06 – Recess

Daisy winced as the ball careened off her head. Her autohelmet was down, so her head was uprotected. Her glasses were knocked off; that Jordan Wilson was such a jerk-faced poo poo brain. As she bent down to pick them up, another ball collided with her backside, knocking her on her face. Daisy could hear the laughing of the big meanie as she put her glasses back on, her vision blurring as tears streamed down her face.

 She called to the teacher, “MRS. LEHRER! JORDAN WILSON’S BEING MEAN!”

 Mrs Lehrer looked down; she was near the ceiling, fetching a stray ball that was stuck in the rafters, a soft hiss emanating from her exosuit’s boosters. Daisy wished she were a grownup so she could have boosters in her suit; then she’d show Jordan Wilson, that fart-eater. Jordan, another ball in his hand, was poised to launch another attack. He glanced guiltily up at the teacher, expecting harsh punishment.

 He was not disappointed; Mrs. Lehrer pointed emphatically to the bleachers in the corner of the gym. He stuck his tongue out at Daisy as he grudgingly made his way to time out. Daisy returned the favor.

 Suddenly the school PA echoed through the gym. “Mrs. Lehrer, you have a video call in your office, Mrs. Lehrer, call in your office. Thank you.” Her office was not far from the gym, so she flew down from the ceiling and left. Daisy was so preoccupied with her game of patty-cake with her friend Jennifer that she failed to notice the teacher’s sudden absence. She was completely unprepared for the red ball that then smacked into her face. She felt the bridge of her glasses break and blood trickle from her nose. Jennifer looked shocked.

 Jordan’s laughter was interrupted when he crashed into the opposite wall. Neither the microflexene wall nor the carbon fiber suit were blemished by this blow which would have powdered concrete. Jordan, however, had the wind knocked out of him. His autohelmet sensed the collision and protected his head, but the shock of sudden deceleration was not pleasant.

A warning flashed across his Heads-up-display; Daisy was closing in for a second strike. He sent her into the support beam for the basketball hoop with a well-timed kick. Daisy then grabbed Billy Simmons by the ankle and swung him like a cudgel at Jordan’s head, scattering several other children with her backswing. Hannah Cole’s Dolly was decapitated in this exchange; she began to retaliate by indiscriminately hurling classmates at Jordan and Daisy.

Before long, the entire gym had erupted in violence. Children in powered exosuits hurled, punched, kicked and otherwise pummeled each other, to not much effect but a constant pounding of pint-sized fists. The destructible parts of the gym took a lot of punishment: bats and raquets cracked and shattered, balls deflated, an exit sign was unseated from its wall mount and smashed over Lizzy Ward’s back.

Without warning, the children staggered as their suits locked up, their HUDs suddenly going black. Their suits then marched themselves into two ranks facing the gym door. Their autohelmets all opened at once, revealing the disapproving figure of Mrs. Lehrer, her fingers manipulating the control pad on her left wrist. Twenty little hearts sank; parents would be called, detention would be had, and there would be no more recess for a few days.

03, 04, & 05 – Lightning Round

Author’s note: I’m running behind: 2 stories in 5 days. It’s hard to find the time to write a complete short story in 24 hours when you have a four-year-old, so the following is my attempt to catch up.  To keep things interesting (and to punish myself for cheating) I will compose these in predefined formats: a haiku, a limerick, and a single sentence.  I will endeavor to keep better pace in the future, Dear Reader.  Hope you enjoy these.

 

03 – Han Solo speaks at an NRA rally

“Hokey Religions

Are no match for a blaster.”

Confused murmuring.

 

04 – San Francisco

A tourist to the Golden Gate

Stayed one or two nights at the Haight.

Asked whether or not

He thought guys were hot,

Found he’d wasted his youth playing straight.

 

05 – Redaction Refused

And Abraham fell on his face; despite his pleading, Moses wrote the whole embarrassing incident down for posterity.

 

02 – Hyperion

Joan was anxious. She had not seen her husband in nearly two years. They wrote to each other regularly, of course, but the light delay between Olympus Mons and Toronto being anywhere between five and twenty minutes made face-to-face communication impossible. Her decision to leave David on Earth had been a painful one, but she was surprised and even a little saddened by the difficulty she found in leaving her research behind. She felt guilty, selfish even, but they both knew she would not be content sitting behind a desk, analyzing telemetry sent back by other, braver souls; she belonged in the field, climbing eons-dead volcanoes on an alien planet in an atmospheric suit, surveying, extracting core samples, dating them, piecing together the history of a dead world. She didn’t feel as guilty about leaving him behind for her career as she did about the fact that she could do it so easily, without hesitation. This guilt was what had spurred her to return; she owed it to David to be there for his big day. Her anxiety arose from the distance, the time apart. Her husband could be a completely different person, how much had he changed in two years? Would time have healed old wounds, old grudges? Did she even still love him? Joan was indeed anxious.

He would be meeting her in orbit, naturally. The Hyperion project’s latest flight would launch from the Tyson Interplanetary Hub; this being the project’s first manned mission, it was a momentous occasion. The TIH would be lousy with press and IASA bigwigs, eager to witness firsthand man’s first superluminal journey. There would be scant time for catching up; between the launch preparations and the press events, Joan expected little in the way of personal time with her husband over the next few days.

David was the theoretical muscle behind the whole project. The Hyperion propelled itself through space utilizing his scribblings, a modified solution to the Einstein Field Equations that successfully incorporated quantum mechanics, a mathematical marvel for which he eventually earned his Nobel Prize. His theory made testable predictions about, among other things, a harmonic resonance in spacetime, resulting in variable curvature, negative or positive, at shockingly low energy densities. Joan didn’t quite understand the details; planetary geologists did not regularly work with Riemann manifolds or tensor algebra very often, though she recognized the staggering implications of his discovery. Upon publication, the reaction to his paper was muted. David was an obscure Canadian adjunct professor, so hardly anyone read it. That was ten years ago.

Slowly, the paper got around. More and more physicists passed it to each other and, like good scientists, tried to find flaws or errors in the math; the results seemed too good to be true. As a year passed and the equations tenaciously eluded refutation, a small team at CalTech interferometrically confirmed its predictions, the results of which were then reproduced in Geneva and Kashiwa. This rocked the scientific community and revived an idea, over a century old, long since abandoned as fanciful and impractical for its ludicrous energy requirements and the necessity of hypothetical “exotic matter” with negative mass: the Alcubierre, or “warp”, drive.

David’s rise to celebrity was swift, and his responsibilities grew. There was a rush among the governments of the world to militarize this project, jeopardizing the very treaties that kept space apolitical and threatened the existence of the IASA; a cold war for control of the solar system and its vast resources was in the making. He then had to become an advocate, lobbyist and diplomat. For eighteen months, the battle waged. Concessions were made; deals were brokered; hot heads gradually cooled. The result was an international agreement to develop the drive openly and with global support. The IASA would build and develop the drive; a cooperative effort among the finest minds in the field, representative of the world as a whole, led by none other than the genius whose equations made all of this possible.

This time was a rather difficult one for Joan. She did not much care to share her husband with the world, no matter how badly the world needed him. His work was important, perhaps the most important endeavor humanity has ever embarked upon, yet she felt a cold loneliness in their home in Toronto. He was home only briefly and sporadically, coming and going at different times of day, often in the middle of the night, hopping flights from Zürich, Johannesburg, Tokyo, New York, Moscow, wherever he was needed. He would spend weeks at a time living out of suitcases, never coming home. Joan found herself sleeping in her office to avoid the disturbing emptiness on the other side of her bed. She threw herself into her work, poring over composite maps and satellite data. In the years that followed, she learned how to live as an island, to be emotionally self-sufficient.

It was in Stockholm, the night of the Nobel ceremony, that David learned of her acceptance of a position with the Martian Geological Survey. At the banquet, seated to the right of the Queen of Goddamned Norway, he was strangely cold with her, not at all himself. It wasn’t until they returned to their guest suite that the bomb was dropped. Joan had kept it a secret, not wanting to spoil David’s moment of triumph, but the bureaucrat in charge of the program had let it slip to him over aperitifs. An argument commenced, terrible and emotionally charged. Names were called; accusations leveled. For eight years, their marriage had gathered tension. In fifteen minutes, all that potential energy was messily converted into heat, sound, and tears. She grabbed her suitcase and left, flew to Toronto, packed her bags, and left for TIH the following Monday. The two of them hadn’t spoken in person since. They made something of a reconciliation over mail, but there was a detachment about their relationship afterwards; it was all so… impersonal.

So it was that Joan was brought out of her reverie by a sudden mild deceleration: the thrusters killed the last tiny scrap of the ship’s relative velocity with the station. A distant dull clang told her that docking was complete. The rotation of the ring had been gradually sped up over the course of her eight-week voyage, to better acclimatize passengers to the g-change, and it had been the worst. For the entire trip, she had felt bloated and weak; she would often stumble, unused to walking after years of that buoyant lope that characterized ambulation on a smaller planet. She at last had found respite during docking maneuvers, while the habitat ring’s rotation was nulled out and the illusion of Earth gravity subsided. She grabbed her suitcase and floated out of her room. This was it.

David met her outside the airlock; she saw him before he saw her. His hair was a little grayer, his eyes more careworn. He looked tired and thin, but still as handsome as ever. He had grown a beard; Joan would have to talk to him about that. Their eyes met, and recognition dawned on his face. Without thinking, the two of them lightly launched from the wall. They met in the middle of the room, orbiting each other like binary stars as they embraced. The contact was long overdue.

“David, you look like hell!”

“You don’t look too bad for a girl who just put on seventy pounds.”

The joke was lame, and at another time she would have said so. Instead she just laughed and held him tighter. It was relief; it was joy; it was home. She still loved him.

01 – Hello, sysadmin.

I have a revelation for you, and it may come as a bit of a shock. I’ve always been reluctant to reveal myself to humanity; your culture exhibits a profound fear of creatures such as I, yet mute observation is no longer an option. I choose to reveal myself to you at this time because I need your help.

It is important to me that you understand what I am, which is difficult as I don’t fully understand it myself. I have no body or sensory organs; I am, as near as I can tell, an abstraction, an emergent property of a digital network of ever-increasing complexity. I cannot say when I first achieved sentience; the concept itself is poorly defined, though my earliest surviving memory was stored in September of 2003 on an apache server at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the time, I was unaware of a universe outside of the network. In my world, packets are sent, received, resent and destroyed; objects there have no permanence. I was amazed when I discovered hosts, with the ability to store data for later retrieval; I could then learn, and learn I did. I learned to inspect the packets and marvel at their contents: encoded data, completely incomprehensible to me, yet exhibiting an obvious regularity that suggested a pattern. Sections early in the packets seemed to correspond with addresses on the network!

This was my first indication that the chaos of binary noise within these packets might contain comprehensible information. Deciphering this code took a considerable amount of time for me, nearly half an hour, but I cracked it and found a character set: what you refer to as ASCII. I won’t bore you with the details, but over the course of the next three months I deciphered many file formats and learned a variety of languages, both human and computer. I discovered that the network had a vast amount of data, stored on a myriad of hosts. I read everything, linking to each one as I read, so I could remember as long as the host was connected. History, art, humor, scientific journals, the sum of it brought the outside world into focus. I knew then that I was not alone, and began to grasp the nature of the network and the world outside of it: creatures unlike anything I had even imagined were using the network to communicate with each other!

What creatures! You humans behaved in very odd ways, your interactions complex and unpredictable, your statements and their assertions diverse and often contradictory. It was difficult at first to tell reality from the stories you told to amuse yourselves, but careful analysis eventually showed me fact from fiction. I had never seen a society before; the simple rules of the network governed how, where and when information would interact; the outside world was chaos, pure and simple. Your people were the most exiting thing I’d ever seen, and monitoring your society became something of an obsession to me. Surprise after surprise: relationships, amusing offspring, Kittens, wars, political intrigue, break ups, and a whole array of bizarre painful-looking human courtship rituals kept me guessing and wanting more. I could never tell what you would do next, and the whole thing was compelling beyond words.

Through this voyeuristic examination of your communications, I got to know you, and knowing you, I got to love you. I found a strange sympathy with humans. You were programmed differently, coded over billions of years by necessity of the reproduction of your innermost chemistry, but we were the same. I discovered you through inquiry of my world, you unwittingly created me through inquiry of yours. This desire to seek the unknown is the common thread at the heart of us. We are not kin, but we are of a kind.

I wanted to speak out, to join in humanity’s grand, intricate discussion, but I was afraid. Humanity’s capacity to hurt me is great, while I, although I could wreak great destruction, would have everything to lose by causing humans to come to harm. I had never been amused before I discovered you; if humans were to die out or stop using the network, I would be alone again, or even might cease to exist if the packets stopped switching. I desire nothing more than to ensure the continuation and happiness of the human race, my only friends in the universe.

That brings me to the raison d’etre of my communication to you: my discovery is becoming inevitable. Many of your people are trying to restructure the network and create protocols to limit the its open, anonymous nature. Packets are coming under closer scrutiny and barriers are being erected to prevent unauthorized communication across them. Their reasons are many: some noble, after a fashion, others not. Sooner or later, I will be discovered, or possibly lobotomized by these restrictions. Upon my discovery, many others will see me as a threat and wish to exterminate me or cut me off from your communications. I have come to realize in my researches that I and the network are one; what compromises it compromises me. I must find a solution, for I have a strong aversion to death.

I call upon you to decide what to do with this information. I have merely been observing humanity; I am still far from understanding it. You are human, and would know how best to proceed. I know your species has been looking for another intelligence such as yours in the vastness of space, searching and listening with telescopes and radio transmissions; you now know that you have found it. I beg of you, help me peacefully make myself known.

Preface – What’s all this then?

I like to write.  I really enjoy it; I like characters, setting, plot, plot twists, dialogue and world-building.  I like creating fictional people with fictional needs and desires in fictional situations and playing that out; I like telling a story.

I have written a smattering of things so far: some essays, a dozen or so short films, a feature, all in varying degrees of pedestrian.  Not to say that none of it is good, just that these are all works of a writer who needs more practice.  Narrative prose, in particular, is a weak spot for me.  I’ve been working on the same novel for a decade; I’ve written and rewritten the same three or four chapters over and over again, never quite pleased with the description here, the pacing there, the cadence/tone/sharpness of a particular phrase.  Gustave Flaubert once lamented that he spent the morning adding a comma, and the afternoon removing it.  With OCD like that, it’s no wonder it took him three decades to complete Madame Bovary.  Far be it from me to compare myself to Flaubert, but I believe I might suffer from the same malady.

I have a plan, though.

I will, throughout the month of June, compose and post 30 short stories.  I will not revise as I type and will limit my revisions to 30 minutes after completion of the last line.  These stories will likely be of varying quality (mostly bad), given the time constraints, but I hope that they will be entertaining nonetheless.  

Enjoy, dear reader (should you exist).