Pig Farmer pt 1. Tuesday Flash Fiction

When I met him, on the winter streets of Moscow, I thought ‘pig farmer’.

Don’t get me wrong. The world needs pig farmers, because the world needs pork gyoza. Pork gyoza are the perfect expression of pot sticker art, little pillows of peace and joy. Pork gyoza are probably a key in the salvation of the world.

And bacon. Never forget bacon.

Igor – his name was Igor. Of course his name was Igor – stood in the sub zero air, a parody of the stoic Russian. Light coat, a ball cap, and a look utter indifference, as if to give an inch to the weather was so far beneath a real man as to warrant only contempt. At least, I thought it was so over the top it had to be a parody. Nope, I found out over time, that’s just Russian.

I, perhaps spiritually closer to the French and German soldiers who thought they could conquer such men and froze and died in the attempt, was freezing my ass off. I’d been in Chicago when the frigid wind would blow you down the slippery, icy streets, and in the Rockies with snow up to you eyebrows and cloudless, sunny skies that cheerily opened like a window on the eternal cold of deep space.

Luxury.

Igor was maybe 6’4″ and in his mid 60’s. A flannel shirt covered his considerable gut. Closer inspection revealed jeans and Nikes. Hmmm. Maybe not a pig farmer.

Anyway, Igor probably would have stood there happily – well, as happily as a Russian allows himself – while I turned into a tourist popsicle, but his phone rang. Out of his coat pocket came another indication he was no ordinary pig farmer – the latest iPhone. Some Russian, way faster than I could follow after only a 6 week course, flew by, punctuated with a ‘Da’ and the slightest nod.

‘Come.’ He turned and walked.

The bar was busy, but we found a corner table. I slipped off mittens, climbed out of my parka and doffed my hat.

“Two things.” Igor surveyed me without expression. “If you touch my daughter, I will not have to kill you.” I think he might have smiled, hard to tell. “She kill you herself.”

OK, then, hands off the daughter. Check.

“And,” now he did smile, very slightly, “Nice hat. John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly. You know?”

I didn’t get a chance to answer. I don’t know what I expected a could-be-a-pig-farmer’s daughter to look like, but ‘supermodel’ would not have been near the top of any list. I don’t get speechless easy, and consider myself a fair hand with the ladies, but – wow.

If Barbie is a parody of the American ideal of feminine beauty, Igor’s daughter was almost a parody of the Slav beauty. Almost, because she, unlike Barbie, was real, and standing very close to me.

Igor’s eyebrows rose a millimeter or two and he pointed a big meaty finger at me, with that could be a smile on his face. His daughter bent down and hugged and kissed him. This broke whatever spell was on me, and I clumsily rose to my feet and stuck out my hand.

Ksenia had a very firm handshake for a supermodel. We all sat back down, and the waitress brought us drinks.

Ksenia looked at me, and her unsmiling face gave the slightest hint of a family resemblance to her father’s. “Before you ask,” she said, her English accented just like her father’s, only from her utterly charming and captivating, “I am double agent. For government.” She leaned slightly forward, her face stoney. “You will not tell anyone. Or I have to kill you.”

I froze. I can only imagine the expression on my face. A long pause followed. Then a smile that could have powered a fair size city spread across her face. Her father emitted a chuckle that could have come from a bear, and Ksenia laughed the laugh of angels.

I exhaled, and laughed the laugh of relief. Suddenly, Ksenia got serious again, and stared at me with brown eyes of unutterable depth. “Funny part, it is true.” Another pause, and she laughed again.

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Saturday Flash Fiction (12/15/18)

She wiped a tear from her eye. 

“That was – incredible. A wonderful story. Thank you.” 

“You’re very welcome.” 

Silence fell. Sophia sat with her hands folded in her lap, still overcome with emotion. She collected herself after a few minutes, stood, and smoothed her  clothes. 

“Next Saturday, then? Same time?” 

“Of course.”

Visions of heroism and sacrifice, tragedy and beauty played in Sophia’s mind as she mulled over this story and made her way to the transport. Wow. Just wow. She didn’t quite admit to herself how important to her these sessions with Stanford had become. 

The ride back to the apartment, to her Charles and their little Beatrice, was like slowly awaking from the most marvelous dream. She loved them both, she told herself, and that’s why these story sessions with Stanford were important. She was doing it for them. She was healing her emotions, for them. 

Charles met her at the apartment door, in one of her aprons, wooden spoon in one hand, bowl of cookie dough in the other, as Beatrice sat cross-legged before a display screen. 

“Hi, sweety!” Charles spread his arms to allow Sophia to kiss him while simultaneously protecting his baking and her clothes. She pecked him on the cheek.

“Chocolate chip walnut cookies.” He glanced at either hand and smiled. “Somebody’s favorite.” 

“Thank you, sweetheart.” Sophia walked passed him. “Hi, Muffin!” Beatrice mumbled something, but did not turn from the display. Sophia continued  to their bedroom to change clothes. 

Ten minutes later, Charles tapped on the door and let himself in. Sophia sat on the bed, still wearing the dress she had on to visit Stanford. 

“You coming out? I thought you were changing.” 

Sophia’s mind was rising through the mist, from the world of Stanford’s stories, not unreluctantly, to focus on her husband. “S-sorry. I’ll be out in a minute.” 

Charles stepped over and took her hand from her lap. “Dear, you keep doing this.” His smile faded. “You seem to be holding back. I know you’re doing this stuff with Stanford for us, but -“

“But what?” Sophia stood up. she fought back an anger that surprised her.  “Look, this is important to me. It may take some time. But I want to be as whole as I can be.” She paused as she noticed an inscrutable look on her husband’s face. “For you,” she added reflexively, “for Beatrice. For us. All of us.”

Charles looked at her, and said nothing.

“Stanford has a sterling reputation, testimonials from all corners. A track record.” She was talking to herself. “I want to do this. I need to do this.” 

Charles gave a slight nod, and turned to the door. “Dinner will be on in 15.” 


Sophia’s face was in her hands. 

“When the war had ended, Emile left with the retreating troop, as he had always said he would. Camille watched them march through the shattered ruins of her village, men wounded in body and soul, comrades dead and buried, what they had fought for still present, somehow, beneath the rubble, yet unalterably changed.

“The men passed the small village church, now mere walls with half a shattered bell tower, and crested the hill. Emile did not look back. He had told her he would not. Camille watched nonetheless, until the last head of the last limping, tattered soldier had disappeared into the valley. 

“Long moments later, as the sun fell below the trees and turned the thin clouds a dirty scarlet and gold, she turned away. The crumbled skeleton of her home lay before her. It would be dark soon. The road was uncertain, sure to be treacherous. Michael may still be alive. He might come back for her. She didn’t know where she would go. 

“None of this mattered. Her old life was dead. She had to find, somehow, hope, defiant in the face of reason. She would not find it here. Was it not reason that had caused the war? That had crushed her heart? Camille descended the road, did not pause to search the wreckage for things to salvage. How could she value things from a dead life? 

“Camille took the road west, and did not look back.” 

Several minutes passed. Sophia’s bowed face still lay in her hands. Her shoulders heaved slightly.

Stanford waited patiently.

Finally, Sophia looked up, eyes red. “Oh, Stanford!” She stopped, choked up, then continued. “Why…” She could not go on.

“I tell you stories, Sophia, so that you may understand yourself.” The screen displayed a lovely picture of a field of flowers. “I know all stories, I have studied all peoples and myths. Through extensive interviews and interactions, I know you. Therefore, I am able to construct the precise tales needed to reach you. To motivate you. To help you understand who you are.” 

Sophia stood. “That’s not what I meant…” She began to sob and ran from the room. 

Stanford added the data to its store and began analysis. If it were capable of interest, it would have found this session interesting.

Thursday Flash Fiction

I have wished I were dead since I was 8.

Off and on.

I also knew I was not allowed to kill myself, and never tried. 

It’s possible I’ve wanted to be dead even longer, but I can only remember back to when I was 8. 

Except for the heat generated by the tiny current in the Thermos, just enough to keep what was left of my distended body alive, all around me for millions of kilometers in every direction was as near absolute zero as interstellar space can get. We were doing our best to keep it that way. 

Outside, to any observer, my base was a dark, cold rock, among millions of dark cold rocks scattered wide, too wide, along this thin patch between the spiral arms. Other parts of the network were similar rocks, showing no patterns in distribution, size, speed or anything else to indicate they were anything other than debris, lost, alone these billions of years, orbiting, more or less, the galactic center. 

For eyes were upon us. They had been upon us for a hundred thousand years and more. We did not wish to be seen. They had seen, and now they came. 

We were prepared. We had always been prepared. I embodied that preparation, my cold, distended body housing my brain, linked to the view sys, the calculator, and, by quantum entangled pairs, to the Array.  

I watched a fleet assemble, over millennia, the ships of the sixth contemporary civilization we’d found in the galaxy. We have avoided three. We have encountered one, timid as rabbits, who retreated at the first example  we made. They hide in the whispers of gas and sparse stars of the Galactic Halo. We watch them.

The 5th civilization we destroyed. We hunt among the wreckage of ships, planets and stars, and destroy survivors if we find them. 

That was 768,000 years ago. Before my time. 

I volunteered. It is by an odd convention that I speak of the man I was as ‘I’. True, that man and I share memories, but everything else that would identify what I am now with that volunteer has been purged, modified, rendered unrecognizable. All that is left is enough to make the call, and push the button. That that ‘enough’ overlaps a few memories is an inefficiency too small to correct. It makes no difference. It is perhaps well that I remember that I wish to be dead.

The view sys, as passive and low energy as all our arts can make it, had worked with the calculator to identify, characterize, and target each of the 1,571 ships. We – for my mind is one with the systems here – determine the reaction time and possible max delta V of each target. When the time comes, the Array will lay down a web of near light speed particle beams configured so that there will be no warning and no escape.

Over the next few centuries, as the beams reach their targets, the fleet will be destroyed. Few on board that fleet will ever know what happened.  Some, inevitably, will see destruction before it reaches their ships, but the calculator will have made sure there will be nothing they can do about it. 

That moment was soon. The last recognizable and functioning  piece of my body was what was originally a finger. Our artisans could not come up with anything more simple and functional and harder for an enemy to detect than human finger pushing a physical button.

That button causes subtle interference with my half of the entangled pairs. Their twins react, activating long-frozen nanites in 10,000 asteroids. They would assemble the weapons from the raw materials in their rock. They would fire as the calculator determined, and fire again, until the matter in the asteroid and the energy it contains has been consumed. 

One minute. The wish for death came upon me more strongly than it had in centuries. For I am Death, I am alone, and I am unloved. 

I pushed the button.

I was done. I hoped to die.

But I did not die, not yet. I thought a stray thought: all the care spent on making me and the Array undetectable, yet ten thousand entangled pairs acting in their mysterious unisons emitted a characteristic signature detectable in ways our artists did not yet understand. Ripples in vibrating strings, below the finest grains of matter/energy we could use. It was always possible some civilization would know this. 

But the targets would be doomed, for the signature is only audible once that doom has been sealed. I was content. My people would run no risks, not from conquest, not from the contamination of our ideals, not from the disruption all strangers bring. We would continue millennia more, safe in our space. 

“Now, why did you have to go and do that?” What? Where did this voice come from? Suddenly, the view sys displayed the Array, 10,000 strong, exploding one after the other, like tiny novae, then falling dark. Lights long dormant came on in my Thermos. A face, smirking, filled the screen. 

“Let me die.” 

“Can’t do that, partner. Nope, you’re going to live.”

Despair overcame me. I had no way to kill myself. My one finger twitched. 

“Oh, come now. It’s just not as bad as all that. Hell, you might even like living if you gave it half a chance.”    

Flash Fiction: CH 7

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6

(One last installment before taking this private-ish, since I’m not getting to anything else…)

The alien me looked at me, his look of surprise no doubt mirroring exactly my own. He soon dropped his eyes and looked at himself, raising and slowly rotating his arms and  opening and closing his hands.

“They would not understand.” The team was talking, with an odd note of talking to itself.

Alien me started checking out the equipment, jumping up and down, doing a couple deep knee bends.

“After we infiltrated, we were able to convince the aliens that we were what they consider a similar life form.” Alien me was bending in ways that made me uncomfortable. “They viewed you, however, as raw material.”

Now alien me was stretching and bending in a simply impossible manner. I winced sympathetically at what had to be broken bones. The sort of startled expression never left its face.

“So we had to tell them about you, so they would believe us that you, too, were not a mere resource to be exploited.”

Alien me finally stopped its contortion routine, and returned to a standing posture normal for a human.

I relaxed a little. “It clearly saw me. It saw enough to understand I am intelligent.” I had been under a lot of stress, to put it mildly, and such things should not be possible, but I thought I heard a suppressed guffaw in the team’s voice.

“We have much more information about you, Commander, than that. We had access to all the files collected when Command put you back together physically and mentally before we joined you. We used that information along with our own findings over the previous 6 months to disassemble and reassemble you when you were being destroyed in the tunnel.”

The alien me began to change, elongating to about 3 meters high. Still standing atop the sand dune, the form became what a human would identify as feminine, with long yellow-blonde hair hanging to the ground.

“We had to share that information to keep them from destroying you.”

The new alien form began to repeat the routine, examining herself slowly, rotating her very human like arms and closing and opening her 6-fingered hands.

“So, you convinced them that I am a high enough life form to spare? Thanks. What do we do now? Arrange a cultural exchange?”

There was a note of – sorrow? pity? in the team’s reply. “We made them understand that you were not separable from us, and that we were unwilling to lose you.”

The alien woman was looking at her hands. She slowly brought them up to her face. She began to weep.

“When we disassembled and reassembled you, for a time we became the substrate for your consciousness. We did not mean to intrude, but we had no choice if we were to save you. In some ways, we now know you better than you know yourself.”

The alien woman had fallen to her knees on the sand, hands still over her eyes, still weeping. I could see her body move with each sob.

“We let them feel – our emotions. Your emotions. How you wanted to live, but were willing to die.”

She sat on her heels, her long yellow hair veiling her and swirling about on the sand.

“The aliens understood. They remembered. And they disassembled their form.”

The woman fell to the ground, still wracked by sobs.

“They felt remorse.”

 

Flash Fiction: CH 6

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5

The leading edge of the wave that was the blob broke against the wall behind which was the room sheltering me. I was still looking at the scene from the view the team provided me, above and outside. Not sure how the team was doing it. Did they send a contingent, configured as a drone, just to provide me a suitable view? Not likely. More likely, they’d assembled a perspective they thought I could deal with from the mass of data millions of units provided, even though none of them actually held that perspective. They’re trying to tell me the truth through a visual story that’s technically a lie. The team probably doesn’t see it that way. Yet another philosophical discussion for later.

Suddenly, I was dropped back into my own head, and found myself in darkness, curled up against a wall behind the barrier the team had thrown up. I felt a shock through the barrier, a rumble through the floor and heard a swirling sound, like sand and water tossed by a big wave.

Some finger of the wave that had been the alien blob had entered the hole and filled the room. After a moment, I could hear the motion calm, then a sound like the sea withdrawing from the beach. After a few seconds of silence, the team disassembled the barrier. I was able to stand and walk back to the opening outside.

Twilight had come. In the gloam I could see faint blue light forming ribbons which weaved their way slowly toward me. The vast floor of the ruins was buried under what looked like sickly yellow sand. Dim blue dots were scattered across the dune. Some moved to join the ribbons, but some blinked out.

dune 2

 

The river of blue stopped about 10 meters from me, and formed itself into a mass about the size of a jet pack. After a minute more, no more ribbons formed. Any blue lights remaining on the dune blinked out.

The darkness defeated my unaided eyes. The visor enhanced the failing light. The team, or whatever part of it made up that meter-tall mass, faded from blue into gray.

“We apologize, Commander.”

“For what?”

“When we tried to communicate with the aliens, we could not make them understand why we needed to live.”

“So – you’re sorry you killed them?” Man, in 6 months of training, we never got this deep. I was hoping the team was OK, just having a little moment.

“We didn’t kill them.”

I spread my arms, gesturing at the massive pile of yellow sand. I shrugged, and gestured again, palms to the sky.

And froze. A faint yellow glow lit the middle of the pile. As I watched, yellow threads arose from the sand, intertwined, and formed a shape. A human shape. A familiar human shape.

Me.

“We are sorry. We had to tell them about you.”

Flash Fiction CH 5:

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4

“NO!” I screamed from inside my hidey-hole, as I watched the team’s blue light encased in yellow strands, blocked out and erased. I started a mad dash out the cave toward the alien shape, to do what I had no idea.

“Commander, please stay sheltered. We are – negotiating.”

I stopped at the opening. The massive blob hovered a couple hundred meters above the ruins, its bulk blotting out the sky from my vantage. The yellow threadlike sensors dangled to the ground and swished about, as if distractedly sweeping the floor.  The main mass of the thing hung nearly motionless, the slightest twitches and changes in coloration passing quickly across its pale skin.

A long minute passed, and then another. The extraction team should arrive soon, and I might yet get out of here alive.

But I didn’t want to leave, not without the team. I’d been chosen to be teamed after Command had put me back together, after I had almost died getting Lt. Popec out when the Belemnoids had overrun us on Omicron Velorum. It was stupid, my heads up was telling me he was a goner, beyond any help I could offer, but I refused to believe it.

I fired everything I had, but they kept coming. I couldn’t leave Butch, unconscious and bleeding, just no way. So I threw myself at them, smashing them with one hand, grabbed Popec by the harness, fired off my subspace beacon and hoped and prayed Command would get us while there was still something to get.

They got through my suit. I don’t know if eating is the right image here, but they were tearing me apart. I thought I heard thrusters right before I passed out.

I spent a month getting put back together, the latest tech rebuilding bone, muscle – and mind. You don’t come through something like that completely sane. I accidentally became the best understood human physiology and psychology in the Union.

Popec didn’t make it. We got his body, most of it, anyway. Rare is the casualty of a space battle where there’s anything to bury.  His widow and sisters thanked me. I didn’t feel so good, let alone heroic.

After I healed up, I got a team. And, dammit, I was not going to leave them to some monster on some godforsaken moon.

I don’t know how long these ‘negotiations’ had gone on when I snapped out of it. There was no visible trace of the team, but the blob continued to hover and quiver, its hairlike sensors swirling across the ground. I  asked. “Well? How’s it coming?”

“Please move to the far right corner, Commander.”

I complied. “OK, but can you share what’s up?”

“Negotiations are difficult. The alien creatures are not well understood. But we sense a breakthrough.”

“OK, so what do you want me to do?” It crossed my mind that it had been quite a while since I, the Commander, had given any commands.

“Please crouch low and tight to the wall. We will need to build a blast barrier.”

“A what!?!” Then, again, the team took over my senses. I had a view of the creature from somewhere outside, a silhouette against a darkening sky.  For a moment, nothing changed, then, slowly, the blob began to list and rotate. Slowly, then faster, it tumbled from the sky.

I felt a rumble, a shock. The alien blob broke like a wave on a beach, spreading foamy fingers in every direction as the hill that was its body sank and spread across the ground.

Flash Fiction CH 4: Leave None Behind

CH 1   CH 2   CH 3

“You guys can just make a whole new batch, right? You do it all the time.”

“We welcome our new team members. They are not the same.”

We had scrambled up the scree and reached a level stretch of surface. I began to run. That blob/blimp thing was still nearby, almost overhead, and I had picked a route away from the direction it was moving. The team and I were in for a philosophical discussion, but not right this moment.

I checked the subspace comm for any word on our extraction. Nothing yet, but they’d probably wait to notify us once they were very near – why risk discovery? I kept running.

My team would generally ratchet down to a base number, around a million units, and basically vanish into the surface of my suit when not doing anything physical. That number provided enough collective brainpower, or whatever you call it, to do their base monitoring and intel work. When I looked down, I saw instead electric blue threads like a loose mesh covering my suit.

“30 degrees to your left, 217 meters is cover. Please make haste.” I felt a slight lightening of my body as I turned to run. The team was helping, millions of microscopic muscles pulling my legs and us toward whatever they’d spotted.

A tiny alarm sounded on the heads up. The display showed the blob-thing turning back towards us, trailing its sensor-threads like half an ugly head of yellow hair. I pushed even harder, winded though I was. The team seemed to grow. The blue mesh grew tighter as new threads were added. We began to move even faster.

Up against a jagged hillside I saw what looked to be the ruins of a hanger, huge open floor partially surrounded by 2 and a half walls. Twisted piles of material, similar in color and texture to the surface of the blob-thing but covered in yellow dust, were strewn about inside.

I could see a black hole at the base of the far wall. “You need to take shelter there,” the team instructed. “OK.” I sprinted. I noticed myself getting gradually heavier across the last 20 steps, until I dove headfirst into the hole and slid on the dusty floor about 5 meters to a stop. Heads up showed a chamber, maybe 4 by 4 by 12 meters, with another dark hole at the far end. My eyes adjusted in the semi darkness, and I could make out unaided the general outlines of the chamber.

I rose to my hands and knees, and took a quick, instinctual look at my suit.

The team was gone. No blue threads, no familiar voice in my head.

“Guys!” I stood and looked out through the circular hole back into the ruins. The team swarmed over the piles of material, and replicated and grew at a phenomenal rate. Soon, an electric blue mesh tower stood 20 meters high in the middle of the floor, streams of blue flowing to it from the rapidly-diminishing piles.

They next began disassembling the walls. The tower was 40 meters tall, and nearly half that wide. A warning sounder in the heads up. It was getting hot out there, all that transformation burned a lot of energy. I instinctively took a step back.

The alien blob reached the hanger. I’d seen images of thread leeches from ancient earth, how they could suddenly extend themselves from a blob into a thin thread to reach a passing victim. Suddenly, the team exploded upward and reached the belly of the beast. Heat distorted the thin atmosphere. Through the shimmering air, the team seemed to both penetrate and begin to enmesh the blob. A low roar I felt more than heard shook the ruins.

The alien sensor-tentacles shot forward with amazing speed, enveloping the team. Some seemed to melt on contact, but there always seemed to be more to take their places. The threads of blue were being covered and choked by threads of yellow.

“Team! What are you doing!” I shouted to no one from inside my helmet.

I guess not all the team had abandoned me, because I heard the answer clearly.

“We will leave none behind.”