Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.

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Reading, Writing: End of April Update

As noted in earlier posts, the Late Unpleasantness at our school has somehow unlocked whatever it was that was keeping me from writing fiction, as the recent flash fiction-alanche here demonstrates. (No claims to quality, here, just noting simple existence.) Today, after I impose on my long-suffering wife to do a final proofreading, I’ll be submitting a story for publication, a 4,200 word trifle. What’s not a trifle: overcoming my self-defeating self criticism long enough to hit ‘send’.

Wish me luck. Further notices as events warrant.

Moving from the ridiculous to the comparatively sublime, or at least from the whimsical to the mundane, writing up some basic marketing and business planning docs for a startup. This project also entails doing market research and honing a product idea to a scary-looking point. In other words, using the skills I’m institutionally certified to possess in order to eventually make money happen. What a concept!

It’s been surprisingly fun so far. Wish me luck, and even say a prayer or two if so inclined, please. Again, further notices as events warrant.

Next up, while I’m sleeping better than I was during Holy Week and Easter Week when all this gender theory nonsense was coming down at school, I still have some tossing and turning time to read in bed. But as I don’t want lights on in case they keep my beloved from sleeping, I’m stuck with choosing among the hundred plus books on my Kindle. Just as I read Honor at Stake late on night because it was there (it’s pretty fun – check it out), I’ve now begun A. Merritt’s The Metal Monster for similar reasons. The Prologue of this work is the proximate cause of the flash fiction trifle Prolegomenon to Any Future Old School SF&F Adventure recently posted here.

Or some purpler shade of purple.

Merritt’s prose pushes right past purple to solferino. But that’s cool – ultimately, writing is writing, and style or convention is far less important than having something to say and saying it well. I like Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans not despite but because they are so over the top by modern standards. And I am indebted to Merritt for the word impedimenta, a fine, evocative and colorful term.

What the heck, here’s an extensive sample: sunset in Tibet, from the first chapter of The Metal Monster.

Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the valley’s western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened—a flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere else on this earth—the sunset of Tibet.

We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger, whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite whistled, mellowly.

As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into faint rose, deepened to crimson.

“The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,” said Chiu-Ming.

As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing amber—then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet A soft green light pulsed through the valley.

Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent, illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining behind them.

The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped around the mountain’s mighty shoulders. And then from every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings, an ordered chaos of rainbows.

Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed the valley with an incredible glory—as if some god of light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant souls stand forth.

Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa. For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands; began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.

And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it was echoed by my own.

For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep, as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were swaying like a pendulum.

Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed—and then broke—broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had reached up and snapped them!

An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone, while down upon the valley fell night.

Wow.

The other many, many books I’m supposedly reading have been a bit back-burnered (Again! Alas!) because dead tree editions are not easily readable in bed late at night, and daylight hours are pretty much filled up at the moment.

Finally, our massive Easter Octave Pizza Party was fun. My Fitbit said I walked over 7 miles that day – that would be mostly walking around in the hundred square yards comprising the kitchen, patio and pizza oven. My feet were a little tired by the end. Made 14 pizzas, 4 roast chickens and a few pounds of steak in the brick oven, in addition to a vat of guacamole and a double batch of ciabatta rolls in the kitchen. Moderation and I don’t see eye to eye.

Happy Easter Season!

Brief 4/17/19 Update

1 I forget who tells the parable of a man willing to sell his soul to the Devil, on the condition that when he gets to Hell he’d get to talk to him as much as he wants. The man was very proud of his intellect and heard that Old Scratch was the most brilliant of angels, so talking with him for all eternity didn’t seem to bad.

He discovers that, in his Hell, the Devil is a blithering idiot.

Now, I didn’t need to sell my soul to find this out, but it seems the unwitting (I will make myself believe) tools of Marxism in this world are, generally, none too bright. I suspect raving fury tends to reduce one’s capacity for thought.

Yes, this is an update on our little run in at school over gender dysphoria. The ever so loving and gentle folks who are Useful Idiots for Marxism are ever so gently and lovingly doing what they can to make my wife’s life a living hell. With no disrespect intended to my beloved, I think I can say: (using my Philip Marlowe voice) she’s one tough broad. Too bad duels over honor are no longer allowed.

Image result for philip marlowe
You know, like Bacall.

2 One of the few things that can get my mind to stop looping on this topic, wondering what I should have said and how I should have behaved, is writing fiction. Did the three flash fiction trifles posted her over the last week, and am working on a short story to submit to a particular anthology.

Still have not picked up where I left off in November (I lasted 2.5 days at NaNoWriMo) on the Undead Novel That Haunts the Earth, nor the short stories several of you beta read for me. I need to be a *little* bit less emotionally challenged, shall we say, before I’m ready for even the kindest constructive criticism. So, if you are one of the very kind and generous people who gave me feedback only to have me go radio silent 8 months ago, I’ll get back to it as soon as I am able. Rocky Racoon fell back in his room….

3 Weather is beautiful, and I’m feeling physically very well. Getting exercise, eating right – and getting 4 hours of sleep a night, or less. Side effect of the endless loop my mind is still in. This morning, woke around 3:30, started to get up, then forced myself back to bed and pulled up the Kindle. Tried a little Rousseau (Emile – save me from verbose Frenchmen!) and some Chesterton (umpteenth reread of Everlasting Man), but was able to read only a little GKC before it wasn’t working for me. So I tabbed through the backlog, and found a modern vampire novel – can’t remember how that got there, certainly not my usual cup of tea, but, at 4:00 a.m., what the heck.

The first few chapters were pretty good, the writing was excellent and the characters loveable and interesting. So we may soon have a review here of a vampire love story novel.

Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Finally started drifting off, put down the Kindle, rolled over, cuddled in – and the 5:51 a.m. alarm went off. Sigh.

The Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements

“Summon the Marquis de Vela.”

“It is spoken!”

The First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaned upon his crooked staff of office and nodded his mitred, jeweled head solemnly to Lady Vortex of the Interstitial Whispers. She stood slowly, her pale mask animated by a wash of color like a peacock’s tail, her eyes hooded. Her skirt, waves of shimmering material that defied all attempts to focus directly on it, spread like an incoming tide until it enclosed the space around her in a dome of color and light.

The skirt became alive with the scurry of myriad creatures.

Onto the translucent marble floor tucked and rolled a tiny putto, complete with cherubic smile and tiny feathered wings. He cleared the still-writhing skirt and gracefully came to his feet. Lady Vortex’s skirt quieted and rolled itself back into its merely voluminous original size.

Lady Vortex raised one hooded eye, and the putto, eyes fixed on her face, rose improbably on its tiny wings and flew. An ornate window, paned in sheets of gems and crystal and standing 50 meters high, opened behind and above the Imperial Majesty as the putto approached, enough for him to exit with alarming alacrity.

“Alphonso, even now, wings his way to the Imperium Lux,” Lady Vortex spoke in a voice of honey and ice, “and shall cause to be issued a summons to the Marquis de Vela.”

“My dear lady,” came a voice from the Throne of Imperial Majesty, “most chaste and powerful mistress of the Interstitial Gates, Lioness of the Between, Sender of the Messages both mortal and eternal, pray, when should we expect the Lord Marquis?” A slight pause. “You may dispense with all but the first 50 honorifics of imperial address to my person, and answer plainly.”

Behind her mask, Lady Vortex and her extended brain, present in her creatures and, indeed, in much of the throne room’s furniture and all of one of the many massive sub basements, brooded. A thousand suns even now were being consumed to open the Gates; space would be delaminated for a hundred million light years; the interstices would disrupt countless systems and worlds; billions might die.

The first 50 imperial honorifics, including references to lordship of supernovae, the making of galactic collisions and the righteous conquest of thousands of clusters and structures, took only 15 minutes despite Lady Vortex’s unhurried drawl. She, including her extended mind, had finished the calculations after 12 minutes. “Oh Light of the Imperium, Cause Supreme of Harmony and Death Merciful yet Fell of the Unenlightened: the Marquis de Vela can be expected in 11,432.51 standard years!”

“Then we shall have need of entertainment. Summon the Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements.”

Far below the throne room, with its towering windows, sky-like vaulted ceiling held up by pillars of living water, filled with a light both subtle and powerful, in a sub basement dark and cramped, machines moved. A tiny figure, illuminated only by the light of a heads-up display, moved one hand.

Lady Vortex, who stood stock still, somehow froze. Could the Imperial Command have been inadvertently directed toward her? The Seneschal was stored well within this current effective frame of reference. Invoking interstitial delamination would be extraordinarily wasteful, even for this court. And the effort would kill her…

“It is spoken!” The First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaned again upon his crooked staff of office and again nodded his mitred, jeweled head solemnly, this time to a Knight Pre Imminent of the Sidereal Garter, who bowed impossibly so that his cheek, freed from his Helm Imperial for the purpose, was on the floor. His armor, a swirl of light and metal, clanked musically – for thus it was designed – as he stood and marched out down the miles long throne room nave.

The Lady Vortex nearly allowed herself a sigh. Reinspiritualizetion was such a pain.

By the light of the display, the lone man’s face twitched. He dare not even think – parts of his mind, untrustworthy parts, were integrated into small nooks and crannies of the throne room and thus accessible to the Court. For reasons his conscious mind was not and could not be allowed to think, he pushed a particular spot on his left wrist with his right index finger. The command to do this action was encoded in certain proteins and enzymes, keyed by stereoisomers that mirrored natural chemicals but behaved differently when faced with their biological targets: the keys no longer fit the locks.

They fit other locks. These they turned. His left hand, a blur in the dark, cramped sub basement, shot forward and began manipulating data and instructions. The man’s mind was blocked from noticing. The man’s mind was dying as his right hand ran through a series of commands to the machines and minds throughout the imperial palace, which were systematically being fractured and disabled. He continued to summon the Seneschal, his right hand unaware of what his left hand was doing.

The man’s instructions could only propagate at the speed of light, to late for the thousand suns dying now at the Emperor’s whim. It would be many millennia before the outer systems discovered they were free; many millions of years before the entire Imperium knew. The remnants of his people, whose sun had been consumed in the sending of a message announcing the winner of an imperial card game, would most likely be extinct before they knew. It did not matter; his mind was prevented from even thinking it. Gates were being closed, and welded shut.

The man’s mind stuttered to a halt.

File:Black hole - Messier 87.jpg

11,432.509 standard years later, the Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements entered the throne room, carrying such fripperies and baubles as might amuse the court. Four meters tall and dressed in a tall hat, a gray coat that hung to the floor and writhed with patterns, and black boots, his eyes spunn like pinwheels in his long, gaunt face. His entire body was constructed of independent creatures, each built to both add to the Seneschal and perform possibly amusing tricks. Some would scurry off now and again, then climb back into place as he strode the pavement.

The Seneschal came before the throne, his mind clouded. On the floor to the right stood the First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaning motionless upon his crooked staff of office. To his right stood Lady Vortex, her mask frozen into the faintest hint of surprise. Several Knights Pre Imminent of the Sidereal Garter stood guard without moving. Invisible on his throne, shadowed by the Imperial Splendor, sat the Emperor.

Deep within the dark sub basements, on a machine poised and suspended for over 10,000 years, a final tumbler fell.

Suddenly, a shimmer filled the air between the Seneschal and the the throne. With a loud, undignified *pop* the Marquis de Vela reached the end of the delaminated intersticial, and fell unceremoniously to the marble floors. He raised himself up on one arm, and felt his head.

Lady Vortex gasped. She could not feel her extended mind. Her human mind, what was left of it, took in the scene and knew. He mask went dark and fell clanging to the floor, revealing the face of a startled girl.

“I can’t move,” mumbled the First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, still leaning upon his crooked staff of office. Forgetting protocol, the Marquis de Vela spoke in the Imperial Presence, going so far as to omit even the first 25 honorifics.  “What, what has happened? Why am I here?”

Several animate pieces of the Seneschal of the Holy Accutroments chose this moment to fall from his coat and clatter and chatter upon the floor before scurrying back to disappear in the swirling patterns. From the Throne, hidden within the Imperial Splendor, a small confused voice answered, “I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember.”

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.

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.”