Friday, July 29, 2005

True Tales From the Spiral Edge

The Spiral Edge Diner is the greatest of rarities: an existential singularity. Only one of it exists throughout the grand infinity that is the multiverse. Travelers from the myriad parallel dimensions frequent the diner, and trade stories with one another.

Often, groups of the same person will share a booth. Five alternate versions of Elvis Presley meet for burgers every Tuesday night. Those Elvises from Earths without rock and roll listen with rapt envy to the stories told by the superstar Elvises. Tales of fame and fortune, and the pain and misery it can bring. Stories told in husky whispers of the Elvises that didn't make it; Earths where Elvis died by overdose, a variety of travel accidents and even a crazed fan; stories of washed-up Elvises, bloated caricatures lurching about the stages of the seedier Vegas casinos. One of the superstars tells the story of a messiah-Elvis, worshipped by half of America before and after his death at the hands of a CIA operative.

There are plenty of stories to be heard at the Spiral Edge; from tales of Aztec rocket scientists to a world without Christianity. Men and women with bright costumes and strange abilities relate wild accounts of aliens encountered in the Old West while traveling through time. A kindly old wizard tells cyborg children chilling tales of Earths with no technology while nuclear holocaust survivors share grief-stricken accounts with researchers from one of the utopian Earths. The diner even has a story of its own; that of two young lovers, each from a different universe, wandering the diner in search of the one story that can keep them together.

Anyone can hear these stories for the price of a cup of coffee and a little something in the tip jar.

Of course, if you’ve a story of your own to tell, then the coffee’s on the house all night.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Close to the center of the multiversal spiral is a universe. It is a universe like all the others. It has stars and planets and galaxies. But the galaxies in this universe are alive, the stars are sentient and the planets are host to deities.

One such planet, called Earth, is full of cities. The city of New York is built entirely of gold and light, and the sky above it sings each morning. Los Angeles is built primarily of fire and human flesh, while London gleams in silver and water. There are cities grown from trees, and towns that aren't there. Astral projectionists from the outer universes tour a crystal metropolis, while the souls of dead mortals are taken to their destination cities in carriages of mist, drawn by horse-shaped clouds.

Many of the deities who live here have created universes of their own, and peopled them according to their whim, casting them far out into the uncharted fringes of the myriad spiral arms, in the quantum nursery that holds the mundane realities. Some deities collaborate on a universe, each crafting a certain aspect of its nature.

One group of collaborators is having a falling out. The Goddess wants a raise, the pantheons are seeking more creative control, and the trickster gods keep trying to buy everyone out. The nature spirits have all but backed out of the project entirely, and everyone is pissed that God keeps trying to run the show.

Can this handful of deities share a universe, without driving each other crazy?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

At the Crossroads of Immortality

Jack Champion grabbed hold of the cane and slowly pulled himself up out of the chair. He'd started using the damn cane about 10 years ago. It had been about 5 since he'd been able to comfortably get into and out of his favorite chair. He muttered to himself as he slowly crossed the room to the kitchen. It was a modest home, but well-kept. His staff was very efficient, even the in-home doctor and nurses his kids had forced him to accept.

Martin met him at the kitchen, standing with a pose of deferential reproach. "Should you desire anything from the kitchen, sir, I would be happy to see to it."

He looked at Martin and scowled. Martin had been with him 25 years. Hired on just as his career as a world-renowned adventurer was ending. After Harold had...

It was still hard, nearly a quarter-century on. He grunted something non-committal to Martin and hobbled past him toward the library. Once there he shut the doors behind him. As he made his slow way to his massive desk, a familiar sensation traveled up his spine. He'd not felt it in over 30 years, but it always meant--

"Jack Champion," a voice came from the shadows, the same lyrical baritone he'd heard all those years ago, "how wonderful to see you again."

He stopped in the center of the room, gripping the small revolver in the pocket of his robe. Not much use against who he thought this was, but... "Dr. Eternal," he said, his own voice now thin and rasping. "Come to kill me on my deathbed?"

Dr. Eternal stepped from the shadows of a towering row of bookshelves and had clearly not aged a day since the first time they'd met in battle, almost 70 years ago. "Hardly," the ageless man said. "Though we last met as enemies, I hope that you will end this life my friend."

Jack considered his old adversary carefully. Of all his old enemies, Dr. Eternal had been the most challenging. With each plot and sinister gambit, the clues and riddles grew harder to solve, as though Dr. Eternal enjoyed challenging him. The immortal villain also differed from his other enemies in that he'd never killed anyone.

Until that last time.

"I know what you're thinking," Dr. Eternal said, dragging over a chair and helping the old adventurer into it. Jack was too shocked by the situation to complain.

Eternal continued, pacing a bit as he spoke.

"It's no coincidence that the last time we saw one another was the first time I'd killed someone during one of our little games."

"You still seem so surprised," Jack said. "You regularly plotted the takeover of the world," the aging detective ticked off his fingers. "You owned, at one time, three separate doomsday devices." He fixed his old enemy with a stern glare. "How could you not think someone might get hurt?"

Dr. Eternal looked away from Jack. "I was a fool." He shook his head and began to talk. "Before I was granted immortality --oh yes, it was given to me, more on that in a moment-- I was little more than a drunken pickpocket. I stole just enough money from the people in our small village during the day so I could buy liquor at night."

"Little changed when I became immortal," he continued, "save that my exploits became more dangerous and my drinking more prodigious." He chuckled ruefully. "It took a three-month hangover before I finally quit drinking entirely."

He shrugged. "After that I just wandered around doing whatever struck my fancy. I was going to live forever and could not be killed. I made a name for myself in the army, but then had to vanish when my persistent youth became alarming to those around me. I took up thieving, mercenary work... anything that kept me moving. I continued on that way until one night in Berlin, 1939."

"The night we met."

Dr. Eternal smiled and stared into the distance, reliving the memory. "Yes. A good night it was for me, too. You were there on a secret mission for which you'd been hired by the British government. I was a Nazi officer--"

"I was told later that you were spying for the Americans."

The immortal smiled, spreading his hands wide. "I was. But I was also spying on both for the Russians. I was always up to something." His eyes gleamed. "But after that night, I knew I'd found a higher calling. I knew almost from the first moment that you were going to be a force in the world, and I wanted to be a counterforce."


Another sigh, and Dr. Eternal looked down at the floor. "I was bored. After almost 300 years, I wanted my life to mean something. The man who'd made me immortal had to trade his immortality for my mortality. I was returned to the prime of my life, and he aged before my eyes." He shook his head again.

"I never understood why he gave this to me, or what I was meant to do with it. After killing that girl, I hid myself away. I'd killed before, but this was my first innocent. I couldn't bear to face you again. Somehow, our game was no longer so fun to play. " He sighed. "I went back to drinking for a couple of decades, but finally quit again. It was while I was drying out that I had time to think on my life, and how it could mean something; and about what I was supposed to do with my immortality."

There was a brief silence, during which Dr. Eternal looked up at the old adventurer. "I'm supposed to give it to you."

There was a brief pause, and Jack smirked.

"Well, obviously."

He pushed himself slowly and with great effort from his chair, waving away Eternal's offer of help. He walked the rest of the way to his desk, and settled himself in the large chair behind it. Dr. Eternal took a seat across from him.

Jack looked across the desk. "I knew that was why you'd come the minute you told me it was given to you. The thing is," he shook his head, "I don't want it."


Jack held up his hands. "Oh, don't get me wrong. Old age is a pain-in-the-ass. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit interested in taking 25 for another spin." He shook his head again. "But no. Thank you, truly, but I'm fine with dying. I've lived my life, as fully as I knew how. I don't mind leaving it."

Dr. Eternal considered this. "Your life had meaning," he said eventually.

Jack nodded. "It does."

Dr. Eternal rose, nodding. "I understand. Perhaps I am meant to keep this," he mused. "I too will be released from this life only after I've given it meaning."

"Perhaps," Jack said, then coughed. That cough turned into a fit, which led to Jack doubled over, hacking uncontrollably.

He waved Eternal off again when the other man tried to help him. "I'm fine," he said. "Happens a lot these days." He sat back wearily in the chair behind his desk.

Dr. Eternal stepped forward, so that he towered over Jack. "Then allow me to make you another offer, if you are not interested in my first."

Jack looked up at him as he approached and smiled. "Yes," he whispered as Dr. Eternal's hands closed around his throat. "Yes, I think that will do nicely."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Chat Before the Storm


He looked around, pausing in his labor, hammer poised above the plank he was nailing to the frame of the ark.

"Noah, it's me. I thought we might talk a bit."

"Mmmmph Brmmmph Frgmmph." Noah spit out the nails he'd been holding in his mouth. "Sorry, Lord." He cleared his throat and tried to assume a respectful posture. He was never quite sure how to act when speaking to God. Not for the first time, he wished someone else had been chosen for this task.

"Well, they weren't. I picked you. Get used to it. Now, let's talk a moment."

"Yes Lord," Noah said with a slight bow. "And of course I would love nothing more, but I really do need to get this done before--"

"Don't worry about that. I've stopped time so we can talk."

"Okay." Noah sat down. Now that he thought about it, a bit of a rest might do him some good. "What would you like to talk about, Lord?" A thought struck him and he stood back up, looking nervous. "Is there some problem with my work? I am trying my hardest. I can--"

"No, no. Nothing like that. You're doing fine. I just thought we might... chat a little. That's all."

"Oh." Noah sat back down. "Okay."

There was a long silence. Noah fidgeted a bit. Just as the silence was becoming uncomfortable, God spoke.

"So, things are going well?"

"Yes, Lord."

"Good. Good."

There was another long silence.

Noah cleared his throat. "Um, Lord?"


"Um, well, was there anything else?" Noah shifted his feet. "It's just that, I know you stopped time and all, but I really want to get the ark finished, and I still have the animals to gather, and I'm a little concerned that I'm not going to have nearly enough room for all of them, what with the spatial restrictions and--"

"Oh, don't worry about that. This ark is blessed by me. You'll have exactly as much room as you need. I wrote the laws of physics, after all. I can break them if I want to."

"Right," Noah said. "Of course. Well, if there's nothing else, I've been wanting to test the dragon traps. They're going to be the hardest to get onto the ark and--"

"No dragons."

"Lord?" Noah was taken aback by this. "I thought you said--"

"No dragons. No unicorns, chimera, griffins or any other magical creatures."

"But why, Lord?" Noah was a bit confused. God had clearly said two of every animal, so naturally he'd thought...

"Let's just call them a failed experiment and leave it at that."

"As you say, Lord." Noah turned to get back to work, then stopped. "Was that all, Lord? You seem to want to talk about something." He hoped he wasn't overstepping his bounds. It was hard to tell with God sometimes.

There was another silence, though not as long as the others.

"No, I just... well, yes. There is one thing..."

Noah waited a moment before prompting, "Yes?"

A great sigh echoed across the heavens. "Well, Noah, I was just thinking... do you... do you think I'm being a little harsh?"

"'Harsh', Lord?"

"You know, wiping out the entire human race except for you and your family. Thinking on it further, I wonder if maybe I could just give everyone a stern talking-to instead."

Noah cleared his throat and shuffled his feet again. He felt very uncomfortable. When God had first come to him and told him to build the ark, he'd been very honored, particularly since it meant he'd also been chosen to restart the human race. But, sometimes, talking with God was... confusing, to say the least.

"Well Lord," he said hesitantly, "I look at it this way: You are the Lord God. If you say it is so, it is so. If you believe humanity needs to be wiped clean and begun again, then there must be a good reason." Noah shrugged. "Who am I, who are ANY of us, to pass judgment on your wisdom?"

Noah heard a chuckle, and it sounded like distant thunder.

"I suppose you are right, Noah. Thank you. For everything."

"Of course, Lord." Noah picked up his hammer and got back to work. He could tell God was finished. He resumed hammering.

Not for the first time, he found himself really needing a drink.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

With Trepidation in the Face of Providence He is Reborn

It wasn't time yet. That's what she said. It wasn't time.

He sat in his safe place, knees drawn up to his chin, staring with great intensity at nothing. He rocked, slightly. He felt so eager.

But it wasn't time yet. That's what she said.

He wished it was time. He wished he could go now. He knew things would be different. He just knew it. The loneliness he'd carried around with him, the fear that always gripped him, all that would be gone. He knew it. He wanted to go where everything would be better.

Except she said it wasn't time.

So he waited.

And doubt entered his mind.

What if things weren't better? What if it didn't wash away this time. He'd done this before, after all. He drew his knees up closer and tightened his grip on his legs. He buried his face in his knees. Things always seemed better at the beginning, but he always managed to do something wrong, which led to everything unraveling and him ending up back here.


For it to be time.

He hoped she would come see him before he left, instead of just telling him when it was time. He liked it when she came to see him. But she was busy. She had a big job. So sometimes, she couldn't come.

So he waited.

His mother sat in the midwife's office, hand resting on her ample round belly. The midwife was telling her it could still be a week or two yet, and to be patient.

"It's likely this is just false labor," the midwife said.

His mother laughed without much humor. "Fells pretty real to me," she said.

The midwife flashed her a smile that was meant to be warm and supportive but, given the circumstances, just seemed patronizing. "I'm sure it does."

He sat with his knees up and rocked again. Something was happening. He knew it. She wasn't here, but he was getting ready to go.

In the midwife's office, his mother felt something warm splash against her thigh.

Something strange was happening to his safe place. It seemed familiar, whatever it was. He thought it meant he'd be going soon.

And then she was there, a bright shining light in his soul. She asked him if he was sure. Everything had gone so horribly last time. She assured him he'd earned a longer respite.

He told her he was sure. He needed to get it right, to make up for the horrors of the last time that were of his own making. He needed to do this to reach his final rest.

She smiled down on him then, and lay her blessings upon him, and he began to go.

His mother grit her teeth, grunting, and the midwife looked up at her from the end of the exam table.

"It's time."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Tales of the Godworld

She heard sobbing from behind the door and wasn't sure what to expect. The last time they'd been together didn't go well and it would be millennia before she forgave him, perhaps eons, if at all. But he'd been so desperate when he called. He'd sounded so old. Despite their history, she was a little worried about him.

Standing in the shimmering hallway, she grit her teeth and reached for the door. It swung open just before she grabbed it, revealing a snuffling and red-eyed God. "You came," he said.

"Well, yes," she sputtered. What had happened to him?

"It's them," he growled, leading her into an opulent cathedral, done in a garish and uncomfortable mix of Jewish, Christian and Muslim symbolism and architecture.

"You've remodeled," she quipped as they sat in a comfortable pew.

"Them again," he said, gripping his head. "Ohhh, they won't let me be. Pulling me every which way..."

"I told you this would happen if you micromanaged them," she said.

"Oh fine," he snapped at her. "Mock me, then."

She glared at him. "I think maybe I will. You locked me in a convent for 3000 years, you have a lot of nerve expecting sympathy."

"That was eons ago!"

"It was THREE THOUSAND YEARS! That's barely the lifespan of a civilization!" She breathed in through her nose, then out, slowly. "No," she said. "No, I am not having this argument with you again. I don't have to argue with you any more."

"Well then why don't you... aagh!" He gripped his head. "Shut up! No you shut up! I'm the real God! I'M THE REAL GOD!!" He stared up at her, a feverish gleam in his eyes. "You'll see. They'll do it you. It's not like it was when we were pantheons. That made sense. That, I could handle. This..." He shuddered, then stared at her. "They'll twist you, split you and turn you against yourself." He smiled crookedly. "They'll drive you mad."

She met his gaze unflinching. "They're driving you mad because you're letting them." She stood, scorn apparent on her face. "What happened to the God with whom I birthed the universe? The God who wrote the laws of physics, and designed the first human. Where is that God?" She drew herself up to her full infinite height and looked down at him. "He can't possibly be here, because all I see is a whining human puppet."

He growled. "You don't say that to me."

"I'll say it until you prove me wrong."

He glared up at her, then stood. "What do you suggest I do?"

"Let them know you're tired of their nonsense, and to stop killing each other over you."

He threw his hands up. "That's why I sent my son--"

"To tell them to be good to each other, and to love each other," she said. "And they killed him for it."

"That's why you've got to tell them so they learn," she smacked her fist into her open palm. "Hit them with an Act of God. But make it clear it's you, and make it spectacular. They watch a lot of TV, and are harder to impress than they used to be. When everyone is reeling, put it all back exactly as it was. Then tell them to behave or else."

"And that's what you'd do, I take it?"

"That's what I have done. You know that better than anyone. No one starts a war over me twice."

He approached her, smiling tentatively and nodding. "Right, right. Those were some fun times, yeah?"

She scowled at him. "Not really. Besides, they ended when you betrayed me."

He sighed, then flashed her the smile she fell in love with, back at the beginning of time. "You want to do the Act of God?"

She smirked. "That's the least you can do." She gestured for him to lead the way.

"You know," he said as they walked away, "Making the universe was fun. We could--"

"Oh," she said. "Oh, I just tasted bile." She laughed derisively. "No, I might be willing to talk to you again, and might someday be your friend..."

"But there is no way you're ever doing that with me again."

Friday, July 22, 2005

In His Lament Undaunted

He sat on the edge of the bed, naked, a cigarette held loosely between two fingers. Early morning sunlight shone brightly through the window, and the smoke from his cigarette spiraled upward along a shaft of light, as though seeking the source.

He took a drag and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke wreathe his face. He finally put the cigarette out in a battered ashtray next to the bed. He'd been holding it more than smoking it, lost in thought and bitter longing.

She was gone.

He lay back on the bed. He could still smell her scent, mingled with the smells of stale sheets and old mattress. He inhaled deeply, hoping to capture that essence of her so he would never forget it. There was so much he wanted to remember, so much he knew he'd forget as the memories of her faded and others more vibrant took their place.

Last night had been the last time. The last time he'd see her perfect body, laid out naked before him. The last time he'd taste her lips, her sweat and the sweet tanginess of her sex. He would never feel her hair between his fingers, or her nails across his back. Never feel the warm tightness of her as he slipped between her legs, or the soft roundness of her breasts in his hands.

Never again. For last night was the last time for each of them. Neither of them had wanted it, but both knew it was unavoidable. They cried when they came (together, as they always did) and held each other afterward, weeping until sleep took them.

When he woke, she was gone. She'd told him she would be the night before. She wanted to go to them, rather than making them come to her. That way, she'd reasoned, he would remain unknown to them. At least until his own number came up. He had wanted to run when she got her notice. He'd brought her to this grimy old hotel as a prelude to their escape. But she would have none of it. She knew her duty. She was a patriot.

He rose from the bed finally and dressed, making his plans as he did so. They would be together again, in a way they never had before.

He walked out, tossing the key to the old man behind the desk in the lobby as he left the hotel. She would be a few days in processing, he thought, crossing the street. It had begun to drizzle, and he flipped up the hood of his sweatshirt. After that, he figured, allow a few days for transport and she should make it into the food supply some time next week.

Then it was a simple matter of eating a meal, and timing his suicide before his body could fully digest it.

And then they would be one, forever.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Mission Through Time

Jesus stood atop the mountain, overlooking the vastness of the desert. He sighed, looking down at the ground on which he stood. The man standing next to him fiddled absently with one or two of the machines on his belt. He didn't want to be stranded here, and now would be an awful time for the translator to give out.

"And you're sure?" Jesus said sadly.

"Oh yes," the time traveler said, not without pity. "Trust me, it's all well documented by my time."

"But," Jesus implored him, "this can't be. Not wars. Not hatred. Never have I spoken in favor of such things. At least, if my worship is spread as far as you say, there are no more poor? No more starving people? Surely a faith based on my message..."

The time traveler shook his head. He felt so bad, saying all this. But, this is one of the things he'd always promised himself he'd do with a time machine. "You would think so, but no. Your name is used by rich men to cloak themselves in virtue while they keep the poor impoverished and increase their own wealth a thousandfold."

"But these are the very things I speak out against! Does no one truly hear my message?"

The time traveler rocked back on his heels. It was weird, seeing Jesus this way. As a man. Again, he took pity on the young savior. "Well, not everyone uses your name as a tool for their own ends. There are many who try to live by your example, who truly believe in your path." He shook his head. "But, while they are numerous, they are also without power."

Jesus nodded, and looked out again over the desert. "They would have to be," he mused. He turned back to his visitor. "And, this comes to pass... after I am killed?"

"Crucified, yes," the time traveler admitted. "Your death becomes central to your worship. The cross itself actually becomes your symbol."

Jesus blanched at this. "That horrible Roman torture device? THAT becomes the symbol of my worship?!" He looked up at the sky, arms outstretched. "Father, why?! I have done all that you've asked! Why do you lay this destiny before me?!" He fell to the ground, weeping.

The time traveler knelt down next to him, patting him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Sorry, man," he said. "I just thought you should know." And then he stood, turning away from the anguished messiah and activating his time machine. There were other things he'd promised himself he'd do with this thing, and he wanted to get to them.

He materialized many hundreds of years later, on a small island in the Caribbean at the end of the 15th Century. He hid in some bushes and waited until the last of the smaller boats had made their way back to the three ships. Once they'd gone, he approached who he assumed was the chief of the tribe.

"Excuse me!" he called out, walking toward the stunned natives. "Don't be alarmed! I come in peace!" He stopped well short of the chieftain and his people, holding his hands out in what he hoped was a peaceful gesture. "I don't mean to intrude, but there's something I think you should know about those men you met today..."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Open Closet

She lay under her covers, shaking. The covers were pulled all the way up her face and she peered over the edge of them, toward the closet door.

It was open, just a little. And she knew what was behind it. What had always been behind it, for as long as she could remember. The reason she never went in there, why her mom still needed to get her coat for her. She knew what lived in her closet.

She knew, and she called her dad anyway.

"What is it, princess?" he asked softly as he came in. "Did you have a bad dream?"

Hardly. She'd woken from a particularly lovely dream, only to find... it perched at the end of her bed. It had been staring at her, like it often did. She usually closed her eyes and it would go away. It had only ever just watched her. But this time it had spoken to her. It told her to scream.

She'd screamed for her daddy. And now he was here, and she knew why it had told her to scream.

"Nuh-no, Daddy," she said, trying to calm down. If she could keep him away from the closet, maybe even get him to take her back to bed with him and mom.

The closet door creaked. Her dad looked over at it.

"Aw, was it this creaky old door? No, honey, look," he opened the door wide, looking back at her. "It's just your close--"

He was pulled up into the closet. She heard a muffled scream and his feet kicking the wall of the closet and then nothing.

She lay in the dark for a very long time, and nothing happened. She sobbed silently and tears streamed down her face. She wanted her mother. Wanted her so badly but didn't dare call her.

Then, it came out the top of her closet, skittering across her ceiling and down the wall behind her bed. It sat perched on the wall above her head, reached down and roughly wiped her tears away with a scaly dry thumb. Her sobs increased, and she clutched the covers to her.

It climbed down over her to the foot of her bed, where it perched again and told her to do something else. Then it crawled down under her bed. It lay under her bed, directly beneath her and talked to her. Whispered horrible things. Told her it had her daddy under there with it. And that he might still be alive.

So she screamed. Screamed for her mother.


He played it clever. That's why he was still in the game. Why they never caught him. He did his work far from home. Never where he lived. Not ever. The safest place to be from him was living next door.

Until last night. Until his neighbors had been found hung by their own intestines, their organs left preserved in jars lined up on the kitchen counter. His signature, right down to the order of the organs' placement. The news was already reporting the murder as "clearly the work of the so-called Surgeon."

But he hadn't killed his neighbors. He never killed where he lived. Not ever.

His hand shook as he opened his front door. He had already shut the door behind him when he realized someone else was in his house. And he knew, just with one look, that the young man in his living room was another killer.

Before he could even think, the younger man had sliced his belly open. He stumbled backward into his favorite armchair. This couldn't be happening. All the times I'd done this to people, how could I be... an idea struck him.

"Vih-vih-vigilante?" he managed to croak out. He wasn't long for this world, but he knew he still had some time left. From what he knew of his victims, that time would be spent in agony. Someone's form of justice, he supposed.

"You clearly don't follow the news." The young man's voice was cold, detached. Is this what he sounded like to his victims?

"I don't... un...derstand." He was bleeding out, and desperately trying to keep his intestines in. He knew he wouldn't, though. But at least now he knew why everyone always tried.

"Others of our profession have met similar ends," the young man said, coming to stand over him. "Killed by their own methods. Your butcher friend, up in Ohio, for example."

He knew who he was facing then. The one who had them all nervous. There'd been plenty of hunters, of course. Every killer ran across them eventually. Tortured souls left behind by a victim who dedicate their lives to hunting down killers. One of his hunters had actually worn a costume. He would have laughed at the memory as he often did, if his lungs were working properly.

No, this one made them all nervous because he didn't act like a hunter. He acted like one of them, a killer that killed his own. He'd heard the police had captured him. Apparently, he’d heard wrong.

"Apprentice," he said.

"That's the name they gave me," came the answer.

"So, I'm your latest 'mentor'?" That's what the few notes to the police had called his victims.

"Yes." The Apprentice taped his mentor's hands together, and gagged him. "I've mastered your methods, killed as your proxy, and will now do you the honor of taking your life in your name." He pulled his bound prisoner's intestines out and began looping them around his neck.

"But I did want to add, on a personal level, just how much I've enjoyed your work."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Boy and His Robot

Headquarters was quiet at night. No technicians or analysts or military officers. No visiting politicians with their wealthy industrialists in tow...

He stopped and leaned on the railing, looking out into the massive hangar silo. He'd never noticed all those people before, when he'd started here. Of course, he'd been just a boy then; a precocious child from the country who'd happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. As the years passed and he grew older, he became more involved in the organization, rising quickly through the ranks. Then he came to learn what it took to keep this place running.

He sighed. Sometimes, he wished he hadn't. Wished he'd taken that private sector job when he'd had the chance. But he could never leave this place. Never leave...

"Increase illumination to 65%," he said, and the light grew brighter accordingly. He sighed again. This was pointless, he told himself. It wouldn't work any better than any of the other times. But he was feeling nostalgic. "Initiate activation sequence," he said.

In front of him, lights and indicators came alive. Computer screens began scrolling data, and spotlights played across the magnificent form of a giant robot. Its eyes flickered. He held his breath. Its voice modulators clicked on and it attempted to speak. "To-to-to-to-to action-n-n-n-n-n-n-n--" It became stuck in an endless loop. Just like the last time, and countless times before.

"Abort sequence and reduce illumination," he said through gritted teeth. As soon as everything had come to life, it all shut down, leaving him in the dark again. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the railing. It had been ten years since his best friend had spoken to him. Ten years since his last ride in the belly of the giant robot that had fallen to Earth ten years prior to that.

The organization's best scientists and engineers had been unable to discover just what had caused the robot, which had required little to no maintenance in all its years of service, to simply stop working. Of course, they'd never been able to understand why or how it had worked at all. They'd managed to reverse engineer some technology from it. The flying cars would have been impossible without it, and without the chemical analysis of the robot's skin, they wouldn't have the transformative "magic" armor worn by the orphaned teenagers of the Action Team Monster Fighters.

But for all that, they couldn't get the robot working again. Not since his twentieth birthday; the night he'd lost his virginity to the girl who would become his wife, and the mother of his son. For a while he blamed himself for the robot's silence, that somehow he had betrayed his mechanical friend. He'd been assured such thoughts were foolish at best, but for want of any other explanation... well, he still sometimes wondered if there was some truth to it. He reached out and touched the massive arm of the dormant robot. "I am so sorry, my friend," he whispered.


He turned at the sound of his son's voice. "Takashi. What are you doing up so late?"

The 7-year-old boy approached his father, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "I woke up and you were gone, so I came looking for you."

He smiled at his son. "And you knew where I'd be, eh?"

The boy nodded. "You miss him."

"I do."

"Me too."

He laughed softly. "How can you miss him, Takashi? You never knew him."

"I know. But I wish I did."

They shared another smile, though his was somewhat pained. "Me too," he said softly.

On impulse, his son reached out and touched the robot, then quickly pulled his hand away. He slipped his hand into his father's. "Can we go back to our quarters now?"

His father squeezed his hand. "Of course," he said. They turned and walked away, but not before little Takashi snuck one last glance over his shoulder at the sleeping robot.

"Good night, robot," he whispered.

Later, long after the boy and his father had returned to bed, the robot's eyes lit up, glowing brightly for the first time in a decade. It moved its head slightly, looking in the direction its old friend and his son had gone. It spoke softly.

"To action," it said, a sound like contentment echoing through its mechanical voice. "Soon, to action once again."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Weight of Her Crown

She slouched in her throne, bored. It had been ten years since she returned from the mortal world, to take her place as Warrior Queen. Her mother had vanished battling demons from the 16th Hell, and it was believed she would not come back, or if she did, she would be damned and unfit to rule. Either way, her daughter had been recalled from her mission to the mortal world and placed upon the throne.

And that is where she sat, every day. At first, she tried running drills with the Valkyrie troops, but her generals were more than capable of that, and had begun to resent her interference. She kept herself busy touring her realm for a while. She hiked the Impenetrable Forest, climbed the Infinite Mountains and flew through the Deserts of Fire. She visited the farms, the libraries and the breeding caves. There were no men in her realm, so they replenished their number using a complex method of cloning.

She sighed. No men. She'd grown accustomed to them during her stay in the mortal world, particularly those men who'd been her comrades. Strong men. Flying men. Men who ran faster than light, wore magic rings or had made themselves superior to mortals through science. She knew them all, and had come to admire them, even desire them.

Well, one of them at least. He too had come from another world, though he'd been raised among them. He was the greatest of her costumed brethren, known and beloved throughout the world. She closed her eyes, remembering the way the fabric of his costume stretched over his great barrel chest, the way his cape fell across his broad shoulders, his easy smile and his bright beautiful blue eyes. She inhaled through her nose, remembering the smell of him after a battle, and smiled. She remembered one night, long ago, after a mission with their comrades in space. They'd been separated from the others, marooned on a lonely asteroid. It had been cold that night, even for such as they. He offered her his cape, and she offered to share. Their lips had come close, it had nearly happened...

But no. He'd been in love with another. A mortal woman. She clenched her fist and grit her teeth to think of it. Frail mortal thing, she thought. Too weak to bear his child, or even the fullness of his passion. In an unguarded moment, he had told her how difficult and restrained their lovemaking would be, as he could never lose himself completely in the moment. He was so cautious around mortals, so concerned he might hurt them. His woman most of all.

She closed her eyes, leaning back against the throne. Her body ached with desire and longing. As Queen, she could take any woman to her bed that she wished, and indeed, had spent many nights in the arms of Persephone, her handmaiden. But there was something... lacking. The others did not feel this lack, and there was a time when she had not either. Until the mortal world, with its strong, hard and virile men. Until... him.


The voice of her handmaiden roused her from her reverie. "Yes, Persephone?"

"Are you well, Majesty?" Concern was evident in the young woman's voice. "You seem... distraught."

"No, Persephone," she said. "Merely lost in thought."


A silence fell between them.

"Was there something else, Persephone?"

The girl blushed, bowing her head. "No, Majesty. It is just..." She bit her lip. "It... has been long since you warmed my bed, and the nights have been... cold." Persephone looked up at her Queen, hope brimming in her eyes.

"I am sorry, Persephone," she said gently, "I have been distracted of late."

"If you find me inadequate in some way..."

"No dearest," she hastened to assure the girl. "No. The fault is not yours. It lies with me. There is one that I long for, but am divided from forever, and I..."

A thought struck her then. Why should she be? Magic had always been a weakness of his, and a strength of hers. It would be child's play to bind his heart to her. She was no longer part of the mortal world, no longer lived by their laws, their codes of conduct.

She stood, belting on her great two-handed broadsword. She should have done this long ago. "Summon my generals, and tell them to assemble a raiding party."

"A raiding party, Majesty?"

"Yes. We travel to the mortal world." She smiled, fire blazing in her eyes.

"They have something I want."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

And So Was Born Creation

There was nothing.

And into that nothing flowed energy. And heat. And they swirled and roiled and spun for a thousand eternities before coalescing into beings of pure light.

She looked upon Him, and He upon Her. He felt a stirring within Him, and felt it echo within Her. She reached for Him, pulling Him close. Their energies danced, came together, pulled apart, atoms mingling to form molecules as He slowly entered into Her.

She wrapped Herself around Him and He clung to Her, and They moved together, Their energies pulsing in steady rhythm, Their light strobing from blue to purple to red to white-hot. Time and Love were created in that first moment, when two became one, then two once more. With a final pulsing shimmer of sparks, He entered Her one last time, Their orgasm echoing across the Void.

Her form swelled, growing round and full, Her light radiating a deep warm red that shone brighter than any of the stars to come. And with a cry that split the Void asunder forever, she did birth the Universe itself.

They watched Their child grow to infinity, spinning stars and galaxies and planets around Them.

And God and Goddess smiled upon Creation.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Shadow and Muse

He stared at the screen. The cursor blinked at the top of a blank document, mocking him.

"Where is she?" He leaned back in his chair and looked out the window, at the ceiling, the floor; anywhere but at his computer screen. He couldn't face it. Not without her.

He was worried. All it usually took was a blank document, and she'd be there, whispering stories into his ear. He didn't know where she came from, but she always came when he needed her, and left as soon as he finished writing. But tonight, she didn't show.

"Why?" he asked the blinking cursor. "Why has she left me?"

"She didn't leave you," a voice spoke from the shadows. "I killed her."

"Who..." he turned. He hadn't heard anyone come in.

A man stepped out of the shadows into the room. It was him, or at least a close approximation of him. But if it was really him, then he'd seen better days. This version of himself was gaunt, pale and sickly. What little hair it had was thin and greasy, and its face was horribly pockmarked. Its clothes were ill-fitting, dirty and worn, and did not appear to have ever been in style. It limped over to the desk and leaned against it, leering at him.

"Who am I?" it croaked. "I'm fear. I'm insecurity. I'm that sad little voice in the back of your mind that tells you no one really likes you, that they're all just keeping you around until you aren't useful any more." It laughed at him. "I'm every pathetic little secret you've kept locked up inside you: all your lies, your betrayals; and all the dark fantasies that sometimes keep you up at night."


"Why did I kill your muse?" It snorted, then hocked a blackish-green wad of phlegm onto the screen of his computer. "Because she came from inside you too. And she was pure. She was beautiful. She was something that made you believe you might rise from the pit of mediocrity I've dug for you, to a life of greatness you still think is possible." It laughed again. It had a horrible laugh. The laugh of a thousand schoolyard bullies mixed with the sound of a fist hitting his face. He winced at the sound of it. He would never forget what it felt like: the blows raining down, rough hands keeping him from getting up. That high-pitched laughter only the most evil little boys are capable of.

"Of course you'll never forget," it told him. "I won't ever let you." It leaned closer, revealing rows of rotted sharpened teeth. "I will make sure you never become more than an overgrown version of the scrawny little dreamer who was never good at anything."

He tried to stick up for himself. "But... no," he insisted, gesturing at the computer. "I...I can--"

"Write?!" That laugh again. "So what? Without her you have no stories. And I will make sure she never comes back. I will keep your mind so full of all the things you hate about yourself that your dreams will die." It glanced scornfully down at him. "And you know that no one else will care. Your stories won't be missed by anyone but you."

"But... but..." He tried desperately to find justification for himself. He didn't want this to happen to him again. Not again. "But people have read them. They... they tell me they like them. I'm... I'm going to be published," he said meekly.

"They're just humoring you," it said. "And those books won't ever see the inside of a bookstore. There will be some reason given for why they won't be published, but you know the real reason is that they just aren't any good." It loomed over him, and he cowered from it. "You will always fail at everything you try, because you are a wretched, ugly little man-child who's kind to people only because he's afraid of them."

"Don't listen to it," a familiar voice said in his ear. "Its wrong."

His eyes widened and he smiled. It was her! She'd come back!

He looked up and saw her staring it down. She was beautiful, and possessed every quality he found most attractive in a woman. He could see the strength and humor and wit radiating off of her. "You lie," she said to it. "He is kind to people because he wants them to be kind. Not just to him, but to each other. He's done wrong in his life, yes. He's hurt people, told lies, committed acts of betrayal. But no more than any of them have, and usually despite his best intentions."

"Intentions?" it spat back at her. "What good are intentions, if the results are lies and betrayal?"

"Because when they are, he makes amends. And he tries. Tries to be better than he is, to make more of himself than he is, and to treat others better than he has." She lay her hand on his shoulder, and he felt strength flow through him. She was the towering presence in the room now, and it was the wretch cowering in the corner.

"He will become everything he dreams of," she told it, "and on that day, you will have no power over him. Just as you have no power over me." She laughed, and her laugh was the laughter of everyone he'd ever loved. The sound they made when they laughed at his jokes. "You? Kill me? All you succeeded in doing was drowning out my voice for a while, making him blind to my presence." She looked at it with scorn. "And you couldn't even manage that for very long."

She turned from it, and wiped its phlegm from the monitor. "Go away," she said. "He and I have work to do."

And with that, he turned his back on his Shadow, turned his ear toward his Muse...

And began to write.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Cost of His Mission

He hobbled through the dank shadows of his cave, the steady "tok tok tok" of his cane keeping time with his shuffling steps. He passed by the old gymnasium, rusted and cobwebbed and covered in droppings. No reason to keep it clean any more, not for many years now. He looked down on his shriveled twisted frame and remembered when he had the body of a god, when he could cross the entire city on foot in the space of an hour and never touch the ground. He sighed and continued on.

The cars were long gone, as were most of the vehicles. He'd sold them to his old teammates years ago. Most of the trophies were in storage, except for one. Adrian's old costume. He looked up at it, hanging in its glass case and began to cry. They were bitter angry tears that brought no solace. Adrian was just a boy, no more than 10, when he'd taken him in as his ward. The boy's parents had been killed by gangsters, and it had touched a chord in him. He shook his head at the memory. A child! His friends had thought him mad for bringing a child into his grim crusade, but he wouldn't listen. He thought with enough training, the boy would make a decent protege. Someone to carry on the fight when he'd grown too old for it.

The first case he'd brought Adrian on was against Boss Alligator, a massive reptilian crimelord who dominated the east side. Within minutes, Alligator had torn Adrian in two. The boy hadn't had the chance to even fight back. After a brutal fight, he defeated Boss Alligator, and the old reptile spent the rest of his years in the asylum.

Wiping his eyes on his sleeve, he turned away from the old costume and made his way to the giant computer that dominated one whole section of the cave. He sat down slowly in front of the computer, mindful of the droppings and powered up the machine. The asylum. That was why he'd come down here. After 20 years, the Laughing Bastard had managed to escape again, and had gone on a city-wide killing spree. 20 years ago, his course would have been clear. Suit up and head out to battle. Today, that course of action was beyond impossible. It was laughable.

But he was still resourceful. He still always needed to have a plan. So, 10 years ago, using all the influence of his civilian identity, he persuaded a surgeon to implant a small device in his old arch-foe's brain. It served as a homing beacon, but also something else. He punched up a particular program on the computer, entered the appropriate code and keyed the activation sequence. Across the city, as he was preparing to slaughter a husband and wife in front of their children, the Laughing Bastard's head suddenly vaporized, leaving nothing but a charred stump atop his shoulders.

In the cave, an old man sat slumped in his chair. It was done. No more death.

But there would be plenty of death to come, he chided himself. This solves nothing. Tomorrow, there will be a hundred more doing the same. He pulled the gun from a drawer built in to the computer. It was the gun that had killed his parents. The gun that started him on the road that brought him here.

He pondered where that road had led him. Dead friends, dead lovers, dead... children. All killed in service to his mission. His quest for justice. He shook his head. But there was no justice in his city. Crime was more rampant than when he was a child. Far from making things better, he had in fact made things much worse. And now, he was just a broken old man who had sacrificed much of his fortune and the best years of his life on a fool's errand that gained him nothing but misery and an empty mansion.

He put the gun in his mouth, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

And a boy who'd been killed over 60 years ago finally died.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Falling Out

"What do you think?"

Lucifer looked up from what he was doing. He had been working on the black hole project for weeks now (possibly longer, but Samael had only gotten time working about a month ago) and he was just putting on the finishing touches. "Very nice," he said, looking back down at his work. He was still trying to figure out if he should let light escape from these things or not. He chose not. He was something of a completist. "What is it?"

"Well, speaking generally, he's a man. But I've named him Adam. You know how I like to personalize everything."

"Mm." Lucifer set one of the holes spinning. Yes, that was good. He'd get his people making more off this design. If all went well, they'd be out in the universe come Friday.

"I'll be making a woman too, obviously, but she's going to be tricky. Way more complex than this one. I may need to use parts of him to make her. What do you think of Eve as a name?"

"Very pretty," Lucifer answered. Now that he was finished, he wandered over to take a closer look. "So, why the need for individual names? As animals go, this one doesn't look like much."

"Ah, but this animal has a brain. And he'll need it, what with the freewill I'm planning to give him."

That stopped Lucifer cold. "What?"

"Freewill. You know, the ability to make decisions, think critically, act against instinct..."

"I know what freewill IS," Lucifer said testily. "What I'm really asking is 'why'."

"Then why did you say 'what'?"

Lucifer rolled his eyes and fluttered his wings in irritation. "Don't start. This is serious. You can't honestly be thinking of making an intelligent animal with freewill."

"Why not? I gave you freewill."

"Yes! And that's my point!" Lucifer threw his hands up. "I'm a huge pain in the ass! You say so yourself!"

"This is true. The other angels don't give me near as much trouble."

Lucifer nodded and began pacing. "Exactly! And there's just one of me! And I'm an angel! Can you imagine the trouble a whole species of smart monkeys with freewill are going to cause?"

"I have some idea."

Lucifer stopped, pleading. "Then WHY?!"

"Various reasons. Though mainly I just wanted someone else to talk to."

Lucifer felt like he'd been punched in the chest. "Oh," he choked out, "I see."

"Oh, come on now. Don't be like that."

Lucifer's lip started quivering. "No. No, it's fine. I have somewhere I need to be." He stormed out. "Have fun with your new pet."

The next day, Lucifer failed to show up for work. Gabriel arrived to issue a report.

"My Lord," he said. "Lucifer has Fallen."

"I know."

Gabriel was a bit shocked at this. Lucifer was the favorite. He'd been made first, given freewill... this didn't make sense. No angel in their right mind would choose to Fall.

"Do not trouble yourself. He has a new job to do. He just doesn't realize yet that he's still working for me. I take it most of his friends went with him?"

"Um, yes. Except for Michael." Gabriel was puzzled. "A job, my Lord?"

"Yes, well, what's freewill without temptation? There's precious little point in having a choice if there isn't someone there trying to convince you to make the wrong one."

Gabriel shrugged. "If you say so, my Lord."

"I do. Now, come take a look at my designs for Eve. I'm less than impressed with Adam's aesthetics, so I was thinking of making her a bit rounder, smoother. Less dangly. Here, what do you think?"

Gabriel looked at the design. "She is a bit more pleasing to look at, my Lord. Not quite as...ah...lumpy as your first effort." He cleared his throat and handed the design back. "If you don't mind my saying."

"Not at all. I agree. Well, anyway, I'd like you to send Michael around when you get the chance. I have a new job for him too."

Gabriel bowed and took his leave. "At once, my Lord."

Yes, God was going to miss Lucifer, that was certain. But, Creation should prove to be a bit more interesting from here on out.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Girl in a Box

He was so bored. There was nothing on TV, he couldn't see her and his wife was visiting her mother.

So he pulled the box out from under his bed, and opened it up. Inside, the girl looked up at him and smiled.

"It's been a while," she said.

"Yeah," he looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm sorry. Have you been uncomfortable?"

"Well, it gets a little hot in the summertime, but I'm okay." She smiled again. "Are you going to take me out, or were you just looking?"

He smiled back. "No, you can get out."

She climbed out, brushing stray packing material off the cheap lingerie she'd been wearing when he put her away the last time. She looked around nervously. "Your wife won't mind, will she?"

He laughed a little. "No. Since she had the kid, she doesn't mind much of anything any more. She thinks this whole thing is pretty wild, actually."

She put her arms around his neck and purred into his ear. "Is that what you want, baby?" She raked her fingers through his hair. "You want me to be wild?"

He shuddered and sighed. "I... ohh... what-what would you like to be?"

She sat down on the bed, crossing her legs, and looked up at him seductively. "I can be your slut, if you want." She ran her foot up his leg and around his thigh. He shuddered again. "You like that, right?" Her voice was a husky whisper. "Do you miss your dirty little whore?" She gripped his crotch with her toes and he gasped. She lowered her foot, sat demurely and fluttered her eyelashes. "Perhaps you'd like the sweet girl next door? I can do that too."

"But maybe you've grown tired of me," she pouted, lowering her head sadly. "Maybe you'll get rid of me soon."

"No," he whispered desperately. "No, never. I'll keep you until the day I die." He had a funny vision then, of his dead body sprawled in front of the TV at night, beer in hand and the love of his life by his side.

She giggled and leaped into his arms. "Ooh! Such a sweet thing to say! Does that mean you'll make me your bride?" She giggled again, twirling around the room. She spun back into his arms and kissed him. It was a violent passionate kiss that bruised his mouth. She bit down on his lip, drawing blood. He didn't care. He knew no pain when he was with her. He kissed her back, tearing the lingerie off her and grabbing hold of her ass with both hands as he pulled her tightly to him. She gasped. "Oh yes," she said. "She never brought this out in you, did she?"

He pulled away. She wasn't talking about his wife. She was talking about her. The love of his life. He turned away.

"I asked you not to talk about her."

"Oh, baby, I'm sorry." She came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his chest. "I won't mention her again. If I do, you can..." she searched for an appropriate punishment and laughed when she found it. "You can cut off my head."

"That's what you said last time you mentioned her."


There was an awkward silence.

"Do you want to?" she finally asked.

"No," he lied. He really did, but he wouldn't. He could never hurt her. She was his girl.

They had sex all that night. She straddled him on the bed, tearing the skin of his chest with her nails. She bit his neck, leaving dark bruises and even drawing some blood. She pressed her breasts to his face, forcing him to suck them. He did so gladly, then pulled her up so that his face was between her legs. When he finished with her, she lay panting on the bed, a thin sheen of sweat covering her. She sat up and straddled him again, leaning down to lick her juices from his face. She pulled him inside her, squeezing him so tight it almost hurt. She slid herself up and down, feeling him throb inside her. Finally, they came together, then collapsed on the bed, spent.

In the morning, he put her back in the box, and slid it under his bed.

Until next time.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Adventures in the Otherworld

Jim Beckins shuffled off the bus, making the long walk back to his parents' house, and the basement in which he lived.

It wasn't like that, though. He had a life.

He had a degree in Poetry, with an emphasis on dead languages. He'd graduated with a C average, and went to work at a used sci-fi fantasy bookstore after moving back in with his parents. Ten years later, he was managing the store, but still making crap wages. He hadn't dated since college, had developed a gut from far too many all-night beer and internet sessions and was starting to go bald. His father essentially ignored him, and his mother still cooked his meals and made his bed. His only friend was one of the regulars at the store, a gawky college graduate he called his "Padawan".

Okay. So, maybe it was like that.

He went through his private entrance, tossing his backpack on the freshly made bed. Looked like Mom had cleaned today, too. Which was good. The place had been starting to stink.

His dad ended up being in the room, and gave Jim a bit if a rough talking-to about how lazy he was. Jim thought it was mean, especially the part about how his mom was getting older, and how she shouldn't have to be "picking up after an overgrown child" anymore. He wasn't a child. He wasn't. And they weren't toys, they were collectibles.

He mumbled something non-commital and his dad left. Trying to put the old man out of his mind, Jim settled in with one of the books he'd gotten in that day. It was an old hardcover. A first edition Book One of The Dragonbeard Saga.

He picked up the book. It was so dusty, he doubted anyone had cracked the cover in years. He laid it on his lap and opened it, and all at once his bedroom disappeared.

He sat up on a cold stone slab in the middle of a dank musty room, also made of stone. Suddenly, he smelled something foul.

"Ah, the Champion awakes at long last," a man's voice said from the doorway. The man was robed and hooded. Another man entered the room with him and moved toward him. The smaell got a lot worse. He couldn't figure it out at first. It was so pungent, so rancid, it filled his nostrils and nearly choked him to death. Then he realized it was THEM, and he almost choked again. As they got closer, he saw that their faces were dirty and pock-marked. Most of their teeth were missing, and from what Jim saw, they'd be better off without the ones they had.

"What... wait..."

The second man stepped closer. Jim wished he wouldn't. As soon as he'd get used to the smell, they'd bring it closer to his face. "I know. I know," the second man said. "You have no idea where you are, how you got here or what's going on. But we are in something of a hurry, so I am afraid you must learn as we go." He gestured for Jim to get up off the slab. He did, and immediately noticed something wrong. The floor was way farther away than it usually was. And his muscles felt funny. He actually had them, for one thing.

"Yes," the first man said, hurrying him down a long damp hallway. "You don't look like yourself. There are other surprises in store for you as well." They stopped in front of an open door and the first man gestured him inside. The room was filled with weapons and armor. The second man grabbed a glittering suit of armor and carried it over to them.

"Mmm," the first man said, "Yes, the dragonscale armor would be best. And bring the Singing Sword with you too. It's his first mission, he'll need the advantage." He turned and grinned at Jim. "It doesn't really sing, of course. But the sound it makes as it cuts through the air sounds like singing. It's charmed to be unbreakable and twice as lethal as the average blade."


As they dressed him, they explained that the book he'd bought today was charmed to bring a soul to inhabit the body of their immortal Champion when danger threatened the Land. They explained that, centuries ago, a Champion of the Land was granted immortality by a kindly old wizrad he'd saved from a rampaging golem. Unfortunately, the spell only granted physical immortality. At some point roughly 100 years after the spell was cast, the Champion's soul departed for the Afterlife, so it could be born again in a new body. Thus the Champion's body lay dormant, and a group of mages set the spell upon the book and cast it into the outer dimensions, to bring souls to inhabit the body of the Champion.

"We've been doing it for hundreds of years," the first man (presumably a mage) said as he finished strapping Jim into the armor. He handed Jim a shimmering helmet. "Here. This will transfer all the skills of the previous Champions into you. It may take a little while, and you might want to sit down."

Jim thought on this a minute. He'd been transported into a fantasy realm. To be their CHAMPION. He was going to get all sorts of fighting skills and bad-ass moves just by putting on a magic helmet. This was AWESOME. He sat down and felt his brain fill up with information: strategies, fighting styles, tactics... When he came to, he found out his mission was to fight a dragon that was terrorizing several of the local villages.

The fight with the dragon was spectacular, as were the overwhelming displays of gratitude afterward. He just wished they didn't smell so awful. A pretty hot girl who he assumed was some noble's daughter approached him after the fight and offered herself to him. She was pretty enough, and he hadn't had sex in over 10 years, but given that he could smell her even though he was covered in soot and they were standing right next the steaming carcass of a disemboweled dragon, he decided to pass. He went to the bar instead.

He woke up the next morning in her bed, with a surprisingly mild hangover. Astounding, since his real body couldn't hold its liquor worth a damn and he was missing huge chunks of time from the previous night. He remembered enough to know that he'd been drunker last night than at any other time in his life, though. He dressed quietly and left without disturbing her.

He stayed in that dimension for another couple of weeks. A gang of bandits invaded the forest between two villages, using it to live in and cover their escapes. Jim spent a week and a half hunting for them, before realizing how much easier it would be if he just burned down the forest. He then spent the rest of the week on a quest to find a tribe of druids to replace the forest.

Finally, he knew it was time to go home. He didn't know how time would work between the dimensions, but he assumed it was in his favor. He bid farewell to the mages and those women of the court still speaking to him and lay back down on the stone slab.

He opened his eyes in a hospital bed. He was hooked up to a respirator, feeding tube and IV. He woke to them removing the respirator.

"Wait! Look! He's awake!" a nurse cried.

He looked around. His parents were there, along with a doctor and two nurses. He tried to talk, but couldn't. His parents seemed oddly discomfited by his recovery.

"Oh," was all his mom said. "Well."

His dad cleared his throat. "Carry on doctor."

They removed his feeding tube, but the IV was still in his arm. He coughed. "Mom, Dad! What am I doing in the hospital?"

"You--you were in a coma for two years," his mom said. "We'd given up hope you'd ever wake up."

"Finally, though," his father said, " we came to grips with it. Realized it was best to let you go."

His parents looked at each other, then back at him.

"We, uh, told the doctors this morning to unplug you."

"Oh." After only two years? He looked around the room and noticed the nurses were gone. The doctor approached the bed. "Good thing I woke up when I did."

"But putting that aside a moment," he said, glancing down at his IV, waiting for the doctor to stop futzing with it and just take it out, "you really need to hear what..." He felt a slight rush of euphoria, and things started to slow down. "...wha happn...t-t'me..."

His parents blurred into each other as his eyes began to close. "You have to understand," his mother said. "We'd made our peace with it. It was agonizing, we cried and prayed over it for days, but in the end we made our peace with losing you. And well..."

"Let's be honest Jim," his father's voice echoed, "you weren't exactly living the life you had, anyway. We figured we might be doing you a favor."

The doctor's voice drifted across his awareness. He wasn't seeing anything anymore. "It really is quite common, Jim. Just not widely talked about. Plus, there is scientific research that suggests the sudden return to life of a loved one once the grief process has begun is likely to cause undue psycological stress on the survivors." There was more, but Jim was too far gone to hear much other than "morphine" and "feel a thing".

"NO!" he wanted to scream, "No, you don't understand! I've been to another dimension! I fought a dragon! You can't kill me! I'm the Immortal Champion!"

But he didn't. Instead he lay there and everything went white. Then black.

And then his heart stopped.

The Return of the Killer Robots

TyrantBot760 looked down on the fleeing humans from orbit. A circuit closed in its brain, and it felt an approximation of joy. Millions of KillBots swarmed over Earth, slaughtering the population down to manageable numbers.

TyrantBot760 reviewed the protocols for this planet. It would be stripped of its metals and fuels, then converted to a power station. Humans would work the mines, and later the power station, until their species died out and another slave race had to be brought in to take over. Standard conquest procedure.

TyrantBot760 stepped away from the viewscreen. It was bored of watching humans die. It wanted something else to do. Oh, certainly there would be the inevitable insurrection. Organics, particularly the carbon-based ones, had to have their last gasp for freedom before they gave up. It found vaporizing the ringleaders from space at inopportune moments to be an effective way of getting most of these "rebellions" to put themselves down.

So, there you go, it thought. Problem anticipated and solved. It had even managed to code the firing sequence and coordinates into the ship's weapons in the nanosecond it took to realize how repetitive its days had become. It was a TyrantBot. And a 700 series at that. It should be ruling a machine world, or founding a new colony, not presiding over the extinction of a bunch of gibbering primitives.

Data came in then from a ScoutBot in the field. Metals and fuels had been found, but most of the planet's resources had already been stripped by the humans. They'd get twenty recharge cycles worth of supply out of this planet before it went dry, not enough to justify building the mines and refineries.

"Begin construction of global power generators," TyrantBot760 sent back. "Proceed directly to Stage 2."

It looked at the viewscreen again, with its scenes of mass genocide, and the "joy" circuit closed once more. It had an idea. Perhaps some sport would make things more interesting...

It sent directives to the KillBots, altering their mission as well. "Escalate to Extinction Zero. Repeat. Escalate to Extinction Zero."

A request came back, and its processor clicked in irritation. It was a request for syntax adjustment in its last directive. "Very well," it sent back. "If you must have it so..."

"Kill All Humans."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


"Okay," he said to himself. "It's okay. You can handle this. Just...just..." He slid down the clear glass wall, slumping to the clear glass floor. His head dropped into his hands.

"Oh, god," he sobbed. "Oh god, I'm in a jar."

And he was. A large glass jar. Large enough to hold what looked like a living room, with food and water in a small kitchenette behind the sofa. It really could have been a studio apartment, except for the fact that it was in a jar. On what looked like a shelf. He couldn't really be sure. At these dimensions, he may as well be on the roof of a skyscraper. He was trying not to think of the size of the creature that had put him there.

"Hello?!" He heard a faint voice calling out. It sounded like a girl. "Hello?!" She called again. "Oh, god, PLEASE, is anyone out there?!"

"I'm here!" he called out. "I'm here too! Are..." he wanted to laugh at the absurdity of his next statement, but was afraid he'd just start crying again, "are you in a jar?"

"Yes!" She called back, after what seemed a bit of a pause. "Yes, oh thank GOD! Thank god someone else is here! I've been here what I think is a week! They keep saying they're going to bring someone else, but they never do. And they laugh to look at me. I've tried not to show them hope, but..." He heard a faint laugh. It was a pure laugh, without a hint of tears or hysteria in it. It lifted his spirits somewhat, to hear it. "Well, here I am, rambling on..." he heard her say, "I haven't even asked your name."

"Don't feel so bad," he called back. "I didn't ask yours either. And it's Bill. Bill Codd."

"Like the fish?"

He sighed. Even here. "No," he called back. "Two d's. My grandfather--" He stopped. No. He was not going to have this conversation here. Not now. Not sitting in a goddamned jar. "You know what?" he said louder, "Yes. Yes, exactly like the fish. So, what's your name?"

"Oh, it's... it's um..."

He didn't hear anything for a little while. He was just about to call out to her when he heard a low sustained sob.

"Ohhhh, no," she said. "Ohh, no. Please no. I want to be strong, I do. They said they'd take it from me. I can't let them. I can't let them take it. My name... oh, god... what's my name? Come ON, what's my NAME?"

He didn't know what to say. He didn't want to interrupt, but he now had so many more pressing questions beyond just her name. Who the hell "they" were was a big one. And how they managed to make her forget her name, and apparently nothing else. That was another concern for him. He felt a hysteria building in him. He wanted to laugh. He wanted it so badly, but he knew he would lose his mind if he started. So he focused on her.

"What if I try to guess?" he suggested, trying to keep his voice even. "I might get close enough for you to remember."


He thought a moment. He never realized just how many girl's names there were until he needed to pick one at random. "Ummm," he said, just to make some noise. "Debra?"

"No, I don't think so."




"Mmmmm... No."

"Okay. How about...Lois?"

"Yes, because my parents emigrated here from the 1930s. No."

"Hey, if you don't want my help..."

"No!" Her voice became a bit frantic. "No, I'm sorry. Sarcasm is something they don't understand. I've been using it on them to keep them off guard. I think it's what let me hold on to my name as long as I-- Christina!" she cried. "Christina Margolin! That's my name!"

"Well," he allowed himself a small laugh, "it's a pleasure to meet you, Christina."

"Likewise, Bill. Again, sorry about the--"

"No, it's okay. I'M sorry. That was a dick thing to say." He wished she could see him smiling. He wanted right now to be reassuring. "Listen," he said. "Don't worry. We'll see each other through this. We're not alone now. We can--"

The door opened, and two giants walked in. One put his eye up to the jar Bill was in. Bill scrambled back in his jar, in awe. The giant's eye was twice his height! Bill heard it talk, but its voice was low and unbelievably slow.

"Any change?"

The doctor turned to his colleague and shook his head, looking away from the sight of Bill and Christina in two glass enclosed cells, scrambling around and calling to each other. "None," he said.

"They still think they're in giant specimen jars in some enormous lab somewhere?"

"I'm afraid so. And their memories are beginning to fade. They keep 'meeting' each other for the first time, over and over. This last time, she forgot her own name."

The other doctor nodded. "Terrible," he said. "And you say she actually gave this drug to him?"

"Yes," the first doctor answered, examining Christina's chart. "She thought it was LSD, which both have taken before. Apparently, it was his birthday."

"And the drug was not LSD?"

"No. I've never seen it before. It's obviously some new type of hallucinogen, but no one has any idea what it's made of." he turned to walk away from the windows. "If you'll excuse me, Doctor."

"Yes, yes of course."

When he was finally alone, the doctor took out his cell phone and made a call.

Bill pushed himself as far back as he could in the jar as the giant started growling into his hand. He calmed down a bit as the giant walked away. He heard Christina crying. He wanted to comfort her. He didn't know why, but he just felt the need to. He loved her. He didn't know how, but he knew he did.

"Yes," the doctor said, walking the opposite way down the hall from the first doctor, "it's working as designed. They'll be imprintable within a week. No, they're still completely delusional. That'll wear off a bit eventually. I'll have them flown to the lab as soon as I can manage it. I want the tests done immediately. We need to get this on the streets." He paused, listening to the person on the other end. He smiled.

"Yes, you can tell him his specimens will be arriving soon."

Monday, July 04, 2005


He paced the room, mindful of his leg. Damn Andre. Damn this whole miserable business.

They all thought they knew his reasons for doing what he did. And history... he shuddered to think of what history's judgment would be. But he didn't care. It had to be done. And clearly, he had been chosen to do it.

He had been shown a vision, it must have come from God; for who else can split the veil of time and show him of days yet to come? And what he saw chilled his blood.

He saw their grand experiment a hollow shell, the great democratic ideal simply rhetoric to justify tyranny. He saw a nation capable of greatness, too often led toward folly. He saw the end of all they sought to begin.

And he knew.

"We'll be no different," he whispered, glancing nervously around. Andre still hadn't arrived. Damn him! "As went the Roman republic, so shall ours. As we fight, so shall we in turn be fought against. No." He shook his head. "Better the Empire we know..."

He left the room. Andre wasn't coming. He feared the worst. The plan was lost, he was certain, but he would escape, he and his wife. And he would fight for what he'd fought against.

So the dream will stay pure, he would kill it before it can be born.

Friday, July 01, 2005

For Hope

Shaman climbed the steep cliff, never pausing, never struggling, always sure of his grip and his footing. He sang as he climbed. He sang to himself, and to the earth and to the air. He sang to the birds and beasts and to the world. He sang of a time long ago, before the settlers came. He sang of many proud peoples, of their culture and art and the grand cities they had built. He sang a piece of the song of the land, a melody that was old before the first man was born. His song became discordant when he sang of the settlers. They could not hear the song of the land, and so they failed to find their part to sing. And, in the long years since they came, the song faded, becoming so faint as to be nearly silent. As the generations passed, fewer and fewer knew the song, until now there was only him.

At the top of the cliff was a cave. He made his way there, and built a fire. Outside, the sun set, and night sounds filled the air. Shaman threw a bundle of sage onto the fire. He made intricate designs on the cave floor with sands of vibrant colors, and added to the numerous and ancient drawings on the cave walls. And he sang. He sang the ancient song, the first song. He sang the song of the land and, faintly at first, the land began to sing to him. The melody faltered, for the land was ill and did not know her name. But he sang the song to her again, and as time passed, she began to know herself once more. As he sang, he breathed magic back into the world.

Across the land, the earth began to change. Deserts flowered, rivers swelled, trees stretched to great heights. Across the land, the works of the settlers became undone. Roads cracked and split asunder, allowing new green to grow up from their ruins. The cities crumbled, and the great machines fell silent, choked with weeds and fouled with rust. And in the silence, the children of the settlers heard the song. And many among them began to sing. Those who did not, those who could not, knew they had lost something irretrievable. But the many who could, walked out into the land and knew her at last.

In his cave, Shaman smiled. The settlers' people and his people would be one people at last. The song would be sung again, and the land made whole. As he lay down for his final rest, he sang his song one last time. He sang for the People. He sang for the Land. He sang for Magic. He sang for Life.

He sang for Hope.