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.”

 

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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.”

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.”

Flash Fiction CH 3: A Prison of Silk

CH 1

CH2

silk

Running didn’t seem like all that great an idea, given the 1.3 g surface gravity makes it feel you’ve gained a sudden 70 lbs. Leaping nimbly or even effectively over a rocky scree while carrying the extra weight of a tween isn’t nearly as easy as one might think. Oh, and then there’s the giant bulbous tentacled monstrosity hovering above us. That, too.

“Where?” I gasped out to the team, scanning fruitlessly for anything that looked like cover.

“Doesn’t matter. Buying time. Keep moving.” The unnatural calm in the team’s voice wasn’t helping me be calm, quite the contrary. I half ran, half scrambled. The team aided me in that ineffable way of theirs, but we were still in the shadow of the alien thing.

“Doesn’t matter!?!” For the last 6 months, the team and I were, well, a team. 24/7. I quickly learned to ignore their presence at what might have been awkward moments, just as they had programmed themselves to be discreet when appropriate. But as hard as we tried, they remained remarkably alien. Way smarter and faster than me – that’s the point, after all – with the ability to protect and heal my body, do recon while monitoring a million comm channels, assume any form as needed and, in a pinch, make a lethal weapon from, say, scraps of fabric, forest litter and a dead cat.

My team is very handy. Also more than a little crazy, at least as this meat human counts crazy.

I ran. The tentacles caught us. Strands as thin as silk brushed delicately against us – against my suit and the million or so members of the team riding it. Slowly, gently, I slowed until I couldn’t move. Unlike when the team takes over my body, I could and did struggle against the alien control. Little good it did me.

I sensed, or rather, the team let me know, that they were fighting mightily. Whatever tech the blob was using, my guys were doing everything they could to keep it off me. Gradually the view through my helmet vanished as layer upon layer of silken thread squeezed out the light. I barely kept at bay the thought that I’d have preferred ‘blasted to plasma’ over this…

Then I heard something I never expected. “Progress,” said the team. “Good chance,” they added. But what I heard was – emotion? Just the tiniest edge on that too smooth to be human voice?

They don’t want to die – I get it, prime design criteria – but what I was getting was that they didn’t want *me* to die, either. And not just because I’m their only ticket off this rock. We were in this foxhole together.

“OK, guys, tell me what to do!” Nothing. Seems the team was too deep in to waste even the tiny resources needed to answer me. Or they – we – had already lost.

Then, for the third time, my team let me in. My mind became a part of their ‘mind’ or whatever you want to call it. This time, however, I was seeing things on their scale: something like a tube with organic yet alien walls, housing a river of nanites flowing up and a river flowing down.

War, on a microscopic scale. My team appeared as electric blue, shaped like tiny buses, while the alien nanites were miniatures of the enormous blob that held us entrapped. When they engaged, a little blue bus ramming or being gathered in by a somewhat larger rainbow blob, they didn’t fall dead or explode or anything like that. Instead, they merged, with now electric blue, now the pale rainbow coloring the tiny blended machine-thing.

Once the color settled down, indicating victory for one side or the other, the resulting nanite went through a sort of cytokinesis, leaving two tiny machines to join in the battle.

Way more blue machines were turning rainbow than the other way around. Plus, while my team had more than a million ‘members’ and could ramp up to several million in a pinch, the aliens seem to have a hundred or a million for each one of ours. Vast numbers of Rainbow machines flowed down the river, submerging the blue. I began to despair.

Then a thought occurred or was given to me: this is all way to slow for reality. A second is an eternity for a nanite, in real time I couldn’t even follow the action I thought I was watching.

This was a replay.

I was back in my own head, and opened my eyes. Light peeked, then flooded, in through my visor as the enwrapping threads were withdrawn. I could see the sky! The vast bulk overhead was heading off – somewhere else! I fell to my knees on the rocks.

“Trojan horse,” the team reported. Another note had entered their voice, a different emotion. “We needed time to decode and create an interface. Thank you for running.”

“Um, sure, no problem.” Silence. “You guys OK? You sound, I don’t know, sad?”

“We lost so many.”

Flash Fiction CH 2: Moon Rock

(CH 1 here.)Image result for moon surface

“Do not move.”

No problem, as my limbs would not obey me. I wanted to interrogate my team, but my tongue would not obey either. So I tried to reach out with my mind.

In the tiniest of whispers, I heard the team announce “communication shutdown.”

OK, something’s up, and the team is on it. The faintest dopamine rush in my prefrontal cortex let me know I was right.

Then my brain shut down. It was not alone. My lungs and heart, and, as far as I could tell, the rest of me just – stopped. This wasn’t good.

Then my team let me in, as they had done back while I was freshly crushed pulp, back in the tunnel. I was a passive observer only. Somehow, through their ‘eyes,’ I saw.

First came the shadow. The harsh yellow sun was blotted out, and a darkness much deeper than back home settled across the pockmarked surface of this giant moon.

Then I could feel them. Threadlike sensors by the thousands dragged slowly across the ground. My awareness, which was the team’s awareness, made the gossamer touch feel like a thousand earthquakes. I knew, as the team knew, that the sensors were getting closer.

I looked up, whatever that means, or seemed to. Finally, I saw.

Size was hard to tell, for me, anyway. Having millions of mechanical sense impressions simplified and translated into something my meat brain could understand does tend to lose a little definition around the edges. I’ll have my team look into that, if we get out of here alive.

Huge. Unspeakably huge was what I was getting. Above us it hung, a multicolored blob, pale as the underbelly of a fish – I’d seen pictures – but pulsating with faint color. Shapeless, but somehow I – we – sensed enormous complexity and intelligence.

An intelligence that not long ago had deigned to reduce me to jelly.

My team was up to something. Maybe it was over my head , or maybe they thought it better to leave me in the dark. I’d have been holding my breath, if my lungs worked.

The next thing I saw through the team’s group mind was that there was no trace of us on the surface. They’d hidden my body, frozen it motionless, and shaped themselves into a perfect imitation of the blasted rock.

This isn’t going to work, I thought. The team seemed to agree.

The sensors finally dragged over us like a kiss. This is it. Reassembled from goo by my million member team only to get blasted by some alien blimp-creature. At least, I hoped that’s where this was going. Reduced to plasma is, unfortunately, not the worst outcome I can imagine.

Upon the first touch, my team did something I didn’t understand. I sensed a pulse of information, far more dense than I could ever grasp, fed to the tendrils resting gently upon us. Then I understood, at least a little: our disguise needed to be more than physical. The team was sending up a Potemkin village’s information, exactly what the sensors expected to find, not a nanite shell hiding a petrified human.

It almost worked. The enormous blob passed us by and continued to search the surface, until it was maybe 100 meters away. Then, slowly, it turned back.

Pain management is one of the best ancillary benefits of having a team. Some are always stationed in my brain (Do they take turns? Hell if I know.) and they will adjust receptors and short circuit pain when it does no good.

They didn’t do that this time. Guess they had a lot on their group mind.

I was jolted instantly into a fully awake, adrenaline soaked state. Primed for fight or flight. It hurt. It hurt bad.

“Run” the team commanded, in a remarkably calm voice. So I ran. I ran like hell.


TBC…..

Update:  Thanks to all my beta readers, life got super complicated right as I got your comments and suggestions, so I’ve barely glanced at them. I’ll do my best to get them read and get back to you all this week. Please don’t think I’m blowing you off, absolutely not the case. I’m very grateful.