Wednesday, November 30, 2022

"The Talk" (Part One) by Bruce Bethke

And once again, Spring returns to the North Country. In the space of two short weeks we've gone from watching the glaciers calve...


To watching the trees bud, the grass turn green, and the crocuses, tulips, and daffodils erupt from the ground in a glorious riot of color, only to get nommed to bits every night by hordes of ravenous bunnies.


Still, the flowers keeping trying. You have to admire that.

Along with the flowers, another sure sign that Spring has returned are the messages like this one, which have begun popping up in my email Inbox lately:

"Dear Mr. Bethke,

"I teach [subject] at [school], and I was wondering if you'd be interested in coming in to talk to my class about..."Actually, yes; schedule permitting, I would be delighted to come in and speak with your class.

Why?

My reasons are complex, and not always altogether clear to me. Some part of it is born of a simple and honest sense of altruism. Another part is born of a nagging sense of obligation. When I was a cocky young brat just starting out in this business, a lot of older and more experienced writers and editors were much more patient with me than I really deserved. While it's too late to repay their kindness now, I can pay it forward, so this is something I always try to do.

Then there is another, somewhat more mercenary and perhaps less admirable part.

I wouldn't do anything so precious as to claim that I do this for market research, or to "keep a finger on the pulse of the next generation" or anything like that. But the truth is, these conversations always end up being very educational for me. We who live and work inside the ant farm of SF/F publishing tend to take the long view, and given half a chance will tell you all about some story that Arthur C. Clarke first published in Galaxy in 1952. We tend to forget that out there, in the so-called real world, time continues to slide by -- and it does so in the form of window, about ten years long. For most people out there, five years ago is ancient history, and five years in the future is almost unimaginable.

Couple that with the other ten-year window -- that short span of years between the age when a young person is old enough to begin reading for pleasure and the age at which his or her literary tastes have become ossified for life -- and it's enough to make you feel positively Tralfamadorian.

So from time to time I feel the need to step out into the rushing time-flow, to talk to this year's crop of students, but mostly to listen and learn. And some of the things I learn are astonishing.
Science fiction, fantasy, horror? Those bright lines of demarcation between genres and subgenres that we in the business claim to see so clearly are invisible to younger eyes. Steampunk elves? Sure. Fighting vampires and zombies on spaceships? Why not? As long as the story is exciting and the imagery is engaging, all else can be forgiven.

Print, video, graphic novels, online gaming? It's all one continuous media space now, and the different incarnations of a given property are all just different points on the same continuum. Books, live-action movies, animated movies, graphic novels, and video game cut scenes are all treated as equally valid. "The movie was cool but the game totally sucked" is a trenchant critique.

Star Wars? Bring that up in a classroom today and you're most like to spark an argument over whether Disney's decision to close down LucasArts and turn all game development over to Electronic Arts was a disaster or a catastrophe. "Oh, you mean the movies? I think my Dad still has those on DVD and watches them once in a while."

Star Trek? "Wasn't that movie with Chris Pine and Zach Quinto great? I am so waiting for Into Darkness to open next week!

"What, you mean the old stuff, like with Captain Piccard, or the really old stuff, that my Grandpa still watches?" To this generation, the original Star Trek occupies the same cognitive space that old Flash Gordon serials occupied for mine: some pretty cool ideas, hampered by hammy acting, plodding scripts, and laughably cheap special effects. The idea that Into Darkness is a re-imagining of a thirty-year-old idea bothers them no more than the idea that The Wrath of Khan was an expansion of "Space Seed" bothered their parents.

Harry Potter? "I think my older sister read all those books. I'm more into Twilight. And World War Z. And The Walking Dead. And The Hunger Games."

Doctor Who is a series you watch on Netflix. Any mention of Dr. Who is sure to start a vigorous argument over which one's the best Doctor -- Matt Smith or David Tennant -- with one smug girl in the back insisting they're both wrong, it's Christopher Eccleston. Mention Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, or how wonderful it was to see Elisabeth Sladen one more time in "The Stolen Earth," and all you'll get is a roomful of blank looks. "Who?"

Radagast the Brown gets a surprising amount of name recognition. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are those films by Peter Jackson. Dwarves are awesome. Elves are probably gay. (This last assertion is always followed by a sudden nervous look around, and then, "Not that there's anything wrong with that.")

A generation of steady indoctrination has failed: most girls still don't want to be kick-ass warrior women. They want to be Disney princesses, or better yet a Disney princess with a longbow and a talking unicorn for a companion.

If dwarves are awesome, tharks are even more awesomer. Disney totally botched the deal with John Carter, because the film really resonates with teenage boys, most of whom have watched it on DVD or Blu-Ray and can't wait for the next one to come out. I haven't yet had the heart to tell any of them that it took 80 years for this one to get made, so they're probably in for a long wait.

Only Goths like Batman. Captain America is awesome (now that was a surprise), and boys don't want to be Batman or Superman, they want to be Tony Stark -- provided they also get Gwyneth Paltrow in the deal.

No teenagers read comic books any more. They can't afford to.
Of course, this is all incidental. The kids aren't there to teach me -- at least, not consciously -- they're there to hear me teach them The Secret. And no matter how I might try to steer and control the conversation, it always ends up with one brave student finally getting up the nerve to ask:

"Mr. Bethke? How do I become a writer?" Oh, boy...

...to be continued...
______
by Bruce Bethke, May 10, 2013 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Creating Alien Aliens 19 -- How Do the Heptapods in “Arrival” and CS Lewis’ God Perceive Time?

I was having trouble writing this and couldn’t figure out why. After a six hour interval during which I went to a Celebration of Life for a work friend of mine, I sat down again to try and finish this.

The problem was that I hadn’t defined my goal; my question. I got hold of the question as soon as I sat down again: Why is an altered perception of time OK in an alien and ridiculed in God? Both the original story and the movie won glowing reviews:

“The Story of Your Life”: “won the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 1999 Theodore Sturgeon Award; nominated for the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novella; translated into Italian, Japanese, French and German”; James Gleick wrote: ‘[This] poses the questions: would knowing your future be a gift or a curse, and is free will simply an illusion?’, answering himself, ‘For us ordinary mortals, the day-to-day experience of a preordained future is almost unimaginable’, but Chiang does just that in this story, he ‘imagine[s] it’. It was reprinted ten more times before the movie came out. Besides the awards above it was nominated for a HOMer, a Tiptree / Otherwise Gender-bending SF, a Locus, and won a 2002 Seiun (Japan) for the Best Translated Short Story.

The movie “Arrival”: was “nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay; won the 2017 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation”. In addition, “It grossed $203 million worldwide and received critical acclaim, with particular praise…for the exploration of communication with extraterrestrial intelligence. Considered one of the best films of 2016, [it] appeared on numerous critics' year-end lists and was selected by the American Film Institute as one of ten ‘Movies of the Year’… ‘Adams received nominations for a BAFTA, SAG, Critics' Choice, and at the 74th Golden Globe Awards, nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress…The score…was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 60th Grammy Awards.”

The thing is, I agree with all of the above hype. My question however, is WHY did the story and movie generate so much attention; so much praise; such awe? During a summer school class I teach called ALIEN WORLDS, I have my students watch clips from it. IMDb describes it this way, “A linguist works with the military to communicate with alien lifeforms after twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world.”

Really??? What it DOESN’T say is absolutely crucial: The aliens don’t experience time as Humans do. The aliens, whom people call Heptapods (from the Greek: seven + feet (as in podiatry, not units of 12 inches)) may possibly have a similar perception of time that CS speculates God does.

In his Section 3 of his book, MERE CHRISTIANITY, in “Time and Beyond Time”: “…in [this] final section of the book…C.S. Lewis addresses the question of how in the world God can hear all of the prayers in the world at once. In 1945, CS Lewis also addressed the same problem that Ted Chiang did. In his essay, he writes, “Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He know what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if he know I am going to so so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise?...the difficulty comes from thinking God is progressing along the timeline like us…But suppose God is outside and above the timeline. In that case, what we call tomorrow, is visible to him just the same way as what we call today. All the days are ‘now’ for Him. He does not foresee you doing things tomorrow; he simply sees you doing them.’”

The Heptapods in “Arrival” make a similar statement. When Louise is behind the transparent shield and (apparently) breathing the same air as the Heptapods, and after she understands their language, she has a conversation.

Louise: Where is Abbott.
Costello: Abbott is death process.
Louise: I don’t understand.
Costello: Louise has weapon. Use weapon. We help Humanity.
Louise: I don’t understand.
Costello: In 3000 years, we need Humanity help.
Louise: [She experiences another out-of-linear-time event where her seven or eight year old daughter shows her different representations in different media of her mother (Louise) and her father (Ian)]
Costello: There is no linear time.

Chiang and Lewis explore a fascinating concept and somehow, they arrive (no pun intended!) with the same answer as they explore how aliens and God might experience time and how nearly-incomprehensible that seems.

My students were both captivated and confused with the Heptapods (of course, I can’t mention CS Lewis and God…though I suppose I could bring up Lewis’ Space Trilogy and the aliens in THAT).

Hmmm…

The upshot of this post is to bring to light that the question both Chiang and Lewis sought to explore were the same.

The answer they explored was also the same.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

"The Trouble with Advice" by Bruce Bethke

Thirty-five years ago I was living in Los Angeles, shopping my demo tape all over Hollywood, and trying to take my musical career to the next level. Auditions and callbacks were few and far-between, though, so I spent a lot of time either in my apartment or else down at the beach, watching the nonstop freak show, scribbling away in my notebook, and doing my best to follow in the unsteady footsteps of Jim Morrison. In my mind's eye the images from those days remain remarkably razor-sharp: I can still see the shape and color of the inside walls of that small apartment, and the way the cockroaches danced and scattered when I flipped on the lights, and the faces and houses in the surrounding low-rent but not altogether unpleasant neighborhood -- and the best places to go for cheap but still edible Asian or Mexican food -- and the near-miraculous way the smog would sometimes lift, sometimes for entire hours at a time, and the skies would clear enough for me to see the mountains, a thousand yards off in the distance. I can still remember all the different back ways and side streets I used to take to walk or bike down to the beach...

Many years later a business trip brought me back to Los Angeles, and one morning I found myself at loose ends in Hollywood with a nice rental car and a few hours to kill. On a lark I decided to drive back to my old neighborhood, to see if anything had changed.

Oh, it'd changed, all right. It was now not so much a low-rent neighborhood as the exterior daylight set for some low-budget post-Apocalyptic sci-fi movie. The ghetto bars on almost every window weren't all that much of a surprise to me, but I didn't expect to see the coils of concertina wire on the perimeter fences and rooftops of the remaining businesses, or the gang graffiti tags on pretty much every flat vertical surface, or the knots and clots of young men standing around on the sidewalks and street corners, glaring at me with narrowed eyes, as if trying to decide whether I was worth the effort of car-jacking or if they should just bust a cap on my fool ass for trespassing on their turf.

I took a few heartbeats to soak it all in, then hit the gas, found the nearest freeway entrance ramp, and just about kicked the accelerator pedal through the floor in my desire to light up the afterburners and get the flaming flying hell out of there.

_____
L. P. Hartley once wrote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." This is not merely a truism but a serious problem for those in the advice trade, both those who would like to give it and those who hope to receive it. Maps both physical and cognitive are constantly changing, and the best we on the giving side can do is tell you what the landscape looked like when we last went that way.

To those who hope to receive advice, remember: any advice you receive from someone who's already been there and done that is by definition old. It may be useful as-is. More likely it will require some straining and filtering to be useful in the here and now. Much of it might be completely irrelevant, and some of it -- such as the mental map of a certain neighborhood in Los Angeles that I drew back in the 1970s -- might actually get you into serious trouble if you were to try to apply it now.

Case in point, when I first decided to get serious about writing science fiction for professional publication, about thirty years ago, there were six "pro" magazines on the newsstands, perhaps two dozen good-paying semi-pro mags, and at least a half-dozen book publishers with healthy lines of mass-market paperback originals. The typical editorial response time ranged from four to six weeks, and if you lived reasonably frugally it was possible to pay the month's rent with one decent short-story sale.

Since I wasn't haven't consistent success at first, I decided to sponge up all the advice I could find from the established Old School pros. It took me years to realize that their advice was in turn rooted in a time when there were two mail deliveries daily, no paperback originals market, a lot of pulp magazines on the newsstands -- for that matter, a lot of newsstands -- and far fewer writers competing for the available publication space. Back in their day, if you lived in New York, it was possible to mail a story to Astounding in the morning, get it back with comments from John Campbell that afternoon, rewrite it overnight and remail it the next morning, and have Campbell's check in-hand the following evening -- and that was at a time when 5-cents per word was serious money.

Now? There are, what, three major pro magazines left? A vast plethora of minor pro and semi-pro markets ranging from brilliant to awful, a paperback originals market that's coughing blood, an entry on the Endangered Species List for "neighborhood bookstores" tagged Believed Extinct in the Wild, and a good short-story sale might... Pay your cell phone bill for a month, and leave enough left over for lunch at Taco John's?

So how much of the advice that I sponged up from the Old School pros -- or even that I developed myself, from my own experiences in the 1980s and 1990s -- do you suppose is relevant now?

_____
There is no going back to the way things were. Heck, there's not much point in going back more than a decade. When I first decided to revive The Slush Pile Survival Guide, I thought, "This will be easy. I've been writing this kind of stuff for twenty years! I'll just go back into the deep archives, exhume my old columns, and -- "

And discover that the world has changed in the years since then, far more than I imagined. True, many aspects of good story-telling haven't changed since the Neolithic age, but the business of selling your fiction and getting it published has changed almost beyond recognition in just the past ten years. A few of my old columns are still useful as-is, and a few more contain nuggets of information that might conceivably be reworked into something useful now, but most are now better off taken to the county hazardous waste site and left for safe disposal.

That is the challenge you face, when you read advice from any established old pro. You must be a discerning reader; you must weigh and evaluate what you see and determine what's relevant to you. I can't tell you with absolute assurance how to break into publication in today's fiction market, because I didn't do it, and I'm not the one who's trying to do it now.

Remember, I became a successful and award-winning fiction writer in a different century. And in a foreign country.
______
Posted by ~brb February 22, 2013  

Friday, November 18, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 44: CONCLUSION – The End of Inamma…

The lift doors squelched open and Vice-Captain Ruby Marcillon and Dr. Tasia Viahakis stepped into the hangar. The vice-captain shouted, “Emerald!”


Emerald exclaimed, “Tia-avó Ruby?

Berg shouted, “Run for us!” The two women scrambled across the hangar floor as a large red spot appeared on the door of the bolus lift. The door squelched shut, but the laser spot created coils of gray smoke wherever it stopped and swung wildly across the walls, as if trying to follow the two women. “It’s trying to use a cutting laser!”

They skidded to a stop near the rest of the group. They all retreated to squat among the metal shelves. Dr. Viahakis carried a thin silver briefcase.

Ruby said, “You don’t think I’d make you face this alone, gatinho?” She looked at Berg and said, “Report.”

Berg sketched out what had happened since they’d grabbed the gravity modified cargo float with the gray boxes.

Ruby nodded to the cargo float, “Those boxes?”

Berg and Emerald nodded.

“She has a weapon,” Berg said to the vice-captain. Scowling, Dr. Viahakis knelt in front of him and held her hand out to Søren who pushed the first aid kit over to her. He stepped back, saying, “I don’t need any help.”

Ruby lifted her chin and said, “I don’t want you bleeding to death just when I need you. Let Dr. Viahakis heal you.”

He grunted, but stepped forward so the doctor could work on him.

Emerald said, “Why would Inamma be afraid of this? It’s just a robot.”

Ruby bit her lower lip then said, “This information is for your ears only. If you tell anyone else, Dr. Viahakis may have to chemically alter your memories.” She paused. “We think Inamma is the remnant of an alien confederation sent into the Solar System to destroy an indigenous, intelligent, space-faring civilization on Venus.” She looked at Emerald, “That’s what your parents thought as well. The images your parents received – and that my clumsy brother allowed you to see as well – were our Solar ancestors and may be the sole reason we evolved on Earth. They were brutal and we think they forced the hand of some sort of alien alliance. They came here, battles ensued, and at one point a microscopic black hole – we think they used the same technology we’re using on SOLAREX – was released and drifted through the Solar System. It didn’t destroy Venus, but either clipped it or an immense asteroid it drew in its wake did, giving it a retrograde rotation, vaporizing its oceans, and knocking its moon out of orbit after nearly destroying it. We know that moon as Mercury, today.”

When she was done bandaging Berg, Dr. Viahakis opened the thin case. From it, she took a normal, flat screen computer pad. But mounted at the top were a pair of antenna, looped to form two crossing circles of wire.

“What’s that?” Ayaka asked.

Dr. Viahakis looked at Ruby, who nodded. The scientist said, “Using Emerald’s boxes and the power cubes, we’ve figured out how to passively detect Inamma’s peculiar energy.” She stood up, touched a key then swung in a circle, scanning the hangar. The machine made no sound, but she nodded to Colonel Berg, pointing with one finger while still holding the pad. He drew his weapon and nodded to Emerald.

He said, “Emerald’s weapon is the effective one. If I can drive Inamma this way, perhaps she can blast the thing.” He looked at her, “You saw what the cube did to the wing of the lander?”

Emerald nodded as he moved away from them.

Energy fire came from across the hangar a few moments later. Then Berg ran past them, zigzagging over the floor while the red spot of the cutting laser skittered after him. They could hear the click and whir of Inamma as it suddenly stepped into the open.

Emerald lifted the cube as Berg shouted, “Fire!”

Inamma had grabbed two tasers, fumbling them on, spattering the humans with the shocker darts.

All of them, including Berg, dropped to the floor like marionettes whose strings were suddenly cut.

But for Emerald, it was nothing like the first time she’d been stunned. Emerald cried, “It’s getting away!” She tried to chase it, but stumbled on numbed feet. Inamma dropped the tasers and skittered back in among the landers on all six blades.

Vice-Captain Ruby snapped, “The stun is temporary and light! Whoever gets moving first pull the emergency bar over by the control room!”

Emerald fought against the paralysis, feeling her feet twitch. A moment later, she could move them and dragged herself painfully to her knees.

From among the parked landers, one of the smallest manta-ray landers fired, rising on a thrumming gMod field.

Dr. Viahakis shouted, “It’s getting away!”

Søren was on his knees as well, crawling toward the control room. Emerald reached it first. Painted fluorescent orange, the emergency bar was horizontal and marked with signs that said it shouldn’t be pulled for anything but dire circumstances. Emerald reached up and collapsed, pulling it. A red light began to flash above it and a tone sounded in the huge space, starting low, rising higher then repeating.

Berg, Dr. Viahakis, and Vice-Captain Marcillon were still laid out. Ayaka was only now twitching. Daniel was rolling his head side-to-side and moaning. From the PA, a voice said, “This is Solar Explorer Control, hangar personnel, identify your...”

Ruby shouted, “This is Vice-Captain Ruby Marcillon! Check voiceprint then seal all airlocks in the hangar to my voice command only!”

There was a pause. “Aye, Captain! Control of all airlock...”

The manta flyer hovered next to the wall and banged into it. Then it rose a bit until it hovered higher than the cargo lander’s fuselage. It surged backward then forward, ramming the hangar wall. Finally, it moved forward enough to hover over the empty hangar floor in front of the cargo landers.

Ruby shouted, “Cut power to the hangar and damp all gravity modification generators!” The lights went out. The gravity went out. From the far end of the hangar, the little manta wing shuttle must have shot straight into the air as its resistance to the gravity holding it down was released. A shriek of metal against stone echoed from high above. Anything that wasn’t strapped down began to slowly rise from the floor.

Dr. Viahakis moaned, “I get space sick...”

Colonel Berg and Ruby shoved off from the shelves. Emerald pushed off from the control room window, following her great aunt as she and Berg grabbed a wing of the mid-sized lander. Ruby shouted, “Emergency lights!”

Red glowed from the ceiling and floor.

The two-person lander floated above the floor. It spun abruptly as its attitude jets all fired in the same direction.

“Use the cube!” Berg shouted. The lander slowed then turned for the airlock doors. Emerald raised the weapon as Inamma fired the thrusters, accelerating for the huge airlock doors.

The Colonel shouted, “It’s going to try and break out!”

Ruby exclaimed, “The door’s over a meter thick...”

Emerald cried, “It’s going to kill itself!”

The lander hit the airlock door and exploded in a flash of light.

Floating near Emerald, Daniel arched his back and curled his arms tightly against his body and screamed. There were other screams in the hangar from deeper in the darkness. Ayaka and Søren watched dispassionately, floating arm-in-arm, Søren holding on to the shelves. Even Dr. Viahakis watched, anchored to a metal shelf.

Stunned, the three Humans grabbed the wing and tail of the floating lander and stopped. They stared at the blackened crater on the airlock door.

Inamma had been destroyed.

“Why did it do that?” Emerald whispered.

The vice-captain shook her head and called, “Re-engage gMod in main hangar, quickly but gradual.” A moment later, everything began to sink to the floor until they were under full gravity again.”

“Maybe it was afraid of us taking it apart if we caught it? It wasn’t going anywhere any more once we locked it down here.”

Berg limped to the door, looking up at the blackened crater. Shaking his head, he said, “The intelligence could very well have been sixty-five million years old. It had learned and seen so much, I can’t imagine it just killed itself because it was afraid of us.” He looked back at Ruby and said, “I can’t imagine it was afraid of anything.”

Ruby bit her lower lip then looked down at Emerald. “Emerald had a weapon it was afraid of. Very afraid. Maybe there are other things that she has access to that we don’t know about.” She nodded slowly and touched Emerald’s shoulder. “If you’re going to be an active and integral crewmembers, you’ve got quite a bit of training ahead of you.”

Emerald nodded slowly. Dr. Viahakis glanced at her. She raised an eyebrow, adding, “Congratulations, Emerald.”

Ruby strode to the interior hangar airlock just as a security force burst through. She waved them toward the moaning Daniel. Søren, Ayaka, and the wounded Colonel Berg sagged with relief. Ruby caught Emerald’s eye, smiled and lifted her chin.

Emerald nodded to her great aunt. Then Vice-Captain Ruby Marcillon of the SOLAR EXPLORER, Humanity’s Last Greatest Adventure™, disappeared into the corridor beyond.

THIS is the last episode of EMERALD OF EARTH: HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES. If you liked what you read, share the link below with a friend! 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 him about EMERALD OF EARTH: HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES, 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

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Status Update • 17 November 2022

 

 

A lot of people have been asking lately, “What’s going on with Stupefying Stories?”

My honest answer is that I don’t know. My attention has been elsewhere. 

As most of you already know, my wife, Karen, has always been the heart and soul of Stupefying Stories and Rampant Loon Press. She’s also been battling metastatic breast cancer since 2010, and as a consequence we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and more than a few times when everything seemed to be going sideways. 

I’ve been going back through my planner, trying to figure out what went wrong this time. With the benefit of hindsight, it looks like things started to go wobbly in July. There followed a slow and steady decline through August, and then—

Well, a picture being more effective than words, here’s a photo of her I took in late August.

When things really went wrong was when she began treatment with a new chemotherapy drug on August 30th. This drug is so new, it was only approved by the FDA on August 5th. While it does seem to have done a good job of suppressing the spread of her cancer, systemically, all sorts of other things started to go wrong. Not all at once; not things that were obviously interrelated. But throughout September, she took an accelerating downward plunge that came to a crisis in early October. 

From the ER, she was admitted to the ICU. From the ICU, she was transferred to the Neuroscience wing. After a day or two they decided trepanning her to let the demons out was not the best option, but a month later she remains in the hospital, while her medical team struggles. Each new day is one step forward, two steps back, and perhaps a little skip sideways. We can get this problem under control, but doing so just opens the door for that problem to get worse…

When a doctor pulls you aside to tell you it’s time to call the family—and the family priest, if you have one—things are not going well.

So where are things going with Stupefying Stories? Right at this moment, I don’t know. My attention is focused on the person who has been in my life for more than fifty years and my partner for most of them. Good Lord, we were so young when we began this journey!

Thank you for reading this,
Bruce Bethke


Friday, November 11, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 43 Before the Enemy

Berg, who had spread his feet to steady himself said, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” He paused, “Main Shuttle Deck and Staging Area.”

Emerald leaned against the warm wall behind her. Berg stood with his hand clamped over his wound. Blood seeped between his fingers.

Ayaka said faintly, “Daniel is under Inamma’s control?”

Berg glanced at her, his face grim, then looked at Emerald who nodded. For an instant, she wanted nothing more than to step forward, lean into the security chief and cry into his – belly button.

The bolus came to a stop. Doorplates shuddered and pulled back with a faint squelch. It was pitch dark and cold fog rolled in over their feet.

“Where are we?” Emerald asked, leaning out and pulling back with a shudder of her own.

Berg stepped out with a sharp intake of breath. “Be careful.”

Søren and Ayaka said, “Duh.”

Berg spun around and holding up his finger, he shook it in their faces, “I don’t think you understand how serious this is.”

Ayaka snarled, “You’re the one who doesn’t understand how serious this is! You thought we were crazy until you got your little booboo!” She jabbed toward it and Emerald thought she was going to stab him with her fingernail. He must have as well as he flinched. “You locked us up, ignored us and acted like we were crazy teenagers! Where would we be right now if you’d taken Emerald serious when she first got here, huh? None of this would have happened and...and...Emerald’s nanny wouldn’t be dead! Don’t you dare tell us we’re not taking this seriously, Mr. Brave and Manly Security Expert Man! We’re the only ones who’ve taken Inamma seriously from the beginning! So shut up or I’ll cram my finger down your throat through your eyeball socket and the empty space you have in place of a brain!” She stomped her foot and added, “And you know I can do it!” Ayaka seemed to swell larger and larger with every sentence until the sheer force of her character filled the bolus and Berg’s face seemed set in stone. He growled faintly, then turned and walked out into the darkness, turning again to face them. He blinked five times before he said, “I am sorry that I didn’t take you seriously. More sorry than you’ll ever know, Miz Kobayashi. Miz Marcillon. Mr. Ouyang.” His eyes flicked to one side then he looked back at Emerald and straightened up some. “Captain Chien-Shiung Wu will have my resignation in her ipik the moment we conclude this sorry mess. I will volunteer for deportation back to Earth as well.” He bit his lower lip then added softly, “But for now, we have an alien to destroy before it murders any more of us. May I lead the expedition?” He looked directly at Emerald.

Startled, she nodded. The group remained frozen for a moment then Colonel Berg stepped aside. He had his gun in one hand. He said, “I think you should take out the cube from the Chicxulub box, Emerald.”

Emerald nodded, reached into her pocket and pulled out the artifact.

He lifted his chin and said, “The tektite necklace is glowing and so is the cube.” He paused then said, “Permission to direct operations?”

Emerald nodded. “You don’t have to ask permission for everything. But,” she paused, then said, “You do have to destroy Inamma.”

He smiled faintly, nodded, and said, “Aye, Vice-Captain Marcillon’s great niece.” He lifted his chin and stepped forward as the bolus squelched shut. The sounds they made coming out of the elevator seemed to be drawn up into the darkness like it was a sponge. Suddenly Berg shouted, “Lights!” Overhead there was a flicker. Across from them, the sound of scurrying rats trying to hide. But there was a metallic ticking sound as well. It didn’t sound like flesh and blood toenails.

“Inamma’s foot blades,” Ayaka whispered. She grabbed Emerald’s arm and pulled her close.

Emerald held up the cube, staring across the hangar. She knew where she’d heard the tapping knives on the floor. From above, the light grew steadily brighter. Søren said, “This is a hangar!” It was an immense room.

From the center lift – there were two others, both smaller, on either side of the one they’d arrived in. All of them faced three enormous airlocks and at least six human-sized ones. To their left and taking up most of the space in the hangar, was a pair of sapphire-colored, ceramic and metal, manta-shaped planetary landing cargo craft towering ten meters high over everything else.

Flanking it were six other others, and while smaller, they were still huge – about the size of the old-fashioned Space Shuttles from the 20th Century. Far across the hangar floor were smaller ships that looked like they were made for one or two people.

To their right, one third of the hangar was taken over by rows of metal shelves and carts, forklifts, scooters, small cranes, and loading ramps on wheels. Pipes, hoses, chains, light conduit and cables dangled from the high roof that towered thirty meters overhead – which was itself crisscrossed by walkways, ladders and massive light fixtures.

Beyond the right lift door was an enormous, glassed-in control room.

A violet burst of energy flashed in the distance. Berg dove in front of them as Ayaka dragged Emerald into a squat. Low to the ground, she ran left with Emerald , ducking under the wing of one of the medium-sized landers. They crouched, listening intently.

Berg slipped up beside them, steering Søren. He released the boy then whispered, “We have to stay together.” To Emerald, he said, “That was no alien weapon. It was one of our stunners.”

“Daniel must have gotten one from somewhere,” she said.

Berg nodded. “He’s under the influence of the alien. It seems to be able to patch into some of our computer systems as well– most likely the simpler ones like light control, and food programs. However, that means it might be able to open weapons lockers.” The lights increased until the hangar was bright as day. He nodded to the cube in Emerald’s hand. “Any idea how that works?”

“It’s pulsing, but I can’t tell anything else about it.”

“I wish we could test it.” He shrugged. “First chance you get, point it at Daniel or Inamma and see what happens.”

“What if it kills Daniel?” Emerald exclaimed.

Berg shook his head slowly. “Daniel’s under the control of the alien. He probably won’t care about any of you anymore. He may even try to kill you if the alien directs him to. I’d rather not see that happen. ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’ is still our motto.”

Emerald nodded. The tap of knives on concrete skittered in the distance. “How can we catch Inamma?”

“Kill it,” Søren and Berg said simultaneously.

Ayaka took a deep breath, held it then said in a rush, “It’s not gonna come to you so you have to go to it; you have to chase it down and throw the cube at it...”

“What?” Søren and Emerald exclaimed. Berg nodded slowly.

“Inamma comes to you when you’re not paying attention – it’s always tried to surprise you, trick you, infiltrate your dreams, and lure you into traps. You’ve never gone after it before. You need to go after it this time.”

“It killed my parents,” Emerald said. “What if it kills me?”

Ayaka nodded, saying, “You were alone then. You’re not alone anymore.” She twitched her head toward the Colonel, “Even the Colonel believes you, now. And your great-aunt – who’s also vice-captain of ‘Humanity’s Last Greatest Adventure™’. We all do. And we’re not going to let you face that thing alone again.” She paused. “But we don’t have time to wait for it to come to you. We have to stop it now, before we start the landings on Venus. Before we get very far from Earth. It’s only one little robot...”

Søren interrupted, “But it has some of the boxes and it has control of Daniel. We have to get him back...”

Berg cut in, “It’s still only one robot – though it’s clear it can control others besides you kids because it took the boxes from Dr. Viahakis’ lab. We can’t let it get out of the hangar. I’ve ordered a class one containment, so unless there’s some way it can override the highest classification, it’s trapped here with us. No matter what, it has to be stopped. It has to be stopped here.” There was a long silence then the sound of metallic tapping moving away from them. “Inamma’s running away! If we’re going to catch it, we have to go now.”

Emerald stood up, tossed the cube in the air. She looked down at Ayaka and Søren and said, “I wouldn’t have anybody but you two by my sides for this.”

Berg nodded. With a twitch of his head and a glare to keep them behind him, he set off across the hangar toward the maintenance area. “There’s more places to hide there,” Berg whispered.

Søren, Ayaka, and Emerald followed.

They came to the gravity modified cargo float first. The boxes had been knocked to the floor and indentations in the sides made it look like Inamma had jumped on them. Berg said, “They didn’t open, so we didn’t give Inamma enough time to get whatever is in there.” He nodded to Ayaka, “Good job.” He gestured to other security officers to stand guard over them.

“It still has Daniel,” Emerald said.

“Keep your eyes open. Worst case, it’ll kill your ITT leader to slow us down.”

“What?” Søren exclaimed.

“Worst case, but it’s a possibility.”

They reached the maintenance area. The far wall was jammed with color-coded metal shelving sticking out from the walls at ninety-degree angles. A second control room, square and glassed in with an airlock was currently dark.

Power jacks, rolling stairs and a huge bank of scaffolding sat in the center. “Where could he...” Emerald began.

Chains rattled overhead and they all looked up in time to see Daniel hanging on to a chain, foot planted firmly on a hook, swinging from the rafters, aiming what could only be a rifle of some sort at them. Berg shouted, “Emerald get under cover!”

Ayaka and Søren grabbed Emerald, making for the shelves. Berg knelt, fired at Daniel who swung up and out of the way, jumping on to a catwalk and scampering behind a steel box with angled vents. Ayaka screamed, “Shoot him! Shoot him!”

Daniel was twenty meters above them when an energy beam lanced out from Berg’s gun. It didn’t come anywhere near the young man, slicing instead through the catwalk as if it were made of paper. With a shriek of metal from the side still attached, the walk collapsed and Daniel fell, grabbed a chain which he slid down then caught on a loop. The chain pulled free and swung down, hitting the ground three meters away from them and sliding across the floor. Daniel fell with it, tumbling across the floor, crashing into Ayaka, Emerald, and Søren like a bowling ball hitting pins.

Berg covered Daniel with his not-a-taser until he stopped rolling then scurried over to the still form. He reached down to touch Daniel’s neck, nodded, stood up and said, “He’s alive and no worse for the wear. He’ll have some pretty amazing bruises when he...”

Another form dropped from the high walkways, falling fast. Berg leaped, but the Lemur IIa impaled his left leg. The man didn’t scream but rolled over on his back, his gun swinging up.

Inamma knocked it aside with one of his bladed legs, but by that instant, Berg pulled his knife. Søren scrambled to his feet, dashed to the shelves and ran out an instant later brandishing a length of pipe as large as a baseball bat.

Emerald had no idea how Inamma saw anything, but it fought with Berg, stabbing and feinting as the head of security slashed and stabbed until he rolled free.
Søren charged, the bat on his shoulder, twisting at the waist as if he was preparing to hit a homerun.

The robot slashed at Berg’s face, running away from Søren, spinning on three legs, flailing the other three, one bloody from stabbing Berg. It would have gotten entirely away if Ayaka didn’t roundhouse kick the alien before it spun more than a dozen steps.

It was ready this time and slashed down on her leg. She screamed and though Inamma staggered, it continued to run across the maintenance area and in among the landers.

Berg shouted, “Emerald, use the cube! Hold on to it! Don’t throw it!”

Emerald did as she was told. Heat flared around her neck as a nearly invisible ray seemed to leap from cube. The belly of one of the landers glowed red as Inamma cut to one side to avoid it. Emerald breathed, “What was that?”

Berg, on his feet again, limped to her, dropping his hand on her shoulder and leaning heavily, “An alien weapon.” He turned and went to Ayaka where Søren had just finished wrapping her leg with a bandage from the first aid kit he’d opened on the hangar floor.

Emerald hurried to Ayaka’s side, but she pushed Emerald away, saying, “You watch for the robot, you’re the only one it’s afraid of!”

“What?”

Berg knelt to help with Ayaka’s leg, but Søren was nearly finished. Søren said, “Hold the bandage. I’m gonna cover it with sealer.” He sprayed the clear foam that would both solidify over her leg to act like a cast and start reconstructing the skin and muscle using nanomachines.

Berg looked over his shoulder at Emerald. He said, “You’ve got the only weapon aboard that’s effective against the alien robot.”

“Why would it be afraid of its own weapon?”

Berg shook his head and said, “I don’t think it used this weapon. I think the cube was a weapon used against Inamma’s kind.”

“What kind are they?” Emerald asked as Ayaka groaned.

Berg shrugged, “The images of the rat-lizard creatures that your parents showed you when you were little?”

“How do you know about those?”

“We know exactly what your parents and their people were working on. We just didn’t think they had enough evidence to prove their case.”

“What are you talking about?” Emerald exclaimed.

The lift doors squelched open and Vice-Captain Ruby Marcillon and Dr. Tasia Viahakis stepped into the hangar.


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.


(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, November 4, 2022

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 21: The REAL Possibility of Intelligent Alien Aliens

Update 11/5/2022: A BRAND NEW article on BBC News: Humans are still searching for signs of intelligent alien life on other planets – but how would we react towards it if we ever did make contact? https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221101-should-extraterrestrial-life-be-granted-sentient-rights


I’ve been a fan of SF movies with aliens in them since I watched “Invasion of the Saucer Men” when I was 13 (1970). It was a movie that was, oddly, 13-years-old as well, made in 1957. I was watching a late-night TV show called “Horror, Incorporated” when the movie ran. Unlike my response to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (where I threw the blankets over my head when the camera panned to the eyeless farmer); my reaction to the still-living, alien hand – torn off when the couple who’d been making out at Inspiration Point and heading home, ran over one of the invading aliens – was total absorption.

Since then, and fueled by a BS in biology, and an addition that allowed me to teach Earth Science in MN, I’ve been fascinated by alien biology.

Like anyone else who reads and writes science fiction, I believe with all my heart that there is intelligent life Out There and just because we haven’t definitively “met Them” yet, they HAVE to be out there somewhere.

But, what’s the REAL possibility of finding intelligent life off of Earth, if not in our Solar System or orbiting a nearby star, then SOMEWHERE in the universe? I refuse to accept Ellie Arroway’s lecture to a group of kids at the end of the movie, “I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?”

Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, that has been misattributed to his own invention, which was coined by John Burroughs (American naturalist and nature essayist) in ACCEPTING THE UNIVERSE (“On Other Stars”) (1920). His exact words are, “If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly; if they be na inhabited, what a waste of space.” It has repeatedly been attributed to Carl Sagan because he quoted it at a November 20, 1972 symposium on “Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man”, held at Boston University. But the fact is that, it originated half a century before he quoted it.

Like the quote, and despite our firm belief that Modern Civilization “invented” the idea of aliens and alien worlds – because we’re just SO forward thinking – the concept of aliens and alien worlds has been around since Roman Empire actually ruled Western Europe: “The famous Roman poet Cicero was interested in the possibility of living beings on the Moon, and his Somnium Scipionis may have inspired Plutarch (46 A.D. - 120 A.D.) to write his account of a visit to the Moon. In Facies in Orbe Lunare…

Plutarch endorsed the Pythagoreans thus: ‘They affirm that the Moon is terrestrial and inhabited like the Earth, peopled with the greatest living creatures and the fairest plants...’”

Then the author makes an unsubstantiated claim that the Church was responsible for a thousand-year silence regarding the possibility of space travel and alien life writing, though they hedge their bets by what I call weasel words, “…This may probably be attributed to the pervasiveness of the Church philosophy and its rigid opposition to the idea of the plurality of worlds. The pronouncement of…the Bishop of Chiusi, in 1145 A.D. was perhaps typical: The belief in many worlds was to be condemned as heresy.” They provide no references…then runs with their conclusions, making Thomas Aquinas into some kind of simpering idiot: “If God really was all-powerful, why was he only able to create one world? Conversely, if only one world existed how could God possibly be truly infinite and omnipotent? The theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274) came up with a ‘solution’ to the problem: God had the power to create infinite worlds, but all the matter in the universe had been used to construct Earth!” Continuing the narrative (and using exclamation points to highlight the author’s disbelief, “…“…the Church subsequently partially reversed its extreme position. In 1277…[the Church] decried as new heresy the belief that a plurality of worlds was impossible!...According to the physics of Aristotle (“from his teachings…the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.”)…still in vogue (sounds like the author is stating that Aristotle was some sort of fad that soon passed) until the 16th century, if any other worlds did exist they would have to gravitate to the center of the universe (where Earth was). But it became wrong to suggest that God could not create many worlds if He wished.”

“The debate was far from ended. In 1410 the Jewish philosopher Crescas wrote: ‘Everything said in negation of the possibility of many worlds is vanity and a striving after wind." Still, he was unwilling to stick out his neck very far: ‘...yet we are unable by means of mere speculation to ascertain the true nature of what is outside this world; our sages, peace be on them, have seen fit to warn against searching and inquiring into what is above and what is below, what is before and what is behind...’”

“…during the Inquisition in Europe in the mid-fifteenth century. Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa in 1440 in which he stated: Rather than think so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited, and that this Earth or ours alone is peopled.. .we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God.”

Considering how little we know about other animals here on Earth, he claims, "of the inhabitants....of worlds other than our own we can know still less, having no standards by which to appraise them.”

“As astronomical observations became more accurate, the geocentric Aristotelian/Ptolemaic world view began to generate problems that were difficult to resolve…[and] The roadblocks to the idea of intelligent alien life on other worlds were rapidly disintegrating.”

So, there’s an interesting view of the past. Now that we have the Science of the 21st Century, it should be obvious by now that all discussion of life on other worlds has more-or-less resolved itself into a fairly uniform belief: it’s ABSOLUTELY THERE!!!!

Hold on a moment!

Current speculation – and make no mistake, every thought we have or write (I include myself here and now) is PURE SPECULATION. There is NO EVIDENCE of life existing anywhere else but Earth. NO EVIDENCE (alien abduction victims to the contrary), we have no evidence (which is essential to good police work and science) of life existing anywhere but right here. That’s evident from the range of articles written and referenced below – that in the second and third decades of the 21st Century that there could  STILL logically be between “we’re all alone” to 42,777 intelligent civilizations to “numbers almost too large to imagine”.

It doesn't seem that we've progressed very far from Cisero, Plutarch, and the obstructionist Roman Catholic Church – we have no evidence PLUS theories and mathematical calculations whose solutions vary wildly from We Are Alone to a universe teeming with life eager to contact us if only…the most recent speculation I’ve heard is that communication between the members of the Inter Galactic Union of Intelligences and Humanity waits until a civilization can both detect and effectively control gravity waves the way they control the EM spectrum!

There was serious work done on generating gravity waves in 2012: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1875389212025163; though it wasn’t until 2016 that we detected them: https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/gravitational-waves-detected-scientists-announce#:~:text=Gravitational%20waves%20have%20been%20detected,detector%20in%20Italy%20have%20announced; and in April of 2022, astrophysicists discovered another way of detecting those waves: https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/gravitational-waves-detected-scientists-announce#:~:text=Gravitational%20waves%20have%20been%20detected,detector%20in%20Italy%20have%20announced.

Speculation (there’s that word again!) is, now that we can generate and detect g-waves, maybe we can finally hear if there’s anyone chatting Out There! (https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/space-science/extra-terrestrial-alien-communicate-gravitational-lensing/)

There seems to be a monumental gap between amorous teenagers and astrophysicists, but it's where we are right now. Until we get firmer evidence of aliens OUT THERE, (*sigh*), we’ll just have to be satisfied with the probability of intelligent aliens hovering somewhere between “we’re alone” and “too many to imagine”…

Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-many-aliens-are-in-the-milky-way-astronomers-turn-to-statistics-for-answers/https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-many-aliens-are-in-the-milky-way-astronomers-turn-to-statistics-for-answers/https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/ast.2019.2149https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/15/magazine/extraterrestrials-technosignatures.htmlhttps://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/15/magazine/extraterrestrials-technosignatures.html (I did NOT watch it all as there were an inordinate number of “Ahsss…” in the first fifteen minutes…); https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1675/life-in-the-universe-what-are-the-odds/; (Generic article without the math: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a32603529/math-formula-aliens-exist/; SERIOUS article WITH the math: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1921655117
Resource: http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm
Image: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-GK6c-cC6KDU/VGlk_Qf5fgI/AAAAAAAA1CU/SDdfP7hhT9I/s1600/vlcsnap-2014-11-16-
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Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 42: Inamma Escapes

“It’s glowing,” said Ayaka. She stepped forward as did Daniel and Søren as she looked inside.


Emerald said, “Rocks? And something that looks like a diamond,” she reached in and picked up a container, shaking it, “Dust.” She put it down and picked up another, shook it and said, “Pieces of metal.” She frowned and reached deeper. “And this cube.” She took out a cube of silver metal, highly reflective as if it had been chromed. It was five centimeters on a side. Abruptly, the surface moved, as if something inside of the cube stirred. She blinked and looked up at Daniel, Ayaka and Søren. They were staring at her.

“It looks like some sort of ceramic metal,” said Søren. “I’ve seen that stuff in the electronics lab on Level Two. My older brother works there.”

“But it’s alive,” said Daniel as he pressed the cover back down, saying, “We’ve got to get to the Hot Pole.”

Emerald nodded and slipped it into her pocket. She said, “Maybe my parents touched this, too.”

Daniel nodded to the box. Emerald touched it and it flashed green again as she pulled her hand away.

“We’ve got to get Dr. Prymore’s office, fast. Everybody push and I’ll pay attention to driving!” They got it moving again and he started walking, his strides long and steady. He seemed to have shaken off the taser stun Berg’s security had used on him.

“Why do we need to get to the Hot Pole?” asked Emerald, running alongside the cargo float. The rest of the group jogged with her.

“There’s a direct connection between the Hot Pole bolus spike and the Cold Pole spike. Bridge isn’t far from the Cold Pole, either. That’s where we have to take the boxes.”

“What about Dr. Viahakis?” Ayaka said.

“Her and Berg and Inamma were all on their way here. I think they ran into each other. So we’re gonna use the diversion they’re creating for each other to get the boxes to someone who can really protect them.”

“Great Aunt Ruby will protect us and the boxes,” said Emerald.

“Exactly. Now we just have to cut through the zones and get to the Hot Pole,” said Daniel.

“That’s all?” said Søren. “We had enough trouble getting there the first time and now you want us to go off trail? How do we know if it’s even possible? I’m sure the SOLAREX planners wanted people to stay on the trails...”

Even as Søren spoke, Daniel yanked the float off the path and into the jungle. The others followed, shoving the float back and forth, making it weave between the trees, brush and saplings. They walked for forty minutes as the jungle changed to deciduous forest then dried into grasslands. The temperature was noticeably warmer.

“Look! Back there!” Søren called, pointing. The group stopped for a moment. At the far end of the Core, from what would be the steppe just before the Cold Pole, the blimp was lifting into the air. “They’re coming after us!”

“Or they’re going to gas the crew to stop the riot,” said Søren.

“What?”

“Dad’s one of the environmental team members. They can inject anything they want to into the air of the ship – they’re the ones who control how much of the smoke from the sugarcane burn gets into the air...”

“What has that got to do with the blimp?” Daniel exclaimed, yanking on the float again to get it moving faster. “We have to get to the Pole before they catch us!”

“What I’m trying to say is that Security may be using the blimp to gas the rioters!” Søren said, running to catch up with the others.

“We can hope so, but I ain’t gonna bet on it,” said Daniel. The cargo float hit a slope, kept going and launched into the air, sailing up to Daniel’s shoulder height. He lost control and it tilted, spilling three of the boxes to the ground around them. Cursing, he pulled it back down to the ground. “Pick ‘em up! Pick ‘em up! Hurry! The blimp’s not stopping to gas any rioters!”

Emerald grabbed a box, which flared green. She exclaimed, “This is heavier than a regular plastic box. It’s not rattling. There’s something in it besides rocks and dust.”

Søren nearly dislocated his shoulders when the box he tried to pick up was so heavy he and Daniel needed to help him get it back on to the float.

Ayaka looked up, “Hurry! The blimp’s coming this way!”

They scrambled to push the float faster, Daniel straining in the harness. They were gasping for breath by the time they reached the edge of the desert. Sweating, they pushed as fast as they could, Daniel running now that he didn’t have to steer over the open sand. They rounded the huge, wave-like dune. The Hot Pole spike towered over the desert.

At the base of the spike was Inamma.

Søren, Ayaka and Emerald hauled back hard on the float. Daniel lunged for the control bar, dragging it around, two of the boxes toppling off as it swerved wildly, inertia carrying it forward and up the slope of the next dune. He stopped just before the crest, looking back at them shouting, “Run!”

Ayaka screamed and ducked, going under the float as Daniel grabbed the lead and vanished over the dune, pulling down hard. Emerald, Ayaka and Søren jumped on the float as it sped faster and faster down the crest, then started up the next, gliding until it slowed, stopped and started back down again, jerking Daniel off his feet.

Above them, the blimp reached the savannah. Speakers blared, “Stop what you’re doing or we’ll stun everyone!”

Inamma appeared suddenly on the crest, the sound of knives stabbing sand came over the dune again and Emerald gasped, falling backwards and rolling downhill.

Inamma charged and grabbed a box, avoiding Søren’s grab as it ran for the spike. “No!” Ayaka cried. She leaped. The Lemur IIa was balanced on three legs already and holding on to the box with the other three.

It had no knives free to defend itself, though it tried to stab her with one arm but missed. Ayaka crashed into Inamma, tipping it. The box slid to one side then fell free as the blimp swooped low. Berg’s voice boomed, “Alien robot, stop! You are under arrest!”

Emerald screamed, “You sound like an idiot!”

Inamma dashed for the spike. The blimp swooped even lower, interposing the gondola between them. But Inamma leaped straight into the air, bringing its bladed feet to a point, then stabbing into the floor of the desert.

It disappeared as if the sand had sucked it up, just as it had the first time it ran from them.

Berg and ten of his security piled out of the gondola, running across the sand. Berg reached them first, shouting, “How did you kids get out? You’re all under arrest! Put your hands...”

The sand between the dune and the spike heaved into three fountains. From each fountain, a Lemur IIa leaped, bladed feet flailing. Security fired their tasers, but they’d been set to stun human teens and the sizzling nimbus had no effect as the robots tore into them, slashing and stabbing.

Berg spun, changed the setting on his gun and fired just as one of the robots charged him.

“That’s Inamma!” Emerald screamed, “Save the boxes! Save the boxes! Help me!”

Daniel got to his feet, Søren pulled Ayaka to her feet as well and they dashed for the cargo float in the shifting sand as Inamma’s robots battled Berg’s security.

Berg was down, one arm impaled by the robot, which leaped and landed in front of the float to grab the pulling harness. Daniel reached his end first and yanked it out of Inamma’s grasp.

The alien robot lunged at the boy, and froze.

Daniel stopped moving, staring at Inamma. Then he pulled on the harness and sprinted for the spike, faster this time because two boxes lay on the dune.

Emerald shouted, “Inamma’s controlling Daniel! Stop him!” But by this time, the other robots broke off their battle with security and scuttled to the gravity modified float, following it as Daniel accelerated toward the spike, running around the hovering blimp. “Follow them! Follow them!” Emerald cried, leaping to her feet.

Ayaka and Søren sprinted with her. Berg struggled to his feet, grabbed his gun and ran after them. The upper arm of his uniform was torn and he was bleeding. He called to the remaining security officers, “Secure the boxes!”

Daniel, Inamma, and the float hesitated then rushing into the bolus.

The huge freight bolus at the foot of the spike squelched shut on them as Emerald, Ayaka and Søren rounded the blimp’s gondola. “Stop! Stop!” they shouted together.

The other robots were gone, dimples in the sand like ant lion funnels dotting the surface.

They raced forward, and Colonel Berg slapped the security pad. A moment later, an empty bolus squelched open and they piled in. He looked down at Emerald then at each of the others and said, “This isn’t just your fight any more.”

“I’m the only one who can open the boxes. I’m the only one Inamma cares about. You need me.”

With a growl, he placed his palm hard on the security pad and paused. A keypad lit up and he punched in a code. For the first time any of them could remember the bolus snapped shut and they staggered against the acceleration, crying out in surprise.

Berg, who had spread his feet to steady himself said, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” He paused, “Main Shuttle Deck and Staging Area.”


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. (If you like what you read, 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, November 2, 2022

“Warranty Claim” • by Gustavo Bondoni

 


A shiny metal disc streaked through the sky before descending in front of Sergeant Murphy, a twenty-year veteran who just happened to be crossing the parking lot. 

As soon as he saw it, he buried his face in his hands. “Not these guys again.” He’d been on duty when these particular aliens had first come to Earth, and had been part of the initial talks.

The major he’d been walking alongside ran off, presumably to inform the upper brass of the visit. That would be unnecessary: every inch of Area 59 was filmed and wired for sound. Washington already knew what was happening.

The ship disgorged several blue-skinned aliens in silver spacesuits. 

“You are the one they call Murphy, correct?  The one we met the last time we were here?” the leader asked.

“Yes.”

“This is broken.”

It held out a slim silver rectangle with the well-known company logo, a fruit, on it.

“It’s probably the battery,” Murphy said.

“Can it be changed?”

“No. They make them that way so you have to buy a new one.”

“No good. You need to fix this immediately. We’re in an argument about whether alien life forms can be Communist Nazis. We tried opening a new account, but the website refuses to acknowledge our ship’s operating system.”

“I can’t help.”

The leader sighed. “Do you want us to destroy your planet?”

“No.”

“These are our demands”

“But—”

“Silence! We demand you get the experts at this computer company to fix our laptop.”

“That could take a while.” After a moment’s thought, Murphy responded: “Will you at least let me work through the problem with IT support?”

“As long as you get it fixed.”

Murphy sighed in relief. That should  buy the Joint Chiefs of Staff time to get something done.

 

___________________________

 

Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Test Site Horror (2020). He has also published two other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019) and Jungle Lab Terror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019) Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
 
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
 
His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com



 

 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Emerald of Earth – EPISODE 41: Recapturing the Crates

“We already stunned your big friend.” He paused, “Give me an excuse and I’d be happy to prove you wrong, Vice-Captain Marcillon’s great niece.”

He was snotty. He was angry. They were in deep trouble. Emerald didn’t know what to say. Below her, Ayaka and Søren were silent as well.

Berg said, “Now climb down slowly to Level Three so I can arrest you and lock you up in your Units where you belong.”

“Colonel Berg, someone was moving the artifact boxes that Dr. Viahakis was studying but they got caught in the Core riot and we can see the antigravity pallet sitting near the Central lift platform without anyone near it and if we don’t rescue it, Inamma’s going to get it and take the boxes away!” Emerald cried in one breath. Looking down, she saw Berg pull Ayaka into the corridor. A moment later, Søren was dragged into it. Emerald hesitated and called out, “Do you believe me, Colonel Berg?”

His head poked into the shaft. Above Emerald, one of the security people was climbing. “What are you whining about?”

“The boxes with the Chicxulub artifacts in them are sitting unprotected on an antigravity pallet in the Core while everyone’s rioting! We have to get to them and save them from Inamma!”

“How do you know that?”

“We can see it on one of the Core feeds. Ask Søren which one he was watching.”

Berg scowled and shouted, “You’re not going anywhere but down here, girl!” His head pulled back into the corridor.

After a few clanking steps, the security person from Level Two was even with her head. The voice said, “Do not move any way but down. Get going.”

“I’m going to wait until...”

“You’re going to get moving right now, little girl!”

Berg’s head poked into the ladder shaft and he called up, “Get down here, fast! We’re going up to the Core. Now!”

Emerald launched herself down the ladder and swung into the corridor.

Startled, Colonel Berg took her by the elbow and said, “Let’s go.”

Emerald tried to pull away from him, but his grip tightened suddenly. “Where are we going?” she cried.

“We’re going to the Core. The Lemur IIa is there already,” then very grudgingly, he added, “…just like you said.”

“What about Søren, Ayaka and Daniel?” Emerald said.

“The only person I need is you to open the boxes.” He stopped, made a thoughtful face then said, “On second thought...” He stepped up to a Unit security panel and put his hand on it. The door slid open and he pushed her into an apartment. Motioning to the other security people, they deposited Ayaka and Søren with her. A moment later, another helmeted figure carried Daniel in over its shoulder and dumped him unceremoniously on a couch. Berg cleared his crew out and said, “Computer, acknowledge Berg Master Override.”

“Acknowledged.”

He pointed at Emerald and said, “Detain without privilege in this unit until I return to countermand this directive. Acknowledge.” The computer did so, then he stepped back and the door slid closed.

Emerald launched herself at it, pounding on it and shouting for Colonel Berg to come back and let them out. She spun to Ayaka and Søren who were helping Daniel sit up. Their Team Leader was pale and wobbly.

He gagged.

Ayaka let go of him and put her hands up in the air. Søren scowled at her and said, “If he falls over, I can’t hold him up. If he throws up, chokes on it and dies, you’ll be responsible for his murder.” He glared until she came back to help him hold Daniel upright.

“What are we going to do now?” Emerald said.

Søren looked at her over his shoulder and said, “Wait until Berg and his thugs come and let us out.”

“We have to break out of here! We have to get the boxes!”

Ayaka looked at Emerald sideways then shook her head, “We’re stuck here, Em. Now we wait.”

“No!” Emerald shouted, stomping her foot. She immediately blushed furiously, pursing her lips. Then she held out her hand to Søren and said, “No. We’re going to appeal to a higher power. Give me your ipik.”

“Call your great aunt?” Daniel said faintly.

“No, higher than that.” She keyed an ID code and waited until a voice answered. She said, “Dr. Viahakis? The Chicxulub artifacts my parents sent up with me are sitting in the Core in the middle of a riot down by the central lift platform. I believe that Inamma is going to grab them. Colonel Berg is headed to them right now, too.”

Dr. Viahakis said, “Do you have the necklace?”

“Yes. I’m also being detained in unit,” he glanced at Ayaka, who mouthed, “Unit Three-Fifteen-Ninety-one.”

“There’s nothing either Berg or Inamma can do without the necklace – it’s the key to the boxes and it has to be with your DNA, your heat signature and possibly even your retina pattern.” She redirected her ipik so that it showed her lab as she said, “Inamma somehow got into the lab. It didn’t blow a hole in the wall so it must have grabbed someone – probably a teenager, and manipulated them to load the boxes and move them. I didn’t order the boxes moved.”

“There are other people Inamma is controlling?”

“There would have to be.” There was a short pause. “Where are you?”

Emerald looked to Daniel. He said, “Level Two, Congo Sector Unit 1591.” He looked up at Ayaka.

Ayaka said, “You should probably tell Colonel Berg there’s a riot going on up on Level Four, Congo Sector; all teenagers. He should just poke his head into the hallway and listen. It’ll be obvious.”

There was a long pause on the ipik then Dr. Viahakis said, “I’ve overridden Berg’s security lock.” Suddenly the door slid open. “I’ll meet you in the Core. Watch out for Inamma and for Colonel Berg’s security forces. I sent them an anonymous tip about the riot in the teen cafeteria.”

“You know about that?” Søren exclaimed.

“I know everything, kid. Now go!” The screen blanked.

“Aye, aye, Sir!” said Emerald. Daniel lurched to his feet. Emerald cried, “You can’t come with us!”

“I’m not waiting for Berg’s thugs to come back and stun me again. Let’s go!” He lurched forward, but didn’t fall, grabbed the corner of the door and swung into the hallway. “Hurry up or I’ll beat up on Inamma without y’all!”

Emerald, Ayaka, and Søren ran after him. He was panting by the time he reached the bolus, but pounded the panel and opened the door. It squelched open, they piled in and it squelched shut.

“What if Colonel Berg sends someone to check up on us?” said Søren.

“He won’t,” said Ayaka. “He has too many other things to worry about right now.”

The bolus slid to a stop and squelched open to the roar of the crowd. Emerald led out followed by Daniel, Søren and Ayaka. A louder voice boomed, “Please remain calm. SOLAREX Administration is in direct contact with the World Jump League...” the announcement was drowned out by another angry roar.

The riot wasn’t anywhere near the platform and seemed to be concentrated toward the Cold Pole, almost directly underneath the central holotank, which was projecting SOLAREX’s vice-captain of personnel, Imelda Tanjuatco. Objects flew into the air, passing through her image.

Søren shouted, “Why do they keep calling it the ‘World League’? If we’re in it, it’s not the ‘world league’! It’s the Solar League!”

Emerald ran to the Hot Pole edge of the platform and looked around. Ayaka understood what she was doing, pushed Søren to the East edge and Daniel to the closer West edge while she looked toward the Cold Pole. After a moment, Søren ran to Emerald, “It’s over here! Didn’t you hear me? It’s over here!”

No one could hear anything over the roar of the crowd, so Emerald and Søren ran to Daniel and grabbed him, then grabbed Ayaka, and ran as a hand-holding amoeba to the East edge of the platform. The gravity modified cargo float was sitting beneath a tall pine tree, the boxes piled on it haphazardly, the tow harness laying on the ground, and the whole thing hidden from plain sight by low-hanging branches.

Daniel started down the steps but Emerald grabbed him. “What?”

“It got moved,” she shouted over the dull roar of the rioting SOLAREX crew. “Who moved it?”

Søren pulled out his ipik, thumbed through the images until he looked up and said, “I can’t see what happened because the rioters moved through here...”

“We have to get it before someone else does,” said Emerald. Daniel bit his lower lip then nodded and led the group down the steps to the float, scanning around them all the way.

“We have to get going.”

“Where are we going to take the cargo float?” asked Søren.

“We have to get it back to Dr. Viahakis’ lab. It was secure there,” said Emerald.

“What do you mean it was secure there?” shouted Daniel. “Inamma just grabbed somebody and had them take it out!”

“Where else are we supposed to hide it? Inamma can go anywhere it wants to!” said Emerald.

Ayaka looked around and added, “Wasn’t Dr. Prymore going to meet us here?”

“Colonel Berg was on his way, here, too,” Søren said.

“And Inamma,” said Emerald.

“But no one’s here,” said Daniel. He grabbed the cargo float’s activation handle and turned it on. It rose up from the ground. He slipped into the towing harness, belting it over one shoulder and pulled it as if he expected it to be light, but it hardly moved. “This is way heavier than it looks!” He pulled harder. One more grunting lunge and it began to move.

“I thought it was a gravity modified float?” said Søren.

“It is, but antigravity doesn’t mean anti-inertia. It floats, but I still have to pull it to get it moving and it’ll resist that pull until I can overcome its tendency to just sit there.”

“What are you talking about?” Emerald exclaimed.

Daniel made a disgusted face and waved her away, steering the float. “It’s physics. You’re too little to...”

“Newton’s First Law,” she quoted. “A body in motion stays in motion, and a body at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an outside force.”

Daniel stared at her, mouth open, snapped his mouth shut as he blushed furiously, then shouted, “Everybody push! I can’t do this by myself.”

They got behind the float and got it moving. Faster than Daniel could control it. It got ahead of him once, ramming an oak tree. None of the boxes was strapped down and one near the edge started to fall. Emerald lunged to shove it back.

The instant her hand touched the box it flared green then went back to being plain gray box. She didn’t move as the box vibrated under her hand. Several moments later, the top opened.

“Emerald! The necklace!” Ayaka exclaimed.

“I can’t see it! What’s wrong?”

“It’s glowing,” said Ayaka. She stepped forward as did Daniel and Søren as she looked inside.


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 read, 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