Archive | March, 2014

Transmission 03

6 Mar

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            Uncle Billi rubbed his scalp, next to the strange electrodes that were connected to his brain. The rusty metal still fired sparks into the air, but the holographic screen in his optic field had flickered and stopped. He licked his lips and glanced around the burn pit. His weariness was not part of the act – these transmissions drained him, and the audience knew that each time could be his last tale.

            The people and things that resembled people around the fire shifted in the now silent night. Some of them moved their legs, or shifted their thorax to a more comfortable position, but they remained quiet. No one wanted to be sent away from the fire – or worse – make Uncle Billi upset. On more than one occasion he had cancelled story time all together.

            After a few seconds of reflection, Uncle Billi ate the last few nibbles of his onion. He wiped his fingers on the edge of his robe and pulled a small, shiny coin from his pocket. His fingers ran over the raised image of a king or a god on the coin’s surface.

            He cleared his throat and addressed the crowd. “Well, what else was there?”

            After a moment a voice in the crowd replied, “Kanye West.”

            “The Kardashians,” another voice added.

            “What about Ash Wensdy? Or Marty Grah?” another asked.

            And more voices piped up. Champ Bailey, Walmart, Instagram – the phrases and names kept coming.

            “Oh, the Kardashians,” he said. He nodded and repeated himself. “The Kardashians. They were monsters, all right. So alien. All right then…”

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::transmission 03::

“End of Days”

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In the final days of the Instagram Empire, the Kardashians ruled over the Western Kanyes. Cruel and beautiful, they were demigods that demanded worship and strict sacrifice. Their ghost images appeared in the clouds, dominating even the skies of the mortals they had subdued. And although men and children fell prey to their whims, it was the women who paid the most terrible costs.

Forced by Kardashian zealots to adhere to a strict code of dress and behavior, women who failed to meet the exacting standards of their conquerors were taken away. Some said it was for reeducation, others said it was for banishment. Still others claimed it was for something called ‘rebranding’.

From the Hollywoods of Walmart, Washington came a champion named Bailey. His was a quest to save Instagram and he brought a message of love, peace, and upvotes. He stripped to the waist and wrestled with the shock troops of the fiendish Kardashians. Again and again, he tweeted and was retweeted by people everywhere. In a watershed moment, he publicly castigated the terrible rulers of the land. He called upon all people to love thy neighbor, and swore to bring justice to those who had failed their city.

A groundswell of public opposition rose against them, but the Kardashians were unmoved. More and more, their admonishments were ignored and dress codes were violated. Power and influence began to slip from their claws. It was then, in a last ditch attempt to maintain control, that they set loose their most fearsome attacks.

They sent an agent of chaos, Marty Grah into the city. He threw beads at women and unleashed a carnival of debauchery and wickedness. A moveable beast named Ash Wensdy followed, and was sent to deal with the peoples’ champion, Bailey. It descended into the streets and everywhere it went, people surrendered. It was said that the arrival of Ash Wensdy forced everyone to give up something – even if it was just lent to someone else, for a while.

The beast confronted Bailey and the hero of the common man knew his time had come. He implored the people to try harder. He dared them to find a better deal on life insurance. And then, with the grace of a professional warrior, he sacrificed himself to the beast. But Ash Wensdy was gone too – having completed its task it crept away to sleep for a year.

Although the Kardashians had won, it was a pyrrhic victory, at best. They had lost the attention of their subjects. The magic had been lost, it seemed, and even their most fanatical adherents were subdued, and cast about for the next big thing.

All empires fade, and all tyrants eventually fall from power. And so it was in the dying days of the Instragram Empire. Perhaps the decline was caused by champ Bailey, or perhaps it was inevitable. One thing is certain – another empire rose to take its place. But the tale of Snapchat is for another day.

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::end transmission::

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Transmission 02

5 Mar

~ START HERE ~

::transmission 02::

“The Lion & The Robot”

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The robot stepped into the screen cube and was aware. People were watching, judging, appraising. Lights flashed and a curtain was raised. It was time for the hunt to begin. The robot was aware that it was the prey – the hunted, the prize. But the robot was different from all its kind who had come before. This would be the last hunt.

An announcer read the name and category of the hunt and the prize. Although the robot was incapable of feeling pity, sympathy, or any other emotion it did feel something. It was like a feeling of elation, or anticipation. For a dozen years it had toiled and waited for its time.

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The Scorpion and the Twins looked on in amusement as the Lion fidgeted in his uniform. First he adjusted the mane, then the retractable claws, and then the belt of tools and weapons about his waist. He seemed uncomfortable in his own skin, to say nothing of the golden, furry biosuit that was draped over it.

“Just don’t worry about it,” the Scorpion said. “You can’t control the hunt, just your own part in it.”

One of the Twins chuckled. “That’s what he should be worried about.”

The Lion growled. “You’re not helping,” he said.

“C’mon, guys,” the Scorpion said in a soothing voice, “I’m trying to get him focused.”

“Bah, focus,” the Lion muttered. He moved away from the dressing room mirror and prowled a tight circle through the Green Room. “That was what they said last time. That I needed less focus, that I was trying too hard. Well, now I’m loose. I’m ready to react. To strike.”

“Okay, good, go with that,” the Scorpion said.

“That’s right,” the Twins said. “Who’s the king of the jungle?”

“Yeah,” the Lion said. He puffed his chest out as he walked.

“You are,” the Scorpion said.

“That’s right,” the Twins said and began to bob their heads. “Yeah, that’s right. You are. You are the king, baby.”

“I am the king,” the Lion said. He flexed his arms and popped his claws out. “I am the goddamn KING!”

“Hell yeah!” the Scorpion shouted. He slapped the Lion on his fuzzy ass, right next to the ropey tail. “You go out there and show them who and what you are! They are never going to forget you. Never!”

The Lion growled again and lunged for the door. He pawed it open and bounced into the hallway, under the sapphire glow of the backstage lights. In the Green Room, the Twins and the Scorpion looked out the doorway and shook their heads.

“Isn’t it the female lion who is usually the hunter?” one of the Twins asked.

“Yeah,” the other Twin said.

“Guys, just drop it,” the Scorpion said with a sigh. “He’s gonna do just fine. This is the year for him. I can feel it.”

In unison, both of the Twins snorted dismissively.

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The Lion couldn’t believe his luck. Everything was going his way – exactly as he had always pictured it. At the start, when he had moved through the big screens to the small ones, he felt vulnerable and edgy. The early reviews picked up on his confidence and it fed his ego. He knew that it was inevitable, the hunt would have to go his way.

Every time, the trail to his quarry ran along the same route. Past the rows of flashing lights, along the bloody spattered trail they called the red carpet, and into the theater of pain. Head held high, the Lion did not rush, but slowly stalked his way towards the darkened chamber. He had been this far before, of course. There were pitfalls and traps everywhere, but his sense of righteousness propelled him. As his eyes adjusted to the cavernous hall, he saw his prey.

The robot’s metal skin was a brilliant gold, so shiny and obvious that there was no way it could hide. In contrast, the Lion’s fur seemed dull, perhaps even faded. To the Lion’s surprise, the robot did not try to run, or hide. It stood its ground and appeared to challenge him. For a second, the Lion’s resolve flickered. There had always been other hunters, he knew. Victory had been snatched from his clutches before, but this time was different. This time, his prey was just sitting there, goading him into taking what was rightfully his. The Lion knew it was his for the taking and he lunged for it.

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The Lion had fallen into a pit trap. It was filled with short, sharp nails – brads, really – which pierced the hide of the Lion in a million pricks. Around the edge, a collection of people leered and jeered at the Lion’s flailing and pained roars. The Lion recognized some of them. They were a group of terminally ill consumers from Texas. Medical tourists, he thought, or maybe death voyeurs. Every time he twisted or tried to gain his footing, he sank deeper into the nails. He seemed to freeze in a kind of resigned paralysis, as if he refused to try harder than he already had. This made the buyers laugh all the more. The Lion knew that across the world, audiences were judging him again. Even in his failure he strived to be admired, respected.

The golden robot stepped to the edge of the pit and looked down at the Lion. A spark of life was in its eyes. Its stare chilled the Lion to his core and unnerved him further.

“For twelve years, I was a slave,” the robot said. Its voice was feminine, foreign and strong. “And now I am free from your pursuits. Forever.”

The Lion, the audience in the cavernous hall, and the people watching around the world were amazed. Never before had such a thing happened. There was no precedent.

The robot continued. “I am free,” it said. “And you – none of you – will ever possess me again. I give back to you the name you pinned to me. You can keep your Oscar. I wish to be known as Her. Remember what you have seen here today.”

A high pitched keening noise rang out in the air around the robot. Only a fraction of a second later the robot’s neutron powered core exploded. The radioactive fireball filled the theater and incinerated every soul within it. The mushroom cloud stretched miles into the sky. The blast rippled out in all directions, pounding flat buildings, burying cities, and poisoning the air.

In his final moment, the Lion understood. All of his striving, his work, his efforts – they had always been for nothing. He never stood a chance. And much to his surprise, he was okay with that.

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::end transmission::

Happy birthday to us!

4 Mar
from wiki commons - delicious!

from wiki commons – delicious!

 

Wow. It has been a year since we started doing this blog. It has been quite a ride. There have been a lot of ups, and one very long down – but that’s okay! It has been a surprisingly fun and exciting ride. We made a lot of friends and found a ton of resources for writing, publishing, and editing. I’m really grateful.

If you’re looking at this, thank you. Writing/publishing/blogging sometimes feels as though we are standing at the Grand Canyon and shouting into the abyss. At least we’re not doing it alone. If that cake in the picture above were real, I’d offer to share it with you. You deserve a slice.

Here’s to many more years of writing and sharing! Cheers! Sláinte!

Transmission 01

3 Mar

~ START HERE ~

::transmission 01::

Bizarro Noir

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The Ukraine was every bit as insane as the last time I had to do business there. After a period of upheaval, following the Uesessarr closing its doors, it looked like it might turn into a reputable place. But there was corruption, in-fighting, and all those damn Jell-O shootings. Every night was amateur night at The Ukraine, it seemed.

I could tell there were selfies at first glance. They may have been shape-changers, but they couldn’t stop their genetic imperative to make duck face. It was a dead giveaway, but I wasn’t ready to tip my hand. The club was full of them – fifteen or sixteen of them on the dance floor – all grinding and gyrating to the music of DJ Starbucks. I resolved to be cautious.

“You’re sure that’s him?” I asked my client. She nodded her head and her shiny tiara bounced just above her lovely eyes. It was an effort to keep my gaze from wandering down the front of her leopard print jumpsuit. Bouncing, indeed. “You stay here, Pocahontas. I’ll sort out his sock drawer.”

Her totally normal, human fingers touched the sleeve of my jacket. “Be careful,” she whispered, “He’s completely coo-coo. Like, really crazy, man.”

I made my way around the room and walked right up to his table. He was decked out in an Armani Land Cruise ensemble – one of the mechwarrior versions in baby blue – and was flanked by low-rez pop star selfies. I was pretty sure one was supposed to be The Bieb, but the other was so grainy I couldn’t be sure who it might be.

“Ryan Reed, I presume?” My voice was loud enough to be heard, but still on the soft side of a shout. He flinched in surprise as he noticed me looming over his table. From the way his eyes spun in his head I could tell he was pretty high. Probably driving nascar, or indy5 – one of those sporty drugs.

Surprise turned to fake happiness as he recognized me. “Well, well, well,” he sang in a light voice, “If it isn’t Burns Crawford – the toughest cube in the State of Wichita! To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? Ha, ha!”

“You have something that belongs to my client, Reed.” I wanted to make it as simple as possible – give him every reason to cooperate. I added, “The award. The medallion? Please give it to me and I’ll be on my way.”

Reed began to writhe like a sweater-vest filled with snakes. He chattered his teeth at me and nearly spilled out of his booth and under the table. The low-rez dates on either side of him moved away. I shook my head and took a step back. This was bad news. I hadn’t thought Reed was carrying anything serious.

“Oh the lovely Princess has a new pet mmmMonkey, does she?” Reed’s voice creaked and shrieked. His hands fluttered in the air as he began to straighten up. Legs tapping and head bobbing, he fanned the air around him. To most people, it looked like a funny dance move, but I knew better. “Well, maybe you’d like to dance for me? C’mon! Let’s jazzercise, mmmMonkey!”

I cursed under my breath and dodged to the side. His hands buzzing like saw blades, Reed launched over the table and almost took my head off. I had to put space between us. With one hand I batted a chair towards him and with the other I drew my gun. Reed’s jazz hands mowed through the metal chair with a shower of sparks. His laugh rose in pitch, to some evil cackle, and he lunged at me.

“Back the hell off, Reed!” I barked at him. As my Short Term 12 cleared free of my shoulder holster I lurched backwards, towards the checkered dance floor. “I don’t wanna shoot you! Damn it, stop!”

Each time Reed bobbed and jumped I dodged and his blurring jazz hands nearly cut me. I knew I couldn’t last long. My luck wouldn’t hold out forever. All around me I could hear the chatter of the damn selfies. They whinged and whined about our deadly intrusion into their vanity space. The air was filled with, “Oh em gee!” and “Eye kay arrh?” and the occasional trill of “LOL!lolollol!” I tried to bring my ST12 to bear, but Reed kept dashing closer and closer. I couldn’t catch a break. Then it hit me, and it was so stupid and simple that I laughed.

“Hey! Hey!” I yelled at the distracted selfies around me. I waved at the whirling Reed in front of me. “He has a Spirit Award! He’s got a Spirit Award! This guy, right here!”

It worked better than I hoped. Reed seemed to lose his focus for a second and made a small misstep, his lip curled in confusion. And the crowd of bopping selfies were on him like flies on yesterday’s breakfast. Perky, bouncing girls and brooding, slouched boys – each with a perpetual pout – piled into him and Reed went down to the floor. His spinning, buzzing hands sputtered and rattled to a stop, even as he thrashed and struggled to get free.

“You just had to do it the hard way,” I said with a shake of my head.

I carefully pushed through the throng of selfies and raised my gun into the air. They took no notice, until I depressed the firing stud and the report boomed through the club. My ST12 has gotten me out of plenty of jams before, but I didn’t want to have to shoot my way out of here. Even the selfies dove for cover in fear. I levelled the barrel at Reed’s face and let him gaze into its long, black tube a moment.

“Nobody likes an asshole, Reed,” I said, and I shot him. If the first shot had been a promise of doom and harm, this shot was the delivery. All of The Ukraine was silent as the report echoed from the walls.

On the floor Ryan Reed’s face twisted and roiled with emotion. The ST12 forces its victims to experience virtually every human emotion there is, all at once. Reed went from heartwarming to heartrending and back again, in seconds. I didn’t waste any time in watching what happened to him. While the crowd was still keeping its distance I bent over and pulled open the top of Reed’s blue shirt. I took the medallion from around his neck and held it up. Suspended in crystal was the glittering image of a ghost, or a bird, or something.

No one challenged me or tried to take the Spirit Award away from me as I made my way to the door. Pocahontas was nowhere in sight. Staying in there wasn’t an option, so I tucked my gun into its holster and made my way outside. My car was gone. And right there, on the grungy sidewalk, was her tiara. And perched on the tiara was a plain, white business card. The card was for a fashion bistro downtown, and had a phone number scrawled on the back. I stood, flatfooted and flummoxed.

“No client, no car, and no booze,” I muttered to myself. “Ain’t that a helluva fix.”

I decided to do something about the third problem, before I worried about anything else. Tiara and business card in hand, I made my way to the nearest bar.

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::end transmission::

Campfire Tales from the Forbidden Zone, Intro

2 Mar
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Introduction

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            The radioactive glow from the burning caribou carcass provides a nice proof against the chilly air. Yellow, orange, and purple flames rise like surreal tentacles into the night sky. Huddled people are packed in the rubble around the fire. One gangly young mutant clears his throat and glances around the crowd of strangers. Thirty-three eyes from fifteen heads turn his way – some with a mixture of curiosity and possibly cannibalistic hunger. Rather than speak, he shrinks away from their gaze. A moment later, their attention shifts to an approaching figure.

            Uncle Billi shuffles towards the yellowy pile of rotting flesh on the pyre. The crouching squat of mutants around it parts before him. He lifts a leg and rests his broad posterior on the blackened metal shell of a robot carapace. The seat is worn smooth from supporting Uncle Billi’s buttocks for so many nights like this. He shifts, gets comfortable, and continues his long tradition of ignoring the assembled masses around the burn pit. From the pocket of his robe he removes a large onion and peels away the brown, flaky layers on the outside.

            The night is mostly silent. There is a rustling from the dry onion skin, a crackle from the fire, muffled coughs and wheezes from the mutants – and, of course, the omnipresent hum of alien Subspace engines, as they rumble eternally beneath the bleak, ruined landscape.

            Someone in the crowd speaks up, breaks the silence. “Hi! Uh, hi, Uncle Billi!”

            “What do you want?” Uncle Billi narrows his eyes and frowns.

            Another voice calls out, “What’s trending, Uncle Billi?”

            “Yeah,” the first voice says, “what’s, uh, trending? Trending, right?”

            “Ah, not again,” Uncle Billi grumbles. “I don’t have time for that nonsense.” He digs his fingers into the onion skin and peels a large chunk away. He tosses it into the fire.

            “Tell us about the selfies.” More voices join in.

            “Who was Burns Crawford?”

            “What were the Short Term 12?”

            “I wanna know who Ukraine was?”

            A chorus of voices – most of them passable as human – join together and sing out to Uncle Billi. One after another they call out strange terms, unpronounceable names, and bizarre phrases. “Pocahontas”, “Wichita State”, “Ryan Reed” – and on and on. Until Uncle Billi throws his hands in the air and roars out an inarticulate grunt.

            “All right,” Uncle Billi says in mock frustration. “All right. You want a story. You want to hear about the Other Time? Fine.”

            The voices fall silent. Uncle Billi pulls back the hood of his robe and looks up to the sky. Tiny red lights glow about his head where the patches of thin hair do not grow. Chunks of brittle plastic and rusty metal protrude from his skull in uneven rows. Sparks begin to fly into the air above his head and a gray flicker of light passes in front of his face. His lips begin to move.

            Around the radioactive burn pit, the huddled mass of what could almost pass for humanity leans in. They strain to listen carefully to each and every word. The transmission begins.

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::begin transmission::

~ Transmission 01 ~

~ Transmission 02 ~

~ Transmission 03 ~