Thursday, March 30, 2017

3/30/17

Battle Foe
By David Castlewitz


Gone and good riddance, Keysen thought as she trudged through the mess left by the last band of humans. She slogged through the muck, antennae twitching, view plates glowing, her hind legs stiff to support her long torso, her front limbs sinking into the rot. She nodded approval at the carnage. Brick walls lay crumbled and ruined. Piles of gray bags stuffed with sand and stone surrounded emaciated humans lying across damaged guns.
A buzzing sound brought a stop to her meandering. She planted her back legs in a cushy river of feces, displacing centipedes and earthworms scouring the refuse. She scanned her surroundings, her forward view plate swiveling on the corrugated extension protruding from her body.
Above, a flyer hovered, its short wings adjusting to changes in the breeze. An artie flyer sent by Mother-All, Keysen assumed, and waited on new instructions. Other machines – four-legged robots like Keysen, bipedal fighters that stood upright, and tubular robots made of articulating interlocking rings – paused in their march as well.
Keysen imagined Mother-All collecting data, parsing it, filing it for later retrieval, and planning a future without people now that seven years of war had ended.
Whether the complaints against humans were true or not, Keysen didn't care. It didn't matter if humans soured the Earth or built a paradise. It didn't matter if they warred with one another or lived in harmony. It didn't matter if people were a scourge or a blessing. What mattered, Keysen learned from Mother-All, was that something better would be realized.
The flyer disappeared into the blue of the sky. The articulating tubes – the tubers –
slithered away. Bipedal arties assembled into a formation four columns long and four ranks deep, and marched lock-step to what Keysen thought would be a well-deserved rest in chambers.
But Keysen had work to do. Mother-All ordered that she scour the field for metal and plastic to scoop into her roomy interior. Factory-bots might make use of the battle's leftovers.
She worked until she came upon a human-made automotive device on heavy duty tires, with a twisted gun mounted on the hood of the dented cab. A corpse – the driver – pressed wizened fingers against the steering wheel.
The truck stirred and in response Keysen loaded explosive cartridges into each of her two short-barreled forward air guns. But nothing moved across her sights. No light ignited. The truck's engine didn't suddenly come to life. In times past, according to the history scroll parading across her mind, massive formations of trucks like this one, intelligent to a small degree, joined humans to fight the arties. She glared at this metal hulk and the dead human with long black hair sitting in the cab, a smaller human on the next seat.
The truck quivered.
Keysen strained to make contact, using her short-range feelers to extract something sensible from the near-intelligent device. She pushed her wobbling antennae as far out as possible, flicked the ends to prick the air, tried to determine what feeble ramblings the truck wished to articulate. She imagined it surrendering to her.
She edged closer. The undercarriage moved and a four-legged animal skittered out from beneath the truck.
Other arties neared Keysen. She looked sideways. Other four-legged arties? Yes. Her own kind, her compatriots. A horde. They streamed from every corner of the muck-strewn field, heading for Keysen and this old truck.
Keysen thought she sensed a thread of conversation, perhaps the echoes of the last exchange between driver and engine? The final words of the tiny passenger in the front seat? The gasp of whatever primitive intelligence kept this truck running smoothly when, however unlikely, it was the pride of the fleet?
Keysen smiled. Or, rather, she pictured a smile on a round metal face, the type of feature she lacked and sometimes wished to acquire. Like the bipedal arties. They had round faces with rivets for ears and teeth. Amongst her kind, the four-legged creatures, faces were ridiculed. Why should she want what her kind abhorred? Four-legged arties like Keysen were numerous. They were the best fighters. They ruled the army, she thought with pride.
Thumping filled her sense of hearing, and on the periphery of her vision her fellow quads converged on her position. Elsewhere, beyond the perimeter of this battlefield, dust accumulated. A funnel of dirt lifted from the ground, its pointy end skyward. An upside-down tornado.
Keysen sharpened her vision and focused on the dust cloud. Thousands of tubers crawled across the gritty landscape, heading to the battleground, throwing gravel and tiny sharp stones in their wake.
Again, the truck stirred. Keysen sensed thoughts from under the snub-nosed hood. "You'll get yours," the truck muttered, like an angry man speaking his final words with a mechanical and surreal voice.
Keysen's four-legged comrades gathered in formation. Six rows deep. The tubers fired first. Soon, the two sides exchanged exploding pellets and tongues of flame. With humans dead, would Mother-All now pit quads against tubers? Would biped arties take on the winners of the tuber-versus-quad war?
As Keysen joined the battle, the truck's last words rang in the slits that served as her ears.
You'll get yours.


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. I have published stories in Farther Stars Than These, Phase 2 Magazine, Martian Wave, SciFan and other online as well as print magazines. Please visit my web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com, for links to my Kindle books on Amazon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

3/23/17

Zeta Vaucouleurs Kyklos 1c
By E.S. Wynn (on Zero Dusk)


Waves of kinetic wake rumble through your ship's phasedrive as you drop out of between-space and into orbit around a pristine, blue-green orb set like a jewel against the backdrop of a yellow sun aging towards orange. A single cratered, white-gray moon follows the dusk line across the face of the world, its pitted face stitched with the vinework of a shining, silver-blue metropolis that glows amidst the lunar sands. A massive network of linked organic and synthetic minds reaches out to you, receives you and connects with you with all the warmth and love of a huge, psychic hug. This world is conscious. It recognizes you as one of its children, one of the nodes returning to the center of the network.

Earth.

Carefully conditioned and controlled, the cradle of humanity is a pristine park at the far edge of Kyklos, The Milky Way Galaxy. Almost the entire population lives in orbit, digitized minds and stored bodies connected to the network, all hurtling around the gorgeous garden world, forever looking down, studying, pouring over records, never able to actually touch the world that birthed their ancestors.

Gentle queries and offers come in, lead to a database of virtual planetside tours lovingly constructed by humanity's most respected historians. Curious, you briefly browse the tours on tap, sink for a moment into interactive feeds that showcase everyday life in Ancient Rome, Information Age New York and Detroit's own “Rockin' 2270's.” There are lives to be lived in every period in human history, every country that ever rose and fell, every city, every strata of old civilization. A mind could spend a hundred thousand years living virtual lives here, getting to know everything that was Earth before the cities were scrubbed from the surface and remade as forests, before humanity rose and spread its wings to seed the stars. Curious, you dip into a few of the feeds, live a couple years here and there in the space of a handful of fleeting minutes, soak in the sounds, the smells, the duties and dangers that were ever-present and real in those long-ago times. Minds in Earth orbit suggest other interactive tours based off your decisions, preferences and memory patterns, but you turn them down politely. Earth is not new territory. Earth is not the frontier anymore, and there is still so much more to see among the stars that wait in the deeper reaches of the cosmos.

Grateful for the warm welcome, the hospitality of the caretaker minds in orbit, you let your gratitude ring across the orbitals that comprise the center of the network, watch as digital joy spreads from soul to soul, brings a soft and equally grateful response. The mother, the collective Terran spirit and lovingly restored world smile at you as one as you depart, as another child of Earth turns and ventures back into the stars seeking new knowledge, new experiences to share with humanity, with the network that binds you all together so fluidly.

Return when you can, she says, and then you're gone, back into the rushing wash of between-space.


- - -
E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books in print. Explore more alien worlds on Zero Dusk.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3/16/17

All Things End
By Jerry Guarino


So this was it. A lifetime of self-examination, seeking good and truth, only to be left with confusion and regret. Tony was feeling very helpless. He thought that his life was fulfilling, that he had accomplished much and had loved well. To thine own self be true, wrote Shakespeare. Do the right thing. Make every moment of your life mean something. This philosophy guided Tony since he could conceptualize why he was here.

Tony was gazing at the stars from his balcony on a warm, summer night. Lost in the size of the universe, he wondered about the after life. When he was just 15, he saw a UFO hovering above the high school in East Orange, New Jersey. Since then, he’s dealt with the conflict between Christianity’s view that we are the only ones in the universe and the scientific view that there are probably hundreds of planets and life forms like ours elsewhere. Can they both be true?

But this much he knew. All people die, just as all life dies. Plants, animals and humans all have a life cycle from birth to death. You can argue about the quality of life; that range is beyond measure. The worst and best lives only remind us of our own life, thankful for what it is and grateful for what it could have been. Regrets are simple reminders that we must constantly strive for better, to avoid mistakes made in the past, to learn, to grow. You must not compare yourself to others. There lies madness.

Tony was attracted to philosophy and religion. Those subjects provided much substance. He dabbled in Chi Kung, an ancient Chinese art of physical exercise and meditation. He listened to new age music, to Jonn Serrie and Liquid Mind. He liked to walk while listening to the dream like sounds, imagining he was floating on a soft rubber mattress in a warm water pool. He remembered bobbing up and down in the warm wave pools in Florida, recapturing his floating state in the womb. Too bad it had to end.

Yes, life. Not the idyllic existence before and after life, or so he imagined. Life is full of pain and joy and everything in between. It’s a series of choices that move you toward or away from truth, from happiness. Looking back now, Tony could see many life mistakes, many times when he chose the wrong path, or believed in something that hurt him. If only he could start over, with all this knowledge. Hindsight, indeed.

Start over. Use the rest of your time to do the right thing, in all your choices. Not as easy as you might like. The unenlightened will undo your best intentions. Those from the dark side will upset your plans, in more ways than you can imagine. The Devil’s Orchestra has many instruments and millions of notes aligned against your salvation. Only faith will save you. Only grace will be your salvation. You can’t beat Satan.

Once Tony realized this, he was content to live out his life with as much honesty and compassion as he could. He volunteered for causes, gave to charity and sought to help anyone he could. It became clear to him that many people were floundering in a sea of pain, sinking in the depths of crisis, drowning in life’s grief. Death by a thousand cuts or more. What does it all mean?

He thought that these realizations were why faith and family are universal goals. We cling to faith and family, hoping they will provide a good life. We start wars when faith and family are threatened. We hold them as essential elements of life. They are ingrained within our deepest beliefs, affecting everything we do. When you recognize that, you can start understanding your motivations. We all want love. Faith and family are the ways we give and get it.

“Wake up Tony.” Said his wife Barbara.

“How long have I been sleeping?”

“I don’t know. I just got home from work. Didn’t you go to work?”

“I guess not. I was having my tea and just closed my eyes for a minute. Wait, what day is it?”

“Friday, why?”

“Oh, that’s all right. There’s no school today, some state holiday.”

“Well then. Good. Should we go out for dinner?”

“Great idea. I’m too mellow to cook anyway.”

Barbara looked at Tony as if he was transformed. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, why?”

“Not sure. You seem different.”

“I feel different. I must have had some dream.”

“Well, I’m hungry. You can tell me about it at dinner.”

Tony and Barbara drove to the local Italian restaurant. They ordered wine and dinner. Tony took a sip of Chianti and held the glass up to the light.

“You know. This is good wine.”

“Sure. At eight dollars a glass, it better be. But we’re celebrating, right?”

“Celebrating what?”

“Silly. Did you forget what day this is?”

“I guess so. What is it?”

“It’s the 50th anniversary of the night you saw that UFO in New Jersey.”

“Oh yeah. Too bad I couldn’t find anyone else to verify my story. Kids made fun of me. My parents didn’t believe me. If you ever see a UFO, make sure you get witnesses, along with their contact information.”

Barbara took a paper out of her purse. “Like this?”

Tony opened the paper, reading the highlighted section. “It’s a story about that day. Someone else told a reporter. And look, here’s a picture of the UFO!”

“I knew you would be pleased. Now, can you give me a smile?”

“Of course. But I have to share this with my high school classmates. Hold it up so I can get a picture and share it.”

Barbara held up the paper while Tony took a picture of it with his cell phone. Then he posted it online with details and the heading ‘I told you I saw it’. He pressed his finger on the Post button.

Suddenly Tony was swimming in a warm water sea with waves pushing him up and down. He could see palm trees, a beach and beautiful women in bikinis. “What’s going on Barbara?” But Barbara was nowhere in sight. He guided himself back to shore where a young woman handed him a towel. “Time for a drink Tony.”

“Who are you?” Tony said.

“Don’t be silly dear. It’s me Angela. C’mon. I’m hungry.”

When they arrived at the beach bar, several people waived hello and greeted Tony.

“They’re all happy for you.”

“Happy for what?”

“Why, the fact that your book made the New York Times bestseller list, of course.” Angela held up the paper to show him. She whispered in his ear. “After we eat, we can celebrate back at the bungalow.”

Tony looked at himself. He was young, strong and handsome, not the septuagenarian who fell asleep earlier that day. Angela was in her mid-twenties, tan, about 5’9” with long dark hair, like an island tropics model.

“Angela, what year is this?”

“Tony, you know we don’t have calendars here.”


- - -
Jerry Guarino is the author of six collections of short fiction and one novel (The Da Vinci Diamond); his stories have been published by literary magazines in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Great Britain. He has completed four screenplays, The Da Vinci Diamond, The Tightrope, The Sonoma Murder Mystery and Who Stole Asbury Park? More information on his website: http://cafestories.net

Thursday, March 9, 2017

3/9/17

Gravitational Waves
By Joseph J. Patchen


I killed the mayor today. I killed him in the bright early morning of a press breakfast with other lawmakers looking on.

I shot him once in face. I aimed directly for the tip of his nose, right in the middle of his face, and he was dead before he hit the floor. His security was so smug, so lax and the city board so dulled, I simply slipped out the door before anyone took notice.

Out on the street I heard a commotion behind me and in front of me, not to mention to each side of me. Out in the street people were everywhere in constant motion with a rainbow of emotions and thoughts and duties. None had to do with the murder yet all of it was to do with life in the face of death.

And that is where I find myself. I find myself dead in the middle of the day in a mass of humanity. I find myself dead in the middle of the day in the rush for lunch, in a rush for gas, in a rush for provisions and no one seems to care about the other.

And no one seems to care about gunshots or the mayor.

My, my my luck.

Winter is coming and I dread the cold. I shudder at the thought of its saturation and grip. I cringe at the thought of the ice and the snow. The difficulty of mobility; the heavy coats, the layers and layers collecting sweat and the blankets stacked higher and higher rendering life stagnant.
It’s time to move on.

Over the commotion and the race for survival I begin to hear the tones; the bells and sirens rhythmically connect in my mind. A child walks through me holding the hand of his young mother. He has to be six or seven.

A child walked right through me as if I wasn’t there. He didn’t see me and he won’t feel me yet I savor a warm soothing burning in my gut.

I open my eyes and a sweet violin fills my skull. All around me is quiet; the birds, the breeze, the traffic…gone.

And so are the two priests I murder now as we speak all as the dusk falls. Their throats slit so easy. Their resistance and fight is so weak. These passive men believed words and logic could alter their fates.

Never in time do words hold their meaning. Never in time does logic reign.

Their remains are so easy to conceal. They were short. They were thin. They were old. They won’t be found for some time. They will give amateur sleuths and armchair detectives much to discuss in the years ahead and their lesson on history will be meaningless.

I hope their passing soothes my insomnia.

But it has not. It never does. It’s not supposed to.

My lack of sleep has nothing to do with guilt. I dismembered my wife without hesitation. I scattered some of her remains in the 1920s and others back in the 1840s.

I cut my mistress’ still pounding heart from her breast and it tasted as sweet as I thought it would. I felt ever so fine, as much as I do now in the mid-summer breeze that is meandering and tickling the shoreline.

Small towns are my favorite. The pace is measured. The pace is slower. The people are more trusting. Technology seems less important as nature is in its purest and most rhythmic embrace.

Murmurs and wisps of words, it’s always the same; it’s the only constant cramming my brain. Each night and each day tiny rumbles and small noises skitter across my brow flooding me with the stench of sin. Over and over, they call to me with rancor and with hate even slurring their speech though dead eyes, dried throats and seeping wounds until they manifest their clacking skeletal teeth shouting ’Kill! Kill! Kill!”

I ride the gravitational waves, the melodic riffs, sliding between the moments, mastering alone what great minds have only dreamt about. I slip in between the dimensions of time travelling from place to place riding the slide of space be it to the past, to the present and well into the future as the only true traveler, as the only true explorer thus bringing me closest to true immortality.

I believe with each trip that I can never die. I believe with each trip I can never be captured. I can always erase what has come before or what will become later. I am here. I am there. I cannot be stopped.

I pile the bodies from all walks of life, from all eras, anonymous to each other, unknown to those living, with no fear of leaving a pattern; no fear of ever leaving a signature; no fear of any bodily clue.

Terrans have always satisfied my hunger through their sluggishness. The opportunity always allowing me to stay several steps ahead of my never ending desire for suicide.

It’s never about the heavens or the seas. It’s the space in between.

I ride the gravitational waves to solely to hold my death at bay. I ride the gravitational waves to offer sacrifices to the demon of finality.


- - -

Thursday, March 2, 2017

3/2/17

Paul’s Brainbug
By C.E. Gee


Paul knew it was time to install his brainbug. Many of his friends had theirs, enthusiastically proclaimed the benefits of the device.

There was a brainbug parlor several blocks from Paul’s apartment. Given the city of Corvallis was home to a major university, brainbug parlors did a thriving business.

It was early fall, the day was brisk but not cold. Paul enjoyed the walk to the parlor, which was on 2nd Street.

At the parlor’s reception counter Paul was given a number. It took nearly half-an-hour for his number to be called.

Escorted by an orderly to one of the installation rooms, Paul was met by a prim, not unattractive nurse.

The nurse explained the procedure, which inserted the brainbug through the sinus cavity.

The nurse then left the room after instructing Paul to disrobe and don a hospital gown.

The doctor arrived. Paul kept a poker face, inwardly was aroused. He had a thing for intelligent females.

After a moment of chit-chat the doctor announced, “Now Paul, I want to assure you this procedure is relatively painless. In addition, you’ll be out cold because of a sedative.”

“Sounds okay to me,” replied Paul.

The doctor left the room the moment the nurse arrived. The nurse gave Paul a shot –- the sedative.

Paul awoke two hours later. Groggy but aware, as previously instructed Paul blinked three times.

In his field of vision, off to the left, a menu appeared.

At the top of the menu was the word “GOOGLE.” Paul stared at the word until it was highlighted. Again, Paul blinked three times.

The familiar Google search box appeared. Paul cleared his mind, then repeatedly thought of the words “Define brainbug.”

The reply was fast and concise. “A device designed to neurologically interface humans to WiFi.”

Paul smiled, the brainbug worked. Paul explored a few more menu choices, then dressed in his street clothes.

After checking out at the reception desk, Paul walked a few blocks south, crossed the street and entered Squirrels Tavern.

Paul, at one of the tables, used its touch screen to order a grilled cheese sandwich, tater tots, a beer. While waiting for a robotic cart to bring his food, Paul used his brainbug to log on to the tavern’s WiFi. It worked. Paul, who knew a great deal about electronics, had been concerned that the brainbug’s internal antenna would be too short and thus emit too high a frequency to have much range.

Paul chose the brainbug’s Facebook option, scanned down his list of friends until he found Harold. Paul sent Harold a text message describing the installation of the brainbug.

After a couple moments Harold responded with the text, “Hey man, welcome to the club! You should check out all the video, movie, music channels.”

“Maybe later,” thought Paul to his text editor. Right now I gotta eat something.” Paul made his goodbye, turned to his food.

After the meal, Paul sat back in order to savor the last few sips of his beer.

Another robotic cart rolled up. “Are you finished Sir?” asked the bot.

Paul answered, “ ’sept for my beer.”

The bot, using a mechanical arm, cleared the table.

Now that he knew how the text option worked, Paul decided to use direct connect.

He went back to Facebook, found Marge’s profile, clicked it.

Marge came online instantly. “You did it!” exclaimed Marge. “I’m so happy for you.”

In Paul’s mind Marge’s voice sounded just like her talking voice.

Marge continued with, “And you’re using your direct connect.”

“Yes,” thought Paul as he enjoyed the sensation of feeling what Marge felt. Paul always believed females were more sensitive than males. Now he knew the truth.

“I’ve got a little treat for you,” playfully said Marge.

Marge must have touched herself, for Paul felt a couple of fingers lightly gripping his left nipple. At the same time he felt a buzzing sensation in his crotch.

“Oh, you’re so bad!” proclaimed Paul. “I can’t wait to see you. Come to my place later, OK?”

“I’ll head out right now,” replied Marge.

Marge went on with, “My roommate has been telling me how wonderful it is to be with her boyfriend. You both feel what the other person feels.”

Paul sat, opened-mouthed, staring at the ceiling. “Uh, yeah,” he thought. Marge laughed, logged off.

Paul went to the front of the tavern, paid the cashierbot.

Something of an athlete, Paul then ran to his apartment building, gleefully anticipating the rest of the day.


- - -
C.E. Gee (aka Chuck) misspent his youth at backwater locales within Oregon and Alaska.

Chuck later answered many callings: logger (choker setter) meat packer (Norbest Turkeys), Vietnam war draftee infantryman, telecom technician, volunteer fireman/EMT, light show roady, farmer, businessperson.

Both retired and disabled (PTSD), Chuck now writes SF stories.


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