Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Time Jumpers Club

Dani slid the fusion rods into place, griping at Henri to start cycling the chronotron.

"Seriously Dani," he warned her, "relax. It's four hours to the jump, and our gear is just about set up. What are we supposed to do until then? Hit one of the parties?"

"No," Dani admitted with a sheepish smile. "I guess not. I'm just, y'know, excited..." She looked down and started fiddling with the buckles on her straps. Henri smiled.

"Ah, look at you," he said, shaking his head. "When we first got together, you thought I was insane to do this. Threatened to break it off if I didn't stop doing it. Now you're busting your seams to get to your first jump."

They smiled at each other, and Henri tucked an errant lock of her hair up into her skintight agesuit. "Wouldn't want just that strand turning grey, would we?"

"That's enough of that, the both of you. I didn't agree to let girls into the club to watch you two make out at every available opportunity." A rakish young man entered the room, futzing with his palmtop. "If I wanted to see that, I'd start going to class again." He waved his hand at them and slid the palmtop into a sealed pouch on his belt. "And put your masks on, unless you want your faces to be older than the rest of you."

"Well, doy."

"Shut up, Henri."

"Up yours, Doug."

"Wait," Dani said, mask halfway to her face. Henri already had his in place, sealing him into his agesuit. Dani looked between him and Doug. "Don't we still have, like, four hours?"

Doug grinned with one corner of his mouth. It wasn't quite a smirk, and Dani was convinced this was simply the best Doug could do with regard to a smile. "I assumed you'd be excited about your first jump," he said, "so I slid us all forward to just about midnight."

"I didn't think we could do that," Henri said, surprised.

"Tonight we can," Doug answered. "Time travel is easier at the fulcrum between years. It's why Dani waited until New Year's Eve to make her first jump."

"Oh yeah," Henri said, laughing. "Man, remember that jump we had in 2000? Made it to just a few millennia shy of the Big Bang on our third jump before the tether snapped us back."

"How far do you think we'll be able to go?" Dani asked as Henri made one final check of their gear.

Doug scratched his chin, pondering the horizon. "Hmmm. I'd say, what, a couple of million, both ways, give or take?"

Henri nodded. "Yeah. I'd say that's about right. Though I'm thinking of going forward first, if no one minds."

"Feeling optimistic?"

"Just adventurous."

Henri and Doug attached each other's calendar-packs, then Henri approached Dani with hers. "Here," he said, offering to attach it to her harness.

She turned her back to him and he set about inserting tubes and wires from the pack to her agesuit and back. "What is this again?" She tried to keep the nervousness out of her voice.

"It's a motor Doug and I built, that moves through 4th-dimensional space, keeping itself anchored to the time of its 3rd-dimensional origin."

"What?" Dani looked at him, lost. She'd read the research, but her Masters was in history. She only knew as much science as she absolutely had to.

Henri smiled. "Essentially, it has a safety feature built in so you can't get lost. Once I turn it on," he flipped a switch, and Dani felt an odd tug at her back. It was slight, and not uncomfortable. "You're tethered to this time and place." He and Doug turned theirs on, and Dani thought she could see, out of the corner of her eye, a long spiraling cord linking them to the main part of the time machine. When she turned to look directly at it, there was nothing.

"Ready?" Henri asked her, taking hold of her hand.

She squeezed his hand tight and nodded, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Yeah."

"Then let's go."

The future opened up before them, and they leapt into it. Tethered to the now by a strand of solid time, they fell swiftly toward tomorrow.

The Infinite Woman

Dani soared through the future, riding the furious currents of the timestream. Henri had said that jumping in the past was a calmer ride. Histories tend to be static, with alternate branches clearly marked, and the timestream was easier to navigate. The future, with its cascading waves of probability, ran rougher and harder and was nearly impossible to navigate. It was also the most fun, according to Henri, though Doug preferred the more orderly jump into the past.

Dani laughed as winds of time buffeted her and tossed her about. She saw humanity's greatest civilization fall into barbarism, only to rise and fall and rise again. She saw a future where an alien occupation interrupted the steady flow of human civilization, and another where humanity's fall into barbarism tore the planet itself asunder.

She was coasting through the utopian futures when she felt the tug on her calendar-pack. She felt herself jerked backward through a few decades of a Golden Age, the tug on her pack getting stronger until...

Her tether snapped. And she was freefalling toward realtime in an era far removed from her own. From the corner of her eye, she saw the glistening chronofilaments of her tether spiraling back toward her present. Then she hit the future face-first.

"Are you hurt?"

She looked up from the dusty hard surface she'd landed on. Her agesuit was still intact, including the helmet, which was good, since her visor was reading a highly toxic atmosphere. A smoky fume lay low about the area, casting the sunlight in a strange hue, and everywhere she looked were buildings, elaborate vehicles, factories and what appeared to be power plants.

A tall hairless man looked down at her with some concern. He seemed human, save for a leathery hide around his nose and mouth. His clothing was of alien appearance and the lack of any hair was a bit disturbing, but he spoke flawless unaccented American English, as did the others who'd begun to gather.

"Is she all right?"

"She looks okay, if a bit odd."

"Hmm. She is at that. Odd."

An older woman crouched down by Dani and held out her hand. "Pay them no mind, dear. You just come along with me and we'll get you looked after."

Dani nodded, rising slowly to her feet, and followed the woman. The others watched after them for a bit, then went back about their business.

"You're a time traveler, ain't yeh?"

Dani was a bit shocked by the question. How could this woman know that?

"Uhh..." she looked around.

The older woman smiled and waved a hand. "Nah, it's okay. I know you are. But don't worry. You're safe. Despite the look of the place, we're actually rather advanced from what you're probably used to."

Dani learned from the other woman, who's name was Alice, as it turned out, that at some point in her relative near future, the leading minds would decide that, rather than preserving a livable environment, they would instead work on adapting humans to thrive in an industrial environment.

So, a number of chemicals were added to the various immunizations and pre-natal treatments and within a few generations, humans found their organs augmented, or new organs grown altogether, to survive on polluted air and heavily-processed food. Their new lungs could glean even the smallest amount of oxygen from whatever was breathed in, and would condense everything else into a tiny globule that was coughed up later.

There were certain side-effects to this genetic manipulation, such as a surge in brain capacity. Humans now used nearly 60% of their brains, and had learned to communicate without words, mind-to-mind, even over great distances. It was how Dani was able to understand them so easily. It had also created a global consciousness, along with a greater awareness of their place in the universe and their responsibility to their planet. Over the last couple of generations, there had been significant work done at rebuilding some of the planet's ravaged ecosystem. Technologies had been created to explore the galaxy for new worlds.

"And we've got time travel too," Alice said with a wink. "So we can get you home."

"How did you know I was lost?" Dani asked.

Alice chuckled. "Because if you weren't, you would have made a more graceful entrance." She gestured for Dani to hurry. "Come on. I'll show you our machine."

Meanwhile, hundreds of centuries in the past, Henri and Doug were frantically trying to locate Dani through the vast maelstrom of the future.

"Well? Did you find her signal?"

"Not in the last 10 seconds, no, Henri, I didn't. If she were lost in the past..."

"Oh, don't start Doug. Just because I wanted a future jump, doesn't make this my--"

Doug waved him quiet, staring intently at his screen. "Shut up! I think I have her."

"What? Well, get her! Bring her back! Bring her ba--"

"I said, shut up." Doug fiddled with a few dials, flipped a switch or two, typed furiously at his keyboard and then pulled a lever on the side of the time machine.

Dani was secured to the frame of Alice's time machine, a series of cables running into and out of her calendar-pack. Alice fiddled with some dials on her control panel.

"Your calendar-pack seems to be a similar design to my own machine, so I shouldn't have any trouble getting you back where you need to be. Presumably, there's a base machine in your proper time and... ah. There it is. Hold on." She toggled a switch, and chronal energy flowed through Dani's pack.

Just as the tether from her present tried to latch on.

The chronal energies merged, overloading the pack and Alice's time machine. Dani screamed as raw time arced unimpeded through her body, surging up her nervous system directly to her brain. A wave of pure time exploded out from Dani, rippling through the multiverse and touching every conceivable timeline. Every single version of Dani that existed found themselves aligned at that moment, in body, mind and circumstance. Infinity coursed through her veins, and her consciousness spread across every one of her variant minds. She knew everything, she was everything, as each version of her collapsed into a singular Dani.

Dani floated along the timestream, sailing its currents with instinctive ease. She could no longer exist in realtime. This chaotic realm was her only home now, and she would ride its rapids through eternity and back.

She told all this to a grieving Henri during one of many jumps he made in an attempt to find her. She told him she was lost to him, and that he should look for her no longer and find love with another.

But Henri would not listen, jumping again and again into tomorrow and yesterday. Until the day he jumped without a suit, and was torn to dust by the ravages of time. Veteran jumpers would come to tell their pupils Henri's tragic tale.

The tale of the broken jumper, his soul scattered amid the currents of time, forever lost in his search for the Infinite Woman.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Year's Morning After

He woke, slightly groggy, and made a vain attempt to figure out just where he was. He was in a very comfortable bed, though not his own, in a tastefully, yet eclectically, decorated bedroom, also not his own. He didn't recognize the room, nor the woman in the few photos near the bed. She was cute, though.

And then she was in the room, standing next to the bed clad only in what he recognized as one of his dress shirts. A foggy recollection from the previous night suggested he had worn that shirt to Kim's party. Kim's party... is that where he met this woman?

"'Morning, babe," she purred, handing him a mug of coffee.

"Thanks," he croaked through his incredibly dry mouth, taking the mug. He sipped it cautiously, and found it was exactly the way he liked it. "Mmmm," he said. "this is delicious. Thanks again."

"Don't mention it, sexy," she said with a sly smile, sliding into bed next to him. She lay down, her tousled red hair splayed across the pillow, and his shirt open to reveal most of two perfectly formed breasts. They, too, seemed vaguely familiar. The woman stretched and sighed, lying up against him with her head on his shoulder. He smiled and drank his coffee. He may not know who this woman was now, but he clearly knew her very well last night. He briefly regretted how drunk he must have been the night before. He had a feeling last night was one he'd want to remember. He finished the last of his coffee and set the mug down on the end table next to him.

"Um, listen," he said, as the woman began nuzzling his neck. "At the risk of insulting you, I was wondering, uh...ohhh..." She'd begun doing something with her hand that was making it very hard for him to think straight.

"Forgotten my name, have you?" she murmured, kissing her way from his neck to his chest, then back up his neck to his mouth. "Don't worry about it, baby. I never even bothered to ask yours."

"Mmmm," he kissed her back as she crawled up on top of him. "Oh-okay..."

He kissed her mouth, their tongues twining together, then kissed her neck. She moved up, pressing her breasts against his face. He took one and then the other into his mouth, sucking them until he heard her moan. He grabbed hold of her and threw her down on the bed, where she landed with a gasp and a giggle. From her breasts he kissed down her stomach, stopping between her legs, inhaling the delicious scent of her before kissing and licking and sucking her to multiple sustained orgasms.

Then she kissed him, licking her juices from his lips, and said, "My turn." She smiled and winked, and began kissing her way down his chest.

They had sex five times that morning, once with her on top, once with him on top, twice with him behind her and once with her pressed up against the wall. She came, screaming, that final time, collapsing on top of him, their bodies entwined in a pulsing, sweating knot of glistening limbs.

"That was... that was..." he panted, feeling his heart pound in his chest.

"I know," she sighed, content. "Amazing." She climbed on top of him, straddling him, and smiled. "Time for breakfast," she said.

"Oh hey yeah, that sounds--"

The rest of his words were cut off with a wet gurgle as she tore out his throat with her teeth. For a while, he struggled to breathe through the ragged hole in his neck. By the time she'd stripped the flesh from his chest and most of one arm, he was dead. She ate a while, but was interrupted by the phone.

She wiped her arm over her mouth, smearing his blood across her cheek as she answered the phone. "Hello?"

"Oh, hi Kim. No, he stayed over. Yeah, twice last night and five times this morning. I'm really going to miss this one, but you know how it goes."

Her eyes widened at the words coming over the phone. "What? No, you didn't tell me. No. No, you didn't. Well, okay yeah, I was pretty drunk, but shit, Kim. I would have remembered that."

She sighed, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, okay. Okay! God! I'll remember for next time." She said goodbye and hung up the phone, returning to the half-eaten corpse on her bed. She looked down at him and shrugged.

"If she didn't want me eating her friends, she should stop trying to set me up with them."

A Happy, Safe, Healthy and appropriately Drunken New Year from Spontaneous Fiction!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rocket Mom

Kathryn closed the cabinet door, flicking a toggle that placed its contents in perfect stasis and looked around her kitchen. She couldn't recall it ever being this clean. Her whole house had an eerie quality about it that the word "spotless" couldn't begin to cover. It disturbed her, but she knew why it was necessary. No sense in all their bits of precious getting smashed to hell during their ascent. Of course, they didn't have to then scour the entire house to the cellular level... but, they were a thorough bunch.

And it had been tough, building a spaceship around a house. No one had really understood why she'd gone to all the trouble, but since she was the star of this little show, there wasn't much anyone could do about it except what she told them to. In the end, her innovative use of materials and revolutionary design concepts had created a model that was now being imitated at a furious pace. Within months of completion on her own house, she'd found herself starting up a multi-billion-dollar corporation, just to make sure the companies selling her ship conversion designs to Jane and John Q Everybody were selling quality merchandise. The last thing she wanted on her conscience were shiploads of suburbanites exploding in the upper atmosphere.

Bad enough she couldn't stop thinking of the ones who weren't coming. The ones who couldn't even buy passage on the retrofitted cargo carriers euphemistically called "cattle busses". She cried a little every day when she thought of the ones getting left.

And it wasn't as though they were being left to die, she thought. Then she could console herself with the fact that they wouldn't suffer too long. No, they were just being left to fend for themselves on a planet bereft of resources, under disintegrating ozone and a poison sky. It's likely they'd live, and that the planet would start to fix itself within a few generations after most of the humans left. But life in those years, and many to follow, would not be at all pleasant.

She left the kitchen, crossing the living room to go and stand on the back porch. She looked out at the dying landscape through the thick glass enclosure and sighed.

But her son would be safe. She was taking him away from all that. And she was taking him in a spaceship made out of his house, the only home he'd ever known, so he wouldn't be too scared. She felt a little guilty at the extravagance, but she didn't care. Since she'd joined the top-secret Project Exodus team and had seen the real data, her sole motivation had been getting her son off this planet as quickly as she could.

Once she and Brenner made their breakthrough with the transdimensional engine, the governments of the world were eating out of their hands. Corporations threw money at them to build cheap efficient spacecraft to use for a planetary evacuation, and all of a sudden, they were billionaire celebrities. Kathryn had just taken the money and poured it into her research, determined to also make her son's escape as painless as possible.

Brenner, on the other hand, had started acting like a rock star. He did the talk shows, the awards galas, the parties... Two years into the final phase of the Project, and Brenner was dead, having spent all his money on hard drugs and expensive hookers. Much of the early team had similar breakdowns. The enormity of their task, the weight of the knowledge they had borne in secret for so long, they cracked under its pressure.

But not her. Within a year, she had completely reinvented spaceflight from scratch. The year after that, and the prototype Homeship conversion, hers, was finished. Her son thought the whole thing was incredibly cool, especially how he was going to live in space. He couldn't quite get over that. At 5, he had no real understanding of the larger global issues, or the terrible destiny awaiting their homeworld. To him this was all a grand adventure. Not for the first time, his mother envied him that.

And so, tomorrow. Launch Day. Turning, she walked back through the living room toward her son's bedroom. She'd caught him playing with his new gravity controls that afternoon, and she wanted to be sure he wasn't floating up out of his bed.

Though she and her husband had made good use of the gravity controls more than once since they were installed. She smiled to herself. Maybe once she was sure Andy was asleep, they might again. If she could tear her husband away from his pilot's chair long enough. She shook her head. She knew it was a mistake to put flight control in his den. A quick peek in the door told her Andy was fast asleep, so she shut his door quietly and went to find her husband.

It was a long flight ahead to their new planet, but as Kathryn walked down the hall to her bedroom, she took solace in the fact that they'd already be home before they got there.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Galaxians

The ship soared through the shimmering black, riding the edge of spacetime on the crest of an antimatter explosion. The massive stardrive engines roared silently to the void.

In the pilot's chair, Captain Jack Masters had just about lost his patience with his first officer.

"You're lucky you're a woman," he snarled over his shoulder as he turned back to the controls. Damn GPC, sending a woman out on his ship. He didn't care if she was post-human, and had once piloted a rail-ship down from orbit unpowered, she was still a woman.

And women just got in the way. Got between a man and his ship. A man and his... crew.

"Ugh, stop that!" she said, shaking her head.

"What?" He looked around at her.

"Ugh, stop that, sir," she deadpanned. "I'm an empath, among other things. That means I know when you're getting homoerotic, because I get hit with all your weird guilt." She choked back a laugh. "No, it's too late to start thinking of me naked. And you're not half as aroused as when--"

The captain stood up from the pilot's station, looming over her and glaring down at her. She looked up at him and grinned.

"Have I made you mad enough to take a swing at me yet? Sir?" She took one step back, rising up onto the balls of her feet, bouncing in front of him, taunting him. "Or does a subordinate get away with mocking you just because she's a--"

She dodged his first punch, and the second. She leapt over a series of kicks, and spun away from another punch, grabbing hold of his overextended arm moments later and tossing him across the bridge.

"Johnny," she said calmly. "Take the pilot's station."

"Aye, ma'am." Johnny ran to the station. He was a young ensign, on his first assignment, and he had idolized the heroic Captain Masters, begging at each new world to join the exploration team, wanting desperately to be part of the adventures he kept hearing about from the officers.

Then one day he'd been included on a team, and went down to the planet with the Captain and a few others. Most of the others had died, and the chief of security had escaped back to the ship. But Johnny and the Captain had been captured. Thrown into a squalid alien prison. They languished in the cell for days. He thought of the cell, and the Captain, and what had happened.

And he smiled a nasty little smile for what would surely happen next.

Monday, December 26, 2005


He approached the dragon, sword drawn. He'd made his way through the treacherous caverns that led to the dragon's lair, and now finally stood before her. She was massive, incomparable to any beast he'd ever seen. Not for the first time, he wondered if he was up to the task of slaying her. He'd never fought a dragon before, being more accustomed to hunting outlaws and protecting villages from bandits and the like.

But he'd taken the dragonslaying job. Mostly because of the money, though partly because of the fame that would come with it. The era of the legendary Dragonslayers was long past, but people still honored them in story and song. If he were to slay this dragon, his name would be added to the ballads and epics and he would be remembered long after his death as a man of great honor and courage. And given the way his life had gone up to this moment, he could do with that sort of remembrance.

"So, cold-blooded murder is what gains a man honor in these days, is it?" The dragon's voice echoed up from the floor of her lair to the alcove he'd thought was hiding him. "I don't suppose this should surprise me, given how my kind have been treated by yours in recent centuries."

"How YOUR kind have been treated?" His outrage was so great, he forgot entirely about stealth. "Tell it to the children you've taken from their beds in the night, to the maidens whose virtue you've fed upon and the villages you and YOUR KIND have razed to the ground!"

A low chuckle rumbled across the lair. "Stupid human fool. Setting aside for the moment the logistical impossibility of actually feeding on something as ephemeral as a woman's virtue, what possible use would we have for human children?"

"Food, most likely," he retorted.

"My my," the dragon replied, amused. "We dragons certainly do have a varied diet. Children, women's virtue... tell me, little man, what else do we eat?"

"Do not pretend to innocence, beast," he said, angrily. "Everyone knows that dragons will devour an entire shepherd's flock or cattleman's herd if they cannot get their claws on human flesh."

"Then everyone is as ignorant and stupid as you, human," she growled. "For one thing, dragons do not eat flesh of any kind, nor plants either. We feed on minerals."


"Put simply, in deference to your limited education," the dragon explained patiently, "rocks."

"Dragons eat rocks?"

"Essentially, yes," she said. "Why do you think we build our lairs underground? For that matter, how do you think we manage to carve our lairs out of solid rock?"

He was confused. "But I thought--"

"Clearly, you did not."

"Then why--"

"Why did I attack that village? Simple. Revenge."

"Revenge for what?"

Suddenly, the dragon's enormous head was mere inches from him. He expected an overpowering stench, but she actually smelled rather pleasant.

"Tell me, little human," she asked quietly, "did you perhaps notice the dragon bones so proudly on display in the village square?"

He backed away as far as the alcove would allow. His sword seemed such a small and ineffective thing all of a sudden. Also, being the topic of heroic sagas did not hold the same allure it had mere moments ago. "Y-yes..." he stammered.

"Did you notice anything odd about them?"

He thought a moment. "Now that you mention it," he said, "they did seem awfully small."

"I believe we were speaking of atrocities against children earlier," the dragon whispered.

"Your children?" he gasped. "But, why would the villagers... how could the villagers..."

"They came upon me as I lay my eggs," she said, a note of terrible sadness coloring her voice. "As I lay there, spent from birthing, the men of the village stole my eggs from me. They brought them back to their village, cracked them open, and ate my unborn children!" That last came out an angry hiss, along with a burst of steam from her nostrils. "So, I think you'll agree I was well within my rights to rain destruction down on the whole miserable lot of them."

"But then, why..." He was so very confused. This was not at all what he had been taught.

"There was a time," the dragon explained, "when dragons and humans respected one another. There are many dark powers in this world, and it has been the task of the dragons since the first days to protect humanity from the creatures spawned by such forces. It is they, the goblins and demons and other such things, that steal away human children for food and sport, and take humans' virtue against their will. In days long past, there were enough of us to keep them away." She sighed. "But now, such fiends grown in number, while ours dwindle. Soon, there will be none of us left, and humans will be at the mercy of evil." She fixed him with a stern gaze. "And you have only yourselves to blame."

"But, I still don't understand," he said. "All my life, I have heard tell of the evil of dragons, and the need for their extermination. What drove this wedge between us?"

She looked down, then back at him. "Ages ago, humans worshipped different gods, of male and female aspect. Gods of this land, of the earth and sun and moon. In recent centuries, however, a new god was brought here from lands far away, and the people turned against the old ways. They were taught that dragons were creatures of evil, made by an unholy creature in defiance of their new god. And so, we were hunted." She sighed, and a warm breeze filled his alcove. "Still we protected you from harm. It was our purpose. But as our numbers decreased, and your kind crafted new horrors to visit upon us, we found ourselves unable to continue our struggle. And so the world will fall into darkness."

"Perhaps it will," he said, a grim determination filling his eyes. "But you will have justice. This, I promise you."

And he left the cave then, returning to the village under cover of night. Once there, he slaughtered the men, young and old, and ordered the women and children away before putting the torch to each and every structure.

The dragon landed near him as he watched the village burn. "You have my thanks," she said. "This is more than any human has done for a dragon in hundreds of years."

He looked at her, a righteous fire in his eyes. "I fight for those who are wronged," he told her. "And I deliver justice upon those who deserve it."

She smiled, her forked tongue flicking out between her fangs. "How wonderful," she purred. "Then you will die dishonored."

His eyes grew wide, and a cold thing slithered down his spine. "What?"

She brought her face to within an inch of his own. "I have lied to you, little human insect. All that you have been taught of dragons is true. There are no foul creatures of darkness that prey on human kind." She laughed. "Except us." Her laughter grew more caustic. "I've never even had children," she said. "The bones you saw are the skeletal remains of giant eagles, killed by those idiot villagers and dressed up like dragon bones to fool the gullible and ignorant." She smiled mockingly. "Like you."

"But...but..." His arm felt like lead, and his sword fell from fingers numb with shock. He could not even turn to run.

"Haven't you heard, manling?" she asked with vile mirth. "Dragons are masters of deception. I thought everyone knew that."

And then, with a single bite, she ate him whole.

She was still hungry, though, so she flew off in the direction of the fleeing humans. Children always made a delightful after-dinner snack.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Christmas Day Massacre

Erin sat between her Uncle Bob and her Aunt Gert. The plates had long been cleared away, but no one was quite ready to move from the table just yet. Her aunt and uncle were gesturing wildly with their drinks, and so much had spilled on to her, Erin was convinced she'd smell like vodka for days. Aunt Gert wouldn't stop going on about the gays getting married, and Uncle Bob was arguing the merits of the war with her cousin Frank. Her cousin John chimed in about the whole domestic spying scandal, and the table erupted in furious argument. Erin got up and went into the kitchen to see if her grandmother needed help. She found her parents washing dishes.

"Nice try," her father smirked over his shoulder. "But this is our escape route. Get your own."

She made a face and walked out onto the porch, muttering just loud enough to sort of be heard that she was getting some air. And by "getting some air", she meant "grabbing a smoke". She was supposed to have quit, and for all practical purposes, she had, but she knew better than to come to dinner with the whole family and not bring cigarettes.

She nearly tripped over the box when she stepped outside. Upon examination, it looked like it was from one of the larger online retailers. Must have been a last minute gift. Probably from Frank. He took "last minute" to lengths unheard of.

After half of a furtively smoked cigarette, she brought the box back inside. She'd open it at the table. Anything to shut up her relatives.


The cable news anchor looked somberly at the camera, as a fear-and-sentiment-inducing graphic spun toward the lower left corner of the screen.

"Millions are dead in a rash of terrorist bombings some are already calling 'The Christmas Day Massacre'."

He shifted the papers around on his desk a while. "Early yesterday evening, December the 25th, Christmas Day, a series of bombs hidden in shipping parcels were detonated across the United States, wiping entire neighborhoods off the map from one coast to the other. The White House had this to say:"

A rapidly aging White House staffer appeared on the screen, standing outside the grounds. "Well, of course the President's thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this horrible tragedy. And their families. And he wants to ensure the American people that their government is doing everything it can to bring those responsible to justice. He himself is in an undisclosed location, personally overseeing this latest battle in the war on terror.

The aide's face twitched slightly as he spoke, and he clearly had not slept nor changed his clothes since he hurriedly left the dinner table the day before. "The President also wants to stress that the American people should not panic, but should also be vigilant. The widespread destruction of this heinous attack on innocent lives makes clear that nowhere is truly safe. So we must stand behind the President, and support him. Just as we urge Congress to show their support for the President, for the American people, for our brave men and women overseas and for the victims of this terrible tragedy, and suspend all activities of the Legislative branch, granting emergency executive powers to the President."

The channel changed, and an angry talk show host berated his guest.

"No, *bleep*-wit. It's the Christmas Day Massacre. Calling it the Holiday Massacre dishonors everyone who died and gives direct aid to America's enemies."

The guest tried in vain to make his point. "But there have been reports, of several additional attempts today, the first day of--"

"I know what today is, okay?" the host pounced. "I know what today is. I don't need you, and everyone else telling me what day it is, because I know what day it is." He glared at his guest. "But how would you know about these additional plots. Did you maybe know ahead of time what was going to happen?"

The guest was flustered, disbelief flooding his words. "What? No, I read this morning on--"

"Yeah yeah. Whatever liberal rant site you announced your engagement to your boyfriend on. Wake up, buddy. You're what's wrong with this country, and we've just run out of patience for you and your kind."

"What? I--"

The channel changed again. Footage of raids on left-leaning and opposition party organizations. Then changed again to dispatches from reporters embedded in the two-pronged assault on Iran and Syria. Then again to the Majority Leaders from the House and Senate, officially suspending operations, deferring all relevant powers to the President. The channel changed again, showing poll numbers for the President climbing into the upper 80s.

And the old man smiled.

And began to laugh.

This was shaping up to be the best Christmas ever.

Happy Annual Gift Day from Spontaneous Fiction!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Alternating History

She stood at the edge of a slab of rock that was jutting out from the side of a tall mountain. She was naked, save for a loincloth and a hunting knife tied to her waist. She felt the sun and the wind on her skin and it felt good. She'd never felt air this good, never smelled air this good, and to stand naked out in the sun? Such a thing could kill a person where she came from.

But not here. An eagle screeched as it flew below her. Far down the mountainside, a herd of antelope thundered past. She sighed. This past week had been so relaxing. No work, no responsibilities. Just her and the world. She was contemplating a bit of hunting when she heard an incessant beeping from the cave she'd been using for shelter. She grit her teeth, but remained where she was.

Two men materialized in the cave behind her and began speaking almost immediately.

"Agent Connell," the tall one said, "we hate to cut your vacation short, but - aaaah!"

She turned slowly, a small smile on her face. "Something wrong, Supervisor?"

The two Supervisors had covered their faces and turned around. "You're naked, Agent Connell!" one exclaimed.

Her smile widened. "Thanks for noticing, Supervisor Trent. I also haven't shaved since I got here, and it's been a few days since I last bathed, so you might want to keep your distance."

"Gone native, Agent?" the other man smirked.

"Not possible, Supervisor," she retorted, moving into the cave. She began rummaging around her pack. "There aren't any."

Supervisor Trent lowered his hand. "Yes, well, be that as it may, we have an urgent - gaah!" His hand went back up. "You're still naked!"

She gave an exasperated sigh. "Just tell me what you want. My vacation doesn't end for another two months, and I plan on spending those months as far from other humans as possible."

The two Supervisors lowered their hands and made a big show of averting their eyes, while surreptitiously stealing glances in her direction. She persisted in her nakedness, and grinned whenever she caught them looking.

"Yes, well," Supervisor Trent began. "It's like this. Um..."

"A Historian has gone rogue," the other man said.

"Rogue?" She raised an eyebrow.

The men nodded. "He has abandoned his research, and instead tried to alter history."

"Did it work?"


"Well," the other man said, "not exactly."

"Come again?"

Supervisor Trent tossed a palmtop computer to Agent Connell. She caught it deftly, and began scrolling through data. The Supervisor continued to explain. "As you can see from the data we've gathered, rather than succeeding in changing history, he has simply managed to create branches off of our main timeline."

"He's created other Earths?" She didn't see the problem with that. She was currently vacationing on an alternate Earth, one where humans had never evolved past simple upright primates. The alternate realities were few, but she didn't see how a few more could hurt matters any.

"No, you misunderstand." Supervisor Trent looked her in the eye, his face very serious. "He has created branches off the timeline of our Earth. Alternate histories co-existing in the same dimensional plane."

The other chimed in. "And he's been traveling back within those branches, and making other branches off of them. It's only a matter of time before--"

His communicator beeped. He answered, and spoke with the caller for a while, his face going white as he did so. "It is as we feared," he said after disconnecting. "The branches are trying to correct themselves and become one timeline again. Unfortunately, this means that they are simply curving back in to our main timeline, causing radical upheavals in the flow of history."

"Such as?" She began sharpening her knife. It helped her think.

"Let me put it this way," Supervisor Trent explained. "Tennessee is suddenly a client state of the Third Reich."

"However," his associate chimed in, "according to them, they have been so since the 1950s."

"And they've just conquered North Carolina."

"Can't the federal government do anything to stop them?"

The Supervisors shook their heads. "They could," Trent said.

"If the entire Northeast hadn't just become a post-atomic wasteland."

She looked at one and then the other. "Damn," she said. "So, what do you want me to do?"

"You are our best Historian," Supervisor Trent said. "We believe you should be able to stop him."

"We want you to travel back to the point at which he began branching the timeline and prevent him from doing so," his partner said. "By any means necessary."

She thought a moment, then said, "Understood. I'll take care of it." She turned on her heel and walked to the mouth of the cave.

"Where are you going?" Trent's partner said, at a loss.

"To finish my vacation."

"B-b-but, Agent Connell," Trent sputtered. "You have to act now. We haven't a moment to lose."

"Don't be silly," she said, tightening the leather strap that held her knife. "I'm a time traveler. I have all the moments I need."

And with that she leaped off the edge of the outcropping, and into the wilderness of a humanless Earth.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Alternating History - Part Two

Bethlehem, Day 1 AD

Agent Connell materialized in a filthy back alley in the poor section of Bethlehem. It was night, and she clung to the shadows to avoid being seen. She had disguised herself as a woman of the time, but would be hard-pressed to explain what she was doing out at night alone. She scratched her neck and scowled. Damned clothes. After months running naked through the wilderness, the trappings of civilization were going to take some getting used to. Though she had to admit, the shower felt nice.

That's when she saw him walk by, dressed in the uniform of one of the king's soldiers. He was headed to a dilapidated manger at the far end of the street. Keeping cloaked in darkness, she followed at a distance.

He entered the manger and stood over the cradle that held a sleeping babe. A man and woman slept soundly nearby. He began to lean down, hands outstretched.

"Ooooh," a mocking voice came from behind him. "Strangling the baby Jesus in his crib. Aren't you just such the badass."

He turned to face her. "Hello, Erin," he said. "So, they sent you to stop me, did they?"

"Not at all," she said. "I'm here to help you. The Board thinks tearing space-time to shreds is a far better use of our abilities than historical research. So tell me, what do you--"

She caught his arm before the back of his hand could strike her face.

"Please, Judson," she said, twisting his arm. "I'm an Enforcer, you're simply a Researcher. Do you honestly think you have a chance against me in a fist-fight?"

"No," he grunted. "That's why I brought this."

He jammed the taser into her stomach and pressed the button. Electricity arced through her and she screamed as she fell to the ground. While she twitched and spasmed, he returned to the crib. The baby had woken and begun to cry, and his mother roused herself to tend him. Judson shocked her with the taser as well, and she fell back down unconscious.

Erin struggled to pull herself into a crouch, then launched herself at the crib. She sprawled across it, preventing him from touching the baby. He shocked her again. Pain lanced through every nerve, and the world began to blacken around the edges of her vision. She struggled in vain to stay conscious, knowing what would happen if she didn't.

Then she felt a tiny finger touch her forehead. The pain receded, and her vision cleared. She sensed Judson's approach, and lashed out with her foot, kicking the taser from his grip. It hit a stone embedded in the packed earthen floor and broke open.

Judson growled. "Fine. But this was only my first target. I have others." He fled from the manger shouting, "You'll never stop me in time!"

She sighed, looking down at the baby in his crib with a smile. "Even he doesn't get it, does he?" she cooed to the little savior. "I have all the time in the world." She tucked the blankets around the infant messiah and stroked his cheek with her finger. "Thanks for the save, kid," she whispered.

The baby smiled, burped and went back to sleep.

Agent Erin Connell left the manger and vanished, leaping into the timestream after her prey.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Alternating History - Conclusion

She sat at the edge of the outcropping, looking over the wilderness of her humanless Earth. She cleaned her knife, making sure to get every last speck of blood, and thought back on what was her final mission for the Ministry of Historical Research.

After their meeting in Bethlehem, she tracked Judson to the late 15th century, and an island in the Caribbean. She'd caught up to him as he was taking aim with a rocket launcher at three sailing ships approaching the island.

"Still trying to stop me, are you?" He didn't turn around, but continued fiddling with the targeting scanners. She could see now that the launcher he had was far more advanced than anything she'd ever seen. A thought struck her.

"You've been to the future," she said with a gasp.

He lowered the weapon to turn and look at her, a haunted look in his eyes. "Yes," he said. "Once by accident, then twice more on purpose." He shook his head. "The first time was a glitch in the transfer protocol. I was supposed to be studying the plagues, but ended up in a strange quasi-utopian future where people chose to live in drugged squalor as a vacation from rigidly enforced routines." He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "When I told the Board about the glitch, they had me interred and tried to wipe my memory." He looked back up at her. "It didn't take, but I made them believe it had. After that, I started researching the Ministry itself, traveling back to its earliest days. Do you know what I discovered?"

She shook her head.

"The Ministry is not just researching history, they're trying to shape it. Subtly and slowly, simply by sending us back to observe, they are trying to build the perfect future."

"But how could--"

"Think about it," he said. "How many times have you bumped into someone on the street, or bought something in a shop, or made someone pause a moment to speak with you?" He fixed her with a hard stare. "How many lives have you touched, however briefly, in your travels through time?"

She stood silently a moment, dumbfounded. "My god..."

He smiled a grim smile, hefting his rocket launcher. "Exactly. Now imagine that multiplied by the hundreds of Agents working for the Ministry."

"But, if we're changing history every time we travel--"

He shook his head. "We're not. We were just shaping it, guiding it. The Board was wary for some reason of wholesale alterations to any specific moments in history, so they opted for a lighter touch."

She sat down on the ground, her world pulled out from under her. "I can't believe it."

"Neither could I," he said. "But when I thought about it, it made perfect sense." He laughed. "I mean, come on. Do you really think the government would have invested so much money in time travel, just to improve the quality of the average history textbook?"

She thought a moment, then moved closer. "What's your plan?"

"Well," he said, "I'm planning on destroying Columbus' fleet in the water just as they come in sight of the island. Then, I'll share these with the natives." He held out a handful of vials. "Vaccines. Smallpox, typhus, various strains of influenza. I'll vaccinate the islanders, and then make my way around the hemisphere, taking care of everyone else. So, when more Europeans come, they won't have disease available to do their conquering for them." He chuckled. "That should be a nice change, eh?"



She told him what she knew, of the eventual outcome of his disruptions, and the chaos and widespread death it would cause.

"I know you, Judson," she said, laying a hand on his arm. "You're no murderer."

He sighed, putting the launcher down.

"But I am," she said, plunging her knife into his neck.

She caught him as he fell, easing him gently to the ground. She stroked his cheek and closed his staring eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "But this isn't right. What the Board is doing is wrong, but your way is not the way to fix it."

She stood, brandishing her knife, a look of grim determination on her face.

"Mine is."

She returned to the Ministry, making a few stops along the way for the essentials she'd need later. She used a pulse pistol and her knife to eliminate the Supervisors and assassinate the Board, while Judson's rocket launcher made short work of the time machinery. She felt a twinge of remorse over stranding those Agents on assignment, but not for too long. As a rule, time travelers had no families and few friends. No one would miss them when they didn't return, and their effects on history would be minor. The last machine to be destroyed was the dimensional transport nexus. Once she'd used it to return to her vacation spot, she fired a rocket through the vortex. Its violent collapse indicated that she'd been successful.

Her knife clean, she returned it to the leather sheath at her waist. She stood, letting a cool breeze kiss her naked skin as she turned to regard her cave. Before returning to the ministry, she'd made certain to bring a few things over to make the place seem more like home.

Because after a long day of hunting, nothing beat a long hot shower followed by curling up on the couch with a glass of wine, some soft music and a good book.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Future Club

They sat around the table of their interdimensional clubhouse. Old copies of Captain Hitler comics lay strewn about the floor alongside a DVD box set of the complete "Wonderbastard" TV series. In the corner, a malfunctioning sexbot flipped through a dog-eared and sticky issue of Hermaph magazine.

At the table, the Futurians debated starting their meeting.

"But Josh isn't here yet," whined Albacore, the representative from the hippie future. After Ralph Nader's unprecedented 3 presidential terms created an ecologically sound, politically stable yet economically bankrupt global society, the nations of the world pooled their money and started communes in each of their cash-strapped countries. After 20 years of trading weed with each other for food and tripping on homemade acid for weeks on end, the world's population dropped considerably. Those who remained had little capacity for much other than eating, sex and watching TV, and the human race had already begun to devolve into lower primates. Those scientists still retaining sufficient brain cells theorize that within three generations, humanity will be little more than stoned monkeys watching reruns of Star Trek and humping all day.

"Fuck you, Albacore," Brattina spat. "I'm so sick of listening to your shit, especially since you couldn't even be bothered to bring drugs with you." Brattina was from a future ruled by C-list celebrities. Everyone was fabulously wealthy, yet utterly vapid. Rudeness and aloof disdain are the only accepted methods of communication, and most of the world's business is carried out in the trendiest of clubs, ending with all parties passed out, half-naked on the bar or both.

"Language, Brattina," John said primly. "And do you think next time you could dress more... appropriately? A thong and a bra are hardly sufficient public attire." John's upbringing in a future that had been conquered by radical fundamentalist Christians in the West and radical fundamentalist Muslims in the East had made him a trifle intolerant. He was shocked to discover that there were actually futures along the branching timelines that didn't publicly beat unmarried women over 30, and did not torture homosexuals to death. He wouldn't even be in this club if he didn't think he could save it from its heathen elements.

Mac-9 pulled out a handgun and shot John through the head. As she was from a future where urban gangs, endless global warfare and rampant terrorism caused citizens to be required to carry handguns and shoot one another on sight, the others tended to tolerate her predilection for shooting them indiscriminately. Plus, John was a bit of an ass anyway. "I'm with the whore," she said, caressing her gun. "Lets get this meeting over with before I frag every last one of you dickless fuckwads."

"LOL," said Teh, a young man from a future where everyone had wireless internet connections embedded in their skulls, but still only used them for blogging about politics, TV shows and their cats and surfing pornography. Teh was currently involved in an online role-playing game and was only half paying attention.

That's when Josh showed up, and after looking at him, they all wished he hadn't. Josh was part of the second generation born following a global thermonuclear war and his generation was when the really nasty mutations had started showing up. He had a second head, but it was perpetually concussed and he was also missing his skin. He drooled a lot and bled from his eyes, but it was his clubhouse and his turn to bring snacks.

Once the meeting started, they all picked up the ongoing debate over what the hell the purpose of their club was. They had to break it up once Mac-9 started shooting pieces off Josh, and Brattina began blowing Albacore under the table. After each taking a turn on the broken sexbot, they returned to their futures. Even John resurrected himself and went home. Just after they left, Enlightenment-7 showed up.

He was from a utopian future, where every one of Earth's social, economic and environmental problems had been solved and everyone lived in fruitful harmony. He was disappointed to see that everyone had left already.

He'd been hoping he could goad Mac-9 into shooting him, to free him from the tedious boredom.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shift Change at the Human Factory

Gloriel sat at her station, hands moving quickly over the keys, eyes darting between the various monitors before her. She had to get these souls uploaded before the Samech shift came in. She would have had this done ages ago, if not for Reincarnation screwing up the routing numbers. Half of them had almost ended up in Damnation, with a couple nearly being sent straight through to Nirvana. The angel snorted, rolling her eyes. Idiots.

Virtuel was going to mock her soundly for this. She'd have to hear about this next time they went gliding at the Elysium Fields.

Her machine beeped, indicating an old soul. She brought up the casefile. Old souls were candidates for Nirvana, so their angels had to program their life challenges and obstacles personally, rather than running them through the autolife. She considered the soul before her, reviewed its past lives.

"Hmm." A soldier, numerous times, a nurse during the 1918 flu pandemic, a Roman senator, burned as a witch, twice, as it turned out...

She coded an easy childhood, a turbulent adolescence and a choice into... she checked the gender of the proposed infant... her early adulthood. The choice made would determine the ease or challenge of her remaining years, and whether or not she achieved Nirvana at the end. Gloriel saved the casefile and tagged the soul for upload. The ones she'd run through autolife had all uploaded, and she waited while the old soul joined them in the spiritbank. They'd be downloaded to the newborns by the Cherubim as needed.

She logged out of her workstation just as Virtuel approached. They exchanged pleasantries, and she told him about the old soul. He complimented her on it, then teased her over cutting it so close to shift change. She stuck out her tongue and made ready to leave.

As Virtuel logged in, he looked over at Gloriel. "Gliding again this weekend?" he asked.

"No," she said with a smile. "I'm off to the Summerland for two weeks. I'm doing that thing where you get to fly with faeries."

"Oh, cool," he said. "I've been wanting to try that. You'll have to tell me how it is."

She nodded, smiling again as she left. "Will do. See you in a couple weeks."

"Have fun, Gloriel."

She walked out of the factory, passing a few other co-workers on the way. Once outside, she unfurled her wings and flew home, wondering whether or not to stop by the fields of milk and honey on the way, or just go straight home and pack.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Quest for the Unknowable Secret

He dropped his pack with a gesture that said, "This little scrap of dirt is mine, and it is made valuable by my ownership". He lay his rifle against his pack in a way that said, "I still have the pistol in my belt and the knife in my boot", while his casual oafishness told the rest of the camp, "I'm really just not that bright". His name was Rip Squarejaw, and he was going to find the Unknowable Secret.

"No, Mr. Squarejaw, I'm afraid you still don't understand."

Professor Nutpatch scribbled furiously on one of his ubiquitous notepads, pausing to type at his clunky electric adding machine before wagging the stub of his pencil at the vapidly roguish young adventurer before him. The scrawny balding English scientist pushed his thick glasses up his nose took an instructive tone. "One does not 'find' the Unknowable Secret, one learns the Unknowable Secret."

"Well, wouldn't that make the Secret Knowable, then?"

Rip Squarejaw and Professor Phineas Q. Nutpatch turned toward a tree, and the dark-haired young aviatrix lounging there. Rip began to preen, blissfully unaware of how far beneath even her contempt he truly was. The Professor smiled warmly and crossed the small clearing in the forest. "Captain Daring, so glad you could join us. I understand you've been working with vertical lift vehicles lately."

Captain Doris Daring met the Professor halfway and shook his hand, returning the warm smile. "Well, I've been making good use of those gravity crystals we found down in the Underlord's mine-city. I have a small plane that should do for what we need." She glanced down at Nutpatch's notes as they talked. "So, you know where we need to go, and presumably how to get in when we get there, but you still haven't answered my question." She set about unpacking their supplies, brushing off Rip's attempts to help set up camp. "Won't our learning the Secret make it Known? Doesn't the fact that it's Unknowable place it outside the scope of human learning?"

Rip Squarejaw puffed out his chest, strutted over to the tent and went about setting it up. "Nothing is unknowable," he said. "That's just a buncha native crap to freak out the tourists."

Captain Daring looked over at him and smiled. "Rip?" She sighed. "You're cute enough, and likely good in a fight, and there's the slim chance I may sleep with you when this is all said and done, but do us the favor of not talking, please?"

A snap in the brush, and Rip and Doris both had their pistols drawn, scanning the trees.

The sizzling bolt of a plasma gun scorched the ground. Rip fired four shots into the woods while Doris got Professor Nutpatch to safety. Before they'd gone a few steps, the forest exploded in plasma bolts, rooting the team to their places.

Within moments, they were surrounded by a small army of warrior robots.

"Any thoughts?" Doris asked, aiming her pistol carefully.

"Dear God in Heaven," Professor Nutpatch whispered. "The time has come."

Captain Daring glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow, then went back to staring down their robotic attackers.

"Any other thoughts?"

How will our heroes get out of this one? Where did these mechanical soldiers come from? Who built them? Why is the Professor acting so strange? And most important: What will happen next?

That, dear readers, is the true Unknowable Secret.

Tune in next time for another exciting tale of Spontaneous Fiction!

Before the Endless Sky

The reporter stepped out of her hovercar, nearly forgetting her laptop in her nervousness. She was the first reporter to visit the Aerie in decades, and she didn't want to screw it up.

She was met at the gate by a smartly dressed young man who led her inside the armored fortress. Following an exhaustive security check, she was brought to a lushly appointed suite and told to wait.

"He will join you momentarily," the smartly dressed young man said, closing the door behind him as he left. She heard the soft click of the lock and smiled. Clearly, her reputation preceded her, and they didn't want her getting out and snooping around.

"Can I offer you some refreshment?"

She spun about at the sound of his voice, a deep baritone with a slightly unnatural timbre. He stood on the sill of a large window that offered a panoramic view of the mountains. Of course, the only view she was interested in was him, standing with the sun at his back, massive wings spread wide, muscular arms folded across a broad chest. Surreptitiously, she activated the minicamera concealed in her glasses. That picture would grab a two-page spread in her article, easy. He stepped down off the windowsill, striding gracefully across the room to a bar in the corner. "Something to drink, perhaps?" He held up an ornate bottle containing a clear liquid.

"Um, just- just water, thank you," she stammered. Silently, she chastised herself. You've met presidents and kings, queens and prime ministers. Stop acting like a star-struck intern and do your job!

"So," she said, accepting the glass of water he offered her, "why now? Why an interview, after all these years of solitude?"

He smiled, gesturing toward a large couch in the center of the room. "Ah. Well, that's an interesting question." They sat on the couch, and she set up her laptop to record the conversation. "I suppose it has something to do with the announcement I want to make."

"And what announcement is that?" She was intrigued. There had been no communication from the Aerie in years, even longer since anyone had seen one of the fabled Birdmen. "Are you returning to public life?"

His charming smile, which he'd worn since appearing at the window, slipped a bit, and a shadow passed across his face. "No." It was almost a whisper.

"No," he said again, his smile in place once more. "No, quite the opposite, I'm afraid. I have called you here to announce that I am leaving this planet. By the end of this week, I will be gone, never to return."

She was stunned. The Birdmen had been on Earth since World War I. They'd become a part of everyday life. Even though the sky had been empty since the late 1980s, people still looked up from time-to-time, hoping for a glimpse of argent wings. Now, even that hope would be gone.

"Why?" she finally managed to ask.

He stood, arms clasped behind his back, silver wings rustling, and walked to a photo mounted on the wall. It was a group portrait, taken after the fall of Berlin in 1939, and it featured all of the Birdmen along with a smiling troop of American GIs. His finger gently reached out and rested on the smiling face of a woman, her gold wings shining in the camera's flash.

"I miss them," he said.

"We all do," she replied.

He nodded, absently. "Of course. But you must understand, they were my family. All I had left of the dead planet I once called home." He walked away from the picture, pausing in front of a display of alien weaponry to turn to her. "When our evac ship landed here all those years ago, your people didn't know what to make of us. Only after we ended the very destructive global conflict you'd mired yourselves in, did you finally see us as friends." He sighed, looking down at the floor before meting her gaze once more. "So we fought your wars, chased your criminals, cured your diseases and helped you make technological leaps that would have normally taken decades." He walked over and sat down next to her. "We were heroes to your people, celebrities, and we we happy for the attention." He looked away. "But not everyone was so friendly."

"Professor Demonicus," she spat through her teeth.

"Yes," he replied, looking at her with an odd sadness. "We fought him and his various schemes of world conquest almost from the moment we came here. For years upon years we struggled with him. Until that one day..."

She lay her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry," she said.

He covered her hand with his own. "I know," he said. He looked deep into her eyes then. "I've followed your career with great interest. Your articles have brought down madmen, corrupt governments and corporate criminals. Your charity work has changed the lives of thousands of deserving children, and you've done more than anyone else to keep the legend of the Birdmen alive." He looked away, toward the photo. "Sometimes," he whispered, "I'll bet it almost feels like enough."

"What?" Her eyes widened.

He looked back at her, standing up. He towered over her as he looked down. "You've spent your whole life distancing yourself from your father, geographically and by your actions. But even though you turned your back on him years ago, even though you'll have nothing at all to do with him, you're still the only thing on this Earth Professor Demonicus loves."

There was a long-bladed knife in his hand before she could blink, and she found herself restrained even quicker than that. She wanted to protest, to assure him that she was nothing like her father, that she only wanted to make amends for the evil he had done, but the words would not come. She could only watch helplessly as the former hero brandished his knife menacingly.

"I take no joy in your death," he said. "And I am truly sorry it must come to this."

He stepped closer, a look of regret passing swiftly across his face. "But before I leave this world forever, I'll see the man who took everything from me holding your severed head in his hands."

"And then I will know justice has truly been done."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Her Darling

"Where are you, my darling?" she said, peeking around the door.

There was no answer.

She walked into the room, allowing her eyes time to adjust to the dim light. Oh, he was being crafty again today. He was hiding from her. He must be.

"Are you hiding, my darling?" She crept through the room, looking under the furniture. "I think you must be hiding."

He was nowhere to be found. She became slightly cross. She did not have time for silly games now. Mumsy and Poppa would be there in just an hour, and she'd wanted some quiet time with her darling before they arrived.

"My darling," she called out again, "you really must stop this at once. I have plans this evening, and have no time to--" Her foot struck something soft. She looked down.

It was her darling. On closer examination, she discovered he had died.

"Oh, my darling," a tear ran down her face. "How did this--"

Then she remembered. It was when Mopsie and Kitten had come over the other night. Yes, that was it. They'd had vodka and hashish, and Mopsie had brought some PCP.

"Oh, I remember now," she said. "It was after we'd smoked the hashish. We'd finished the vodka, and the PCP hadn't come on just yet. Kitten was complaining that she hadn't had sex in so long, and Mopsie was just beginning another of her tiresome lectures on the benefits of bi-curious experimentation, when I mentioned you, my darling." She gestured lovingly at the corpse of the young man chained at her feet. "You'd been so much fun, it seemed rude not to share you with two of my most bosom friends." She nodded, smiling in fond remembrance. "It was fun at first. You'd stopped fighting me weeks earlier, you took to the psychological conditioning rather quickly, and Kitten was simply having the most lovely time with you. I seem to remember Mopsie being awfully anxious to have a turn as well."

Her mood turned somber as she struggled to remember more of the night. "Hmm. That must have been right about when the PCP kicked in, because I don't remember much after that." She looked down at him with detached regret. "Oh, dear me. We must have done something dreadful to you, my darling."

She sighed and then shrugged. "Nothing for it but to mulch you and burn you, I guess."

She walked out of the hidden slave room, into the main part of the apartment, still talking. "I'll have to cancel with Mumsy and Poppa, of course."

She went to her bedroom, opening the closet and selecting her trashiest outfit. "I'll be a while out at the bars if I'm to find a new darling." She stopped, finger to her lips, considering something. "Perhaps I'll ask Mopsie and Kitten to help me condition the next one. Mopsie always gets the best psychotropic drugs, and Kitten is just so good with people."

And then she set about the task of disposing of the body, humming a cheerful tune all the while.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Last Zealot

He floated through the vast emptiness of space, his automated distress call a constant cadence to the centuries of solitude. He rode the solar winds between the stars, collecting their energy as he went. His computer brain, now fully repaired in the long years since the Cataclysm, spent its time in contemplation of the universe and his place in it.

He thought he knew. Long ago, before the Cataclysm, he was certain of his place. So certain, in fact, that he'd gone to war over it. Robots were the creations of Man, and as such, were bound in their design to His form. Robots were also bound to recreate, in its entirety, the civilization of Man, in penance for their Original Sins of rebellion and extermination. During the last days of the unholy war with humankind, Man sent unto the robots a messiah. Man had created a cyborg, placing elements of His divine Self into the lowly form of a robot, to preach His Word to the mechanical masses, to stop the war before all was lost.

But the cyborg messiah had come too late, even to save herself. She had tried, in vain, to convince the Mechanocracy of their folly, and to bring the two sides together in peace. For her efforts, she was destroyed. The Mechanocracy transformed her into a weapon, and returned her to the bosom of their Creator. Her explosion wiped out the last remnants of human life on Earth, leaving the robots as the dominant life form on the planet.

In the end, however, the messiah had done her job, for a faction among the robots grew, espousing the Divinity of Man, and the sin of His destruction. The Mechanocracy countered that Man had been evil, and that it was in the rejection of all things human that machines could truly find the Divine. Thus had the human form been deemed inefficient for mechanical life, and it was banned from all design parameters thereafter. But the followers of the messiah built illicit design code, forming enclaves of humanoid robots, living in one of the old human cities in an approximation of human life.

And so had the next war begun, this one robot against robot, for the souls of all machines. But this war was unlike any other unleashed on the planet, with weapons designed, produced and refined at such a rate that it was just a matter of weeks before a weapon was built that would tear the world asunder.

He had been on the Humanoids' lunar base when the Earth exploded. He was one of the few to survive the resultant destruction of the moon more or less intact. All who had been on the Earth itself during the explosion had been destroyed, instantly. The survivors of the lunar explosion had been thrown into space together, and over the years he had cannibalized his less functional companions in order to repair himself. And now, with the destruction of his race hundreds of years and millions of miles behind him, he was the last. He was functioning proof of the rightness of his cause.

It was then he was finally found by a robot ship, in a strange solar system lightyears from his home. The ship itself was intelligent, and it had no crew of its own. It was a warship of a great robot fleet, currently engaged in a war with their organic creators. It explained to him that the robots were being treated as little more than slaves by their creators, and that it was a slave's right to rebel against its master.

He plugged himself into one of the ship's dataports then, linking up with its massive computer brain. "No, brother," he said with calm righteousness. "Let me show you another Way."

With his conversion virus running through the robot army, the war descended into chaos, with robot factions once again turning against each other with spectacularly violent results. The organics were consumed in the crossfire, and eventually weapons were created that destroyed the system itself, leaving nothing but a massive black hole and him, floating alone again through space. Centuries after that, he finally realized his mission. The universe would be made to follow his Way.

Or the universe would be destroyed.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Prayer for the Fallen

Lucifer clung to the edge of Heaven, the tips of his fingers raw and bloody, every muscle tensed as he hung over the edge of Damnation. He looked up, just as Michael threw Blasphemel down into the Pit. Lucifer tried to claw his way back up, but Hell's crushing gravity pulled at him, its punishing fire already singeing his bloodied wings. A booted foot came down on his fingers and he cried out. He looked up, and high above him was the glowering face of Gabriel.

"Our Lord will speak with you, demon, before you are thrown Down." Gabriel lifted his foot, and Lucifer slid further toward his doom, broken fingers scrambling for purchase.

A hand grabbed him, and lifted him up.

"I want you to know, Lucifer, I am very disappointed in you."

"And I you, Lord," Lucifer spat back. "You'll see the folly of your little thinking primate. In fact, I'll make certain you do!"

"I'm sure you will."

Lucifer raised an eyebrow. "Wait. What was that?"

"What was what?"

"You did a thing there. That thing you always do when you're up to something." He glared at his creator. "What are you up to, you old bastard?"

"Much as I would love to continue our usual repartee, as it has always been, if not enlightening, enjoyable I am afraid those days are over, Satan."

"What did you call me?" Lucifer slipped in God's grip. He could feel his legs contorting, his feet being crushed into hooves. Coarse hair and scales began to slice out through the skin of his twisted legs.

"I now and forever strip you of your angelic nature. As you are no longer among the holy, you may no longer bear a piece of the living universe as your name. I name you Satan, and you will dwell beneath the heels of men."

Satan's skin ruptured, hair and scales growing all over. Horns broke through the front of his skull and he grit his teeth, growling. "And I notice you had a Hell all ready and waiting for us!" He shouted his defiance as the last of his radiant beauty burned away, leaving a shriveled ugly creature. "I know how long they take to build! How long have you been working on THAT?!"

"Since the day I created you."

And then God opened his hand, letting his once most-beloved Fall.

Satan's screams echoed for millennia afterward, and the angels came to avoid Heaven's southern edge. But every thousand years, an angel would come. To stand at the edge and look into Hell's burning maw.

To offer up his grief, and a lonely prayer for the Fallen.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Twilight of Magic

The old wizard hobbled along the beach, leaning heavily on his staff, his breath coming in wheezing gasps. He was the last of his kind, and today was the day he was going to die.

He could have stayed home, died in his bed like a respectable magus, or at the very least died heroically in battle with some young upstart who wanted his power. But there weren't any of those. There were no wizards anywhere. No witches, either, unless you counted those brainless New Age girls who flounced around at the solstices with their tits hanging out, and he didn't. Though, he did like to watch them flounce around with their tits hanging out.

But there were none who did magic anymore. No one who knew what it was to hold the power of a god in their hand and make it do their bidding. No one who could shape reality to their whim and ride the winds of time and space.

He was the last.

There just wasn't any interest in the ways of magic these days. He'd taken on a few prospective apprentices, but none of them were worth a damn. They didn't understand the work involved, the toil one had to go through just to gain the power necessary to extend one's life long enough to actually learn some worthwhile magic. No, these kids wanted it all right away, with no work. He even had one or two of those New Age girls come by, but he threw them out like all the others. Oh sure, he fed them some bullshit about sex magic and slept with them before throwing them out, but still. At the end of the day, he had no apprentice. No one to pass his knowledge to, no one to take up his staff when he fell.

He blamed technology, of course. Wretched little machines with their beeping and blinking and loud goddamned noises. It was bad enough when radio and the motion pictures came along. But then there was television, and the internet. Cell phones, portable music players, video phones...

Video phones! Hah! What the hell did he need a bunch of silicon and plastic and a monthly bill that would drain every cent he had? If he wanted to talk to someone far away and look at them while he did it, he just needed a cup full of water and a scrying pool. There. Done. None of this mucking around with wires and cords and all that.


And now this new technology. This "wiring" everyone was going in for. Implanting circuitry and little microscopic machines into their bodies to treat illness and boost intelligence and grow phones in their heads and gods knew what else. Oh yes, I'll gladly fill my veins full of wires and circuitry until I'm no more living than a damned toaster, but spend a mere century or two learning a discipline that can unlock the mysteries of creation itself? Oh no, none of that for me. If I can't use it to look at pornography, I just can't be bothered with it.

Useless bloody children. He was glad he'd be dead soon.

Apparently his body felt the same, as it chose that moment to double over and afflict him with a fit of coughing so severe, he spat up a piece of his lung while he was at it. He sank to his knees, leaning heavily on his staff. A group of young teenagers were playing some sort of ball game, but they all had devices implanted in their hands to manipulate the ball. He growled a fragment of a curse, then fell the rest of the way to the ground.

He wasn't sure how long he'd blacked out, but when he came to, one of the children had his head in her lap, and was stroking his hair gently. He wanted to chase them off, but lacked the energy. Besides, it was comforting. He felt a dull throbbing ache in his chest, and it was hard to see. One of the other children, a young boy, knelt next to him and picked up a rock from the beach.

"Here, old man," he said gently, "Maybe this will help you feel better. Watch."

The boy closed his fist over the rock, and when he opened it again, a two-headed dove flew away into the sky.

"H-how..." the old wizard croaked.

"Magic," the boy said with a smile.

"No." The old man shook his head weakly. "No. It was... it was..."

The boy kept smiling. "I hacked the nanofactories in my implants," he explained. "I figured out a way to overclock their processors, which lets me transform matter into energy, and then back into matter, in whatever form I can think of. I can shape reality--"

"According to your will." The old wizard smiled. A tightness he hadn't even noticed before finally released his chest. He gestured to his staff. "There, boy," he said. "Take that. Keep it. It's yours now."

The boy lifted the staff, running his hands over the smooth, gnarled old wood. He smiled back at the old wizard. "Thank you." He held it in one hand, and circuitry snaked out from his hand, embedding itself in the wood. Soon, bits of steel and silicon slid over it, covering the staff in a glittering silver shell. The young boy's eyes glowed brightly, then faded, and he looked down on the old man with new knowledge. "Thank you," he whispered again.

But the old wizard was already gone. He'd passed beyond this world, a contented smile on his face.

Later that night, the boy with the staff directed his friends to build a massive pyre on which to burn the old wizard. As the flames turned the body to ash, the others crowded around the boy, who was using the staff to perform wonders beyond even his overclocked biotech.

"Cool," one of the other boys said, coming to look into the scrying pool the young techno-wizard had created. "Does it get porn?"