Monday, October 31, 2005

All Hallows Visitation

She ran through the cemetery, heedless of the branches and brambles catching her costume. It was Halloween night, and her favorite night of the year. She was done with her costume anyway, she just hadn't wanted to take the time to change.

She dropped her bag of candy as she knelt by the headstones, flushed and breathless from running, but smiling from ear-to-ear.

"Are you here? Am I too late?"

She felt the familiar icy kiss on her cheek, spectral arms wrapping her in an ethereal embrace. "No, sweetie," a faint voice echoed softly in her ear, "we have plenty of time."

She felt another join the embrace, and a second frozen kiss. A deeper, yet still faint, voice whispered to her. "We've been waiting all year for you."

Tears ran freely down her cheeks, and she made no effort to wipe them away. This was the night she was happiest. The night when the veil between the worlds was thin, and the land of the living shared space with the land of the dead. A time to be with them, and truly talk with them, rather than just talking at their headstones.

She told them all about school, and how she was doing. She talked about the friends she'd made. Not many, but they were good friends. She talked a little about the Home, but not too much. On this night, if she tried real hard, she could sometimes pretend she didn't have to live there. She could pretend she still lived in her own home... with them.

All too soon, the night was ended. The sky brightened in the east, and the spectral arms began to fade to mist. Her tears began again and she told them she loved them. They told her they loved her too, and that they would see her again next year. One more quick discarnate embrace, two light chilly kisses she barely felt, a final whisper of a goodbye, and she was alone.

Again. For another year.

She heard the bells of the Home's church calling the faithful to services and she rose from where she'd knelt all night. She hefted her dew-soaked pillowcase full of candy and blew a kiss at the headstones.

Then, slinging the bag over her shoulder, she started down the hill toward town, while the brilliant morning sun rose behind her, burning away the last tendrils of mist.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Last Day Begins Again

God sat at the edge of the Universe, watching as the last little bits of existence swirled away into nothing and he was left alone with the Void.


He thought about all that had been, and all that never would be.

He sighed.

Then he smiled.

It had been a good Universe. He'd enjoyed watching it grow. So many of the potentials he'd set up at the Beginning had really delivered on their promise at the End. Well, the whole human thing turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, but still.

His brow creased in anger. Okay. Maybe a bit more than a bit of a disappointment. He really had such hopes for them. But then... what they went and did...

He shook his head. No, he'd beaten himself up over the human problem long enough. The Universe has died, let's not labor over its blemishes. Besides, the humans had only cost him a few hundred millennia.


God turned, rolling his eyes. "Fine, Lucifer. And a planet."

A self-satisfied flutter shook Lucifer's wings and the redeemed angel smiled. "A planet?"

God smiled sheepishly. "Well, two. Okay, fine. If we're counting the sun, then three." He stopped and thought a moment. "Oooh, now that I think on it, it was actually the whole solar system."

"I warned you."

God seethed. He really missed having the Universe to toss around when he got angry. That always drove his point home. But now, just seething in the Void... he felt kind of foolish, really. Not so much wrathful, but peevish.

Fine. He'd be peevish, then. "You know, Lucifer," he said. "Smug is part of what got you sent to Hell in the first place."

Lucifer smirked. "And vindication is what got me out." He threw a friendly grin toward his old boss, changing the subject. "So, what's next?"

God thought a bit. "Well," he said carefully, "I'm going to create another Universe."


"Right. Obviously." God paused. "Though, also, obviously, I won't be making the same mistakes with the new one."

Lucifer nodded. "No smart monkeys with freewill?"

God smiled. "Exactly. It's smart trees with freewill from the beginning this time." He looked over at Lucifer. "And, of course, I won't make the same mistake with you, either."

"So, you'll listen to me in this one?"

God shook his head, chuckling. "No. I mean you won't be in this one." He waved his hand. "Good bye, Lucifer."

Before he could even yelp out a complaint, the former Lord of Hell simply ceased to exist.


God smiled warmly at his son. "Ah. Jesus. Good. You're here."

Jesus smiled back, spreading his hands to indicate the Void. "Where else would I be?"

"Right." God put an arm around Jesus' shoulder. "Son, I'm not as young as I used to be, and I'd like to make you a proposition."

"Aw," Jesus grumbled. "I'm going to end up doing work, aren't I."

God and his son walked on, beginning to fill the Void with their Presence. God kept talking as their aspects grew infinite. "It'll be nothing. Look, here it is: you help me create this new Universe, and I promise you'll get the pick of how we run it."



The Fire of Creation blazed across the Void, as galaxies spun to life. "Okay," Jesus said. "But we really have to make sure they don't start killing each other over us this time. In fact, we really shouldn't have any killing at all." Gasses swirled, forming suns and planets. "Even the trees had their violent centuries."

"Okay, okay. No killing."

"Especially over us."

A black hole opened up near the center of one of the new galaxies. "Yes, fine. Okay. Especially over us." Life emerged in the microscopic soup of the vast ocean of the fourth planet from a binary star.

"I swear, kid," God said. "You get stuck on an idea, and you really don't let go of it, do you?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Broken Cog

Batch Higgins Theta sat in his task booth, slotting datacards into the correct servertowers at the appropriate moments. He had been grown specifically for this function, along with twenty other clones of the Higgins Batch. They all sat in identical task booths near his, performing similar functions for the vast infomedia conglomerate that had grown them.

Most mundane tasks had long since been automated, but some jobs still required a living human to perform efficiently. Datacard slotting was one of them. The datacards had to be slotted according to customer requests in a unique combination every day, and no machine so far had been able to handle the process. Despite its many advances, modern science was still no closer to cracking the enigma of AI, so a living brain was needed for the job. Unfortunately, there were few humans willing to perform such tedious work these days, given the abundance of more exciting employment available throughout the recently colonized solar system.

And so, the clone workers were created. Datacard slotting, mass consumption food preparation and climate repair monitoring, among others, were all jobs best suited to human clones grown to precise specifications. The process usually took a couple of weeks, and each Batch of clones were given certain enhancements to make them extremely proficient at their assigned tasks, while also indoctrinating them to like the task they'd been grown for. They were usually grown from the DNA of a regular human with a predilection for similar tasks, and altered as needed from there. Batch Higgins had been grown from the DNA of one Archibald Higgins, a data entry clerk that had lived over 100 years prior.

The clones, though living, sentient beings, were considered the property of the companies that grew them, and as such had very few rights. They would work at their task booths for 12 hours, sleep 10 hours in their domicile berths, take two hours for nourishment and basic exercise, then return to their task booths for another 12 hour shift. It was a very dull life, but the clones didn't mind. They were conditioned not to.

Of course, there were those who had a problem with this. A group of bored middle class college undergraduates calling themselves Pollux Liberatio took it upon themselves to end what they called, "the unacceptable enslavement of a helpless segment of human society". That the clones were all perfectly happy with their lives was irrelevant to them, as was the fact that most clones died very quickly outside the routines of their jobs, given that they did not posses many skills beyond those needed to perform their functions. Pollux Liberatio's methods generally involved abducting clones from their domicile berths and releasing them onto the streets of the city without much concern for what happened next.

All that changed with Batch Higgins Theta.

He was abducted from his domicile berth as the others had been, but instead of abandoning him, Pollux Liberatio took him home. They attempted to teach him new things, but his specialized brain could not accept the new information. He also kept trying to return to his domicile berth to begin his sleep cycle, becoming highly agitated when they prevented him from doing so.

And that's when one of the students got the idea of giving him drugs. They fed him hashish to calm him down, then LSD to "open his mind". They hoped the drugs would rewire his brain to a state more receptive to learning and independent thought, thinking this "treatment" could become a model for future clone liberations.

When the police arrived days later, after the students' classmates reported them missing, they found Batch Higgins Theta in one of the closets. The corpses of Pollux Liberatio were propped against the wall, and he was repeatedly slotting knives in and out of the multiple stab wounds in their torsos.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Happy Anniversary

She loaded the shotgun with shaking hands, keeping the box of shells close, and sticking a few in her pocket just in case. She looked down at the bed, where her young daughter slept, then at the ring on her left hand. It was 10 years today, and she took a moment to reflect on the previous decade.

She thought of those early days in their old apartment, learning to live together, struggling to pay the bills and make their rent. They'd been so young then, barely out of college, but they'd just been so in love.

She remembered her husband's first "real" job, the one that allowed them to save for the down payment on their house, and all they went through before finally finding the right one.

She reflected on the bad year, when their marriage had almost come apart, and of the year that followed, when they worked so hard to put it back together.

She smiled down at her sleeping daughter, who would turn 5 in a couple of weeks, and thought of the joy she had brought to their marriage, and the sense of completion she gave them as a family.

Images floated through her mind; memories of family vacations, barbecues, parties, holidays... all the wonderful times spent with the love of her life.

A sound brought her out of her reverie with a start. It was a loud banging from outside, and it sounded like the front door.

She swore, gripping the gun tighter. They'd been so careful not to show any signs that the house was occupied. No lights, little movement, hardly any sound... She'd hoped they could last the night, and that none of those poor souls would notice they were there.

But then her husband had left the house. He was determined to get them to safety, no matter what. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. If only he'd stayed, instead of trying to get to the car. He didn't think he'd be noticed going around to the garage, as most of them had moved away toward the center of town, where the mayor had foolishly gathered everyone. It should have only taken a few moments, then they all could have piled in and driven away, presumably to safety. But he'd been gone 20 minutes now, and she knew he wouldn't be coming back with the car. She desperately prayed he wouldn't come back at all.

She grit her teeth. He should have stayed. They would have been safe if he had stayed. But no, he just had to play the hero. And now...

There was a crash, and she knew the front door had been broken in. Her daughter woke up then and clutched at her mother as heavy shuffling footsteps made their way up the stairs. She raised the gun to her shoulder, sighting down the barrel as the knob on the bedroom door turned.

The door flung open, and her husband lurched into the room, a guttural moan escaping his swollen blue lips as he lurched toward his family, seeking nourishment.

The gun kicked against her shoulder, bruising it, as her husband's head exploded in a shower of putrefied flesh and bone. Her daughter screamed and began to cry, but she kept her head, reloading the gun and stuffing the box of shells into her backpack. She grabbed her bag and the one they'd packed for their daughter. They'd have to run, but if they were lucky, they might make it to the car before the others heard the shot and came around. She knew there was at least one other out there, perhaps already in the house, so she cocked the gun and kept it ready, her daughter clutching at her skirts as they walked toward the door. It occurred to her then that if her husband had taken the gun, his plan might have worked, but he'd insisted she keep it. Just in case.

She spared a final teary-eyed glance for the headless, twitching corpse of the man who'd shared the last 10 years of her life, trying to keep her daughter from seeing too much of him, speaking her last farewell as they left the room.

"Happy Anniversary, sweetheart."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Day in the Life

He stood, panting, covered head-to-toe in the blood of a thousand prostitutes. The bomb strapped to his chest counted down the seconds as he began ranting furiously in an obscure dialect of a language that sounded vaguely Welsh, except when it sounded like a cross between Farsi and Navaho.

Special Agent Sarah Venture blew an errant lock of hair away from her forehead, sliding her gun from her holster with practiced ease. She understood exactly what he was saying, being fluent in every known language as well as having created one or two for her own personal use. Sometimes, it helps if no one can understand you.

But she understood him. He was screaming about his mission. He was supposed to blow up the Estonian Embassy along with himself, in service of a highly secretive Judeo-Christo-Islamic-Scientology sect based out of Akron, Ohio. However, he'd spent the night slaughtering hookers, and had decided he had something to live for after all. But the bomb was programmed to begin counting down on its own, and he couldn't figure out how to remove it. He was stoned out of his mind on hashish, percoset and 50-year-old cooking sherry, and was well beyond any sort of manual dexterity.

Sarah raised the gun and took careful aim. If she could put a bullet through the timing mechanism of the bomb just before it hit zero, it would render the experimental semi-liquid explosive inert, thereby preventing certain catastrophe. She had invented the explosive herself, and had built that particular fail-safe into it, knowing that only she would be able to disarm it if necessary. Of course, she'd invented it merely as an intellectual exercise, never intending it to be used, or even known of outside her secret underground laboratory.

She was still trying to figure out how it had been stolen. She suspected someone at the agency, and she had a pretty good idea who. She made a mental note to finish her robot assassin as soon as she was done here. Some jobs were worth handling personally, others were better handled by a machine.

But that was later. Right now, she had 135 lbs of Midwestern psychopath to deal with first.

She pulled the trigger, and a bullet flew straight and true toward its target, shattering the timing mechanism at exactly zero seconds. The bullet continued on its path through the back of the explosive, piercing the madman's chest cavity and exploding his heart in his chest. He fell to the ground, the bomb falling off him as he hit. A special forces team trained in exotic weaponry took possession of the explosive and the body. She'd steal both back from them later, and wipe their records and their minds as she did.

She holstered her gun, walking back toward her car with the easy strut of someone who knows exactly how important she is to the world, and the horrifying state it would be in without her. Her cellphone rang and she answered.

"Special Agent Venture ."

She smiled. It was a rare smile, and one most people didn't get to see and live. One of the few who did was on the other end of the phone. "Hi, sweetie!" She said happily. "How was school?" Her smile widened. "You did? That's fantastic!"

She got into her car, started the engine and pulled out into traffic. "Yes, I'm going to pick up your sister now." She laughed happily. "Of course we can have ice cream tonight. I'll pick some up on the way home."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

An Act of Devotion

She stood in the backyard, under the tree fort she and her husband had built for their son. She'd dug a hole, very deep, according to the guidelines the state had sent around. Just as the hospitals had quickly filled, so too had the cemeteries. She'd been told that unless she wanted her loved ones disposed of in a mass grave at the edge of town, she'd be better off burying them herself.

Just like she'd been better off caring for them herself. Though, in that case, she felt it was her responsibility anyway. She'd been the first to get sick, then her little boy and finally her husband. She and her husband cared for each other and their son as well they could, and when she began to recover, she cared for her family to the exclusion of all else. At one point, when they were in the worst throes of the virus, she'd called 911, but a recorded message told her there were no operators to take her call and to contact her local hospital directly. She'd done that, and the weary voice on the other end told her there were no beds. She was advised to try one of the wards.

The wards. Once they had been school auditoriums, office buildings or shopping plazas. Now, most of the largest public buildings had become wards for the sick. Row upon row of beds stretched from wall to wall, with a dwindling number of trained professionals to care for those that lay in them, and a growing number of well-meaning but untrained volunteers taking their place. The wards were not places to get well. They were places to go if you didn't want to die alone. She made the decision to keep her family home. If they were to die, it would be in their own beds.

She bowed her head, looking down at the hole she'd dug, and the body of her husband lying there. He'd died in their bed; the bed they'd conceived their son in, the bed where they'd spent many a lazy Sunday morning, the bed their son shared with them when nightmares drove him from his own. That was where her husband had died, drowning and burning and lost in delirium. And she sat by his side, helpless. Powerless. Useless. Reduced to a spectator in the hour of his greatest need.

She tore her gaze from the grave she'd dug to the still form she held in her arms. He was so small, yet so much bigger than the baby she'd held five years ago. She knew she had to give him over to his father. She knew it was time to let him go. But she couldn't. He looked like he was sleeping, though she could feel that he wasn't. When the end had come that morning for her little boy, she'd been no more use to him than she'd been to her husband. Tears streamed down her face as she held her son close for one final hug, then laid him to rest in his father's cold arms.

She turned her face toward the sky and screamed. A long mournful howl filled with pain and rage. She had failed them. "You care for your family, no matter what." That's what her mother had always told her. But she hadn't been able to care for hers. She had failed at the most important job she'd ever had to do.

Just like the system she and her husband had worked their whole adult lives to support had failed them all, right when they needed it most. When disaster struck, those in power had nothing to give those in need, for power does not give. It can only take. And now, the folly of the powerful had taken the two things dearest to her in the world, and left her with nothing. Nothing but a house full of worthless THINGS, a world filled with death and a heart filled with misery.

But not for long.

She felt the heat from the house as it burned, and she emptied the can into the hole and over herself. Then, with a final anguished scream at the heavens, she touched the match to her fuel-soaked clothing and leaped into the grave. As she burned with the bodies of her family, she smiled, knowing their ashes would mingle as they floated free of this earth toward the sky.

Her last thought before the flames took her was a prayer; she prayed that when their souls met, her family would forgive her.

Monday, October 10, 2005

His Last Ride

He had his gun in pieces on the dining room table. The ancient revolver had seen better days, as had the hands that disassembled it, but they could still hit a tin can from 10 yards, and at 85, you take what you can get.

Lois didn't care for him cleaning his guns at the table, particularly when the children were about. He'd tried arguing that every boy should know how to clean and shoot a gun, hell, he'd been a crack shot by the time most kids learn to read these days, but she was adamant in her opposition. Lois was the wife of his great-nephew, and she'd never been too fond of the old man.

Lois and John's oldest boy was another matter. The old gunfighter heard him approach from behind him. He let the kid think he was sneaking up on him and then...

"Isn't it past your bedtime, boy?"

The boy, unfazed by the old man's gruff voice, climbed up into another chair. "Aww, I'm not tired, Uncle Bill. Can I help you clean your gun?"

The old man smiled. Uncle Bill. It had been Bastard William once upon a time, when he'd made his living hunting outlaws in the Arizona Territory. Captain "Iron Will" McKendrick was what his men called him on the battlefields of the Civil War, and he was known as Lucky Bill for the amount of battles that left him unscathed during the War of 1812. "Gun's clean, Billy," he said. "Nothin' to do but put her back together."

"Can I help?"

Old Bill shook his head. "'Fraid not, son. Your mom won't be too pleased to know I'd let you handle a weapon."

Billy crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair with a pout. "Awww. Mom don't let me do nothin' fun."

Bill finished reassembling the gun, looking down the sight. "That may be, but she's still your mom, and you gotta do as she tells ya."

"Yeah. I guess." Then the boy's face brightened, and he looked up at the old man. "Can I have a story?"

Bill chuckled. "Boy, you heard all my stories."

Billy was undeterred. "Tell me the one about the ghost town again."

Bill slid the gun back into the battered holster, and placed it on the table in front of him. "Don't you get enough excitement? With this war goin' on over in Europe, I don't see how an old gunfighter's reminiscing can be all that compelling."

Billy waved the comment away. "Ah, that old Hitler is good as dead. We'll lick the Nazis, no problem."

Bill pointed at the boy, making the youngster look at him. "Any war's a problem for the ones is fighting it, boy. I seen enough proof of that over my life to hope that you never do."

Billy nodded, swallowing hard.

"But you wanted a story."

Billy nodded again.

Bill leaned back in his chair, making himself as comfortable as he was able. "Well, you go get your old uncle a glass of water, and I'll tell the story of the ghost town. And if you're still awake after that, I may tell you what I did to Colonel Carson when I finally found him, but only if you promise not to blame me for the nightmares."

Billy rushed to the kitchen to get the water.

A couple of hours later, Billy sat, wide-awake, rapt with attention as the man once feared across the West and all the levels of Hell as Bastard William McKendrick finished the end of his tale.

"More!" Billy demanded.

Bill chuckled. "No. You've been up too late as is, and my voice is near to shot. G'wan. Up to bed with you before yer mom finds out." He continued to chuckle as the boy ran to the stairs.

"Still corrupting the young with your wild ways, you old Bastard?"

Bill had the gun out and had spun up out of his seat to face the man behind the voice before it occurred to him that there was no way he should be so fast and limber at his age. Dread was a cold burst in his gut. This could only mean one thing.

The sight of his old friend, known ever only as Shaman, convinced him.

"Another mission?" His shoulders sagged. "I thought I'd passed all this on to the American Ace back in '16. You must have the Gun with you, or I wouldn't be feeling so hale and hearty. What happened?"

Shaman produced the weapon in question, a gleaming silver six-shooter that shone with an unearthly glow. Shaman bowed his head and sighed. "The American Ace proved unworthy. The years following his Great War were most unkind to him." He tossed the revolver to Bill. "He sold that to a pawn broker for money to buy morphine in 1932. By then he'd long since stopped using it, and the country suffered for its lack of a hero."

Bill considered the weapon in his hand. It was as though he'd never put it down. Holding the Gun, he was the greatest marksman who ever lived. He was as strong as ten men and damn near unkillable. And he'd thought he was done with this once and for all. He said as much to his visitor. "You told me last time, that this was not my time. It was no longer my century. America would choose a new hero, and I'd live out my life."

Shaman nodded. "As it should have been. But there is something wrong with this new century. It will know horrors unthinkable in human history, yet will be among the most enlightened of any age. It will ask much, particularly from America's hero, and has already claimed one before his time. The next will have to prove mighty indeed."

"So, where am I to go?" Bill replaced the old revolver with the Gun in the holster. He made his way to the basement stairs, and the old pack he kept stored down there. If he was going to go traipsing off to god knows where to find the American hero of the 20th Century, he sure as hell wasn't doing it in his robe and slippers.

"There is an American airman being held as a spy by Russian agents outside Berlin. You will help him escape, then give him the gun. He has been chosen, and it is hoped he will prove stronger than the Ace." Shaman laid his hand on Bill's shoulder when the old gunfighter came back upstairs. "The agents of Chaos run rampant across the globe, dressing up evil and calling it Order. An agent of true Order must be found, and quickly, before all is lost."

Bill nodded. "Just get me there. I'll do my part." He looked his old partner in the eye. "But this is the end, right?"

Shaman nodded, opening a portal to a field outside the prison walls. Bill stepped through, and missed the sad look on Shaman's face. When he was alone, Shaman spoke to the empty air.

"It is indeed, my friend," he said. "In every way."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Friend Ship

The explosion jolted Jimmy Scott awake. He lay in his bed, unmoving, waiting to hear if something else was going to happen. He heard his uncle swear loudly, then leave the house. His uncle swore a lot, but he was a kind man, and devoted to Jimmy, who had come to live with his aunt and uncle when his parents had died. His uncle's salty language had always been a joke among the family, and Jimmy's father used to joke that you would know things were really bad when his brother stopped swearing.

Fifteen minutes later, Jimmy heard his uncle come back in, still swearing, so Jimmy took heart that things were still okay. His aunt asked what was going on, and his uncle replied that whatever it was had been deep in the woods behind the farm, and therefore not their problem. Jimmy's uncle was also fanatically dedicated to the notion that anything that happened off his land was none of his business, and therefore none of his concern. It was a good hour before Jimmy managed to get back to sleep. He couldn't wait until morning, when he'd be able to go investigate the explosion in the woods.

The next morning, Jimmy rose early. He finished his chores after a quick breakfast, and was halfway to the woods before anyone else woke up. He'd left a note that he was going hiking, and would be back in time for dinner. He often hiked the vast woodlands that bordered his uncle's farm, and was usually absent from the house for most of the day in the summertime, so he wouldn't be missed.

It took a few hours of hiking to finally find the site of the explosion. A small smoking crater sat in the middle of a bunch of broken and smoldering trees. Something metallic protruded from the top of the crater, and from the look of the surrounding area, it had definitely fallen from the sky. The explosion Jimmy heard must have been the impact of whatever this thing was. Cautiously, he approached, reaching out to touch the strange metal object. Surprisingly, it was cool to the touch, given that it still smoked. Jimmy saw a transparent section of the object, and what looked like a seat inside. There were control panels and other devices inside that made him think of only one thing.

"Spaceship," he whispered.


Jimmy leaped back from the ship. He could have sworn it just spoke to him.

*Hello?* it spoke again. *Is someone there?* The voice seemed frightened. *Please. I can't see, and I don't know where I am.*

Jimmy felt sorry for whatever or whoever was speaking. He knew what it was like to be scared and alone. "Um, hi," he said, waving, even though the voice had said it couldn't see. "Uh, my name's Jimmy, and you're in the woods behind my uncle's farm."

*Hello, Jimmy.* A note of cautious relief crept into the voice. *I'm Friend Ship 4719A of the 87th Convoy. I can translate your language, but some of your words still don't make sense. What is "woods"? And "farm"? And what is an "uncle"?*

"Uhh..." Jimmy wasn't sure how to answer, or which question to answer first. "Well, my uncle is my father's brother. Do you know what a father and a brother are...umm...Ship?"

*No.* The Ship seemed confused and frustrated.

"Oh." Jimmy tried something else. "What about trees? Do you know what trees are?"

*No.* The frustration in the Ship's voice was turning to despair, and Jimmy could have sworn it was about to cry.

"It's okay. It doesn't matter." he said. "You're safe." He remembered hearing that a lot, after the accident.

*I am?* There was hope in the voice now.


*Oh, good.*

There was a pause, and Jimmy stood regarding the Ship. There was a small part of him that told him to go home and tell his uncle. But it was pretty easy to ignore.

He moved closer, gently.

*Why can't I move?* The Ship was starting to get nervous again.

"Umm," Jimmy looked around. "You're stuck in the ground."

*What's the ground?*

Jimmy didn't want to start this up again. "It's, uh, what you're stuck in." There. That was kind of clever.

*Oh,* the Ship said, a bit more calm. *Okay.*

Another pause.

*Can you help me get out?*

Jimmy smiled.


For the next few days, Jimmy would wake up early each morning, rush through his chores, and race out to the Ship, which he would spend the rest of the day digging out until it was time for supper. After digging around the Ship all day, Jimmy was usually tired enough to go to bed soon after.

While Jimmy digs, the Ship tells him of the migrating convoys of Friend Ships, wandering from one end of the galaxy to the other, seeking pilots to make them whole. The Ship talks about its Mentor Ships in the convoy, how they were the Ships assigned to transfer the necessary data to its intelligence core. The process usually takes years, and leaves young Ships very vulnerable to malfunction. The Ship's Mentors had been destroyed in a meteor shower, and no others were assigned by the Mother Ship to replace them. With no guidance, the Ship had miscalculated its navigational trajectory, and wound up lost in a nearby solar system. It flew too close to the third planet and got caught in its gravity, finally crashing to the surface.

Jimmy tells the Ship about his parents, and the accident, and moving in with his aunt and uncle on their farm. They talk of loss, and their brief lives, and the ways of their homelands. The Ship learns of the ground, and of trees and woods and forests. There is talk of water and people, and the ways people relate. For his part, Jimmy learns much about the migratory habits of the sentient Friend Ships. He hears tales of convoys lightyears long, of the bonding ceremonies between Ships and their Pilots, and the comforting presence of a pair of Mentor Ships. There is talk of the ancient Mother Ships, massive starcruisers that lead and occasionally shelter their convoys of Friend Ships, officiating over Piloting ceremonies, assigning Mentors and overseeing new construction.

And then, after almost a week, Jimmy dug the Friend Ship free.

*Thank you, Jimmy* the Ship said. *Can I do something for you, before I go find my convoy?*

That night, Jimmy sailed the stars inside his new friend, piloting the young starship out to the edge of the solar system and back. They flew together across the sands of Mars, through the maelstrom of Jupiter's Red Spot, and around the debris of the Oort Cloud before taking a dive through the photosphere of the Sun.

Finally, the ride was over, and Jimmy returned home, while the Ship left for deep space, and its lost convoy. There is one last goodbye, then Jimmy grabbed his shovel and headed for home.


Two weeks later, Jimmy was hiking near the clearing where he found the Ship, when his friend descended from the clouds, coming to land with much more grace than its last visit.

*Hi, Jimmy*

Jimmy stared up at the gleaming ship, stunned. But then he felt sad. There could be only one reason why the Ship had returned.

"You couldn't find them?"

*I found them. But I was told I was not welcome with the convoy any more.*

"Why not?"

*I have bonded with a Pilot. When Bonding happens, the bonded Ship is not permitted back into the convoy until the Bond is broken. I am to learn about the universe with my Pilot, and return to make the convoy wiser, as a Mentor to young Ships.*

Jimmy's eyes widened. "Wow. But, who's you're..." Realization dawned, and they widened further. "Ohhhhh..."

*So, what do you say? Wanna ride around the Milky Way for a while?*

Jimmy thought a moment, then smiled.

"Can you have me home in time for dinner?"


And then they were gone, sailing across the dark void of space, reveling in the universe that stretched out before them.

Monday, October 03, 2005

His Fire Within Her

He burned for her.

He sat in his chair at the table by the window and he burned.

An aching heat pulsed out from between his legs, spreading up his body and across his face. His skin flushed red and he felt something hard that also pulsed between his legs.

He wanted her, and he watched her. Watched her from his chair at the table by the window, wringing his hands. He wouldn't touch himself. He would not. That risked the prod, and a day away from the window. No. Actually, the last time they threatened a week if he did it again.

So he wouldn't do it again. He wouldn't touch himself. He would not.

He would just watch her. And want her.

And then, one day, she waved at him. Turned and looked into his eyes from where she stood on the lawn, and waved at him. He stopped wringing his hands long enough to wave back.

She licked her lips. He was sure of it. She was far away, but he knew what he saw. And he burned for her anew. Burned with an aching throbbing longing that would never abate and always go unfulfilled. Because he wouldn't touch himself. He would not.

But that day, in his chair at the table by the window, he had a thought. Perhaps... his whole body trembled at the thought... perhaps she wanted him too. He ran a shaking hand through his hair.

They came to take him back to his room.

She was still looking at him when they came. He stood, but resisted the urge to wave. He didn't want them to see. What he had with her now was sacred, and he'd be damned if he was going to share it with them. He let them lead him away, but he smiled to her, when they weren't looking, just before he turned to go. He didn't see her smile back, but he knew she did.

Later, he lay on his bed in his room and didn't touch himself. He wanted to, but he didn't. Well, technically, he did touch himself. He ran his hands slowly and softly over his face, imagining her hands as he ran his fingers through his hair. He moved his hands over his chest, sliding smoothly over his tight cotton shirt, down across his stomach to the waistband of his jeans. They were loose, and he let the tips of his fingers slide under...


He pulled his hand out of his jeans, and put both hands as far from the rest of him as possible.

Was he stupid? Did he want the prod? He sat up, clenching his fists, pressing them to the sides of his head. He felt the heat burning in him, the fire building so that he was going to explode. He thought about pressing the button, so they would come and put him to sleep. But he didn't. He didn't want to sleep. He would only dream of her, and they frowned upon such dreams. He wouldn't get the prod for it, but he'd lose a few days in the chair at the table by the window. He wasn't sure which was worse.

So he did nothing. He didn't touch himself, and he didn't call them to put him to sleep. He just did nothing.

And then she was there. In his room. Looking at him like she did from the lawn.

"I felt you," she said. "Felt you watching me."

She crossed his room, gliding over the tiles to stand before him. She leaned in close, and a rough spasm shuddered through his body. "I saw you burning," she whispered in his ear, and he arched his neck, eyes closed and gasping. She moved in even closer, her lips brushing his ear and her breath on his cheek. "I want your fire inside me."

And then she was on top of him, tearing at his clothes, kissing him deeply, biting his neck. He was stunned for a moment, but quickly responded in kind. He held her to him, returning her kisses with such fervor he bruised her mouth. He pulled back, concerned, but she laughed and kissed him harder.

Their clothes made a pile on the floor as they hurled themselves at one another. He lifted her onto him, pushing her back up against the wall as she wrapped her legs around him. She grabbed his hair and pulled his head back, kissing and biting his neck and throwing him off balance so he stumbled back to the bed. He fell backward onto the mattress, and she straddled him, pinning his shoulders to the bed as she pulled him inside her. He thrust upward, lifting her off the bed. She gasped at the exquisite pleasure and gripped him tightly. She began to ride him then, grinding up and down until their thrusting grew frantic, slamming against one another until they screamed their pleasure to the four walls together. She collapsed across his chest, both of them panting and gasping for breath. For a while, they just lay there, lost in the sound of their own labored breathing. She gave him one last squeeze before climbing off him and gathering up her clothes. She dressed quickly, and motioned for him to do the same.

"They'll be coming," she said. "You should be dressed before they get here."

And then she was gone. He stood, half-dressed, his shirt in hand, and watched her go. She'd promised to return, and told him she'd wave to him again from the lawn the next time she'd be able to get away.

He heard boots in the hall and quickly pulled on his shirt. When they asked if he'd been touching himself, he'd try not to smile when he told them no.