Zero-Point: Flash Fiction

Two old priests, hands clasped behind their backs, stood at the edge of a hole in the ground.

“Zero-point energy,” one gray head said, a simple statement.

“Hmmm,” opined his companion.

A man in a hard hat approached them. “Please, fathers, move to the viewing area.” He held his hands up.

The two priests shuffled back a few yards. Lines on the ground marked where onlookers could gather, but besides the two priests, only a young mother, babe in arms, and a watery-eyed old man man had come to watch the Translation.

For a moment, the onlookers did not speak. “I was baptised there,” the old man said to the priests. “As was my mother and son, God rest their souls.”

The hole was in a flat acre of ground in the middle of a new suburb, surrounded by new homes. Each had endured feeble efforts to make it seem unique. This one had faux stone fascia on the porch, that one brick trim, a third a slate walk, like different colored sprinkles on cookies from the same cutter.

“Hole is an odd shape,” said the first priest.

“St. Monica’s was built on a slope,” answered the second. “Basement is deep enough, they put a basketball court in it. The Knights had their donuts and pancake breakfasts there.” He stared at the hole, in which one end was dramatically deeper than the other. “The plan is to split the difference.”

“And the purple foam?”

“Adjusts. These geniuses here can nudge a corner up here, drop a wall there, until she’s good and settled. Then, a little ultraviolet, and it sets up harder than stone.”

A distant claxon sounded, and lights delineating the safe observation area flashed gently. Four men in hardhats, each holding a tablet stood a few yards from the hole, one each to a side.

“I never get used to this. No matter how many times I see it.” The first priest said a silent prayer, eyes fixed on the sky.

“People don’t think a train going by is any big deal,” said the second, “but thousands of tons rolling along hundreds of miles of steel ribbons – it should be as shocking as this…”

High in the sky, a dark form appeared, descending out of clouds. Slowly, it approached, coming into focus: St. Monica’s Catholic Church, built in the heart of the city by the children of immigrants, immigrants whose grandchildren left the city, the Church, or, most likely, both. St. Monica’s was no longer needed, no matter how she prayed for her children’s conversions. She was now a widow veiled in dark gray stone, coming to a new home, and, it was hoped, to new children.

The baby cried and the new mother fussed. The old man stood motionless. The two priests now both silently prayed.

The scene was otherwise silent. The four hardhats looked from their pads to the sky and back, occasionally touching the screens. The new bishop had decreed that, since the technology now existed, the old, abandoned, urban churches in his diocese would be moved to the suburbs as needed. Thus it came to pass that St. Monica’s, a Romanesque Revival testament in stone to the faith and stubbornness of a tiny group of American immigrants, descended from the clouds upon a few hopeful citizens of a freshly stamped Promised Land.

“Heating was terrible.” The old man broke the silence as St. Monica’s approached, now a mere 1,000 yards in the sky. “Froze our asses off every winter. Could hardly hear the sermon over the teeth chattering and the old furnace moaning like the damned.” His watery eyes never left the descending edifice. “Not that you’d miss much. Roof leaked into the basement. A kid could slip and kill himself on that basketball court. Johnny Popec damn near broke his neck.”

A white pigeon had somehow gotten trapped in the zero-point energy field, and hung suspended most impressively in front of St. Monica’s west rose window. The building reached the ground. The four engineers were now checking elevations and levels as the building settled into the hole like a ship coming to dock.

Everything remained eerily silent. Finally, a chime let the engineers know that that St. Monica’s was within acceptable parameters. A bright violet light came from each side of the hole for perhaps a minute. The four engineers stepped back away from the the building. “Here goes!” one shouted.

The zero-point field was disengaged. The tech is binary: either the field is on, or it is off. Thus, in one instant, St. Monica’s went from a silent, heavenly image as weightless as an angel to a very fleshly thousand tons of stone, glass and concrete.

The silence was shattered by the muffled crack of stone being wrent, and the onlookers could see cracks forming in the rose window’s glass. The pigeon fell silently to the ground.

The engineer who had just given the OK was starting to explain to the onlookers that some settling was inevitable and minor damage to be expected when the young mother, babe still in arms, rushed past him and picked up the motionless pigeon. She examined it closely. “It’s still alive!”

The engineers looked at each other. Nothing bigger than a tardigrade had ever survived several hours in a zero-point energy field. Messes with metabolisms. The priests had walked over to the young woman, babe on her shoulder, pigeon in her hand. “Terrible mold problems,” the old man had not moved. “Summers stank.”

The two priests and the woman examined the bird. One wing moved.

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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.”    

Update: Reading, Writing & The Deathless Home Improvement Project

So, here we are again!

Reading: Reading Lord of the World aloud to the family intermittently. Around 40% of the way through. This will mark the third or maybe fourth time I’ve read it, it keeps getting better, in the sense of more terrifyingly accurate. (my emphasis)

But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth;it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.”

Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.

One is not allowed to question the assumptions of modernity; one’s character is up for assassination; if one is important enough, one is shouted down, de-platformed, shadow-banned. For now.

Also for now, we little fish are safe, we are only slandered in general as part of a general mob of untouchables who are not to be heard. We will see what tomorrow will bring. Could go either way, with either enough high profile celebrities defecting from the hate mobs to reveal the emperor’s nakedness, or perhaps those driving the mobs manage to put the hammer down and punish all badthink. We will see.

Also still reading Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. With these Marxists (and, despite protestation to the contrary, he uses utterly Marxist reasoning, so, quacks like a duck) you must read to the end, in my experience. Even the more mainstream Marxists usually can’t resist the call for blood, but follow a standard propaganda method format. Lead with pity and woe at all the injustice, followed by telling us how we get past the current oppressive regimes (spoiler: by radicalizing everything and everyone), how great it will be once we’re in charge, and save the wrong have no rights and will need to be exterminated part for the end.  Polanyi did lead with woe and oppression, and followed with how it’s all the capitalist’s fault – so, again, we’ll see.

Related image
A photograph intended to enhance your blog reading experience. All symbolical and everything.

Writing: Last week was bad. Only got in about 10 hours of writing. The middle of the week was completely unproductive. Wednesday, had a phone job interview. It was also our late son Andrew’s 27th birthday. He died just short of his 21st. Good intentions weren’t enough to get me through.

On the positive side, just sent out the draft of The White Handled Blade to a couple beta readers, and am waiting to hear back from a couple more before shipping it off. Here’s your chance to read a YA Arthurian story set in modern day Wales. If that’s your thing. It really isn’t mine – at least, I thought it wasn’t – but ended having a lot of fun writing it. Mostly because I threw in the small but not light kitchen sink of everything I found out about Arthurian Wales. Lots of hard to pronounce words.

The plan for this week includes:

  • Finishing up It Will Work, a sort of comedy of manners with nanotech, space aliens and explosions. I kid. A little. About 85% done, I reckon.
  • Final pass revisions on Rock, and starting the rejection letter collection process.
  • Working more on either The Measure of Our Days, a story that’s either close to being done or in drastic need of extensive rewrite, I can’t yet tell which, or Line of Sight, a new story from my ideas list I wrote a few hundred words on, or – something else. Questions with Line of Sight is: can I live up to the setup? Can Flannery O’Conner’s basic approach be applied to Military SciFi? Stay tuned!

Finally, the current Home Improvement Project has inched forward. Running into more engineering issues than anticipated attaching a wrought iron (style) fence to a brick wall. But I’ve at least gotten to the point where that’s an issue!

Day 2: The Writing Update

Day 2 of the Plan. Day 1, I did get the hours in on ‘writing’ although what that really entailed was getting everything straightened out on my desk (funny how much crap can accumulate on a flat surface if you don’t use it for its intended purpose for 10 months!). So no actual time spent on the book/stories except in getting the files organized (and located!).

Also got one job application out – heard back in just over 12 hours, setting up a phone interview (the job is in London). So – who knows? I could be an ex-pat writing in old Roman Londinium between doing my part to finance equipment internationally. Maybe. We’ll see.

And am feeling well. What do you know? Praise God through Mary, Joseph and the angels.

Today, cleaning up more old business. You guys are the best. Just finished responding to the beta readers for the story Rock – only 4 months later! In my defense, those were some pretty hairy months. I’m humbled and grateful for the feedback & encouragement. A couple of you did very detailed reading and commenting – wow, just for some schmuck on the internet’s beginner’s story. Very generous of you.

Several themes recurred: the opening is unclear/too slow/not informative enough about what’s going on. Fair enough. Will correct. A couple continuity errors cropped up – thanks.

In general, the plan is to spend the remaining hours today making a couple structural changes and tightening it up a little. Then, scan through the markets and send it off to somebody. Thanks again!

Next up, I think I’ll try to finish the YA Arthurian story The White Handled Blade because it’s close, then impose on the good natures of my current (and any future) beta readers.

And lay some bricks out front. Current status of that misadventure:

IMG_5190
Facing North. Impressive weed there at 5:00 o’clock.

IMG_5189
Facing South.

22 year old son in from TAC for a couple weeks did the excavation along the curb (hard on me ‘ol back!) so now I just need a couple hours on my hands and knees to take the little walk out past this segment of planter. Then can start in on the little columns at the ends which will support the iron fence. Really down to the more or less fun, less back-breaking part of the job. Then do it all again for the identical, symmetrical planter on the south end…

Finally, did finish that book on r/K selection (micro review: Um, not convinced) and made further progress with Polanyi’s Great Transformation (micro: there better be serious time off in Purgatory for reading these Marxist goobers) and do want (and in fact, have started) to write posts/reviews of them.

But for now, I got stuff to do! And I feel good enough to do it! Wheeee!

 

Writing Update 6/15/2018

First off, again, thanks so much to my beta readers. I think I’ll have time this weekend to read and respond. I am so grateful for each of you taking the time to read and comment.

I will revise the Rock, and see what possible venues there may be for it, and suck it up and send it out. So far, I only have 1 rejection letter in my collection. That will not do!

Then I’ll pick out another story, and send  it out, if you all are game.

Image result for classic 50s sci fiNext, the flash fiction has now stopped being flash fiction, in the sense that instead of each ‘chapter’ merely being me answering the question: what happens next? I’ve started to think out 3-4 chapters ahead. (If you think there have been plot twists so far, ha! You ain’t seen nothing yet!). Since I’m setting up an epic ending in my head at least, I’d maybe better just write the thing as a story instead of doling it out as faux flash fiction….

OK? I’d be very flattered if anyone was disappointed…. If I go this route, I’ll do my best to finish the story and make it available to anyone who want to be a beta reader.

Finally, I’m actually considering, or perhaps more accurately, fantasizing about, taking 6 months off in order to write the long-imagined book on American Catholic Education. But I’m 60, and there’s hardly a guarantee I’d be able to find an appropriate job in 6 months if I did so. I – we, really, this is a family decision – am still half a decade at least away from being able to retire with any security. If I did this, I’d need all the things I currently lack: discipline, focus, rigor, emotional toughness.

If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate your prayers on this.

 

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.”