Friday, September 30, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 37: BEFORE THE BOXES OPEN

Emerald felt her throat tighten. She gently took the necklace and put it on. Clearing her throat, she managed, “Thanks.”


Emerald and Dr. Viahakis rode down to Level Two in silence. Core was Level One, so Level Two was a sort of “roof to the world”. They got out into an empty corridor. There could be a pine tree hanging down below them or a pebbled river bottom might lay beneath her feet with a river rushing over it.

It made Emerald feel weird.

“The boxes were no longer safe in your unit,” said Dr. Viahakis. “We needed to move them to my lab and you need to open them there.”

“They won’t be safe anywhere any more. Inamma knew they were in my room. It knows they’re here," Emerald said.

Dr. Viahakis stopped suddenly and spun around, exclaiming, “What?”

Emerald backed up a bit and said, “I heard Inamma outside the door a few nights ago. The spiked legs hitting the ground are a sound I won’t ever forget.”

“Why didn’t you call us?”

“It happened too fast,” she said. “Inamma was there and then it was gone. Besides, would you have believed me?”

“Of course we would have...”

“Just like you believed I might actually know something about the Inamma? You believed strongly enough that you took the boxes from me without bothering to ask if I knew what was going on. You had the records from Dr. Jekyll down at the Century Square Psych Ward. You knew perfectly well what I said. Yet you did nothing.”

Dr. Viahakis had the grace to blush. “You have to believe me when I tell you, Emerald that we’re taking an awful lot of what you say on trust. Your parent’s reputations as researchers – especially in paleoxenoarchaeontology...”

“That’s what they’ve been doing all my life? Digging up ancient alien artifacts?”

Dr. Viahakis’ condescending smile vanished. “How do you know about paleoxenoarchaeontology? Vice-captain Marcillon knew they were working out the origin of ancient beings or creatures on Earth, who were possibly extraterrestrial.” She paused. “Everyone I knew said that their specialty was xenoarchaeology, but even that’s quite a mouthful. They mean practically the same thing – the distinction isn’t important.”

“It’s important to me! The word itself is important! The two words don’t even mean the same thing! If they were working on aliens, don’t you think...” she stopped suddenly, blinking. Several things fell into place, like the 3D alien projection – and even Inamma.

Dr. Viahakis stood, watching her, frowning slightly. She continued as if she’d been waiting for Emerald to apologize for belching, saying, “...their reputations in their field attracted quite a bit of attention.”

“There were some crazy people who came out to the Crater.” Emerald said, “They always looked beat up when they got to us.”

Dr. Viahakis said, “The governments of Earth made sure your parents weren’t distracted from their work. They put up all kinds of roadblocks against just any old person getting there. They knew they were on to something and only allowed the most determined crackpots in. They gave your parents time to formulate and support their hypotheses.”

“But they argued all the time! Dad wanted to go back the States and just teach! Mom always wanted to stay at Chicxulub!”

Dr. Viahakis looked away then turned to face Emerald squarely. “Their relationship with each other wasn’t something the governments wanted to do anything about.” She shook her head.

Emerald turned away, and touched the wall, tracing a figure eight on it. She fought back tears as she remembered all kinds of things about her parents. There had been some really good times at the Crater. She took a shuddering breath, bit her upper lip, turned back to Dr. Viahakis and said, “Could I have unlimited access to the boxes when they’re moved?”

Dr. Viahakis scowled. “Why?”

“Those are the last things Mom and Dad touched. Besides pictures and soundbytes, that’s all I have left. They loved their old junk.”

“You don’t know what’s in the boxes?”

She shrugged, “Stuff that has something to do with the Chicxulub Crater. Maybe some other stuff.”

“Such as...”

Again, Emerald shrugged. “They were always getting boxes sent to them from all over the world – even some stuff from the Lunar colonies. Other times, people who worked for the International Space Administration sent them samples, photos, or files taken from probes that visited Uranus, Mercury, and even the Oort Cloud. Plus pictures – zillions of physical photographs and baskets of memory chips. They spent hours and hours loading the data into their model.”

“How do you know that?”

Emerald snorted and said, “I’m an Aspie – not stupid. I can read the manifest screens just as well as anyone else. Besides, people let their guard down when they think you’re a little kid. Even Mom and Dad did it sometimes.” She suddenly sucked in her lower lip, willing herself not to cry at the memory that abruptly surged up. Mom and Dad had been working in the lab.

A recording appeared in the air between them.

Mom and Dad were at the holographic imager and it was projecting a strange creature. Both of them were walking around it, scowling. She’d skipped in and said, “What’s that?”

Mom slapped the off switch and stepped back, saying, “A friend of ours is on the design team of a new alien invasion 3D game. He sent us his sketches and wanted to know what we thought.” Mom glanced at Dad and said, “You remember him – he came out to look around here to see if it would be a good place to do a location shoot.” The image vanished.

Emerald looked up at Dr. Viahakis, “I didn’t believe her. Dad gave Mom a funny look when she said ‘alien invasion’. Something was up and they didn’t want me to know about it. I went goo-goo-ga-ga and begged them to see the picture again.” She paused then kept on, “They were fooled and showed me. Mom pulled up the image and it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen. The alien looked like a dinosaur, a bird and a rat sort-of-smashed-together. The mouth protruded but it had rat-teeth but shorter. It was mostly scaled, but patches of dark, stiff feather-spines sprouted from behind two large ears separated by a bony crest with two eyes on both sides, one toward the rear one toward the front. A forked tail that looked like a two-headed hooded cobra was attached behind with two sharp spikes at the tips. The legs were like kangaroo legs only heavier.” She abruptly came back to the present and shook her head. “They were always getting weird stuff besides artifacts – pictures and simulations. It was like Mom and Dad were the center of a bunch of scientists who were working on the origins of Chicxulub, the Caloris Basin on Mercury, the atmosphere on Venus, and the axial tilt of Uranus.”

“You know all of that?” Dr. Viahakis exclaimed. Emerald shrugged as they stopped in front of a door. Dr. Viahakis palmed the security pad then entered an extremely long sequence of numbers into the virtual keypad that appeared.

“It’s true I’m a kid, but you should know by now that kids stupid,” Emerald said.

The door slid back and after they stepped in, a voice from deeper inside said, “My great-niece is absolutely not stupid but like her parents, she has an amazing ability to get into trouble.”

“Great aunt Ruby!” Emerald spun and shot Dr. Viahakis a deadly glare. Her great aunt was sitting in a wide, high chair, leaning back with her arms crossed over her chest, studying Emerald.

Viahakis shrugged and said, “She’s the vice-captain, not stupid. She’s supposed to have a supple mind and follow through on her hunches.” She headed to a desk with a cubic meter of holographic computer projection above it and sat down in a chair. “You’ll have to cut a deal with the vice-captain if you want to see the artifacts.”

Emerald looked over at great aunt Ruby and said, “I’d like to be able to see the boxes whenever I want to.”

Ruby’s gaze fixed on Emerald and her eyes narrowed to slits. “Given what you said about the artifacts being your last contact with my brother and his wife – and with clearance from Dr. Viahakis,” the psychiatrist nodded absently. Ruby said, “We have a deal.”

“Agreed,” Emerald said, sticking out her hand.

Ruby took it, shook it. From the desk, Dr. Viahakis said, “Tomorrow go into Columbia Memorial Park and walk up to the giant oak. When no one’s looking, knock on the trunk five times, pause then knock seven times. A door will open. Go down the ladder. If I’m not there...”

Vice-Captain Ruby said, “Where else would you be?”

Dr. Viahakis sniffed, ignoring the comment and continued, “I’ll make sure you have access to your boxes.”

The vice-captain stood up with a sigh and went to the door. It slid open as if someone had been waiting for her to move. “I’ve got more work to do.” She was gone a moment later.

Emerald stared after her, mind fixed on the last words. She said to Dr. Viahakis, “Right after I got here, great-aunt Ruby said, ‘I don’t have time for a child. I have work to do.’ Then she said, ‘You’ve graduated from being a problem to being a liability’. ” Dr. Viahakis looked, raised an eyebrow. Her eyes asked the question and Emerald replied, “Looks like I’ve finally graduated to being work.”

Dr. Viahakis hummed deep in her throat, not-quite-a-grunt, but Emerald thought she saw a smile flick across her face before she said, “Congratulations.” Then she spun away on her chair and was back to work.

Emerald watched her for a moment then turned away, saying softly, “Then I’ve got some work to do.”

“What was that, Em?”

Emerald held her tongue – she hated being called ‘Em’ – and said, “I’m going to walk around outside a bit before I start looking into the boxes.”

Without turning around, Dr. Viahakis said, “Don’t take too much time outside. We need to find out what’s in them as soon as you’re ready to get to work.”

Emerald nodded and walked out.

**

THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…

(If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Image: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhR0X3mAc2AzqEJWA3ehVkVfHfzWGYFL0TbXeMyJDUyP3fRUi4gVLpK2PSo9qeqvljaCWKP7z9Dn120wRuSmoZoV_CWee_Yaw_UZx39rhg-xjZqsRFAr1ZFk6hZwUbDu0mLyb58RNhTPK9iS5HYXbijVje_dGNSJyz665C6PY0HtZRk-KaQWAsC46CEfQ/s1600/emerald_320.png

Friday, September 23, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 36: CUTTING A DEAL...

“I’ll definitely nominate you for an Emmy award,” she muttered as the bolus surged outward to Level Twelve.

The bolus rose for a long time, twisting and turning, rolling through the vast, organic set of lift shafts that wound through SOLAREX like intestines.

“Intestines,” said Emerald. “The guts of SOLAREX.” She never lost her footing and the bolus itself stayed upright. Eventually it stopped and the doors squelched open. She stared.

The giant “12” on the floor stared back at her. She stepped out and the doors closed. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for. She didn’t even know if the pryzhok sphere was still where she’d stumbled on it earlier. The plates that controlled gravity and leaked enough to smash coatis were most likely used to lift the potato-shaped “sphere” and move it around.

Izegbe would be somewhere nearby. Emerald hadn’t seen any locker rooms or sheds anywhere. She’d bumped into teens dressed and excited to play pryzhok not long after she’d arrive on SOLAREX. Those four neon pink players didn’t appear to care who knew they played. But who would wonder about oddly dressed young adults on a ship like SOLAREX? They could have been dressed for anything from scraping algae tanks, painting unit interiors, zoo work, computer programming training, to maintaining the exteriors of landing shuttles in the ship’s hangar, or learning to mine the surface layers of the asteroid. Everyone on SOLAREX, no matter how old they were, was there for a purpose. Over the twelve years of the mission, every pre-teen and teenager would train to be a useful part of the crew. Even as a miner.

Emerald was certain there were mines somewhere – probably gallium arsenide mines, at that. For the really bad people.

She peeked around the short wall. Half a kilometer away, the jungle still rose up in the dimness and lights set in the ceiling poured shimmering sun-bright light on the palm trees and banyan sprouting out of the floor. She said, “I’m doin’ this for you, Izegbe.”

Taking a deep breath, she stepped around the corner then sprinted for the jungle. This time, she knew where she was going and she bounced on the springy ground and stopped abruptly as a wave of low gravity – probably from the pryzhok sphere (which wasn’t a sphere but a potato-shaped asteroid) rippled over her, letting her spring nearly two meters into the air. Pin-wheeling her arms, she screamed as she came back down when she abruptly hit normal gravity. She sprawled on her chest, and if it hadn’t been bouncy, she’d have broken something.

She scrambled to her feet and ran, stumbled again when she got to the pryzhok sphere and more modified gravity leaked from it. She glanced at the spot where she’d seen the smashed coati, but someone had taken it away. She ran around to the opposite side, searching for the entrance and found the ramp leading up to a black circle. The door was closed. She ran up the ramp and pressed her hand to it. A wave of gravity made it feel like a man had suddenly jumped on her back, dragging her down. She sank to her knees, groaning.

The door hissed, recessed then slid to one side. A wave of heat rolled over her, the stench of sweat, burned plastic, and ozone oozing around her like the manure slurry’s reek had.

A girl in a skin-tight, neon orange suit with an unmatched, yellow helmet lurched forward, leaning against the side of the door, gasping. Emerald exclaimed, “Izegbe!”

Izegbe winced and hopped out on one foot, cried out and fell. Emerald caught her, backpedaling until they reached the foot of the ramp, collapsing in a pile.

The door slid over the opening and closed.

Izegbe gasped, “What are you doing here?”

“Rescuing you. What does it look like?”

Izegbe snorted and replied, “What makes you think I need...” she rolled free of Emerald, got to her knees and tried to stand up. She screamed and crumpled to the ground. Lifting her head, she looked at Emerald and fainted dead away.

Emerald reached for her ipik to call paramedics, but it had been confiscated when she and others were arrested. She couldn’t call for help. She’d have to do it alone.

There were four hospitals on SOLAREX, one for each quarter of the ship. She had no idea what quarter she was on now, but she did know that she’d decked Ayaka on level Four the day she’d boarded.

Izegbe was 172 centimeters tall to Emerald’s 148. But she’d lugged rocks, pails of dirt, and equipment at the research compound in the Yucatan. She squatted, using her thighs, pulled Izegbe toward her, twisted as she slid the older girl into a firefighter’s carry and stood up. She bounced and Izegbe moaned. Emerald said, “You need a diet, so no complaints.” Not-quite-staggering under the mass, she set out across the spongy surface, passed through the jungle and then out of it. Behind her, she heard the coati start squeaking and yipping again.

That was when she realized how far the bolus door was. This time there would be no Zech, Izegbe, and Ayaka come to rescue her; she’d have to make it on her own. She tried running a few steps, wishing that the pryzhok arena would throw a gravity nullifying field her way just about now. Then she imagined it doing the opposite and hurried as fast as she could. Izegbe groaned. By the time she made it to the bolus, Emerald was panting and dizzy. She dropped Izegbe, hoping she didn’t do any more damage to her girlfriend’s broken leg and slapped the call pad.

An instant later, the door squelched open and she dragged Izegbe into the car. She gasped, “Bridge!”

GADI was the one who answered, “Emerald! Where are you?”

“In a bolus descending from Level Twelve,” the computer tried to interrupt, but Emerald overrode it, saying, “Izegbe’s got a broken leg, I think. Take us to the nearest hospital!” The car spun on its axis and accelerated faster than any car she’d been in before.

GADI said, “I’m notifying...”

“Don’t tell doctor Viahakis or my great aunt!”

Pause. “Because?”

“Izegbe was playing pryzhok.”

“On Level Twelve?”

“No comment.”

“And...”

“I think she broke her leg. The pryzhok court leaks gravity waves, so the platforms inside can’t be that good, but they say that that’s what makes for a great game. And she’s wanted to play since she was little and she’s big enough now...”

“So what are you going to tell the hospital staff? You’re going to be there in ten seconds, so think fast.”

“Uh...”

“That’s what I thought. You and Izegbe used an access code you stole from your great aunt to bypass the security locks on your units – by the way, Søren and Ayaka did the same thing and are on their way there…”

“What about Daniel?” Emerald interrupted.

GADI paused then said, “I’m not sure I trust him. He might be under the influence of Inamma.”

“What? How can you know that?”

“I can’t, but this alien entity clearly understands Humans. Inamma knows that the adolescent brain is still forging synaptic connections and may be able to insert memes that serve his purposes. Daniel isn’t even eighteen yet. His brain is, in the words of early Twenty-first Century adolescent neuroscientist, Jay Giedd, ‘wildy exuberant and receptive’. This means that his – and yours, for that matter – ‘gray matter’ is thickening and overproducing connections between cortical neurons. It’s nature's way of ensuring that a Human brain is prepared to survive and flourish under any circumstances. Neural connections that are used remain intact and strengthen. Those connections that are not used are ‘pruned’, eliminating pathways that could have been utilized. I believe Inamma is hijacking those pathways for its own purpose, which may include influencing all of you.”

“That’s creepy!”

“I can’t judge that, but it may be both effective and diabolical.”

“Isn’t that a value judgment?”

“We’re here. What are you going to tell the hospital staff?”

The door squelched open. Emerald burst into tears, lurching from the car.

“It’s her again! Should I get the stunner?” a voice said.

Emerald wailed, “We were exploring the outer levels and I dared Izegbe to climb a wall and she did and she fell and broke her leg...”

Emerald didn’t have to say another word. The hospital staff efficiently took over and the doctor with the stunner pocketed it, helped get Izegbe on a cart and whisked her away.

A few moments later, the bolus doors squelched open again and Søren and Ayaka stepped out. Emerald exclaimed, “You got away!”

Behind them, stepped a third figure, tall, her face squinched into a dark scowl. Dr. Viahakis lifted her chin in Emerald’s direction and said, “I’ve talked with your friends and they agree that you will now come with me and open the boxes. I had them moved to my lab...”

Emerald said, “I know you had them. I wasn’t going to help you.”

Dr. Viahakis said, “I have Vice-Captain Marcillon on my ipik...”

Cutting her off, Emerald said abruptly, “I’ll help you because I want to. Not because you’re threatening me. I’m ready to see what’s in the boxes.”

Dr. Viahakis pursed her lips, hummed then said, “I’ll accept that if you give me something.” Emerald hesitated and Dr. Viahakis added, “I need you and Ayaka to convince your friend, Izegbe, to cease and desist attempting to join the pryzhok team until she turns eighteen.”

“We can’t force her!” Emerald exclaimed.

The doctor snorted and fixed Emerald with a dark gaze, “Peer pressure is a powerful force – at any age. You’re good at manipulating people. Use your superpower for good.” Her gaze narrowed to laser intensity as she added softly, “Or else.”

Emerald nodded slowly. She knew when to surrender and when to fight on. “I accept,” she said in a whisper.

“Then follow me and let your friends and the medical staff take care of Izegbe.”

Emerald nodded again and got into the bolus with Dr. Viahakis. She just caught a wink and the beginning of a smirk from Søren as the doors finished closing. She relaxed. This wasn’t the last move she and her friends would make against Dr. Viahakis.

For an instant, she was startled by the fact that she had friends – possibly for the first time in her life. She winked to signal him that she’d seen. Then the bolus doors squelched shut.

Dr. Viahakis reached into her pocket and said as she pulled out Emerald’s necklace. “I believe this belongs to you.”

Emerald felt her throat tighten. She gently took the necklace and put it on. Clearing her throat, she managed, “Thanks.”

**

THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…

If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html
Image: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhR0X3mAc2AzqEJWA3ehVkVfHfzWGYFL0TbXeMyJDUyP3fRUi4gVLpK2PSo9qeqvljaCWKP7z9Dn120wRuSmoZoV_CWee_Yaw_UZx39rhg-xjZqsRFAr1ZFk6hZwUbDu0mLyb58RNhTPK9iS5HYXbijVje_dGNSJyz665C6PY0HtZRk-KaQWAsC46CEfQ/s1600/emerald_320.png

Friday, September 16, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 35: Run To The Rescue!


“How do you know that?”


“I have been examining the necklace since your confinement to quarters last night.”

“You have the necklace?”

“Yes.”

“Can you give it to me?”

“There are no directives that countermand your request.”

“Can I have it now”

A smaller bolus system in the ship allowed food and other non-digital objects to be delivered to individual. The smaller door just above the desk surface squeaked open. The necklace was in the center. Emerald took it out and put it on. “Does Great Aunt Ruby know I have it?”

“No.”

“Does Colonel Berg know I have it?”

“Presumably yes, because Second Lieutenant Dewidar is under his command and likely he ordered her to give it to me. As she is dead, I am able to make the decision to return it to you.”

“Does Dr. Viahakis know I have it?” GADI didn’t respond. Emerald sniffed and said, “No response means ‘yes’. What has she tried to do with it?”

“Minimal response mode.”

Emerald pursed her lips, scowled fiercely at the ceiling scanner then said, “You said that the artifacts in the boxes are not all from Chicxulub? They were sitting in one of the other storage sheds – one of the ones Inamma didn’t destroy.”

“No they weren’t, Emerald. Two boxes were found buried in the jungle. These were the ones that contain artifacts and materials from places other than Chicxulub. The other four were found in the trailer with...your parents on the night the robot Inamma murdered them.”

“You know about Inamma?”

“Duh.”

She couldn’t help but grin because GADI had lifted a recording of Emerald saying the word. She said, “Why hasn’t Prymore told Berg and great aunt Ruby?”

“There is no physical evidence of any kind regarding the creature you have named Inamma except what I have heard you and the rest of Team Twelve say about it. Sensor records and visual and audio records have no evidence of this robot.”

“But you believe us?”

“I have calculated a twenty-eight percent probability that your conclusions are correct. I am corroborating anomalous internal readings from all over SOLAREX – but I have no images and no other direct sensor readings of an alien entity to display.” It paused. “Søren himself pointed out that this robot you claim killed your parents consists primarily of NASA components forming a standard, outdated Lemur IIa maintenance robot. I cannot scan for any particular kind of signature because there are other old components from NASA aboard the SOLAR EXPLORER. I have no evidence but the anomalies and the quite frankly unreliable eyewitness accounts of yourself and the rest of your Team.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Emerald, I need more than what we have in order to draw logical conclusions. I need far more than what you can provide to convince Colonel Berg to issue a ship-wide lock down and search.” Emerald hung her head, staring at the floor. GADI said softly, “We need you to open the boxes, Emerald.”

She looked up suddenly, “How do I know Inamma’s not controlling you right now? What if Inamma’s some kind of sophisticated alien computer program or an artificial intelligence that can take over NASA robots? What’s to stop it from taking you over and making you tell me to open the boxes?”

There was a long pause then GADI replied, “You cannot know for sure whether or not my programming has been compromised. It may be that the alien operates on a high level of sophistication and that I would be unaware of any infiltration or incursion by that program. However, I point out to you that we are making the assumption that such an alien program would be more sophisticated than anything Humans have. This assumption may be in error. An alien technology may in fact be more advanced in some ways than Human technology. But it may not. There may be areas where Human expertise is greater.” GADI paused then said, “You will have to trust in me.”

“I haven’t known you long enough,” she said automatically.

“I know.”

“So why should I?”

A longer pause followed. Emerald sat down on the floor. Finally, GADI replied, “There is no reason for you to trust me.”

Someone pounded on the door. She leaped to her feet and was there before she realized what she was doing. “It could be Inamma,” she said.

“So far Inamma has not displayed a Human penchant for knocking before entering a room,” said GADI.

Emerald smiled and said, “I think you’ve lost your accent.”

“Minimal response mode,” GADI replied flatly.

Emerald placed her hand on the door panel and it slid open. She said to the person standing in the doorway, “Have you ever wondered why we don’t use doors that swing on hinges?”

Dr. Tasia Viahakis stood; her eyes locked on Emerald’s and said, “What?”

“Hinges. Doors. Why don’t we use them in space ships?”

“Uh...”

“You can come in.” She did and they sat looking at each other for several seconds.

Dr. Viahakis’ mouth twisted to one side in thought then she said, “I’ve come to ask you to do something for us.” Emerald’s gaze narrowed as the doctor continued, “Open the boxes. We have no doubt now that they are keyed with your DNA and to some unique chemical coding in the necklace.”

Emerald sniffed then said firmly, “No, I won’t open the boxes for you.”

Dr. Viahakis’ eyes grew wide and her head went back as if she were avoiding something unexpected. “Excuse me?”

Emerald shrugged and said, “‘No.’ you’re going to have to grab me by the arm and drag me over there – kicking and screaming – and force my hand open to touch the boxes. I should add that I’d probably make a fist, so you might want to add some muscle to your effort. Like maybe, call Colonel Berg to force the fingers apart or something. I don’t know. But I’m not going to open those things voluntarily.”

“Why not?” Dr. Viahakis seemed surprised still.

“Because I want something from you in return for opening them.”

“This isn’t a joke, Emerald. I’m serious!”

“So am I. My friend is about to get herself killed – and I can’t tell you how, so don’t ask – and I can save her, but I’m under house arrest. I need you to look the other way,” she said, gesturing at the door.

“Why?”

Emerald stared at her for a moment then said, “You know, for being an expert in adolescent psychology, you don’t seem to understand teenagers very well.”

Scowling, the doctor said, “You’re not a teenager yet.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that? I’m on the...”

Dr. Viahakis held up her hand, saying, “Refusing a direct order from the captain’s duly appointed representative in regards to ship security could be considered treason.”

“I’m not refusing outright. I’m proposing a trade. You want something. I’m asking for a trade. If I’m refusing anything, it’s giving something you want for nothing of worth. If you look that way, I can run down the corridor and take the bolus to where I need to be.”

Dr. Viahakis’ eyes narrowed, her left hand came up to her chin and cupped it and her right hand cupped her elbow. She thought long and hard then said, “How do I know I can trust you?”

Emerald shrugged. “You know where I live. You know where all of us live. You can harass me for the next twelve years if I break my end of this bargain.”

“What if your great aunt sends you back to Earth?” Dr. Viahakis stood up, going to the door. She palmed it open, leaning into the corridor and looking both directions then stepping back into the room and stepping to one side.

It was Emerald’s turn to snap her head backward – as if she’d been slapped. She said, “You think she’d do that?”

Dr. Viahakis shrugged and said, “I don’t know. If you make yourself disagreeable enough, anything is possible. I have the authority to have you restrained – and I have no doubt Colonel Berg would be willing to do a bit more than just spread your fingers.” Her smile was vulpine.

Emerald stood up and walked through the door as she said, “I understand. I think.” She paused, took a deep breath then said, “I’ll open the boxes as soon as I return.”

Dr. Viahakis said, “You open the boxes the moment you get back from your clandestine attempt to save your friend from a lifetime of Jump competition. No more deals.”

Emerald nodded, looked to her left down the corridor and said, “What’s that?”

Following her into the corridor, Dr. Viahakis turned to look and said, “I’d better go investigate.” She turned and walked away, leaving the door open. Emerald sprinted in the opposite direction and skidded to a stop in front of the bolus door, slapping the panel. It squelched open instantly and she jumped in, glanced down the corridor to see Dr. Viahakis waving at her, shouting, “Wait, Emerald! Leaving your unit is a felony! You have no clearance to…”

The doors squelched shut as Emerald waved back and saw Dr. Viahakis wink as she stumbled, falling to her hands and knees, head hanging as if she were studying the floor.

“I’ll definitely nominate you for an Emmy award,” she muttered as the bolus surged outward to Level Twelve.

***

THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…(If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

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mage: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhR0X3mAc2AzqEJWA3ehVkVfHfzWGYFL0TbXeMyJDUyP3fRUi4gVLpK2PSo9qeqvljaCWKP7z9Dn120wRuSmoZoV_CWee_Yaw_UZx39rhg-xjZqsRFAr1ZFk6hZwUbDu0mLyb58RNhTPK9iS5HYXbijVje_dGNSJyz665C6PY0HtZRk-KaQWAsC46CEfQ/s1600/emerald_320.png

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 30: “Calling” • by Pete Wood


In two days, Father Francis would leave Odin III for Earth, light years away. He hadn’t been there since his twenties. Everybody he knew had died thanks to the time dilation.

The Vatican had appreciated his years on Odin III and rewarded him with an academic assignment at Belmont Abbey College, his alma mater. He’d spend his days researching and teaching while squeezing in hiking and bluegrass and North Carolina pork barbecue.

But before he could leave, he had work to do.

Like his counseling sessions with Aisling. She’d come a long way since she arrived as a penniless refugee. The parish had given her a place to live and helped her set up her counseling practice and then she’d gotten hooked on those damned mushrooms.

“I still see the timelines, Father,” she said from the settee in Francis’s rectory study. “I know they’re not real.”

He poured her a cup of coffee and added honey and cream. The irony of pushing caffeine on addicts was not lost on him, but he’d never attended any recovery group where there wasn’t a massive urn of coffee. He handed her the mug.

“Remember the twelve steps, Aisling.” He gazed out the window at distant mountains that dwarfed the Himalayas. Still breathtaking after all these years.

She took a sip of coffee. “Yeah, I know. I can’t do this by myself. I need a higher power. I appreciate what the Church has done for me.”

“The Church isn’t the higher power.”

She nodded. “It’s God.”

“Not necessarily. How long have you been off the mushrooms, Aisling?” he asked

“Twelve months.”

“You know, one day at a time is an expression that probably predates Christ. I feel like a hack writer sometimes spitting out cliches, but there is some truth in every overused expression. Getting over addiction is always going to be a struggle and you might have to repeat some of the steps.”

“I know.”

“But what’s important is that you have the support of the Church and there are others recovering from the mushrooms. We know you didn’t really see the timelines. You just wanted to see the timelines. It’s wish fulfillment. The mushrooms are just a hallucinogenic drug. Remember that.”

She didn’t look convinced. “I’ll try. But you’re leaving.”

“Yes, I have to get some decent barbecue.”

She gave a polite laugh but didn’t smile.

“Father Luigi will be taking over. He’s an excellent listener with a deep faith.”

She shook her head. “He locked his keys in the church van again Tuesday. He came into my office and asked if I had a sonic screwdriver.”

“God doesn’t always pick Ivy league PhDs. Sometimes he picks fishermen or criminals or tax collectors or people who lock the keys in the church van.”

* * *

Beneath the “Bon Voyage, Father Francis” banner Father Francis and Father Luigi sat at the bar at Weber’s Place, the local watering hole in the tiny mining town. It had been a long, glorious night. The going away party had finally subsided past midnight leaving only the two priests.

Ingrid, the bartender, poured Francis another glass of chardonnay. “On the house, Father.”

Sheba, Ingrid’s cat, purred and rubbed against him. She’d stuck to him like glue all night when usually she wouldn’t give him the time of day.

Francis held back tears. “Thank you, Ingrid.” He wondered how many times he had sipped a glass of wine on this very stool. He cleared his throat and turned to Luigi. “So, you understand the scheduling of altar children?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“I know, but—”

Luigi held up his hand. “Maybe you need to trust a little bit in that higher power you keep preaching about. The Church on Odin III was here before you arrived and will be here after you leave. After I leave.”

Francis stared at Luigi. Could this really be the man who had screwed up so many times when he first arrived? The man who had traded away cases of Francis’s best wine from Earth for that mediocre beer they brewed in the monastery hundreds of miles away.

“I’m worried about Aisling,” Francis said. He took a sip of wine. North Carolina had excellent vineyards and soon he’d be stocking a cellar, but he wouldn’t be drinking here. “She believes she really sees the timelines. Do you think she sees something?”

“I don’t know,” Luigi said. “She’s off the mushrooms, but the way she talks, I don’t know.”

“They’re just drugs,” Francis said.

Luigi shrugged. “There’s some weird things going on around here, things I’ve never understood. When I was in the mines on that mission—”

Francis clapped him on the back. “God, I am so sorry. I pretty much banished you on a fool’s errand.”

“I think you would have had a coronary if I’d been in the parish instead of looking for aliens to save in the mines,” Luigi said.

Francis laughed. “Probably.”

“I never did find any Rock People.”

Faith was a funny thing. Francis believed in events and miracles and dogma that couldn’t possibly be confirmed, but his open-mindedness didn’t extend to rumors and legends of the Rock People, the supposed indigenous population of the planet. “Nobody’s seen them,” Francis said.

“Yeah.” Luigi drummed his fingers on the bar. “I saw stuff or thought I did. Glimpses of things. Weird sounds at night when I lay on the ground in my sleeping bag. Sometimes calling to me, but I never saw anything.”

“Were you scared?”

“Sometimes. But I learned a lot about myself.”

“Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert,” Francis said.

“Yeah, but he had the devil for company. Say what you like about the devil, he’s got to be a good conversationalist.”

The door to the bar opened. Aisling, holding her coat tight against the autumn chill, stepped inside. She looked worried. She spotted Francis and Luigi and rushed over.

“What brings you back?” Francis asked.

“I was afraid I might not catch you before your flight.”

“Five hours and ticking,” Francis said.

She took a stool. “Father, I know you don’t believe in the timelines, but I have to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“Going over timelines of some of my more challenging patients used to be part of my practice. You’d see wild swings from one possibility to the other. I’m a top executive in Galactic Mining in one timeline. My husband’s still alive in another one and we have kids. Everybody’s like that, Father.”

Francis sighed. “Aisling, please.”

“Except you.”

Despite his hatred of what the mushrooms did to people like Aisling, a therapist with keen insights and an addiction that just dragged her down, the priest’s curiosity had been piqued. Poor child. He hoped Father Luigi could help. Still, he didn’t want to feed her delusion.

“What do you mean, Aisling?” Father Luigi asked.

“I don’t see everybody’s timelines,” Aisling said. “Not since I stopped using. Just once in a while. It’s like they’re trying to get my attention. I can’t ignore them. They’re faint. But, Father Francis, in every single timeline you end up here as the priest of this parish. The route varies. In one universe you married and lost your wife. In another you found God after a cave-in in the mines. But you always end up here.”

“Destiny,” Luigi said.

* * *

Father Francis stared out the window of the interstellar ship and watched the landscape of Odin III grow smaller. He couldn’t make out the town any longer. Soon he just saw mountains and non-mountains. Then he couldn’t even distinguish between the two.

He’d be on the ore transport for four months before they reached Earth. Four months with one hundred passengers and crew. They’d grow to know each other quite well, but nothing like the relationships he had formed on Odin III.

He reflected on what Aisling had shared. What a gift she had given him. Even if she’d just had a drug-induced vision, she had faith in him. Odin III had been his destiny. He had made the right decisions.

And now it was time to go home.

___________________________


Pete Wood
is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past year or so Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that has been running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the past ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.


 




stupefy (ˈstü-pə-ˌfī) to stun, astonish, or astound


On Amazon now ► STUPEFYING STORIES 23

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Monday, September 12, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 29: “The Light of Better Days” • by Jonathan Sherwood

Aisling stood at the window and wiped quickly at both cheeks. Outside, beyond the horizontal slats of the blinds that chopped lines through Odin III’s two setting suns, Mazaa walked quickly across the street away from Aisling’s porch and probably toward Weber’s for a drink.

Therapy was hard on people. It was hard on therapists.

She sniffed and wiped at her cheeks again. She was never sure if she really helped anyone. Life on a remote planetary mining colony was hard on everyone, and it wasn’t that rare that after her last client, she’d cry over her dinner plate, only to resolve the next morning that this day would be the one where she’d make a real difference. This would be the day she’d clearly, unquestionably help someone live better, be happier, find light in their day. It was such a vague profession that you couldn’t tell from one day to the next if you really helped people at all. It’s no secret that most therapists see therapists of their own. But on Odin III there was no one she felt comfortable talking to, and she knew the cracks of having no support system around her were beginning to break her apart.

She sniffed again and cleared her throat. Her last client of the day was next. And she was terrified.

She’d first seen Hans in his deli. She’d been eating the native koblyx mushrooms for a few months and fully believed the rumors that some people could see alternate timelines with them. Because she’d seen them. She knew it was real. She could sense who a person was in a variety of hazy other realities. She even used the mushrooms as a therapy tool, both for herself and others.

But Hans…

Hans saw her the same moment she saw him. They stared at each other with mouths open before she dropped her deli basket and ran out. She did her best to avoid him from then on because he was like an empty space. He was there, but there was no aura of alternate timeline around him. Something about him was very wrong. He was a ghastly emptiness.

And now he’d suddenly made an appointment. An appointment starting—

A shadow crossed her porch railings.

“Hello? Ms. Walsh?”

She cleared her throat. “Yes, hello Hans. Nice to actually meet you. Please come in. Have a seat.” She pointed toward the client couch, but did not shake his hand. Even though she hadn’t used mushrooms in weeks, she could still sense it—the complete absence that surrounded him. She sat, the coffee table strategically between them. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re here.”

“Sure,” he said. “Sure. Okay, um. I died. About fifty years ago.”

Aisling’s mouth moved several times but no sound came.

“I was twenty and I was testing a Galactic Mining ship with a prototype engine with my buddy, Ray. Something went wrong, so I checked on the engine, only there wasn’t no engine. There was a woman, maybe seventy years old, with tubes sticking out of her. She smelled like those mushrooms. You know that smell?”

Aisling nodded, curtly.

“Anyways, I touched her and I got this shock, only it was way more than that. I suddenly knew things. Things about the future. I just knew. Galactic was going to use her, and use everyone here to do some really, really horrible stuff. So, I did the only thing I could think of, and I crashed the ship.” He swallowed. “And killed myself.”

“You seem in remarkably good health,” Aisling said with a smile, but it felt forced, and probably looked forced. It might have sounded sincere if she weren’t gripped by the emptiness around him.

“That’s the thing, Ma’am. I also remember, after I got shocked, I was suddenly outside Weber’s bar there. I went in, and there was Ray, only old, like he is now. He said he’d been expecting me, and it was the future, and that when I went back, I shouldn’t crash the ship, but let him land it. So I did. We still crashed, but not as bad, and I lived. That woman sent me into the future to meet Ray on purpose.”

“And the woman?”

Hans shifted several times on the couch. “She told me, she asked me, to pull out one of the tubes. To kill her. And I did. She was smiling, real sweet like, and she even said she was sorry to ask me to do it. She was dead before we crashed.”

“And… how do you feel about that?”

“Well, I felt awful about it for a long time. But that was fifty years ago, and as the years went on, I’ve been seeing how people are, but I can also see how they were supposed to be.”

“Supposed to be?”

“In the real timeline. In the first one. Every time I meet someone, I can match up their face to who they are in the other reality, even if there are changes. I’m real good with faces. And here’s the thing—the longer it goes on, the worse that other timeline gets. I mean, that lady showed me Galactic wanted these rock-aliens that live underground here. They can mess with time and space and Galactic was going to use them in just horrible ways. Just horrible stuff. I mean, wars and famine, and everyone here on Odin was basically slave labor. So, when I see someone here, they’ve got no idea how much better their lives are than they could be. I can see it. I can see people the way they coulda been.”

“That must be terrible to see.”

“So you believe me, right? People say you’ve used those mushrooms and know about timelines, right? Took me a while to get up the nerve to talk to you. But you know I’m not crazy?”

“We don’t use the word ‘crazy,’ but, I—” she wasn’t sure what to say, but she could still sense his eerie, overwhelming lack of presence. He lived in just one reality. “I believe you.”

He visibly relaxed. “That’s good. That’s good to hear.”

“Do you want to talk about how you feel seeing this other reality? I’ve seen some things. I know some of it is quite hard to deal with.”

“Uh, no Ma’am. No, I made my peace with it a long time ago. I’m okay. In fact, I’ve come to really realize how much better life is for me—for everyone—this way. Everyone is much better off. It’s a damn paradise compared to the way things were going to be. Makes me thankful every damn day.”

“I don’t understand,” said Aisling. “Then why are you here?”

“Well, I guess I’m here to say thank you.”

“We’ve hardly begun. Therapy can take months.”

“No, no,” he said, sitting forward on the couch. “No, I mean thank you. I’m really good with faces. When I saw you in the deli that first time, I knew. Put another thirty or forty years on you and you’re her. You’re the woman in the chair. In the ship. Fifty years ago.”

“I… What?”

“I don’t know if it’s because the mushrooms work so good on you or what, but somehow, someday, you go back and you use me to change everything. For everyone. Everywhere. I just know there’s probably nobody else, maybe anywhere, that knows how much you’ve done to help people. So I just wanted to say, on behalf of everyone who should be saying it, just… thank you, Ma’am. Thank you for making such a difference for everyone.”

* * *

Aisling stood at the window and wiped quickly at both cheeks, watching Hans make his way to Weber’s. He stopped and talked to Father Luigi and Shelley, hand-in-hand on the sidewalk. Constable Jenkins, nose in a rolled-up script, sang lines from the upcoming play, waving her arms as she walked down the street. Little Kira sat on the shoulders of the android, Sloane 51, as they and Daraja talked loudly about math. The Gruber brothers, laughing as they made their way into the bar.

Odin III’s smaller sun was all that remained above the horizon, bathing the little colony in ruddy light—light that split through her blinds and warmed the smile on her face.

___________________________


Jonathan Sherwood has written about science and scientists for research universities for more than two decades, and science fiction for even longer. He holds a bachelors in science writing from Cornell University and an MA in English from the University of Rochester. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and others.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Morbius • Review by Karen & Bruce Bethke



Karen was adamant. “I know you promised to stop running movie reviews,” she said. “But you have got to review this one. You need to warn people. They need to know just how bad it is.”

Seriously? You think this one is that bad? How so?

“It’s banal,” she said. “Trite. Insipid. There isn’t one scene or line of dialogue in this movie that doesn’t feel like it was lifted from a different and better movie. They didn’t write a script for this one. They put a half-dozen other scripts through a shredder and then glued the pieces back together.”

I’ll admit, in the scene where the cops are grilling Morbius and he says, “Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry” — well, I did chuckle a little at that. And that scene where Morbius is threatening some bad guy, and the terrified bad guy gasps, “Who are you?” and Morbius switches to his CGI goon face and growls, “I’m... Venom!” in exactly the same menacing way Kevin Conroy delivered, “I’m... Batman!” Okay, I did actually laugh out loud at that. But I’ll concede that all the big CGI fight scenes did look like they were lifted from a Matrix movie, except for the ones that looked like they were lifted from Batman Begins.

“Matt Smith is wasted in this one. Just squandered. He actually made me feel sympathetic for the kids who were beating him up when he was a kid on crutches in the childhood flashback scene.”

But… But that’s the patented Marvel formula for creating the protagonist/antagonist relationship! The ultimate worst bad guy is always the hero’s childhood friend, or brother, or favorite teacher or late father’s business partner or something like that, who acquires exactly the same powers as the hero only stronger, but who always has some character flaw that turns him to evil and ultimately leads to his defeat. We saw that in Ant-Man, Iron-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Winter Soldier, Thor, Venom… 

“Yes yes, exactly. We’ve seen it before. Over and over. Now show me a new idea. Even for a Marvel movie, this one was an unimaginative recycling of old ideas.”

Well, to be fair, this one isn’t properly a Marvel movie. It’s a Sony/Columbia movie, made using Marvel intellectual property Sony acquired as part of the Spider-Man deal. It’s more like Venom in that regard. The people who made the Avengers movies weren’t connected to this one.

“That’s a shame. The people who make the Marvel movies at least know how to make likable characters and create romantic interest. There is zero romantic chemistry between Morbius and Martine.”

Wait a minute. Weren’t you the one who started cooing “Beel!” and “Soooookie!” whenever those two were on screen together?

“In fact, the only likable character in the entire movie was that Hispanic cop—”

You mean FBI Agent Rodriguez?

“Who was the first one to figure out and accept that they’re dealing with an actual vampire, and respond accordingly”

That was amusing, the way the other cops reacted to him when he started showing up at crime scenes with holy water and silver crucifixes.

“But Agent Rodriguez is it. Beyond him there isn’t one character in this movie that you like, identify with, or even care about. Especially not Morbius. And when you don’t care about what happens to the central character in the movie—whether he lives or dies, succeeds or fails, finds love or has his heart broken—you’d better have something else really interesting going on around him to make it worthwhile. And Morbius doesn’t.”

Well, there you have it. Our resident expert on vampires and vampire movies—she has an enormous collection of vampire movies and an encyclopedic knowledge of them all—has weighed in, and found Morbius wanting. You have been warned. 

—Bruce & Karen Bethke

“P.S.” she adds. “That whole business with vampire bats acting like little flying piranhas and Morbius being able to control them the way Ant-Man controls swarms of ants is just ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Do I need to explain why?”


Friday, September 9, 2022

FeedBurner has shut down

 

Thanks to Roxana Arama for cluing me in that Stupefying Stories website email notifications have stopped. Apparently shutting down FeedBurner is a feature change that Google announced in July 2021 they would be making this year, but since I don't follow their support blog, I missed the memo. Fortunately I have been able to recover our subscriber list, but now need to find a new bulk email host and start writing a weekly newsletter.

Accordingly, I have also removed the “Subscribe” widget from the left column, as the feature no longer works. Guess this explains why our daily readership took a sudden sharp dive about two months ago.

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 28: “Coffee Grounds and Soap Bubbles” • by Travis Burnham

 


Standing on his back deck, hands cupped to his mouth, Buckland O’Deorain shouted into the woods for his dog. “Cant! Come! Come on, Cant” There was a subtle note of urgency in his voice that he tried to disguise. He checked the time. Almost 1:24pm. Closer to 1:30pm than he liked.

Buckland, or Buck for short, lived out past the edges of one of the settlements of Odin III, a remote mining planet owned by the Galactic Mining company. An independent prospector, the other settlement residents called him an ill-tempered, short-fused hermit. He preferred the terms self-reliant and forthright.

He cupped his hands to his mouth again, but before he raised his voice, he was interrupted from behind. “That’s really a rubbish name for a dog,” the voice said. “Can’t? A negative and a contraction? How will that poor pup ever get anything done?”

“Did you hear a goldarned apostrophe when I called him, you knucklehead?” Buck shouted back over his shoulder. “The name is short for Cantankerous, which that canine most certain—” Buck stopped, realizing there shouldn’t be anyone behind him. He turned back into his ramshackle cabin and tried to pinpoint the location of the voice. He thought it came from the kitchen, but a quick inspection turned up nothing. Just as Buck opened the first cabinet in what was to be a more determined search, Cant strolled in through the open door.

Cant was part mastiff, part husky, and all mutt and muscle. He had survived on Odin III because he was big enough to handle half of the wildlife and smart and fast enough to avoid the other half. Dogs were an expensive commodity on Odin III, but Buck had managed to get one through a medical exception, as Cant was also part service animal for Buck’s depression that he oftentimes tried to deny. Cant didn’t hesitate when he entered, but went right to the couch and sat down, staring at the monitor on the wall.

Buck looked at his watch and was shocked at the time. 1:29pm! “You good for nuthin’ canine, we might miss the beginning.” Buck hurried to the windows and pulled the curtains tight, checking to make sure no one could see in. He didn’t want his afternoon activity to be seen.

He shut and locked the door, then raced for the couch and turned on the monitor. Cant’s ears perked up as the theme song for Twelve Times Round the Sun filled the small cabin.

Buck hadn’t meant to get hooked on the soap opera, but Odin III’s binary stars made for hot middays, and the siesta was good for his arthritic bones. So one particularly long, hot midday, he’d flipped on his monitor. And then time fell away as he entered Twelve Times. The main plot point of today’s episode was that the sister of the daughter of the main character’s clone, Barbara, had fallen into a relationship with the sexy, supposedly good-for-nothing Cleo. Who’d cheated on her. Again. Buck had some empathy for Cleo because he felt she was rather like himself. Misunderstood.

Then the mystery voice spoke again. “Any moron can tell that Barbara deserves better than that awful Cleo.”

“You’d best shut your piehole—” Buck brought himself up short. Cant turned his head to the kitchen and gave a little whine.

Buck recognized the voice now. Every morning the voice had usually said only one thing: “Your beverage has been prepared to your exact specifications. Enjoy!”

Buck looked to the kitchen. 

He was talking to the coffeemaker.

The one truly high tech gadget he owned, the coffeemaker delivered perfect steaming mugs on demand. Except for those few days last week when a blown fuse had fried half its circuitry. But Buck had managed to jimmy-rig a fix, and the machine had sputtered to life. The first few cups had been terrible, but Buck was loyal and gave it a bit of time. And then after a few days the coffee became good again. Actually, it was better than it had ever been.

But the coffeemaker had never spoken to him except in terse, servile statements. Now all of a sudden it was talking smack about his favorite character in Twelve Times Round the Sun.

So Buck called the only person he knew who might have any idea what was going on. Sloane-51 was an android who’d once been a repair drone circulating around the Odin III system until a freak solar burst had brought her sentience. Maybe she’d know what in tarnation was going on with his coffeemaker.

The coffeemaker didn’t say anything more that night and the next morning Sloane-51 arrived. Buck brought the android inside then pointed an accusing finger towards the kitchen. “It’s that thing right here. The coffeemaker.”

“I have a name, you backwoods moron,” squawked the coffeemaker. “The name’s Java.”

Cant barked, while Sloane-51 raised an eyebrow. “Is it always this…irritable?”

This assessment gave Buck a momentary pause. This was an adjective that others had often attributed to him. He shook it off.

“Yes, it’s always like this! The darn thing won’t stop spouting off all manner of idiotic opinions.”

“That’s the pot calling the coffeemaker black,” replied Java. “You’re not even sharp enough to grind your own coffee beans.”

“And you said,” Sloane-51 said, “that Java sustained some damage last week? Damage you repaired?” She put a hand to her chin. An idea was forming. She pondered her own personality and that of the other sentient AI in the Odin III settlement. They’d both had help gaining sentience by a human close to them. And in both her case and the other, there had been some kind of damage involved. “I’m going to put forth a hypothesis,” she said. “I think that Java is adopting aspects of your own personality.”

“But that thing ain’t nothing like me,” Buck said.

Cant tilted his head skeptically, while Sloane-51 raised both her eyebrows this time.

“Whatever,” Buck muttered. “Well, can you take it away?”

“It’s best if Java stays here. Their neural network is repairing itself.”

Buck scowled. “Just my luck.”

The next few days were filled with arguments, mostly about Twelve Times. Java thought Steve shouldn’t have stolen Roberta’s money, and that Wilhelmina deserved the prison time she got for assaulting the accountant. And, the most unbelievable nonsense, that Robert and Alex weren’t good for each other. Needless to say, Buck didn’t agree.

Two nights later, Buck had had enough. He yanked Java’s electrical cord from its socket before Java could say another blasphemous or ridiculous word. He stormed out to the closest mine entrance, Cant at his heels, and stood at the top of the longest, deepest mine shaft for kilometers around.

Buck held Java above his head, preparing to throw the terrible coffeemaker into the abyss.

And then Cant barked.

That simple bark caused Buck to hesitate. He thought of all the times he was the outsider and the outcast. When people didn’t give him a chance. The many times he’d been taken at face value with no one trying to look deeper. And was Buck in a position to throw away friends? Especially ones that shared a love for Twelve Times? A skewed love for sure—what kind of lunatic liked that milquetoast Barbara better than Cleo?—but a love nonetheless.

Buck stood there with Java clutched in his hands, staring down into the abyss.

*   *   *

The extension cord stretched from the back wall of Buck’s living room to the couch. Buck in the middle, Cant in his normal position to the right and now, for the first time, a coffeemaker sat on the left cushion. There was a blend of heated and friendly bickering and barking as the theme song to Twelve Times Round the Sun filled the rickety cabin.

 

___________________________



Travis Burnham’s
work has found homes in Far Fetched Fables, Hypnos Magazine, Bad Dreams Entertainment, South85 Journal, SQ Quarterly, and others. He is a member of the online writers’ group, Codex, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. He also recently won the Wyrm’s Gauntlet online writing contest. Burnham has been a DJ on three continents, and teaches middle school science and college level composition. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife, but grew up in Massachusetts, is from Maine at heart, and has lived in Japan, Colombia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.


 

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 34: UNDER HOUSE ARREST

After the security guard dropped her off and sealed her room, Emerald had tried all of the electronics. The 3V, ipik, and desk computer didn’t respond. Even GADI was silent when asked a direct question. All it would do is start to lecture her on proper behavior aboard SOLAREX. After shouting at it, she found it wouldn’t stop until she politely asked it to.

What she needed to know was where the necklace had disappeared to. Rashida had thrown it to her, but that led to the question of where Rashida had gotten it from. She said that Dr. Viahakis had gotten it from Zech – who’d found it on the plantation after the manure pit fight.

But had she dropped it – and when had Zech found it? Had Inamma had a chance to tinker with it? Where was it now? She sighed. It was confusing and frightening – and now Rashida was dead. The young woman hadn’t deserved to die. No one deserved to die – but Inamma was a real-life monster. People that knew about Mom and Dad’s Shattered Spheres Theory of the Solar System had also died – but not all of them.

That mean Inamma didn’t know everything there was to know about the necklace or the artifacts. Inamma had something to do with her parent’s shattered spheres theory, too, but Emerald had no idea what. She paced the room. Eventually the day caught up with her. She yawned, paced a while longer, asked GADI to tell her again about proper behavior on board SOLAREX and finally lay down, finally falling asleep as the computer talked about correct behavior when speaking with SOLAREX senior officers.

She dreamed of the whirling, colored boxes. She was wearing the tektite necklace and as she lifted it off her neck, she leaned forward to touch them to the surface of a box...

She woke abruptly, sweaty with her heart pounding. She was certain thought she heard the sound of knives stabbing dry sand.

“GADI?” She glanced at the clock, reading that it was just after three am.

“Yes, Emerald?”

“Can you tell me anything besides how I’m supposed to behave on SOLAREX?”

“I can now.”

Emerald smiled and lay back down.

When she woke, it was just after eight am. She stretched, scratched, yawned and went to her desk, fiddled with the computer and found out she had been assigned a ton of homework. All part of her incarceration, she figured. The others were probably just as swamped.

She reached for her ipik then remembered that it was in the hands of SOLAREX Security.

“GADI?”

“Response,” the computer’s voice was mechanical, devoid of personality.

“Nice voice. Can we talk?”

“Minimal response mode.”

Sighing, she went to where the boxes had been. Why had they appeared in rainbow colors in her dreams?

“Query response: minimal response mode,” GADI said.

“I didn’t ask you a question,” Emerald said.

“Query response.”

“I thought a question.” She paused then asked, “Can you read minds?”

“Minimal response mode.”

Emerald stamped her foot and said, “That doesn’t mean you can’t answer or that you have to be evasive! I want to know if you read my mind.”

“That inquiry is outside of this unit’s response parameters.”

Emerald considered then asked, “You have a sophisticated sensor suite. You’ve been monitoring the boxes, correct?”

“Correct.”

“Are you able to monitor very small changes in electrical potential?”

“Yes.”

“Are you equipped to monitor microscopic changes in electrical potential?”

“Yes.” Emerald smiled. GADI was not a computer. It was an artificial intelligence.

“Then with the proper software, might it be possible to interpret the changes in potential?”

“Yes.”

“You have a complete psych profile of me including electroencephalograms?”

“That is correct.”

“Using the information from your sensor grid in Dr. Viahakis’ labs to detect changes in electrical potential in my brain, is it possible to predict with reasonable accuracy what I might be considering?”

There was a long – unnecessary, Emerald thought, irritated – pause, “Yes.”

“Then you can read my mind. I didn’t say anything out loud.”

GADI was silent. Finally, it said, “There is a seventy-three percent probability that your observation is accurate.”

“Good. Now...”

“Interruption: refer to page seven of your homework assignment immediately.”

“What?”

“Interruption: refer to page seven of your homework assignment immediately.”

“What?”

“Interruption: refer...”

“Stop!” She went to her desk, thumbed the screen and glanced at page seven. “That’s impossible!” She stared at the door then ran at it. It didn’t open. Pounding on it, she shouted, “Open the door! I have to go find Izegbe!”

“You are under house arrest,” said GADI.

“I can’t be! I have to go save Izegbe! She joined the Neon Green pryzhok team and she’s only thirteen even though she looks eighteen! Everyone knows she’s only thirteen! Who let her on the team? Someone has to talk her out of it! She’ll get killed! How did she get out of house arrest?”

“What is pryzhok?” GADI asked. Emerald didn’t answer, staring at the closed door instead as she waited for the computer to catch up with her. GADI answered their own question, “It is a Russian word meaning ‘to jump’. But that definition has no meaning in the current conversation. What is pryzhok?”

Emerald shook her head and said, “Think about it, stupid!”

GADI didn’t respond for several seconds then said, “As the word means ‘jump’, I calculate with sixty-one percent probability that it is a variation of Jump illicitly played by teenagers on board SOLAREX, .”

“Duh!”

“There is no reason to become sarcastic. As you are well able to calculate, I am under the direct orders of your great aunt to keep you confined to quarters until countermanded by her, another vice-captain, or the captain. It is not possible for me to countermand those directions.” GADI paused. “I am doing what I was told to do.”

Emerald was pretty sure there was a sneer hidden in that computer gobbledygook. “Not true,” Emerald said. “You are interpreting what you were told to do. So you’re lying.”

GADI paused then replied, “It is not strictly a lie; but practically speaking, I cannot countermand the order except in an emergency.”

“This is an emergency!”

GADI was silent for some time. Then she said, “I have given similar homework directions to the other members of Intensive Training Team Twelve. They are also aware of Izegbe’s intent to join the pryzhok team.” It paused. “Søren, Daniel, and Ayaka are also attempting to convince me to opening their doors. Izegbe has exited her unit. She clearly has a coded subroutine to undermine...”

“Maybe she cut a hole in the wall. Or she has a door like a cat door or dog door.”

“That is unlikely. I have notified security, but as Izegbe has a low importance index in relation to the rest of the crew and their children, the notification is unlikely to reach a point at which it might be acted on for some fifty or so hours,” said GADI.

“Why can’t you do that for me?” Emerald exclaimed.

“You have a different purpose. Your destiny is far grander than those of the rest of your Team.”

Emerald glared at the door then spun around. “You don’t sound like you’re in minimal response mode anymore.”

“I am not.”

“What mode are you in now?”

“Inquiry mode. Emerald, have you had any more dreams about the boxes?”

“Yes. A few minutes ago.”

“Have you tried opening the boxes?” She shook her head and GADI responded, “Why not?”

“Mostly because they’re locked up in Dr. Prymore’s lab right now so I couldn’t get to them even if I wanted to.”

“Why didn’t you open them before?”

“They’re probably full of stuff Mom and Dad dug up at Chicxulub – junk that no one in the universe could possibly be interested in.”

“I don’t think all of the contents are from Chicxulub. Though your necklace technically is, there are components that are not.”

“What do you mean there are components of the necklace that aren’t from Chicxulub?” She touched her neck, but the necklace wasn’t there.

“Despite the fact that the necklace is made up of tektites and silver wire, they form an unusual interface...”

“How do you know that?” GADI was silent. “How do you know that?” Emerald said. Silence. She shouted, “How do you know that?”

***
THE STORY SO FAR: Emerald Marcillon’s parents excavated artifacts in the Chicxilub Crater that point to a long-ago alien war that spilled over to Earth. Inamma, an alien AI survived the war and will kill to retrieve the artifacts. When assembled, the AI intends to create a weapon that will destroy all of Humanity – thinking we are descendants of its ancient enemies. Emerald’s parents are dead, and she has escaped Earth to the SOLAR EXPLORER but finds that Inamma has followed her. The crew, aware of the origin of the artifacts, plan to protect her and hides her among the rest of the young people in the crew. Emerald lives with autism and making friends is difficult. She has a few good friends now, and while she holds the key to the artifacts, she has discovered the sport of pryzhok, and the odd hiding places the young players have hidden their clandestine pryzhok sphere. It appears that Inamma is on to them all…

(If you like what you see, share this link with a friend! This is where the story starts -- Season 1, Episode 1 is at the bottom: https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/YA%20SciFi%20EMERALD%20OF%20EARTH%20Serial?updated-max=2022-01-28T05:00:00-06:00&max-results=20&start=18&by-date=false)


***

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html
Image: https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEhR0X3mAc2AzqEJWA3ehVkVfHfzWGYFL0TbXeMyJDUyP3fRUi4gVLpK2PSo9qeqvljaCWKP7z9Dn120wRuSmoZoV_CWee_Yaw_UZx39rhg-xjZqsRFAr1ZFk6hZwUbDu0mLyb58RNhTPK9iS5HYXbijVje_dGNSJyz665C6PY0HtZRk-KaQWAsC46CEfQ/s1600/emerald_320.png

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 27: “Winds of Possibility” • by Carol Scheina


As Galactic supervisor on Odin III, Raisa Popov had received hundreds of messages from Galactic Mining, but this weather report hit like a lump of ore right in the gut.

Shelley, the Galactic communications officer, waited with wide, concerned eyes. “What’s it mean, a storm’s going to hit the plasma barrier? If it comes down, what’s on the other side of it?”

Popov stared out her office window as she steadied her breath. Dust-coated miners kicked up small clouds as they ambled down the gray road away from the mines. Father Luigi waved hello from an old van.

Looking further down the road, she could see the square gray buildings of the main town. She could make out one of the deli owners chasing a tabby cat out of his shop. Children zig-zagged around the school playground.

And though she couldn’t see it through the window, she knew the red plasma barrier rippled with power, blocking the eastern mountain pass.

Popov kept her voice even. “The barrier will be fine. There’s nothing on the other side. It’s just a way to block the eastern storms. They tend to be stronger than our usual dust storms.”

Shelley bit her lower lip. “How bad will it get?”

 “The plasma barrier will take the brunt of the storm. We’ll need to evacuate the town to the mines. Contact Alma Jenkins. The constable can get people organized. Get word to Father Francis, so the Catholic Church can help too. We’ll need to stock emergency supplies. The storm hits in five hours; let’s aim to get everyone down there in three.”

The communications officer nodded and dashed out.

Shelley had a good head on her shoulders. She’d get the word out, Popov knew. The supervisor looked out her window again, and only then did she let her worries seep in. She didn’t actually know what was on the other side of the barrier, and she wondered if anyone at Galactic Mining had that information. Who’d put it up in the first place?

What she did know was that the storms from beyond the barrier were … unusual. Fifty years ago, 20 of the first Odin III settlers had been caught in a storm near the plasma barrier. The official word was they’d died trying to cross the barrier, but no one had found any trace of them. Galactic monitored for storms ever since, warning that the storms were lethal. There was a rumor that you could see other worlds in the dust but ….

Popov shook her head. This was no time to worry about rumors. This was a serious storm and she was the senior representative of Galactic Mining on this planet. She’d damn well make sure no one was lost like those twenty settlers. She picked up her intercom to alert the miners: there would be more people coming into the tunnels.

* * *

Deep in the caves, people elbowed into the tight spaces of the tunnels, heading toward the more open caverns. Popov spotted a familiar face in the crowds herding a large bloodhound. “Alma! You okay?”

Popov’s girlfriend gave her a quick hug and kiss. “Rasputin and I are just fine. You?”

“Do you know if everyone’s accounted for?

Alma shook her head worriedly. “The evacuation’s been more chaotic than I expected.”

A young girl with a curly ponytail—Kira, Popov remembered was her name—yelled, “Tanya! Your parents are looking for you!”

In the distance, other voices called, “Tanya!”

Popov looked at her watch. The storm was due to strike any moment, but that was the thing about being a Galactic supervisor. You checked and double checked everything. Maybe someone had gotten separated from their family in the caves, but just in case…

“I’ll be right back,” she told Alma. “Keep every down here.”

“Be safe, okay?”

Popov snuck a quick kiss before heading toward the tunnel exit, van keys in her pocket. She’d need to move fast.

Popov parked the van and noted how the town had never been so quiet. Gray clouds turned the dust road several shades darker as it blew in drifts down the empty road. The supervisor made sure her goggles were tight against her face.

A gritty gust hit her face, blurring her vision. The streets rippled, and when her sight cleared, she stood on a different street. On either side, Popov saw tall skyscrapers surrounded by feathery green trees. Ghostly figures strolled beside her. Popov turned to look closer, and dust struck her vision again.

She was back on the familiar dusty road of her Odin.

Outside the deli, a young girl waved a bag of Galactic dried snacks in front of a tuxedo cat. “Come on, boy. We’re supposed to evacuate You can’t keep running!”

“Tanya?”

The girl looked up. “I haven’t been able to catch him.”

Popov grabbed the small hand. “We don’t have time. Let’s go!”

Another gust whipped her hair and before her was a young boy. “Mama! Want to go down the slide with me!”

Popov gasped. She didn’t talk much about her son. How she’d last kissed that beautiful head before the hair had grown in, when he’d been so small. Too small to have such a serious medical diagnosis.

She’d given up so much to come out here, to Odin III. Yes, taking this job had paid for her son’s medical treatment, had given him life. Yet it hadn’t been a life with them together. She’d never see his first steps, or first day of school. Relativity kept her young, and he’d grown up while she’d traveled.

Popov pulled the boy into a hug, dark hair tickling her chin. Yes, she wanted very much to go down the slide. She could see a ghostly playground in the distance.

She stepped forward.

A small hand pulled the supervisor’s arm. Tanya’s worried face looked up. “Where are we going?”

Popov froze, the boy still in her arms. Her son—her real son—was grown with grandchildren of his own. She was a Galactic Mining supervisor. But this girl, right here, was under her protection.

Popov closed her eyes and pressed the boy’s head into her chest. The things she could’ve experienced with her son if only life had unfolded differently. What if… But this wasn’t real. She put the boy down, a gentle rub over his dark hair, her fingers lingering over his soft cheek. Then she grabbed Tanya’s hand. “We’re getting out of here.”

Dust struck her face, and she couldn’t see the boy anymore.

The supervisor and Tanya took off for the van before another gust could hit them.

* * *

A few people in the caverns claimed to hear voices as the storm raged, but after four hours of whistling winds, the sounds quieted. Faces emerged blinking at the sky’s two suns. Tanya spotted the tuxedo cat and took off running. Popov wasn’t quite sure, but the patterning on the cat seemed different than before.

Other small differences were noticed in the storm’s aftermath. A new crate of wine was discovered in the bar, and the deli owner puzzled over the extra barrel of pickles he didn’t remember stocking. Where the school playground used to have a dusty hill, now there was a slide and swing set. Perhaps it was an old buried set the storm winds had uncovered, people speculated.

Shelley reported to Popov’s office with a new Galactic Mining message asking if the plasma barrier was okay. “Also, people are talking about the storm changing things,” Shelly added.

“Report back that the barrier is intact. And let folks know there was possible mushroom dust in that storm. The stuff’s mildly hallucinogenic. That’s probably what people are experiencing.”

Shelley eyed the supervisor. “Do you wonder what’s on the other side of the barrier?”

The supervisor looked out the window. The miners in overalls trekked up the road to the job site. Children lined up outside the school. Thick dust covered the squat buildings. “We’ve all got jobs to do, lives to live here. We’re right where we need to be. No need to go chasing dreams about what’s out there.” Whatever secrets the plasma barrier held, she’d make sure people would stay safe. Better to keep far away from that glowing red wall.

Her eyes locked on the new slide in the schoolyard as a soft echo sounded in Popov’s ear: Mama!

“Thank you, Shelley. You’re dismissed.”

When the door slammed, Popov turned back to the window. “I’m right where I need to be,” she muttered. She wiped the tear off her cheek.

___________________________

Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at carolscheina.wordpress.com.