Friday, September 30, 2005

One Lazy Afternoon

He couldn't believe it.

The world was his, and his alone. He and his followers had overthrown every last government on the planet, down to the last third-world nation-state, and had made short work of even the vaunted US Armed Forces. Soon thereafter, he had executed his most trusted lieutenants, wanting no challengers to his new throne. With his amazing abilities, he built a glorious utopia, so that no human being went without, and all the people of the world were content. They simply had to live by his laws, and offer complete and total fealty unto him. Oh, there were a few rabble-rousers who preferred the freedom of the cesspool to a comfortable prison, or some such nonsense, but they were few and becoming fewer each day.

He snapped his fingers, and two of his wives approached his throne. The other four were tending to his growing brood of children, so there were only these two to sate his lusts at the moment. He was sure that was all he needed. A good romp with two nubile young women usually brightened his day considerably. He gestured for them to begin without him, and settled in to enjoy the show.

Later, sprawled on the cushions behind his throne, his two wives exhausted by his passions, he arrived at the conclusion that that hadn't helped at all. It was fun while it was happening, but he still felt kind of empty. He was still so damned bored.

An execution. That's what he needed. A good old-fashioned execution always put him to rights. He summoned his executioner, secure in the knowledge that this was all he'd need to feel happy again.

It wasn't. Again, while the poor slob he'd chosen to die had been entertaining enough to watch, the emptiness remained. And if the screams of a political dissident being tortured to death couldn't cheer him up, he didn't know what would.

Idly, he punched up the holographic display of the planet, absently flipping a few switches so as to launch a few warheads at randomly selected targets. Perhaps a bit of genocide would help him find his smile again. He watched the holographic mushroom clouds erupt out of the globe. New York, London, Cairo and Beijing were all so much ash now. At the thought of the millions who would die slowly from radiation poisoning, the corners of his mouth twitched upward a bit.

But still not so much as a smile. With a sigh, he flicked a few more switches and watched a few more cities burn. He pressed a couple of buttons and turned off the display. Well, that was ultimately fruitless. He was no less bored than he was before he started. He sighed again and hauled himself up out of his throne.

Maybe there was something on TV.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Her Treacherous Vanity

Janet stared at her reflection in the mirror, grimacing. She remembered how much she'd loved her full-length mirror. Over the years, it had often been her dearest friend. Now, each day brought a new betrayal to its surface. Where once it showed her a smooth unmarred face, it now displayed lines and crows feet. Streaks of grey ran through hair that was once black as night, her round firm breasts sagged toward pendulous and there were rolls of flesh around her waist that even the most arduous workout schedule failed to eradicate. Her age was beginning to show, despite her best efforts.

Oh, she was still a knockout. She still turned heads when she walked through the office in her tight sweaters and short skirts. Men still stared in disbelief when she told them how old she really was and the boys in the mailroom still found reasons to hang around her cubicle in the afternoons.

But things had begun to change. Janet's boss was no longer as distracted as he'd once been by the sight of her, and had begun to criticize her performance. The pudgy married man in the cubicle next to hers was starting to resent having to do much of her work for her, where once all he needed was a quick smile, a peek down her blouse and a flash of leg to keep him happy.

Essentially, her looks weren't working as well for her any more, and she was having to work much harder for her looks.

This could not stand. She refused to take a back seat to those frumpy working moms in her department, just because they actually produced results. She was prettier than them. She was sexier than them, and damn it, that meant she should get more than them. It wasn't fair. And worse, her boss had just hired some pert little college graduate to work in their department, and the mailroom boys had begun hanging around her instead.

Later that day, at the office, she stood glaring at the new girl and her pack of admirers. Admirers that once belonged to her.

"It's only going to get worse."

She started at the sound of the voice. Turning, she saw Doris, another of her co-workers in the department. Doris was approaching retirement, but she dressed like a 30-year-old cocktail waitress and somehow managed to pull it off. Doris never worked out, ate whatever she wanted and went out regularly with the young men in the office on Friday night bar crawls. She usually went home with at least one of them, and managed to keep all the right men in the department wrapped securely around her finger. She was 20 years Janet's senior, but didn't seem to have to struggle to hold on to what Janet was rapidly losing. Put simply, she was drop-dead gorgeous, and knew it.

Janet regarded Doris with a cool gaze. "What's going to get worse?"

Doris laughed, a short bark made rough by years of whiskey and cigarettes. "You know what I mean, honey. Don't pretend otherwise. We shouldn't start off with a lie."

Janet raised an eyebrow. She and Doris had never been friendly, but had maintained a working relationship of adversarial civility since Janet was hired 10 years ago. "What the hell are you talking about, Doris? What are we starting?"

Doris leaned in conspiratorially. "Only the most important friendship of your life, sweetheart," she said. She gestured at the young woman and her admirers. "Why don't you and I take the new girl out for drinks tonight, and I'll show you how I manage to look like this at 65."

Hours later, Doris, Janet and the new girl were seated at a table in some hole-in-the wall bar downtown. They'd been knocking drinks back all night. Janet weaved slightly in her seat, and was having a little trouble focusing. Clear speech was a bit of a challenge as well. Janet usually didn't drink this much, and her tolerance wasn't what it once was. Doris did not seem much the worse for her indulgence, but the new girl was barely conscious. Her head lolled on her shoulders, and she looked over at Janet with glassy half-closed eyes.

"Y-y-you guyssss..." she slurred, falling forward before jerking back into a semi-upright position. "You guyss're good guyssszz...goooood guyssszz...takin' me out...drinkin'...'sgood." She belched and smiled. "Drunk," she announced.

"Thass okay," Janet patted the new girl on the shoulder. "An' it was Doris' idea." She gestured clumsily over her shoulder at the smirking older woman.

Doris waved the comment away and smiled warmly at the new girl. "Tell me, Andrea," she said, "are you seeing anyone?"

Andrea shook her head, was clearly dizzy from the motion and slid down the back of the seat. Janet reached over and helped her up, the two of them giggling.

"Nah," Andrea said, leaning heavily on the table. "I jus' moved here an' I got no-no-nobody..." sadness passed across her face, and she slumped. "Ain' got nobody... nobody..."

Doris nodded, pressing the issue. "No family nearby? Friends?"

Andrea shook her head weakly as it made its way to the table. "No, I got no fam'ly 'rfriens...'mjus' 'lone..." Her head hit the table and she began to snore softly.

Doris nodded, satisfied. "Come on, Janet," she said, rising from her seat and throwing a wad of bills on the table. "Let's get Andrea out to the car. Can you manage, or should I come back for you?"

Janet shook her head. "No. 'Mokay." She stood, swayed, grabbed the table and righted herself. "Okay," she said with a grin, "Imma little lit. But I can help." Slowly, she made her way around the table and helped Doris lift Andrea out of the booth. The two older women dragged the younger out of bar. They each had one of her arms over their shoulders, and Andrea's limp form hung between them.

The exertion coupled with the cold night air served to revive Janet, and by the time they reached the car, she was feeling sober, even though she knew she wasn't. She'd regained enough sobriety to ask Doris if she was okay to drive.

"Oh, don't worry about me, honey," Doris said as she piled Andrea into the back seat. The night air had done nothing to revive the younger woman. Doris shut the back door and opened the driver door. "It'll take a good deal more than that to make me drunk. Now, come on. It's time I let you in on my little secret." She got in and reached over to unlock the passenger door. Janet got in and Doris drove off toward her house.

Janet dozed slightly during the drive, and was a little disoriented when she woke in front of Doris' house. Doris was pulling Andrea out of the back seat. "Come give me a hand with her," she said, noticing Janet was awake.

Janet did as she was told, the grogginess still wearing off. "Why don't we just take her home?"

Doris laughed and began carrying Andrea toward her house. "You'll see," was all she said.

Janet certainly saw. She saw more than she ever could have expected. She helped Doris carry Andrea into the house and the older woman led them to a small room at the end of a long hall. The room was windowless and lit entirely by candles. Janet could see strange symbols drawn on the walls and floor, along with an odd geometric shape that took up most of the floor.

Doris let go of Andrea and the younger woman slid out of Janet's grasp to the floor, where she lay in a crumpled heap. She still snored softly, and showed no sign of waking. Janet started to back away as Doris dragged a large cast iron tub into the center of the room.

"Doris, what the hell is this?" There was no slur in Janet's voice now. Fear had burned the fog from her brain, and she made her way slowly to the door.

"This," Doris gestured to include the room, the tub, Andrea's unconscious form and, to Janet's consternation, Janet herself, "is the answer to your prayers, darling." She laughed again, fixing Janet with a compelling stare. "Look at me, Janet. I'm 65 years old. Do you honestly think I look like this naturally? Hell, screw naturally. The best plastic surgeon money can buy couldn't make me look this good." She returned to her efforts with the tub. "Come help me with this," she said.

Much to her own surprise, Janet found herself doing just that. Every sensible impulse was screaming for Janet to run from the house and never look back, or to call the police. But she didn't. Because clearly Doris had something going for her, and for some reason, she wanted to share it with Janet. It looked like the only one who was going to suffer from it would be Andrea, and Janet didn't even like her anyway. But thinking of Andrea prompted a question.

"What's wrong with her?" Janet asked once the tub had been moved to the center of the geometric shape. "She didn't drink any more than I did, and I have no tolerance any more. Why is she still out cold?"

Doris went to Andrea, lifting her and dragging her over to the tub. She held the young woman's head over the tub by a fistfull of hair. Andrea's mouth hung open and she was drooling somewhat. Doris leaned her head over the tub as she spoke to Janet. "I drugged her last drink," she said.

"I didn't notice," Janet said.

Doris smiled. "No one ever does." She gestured toward a chest of drawers with a jerk of her head. "Top drawer. Grab the knife."

Janet found herself walking over and getting the knife from the drawer. She was handing it to Doris before she even realized what she was doing. Doris took it, muttered a string of words Janet couldn't understand, then slit Andrea's throat. Blood gushed from the wound and began filling the tub. Janet thought she should feel sick, but she didn't. She felt excited. Almost... aroused.

With an impressive display of strength, Doris hoisted Andrea's upper body over the edge of the tub, so she was hanging down into it. Leaning over, Doris slashed each of the younger woman's wrists, which also began to empty into the tub.

Later, once Andrea had been drained of blood, Doris led Janet back to the windowless room. In the time it had taken Andrea's blood to drain, Doris had explained the procedure to Janet. Thanks to the symbols drawn around the room, the tub and the knife, along with the spells Doris chanted, drinking Andrea's blood would restore the older women's youth and beauty. The effects of a single goblet full of blood would last for one year, then a second goblet would need to be drunk. Doris had just used up the last of the blood from her previous victim, killed 15 years prior. The older woman figured the two of them could get at least 10 years from Andrea before needing to kill again.

Doris took an ornate goblet from a case atop the chest of drawers and filled it with blood from the tub. She drank deep, filled it again, then passed it to Janet. Janet looked at it with hesitation. The smell of copper was overwhelming. With a shrug, she drank. It tasted like she had a mouthful of pennies. Fortunately, she reasoned, she would only have to go through it once a year.

Doris drove Janet home, assuring her all the way there that no one would ever find Andrea's body, let alone connect it to the two of them. Janet accepted the assurances and made her way inside where she quickly fell into a deep sleep.

When she woke, she found herself with the body of a 20 year old. Her face was smooth, her belly flat, there was no grey in her hair and her breasts were once again where she wanted them. She felt an energy and vitality she'd thought lost forever and a powerful lust that threatened to overwhelm her.

"Yeah, I forgot to mention that," Doris told her when Janet mentioned it at the office. "It's a side-effect of the process. Why don't you come out to the bar with me and the guys from the mailroom tonight. I'll give you first pick when we bring them back to my house."

The rest of Janet's day was torture. She couldn't focus on anything, and her hands kept roaming over her tight young body. She was so preoccupied with her own desire, she didn't even think to be nervous when her boss asked if she'd seen Andrea.

"Um, no," she said, running her finger absently along her lips. "I haven't seen her all day. What did you need her for?"

The boss looked Janet up and down, smiling appreciatively. "Nothing you can't handle," he said absently. As she was leaving he said, "Listen, Janet, I don't think we're paying you enough. How would you feel about a 10 percent raise?"

"Well," she purred, leaning seductively against the doorframe, "I certainly wouldn't turn it down." She smiled at him and walked away. There were no further questions about Andrea after that.

Late that night, in one of Doris' spare bedrooms, Janet lay sprawled across a bed, her sweaty limbs tangled with those of her two lovers. She smiled, satisfied, shoving both men to the floor before rolling over and going to sleep.

Many similar nights followed, and she eventually moved into Doris' house as she was spending so much of her time there anyway. She began spending more and more of her time with Doris, and the men they brought home, and her friends and family saw progressively less of her. Eventually, they wrote her off altogether. It was for the best. It would have been difficult to explain how a woman who was pushing 50 managed to look like a college undergraduate.

Then, a year after her first goblet of blood, she and Doris met in the windowless room. Andrea's blood had been refrigerated, and her body long since disposed of. In place of the tub, a small camp stove sat in the center of the geometric shape.

"What's the stove for?" Janet asked as she accepted her goblet of blood.

"The next stage," Doris explained, indicating that Janet should drink. When Janet did, she continued. "Our youth and beauty depends on regular infusions of Andrea's blood. Eventually, we'll run out, and we'll have to kill someone else. I'm concerned that, sooner or later, we'll get caught."

"Don' you have someone t'dispaz...dispo...dis-dis..." Janet blinked, her eyes blurring. She didn't think she'd had that much to drink at the bar that night.

"I do have people to dispose of the bodies," Doris nodded. "And they're completely loyal to me. But, eventually, simple human error is going to lead the police to my door. So, I need a more permanent solution."

"Perm...puh...p..." Janet's mouth went slack and her eyelids grew increasingly heavy. Doris was a blur as her vision swam and the room tilted. Doris caught the goblet as it slipped from Janet's grasp, then caught Janet as she slid out of her chair.

"The books I taught myself from tell of a procedure to make this permanent. A single treatment that will give me youth, beauty and eternal life." She lay Janet's body gently down on the floor and her words began to fade in an out of Janet's awareness as consciousness dimmed. "I needed someone else like me, you understand. Someone who'd taken the blood treatment. Unfortunately for you, that means..."

Janet felt the room spin pleasantly as darkness washed over her. As from a great distance, Doris' final words came to her and she learned her fate. Doris was going to chop off her head. Then she would strip the flesh from Janet's skull, hollow it out and bake her heart in it. Once Doris had eaten her heart, she would never again need the blood treatment. There was a perfunctory apology, then the suggestion that Janet would have done the same in Doris' position.

As her last tenuous connection to the world slipped away, Janet was forced to agree. Her very last thought was a fervent wish that she'd thought of this first.

Then she thought nothing at all.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Into His Despair Shall Come Joy

He sat on the edge of Heaven, looking down upon Creation, specifically, the planet Earth. He listened to her people, and knew despair.

"Why do you weep, my Prince?" He heard Gabriel behind him, and quickly wiped his tears on his sleeve.

"Oh. Uhh, no. No, I wasn't crying."

Gabriel came and sat next to Jesus, placing a friendly hand on the young messiah's shoulder. He'd always been fond of God's boy, and the lad had come to look on Gabriel as something of a favorite uncle. They'd talked frequently when Jesus was alive, and even more so after he died.

"Jesus," he said with a smile. "You are a horrible liar, for good reason." He put his arm around the boy, giving him a quick squeeze before removing his hand. "There is no shame in weeping for them. I have been known to do so myself."

Jesus bowed his head, sniffling. "I know. And I know they bring so much of it on themselves. But... their prayers... I..."

Gabriel nodded, understanding. "You hear them, and you want to answer them. You want to make it all right for them."

"I do," Jesus whispered, his knees up around his chin.

"You tried that once before."

Jesus sighed, weary. "And they killed me for it, I know." He turned to Gabriel. "I'd like to think they've learned something since then."

"I'd like to think so too," Gabriel shook his head. "But we both know they haven't."

"Then, what do we do?"

Gabriel stood, motioning for Jesus to do the same. "What we have always done. What your father has done from the very beginning. Give them opportunities to be great. To be kind. Give them the chance to love each other, and to find salvation in their own hearts."

"Will they?" Jesus looked down over his shoulder at the blue-green world turning below him.

Gabriel laughed. "There are always some that do. And from them we draw our hope. Now come," he clapped the young demi-god on the shoulder. "You feel up for a game of basketball? I got everyone together."

A small smile worked its way across Jesus' face. "Yeah," he said. "Okay."

"There's a lad."

The angel and the messiah walked back toward Heaven. "One thing, though," Gabriel said as they walked. "I get Moses this time. That man is a demon on the court."

"Oh great," Jesus said. "Who do I get then?"

"You can take Mohammed," Gabriel offered.

"Good," Jesus replied. "And I get Buddha, too. But you have to take Lao Tzu."

"Awww, no fair! He sucks worse than Gandhi!"

Jesus rolled his eyes and laughed. "Fine, you big crybaby. If it'll make you feel better, I'll take Lennon too."

Gabriel smiled to see his young friend laughing. "As a matter of fact," he said, "that does make me feel better. Thank you, my Lord."

"Yeah yeah," Jesus brushed off the title as they walked on.

It was a great game, all told. In the end, Jesus' team won by 4 points, and even Lao Tzu scored a basket.

Monday, September 19, 2005

She Waits for Him

It was cold, but she didn't mind. She was used to the cold, frankly, what with all the time she spent in this place. Sometimes she thought about bringing a chair and a book, to make the waiting go quicker, but she felt kind of silly. If anyone saw her...

She sighed. Her friends all told her to just give up on him. They said it wasn't healthy, always waiting on him like this. But they didn't understand. They didn't understand how much she loved him, how much he loved her. Yes, he'd changed over the years, but so had she. There were a few extra lines on her face, she'd gained a few extra pounds and a few extra inches around her middle. He never complained though, so how could she complain about him? No, her friends would never understand why she waited, or how she could love him as she did.

She wrapped her arms around herself, leaning back against a tree and smiling. She was remembering the day she first met him. It had been a warm summer day, and he had come upon her while she was swimming in the brook near her grandfather's farm. He surprised her, and then asked to join her. They'd spent the whole day swimming together, then had dinner that evening, and that night... well, she usually wasn't that sort of girl, but she'd known even then that he was the one. That there would never be another for her but him.

They shared so much. From the joy of him landing his dream job, to the sorrow of her father's sudden death. From the triumph of her successful business venture to the tragedy of his terrible accident, they shared everything. Loyalty, dedication, commitment. These were the things a solid relationship was based on. So few people understood that these days, especially her friends. She would show them, though. They would see what it was that made him so special. They would see what made him worth waiting for.

A sound made her look down towards the grave at her feet. The earth shifted and fell away, revealing two grasping rotted hands. She could barely contain herself as she watched him claw his way out of the ground. When he'd pulled himself fully out of his grave, she rushed into his decaying arms, kissing him passionately. His lips were mostly gone, but he was still the best kisser she'd ever known. And once she verified that there was still one thing that hadn't rotted away, she smiled wider, knowing she was in for one hell of a night.

A rough guttural moan rattled up out of his open mouth. She grinned and nodded. She was getting ahead of herself. Before they could have their fun, he had to eat. She took him by the skeletal hand and led him into the woods, where she'd tied her best friend to a tree.

She told her friends they'd see what made him so special. One at a time, they'd all see.

Right before he ate their brains.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Force of His Will

The stars sang to him.

He mused over the fact that most people didn't really understand that. Most people, even his closest friends, did not have a true understanding of just how his powers worked. At best, they believed he used a magic ring to make green stuff out of willpower.

He chuckled, spinning gracefully through the glittering vacuum to avoid a small asteroid field. What did that even mean, "make green stuff out of willpower"? It meant nothing. It was a false assumption made after watching him use his powers.

The ring was a lens, a means by which he could focus the Song of Creation into pure malleable energy. With his "magic" ring, he reshaped the very fabric of reality itself. Of course, it wasn't easy. The universe has a will of its own, so the will of the ring-bearers must at least be equal in strength.

And his most definitely was. He had proved as much on countless occasions. Since the day a dying alien gave him the greatest power in the cosmos, he had been proving that strength.

But now he wondered, for the first time, if his will was equal to the task before him.

He was among the last of the mighty ring bearers, remnants of the once-vast Cosmic Order of the Ring. The Custodians of the Cosmos, the mysterious ancient aliens who crafted the first rings in the early days of a young universe, had vanished. The cataclysm that followed claimed the lives of many ring bearers, until only he and a few others were left. Far too few to fulfill their duties as galactic guardians. And the universe tumbled into chaos, galactic civilizations falling, star-spanning empires splintering as lawlessness spread unchecked throughout the infinite reaches of space.

So he and the others had abandoned a duty that was increasingly becoming an exercise in futility. Instead, they set out in search of people to replenish their ranks; to find those with the strength of will and purity of spirit to wield a ring of power. He had found a few in his travels thus far. He had equipped them with rings, taught them the rudimentary skills they needed to use them and sent them back to the Custodians' homeworld, where they would meditate on the Song of Creation until they knew its melodies and harmonies, and could write their own verses at will. When they were ready, they too would take up the search for others, and when enough ring bearers had been found, the Cosmic Order of the Ring would return to bring justice to a desperate universe.

But he had begun to despair. It had taken untold millennia for the Custodians to build the Order initially. Though the rings extended the bearers' life-spans considerably, they were not immortal. Eventually those who wielded the rings of power would die, and he feared none would rise to take their place.

He thought then of days long past, of a time soon after he'd been given his ring, when he still lived on his homeworld, and shared in the adventures of his colorfully costumed colleagues. He had been new to the power then, and believed nothing to be impossible with sufficient application of will.

But then his friends had started dying, losing their powers or simply disappearing altogether. His homeworld grew increasingly grim and dark, and eventually so followed the universe at large until all hope seemed gone and life was mired in tragedy and misery. He had not felt joy in over a century, and he despaired of ever feeling it again.

A strange harmonic entered the Song of Creation then, and he felt himself drawn to a tiny planet orbiting a white dwarf star. He landed, and was immediately put at ease. Decades of weariness and trial fell from his shoulders and his spirit brightened. There, on that insignificant planet, far out in the uncharted reaches of space, the Custodians of the Cosmos still lived.

"Greetings, ring-bearer of Earth," they said with one voice. "We are not surprised it was you who found us. Of all who have wielded the rings of power, you are the greatest."

"You do me honor, Masters," he bowed. Then, he looked up, a desperate plea in his eyes. "Will you return with me? Will you take up your place in the universe, quelling the storm of horror and chaos that spreads like a cancer across infinity?"

There was a long silence.

Then, "We will not."

He was taken aback. "But..."

"You will."

He was dumbfounded. "Masters?"

They made a negative gesture. "No. We are not your masters. Not any longer. We have nothing left to teach you, no further wisdom to share."

"I... I don't understand."

"You do," they replied, smiling. "Or you would not be ready for the task which lies before you." One of them held out its hand. "Remove your ring," they said.

He did as requested, handing it over with some reluctance. He could not remember the last time it had left his hand.

But then, he noticed something odd. The stars still sang to him. He could still hear them, even without the ring. He felt himself become part of the Song. He did not try to bend the Song to his will, or to reshape his local reality to suit his needs. Instead, he joined the Song, adding his will to that of the universe until the Song of Creation echoed around him in a glorious fanfare. He knew then what his task was, what he was to become. The rings were merely tests designed to reveal the one being capable of becoming what he was.

He opened himself to the Song, letting it fill him, until infinity was at his fingertips.

Then God looked out over Creation, and worked his will upon it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

His Two Dads

Joseph sat out behind his home, looking up at the stars. She'd just told him. Just told him about the child. But he never lay with her, so his wife was clearly an adulteress.

But, the thing of it was, she swore she was still a virgin. So much so, and with such conviction, he'd taken her to those who knew the details of such things and had it confirmed for him that it was so. He'd endured much derision and mockery when word of THAT got around.

But there was still the matter of the child.

So he was out looking up at the stars, pondering the mystery of his pregnant virgin wife, when God came to see him.


Joseph looked around, startled. "Who...?"

"You know me, Joseph."

Joseph shook his head. "No. No, that just can't be."

"Yes it can, and it is." God heaved a sigh that filled the heavens. Always with these people he had to go through this. Did he need to set something on fire EVERY time he showed up?

Joseph fell to his knees and bowed his head in prayer. "O' Lord, I am not--"

"Right. Great. Thanks." God's impatience blotted the light of the sun, and distant thunder cracked in annoyance. "Listen, I wanted to come around and clear something up."

"Clear..." Joseph raised an eyebrow.

"The thing with Mary. The whole pregnant with no sex situation she finds herself in."

"Yes! I've found it most perplexing, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how--" Realization dawned. "Ohhhhh."

"There we go. Get it now?"

Joseph considered this news. "So, wait. My wife is pregnant with your child?"

"My son, actually, but yes. And don't worry, nothing untoward went on. I'm not really into that... at least not, you know, with...mortals."

Joseph nodded, dumbfounded. He grabbed around behind him for a chair, but ended up on the ground. "But... but... but..."

"But why? Simple. I want my son to be half human, to be someone like me, who can learn to be someone like you." There was a pause. Clouds raced across the sky, and Joseph fancied he was watching God's thoughts chase one another through his mind.

"Very poetic, Joseph. And somewhat apt. But, to finish answering your question, I chose Mary because she seems to have all the qualities I like best in you people. And if my son is going to be half human, I want him to come from someone worthwhile."

Joseph managed a short bow. "That's very kind of you."

"And then there's you."

"M-me, Lord?"

"Yes. Well, I'm not going to go through all this trouble finding the ideal mother for my child if he's only going to be raised by a complete lout. Hence, you."

Joseph bowed again, lower this time. "You honor me, Lord. I... I don't..."

"Just take care of my son."

And then Joseph was alone once more, looking up at the stars. And from that night on, they would never look the same to him again.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Martyr Contingency

He sat, slumped, in the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office. They'd need to find someone to fill this chair. Not the Vice President, of course. They'd get themselves a nice young handsome man, someone who did what he was told. Though, maybe the next one shouldn't be a complete idiot. That had gotten unmanageable after a while. But they couldn't use the Vice President. They'd cite "health reasons". He snorted, smirking. Not too far from the truth, and the old man had work to do before the end. He couldn't very well do it while having to get up and talk to the idiot people. No, they'd find someone else.

He stood up, considering turning on the TV. It wouldn't have made the news yet. It was done, that he knew, but it wasn't time yet for the people to know. They'd release it with just enough time for the evening news, but not enough time for a bunch of probing questions. There had been vague rumors floating around the Internet for a few hours, but no real news. That would change when he was good and ready. He set the remote down. Not time yet.

There were some who'd been wary of the idea. They thought it was too much. Too...severe. Maybe it was. But with the war going the way it was, and the total cockup of that stupid disaster... hell, things had been going downhill for a while, but that really pushed it over the edge. So, yeah. It was severe. Maybe even a bit much. But he didn't see much other way out of this. He had to think of the party. He had to consider the agenda.

Their boy was a good sport about it though. More so than he'd thought. He figured there would be resistance, a refusal at first, maybe even some crying. But no. He'd forgotten how happy the boy was when he was able to act like a hero, when he got to fly in a real jet and everything. Man, speaking of cock-ups. They didn't get half the mileage out of that one that they should have. Maybe that had been their first warning. At any rate, the boy was just excited he'd get to shoot real guns at some real Arabs. He wasn't thinking about the bomb they'd have strapped to one of the "terrorists". By the end of their conversation, he'd forgotten that unpleasant detail altogether. The boy was excellent at forgetting unpleasant details.

He paced the room a bit, thinking. He'd run some preliminary numbers, and he knew they'd see a solid bounce in the immediate aftermath. The opposition and the media would be quiet out of respect, and they'd just craft the legend. Oh sure, a couple of bloggers and that schmuck on Comedy Central might make some noise, but he was confident the talking points would drown them out. The kid in the press room did great indignant outrage, so he'd have no trouble shooting down any unhelpful questions.

He smiled. Death was always handy. Particularly if it's one big death, rather than a whole mess of little people. Suburban voters tend to get worked up when the little people die en mass. They don't seem to care much more about them in the day-to-day than he does, but kill a whole bunch of them, and damn do the middle class get riled.

But one death? One big death? Well, that just shuts them right the hell up.

So that's what they'd get. One big death to lament and fetishize and film retrospectives over. Then he and his gang could get back to work. The old man wanted to instate martial law, but he wasn't sure that was a good idea. This would get the media back in their pocket, and they'd keep the fodder in line. Better they had the assumption of freedom, than to give them something to fight for by taking it away.

He sighed. He had to admit, he was going to miss the boy. That guy was a hell of a lot of fun to hang around with. But, nothing for it now but to turn on the TV and watch their fortunes turn.

There was a click, and a vapid young-ish blonde anchorwoman was attempting to emote for the camera. "Tragedy struck aboard Air Force One today in a scene officials are calling 'something out of a Harrison Ford movie'." She paused. "Unfortunately, this story...does NOT have a Hollywood ending."

He smiled and switched to another channel. It was on all of them, and they were all striking the same tone, even using the "Hollywood ending" line he'd written.

His smile only grew the more he saw of the smoking wreckage of the plane, juxtaposed with pictures of his boy.

It was times like this that made his job worth doing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Last Hope

The Captain sat in her high seat overlooking the bridge of her ship. They were six hours out from Earth's solar system, returning from a mission that took half her life to accomplish. She hoped they weren't too late.

The Earth was in dire straits, which had likely gotten worse in the decades her ship had been gone. The global ecosystem was failing, and the planet would not be capable of supporting human life much longer. Fortunately, in the year prior to the start of their mission, astronomers had found what they believed to be the closest habitable planet to Earth. An unprecedented international effort was undertaken then, and when it was finished, the very first long-range starship had been constructed. It was named the ISS Last Hope, and it had been home to Captain Susan Dell and her crew for the last 30 years.

Their mission had been simple: travel at best possible speed to the planet, rendezvous with the probe that had been launched the previous year and deposit an exploration team on the surface. The exploration team, using data gathered from the probe, would find the ideal location for and begin construction of the first extraterrestrial Earth colony. They would be left behind by the Last Hope to perform their mission, while Captain Dell and her crew returned to Earth to report on the planet, and provide navigation charts for the massive colonial ark that should have been constructed over the past 3 decades.

She ran her fingers through her close-cropped silver hair. It had been dark-brown and much longer when the mission began. She was 30-years-old then, the youngest captain in the Space Forces, chosen for her youth as much as her accomplishments, which had been many. All of her crew had been young, so young that she was the eldest among them. They'd had to be. The mission had been calculated to take at least 25 years, and the crew would need to be fit to see it through to the end.

But now they were old, the youngest of them well into their 50s. She had turned 60 last week, and each line on her face and silver strand in her hair had been hard-earned. She toyed with the patch over her left eye, scratching at the deep scar that ran under it from her hairline to her chin. She'd lost more than an eye and the best years of her life to this mission. She'd lost crew. She'd lost friends. She'd lost her husband.

Commander Robert Dell had been First Officer and the ship's Pilot. He was a roguish, cocky sort of fellow, typical of the best star pilots, but he had a warmth and humor that never failed to lift the mood of the ship. No matter how grim their situation, Robert had always been ready with a joke or antic to bring a smile to the faces of the crew. His quick thinking and peerless ability as a pilot had also served them well, especially when they came upon the debris of a ruined world and the vicious aliens that had destroyed it. Thanks to Robert's flying, and the valiant efforts of the crew, the ISS Last Hope escaped danger that day and brought a roving band of genocidal maniacs to justice. That is to say, the ship's Gunner had blasted every last one of them to vapor.

But it was the planet that had taken her husband from her. And her eye.

She shuddered and clenched her remaining eye shut. The memory was 15-years-old, but it still held her fast in its grip, and each year it took a little more from her. She remembered the walk through an alien forest, the strange smells, the odd sounds and the comfortable bed of moss cradled in the roots of a massive tree where they stole some blessed time alone. Then she remembered the crashing in the brush, the horrible roar and the searing pain across her face.

She remembered little after that, save waking up in their camp with a cold empty void in her heart where her husband used to be. Part of her wanted to die there on that planet, to lay her body down in the ground beside his and rot, as her soul would rot without him.

But she couldn't. She had her crew. Her ship. And The Mission.

The Mission. Robert had given his life for it, and she would complete it. Robert had given his life to save the people of Earth, and she could do no less than live her life for the same purpose.

So they left. They left behind a team of scientists, engineers and soldiers to begin the colony, to make this new world ready for the refugees of the old. She raised her Gunner, Lieutenant Carry, to First Officer, giving her the rank of Commander, and promoted a promising young ensign to the rank of Lieutenant so he could fill the vacant Pilot's chair.

She threw herself into their mission, pushing ship and crew to their limits and beyond to get home in time to save their people. No matter what the obstacle: asteroids, space-bourne viruses, pirates or a race of sentient killer robots, Captain Dell always found a way past, around or through it. She stayed focused on the mission, and the mission kept her sane.

And now they were approaching the outskirts of their solar system. They would be home soon. Their mission would be complete, and the people of the Earth would be saved. She heaved a sigh. Perhaps she would return with the colony ship, to end her days on the world that had ended her life.

She was roused from that thought by the beeping of the intercom. It was the ship's operations officer, Lieutenant Cohen.


"Go ahead, Lieutenant."

"Captain, I'm having trouble raising Lunar Station on comms. We're close enough now, we should have no trouble reaching them."

Something cold slithered up Captain Dell's spine. Were they too late? Had the end come while they were gone? Could they be the only ones left?

She shook her head. Such thoughts would lead to madness. There was another explanation. There had to be.

"Lieutenant, see if you can raise Central Command on Earth. Perhaps they're between shifts on Lunar Station."

"Aye, Captain."

When they finally reached Central Command, several hours later, the crew of the Last Hope received a brutal shock.

"Um, listen," a low-level functionary of the recently formed Federated Nations of the United Earth said through the comm channel, "we, uh, kinda figured on you people not making it back, so uh..." he cleared his throat, "we, um, made other arrangements."

"Other arrangements?" Captain Dell tried hard to keep her temper in check. "Are you kidding me, boy?" She didn't succeed. "I didn't pull my crew through decades of misery and danger just to be blown off by some child in a uniform." Her voice cut across the comm channel with an edge of steel. "Why am I even still talking to you? Find someone worth my time."

Finally, after several more lower functionaries, officials and ministers, she was connected to the Chief Executive of the Federated Nations. What she told Captain Dell and the crew of the Last Hope was chilling.

"Well," the younger woman said, leaning back in her plush seat behind a wide desk, "after thinking it over, we realized it wasn't the planet that was the problem, but all the damn people living on it." She paused to light a thin cigar. "So," she said, puffing away, "we killed them." She laughed at the shocked look on Captain Dell's face. "Oh, not everyone, obviously," the Chief executive said with a chuckle. "We kept the rich, the powerful, the elite. We kept a bunch of the poor around to work for us, of course. But we wiped out the middle class. Not good for much except bitching and moaning anyway. Anything that needed doing could be done by a machine, or some poor slob willing to work for a bottle of water and a handful of dried meat." She waved her hand dismissively. "So, yeah. Thanks for everything, but, y'know, we're fine."

"Fine?!"Lieutenant Cohen blurted out. "You're not fine! Yes, you may have slowed the depletion of your resources by a few years, but you've done nothing to reverse the damage to the ecosystem! If you want future generations to have a chance at survival, you still need to--"

"What part of fuck off," the Chief Executive growled, "do you people not understand?"

The line went dead.

There was silence on the bridge of the ship.

Captain Dell cleared her throat.

"Lieutenant Cohen."

"Yes, Captain."

"Does this ship have enough power to return to the new planet?"

"Of course, Captain."

"Even allowing for landing on the planet, taking on passengers and supplies and then taking off again?"

"Um... yes. But, Captain--"

"Good. I want you to do a long-range scan of the planet and locate any camps or slums where these laborers of theirs might be living. Then contact Major Thomas and have him prep his troops for a rescue mission. Pilot, bring us into a fast approach. Commander Carry," the captain said, turning to her First Officer.

"Yes, Captain."

"Once we're in range, I want you to target the source of that transmission and launch half our compliment of warheads."

"Aye, Captain."

Captain Dell walked up to her seat above the bridge. "Pilot, once that is done, I want you to coordinate with Lieutenant Cohen and get us to those people as quickly as possible. Once Major Thomas and the evacuees are aboard, set a course for the new planet and get us there, best possible speed."

"Aye, Captain."

She settled into her chair to wait. It shouldn't take long. She would save the people of this planet. She would bring them home.

She would fulfill her mission.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Goddess in a Short Skirt

“Hey,” Charles said. “Dig the chick doing the schoolgirl thing.”

He looked, even though he didn’t generally go in for the schoolgirl look. Then he saw her.

“That’s no schoolgirl act,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” Charles smacked his arm. “She’s got the white shirt, the socks, and dude… the skirt. Come on, look at that skirt!”

Oh, he was looking. But she still wasn’t a schoolgirl. She was what the schoolgirl mystique aspired to be. She was what all those skinny girls in fake school uniforms were trying to be when they tried on the look. She was a woman who knew what men wanted, and was prepared to make them earn it. A woman who could wear a short skirt, and not make men think of Catholic girls half their age. She was a dying breed, and she’d come there for him.

She stood behind the sofa, her hands pressing against it, her back to the door. She knew he could see her from where he was. She also knew he wasn’t coming any closer.

But she knew he wanted to.

And she knew just how much her skirt was showing him. She felt his gaze move up her legs, felt them linger on her thighs, drinking in her luscious curves before focusing on that tantalizing glimpse she’d let him have.

She felt his desire from across the other room, felt it through the throng of partygoers and their trivial muted lusts, felt it pulsing in waves of heat that flowed over her body.

She would bring him to her. It was the only way he could have her; the only way any man could have her.

She gave him a better look. Her posture and the view served to issue him an invitation. She knew he wanted her, and she wanted him. With a flick of her skirt, she sent her own desire back to him. It was a thick scent of August nights and close quarters, a damp musk that filled his senses and made him drunk with his need for her. He stared at her, and the vision of perfection she offered him. He wanted her, ached for her, but could not bring himself to go to her. She was a Goddess, a living work of art. A woman like her was surely beyond his mortal grasp.

She could still feel his eyes on her. He was worshipping her: very inch of her, every perfect curve. Others watched her now too. A group of skinny girls in tank tops and miniskirts left quietly. They knew they’d make no conquests here tonight. A drunk approached, reaching a hand out toward her ass. At a single word from her, his hand stopped and his face went pale. The drunk left quickly, and for the rest of his life could only be aroused by the memory of her.

No others approached. Not even the one she wanted. He was running out of time. Her offer would expire soon, and she would leave alone if need be. Only the strongest of men could satisfy her. Only the boldest need try. She thought he might be both, but he was proving to be neither.

She decided to give him an even better look, an even more tantalizing glimpse. She spoke in a breathy whisper that carried across the crowded party to his ears alone.

“What are you waiting for?”

She showed him again. Showed him what he could have, where she wanted to feel him. His desire was a physical presence in the room. It wrapped itself around her and penetrated her. She felt his lust inside her, and she knew he could feel hers, reaching out to him and grabbing hold, daring him to come to her, leading him to her.

But still he stood, unmoving, a forgotten beer getting warm in his trembling hand.

She stood straight, demanding the attention of those few who hadn’t given it. Every eye was on her, tracing the luscious curve of one perfect leg up under the hem of her skirt.

They all worshipped her now, every one of them, waves of lust buffeting her from every corner of the room. But she would have none of them, save him. She spoke again, once more whispering words for him alone.

“Here I am,” she said, her voice a soft purr with a hint of steel. “I am yours for the taking, if you have the will to take me. Take me,” she promised, “and you will feel passion you never dreamed possible.”

And yet he remained still, unmoving. He took a nervous sip of his beer, wishing for the courage he knew he didn’t possess.

And then it was too late. She pulled on her discarded panties and pulled down the hem of her skirt, giving him one last look at the glory that could have been his.

“You had your chance,” she said, this time loud enough for all to hear. She walked away, tossing a casual taunt over her shoulder as she sauntered out of the party.

“I came here seeking a man, but found a house full of boys.”

And then she was gone.

He ran from the house, finally jolted into motion by fear and regret, but she was nowhere to be found. She was gone from his life forever, and would haunt his every sexual encounter until the day he died.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Traitor

Jonah Atkins walked a slow circle around his lavish, well-appointed office. He stopped at the bar, pouring himself a glass of scotch, making sure the wine bottle was handy. It was an ancient-looking decanter, well-suited to the bit of theater he used it for. He had actually purchased the thing at a yard sale for a quarter almost five years ago. It didn't matter, though. They were always awestruck by it, as they were by his office. And once they'd drunk from it...well... He chuckled, taking a small sip of his drink.

The intercom buzzed. "Sir?"

"Yes, Jennifer," he replied.

The voice on the other end was uncertain. That was fine. Jennifer had been one of his many "students", and uncertainty was at the core of their conditioning. He expected them to turn to him for guidance in all things, which is why so many ended up working for him... in some fashion or another.

"Sir, there is a... Dana here to see you."

"Last name?"

"She won't say, sir."

"Does she have an appointment?"

A hesitation. "No, sir. But she insists on seeing you. I was going to call security, but wanted to check with you first."

He smiled. "Good girl. Always check with me first. And don't worry about this 'Dana'. I have a feeling I know what this is about. Make her wait another few minutes, then send her in."

"Yes sir," came the relieved response. "Thank you, sir."

The intercom clicked off. He crossed back to the bar, bringing the wine bottle to a small table in the far corner of his office. Oh, he definitely knew what this was about. Some out-of-town "high priestess" had gathered herself a coven, and learned of his school. Full of self-righteous empowerment and a crusader's zeal, she was no doubt here to "shut him down". He laughed, tossing a few pillows onto the plush couches near the small table in the corner. He'd made no friends in the larger pagan community since he rose to power. There was considerable anger at what many considered the "branding" of their faith.

He'd enjoyed a great deal of financial success selling pagan books, self-help manuals and pre-packaged ritual kits. His tax-exempt "Church of the Great Goddess" was the fastest-growing alternative religious organization in the country, surpassing even Scientology. Many pagans were wary of his commercial success, and the fact that he was the only male member of his church. The tendency for members of the church to break all ties to home and family caused some concerns among lawmakers, more than one had used the word "cult", but he usually managed to settle such concerns over a glass of wine.

He lifted the bottle, smiling as he swirled the blood red liquid around. The wine was key, of course. Without it, the hypnotic suggestions would not have taken as strong a hold, and his wealthier students would have been far less inclined to open their bank accounts to him. He also would have had a much tougher time convincing those two senators that his church was on the level. He put the bottle back down on the table, turning toward the door as it opened.

To say the woman who entered was beautiful was akin to suggesting it might be warm on the surface of the sun. This woman defined beauty, and negated all other applications of the term. The hem of her long black dress brushed the tops of her bare feet as she glided across the carpeted floor. She was tall, with wide hips and round full breasts. Her hair fell in dark waves around a face that was at once palest white and a deep dark brown. Her features seemed vaguely Asian, except when they didn't. To look in her eyes was to stare into infinity, and when she smiled, it was as though the sun itself had come to his office to shine for him alone. Her hair glittered when she moved, and he could have sworn he saw stars among her thick black tresses.

Without waiting for his leave, she sat down on one of the couches, gesturing for him to do the same. He did so, before remembering that he was supposed to be in control. He quickly stood, attempting to assert his dominance.

"You must be Dana." He tried to keep the quiver out of his voice.

"I am," she replied, staring directly at him. He found he could no longer meet her gaze unflinching. Doing so made him feel as though he were falling from a great height, the black void of space all around him, nothing to hold on to, no one to help him. He was alone, falling forever in a--

He closed his eyes, bringing himself back to the reality of his office. He didn't know who this woman was, or what cheap parlor tricks she was using against him, but he'd put a stop to that straight away. He lifted the faux-ancient decanter.

"Some wine, my dear?"

She smiled, as though sharing a private joke. "I would love some, thank you." Her gaze followed him as he reached for the glass he'd placed on the table earlier. He refused to meet it. Later, when those piercing eyes were glassy and half-closed, then he'd look at them. Then it would be her turn to feel the power of his personality.

It usually only took about a third of a glass to make the girls pliant. The wine was laced with a potent cocktail of sedatives and hallucinogens that made the drinker highly susceptible to suggestion. The effects tended to linger, even after just one dose, as he was discovering to his benefit in his ongoing dealings with the two senators. He filled her glass to the top. He'd never given anyone such a strong dose before, but something told him he'd need it with this one.

She accepted the glass, draining it in one swallow. He sat down next to her, waiting for her eyes to glaze over, her speech to slur and her head to loll back against the cushions. Then he'd dim the lights and begin the conditioning process, among other things. She...

She was still staring at him, and her eyes were still clear. "I suppose you're wondering why I've come to see you," she said, with no hint of slur in her voice. So stunned by this was he, that he failed to look away, and found himself staring deep into her eyes. Eyes that went on forever, deep pools of infinite void that pulled him down. Down into nothing, he was falling, falling without end, and this time he couldn't stop it, even with his eyes shut tight.

Her voice echoed around him, bombarding him with waves of sound. "Do you recognize me now, little man?"

"N-no," he stammered out. Somehow, he was naked. His paunchy belly and balding scalp revealed. And still he fell.

"No?" There was laughter in her voice, mocking laughter, directed at him. "Is it not my church that you use to strip the gullible of their fortunes? Is it not my name you invoke in your clumsy seductions of innocent girls?" The voice deepened with fury. "Did you honestly believe you could do such things and worse in my name, and I would not know? For how long did you think you could escape retribution?!" Stars swirled around him, her voice took on the quality of thunder and he fell even faster. "My daughters deserve better than to suffer for your petty ambitions and your venal appetites." She was all around him now as he fell. She was in his mind, devouring his soul.

"I-I'm sorry!" he cried out, his voice a thin whine nearly lost in the din of her anger. "P-please! M-m-mercy!"

Her laugh echoed across infinity. "No, little human thing," she said menacingly. "I believe you have me confused with someone else. There will be no mercy for you, and no forgiveness. You will send a message to all who would use me as a tool for profit and conquest."

Her laughter wrapped around him, and he knew then that he would never stop falling, and that it would be eons before he was granted the refuge of madness. And the sweet release of death would be forever denied him.


Jennifer sat uncomfortably at her desk. She was starting to feel odd. Well, not so much odd, rather... normal. Yes, that was it. For the first time in what seemed forever, she felt a bit like her old self. For the first time in too long, she felt she could make a decision without asking Jonah first. It amazed her that she had not even realized how different she'd become. She had been studying law once, hadn't she? What was she doing working here? What had Jonah done to her?

She stood, determined to get answers from the man she was convinced had stolen not only her money, but years of her life. She flung open the doors to his office, words of accusation on her lips, and stopped short with a gasp.


He was seated at his desk, naked, his toupee lying limply on the desk in front of him. He stared dully into space, a thin sheen of drool covering his chin. He made no noise save a low, almost inaudible hum punctuated by soft grunts. But the thing that really gave Jennifer pause, the thing that made her turn and run from the building screaming, never to return, was the word that hung above his head, made from letters of pure fire.