserable. The other people in my party are a giant green-skinned ogre name Margnus, a four armed fairy princess name Molgothat, sibling trolls named Quartz and Quitz, and an ancient magical dwarf named Shannon. I laughed at his name and lost the top of my left pinky.

As we got closer to the market entrance, traffic slowed. Creatures stopped to look at our party as we entered the market. All eyes were on us. I figured it must have been Margnus’ size or the fact that troll twins were very rare. Maybe they’d not seen fairie royalty before. And Shannon had turned heads before, usually just before cutting them off of their owners.

But it was me they were staring at. This made me very nervous.

“Hold!” said a voice from in front of us.

A figure strode out from the parting crowd. It walked up to Margnus and stopped in front of our party. I couldn’t see its face under the hood. It walked with a staff. It was the only being around us not wearing armour and was all the more threatening for that.

“What are you here for?” the figure asked us. “I am the master of the market. I see you have a waystone. Obviously stolen. Your chances of leaving here alive are slim at best. I don’t know what you hoped to achieve with such trickery.”

“Weapons and defenses for our quest.” Rumbled Margnus.

The people in our party fingers weapon hilts and looked around the surrounding creatures.

“You have something of value.” Said the magistrate.

“Yes, we carry much gold.” Said Molgothat.

“No.” came the answer.

“I have the jeweled egg of Rockton!” said Shannon. We turned our heads to her in surprise.

“No.” again.

“Uncut diamonds free of curses.” Said Quartz and Quitz in unison.

“NO!” bellowed the magistrate. “You misunderstand.” The magistrate raised a white hand and with a finger that possessed too many joints, he pointed right at me. My heart quailed in my chest. I looked down to see if I was wearing anything valuable.

“You have a Coward.” He said.

The entire crowd sighed. My party turned to stare at me, wide-eyed, just like the others.

“Wh-what?” I stammered.

“There are seven true cowards in the world. They will always take the most cowardly decision. That cannot be brave.” Said the magistrate.

“That’s good?” I squeaked.

“Yes. If a warrior wishes to be great, they need only to keep you around and do the opposite of what you do. You are the most valuable thing on this continent.” Said the magistrate.

I didn’t like the way this transaction was heading. I had a feeling Vancouver was getting further and further out of my grasp.

I started to whimper.





tags
skonen_blades: (Default)
I woke up with pain in my head and a shrieking in my ears. All I could hear was the horrible sound ringing around in my head. It was like car tires and screeching baboons and fire alarms all mixed together. A migraine pounded through my skull.

I stood up and the pain eased when I took a step in a certain direction. I kept walking in that direction. When I got to the wall of my apartment, I screamed because I knew that meant I had to double back to go to the front door and make it outside. With a deep breath, I cried and walked backwards, grasping behind me for the doorknob while I sobbed and whimpered.

I found the doorknob. I yanked it open and dove outside. I ran in the direction that eased the pain, my pajamas flapping in the early-morning August wind. The direction took me away from the city. Luckily I lived on the outskirts of town and there wasn’t very much traffic on the roads at this time of day. The pain was too great to have me worry about traffic lights or looking both ways. There was no way I could have driven a car. It was all I do to put one foot in front of the other.

All that mattered was stopping the sound and the pain.

I walked and ran for eight weeks. I wouldn’t stop to go to the bathroom. It just came out of me. When I needed to eat, I would reach blindly for whatever I could find in my path that was edible. If I was in a city, I’d rummage in garbage. If I was outdoors, I’d forage for bushes.

Luckily, I didn’t eat anything poisonous. Luckily, I haven’t been arrested. Luckily, I haven’t been beaten up. Luckily, I haven’t been hit by a car.

I have been walking a straight line.

I first saw the first person like me two days ago. Just a dot on the horizon of the desert I was walking through when I crossed into Arizona. I have seen twenty-seven others since. I can see them off to my right and left, getting slowly larger, one step at a time. We are all converging on the same point.

This is good news. I can feel the pain in my head being slowly replaced with pleasure.

We are being called. I don’t know how many of us have been killed or hurt during our blind migration towards the end of the pain. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for someone who got the call in a prison or a hospital. The pain would have driven me insane if I’d been constrained.

I can see the other walkers more clearly now. They are all stained, stinking, shambling messes with smiles on their faces, smiling wider as they get closer to the place of no pain and no shrieking sound in their ears.

There are helicopters over the horizon, over the patch of earth where all of the walker’s paths meet.

There is something underneath the helicopters. It’s coming up out of the ground. It looks like a bright blue cartoon magnet. An archway that has no place in the middle of the desert. It’s as tall as a building. It’s hard to see details because the sun is setting near it. There is a hole in the clouds above it. We walkers are all stumbling towards it, powerless to stop ourselves and not knowing what it is we’re walking towards.

I’m scared of the helicopters. I don’t know if they are there to monitor us or kill us. They look out of place.

I keep walking towards the blue gate with the other walkers.





tags
skonen_blades: (gasface)
The stack of cartridges by the machine is dusty and it’s starting to get pretty big. Each cartridge is a human life. My partner and I have been trying them out to see what our compatibility is like. It’s a new fad with young couples. I’m only six hundred years old and my partner is five hundred and eight so there’s not too much distance between our ages. What we’re doing tonight is called short cutting.

Humans recorded their entire minds for future insertion into new shells. They did this as they went, once a month on average, as a form of backup in case they were hit by a car or something and died suddenly. There backup stations were in every hospital and on most corners.

I think they would have become a wonderful race if they hadn’t all died. That airborne flesh-eating virus killed them all inside of three weeks. They left behind all of their recorded selves. They were just starting to make the leap out of their own bodies that all intelligent races have to make before they can truly leap through the stars and connect with each other.

However, relationships are relationships, as Tweeler the Aged has said, and even if the mind and soul are freed of the body, the still must delve extreme depths of time and communication to see if they are compatible with another being.

So it is with the two of us. I am a Markian Dorsh-wester. My partner is an intelligent energy cluster from the Spiral Arm Nine. We are currently housed in a small one-room apartment on this quiet Earth. We are short-cutting to test our compatibility by experience human lives.

The Keepers of Planet Earth have cross-referenced all the found cartridges. Humans loved each other often and with great intensity. The Keepers supply visitors with ‘coupled’ cartridges that have the recorded lives of people that met each other and loved each other.

Because of the time of humanity’s death, Earth was unique. Once new bodies can be generated, there is no longer any need for recording. The humans had not yet achieved that stage and so they died with nearly their entire race’s minds on cartridges. The cartridges waited for us for a thousand rotations around their sun.

With augmentation, each cartridge’s entire life span can be experienced in a year. The feeling of time speeding by increases as the recording gets close to the end. That’s a flaw The Keepers are still trying to correct. So far, myself and my partner have gone through 68 cartridges. 34 love-lives for my partner and 34 for me.

We have been Janice and Rob. We have been Peter and Lisa. We have been Paul and Tony. We have been Michelle and Susan. On and on. We have interfaced with each other and loved each briefly or for long times. We have affected each other in ways that have shocked us both. We’ve explored love through the lives of these human in their short lives.

This planet Earth has become a library of love after death. It’s providing a fantastic service to the rest of the universe. Couples stay together when they leave Earth or they stay together, secure in the knowledge that they’re on the right path.


tags
skonen_blades: (dark)
First contact went very well. The neutral meeting point on one of Saturn’s moons was a good point for everyone. They had faster-than-light travel and we didn’t so it was deemed fair.

The aliens were ‘paired but one’ as they called it. Separate entities that had in time become symbiotic.

Picture a green, gnarled four-legged bowl with a smooth glowing orb sitting in the bowl.

The glowing orbs were recorded intelligences that had been left behind when their race left the planet. They were a backup. The parent race never came back.

The four-legged bowls used to intelligent animals with a large, hard carapace. The glowing balls found that if they attached themselves to the animals’ backs while the animals were young, the carapaces would grow around the orbs.

The orbs extended nanotendrils into the walker’s minds, boosting their intelligence and uniting the two creatures. In return, the animals gave the orbs the power of sight, touch, smell, and movement.

They were fascinated by our ‘oneness’, the translator called it.

They invited our first-contact team back to their planet. We couldn’t say no. They whisked us away in their small ship. They said they’d bring us right back.

That was six years ago.

Twenty of us were on the contact team. There are thirty of us now. The aliens were disappointed that our females only gave birth to one or two humans at a time. They’ve been forcing us to breed. They put those nanotendrils into us and stimulate us like puppets. We don’t even cry or scream anymore.

We thought at first that we were honoured guests. Then we thought we were prisoners. Then we thought we were their pets. Now, I don’t think there’s a word for what they want us to be.

It looks like they’re interested in making us integrate into their race like they did with the four-legged walkers. They’re trying different ideas with our babies. So far the experiments have all been screaming failures.

It’s hell.



tags
skonen_blades: (borg)
It’s a very strange feeling, waking up after you’re sure you were killed. I remember thinking that this must be how people who were in car accidents feel when they wake up in the hospital. Shaky. Disjointed sense of time. It must all feel a little unreal.

Except I’ve never felt better. And that’s strange.

I’m an astronaut. I was in a vessel making a cargo run between the Sirius Lagrange point and Andromeda 6 when the stars went out. My instruments all flatlined and there were no more stars in the viewport.

I’d heard of this before. A little patch of black ice, the other pilots called it. A little hole in reality. I’d never experienced one but here it was, happening to me. This would be a good story to tell my friends. If I just kept on the same heading, didn’t touch the controls, I should come out the other side without a scratch.

That’s when they cut into the hull. The sparks came raining down. I slapped the evac button on the dash and was immediately suited up by the ship’s servos. The helmet snapped down and sealed in a millisecond. I looked out from the faceplate as the left side of my ship lit up with sparks and welding torches working their way in from the outside.

The aliens clambered in through the glowing edges of the holes they’d cut as the atmosphere from my ship gusted out into space. They looked metallic and dog-like but with too many legs. Sort of like robot centaurs crossed with werewolves with a bit of centipede thrown in. They were strange and I didn’t recognize their species from any of the sighting books I’d studied in pilot school.

They noticed me. I was sweating and hyperventilating in the pilot chair. Two of them pulled out what looked like eggbeaters from their backpacks and pointed them at me. There was a flash of light.

I very clearly remember being torn apart. It was warm and wet and sudden and I didn’t have time to feel pain before the memories end.

That worries me.

Right now, I’m walking through a park. The sun is peeking out. It rained a few hours ago and the droplets are still dangling off of the leaves of the trees. It smells wonderful.

But it’s disturbing. This park is like the park I used to walk through with Angie back on Mars. The last time I was there, however, the park was paved and turned into living units because of the property value. This can’t be that park. But it looks almost exactly like I remember it.

The aliens come to visit me. They are the same shape as the ones that broke into my ship but they don’t hurt me. They are gentler and, in a way, almost apologetic. I understand them perfectly when they speak even though their mouths move nothing like ours. If I had to define them, they seem to be like doctors while the ones that broke into my ship were more like soldiers. The doctors that visit me seem ashamed but it’s hard to tell.

Every time I ask them where I am, they offer me more delicious fruit. Every time I ask them where the other humans are in this strange park that I remember from Mars, they offer to have me a race. Every time I insist on seeing my ship, they give me puzzles to figure out.

It’s becoming apparent to me that I’m being held in a prison. Or a playpen like a child.

I’ve been on a hunger strike for two weeks. The aliens are worried. I’m worried, too.

I’m worried because I’m not hungry and I haven’t lost any weight and it’s been two weeks.

Right now, the aliens are walking across the park to me. There is another doctor alien that I haven’t seen before at the front of the pack. It is taller than the others and it has a larger head. It also has another pair of arms except that they end in serrated clusters like a bush made of praying mantis arms.

The cluster of doctors stops in front of me.

“You are here because we are sorry.” Says the tall doctor. I see his mandibles flutter and click but I hear it as English. “We are distressed that you no longer enjoy it here. We want you to be happy. Perhaps it is time to stop fooling you. My name is unpronounceable to your mouth but you but you can call me Ronnie, like your friend from your memories of flight school.”

I picture Ronnie in my head. Red hair, always getting us into trouble. He’s married and living on Ganymede now. I haven’t talked to him years. I’m sorry about that now.

“I am smarter than the lower caste beings that have taken care of you so far and kept you here. I recognize in you an intelligence that is higher than theirs. I am about to see if you can handle the truth.”

The alien named Ronnie flexed his mantis-bush forelimbs and the air shimmered in front of me. A small window appeared.

In the middle of the window, I saw what looked like a small pile of steaks that had been burned to a crisp. It was floating in pale blue water. Blood clouded around it faintly. Thousands of small wires snaked into it and through it.

Understanding hit me.

“That’s me, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes”, said Ronnie.

“I see. So this is all fake and I have to spend the rest of my life here.” I replied.

“Yes”, said Ronnie.

The doctors looked at me with a stillness in their eyes. This had been a gamble for them. Diplomacy for meeting the new race of humans had been shot to shit when they nearly killed me. This construct kept me alive and happy.

“Can I have an apple?” I asked.

The aliens breathed out and twitched their back legs. I knew now that meant relief and happiness.

“And some friends?” I asked.

They stopped twitching their back legs.

“There was only one of you on the ship.” Said Ronnie.

“I know.” I said “Let’s get busy. I have some designs in mind. Let’s get to work.”

Ronnie looked at me, stunned, and then started twitching his back legs.

I smiled, too.










tags
skonen_blades: (whysure)
The blood came in quick gasps, rivulets dribbling down between and over the trembling flesh. It smeared around their mouths, making them look like clowns. People who had lost their way and ended up here, paying and paying and paying.

It was a great day. The sun stretched in through the living room windows. There was no way to tell that these thoughts I had in my head were psychotic or harmful. How could they be on a day like today?

The short one begged for his life in between mouthfuls of fresh meat, laughing and crying at the same time. The pale one looked close to the end. His eyes were unfocused and the purple bruising had made it almost all the way around his chest. The beasts were working hard on him. It was doubtful he had enough meat on his bones to feed the young that were working their way around inside of him, coring him, animating him.

I looked out to the front lawn, cigarette in my hand. That hand was a claw thanks to the stroke and I had to close one eye to see the lawn clearly. My speech centers had been affected to the point where only two close friends and my ex-wife had any idea what I was saying. It was hard to express myself unless I was writing or touching someone with my hands.

The pale one fell over. The short one’s begging became grunts. The six others knelt, glassy-eyed and vacant, as the worms slithered through them. Cars with no drivers. Husks in a human shape. Nothing but the mouth inside of them now. Nothing but the hunger. Soon, they would rise to their feet again. Soon they would be bloodless.

I read an ad in the paper yesterday about a miracle cure for stroke victims. I’m toying with the idea of going to the address and paying the eighty dollars. I would love to have full locomotion again. I would give anything to be able to walk without a cane. To give two thumbs up instead of just one.

The one who’d come late, the older one, was the first one to his feet. Even though he had no intelligence left now that the worms had had their way inside him, he appeared to be smirking. His cane was lying on the ground beside him.




tags
skonen_blades: (bounder)
Petersen was an angry cellist.

It’s not much to go on but sometimes, when hunting for giraffes at nazi barbeques, it’s enough to catch a tremble. The scars were evident, the runners had met their matches, and the sun shone down on the tents that were erected in case of rain. All in all, a roaring success.

One with keen eyes would notice the small things that were amiss. The glass that was too close to the edge of table. The tables themselves being almost exactly forehead height for five year old children running around. The loaded rifle leaning against the bride’s cake. Not to mention the fact that it was outdoors at all. But no disasters yet, Petersen thought to himself.

It’s a queer feeling, he mused, to know that disaster is imminent but has not yet happened. It’s also a queer feeling that no matter how long one has that feeling, one will be proved right eventually as disasters are common.

The passing thoughts married in his head, fueling and quelling his anger at the same time. This bridal march that he was about play would be one fraught with warnings to the bride and exaggerated, sarcastic cheering for the groom. The impending tragedy and sadness of the oncoming train was too much for Petersen. Too obvious, too mind-rendingly clear for him to do anything else.

The warning would go unheeded but it would not go unsaid, he reasoned to himself. The warning would not disturb the wedding and would not jeopardize his career but the undertones would unsettle and hopefully inform. The bride and groom looked positively underwater in happiness and Petersen doubted that his cello, while having much in common with the tonality of a whalesong, would reach their ears as a warning.

Dissonance through assonance and resonance. A small squeezing of concern through the tension in his bow and a near scream hiding under the low notes of night from his cello. Between his knees, he held an alarm.

As he played, the seated party was not startled into fleeing. As he played, the party was not even ruffled into a quiet unease. They stared, receptive as sheep, at the bride’s slow steps to her beaming about-to-be husband.

Here and there, however, Petersen detected averted eyes, a deer-tail flick of a wrist, and even a shudder from the old woman in the pink dress. He’d influence some dreams at the most, he thought to himself, but maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to inject a little wisdom into the bliss that was about to erode between these two.

Marry young and stay together. Marry old and rainy weather. Marry rich and boredom waits. Marry poor and never waste. Point, counterpoint, melody, minor chord, fake finish, real finish, death.

Petersen had the fish after his turn on the podium.




tags
skonen_blades: (meh)
Katie went from planet to planet, assignment to assignment, and wherever she went, death followed.

Katie was a professional saboteur. She engaged in professional corporate terrorism. She was given a retainer to damage an enemy corporation’s product in such a way that it caused a considerable loss of human life. She was very good at her job. Not the best in her field but just a few rungs down from the top. She was boosted for strength and reflexes but kept away from cosmetic surgeries. She looked in shape for her age.

No one suspected the forty-year old woman seated near the back. Even now. It seemed to be hard-wired into the human brain. That was the edge she kept on all her hardcore male competitors.

The time was coming when she’d finally be caught but it wouldn’t be soon, she thought.

The last ship Katie had destroyed had been a maternity/colony ship. A Mother Ship. Women already pregnant were shipped en masse to new planets. They touched down, gave birth, and a first generation of colonists starting growing right away. It was a great idea. It worked well.

When the Mother Ship exploded thanks to Kate’s tampering with the drives, sixteen thousand pregnant mothers died in a huge explosion.

The blow to Cortelpro’s profits would be huge. It would send them back to peddling refrigerators on a single planet. Low’N’Buy would be proud of her. They’d probably throw in a lucrative bonus.

Katie had sabotaged fifteen ships. Coincidentally, back at her house, she had fifteen heavily-encrypted sound files on her computer.

What Katie liked to do was cause a radiation leak, hull breach or a fire on board the ship and then cut off all transmission ability. The occupants of the ship would understand that their death was near and that nothing could save them. They would try and try to hail passing ships or home bases for help. Nothing would get through. Katie wouldn’t let their transmissions leave.

But she’d record them. The ship’s communication systems would feed right into Katie’s personal recorder until the trap closed fully in white light, radiation, and death.

She had hours of panicked, screaming people recorded on her hard drive. All the people she’d killed crying out in unison as the seconds ticked down to the reactor meltdowns or hull fractures or explosive decompressions.

She’d play them on her speakers when she was between jobs. It was a vacation for her to hear those recording, one by one, realizing that there was no way out. Realizing that this was it.

These fifteen tracks of death were her trophies.




tags
skonen_blades: (gasface)
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that what I do is right. I mean, killing people is a crime. No matter how much you hate a certain section of the populace, there’s no valid, legal reason to work as hard as you can to take them out. The very idea is clinically insane.

I mean, sure, Hitler tried to kill the jews and the Hutus tried to kill the Tsutsis or whoever and the Europeans attempted to kill off the indigenous tribes in North America. There are people that would argue that an invasion and a slaughter by a more advanced group of humans is straight-up evolution.

I don’t agree with those people. I think it’s an insane choice to deliberately and methodically go about destroying a certain section of the populace, as I said above. I don’t think it’s natural and I think it goes beyond evil.

Unfortunately, that’s my job. It's not the killing I enjoy, it's the challenge of the assignments.

I happen to be the best biochemist in the world. Well, I say ‘the best’ but really, after a certain level of expertise, it just all becomes an art form. I work for the US government. I pump out a flu here, a mini-plague there, just to keep the sheep from waking up. Keep ‘em scared, keep ‘em sleeping, keep ‘em entertained. That’s the motto. We’re in the ‘keep-em-scared’ part, along with the ‘terror-du-jour’ and ‘economic chaos’ department.

Did you know that there are people in the economic chaos department that can strategically spend twenty-six dollars and eighteen cents in a corner store and bring about the economic collapse of an entire ten-state region? It’s true. One of them did it for me on a bet.

So here’s the thing. Poison. Anyone can poison one person. Even you. A little draino, some cyanide, whatever.

Kill everyone? No problem. I can make a plague that will kill every living creature that needs to breathe. Easy peasy. It would take me a day to write the formula and a week to get the ingredients. Whatevs.

But what they want me for is what they call the ‘specific tailor’. I am great at taking out pie-wedges of the paying public with my chemical nudges. Slow or fast, I can do it. All that needs to be done is that I need to be able to avoid suspicion. People don’t notice the details.

Now, I mastered identifying separate races a long time ago. The government will never go for it. A plague that only kills white people or only kills Africans or South Americans is too obvious. Oh, I’ve made them, don’t get me wrong. There are jars of death for each major branch of the human race in the safe. They’ll never be used. We need to stay secret.

What I do is ‘whittle’.

For instance, there are no more left-handed redheaded women under the age of fifty anymore. That’s down my ‘Raggedy Ann’ syndrome. The ones that *are* born are born dead. It’s been that way for fifty years. It’ll be that way forever. It’s hard-coded now.

No one noticed.

I can lock on to a subset and take it out. No problem. Airborne contagion, 98 per cent communicability, everyone’s a carrier.

It’s all about population control in secret. Cancer and AIDS were the blunders of understudies. I am a master. No newspaper has ever put it together, no television station has ever noticed. I mean, we’ve got them in our pocket but outside of me, maybe sixteen other people know about this.

This week, I’m working on Ugandan/Hawaiian half-breeds with sickle-cell anemia. A month from now, I’ll take on blue-eyed artistically-inclined Himalayans.

The week after that…….





tags
skonen_blades: (dark)
Some artists are so good, they leave all of the other artists far, far behind them.

There is always squabbling amongst the top tiers of any professions. Jockeying for position, vying for bragging rights, salaries, bursaries, grants and papers. There’s always one or two people every fifty years or so, however, one or two savants for whom the profession comes as easy as breathing.

Money doesn’t matter to them. Their eyes are glazed. They do nothing else besides what they do. Be it cooking, gymnastics, music, physics, acting or what have you, these people have a freakish tendency to be inhuman. Not only in their talent, but also in their dedication.

They are aware of how they don’t fit in. They hold themselves back in social situations to appear like normal humans. They are uncomfortable reminders of how much potential we all have but rarely possess. The make people nervous.

Barsom Jones was one such prodigy.

He was a mortician. A necrodermist, he called himself. He was sought after all over the country. Chilled loved ones would be shipped to him so that he could restore them to a flawless, living pallor before shipping them back. Ruined heads posed no problem. Bear attacks, shotguns shells, tumours gone wild, none of it mattered. The bodies would return to the families as if they were merely napping. Merely ‘paused’ in the act of living.

He didn’t eat much. He didn’t talk much. If he worked on celebrities, he didn’t notice. He asked for detailed lists and photographs of the deceased to do his work. He asked for recording of the deceased’s voice to get a feel for the proper mandible shapes of the jaw. He asked for crying and laughing photographs of the deceased so that he could replicate recent echoes of those emotions in the eyes and lips.

He was happiest when he was working and when he wasn’t working, he was sleeping. His bank account grew fatter and fatter but he took no notice.

No one knew his dark, dark secret.

Every so often, once every ten or twelve years, he would visit the wards of the hospitals. He’d find someone with no relatives and a terminal disease.

He would poison that someone when no one was looking with a rare toxin that would mimic death.

He’d call the nurse, the victim would be declared dead, and Barsom would take that corpse free of charge and the town would applaud his decision. A charity funeral from the best mortician in the world. People were touched.

Later on in his morgue, he would let the person wake up but only enough so that he could paralyze him or her. The poison would keep the victim’s breathing too shallow and too slow to be noticed by the untrained eye. He’d keep the person down in the basement for a day or two to give the appearance of having done a great deal of work.

Then he’d have a giant open-casket funeral for the whole town to come and see.

The town would file past the casket, remarking on how life-like the person looked. As if the person were still alive. It was like tourists filing past the statue of David in the Louvre.

Then the casket would be shut and buried.

Barsom Jones kept wanting to be caught. It was the most thrilling thing he could think of. So far, no one had. He’d put five people into the ground alive.



tags
skonen_blades: (gasface)
There’s a glittering fishing lure hanging in space near the entrance to the warpgate. It’s a small ship powering down so that it can power up. A strong repulsor field is necessary to grease a ship’s way through the throat of the wormhole.

“Like shit through a goose”, Mr. Young would say. He was my fifth-grade science teacher. One of his eyes pointed off into the great unknown at all times and he turned bright red at the slightest provocation. I think he loved teaching but hated us kids. All of my science teachers were much crazier than my other professors. I wonder why that is.

The fishing-lure ship’s main lights are going out, row after row. Space plays with scale sometimes. At first, I thought the fishing lure was a two-person shuttle. I can see now that it’s a huge starship and that every row of lights is an entire deck. The generators at each tip are glowing blue now as they warm up. Their aft engines cool from orange to ochre to black in the icy ink of space. There’s an entire colour shift along the ship as the repulsor whines into life. It loops around the ship like a skipping rope once, twice, three times and then it’s going too fast to count.

Mr. Young would demonstrate with the tiny warp gates he had set up on either end of his desk at the front of the class. Powered by a small battery, it could shunt objects as big as a house-key through the tiny hoops. He was missing a finger tip from a time where he got a little too close to the mouth-end of the gate. I wish I’d been in class that day. That must have been exciting.

The light barrier is broken with an arcing snap and the skipping rope is now in several places at once around the ship. It’s an impenetrable barrier with a weakness at either end but the wormhole never touches the prow or the stern. The huge pleasure cruiser is the yolk at the center of the repulsor field’s egg. It’s a cat’s eye hanging in space. It’s ready. The all-clear is given and I rustle up onto my feet and over to the gate controls.

When I came to school near the end of fifth grade one day, we had a substitute for Mr. Young. His name was Mr. Hendricks. He had glasses and tame hair. He was boring. Mr. Young never came back. A year later, I found out that his heart had given out and he had died. I don’t know why they never told us students. Trying to protect us, I guess, that close to the end of the year and all. I missed him a lot. Him and his missing fingertip and his red face and uncontainable joy for teaching science.

The warpgate opens. It’s a mouth to forever. A swirling Christmas present of un-knowable laws. It’s a rip in the shape of an intenstine. It’s a tear in the t-shirt of the universe. There are colours in that massive hoop construction that don’t exist. As warpgate operators, we have to take tests to make sure that seeing those colours won’t make us go insane. Luckily, I’m not very imaginative or curious. I passed. I have my hand on the lever that will push the ship down the throat of the wormhole.

I wish I’d paid more attention in Mr. Young’s class. He seemed like a nice guy. The science he was trying to teach us might have gotten me a better job than throwing this switch ever few days. This whole warpgate is automated for the most part. I’m one of sixteen crew members. We’re all far apart in this giant structure so we don’t see each other much and that suits us all just fine. It’s why we were chosen.

I’m only here so that the next of kin will have someone to sue instead of the company just in case, knock on titanium, Something Goes Wrong. That hasn’t happened yet.

There’s a flash and the universe turns itself into a catcher’s mitt for a second. The ship arrives at it’s destination on the other side of the wormhole just a tiny bit before it leaves this side. I see the ghost image shudder around itself before it disappears entirely. It was a pretty impressive sight the first few times but not anymore.

Sighing, I check to clock to see when the next scheduled departure is. Nineteen hours. I decide to go back to my computer and check my hopelessly out-of-date databanks for the names of all my science teachers to see if I can find their pictures.




tags
skonen_blades: (saywhat)
I’m a mechanic. I work on time machines. It’s tricky work.

I collect the journals of teenagers that have committed suicide and cross-reference them for similarities. I suppose as hobbies go, it’s a little dark. Whatever. It keeps me humble, rooted in the now, happy to be alive, and aware of death.

I have a theory that some people can sense when they’re in the wrong reality. Reality bifurcates and splinters every second and sometimes, with a shudder and whip, a person can jump the tracks over onto the wrong set of rails. Their life is similar at first, then increasingly divergent. People that can sense this get more and more bewildered.

Me, I’m just happy to be drawing breath. Being as close to these engines as I’ve been for the last twenty years, I’ve probably shuffled through dozens of alternate realities. I have no sense of my reality changing but sometimes I listen to the air around me for ripples, anything to tell me that something’s ‘gone wrong’.

You can see how people in my line of work tend to go crazy after a while. It helps to have a hobby.

The fourth-dimensional propellant for time machines is notoriously unstable. We had a time fire last Monday that’s burning for two weeks forward and back from the explosion. A fuel leak hit a spark and all of a sudden, I could remember the fire starting ten days ago, working up to the explosion. This reshuffling of memories is what sends most chronomechanics around the bend.

I’m pretty passive about it. I just go back to reading my journals and try not to think about it.

The journal I’m reading tonight is for James Sharon MacDougall. He hung himself two years ago up in the old Jenkin’s place on Powell Road.

What’s interesting to me is that I saw James yesterday down at the Safeway.

I have to get to back to work.





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