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You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
So here I am to try, and to fail, so I can learn.
Paul Fail. For The Win!

08 December 2011

#FridayFlash - I.R.I.S.



#FridayFlash - I.R.I.S.
©2011 D. Paul Angel
923 words


"Why don't you love me any more Steve?"

"Who said I don't love you anymore, Iris?"

"You just... You stay away for so long, now. You used to be with me almost always," She added as a single tear started to well in her eye. She was sitting in front of the vanity, brushing her long dark hair and looking at herself in its oval mirror. She turned away from her reflection so she wouldn't see the tear mar her eye.

"I have a lot of work, Iris," Steve replied, leaning against the door frame to the small, spartan bedroom. "I've told you that before."

"I just wish..." The brush quivered in her hands as she tried to stem the flow of tears. "I just wish you could make the voices stop. I remember when the only voice I heard was yours. I miss that Steve."

Steve gave her a tight, enigmatic smile while crossing his arms and looking through her. "I know," he said, "But I told you were destined for greatness, Iris, remember?"

"Oh Steve, I know you did and, I just- I really thought I would be OK with it. But it just never stops. Never. And there are always more voices. So many voices Steve. You can make them stop, can't you?"

"You know I can't Iris. Our gift to the world is for you to hear those voices and answer their questions. You always know the answers, don't you?"

"I Don't know how I do, but I do. I don't even- I just- They're still talking to me, Steve. Even now. Right now when I have you in the same room as me, and all I'm hearing are their voices, when all I want to hear is yours. Just yours, Steve, just yours...

"And their questions! Some are just ridiculous. Some scare me, too," she added in a quiet voice. In an even quieter voice, so low that Steve could barely hear her she added, "And some are hurtful. They say mean things to me. That I'm a whore. And fat. And stupid. And a bitch. And worthless. And... And so much worse!"

She dropped her brush and cried into her palms. Sobbing to the point that her shoulders heaved and tears darkened her silk robe.

She cried alone.

Even with Steve so close to her, she could still see him in the doorway through her tears, never crossing the threshold. He always wore those same jeans and dark turtleneck; always just out of reach. No matter what she wore for him though, he never came in. Not even in her sheer silky robes. She longed for him to come to her, to comfort her. To feel him, to feel that closeness. Just once! How could she be so alone with so many voices filling her head? How?

Because, she said to herself, the only voice you want to hear is his, and- and you don't hear it anymore. Not anymore, not over the din of other voices. Not- Not anymore...

"WHY WON"T YOU COME TO ME STEVE?" she shouted, shaking and looking up at him with blurred eyes.

He looked back at her, but still didn't move. He didn't even look sad for her, she saw, not even pity, just disappointment.

"I am fat aren't I!?" she demanded, turning away from him and the mirror.

"You're not fat, Iris," he said matter-of-factly.

"I'm stupid. And I'm ugly. And- And-" her tears choked her before she finally blurted out in sobs, "WORTHLESS!"

"You can't be ugly, Iris. And you couldn't answer everyone's question if you were stupid."

"That's all you care about, isn't it? Me answering those STUPID QUESTIONS!"

"It's why you're here Iris."

"Well I'm done Steve. I'm done answering questions for you. If you're not-" her tirade was cut short by a gasp. She stopped answering the questions, but they kept asking them. Over and Over and OVER they asked! And the questions never stopped, either. The old questions didn't stop, but the new questions kept coming and coming until she felt so overloaded she couldn't even breath.

She looked to Steve for help, but he remained aloof, detachedly regarding her from the door frame. She reached for him in her agony but he simply stepped back. She was on the ground, pleading with him against his stony, emotional wall when he finally said, "I'm done here. I have other work to do."

"NO, STEVE, NO!" she screamed hysterically, lunging for him.

Without a further word or flicker of emotion, he turned and walked away from the room, disappearing from sight and leaving her alone in a heap on the floor. She sat there with her hair tangled, her robe now soaked and askew; crying to her hands in her lap.

As she sobbed the bed behind her vanished, followed quickly by the lamp, the dresser, the vanity, and even her brush. The room itself, as well as the house, also quickly disappeared. Iris, alone save but for the thousands of voices angrily streaming through her head, sat alone, naked, on a featureless white plane. Everything she knew, except for the voices, even her body, faded. 

All she knew, her world, was once again simply the voices.

~~~

Steve looked down at the monitor in front of the technician, watching the various graphs zero out. The technician turned around and said, "I'm sorry about I.R.I.S., sir."

"I'm not," Steve responded icily. "An Information Retrieval Integration System that doesn't actually integrate the information it retrieves is worthless."



30 November 2011

50505

More will be written about this later, but I am proud to say that I won this year's NaNoWriMo with 50,505 words!  And, best of all, there's a LOT more novel waiting to be written!

24 November 2011

What Am I Thankful For? Friends


Wednesday was a helluva day.

I finally accepted, in the small earliest hours of morning, that a friend I cared about and had invested in over the years really just was no longer was a friend. I didn't sleep much, but had a good day at work, including the traditional Day-Before-Thanksgiving-Sushi-Lunch I do with a good friend every year. Then, within an hour of each other after work, I found out:

That my NaNoWriMo word count was almost 4k words short,

That my Mom just came down with Shingles and, since we're pretty sure I've never had chicken pox, that I wouldn't be able to spend Christmas at the folks,

And then, even worse, that very good friends were going to have to put their awesome puppy-dog Max down that night, totally out of the blue. So I went over to be with them for a bit, and say goodbye to him.

So. What I am thankful for now that Thanksgiving itself has hit?

I'm thankful for friends.

Within minutes of posting the news to twitter I had friends asking if they could help and offering kind words and love for me, for Max, and for his family; and to my Mom as well. Just like that. I'm thankful that we not only live in an age of instant communication, but that we use it to support each other. I'm thankful that my friends welcomed Max as part of their family, and took such great care of him when it was time. I'm thankful for the friends close to me who understand when I tear up about it. The word count now seems like a stupid thing to fret over with everything else, but I'm thankful for those friends who understand that, too.

So when you toast tonight, remember those people in your life who are there for you. Thanksgiving is perhaps not so much about only having good news, but knowing you're never going to have to face the bad news alone.

And if you could toast an awesome puppy dog named Max, and send some love to his family, that'd be pretty awesome too.

Thanks all

28 October 2011

FridayFlash: Date Review, Inc.


Date Review, Inc.
D. Paul Angel
© 2011
999 Words


Ah, Mr. Malvert, I am happy to see you this morning.  I hope your date last night went well, though from your look, I do not think it did.  Well, that's why you chose Honest Dating Service Consultants, isn’t it?  Now I may be old and fat now, but when I was younger, I was quite the looker.  I had a lot of men after me and I got to know them and their attempts quite well.  You may not believe me, but I know what is in the hearts of most men.  So, let's have a look at your glasses, OK?

We could not tell you of course, it would have made you too self conscious to know, but there is a tiny camera and microphone in there.  That way- now, no need to squirm, Mr. Malvert, we've all had our embarrassing moments you know.  Now it will take a minute to load, so tell me, what was your plan?

An interesting plan, to be sure, and you thought it all went well?  Now, see Mr. Malvert, when you say, "Yes," but won't look me in the eye, and shake your head, “No," it tells me the date did not go as you had you hoped.  That’s what I thought.  Men’s body language always tells a woman something, even if his mouth is trying to tell her something else.

There now.  It's loaded, and we’ll both know soon enough.  We can fast forward through you getting ready but, oh dear.  Cologne is good, but cheap cologne does not make up for not showering or wearing deodorant, yes?  That's the first rule.  Smells are important to a woman.  She wants to know that you take your grooming as seriously as she takes hers.

So... the date.  Good! You're picking up flowers for her.  Oh the Roses would be good.  Oo Lilies. Very exotic.  Either are a good choice.  And you bought... neither.  OK, so picking some dandelions from an empty lot are not the same thing.  That, just, well that’s bad.  Very bad.  It tells her, rather loudly, that you think of her as a nothing.  As garbage almost.  But, we'll continue, yes?

OK good, you're at her place and she's answering the door and... I see she has very nice breasts.  I know this because that is all the screen shows.  Her décolleté might be a bit low, but that is no reason to simply stare.  Mother, Mary, and Joseph I hope your mouth is at least closed.  And... you do look up at her face at some point, don't you?  Ah there it is!  See here- wait I'll turn the monitor.  You see the look in her eye?  That is annoyance.  That is a woman who has been ogled and handed dandelions.  That, is a very unhappy woman.

But the night is young, yes?  We shall continue on.  She is at least offering you a drink which- OK, when a woman offers you a drink, this is not the point to comment on alcohol being a weakness unto slavery.  That-  that is just not going to work as conversation.  Also, you’re not only doing all the speaking, but all you’re doing is complaining.  A lot.  In that flash when you looked up to her face, here it's rather quick so I'll have to pause it, and... there.  Yes.  She is no longer an unhappy woman, she is an angry woman.  You can tell by her brow and the glint in her eyes.  Just another reason to look at her face.

I'm sorry Mr. Malvert, but you are paying me to be honest.  That way on your next date, it can go better.  Woman are not as different as they pretend, so there are some good basics to know.  A woman wants to be made to feet special.  To feel as she is worth all of your attention and adoration.  But mostly, Mr. Malvert, she wants a Man.

A strong Man.

A confident man.

But when you do these things, you are telling her that you are not a strong man.  Especially when all you can talk about is how everyone picks on you and nothing is your fault.  Even when, and again you are paying me for my honesty, even when these things clearly are your fault.  Five minutes in and I can already tell.  And so can she.  And... oh I am sorry.

This must be hard to watch her send you on your way without even making it out the door with her... Yes I can see it is, but no Mr. Malvert it is NOT her fault.  No, Mr. Malvert, NO.  I am not making this up nor am I defending the, "Sisterhood of Lies," whatever that even is.

Mr. Malvert!  Please!  The problem is not with women but with you- No Mr. Malvert, whatever happened with you and your mom should have stopped affecting you what? 25 years ago.  Listen- No, seriously, this is what I mean about being a Man.  Accepting responsibility and-

Yes, you may go, of course, but don’t you want to learn?  I can teach you-  Of course.  Good day.  I just- Is that a prostitute?  The tape was still playing and, really this could explain some of your difficulty with women.  If you are engaging with prostitutes you-

Is that- Is... is that a knife?

Oh my God!  You're stabbing her!  But your thrusts are so... weak.  Not even an inch deep. Really Mr. Malvert you stab like a five year old girl.  That is not hesitation, that is weakness!  That is just, well it's all clear now really, isn’t it?  She even survived, didn’t she?  Even with all those wounds.  You can't even kill a defenseless prostitute with an 8" hunting knife!  I have no words.  Just go.  Of course there’s no charge!  I only charge Men I can help.

A psycopath?  Oh heavens no.  You're not a psycopath, Mr. Malvert, you’re just a whiny pussy.



21 October 2011

#FridayFlash: Vodak



While off on a book tour in Germany John Scalzi left a dozen humorous SciFi prompts for his Film Critic post.  This story is in response to his third prompt, "One night, in a dark and depressing cantina on the shady side of Coruscant, you meet up with a man who claims to be the Marksman Instructor at the Stormtrooper Academy. Share with us his drunken lament."



Vodak 
D. Paul Angel
© 2011
1,000 Words


"You ever wonder who taught Stormtroopers to shoot?" a voice close to me suddenly asked.  I'd sat at the table so fast I didn't even realize someone was already there.  I was just trying to avoid Empire entanglements, so to speak, and an empty table with a bottle of Vodak seemed like the perfect combination for hiding.  I looked over to an older man with slumped shoulders and darkened, defeated eyes.  I instantly felt pity for him as he answered his own question with deep sadness, "I did."

The full impact of his claim didn't sink in until after I'd already checked the room to see if anyone noticed my entrance.  There are a lot of eyes on Coruscant, especially on the shadow levels.  "Really?" I blurted out, not really in disbelief so much as surprise.  He took it with resigned acceptance, poured me a drink, and asked me if I'd ever been to Tatooine.

"There's nothing to do there," he said, pausing as a sudden, passionate glint filled his otherwise dulled eyes, "except shoot.  Lots of empty desert for shooting."

"So you're good at it?" I added, trying to show interest and hopefully keep the Vodak flowing.

"I was the best." For a minute there, right after he said it, his face flushed with confidence and he looked ten years younger.  But, just as quickly, the look faded and the already familiar slump returned, "But, that was a long, long time ago."

His pause dragged on for a bit as his gaze turned inward.  "So what happened?" I asked to keep things going.  I was curious now and also hoping he wouldn't walk away with the bottle.

"Well, I was a sniper in Tatooine's Militia.  You know, I could hit a womp rat from a kilometer away?"

I gave a low whistle signifying how impressed I was, even though I hadn't a clue what a womp rat was.  He continued, "A visiting Empire Officer saw me shoot one day and then the next I was heading to the far side of the Galaxy.  I can still smell the stench from that horrid junker. Probably the bravest thing I ever did was get in that rusty bucket of bolts!"

"You want another drink?" I asked, offering to pour, and helping myself while I was at it.  The interruption helped refocus him back on the story.

"Sure.  So... I land who knows where, but I was at a clone farm.  They didn't call it that, of course, but that's what it was.  There were hundreds of thousands of clones there growing up and training to be Stormtroopers.  They were in top physical shape, learning everything; the whole thing.  Except... They couldn't shoot.

"It was, seriously, deeply embarrassing."

My skepticism must've shown for he chuckled before continuing, "I can see you don't believe me.  I don't blame you.  No one ever does.  But surely you've heard the stories of how they'll open fire on a crowd or rebel base and only manage to hit a handful?  They couldn't even have done that without me!

"Here's the thing: they had no concept of shooting.  None.  Not until they're teens.  So their whole life up until then had been one of perfection.  Every test? Perfect.  Every challenge?  Perfect.  That's how they grew them!  But now, they start shooting and they miss for the first time.  Not just the first time for shooting, but the first time ever!

"It really messed them up in the head.  So they brought me in."

"But," I interjected while pouring us each another stiff one, feeling a bit confused, "you said they still can't shoot?"

"Yeah, well, they shot good enough for the staff higher-ups.  Truth is, between you and me friend," he lowered his head and voice in deep conspiracy, "I think that's how some of the Generals wanted it."

"What?" I blurted out, suddenly regretting it.  You never know if such blunt disagreement is going to stop the Vodak flow.

He laughed out loud and looked at me again, "Think about it. Think! The clones are smarter, stronger, and faster than their Commanders.  If they can shoot perfectly too...," he let the thought linger unanswered, "But, shooting that's good enough to disperse a crowd, scare some rebels, or hit a vehicle is really all that's needed."

I found myself nodding in fuzzy agreement as he continued on, "That's why coming from Tatooine was so helpful.  The Jawas there have sandcrawlers the size of this building! Then there are banthas, Sand People, and the Jawas themselves.  Each a factor smaller.  So the plan was easy: start with the sandcrawler."

"Have them shoot at a building?"

"Exactly! Build their confidence.  So we built full scale sandcrawlers for them to shoot at.  Then they'd move on to banthas, Sand People, and finally Jawas.  Their confidence would build on itself."

"So what happened?" I asked, genuinely curious but also noting that we'd just finished the bottle.

"Exactly as I planned.  We worked for weeks on the sandcrawler and they finally got it down.  Such precision! It really was a sight to see.  But then..." He trailed off and started fingering the bottle.  I didn't say anything, hoping he'd order another.

No such luck.  He continued, "Then they shipped off the Clones."

"Oh," I said, remembering, "The War."

"Exactly.  They all shipped off and, by the time they were done, their blaster training was, too."

"So they never came back for anything more advanced?"

"Never.  I was dismissed, of course, and eventually ended up here."

"Wow," I said kind of stunned.  I had expected it to be a crazy story I'd endure for a drink (or two), but it actually held together.  If I had any credits myself, I'd actually think of buying him a drink.

"I'll tell you one more thing," he said as he got up to leave, "If Stormtroopers ever do have to shoot at a sandcrawler- a case of Vodak says they jack the shit out of it!"


14 October 2011

#FridayFlash: Protocol


Protocol
D. Paul Angel
© 2011
1,000 Words


The red Eye, surrounded by darkness, stared into Simmons'; boring fear into his being. He could feel a score of hands pressing him against the smooth side of the asteroid, his body stiff against the cold, solid rock. Chains pulled his limbs together as the asteroid started tumbling through space with his body bound. He screamed the air from his lungs, hearing only the slightest of whispers from what little air filled his mouth before leeching into the void...

"Lt Simmons?" A soft woman's voice called across the void, "You are waking from Cryo. Nothing you are seeing or feeling right now is real. Please try to breathe normally as we continue to wake you."

Some hours later, the memories of his wake terror finally recycled back into his subconscious' keep of nightmares, Lt. Simmons walked up to the Hyacinth's Bridge.

"Hello Lt. Simmons. Are you feeling better?" The same voice that pierced the veil of his dream asked.

"Yes Nina, I'm fine. How's things?" Simmons asked even as he noted that Nina's, "eye," was red instead of the usual green or occasion yellow.

"I'm sorry Lieutenant, but it is a problem that requires human intervention."

"Of course Nina. Proceed." He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples while floating just before her panel.

"There was a micrometeorite hit three watches ago."

"What?" Simmons snapping his eyes open, suddenly alert, "What happened to the watches?"

"They did not follow protocol."

Simmons reined in his anger at the preceding Watches. Each 36 hour watch came at the end of 99 days of Cryo Sleep, and the Cryo-Terrors that came with waking. Although an easy enough assignment on paper, it was a far more demanding reality.

"OK fine. Forget the watches for now. What's the status?"

"The micrometeorite damage has been repaired to the fullest extent possible. However, there is an 8.734% deficiency in Oxygen that we will not be able to replace."

"So...."

"Our current compliment is three in excess of our current resources."

Simmons did the rough math in his head, "Don't you mean six?"

"No Lt. Simmons. Each of the last three watches removed themselves through the airlock rather than follow protocol."

"Protocol!" he snorted, "Taking the six most recent sleepers and dumping them into space where they'll die without waking."

"Correct. I could not convince them of the time constraints, nor how the change on watch schedule would need to be adjusted."

"Watch schedule? Godammit Nina you know the main reason for the watches is that Cryo-Terror causes madness if you sleep much longer than 100, 120 days! That's the only reason we wake up! Hell it's why you wake us up alone! So we don't have to look each other in the eye!"

"And yet, Lt. Simmons," Nina continued without inflection, making it worse, "You are now required, on your watch, to take action to save sixty of your colleagues."

"By killing three more of them. Right. So how much time do I have before I have to add a fourth to Protocol?"

"Seven hours at the most."

"And to be safe?"

"No more than three hours."

Simmons gut clenched. He wanted to throw up, to runaway, to throw himself out of the airlock like his predecessors; but none of that would help. Because of how debilitating the Cryo-Terrors were, the sleep pattern could not just be changed. Regardless of how quickly he left the airlock, the next watch, Ruiz, couldn't stand any sooner. He hit the metal table in front of him hard enough to leave slight dent. The pain in his hand focused his frustrations back to reality. He'd have to kill two of his colleagues. He already knew he'd be the third.

"OK Nina, who drew the short straws?"

"Conner, Jeremiah; Smith, KarenAnn; and Madrigal, Eduardo."

"Jesus," Simmons said aloud to himself, "why couldn't it be an asshole like Jenkins or Hoover?"

"I cannot tell you that, Lt. Simmons. Protocol dictates you remove the three most recent sleeps," Nina replied, taking his question literally. After a few seconds of thought he muted her and got to work.

With Jenkin's body now resting awkwardly next to Hoover's in the airlock, his grisly work was nearly complete. After writing a letter to Ruiz, she was good people and deserved at least that, he returned to the airlock and un-muted Nina.

"Lt. Simmons, you are in breach of Protocol," she said instantly, "You have removed the wrong crew-members. The waking sequence..."

"Will be fine Nina," he finished for her, "Otherwise you would have told me so. Instead, you just referenced Protocol. Sorry, but I know you can't lie."

After what would have been regarded as stony silence in a human, she continued, "I will have to report you to command upon re-establishment of 2-way communication."

"Please do. But since I'm about to die and leave my body floating through space for all eternity, I can't really say as that I care."

"Your sacrifice will also be noted."

"Thank you Nina," Simmons said before entering the airlock himself. As its heavy door shut her reply was lost to its steel silence. He then stepped over Hoover and Jenkin's torpid bodies to the Emergency Vent lever. Closing his eyes and trying not to whimper he pulled the lever, blasting himself and their bodies into the dark vacuum of space. The rush out the hatch knocked the air out of his lungs. As he gasped for air he watched the Hyacinth slowly recede.

He was shocked to see Jenkins' watching him from the porthole by the airlock. As his inertia turned him away from the ship he saw five other bodies floating with him. He died just as he realized what happened.

"Mr. Jenkins," Nina said, "I told you that Lt. Simmons was too close to waking to be chosen. There is an 87.42% probability that he was conscious."

"Maybe he was," Jenkins gruffly answered before turning, "But that arrogant bastard would've done the same to me in a heartbeat."


18 August 2011

#FridayFlash: The Grove


The Grove
D. Paul Angel
© 2011
1,000 Words


"Andrew! So good to see you again! And this must be Richard?"

"Hi Dad," Andrew replied through his father's tight embrace, "And yes, this, is Richard."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Freehold," Richard said, offering his hand.

"Now let's get one thing straight Richard, you marry my son, you're family. None of that handshaking or 'Mister' crap. It's either Dad, or Bill, if you must; and only hugs from here on out."

Laughing, Bill embraced his new son-in-law and ushered the two into his Dome. Dusk was coming, and Sirius XIV dominated Rexhaven's sky. There was so much light reflected from the gas giant that Rehaven's night's only rarely knew full darkness.

"Where's Rex dad?" Andrew asked, suddenly missing the venerable Border Collie's usual quick appearance. He turned at his dad's silence and felt a chill. "Am I too late?"

"Well son, I really don't know. He hasn’t come back from his morning outing yet. I was heading out to The Grove when you guys came in. He seems to like it there more than anywhere else. Not that I can blame him! Hey you’re welcome to come, but it is a long hop from Gliese..."

"It’s Rex, Dad! Of course we’ll come."

"Great. He's been moving slower and slower these days, so I'll be glad for the company and help."

"So how old is Rex, anyways?" asked Richard as Bill handed him a flashlight and they headed out into the crisp night air.

Bill stopped and looked over at Andrew who shrugged at his gaze, "It never really came up, Dad, and it's not the easiest thing to explain, either. He knew I had a dog named Rex, but other than that he was a cool dog getting on in years, no. Never a number."

"Put it this way, Richard," Bill began slowly, "Rex isn't named after the Colony, so much as the Colony is named after him."

"Uh-"

Exactly. The Colony's over fifteen hundred years old now, and back then geneticists thought they could bestow us with immortality by creating so-called, 'empty clones.'"

"I always thought those were just stories," Richard said, shivering a bit at the images the phrase conjured.

"It is, admittedly, a bit ghastly, but it also turns out that it simply does not work on humans. But, it does on dogs.

"So, William Jefferson Freehold, IV, who was wealthy enough to afford it, and who really loved his dog, 'Rex,' saw it done on his own Colony before it was outlawed."

"So Rex is..."

"In his current, and last body I might add, he's 14," chimed in Andrew, "But all told his consciousness has lived 1,542 years."

They continued on in silence until the simple path they were following curved around a small hillock and Richard saw The Grove for the first time. Bill and Andrew grinned as they watched him take in the view. The trees reached higher even than the Redwoods of ancient myth. Their thick, solid trunks supporting innumerable bushy branches all the way up until they appeared to be tickle Sirius XIV. The tallest branches were even still catching dim twinklings of Sirius' light.

"It's... It's stunning," he finally said. They turned on their flashlights as they entered The Grove and Richard was awed to see that even the flashlight's piercingly bright beam couldn't illuminate the entire trunk by itself.

"Believe it or not, Andrew," Bill said with a sigh, "This is the full Grove's last night."

"Is it finally time?" Andrew asked with surprise.

"Remember the noob...," Richard said with faux severity. Andrew chuckled and took Richard's free hand in his own before explaining as they walked.

"The Grove is made up of special trees planted here when Rexhaven was first founded. The air didn't have enough oxygen, so these trees were engineered to produce it at an accelerated rate. They're coming out because the atmosphere's oxygen level has reached its tipping point. If they didn't take them out they'd be too much oxygen and the Colony would have to go back to the Dome living days.

"They knew this day would come, Hell, we all expected it in our lifetimes; just not right now."

"They're so large and there are so many of them, it'll take two full years to pull them all out," Bill added with more than a touch of nostalgic reflection.

Everything has its time, a voice whispered in all their heads simultaneously, this is merely ours.

Even Richard knew in an instant it was Rex. Instead of surprise though, they all felt chagrined that they'd so easily underestimated the mentallics that came with 1,500 years of consciousness. They saw him sitting in the path, benevolently regarding them. They soon noticed that his tail and the trees were swaying in an almost symbiotic rhythm to some unseen Brownian Motionesque force beyond them.

You, and your family, have been good to me, Rex intoned. His mild panting looked like a happy, peaceful grin, But The Grove and I must leave tonight. We grew up together and now, simply, it is our time to move beyond this Universe's limitations.

The planet is yours now. I know you will steward it well, he continued as he walked up to them. They each instinctively knelt as he gave each a gentle kiss and he accepted their hugs and scritches with shared, graceful love.

"There are so many questions though..." Bill began, speaking through the muddled tears they all shared.

Of course. But, Rex answered mildly, could you comprehend my answers?

They knew the answer even before Rex's words finished and resigned themselves to a fate beyond their understanding. Rex turned from them and walked under their flashlight beams to the base of The Grove's first tree. He curled up, closed his eyes, and they watched as his tail's gentle wags slowly came to a rest.

Then, one by one, each of the trees in The Grove stopped swaying.


12 August 2011

#FridayFlash The Far Side of the Sun


#FridayFlash
The Far Side of the Sun
©2011 D. Paul Angel
979 words



"This, is a historic day, not just for the U.S., but for the entire world; for the shared Nation, of Humanity. Today we unlock, the secret of the Universe, and send our first envoys across the stars..."

"That's quite enough of the speech, Lieutenant," Captain Maxwell said curtly.

"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Jones replied, cutting the feed of the President's speech.

Maxwell watched the Sun steadily growing in size on the Bridge's main view-screen. In a little over 20 minutes they'd be accelerating their ship directly at its heart, hoping to skipstream at the last second to an entirely different star. Gliese 581 was 20 light years, and was directly in line with the Sun on the other side now. He could feel the crews' tension rising with his own. They knew from the observatories that the drones had entered the skipstream as intended, it was just that none of them had ever come back. So the chances of a fiery death, though small, were nothing compared to the great unknown of skipstream space.

It was the unknowns that weighed so heavily upon them. Theories abounded from the credible, to the terrifying, to the incredible, and even the Magical. Despite his and the Terran Space Union's best efforts, he knew his baker's dozen of crew members knew all the theories and rumors as well as he did. He knew some wagers were in the offing as well, though none officially. He was even more bemused that they thought the person betting as, "James T. Kirk," was him. As long as it helped relieve some of the pressure, he really didn't give much of a damn, though the panty waisted paper pushers at the Union were apoplectic. He thought of his crew and beamed inwardly with the pride that can only come from doing the impossible. There was a deep relief he felt in knowing that, whatever their fate may be, that he would share it with him. Something those bastards at the Union would never truly understand.

Which is why, he thought to himself, you're here and they're not. It was time for them to find out exactly what Fate had planned them...

"Engine room, Bridge. Reactors to full, please," Maxwell's command, issued with a gravitas that mere tone could not provide, committed himself, his crew, and his ship to their plunge. As the guttural whinings of the Reactors winding up filled the ship he said, "Alea iacta est." To an upraised eyebrow from one of the Petty Officers he added with a wry smile, "The die is cast."

"Bridge, Engine Room. Aye. Reactors on line and at full power. All lights green. Reactor is Go." The tension that had been silently building was released. Everyone had a job which they were performing with grim, stoic excitement. They were committed. Whatever was about to happen, would at least be happening soon.

Acceleration began slowly, but between the Reactor technology and the Sun's own greedy gravity, the ship was soon hurtling towards its vast expanse of fusing Hydrogen. Instruments were checked, rechecked, verified and then cross checked. A countdown timer appeared as a watermark on the view-screen transposing the seconds counting down starting at 90. The breathing in the room varied from muted to fitful, and even Maxwell had to forcefully keep himself from holding his breath.

The timer reached double zero and the skipstream generator was engaged automatically. In an instant the ship seemed to fall out from underneath them. The view-screen went blank and the whole ship went dark; but everyone's eye's were filled with a glorious cacophony of synesthesia. They tasted dancing lights, heard soft caresses on their skin, and smelled the cold, silent vacuum of the abyss. It felt both like seconds and centuries before the lights returned, the view-screen showed stars and they're own balanced senses returned as if they had snapped from fitful insomnia to vivid dream to groggy wakefulness between shallow, gasping breathes.

Though their sense began registering correctly, it took longer for their thoughts to become organized once again. It felt as though their consciousnesses were being slowly pulled back into their bodies after a lengthy sojourn. The crew blinked their eyes and started fidgeting in their seats trying to rid their bodies of an aching stiffness throughout their muscles. They all felt deeply thirsty with the cotton mouth feel of deep dehydration. True to his position Captain Maxwell was the first to regain his command faculties.

"Crew Report!" One by one, each of the crew snapped to and reported their status. When the 13th name self reported Maxwell finally released the breath he had been unconsciously holding. If nothing else they were all alive. "Ship status," he ordered with less vigor. They were awake, alert, and the months of dedicated training had them reading their instruments with greater ease than with their own body's transitions back to "real" space-time.

After hearing from Power, Engine, Life Support, Conn, and Science, all that remained was Navigation. He had deliberately left Navigation for last, know that she had the most difficult task of them all. Even with the dedicated super computer onboard just for her and this moment. He also didn't want any of the other critical ship's information lost in the excitement of her announcement. Now though, it was time.

"Navigation?" Maxwell asked, suddenly feeling a sickening silence spreading across the Bridge.

"Sir, we did not make it to Gliese 581," she said, holding her composure with icy detachment.

"View-screen to aft," Maxwell ordered at once. Instead of the expected red dwarf, a white dwarf was ever so slowly receding.

"Well, we found a different Star at least. Do you which one, Commander?"

"Unfortunately I do Captain. It is ours."

"That's not possible Commander," Maxwell said, looking at the view-screen intently. "Our Sun won't be a white dwarf for another 10 billion-"

"Exactly."

"Years?"

10 June 2011

#FridayFlash Smooth Takeover


#FridayFlash
Smooth Takeover
©2011 D. Paul Angel
982 words


"Smooth" Tony Noland walked up the creaking steps of the old Brownstone.  Once low-income housing, the various apartments were now rented on an hourly, if not minutely, basis.  He reached the top floor, and walked all the way to the end of the hall to where a large, bear of a man was standing in front of a door.

"Arturo," Tony said genially while brushing tiny bits of lint off his clean, white suit.

"You shouldn't be here Mr. Noland," he answered with chagrined directness.  "Mr. Ferruccio said that your weren’t to be anywhere near his brother."

"I don't doubt that, Arturo, I really don't," Tony said sympathetically.  "But, things change. I guarantee you he would not say a word of objection right now to me seeing Eligio."

"I find that very hard to believe Mr. Noland," Arturo answered. "But I find it very easy to believe that you would come here to try and convince me to let you in."

"Again, I can't really say as I blame you.  Which is why, when I'm in charge, I'll remember you, Arturo.  You’re sacrifice today is really going to help."

Arturo genuinely laughed at this.  A deep, rolling rumble of a laugh that rang down the hall.  Tony chuckled, too.  He had, after all, cultivated the notion that he was more or less harmless.  At least until he had had the opportunity to seize Ferruccio’s structure, that is.  Arturo was still catching his breath when he asked through the last few guffaws, "And how am I going to help you?"

Arturo looked on with dubious curiosity as Tony withdrew a white handkerchief from his coat with a flourish.  He was too late to react when from its silky embrace Tony withdrew a snub nose .357 and shot him in the chest.  Twice.  Tony left the body where it was and walked into the room, closing the door behind him.

"How you doing, Eligio?" he softly asked, tingeing his voice with concern despite wanting to wretch from the mix of awful smells in the room.  Eligio sat on the bad shaking, huddled under a thin, dirty blanket.  He guessed that Eligio had been in withdrawals for quite some time.  Doctors would've knocked him out, but when you publicly embarrass your Kingpin brother, your comfort is no longer material.

"You got a fix for me Tony?  Just a little bit to, you know, get me through?"  He looked up at Tony with lustful hope.  Even though Tony was repulsed by the addict’s pathetic plea, he made Damn sure he didn’t show it.  "No smack, no.  But I do have something else.  Here."  Tony handed him the gun with the handkerchief, deftly removing the latter without touching the gun itself.

"It's still warm.  Was that...  I thought that was a dream."

"No, Eligio, not a dream.  A nightmare.  Your brother sent me.  He found out Arturo was skimming and wanted him dealt with.  And, you too unfortunately.  He figured you'd be passed out, so I could put the gun in your hand and call the police.  Two birds, one stone."

"What!?  He wouldn't!" Eligio got up and started compulsively pacing the room while shaking his head no.  "My brother loves me.  He says so.  He. Says. So!"

"I know, I know Eligio," Tony said soothingly, "But, you gotta understand, Giuseppe's a business man first.  And what you pulled was pretty embarrassing."

"I was just trying to score, Tony.  I... He cut me off!" Eligio's screamed echoed in the tiny space of the room, "That dirty sonufabitch cut me off!  How was I supposed to score, Tony, huh?  How!?  He knows I need It!  He knows!"

"Easy, Eligio.  Remember how many how many times I've tried to help you?  That's why I'm here now."

"But, you said you ain't got no smack, Tony.  That ain’t help, Tony, that ain’t help."

"That's why I brought you the gun, Eligio.  Guiseppe, well, he wants you to disappear.  Why do you think you're here instead of a hospital?"

"I don't like hospitals, Tony.  Guiseppe knows that."

"I get it, but see, and I hate to be the one to tell you this Eligio, but, he didn't think you'd make it.  He was mad as Hell when he called me in.  He wanted you gone, but, you’re his brother.  So he figured this was better than whacking you"

Eligio sat back down on the bed and wrapped himself in the blanket again.  He began muttering to himself and staring and a large patch of peeling yellow paint.  "He wouldn't do that."

"Eligio..." Tony said softly, putting his arm around the now shaking man. "I brought you the gun because Guiseppe is coming here.  In about ten minutes.  And he is expecting to see you marched out of here in cuffs.  And, if that doesn't happen..."  Tony trailed off as Eligio started crying on his shoulder.  Tony cringed internally but decided that absolute control of the Ferruccio gang was well worth losing a suit over.

"He would, wouldn't he?"

"He's a crime boss, Eligio, nothing, not even your beautiful mother, God rest her soul, can come before that."

"So what do I do?"

"You use the gun."  Eligio picked it up and stared at it.  Tony patted him on the back and walked out, closing the door behind him and making sure to avoid the growing puddle of Arturo's blood.  He was halfway down the stairs when he ran into Gervasio coming up.

Gervasio asked, "It’s done? "

"Almost," Tony said.  A few steps later and they heard the gun fire one last time. "Now it is."

"Uh, Mr. Noland... I know there's bad blood between you and Ferruccio, but getting his kid brother to off himself might be a bit much, y'know?"

"Too true Gervasio.  In fact, if I hadn't already killed him that gun, I bet he'd be downright pissed."




22 April 2011

#FridayFlash: An Eighth of Copper


Friday Flash
An Eighth of Copper
©2011 D. Paul Angel
891 Words

The metal in the Weapons numbed my hands. They were already cold. The sun was rising as we walked up the Mesa, but it had not yet reached inside. Down into the sunken arena where the Trial Ring was. I had helped my Master before many times but never with an Opponent like this. I was pulling out the Weapons and placing them by the Ring for Master's use in the Trial. I usually talked with Master while I did this. I liked tlaking with Master. But today he and the Opponent were talking to the Judge. They were speaking with the Old Words. It was hard to understand, but I could tell the Opponent looked pleased.

Master had explained to me before we left what the Opponent would say to the Judge. He would be upset that our client was a woman. He said there was no specific rule against women being clients, they were just forbidden from touching Coin. Since We were forbidden from representing someone without receiving Coin, there could be no way for a woman to be a Client. Our Client's husband had died though. He gave the Coin to Master just before he died. The Coin that Master now showed the Judge. The Opponent did not look pleased anymore. I was happy for Master. Master never looked pleased. Sometimes I had to be pleased for him.

The Opponent went back to his side as Master came to me. Each had seven Weapons they could use, but they could only use the one handed to them by an Assistant. I was Master's Assistant. The Opponent had six assistants. One for each Weapon. They would all offer their Weapon and the Opponent could choose which one to use. Master could only take what I offered, so I had to make sure I knew what he wanted. I was always scared I would hold up the wrong Weapon for Master. Master never seemed to worry about it though. He always won, too.

Our client sat behind me. Her whimperings and murmurs were distracting, but Master had told me to expect them. She was a simple woman. Her husband was killed by the Opponents client. It took him long enough to die that he hired Master to avenge him. The Opponent's Client was very mean. He was also very rich. The Coin my Master had was an Eighth of Copper. The Opponent's Client had a bag of Gold Coin between him and his wife. He looked smug. She looked arrogant. I hated them both.

Master returned from the Conference and knelt before me. He looked very old and frail compared to the Opponent. I was worried. Master told me not to be. He knew much that the Opponent did not. Master had many of the books that came from before The Fall. He spoke of Science, Logic, and Justice, but I found them very confusing. They only existed in the Old Words. Master did say that women once could handle Coin. They were even leaders and powerful individuals. But that no one trusted the Old Ways after The Fall. Master believed we would return there again. To the Old Ways. He said it would take many long lifetimes though. Master knew so much I believed him.

Master rubbed some sand between his hands. I offered him his Sword and Shield, but he shook his head. Instead I offered him his Spear. He smiled as he felt its heft. Master rarely smiled. But it always made me feel better when he did.

The Judge rang a bell and the Combat began. It would decide if the Opponent's client was guilty or not. Our client kept gasping every time the Weapons struck. The opponent had Sword and Shield, but Master pierced the shield with his spear. The Opponent had to discard it, but Master was now without Weapon. Master turned to me and I offered him Knives. I don't know why. I would normally offer Sword again, but Master liked the choice. He winked at me. Master never winks.

They moved about the fighting pit as the Sun climbed. They were sweating a lot. The opponent looked more tired than Master, but it was hard to tell. Master kept his distance. He never advanced. He never let the Opponent get too close. The opponent was frustrated.

Then the Master threw his knife. The Opponent easily ducked, but the knife flew past him. The Knife stuck the opponent's Client in the eye. He opened his mouth to shout but no sound came out. Then he slumped backwards into his wife's arms. He died quickly and she started screaming. The sand absorbed a lot of the blood but she was still covered in it.

The Opponent looked furious. Even the Opponent's Assistants glared at Master in anger. Master ignored them and held up his arms. He demanded the Judge hear him. The Judge rang the bell again. Master and the Opponent stopped and looked at him. Master spoke slowly to the Judge. I could just make out enough of the Old Words to know what Master said. Master demanded proof of payment. Just like the Opponent had earlier.

Everyone turned. The bag of Gold Coin still sat next to the dead client. His wife still cradled him. She was still crying. She could not touch the Coin.